Tag Archives: Gillian Flynn

2014 Q4 Reading Report

Oh goodness, is this Reading Report overdue. I meant to post this early in January,  but here it is the end of the month and this is my first post of 2015. Ah well, better late than never, right? I read some great books during the last quarter of 2014, as you’ll see below. And I also tweeted about some of my reading as I read, so you’ll get some bonus photos, to make up for being so late.

October

My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult – I listened to the audiobook on the long drive from Philadelphia to Atlanta at the tail end of the Residency Road Trip. One of the most surprising things about this book, considering how sad the premise is, was that it was easy to get engrossed in the story behind the sadness. It was interesting on a legal, moral, emotional and very human level. I cared deeply about the characters, even when they were being totally annoying or foolish. It felt like a play that came alive in my car as I drove, which was really helpful considering I was on the road for over twelve hours.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes – Bought this at a sale at my hometown library. I was aware of it from how well it sold at the bookstore while I was working there, but I didn’t really know what it’s about before I started reading. It’s an incredibly grim subject matter (especially considering the book I read previous to this one), but it’s not a story that’s grimly told. Somehow, the book manages to have the blithe lightness of a romantic comedy, while very intelligently and responsibly addressing a controversial, highly charged subject. I flew through the pages, and got really invested in how things turned out.

Lean Mean 13, Janet Evanovich – I listened to the audio of this one on my way back to Nola from Georgia. I think this is the perfect way to engage with the Stephanie Plum books. I’d started to get impatient with the silliness and formulaic quality of them while reading them, but those very qualities make them such perfect stories to listen to while on the road. Not too distracting, but very entertaining. They keep me great company in the car. The lady who reads the books for the audio is very good as well.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay – Coming back from the residency, I was such a happy dork picking up all of the books the library was holding for me, especially when it came to this one. I’d been looking forward to reading it for months and it didn’t disappoint. Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State is beautiful and brutal and she brings those qualities to bear on these essays, which are also funny and silly and insightful and so, so unerringly smart. She’s one of my new favorite writers.

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith – Was very eager to read this one after reading the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. I wanted to listen to the audio, like I had for the first, but it was unavailable, so I had to be content with old-fashioned reading, which was nice in its way, of course. I just soaked up this second mystery and the dynamic between Cormoran and his assistant Robin Ellacott. Once more, I was a tiny bit disappointed with the quick and tidy wrap up at the end — both endings have felt a bit easy and unfinished. But the journey to get there was delightful.

Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman – Read the ReReading post here.

House Proud, Valorie Hart – I introduced Valorie, a friend of mine from tango, during her talk at the Louisiana Book Festival last year. As preparation for that, I pored over this beautiful design book featuring Louisiana homes, including Valorie’s own home with her late husband Alberto Paz.

November

Gates of Thread and Stone, Lori M. Lee – If I remember correctly, I learned about this one on Goodreads, in a discussion about The Queen of the Tearling and Kiss of Deception Once more, a fantasy Y/A novel, really engrossing and interesting, the first of a series (why do I keep doing this to myself? At least the sequel to this one comes out relatively soon – in March). It reminded me a bit of the books by the German author Kai Meyer, which is a really good thing.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy – Read the ReReading post here.

Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise, Wendelin van Draanen – I love these books, love Sammy Keyes and her friends and their hijinks. She’s really grown up in the last several books, finally discovering the identity of her father and having an adventure with him during the titular cruise of this book. While grabbing the link above, I realized another book in the series is already out – and it’s the last one! I’m looking forward to reading it and a bit sad I won’t be reading any more new adventures, but I have a suspicion that she’ll be in a good place by the time we say goodbye.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler – I knew I was going to love this book just from the table of contents. “Say Whatever You Like,” “Do Whatever You Want” and “Be Whoever You Are” happen to make fantastic mantras. Anyway, this book was, of course, hilarious, but also very insightful and inspiring. After writing about the day she was born, Amy Poehler recommends everyone go ask their parents about the day they were born, which made me realize I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story of the day I was born. Just one of many brainstorms and moments of inspiration.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn – Whew, boy, this book in INtense, just like Flynn’s other books. Unlikeable women who are utterly human (and sometimes monstrous in such human ways) are Flynn’s specialty. It’s a lot to ingest and I usually need a break between books, but I stand in awe of this women’s storytelling ability. I always feel a little creeped out looking at her author photo – she looks so sweet and normal, to write such breathtakingly dark and weighty books. Of all writers, she’s probably the one I’d both want to have coffee with *and* avoid in dark alleys. Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover or an author by her photo. 🙂

Worn Stories, Emily Spivak – This was a pretty cool book. Dozens of essays about articles of clothing and what they represent to the writers/wearers of the clothing. With pictures! It was an accidental find and I was curious. I thought I’d flip through, read a handful and then move on, but I ended up reading every last word. Some were twee and light, but most were (surprisingly, to me) interesting and impactful. It started out as a blog, before it was a book, and the blog continues.

December

Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones – I used to be a poet, once upon a time. Sometimes, I still find myself moved by poetry more than almost anything else. These days, while I may read a handful of poems occasionally, I almost never finish an entire book of poetry. I forget, each time, how emotionally weighty poetry tends to be. So I look at a slim volume and I’m like, “Oh, I’ll zip right through this!” But I don’t. I linger and dwell, sometimes for years and never finish a book. So, this is probably the first book of poetry I’ve finished in a long time. I “zipped through,” even though I felt like his poems were eviscerating me with razor wire. But I couldn’t stop. True to form, I obsessed over the lines and words, sometimes getting hung up for a few days before going back and moving on. [You’ll note I tweeted about picking this book up at the end of October, but I didn’t finish it till December.] I had a deadline to finish – this book was requested by multiple people at the library – and I couldn’t bear to return the book without reading it all.

Rooms, Lauren Oliver – Another of my favorite writers, though she’s so fast that I can’t really keep up. This is an adult novel from her, a gothic family story that reminded me of both The Family Fang and Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, my favorite play. The way Arcadia uses various portions of the house and estate, as well as time, really echoed here, in Rooms.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer – Oooh, this book was really important for me to read. I found myself sweating and trembling occasionally as I read it. Why is asking so freaking difficult? Why is owning your right to be and ask for what you want and need so hard? I am so very different from Amanda Palmer – in personality and demeanor and comfort zones, but I admire her so much and it turns out that she has been battling a fight that I’ve struggled with a long time. Need to re-read this every year, or maybe every six months.

Doing the Devil’s Work, Bill Loehfelm – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

Fearless Fourteen, Janet Evanovich – Listened to the audio on my trip to Atlanta to visit my parents for Christmas. It was perfect company, made the trip go smoothly (it’s always rough counting on the radio between Mobile and Montgomery).

My Sunshine Away, MO Walsh – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

So that wraps up 2014. I read some really awesome books in 2014 (A little over a hundred! Roughly, 22 nonfiction books and 74 fiction, plus some other stuff.) In this first month of 2015, I’ve already read a six-book series, a screenplay and two books of essays, all really good stuff, so stay tuned for 2015’s Q1 Reading Report in early April.

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: Flowers in the Attic

It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captive by green. But we were never to color even one of our paper blossoms yellow.

If you know me, you’ve heard me say that I read my childhood, rather than lived it. I started binge reading at 9. Books were brought to the dinner table, on family outings, and on car rides, where I read until I puked from the motion sickness. Benjamin Franklin is (falsely) credited with saying, “Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy,” but I say books are the real proof of a divine being.

My interests were varied. I loved stories about families living in “olden times” (Little House on the Prairie, The Witch of Blackbird Pond), graduated quickly to racier subject matter like Teens With Issues – I read Go Ask Alice before I was old enough to know that neither pot or acid cause drug overdoses. I was always especially drawn to both tragic characters (any female in a Bronte novel) and heroic ones (Pippi Longstocking, anything about Amelia Earhart). Reading was the perfect escape for a kid who was herself not the most adventurous.

My first encounter with Flowers in the Attic had me thinking it was going to be scary, as it was in the horror section. I had seen a classmate hiding it in a textbook, clearly unable to put it down. And that cover. Originally, you’d open the house cutout to reveal four creepy children, beautiful, with platinum hair and bright blue eyes rimmed with red, and a ghastly lady looming over them like a malevolent cloud. With a quick perusal of chapter titles like The Wrath of God, I was sold, even if I was kind of scared of that photo and possibly any kind of horror in general. My friends who had snuck the book off their moms’ bookshelves promised all kinds of messed up stuff going on in this book. Spoiler: there’s incest! I suspect I devoured it in one long sitting that included hiding it under the covers and losing a night’s sleep.

When Emilie told me about her Re-Reading Project, I immediately knew I had to pick it up again. It’s been decades since I first read it, but I read it over and over again throughout my adolescence and later teen years, so I always recalled it having all of the elements I love most in a good book: religious fanaticism, discovery of dark family secrets, forbidden love, starvation, general suffering, adolescent ennui, arsenic (any romantic poison), kick-ass female heroines (bonus that the main character was my age).

I dove right back in and lo and behold, I found myself unable put it down. And this is while on break from reading Dark Places, people! Here I had thought everything was so profound in this book only because I had been a teenager when I was so obsessed with it, but damned if I wasn’t again drawn in, crying in all the right places. After seeing the recent movie treatment on Lifetime (and recalling the horrible “tragedy” of a movie that came out years ago where Kristy Swanson, aka the original Buffy, played our heroine), I might have lost a little faith, but really, these movies fail to capture what is special about the book. Seems they can’t make up their mind whether to go full camp or full-on dramatic treatment. So, as a sidenote, I implore film and TV to just leave FITA alone. Unless you’re a genius.

I immediately recognized that so many phrases and images have stayed with me:

The Dresden Dolls (when the band came out, I wondered if they named themselves after the book and this is partially true).

-Singing to myself Dance Ballerina Dance while enduring many an endless ballet class.

-Whenever I see the colors red and purple, I think of Carrie because these are her favorite colors.

-The lines from when Grandmother comes in to discover Christopher staring at Cathy nekkid.

-I’ll always wish I could throw a Christmas party as grand as the Foxworths’.

-I’ll never look at powdered donuts without thinking they could mask the taste of arsenic pretty well.

-The image of that swan bed.

-Corey playing the banjo and writing depressing lyrics at the age of 7.

It certainly left a lasting impression on my developing mind (and made me appreciate my mom oh-so-much more!)

As a writer, I can’t help but notice the writing is pretty tight, the vocabulary is rich (surely it expanded my vocabulary), and VC Andrews uses adequate metaphors (not the most complex) and what may be obvious, but forgivable, foreshadowing.  There’s a trustworthy narrator who has enough distance from the subject matter. The author avoids sentimentality (barely, but just enough), quite a feat given the circumstances. Of course no one can deny her storytelling prowess.

As VC Andrews says herself, “I think I tell a whopping good story. And I don’t drift away from it a great deal into descriptive material. When I read, if a book doesn’t hold my interest about what’s going to happen next, I put it down and don’t finish it. So I’m not going to let anybody put one of my books down and not finish it. My stuff is a very fast read.”

Agreed.

I wondered, too, just who is the intended audience, keeping in mind, it was a best seller back in the day.  Bored housewives? (I swear, this is not the Fifty Shades of Grey of the 1980s. The writing is far superior.) Horror fans? Those seeking a modern day Wuthering Heights? All of the above?

My thoughts on character during this read primarily had to do with Corinne, the mother who locks her children in the attic of her ancestral home after she’s left a “penniless” widow. As a kid reading this, I just dismissed her as a bad person, and now that I’m closer to the mom’s age than the childrens’, I wanted to give her much more consideration. I wondered at first if she might be portrayed a bit two-dimensionally, a stock evil character? As a teenager, I was pretty disgusted with her weakness; the idea of a woman that wouldn’t just woman-up and go to work to support her family, but now I wondered if I might be more sympathetic to her “handicap” as a pampered housewife and mother, a grown woman of privilege. Not really.

She’s actually a master manipulator of the worst kind. “Oh but you are heartless and ungrateful children!” she laments after she comes back after long time away, during which, the kids had starved and the grandmother drugged/tarred Cathy. She’s a manipulator and even gets her Oedipal son to forgive her after that and agree that it’s she who is having a difficult time in life.

I again felt that familiar thrill when Cathy repeatedly stands up to her and in the end, demands that she take dying Corey to the hospital. I never underestimate the allowance for a strong female character. Corinne still pissed me off as a less righteous modern day feminist. Check.

I also found myself thinking, would kids these days possibly not mind being locked up with access to wifi and games (because surely Corinne would have supplied them with all of these modern necessities)? I think when I read it for the first time, I might have thought it wasn’t so bad—they had all these books and toys and treasures and Cathy could dance in the attic. On their first Christmas, Corinne had brought them a TV (impressive that the young teens were hyper aware they needed to not let the twins become idiot box addicts). I was similarly impressed when Chris tells Cathy they must go about life pursuing their dreams (becoming a doctor, dancing); force twins to learn how to read and discover their own talents.

I’m not going to dwell so much on incest here (shocking, I know), other than to say that it comes about organically and similar to how I felt reading it when I was younger, I empathized with the kids and felt they were forced into a completely perverted situation as adolescents. I don’t find it titillating, nor disgusting. I think more people concentrate on that being the biggest deal in the book, completely overlooking the fact that you can’t get more disgusting and depraved than locking away four healthy children in a room for 3 years and 4 months and then slowly killing them off. We’ve got a close first person POV, so that makes it even more profoundly disturbing. Incest, big whoop, a bigger deal when I read it the first time. VC Andrews is hardly the first novelist to write about incest, of course. There’s been incest galore ever since the Bible.

Throughout this read and after finishing, I still find myself haunted by the idea of leaving any creature that is dependent on you, no less children, alone to survive locked up, imprisoned with a caretaker that you know is a monster. To slowly die a horrible death. The sheer horror of that. What is almost inconceivable is given an unflinching treatment with adequate restraint (that is, not sensationalist, nor salacious).

The problem is, despite my love for it, the fact that this novel develops into a series (that I similarly devoured, but now have no desire to do so) does kind of cheapen everything as it devolves into more sensationalist subject matter. Not to mention all of the books that her ghostwriters put out. All of them are formulaic. All of them involve incestuous families with big secrets. The families are either extremely wealthy or extremely poor and there’s aspiration to attain riches (which happens thanks to the cliché long-lost rich relative).

One final observation: Flowers in the Attic is described on the cover of new editions simply as a “tale of forbidden romance.” Forbidden, is putting it mildly and this book is definitely not a romance novel! More like, a tale of tragic neglect and its resulting perverted consequences. To be honest, who needs any kind of statement like that on the cover of a best-selling novel (that was published decades ago)?

I almost feel at this point I could write a thesis as to the literary merit of this book, but for the sake of this fun project, I’ll end here. It would be too easy to dismiss Flowers in the Attic as a melodramatic read suitable for those seeking out scandalous entertainment. Did people similarly dismiss classic gothic novels like Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights (surely this one gave VC some inspiration)? I’m glad I gave it a “second” (or rather, tenth) chance.

Joi and FITA

Joi Brozek lives, reads and writes in New Orleans. With this re-reading of Flowers in the Attic, she’s made the stunning discovery that she’s been chasing a VC Andrews novel her entire writing life. With this in mind, she returns to the beast of a book she’s been unsuccessfully trying to finish for the past decade.

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2013 Q1 Reading Report

Another year, another batch of books. Already, 2013’s reading has been spectacular.

January

Long After Midnight At the Nino Bien, Brian Winter – This one was recommended to me by a tango friend last year. I struggled to get interested in it for the first section or so, but once I did, it was a really quick read, amusing and informative. It’s the story of Winter’s time in Buenos Aires, learning tango and getting enmeshed in community there, and has a lot of political and tango music history. Sadly, I just heard through my own tango community that the Nino Bien may have closed recently.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – I’ve loved John Green since I read An Abundance of Katherines in 2007. I’ll admit I was a bit put off by the grim subject matter of this book, but I knew it would be lovely in his hands. And it was. He writes about misfits so wonderfully and it makes sense that he’s so embraced in a world of Glee and It Gets Better because he’s been a voice telling teens to let their freak flags fly for a long time. I was already adult-ish when I first read him and I still appreciated the message. Anyways, this is one of those books that sticks with you long after you read it and you find yourself recalling it at odd, perfect moments.

Visions of Sugar Plums and Eleven on Top, Janet Evanovich – These books do not stick with you after you read them. I’d be hard pressed to tell you any specific thoughts about them a few hours after I finish them, but they are entertaining and distracting as you read. Evanovich has created a fun character, which is no mean feat, but the rest is fluff.

The Lost Heir, E.G. Foley – I won a signed copy of one of Gaelen Foley’s books, so I asked her to send me this one, a middle readers book she wrote with her husband. I already had a copy, which I gave to a friend’s son and we read the book together, talking frequently about the characters and the story. It was a really fun experience and we both loved the characters and the twists the story took. It’s a steampunk adventure in Victorian England, complete with magic and fantasy creatures and demented villains. Fans of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson Peter books will love this series, which continues with Jake and the Giant.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn – I mostly picked this one up out of curiosity, to see what all the hype was about and then I was just sucked breathlessly under the surface of the story and I didn’t come up again till I was done. I’ve rarely read such a brave, smart book that messed with my head as much. Maybe never. It was a phenomenal exercise in perspective and psychology.

February

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin – Okay, okay, I’m sure you’re tired of me reading books because I like their t.v./movie counterparts, but it’s not something that’s gonna stop anytime soon. Friends of mine have been telling me to read these books for more than a decade, but I just never thought I’d get into them. Same with the HBO show. I must’ve checked the first season out from the library three times before I finally watched it. But then I was obsessed with seeing every minute of the second season, counting down to the third and reading all the books. Talk about an exercise in perspective. Epic is the only word and it hardly seems enough. I read the first book in about a week and would’ve read it faster if I hadn’t had to sleep or work.

I Saw You…Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections, ed. Julia Wertz – This book has comic artists illustrating selected missed connections ads. I saw through a Goodreads update that a friend was reading it and was intrigued. It’s a mixed bag. Some of them are very poignant and well-executed and some are less so, but the book is definitely worth checking out.

Twelve Sharp and Plum Lovin’, Janet Evanovich – I think I’m only reading these books at this point because I hate leaving stories unfinished. I like to know what happens. Plus, I had a loan request for the next Song of Ice and Fire book and then ordered it online and it was taking forever for me to get a copy, for some reason. Had to read something.

A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin – Finally! I got my hands on this book. One of the things that most impresses me about the series is how well-developed the characters are, how thrilling it is to see the story from so many varied and contradictory perspectives. Everyone’s a villain and everyone’s a hero. The political intrigue and maneuvering is absolutely incredible. This one took me only about a week to consume as well.

March

Girl Land, Caitlin Flanagan – This is a hard book to define. A treatise (with an agenda) on the nebulous period of time between girlhood and womanhood, with research about proms and diaries of old, as well as pop culture references (but none past 1980), and a bit of a memoir aspect as Flanagan relates her own experiences. The book was fascinating, though I thought it was less successful when Flanagan started preaching to parents of modern girls at the end, making some good points, but very deluded about modern social communication and how to help girls kids interact with it. Also, she blithely says she’s the mother of boys and doesn’t have to worry about much of the danger she’s outlined, missing the significant point that parents have as much to teach boys about Girl Land, this period of female development she’s defined, as they do girls. Boys need to learn the lessons of respect for others and critical thought as much as girls do. What will change if we teach half our population something that we neglect to teach the other half? This is the same basic point Caitlin Moran missed when she defined ‘feminist’ in How to Be a Woman and left out men in her definition. Still, I’ve referenced both books constantly in conversation since I’ve read them. Here’s one review that says a lot of what I think better.

A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin – One of my friends, a huge GRRM fan, called this the “WTF?” book when I told her I’d started it and that is pretty much the best summary I can imagine. This book is wild and everything you assume will happen doesn’t and things you’d never imagine happening do. This is also the book that the current HBO season is based on, so I’m excited about what’s to come, while dreading a bunch of it as well.

The Devil in Her Way, Bill Loehfelm – My review of this one will be forthcoming, is out in 225 Magazine. Meanwhile, you can buy a copy and get the author to sign it at Garden District Book Shop April 30th, at Maple Street Book Shop May 14th and at Octavia Books May 21st.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz – Junot’s brilliant. These stories were quick little literary snacks, evocative and powerful and weird. But they ring true, as everything I’ve ever read by him does, and they feel so personal you have to call him “Junot,” as if you know him, like you’ve just had a really long conversation with him.

Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys – I read a bunch of write-ups about this one, especially in Entertainment Weekly, and despite the glowing review, I was thinking it was going to seriously suck. There’s a something about seedy historical New Orleans that intrigues people, so much so that it becomes almost fetishized. But I was pre-judging the book based on two things: the author doesn’t live in New Orleans and the title refers to the city as “the Easy.” The book, in reality, is wonderful. I love that it’s a YA title, but talks frankly about sex and crime in its historical setting. I’m not promoting gratuitous sex and violence in any medium or setting, but I absolutely appreciated that the book doesn’t condescend to its readers or cater to the group of YA-censors who do condescend to teen readers. Sepetys had a story to tell and she told it. Pretty freaking well.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel – A member of my writing group recommended Bechdel’s Fun Home, which is called a tragicomic and blew my mind when I read it last year. So, I was completely on board when I heard she had a new book out, this one a comic drama about her mother and psychotherapy. On paper, Bechdel and I have completely different biographies, yet I felt like she had already written my memoir. If that makes sense. Or, at least, she’d already done the psychology research for my memoir. But perhaps that’s the power of her narrative ability, matched with her visual artist instincts. Her books make you live in them until they are your stories, too.

Requiem, Lauren Oliver – This is the last book in the Delirium series, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Or is it the last book? It really didn’t feel like it. I liked that the book alternated between perspectives, between Lena and Hana, and I liked that we got a bit of Alex’s perspective in a separate short story. But. But, the story did not feel complete when the book was finished. I ran out of text, but I still had so many questions. I don’t need everything resolved and I didn’t even necessarily [SPOILER! STOP! SPOILER!] need the romance to be resolved cleanly, but Oliver has built this world and has given us no idea where it’s going after she stops writing about it. We need another book.

So I know my reviews aren’t strictly reviews in the traditional sense. They’re random thoughts about why I decide to read books and what I think of them after I’ve read them. Sometimes, I’m grumpy when I write them and maybe a bit rude (sorry, Janet Evanovich and Iris Johansen) and sometimes I’m still a little euphoric and obsessed (too many examples to name one). But, I think they say something about the person reading them, where I’m at at a given time or moment and the world around me as I’m reading. I hope you find that interesting. I love talking books, so feel free to share your thoughts too, even–especially–if you disagree with me. I find that interesting.

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