Write About it Wednesday: Philip Roth

“Is that what eternity is for, to muck over a lifetime’s minutiae? Who could have imagined that one would have forever to remember each moment of life down to its tiniest component?”

Philip Roth is a legend, a literary icon. You can’t follow the New York Times Book Review without hearing his name. It was his passing that ultimately led to my picking up Indignation, and a fellow writers review of his classic American Pastoral. She was pitching her article to a magazine and I felt compelled to learn more about this mysterious Roth. I consider myself a bit of a reading rebel.  I never go for the book everyone talks about. What is the fun in that? My preconceived notions will just get in the way. This was Roth’s 29th book and reads as a coming of age novel set in the second year of the Korean War. When I think coming of age, I think figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. Instead, this is sexual frustration, blow jobs, and a realization that you get along with no one and want to run away from the possibility of the front lines of war. Marcus, a sophomore at a conservative college, finds himself in the exact trouble that he tries to stay away from. The first 200 pages of the novel describe experiences at college that lead Marcus to his untimely death. The reader knows he is dead from the beginning but isn’t wise to the circumstances until the final 15 pages. It is a ton of build up but pays off in the end.

I can respect Roth as a writer on so many levels. Could I have used a few less sexual references for my taste? Yes. His descriptions are unparalleled though. You can tell he devoted time to his craft. There is a scene where Marcus is reading to his mother as she falls asleep from one of his textbooks and I thought to myself how real this moment feels. Roth chose a relevant book from the period, that Marcus would have been studying, and quotes the book as if Marcus is reading to you as well. I’ve never read a book with extensive detail that added to the experience instead of making the reader feel overwhelmed with information. It was perfect. He uses the backdrop of butchering (Marcus’s job back home) to relay large moral issues that still hold true today. Why a butcher? If only I could ask him the questions that stirred in my brain as I finished reading.

Roth won the National Book Award twice, a Pulitzer Prize, and multiple PEN/Faulkner awards. His degrees were in English, he taught literature and his career was successfully entitled “novelist.” He lived the dream of many writers. He quit writing for a time and reread all his works. He kept writing. In this aspect, he is someone to admire and study. I’m glad I picked this one up, but I hope my next Roth is less on the sexual awakening side…Any recommendations? Happy Reading!

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Write About it Wednesday: Book Giveaways

“To open a book, turn its pages, inhale its odor if one is alone- what an exquisite bundle of sensations.”

How many of you have hosted a book giveaway before? I recently hosted one for a new release, The Devil’s Reward. It documents three generations of love, loss, and complicated family memories. I was excited to receive an advanced copy from the publisher and share it with my followers. I am still semi-new to the giveaway world. My hopes are always to gain new followers, connect with people, and learn more marketing techniques. So far, I feel like I’m failing. First, I didn’t love this book. When I’m not engaged, it feels like work. I do book marketing on the side because I enjoy reading. I want to promote authors and help expand the book world. It’s hard to justify the time spent when I don’t feel something for the words. Second, I like to promote authors that don’t see as much traffic but that can be detrimental to my own account. I don’t mind that I may never have thousands of followers, but I want the giveaway to draw more people in to new books they may not have seen before or thought to read. This approach doesn’t always draw in the crowd. Lastly, there always seems to be that one greedy person that takes over your account. We all know the one. The follower to unfollow that tags a million people and then never engages with you again, oh wait! Until your next giveaway, and there they are again. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in respect and proper etiquette.

The Devil’s Reward is not my cup of tea. It felt like a long-distance relative telling me all her stories, out of order, while her life is moving along in the background. The relationship between mother and daughter is complicated, as most are. The relationship between husband and wife is complicated, as most are. The author just dives into philosophical ideals about life which feel a bit preachy and reflective. I might have enjoyed it if I was a bit older, but right now it just felt like the daughter whined and complained about her life, her daughter engaged only to gain more insight into her thesis and the grandmother was just happy for company. There isn’t much more to say, except that I’m just not in a place in my life where this appealed to me in the slightest.

Are your giveaways a success? How do you promote new books that others may not have heard of? Even if you do not love a book, do you still share your reviews and opinions? Writing is hard work. Even if a book isn’t for me, it doesn’t mean it isn’t for you! I try to share my honest opinions. I hope to hear yours!

Write About it Wednesday: Graphic Novels

“We must die on this godforsaken island.”

The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge is FULL of graphic novels. This was intimidating for me because I have never read one, nor did I know how. Anyone can read a book, right? Wrong. I felt like a book lover fraud with this new endeavor. I believe interest is a major factor in success when trying something new. I picked Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths which is a fictionalized memoir set in the South Pacific during World War Two which appeals to my inner history nerd. I opened the first page, which is actually in the back. This was as far as my knowledge of graphic novels went. I read the introduction and turned to the second page…only to find that I was already confused. Why are the pages backwards? I’m now going to tell you the truth: I had to YouTube how to read a graphic novel. After several useless videos, I finally landed on one that taught me something. I’m feeling confident at this point, only to turn to the first page of the novel. I start reading, and then I’m distracted by the pictures. I look at every picture before reading the dialogue which completely ruins the presentation and design. I start reading, but then I’m reverting to my old habits. At this point, I’ve made it three pages and have no idea what is going on. It’s time to regroup.

I have a solid obsession with Post It notes. I decide to write a game plan on reading: Start at the top right-hand corner and read from right to left. Then, continue to the next row and repeat. This lasted until I closed the book when life interrupted. I would open the book again to continue reading and completely forget how to read every single time. This seems ridiculous looking back but I would have never made it through the novel without the Post It reminder. My brain just could not process the information. I read all the time, but the moment I changed the routine and expectation it was a full-on breakdown.

I enjoyed what I comprehended of OTOND. It is a personal story and gives insight into the experiences of soldiers during this portion of the war. There is dark humor, vivid imagery, and the illustrations blended for a comic-like experience, but this was a true challenge for me. I’m sure there are scientific studies well beyond my range of knowledge about routine and comprehension that explain how this change in pattern completely threw me for a loop. My hope is the next novel will be a bit easier on me.

Have you read graphic novels? What was your experience? I’d love to hear some other novels to try!

Write About it Wednesday: William Henry Harrison

“Sir, I wish you to understand the principles of the Government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”

William Henry Harrison was born a Virginia aristocrat, but was marketed to voters as a humble soldier in a cabin. He is best known for the Battle of Tippecanoe which didn’t result in a large military victory. Harrison screwed up the defenses resulting in high American casualties. This somehow landed him as a military hero in the eyes of most Americans, secondary only to Andrew Jackson at the time. I am still baffled this falls as a victory for Harrison since he led his men into a trap, most of the Indians escaped to wreak havoc on neighboring towns and resulted in Tecumseh allying with the British in Canada. His time spent in battle did lead to an advocacy for fellow veteran rights, a fight that would last his entire career. My main issue with Harrison is not only his misguided hero status but his blatant attempt to stay in the middle of the road with his opinions. The man said whatever needed to be said to the audience in front of him. It is hard to know what he truly believed on any major issue. He declared himself opposed to slavery but voted with Southerners when it came to prohibiting slavery in new territories. He presented himself as anti-bank but insisted that the Supreme Court had final say in these matters. Harrison did not believe in alcohol, but his campaign promoted drinking with souvenir whiskey bottles. At what point do you have to stop and think, why am I doing this? Did he only care about getting elected?

Most notably, he was the first presidential candidate to campaign which is where my interest lies. The voters of this period wanted change. They didn’t care who it was if it was different. Does this sound familiar? They were willing to pick Harrison even though his entire campaign platform was false. He never addressed real issues. His previous government posts were minimal, and he was reliant on the campaign strategies and his speeches to win over the voters. This was the first election that women were urged to take part in and voters turned out in record numbers to elect Harrison. Unfortunately, Harrison dies shortly after his inauguration. Some believe the length of the address in the cold weather brought on pneumonia, but others believe it was his constant campaigning and the pressure of his new position. His Vice President was never questioned on his beliefs because many assumed that he would never have the chance to make a difference. No one else would accept the position, and now Tyler found himself President. I am eager to begin his biography as well as several other key names that continue to pop up on my journey through the Presidents.

The perceptions of Harrison versus the true Harrison are drastic. I am reminded of the saying, “History repeats itself,” as I read about these voters compared to the recent election. Sometimes change is needed so badly that we allow people to be elected that seem improbable. What do we really know about presidential candidates? Most of our news is secondhand sources and we rarely meet the person. What change are we expecting when we only see what we want to see?

Book Review Saturday: The Couple Next Door

“No! What are you saying? That I killed her? Is that what you really think?”

Reading a book with someone is like discovering it twice. This was my first buddy read of 2018 and it went by so quickly that we were both left with a sense of now what? It’s interesting to see the things that each person finds important or interesting. I feel a better sense of understanding and depth from a book when read with another person. Plus, it throws in an added excitement of text messages that went something like: O.M.G, wait, can you believe that? I knew that person was shady, this can’t be happening…I did not see THAT coming. This has led to a new goal for the year of adding more time reading with friends and my book community.

The Couple Next Door is appropriately labeled a thriller. Anne and Marco leave their baby next door while they attend a dinner party. They check on her every 30 minutes and have a baby monitor to listen for any problems while she sleeps. Well, the baby is kidnapped. You can probably see that coming, but the rest of the book is a series of twists and turns. It became evident who kidnaps Cora about a third of the way through the book, but the motives and back story present themselves much later. It is an interesting dynamic of what occurs when a child is kidnapped, how the parents are usually the first to blame and how the investigation unfolds from the perspective of the parents, detective and grandparents. It also looks at how far a person will go when faced with utter devastation and ruin. The entire family begins to unravel based on unfounded judgements that present themselves. The ending is the kicker. I did NOT see THAT coming, and I usually do.

When I finally recovered from the ending and moved on to another book, I kept going back to the question: Who leaves their baby alone in a house with no supervision? I wonder if I’m being judgmental since I do not have children. Her husband needed a night out, and she went against her better judgement to please him. The emotions that Anne experience post baby seem very relatable. Although this is every parent’s worst nightmare, there rings so many truths that this book would appeal to many mothers. I recently spoke with a friend who is staying home with her first child about not having anything to say to her husband. Anne was experiencing this same dilemma along with depression. I had never put myself in their shoes and this gave me new perspective and insight to some of the struggles that new mothers must face. Does my husband still find me attractive? Why will my baby not stop crying? I know this is only a small portion of the book, but it spoke volumes to me. Another great reason to have a second opinion while reading because my friend questioned everything from the father’s perspective. What was he giving up? How must he feel with a wife at home that is depressed and pushing him away? There are always two sides to the story and Lapena did an excellent job adding additional elements to this story.

The first two chapters of A Stranger in the House, also by Lapena, are included at the end. I look forward to reading it!

Book Review Saturday: Hannah Swensen Holiday Mysteries

“… a Santa-sized sackful of trouble ensues.”

Christmas time usually involves a handful of fun, easy reads and several binge sessions of Hallmark holiday movies. No worries though, I still manage to fit in quite a bit of reading between The Christmas Kiss and The Santa Clause. I have never read Joanne Fluke but the thought of a few mindless hours behind a Christmas themed book was too tempting to pass up. I finished Christmas Caramel Murder in a few hours and returned to the library the next day for another one. It was hard to limit myself, but I need to save a few for next year, right? The books are very short and include several recipes for those that are baking inclined. I must admit that a sugar cookie craving followed. I doubt mine tasted quite like the book proposed but I was up for the challenge.

I read the books out of order and it didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t know all the back story or characters but that wasn’t why I was reading. I just wanted to solve the murder while humming Christmas tunes and imagining the town all decked out in holiday cheer. The Christmas Caramel Murder finds Mrs. Clause dead in the snow. Mrs. Clause, better known as Phyllis Bates, has angered several people including Lisa, Hannah’s best friend. Phyllis was chosen to play Mrs. Clause alongside Lisa’s husband, her ex-boyfriend whom she kisses during rehearsal of the Christmas Carol play. Hannah must work quickly to solve the murder because her friends are high on the suspect list. This was my favorite of the two. Sugar Cookie Murder was a bit drawn out. Murder strikes at the annual Christmas buffet and Hannah decides to put her investigation skills to work since Detective Mike is shorthanded. The new wife of Martin Dubinski is found dead in the snow with the whole town stranded in the Community Center as suspects. The obvious suspects such as the ex-wife, ex-boyfriend and husband who was already regretting the marriage are ruled out, but the real evidence comes in the form of photographs of the event. Hannah always seems to find the killer before Mike and it seems a bit far fetched that the detective is always a few steps behind.

I do not read these cozy mysteries looking for five star reads. If that is what you are looking for, you will be very disappointed. I read these to escape for a few hours and not have to think or be challenged. That isn’t a negative against the author, these just aren’t those type of books. I know people who rate them with one star because they say the writing is awful, or it’s too predictable but what did they expect? I think book reviewers fail to consider context and audience which can be a detriment to many authors. Be considerate before you review. It will make for a better reading and writing experience for all.

Do you have any holiday reads that you enjoy? I would love to add some new ones to my reading roster. Please send me some of your favorites!

Write About it Wednesday: Front- Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign

“Every day on the campaign trail Trump’s actions test the definition of normal.”

This is quite possibly my favorite read of 2017. Unbelievable is just as the title states: Unbelievable. I watch the news. I follow campaign trails. I don’t get caught up in the day to day as often as I used to, but I like to know what is going on in the world around me. Katy Tur’s first-hand account of the recent presidential election had me questioning everything I know and remember. The book starts out with her receiving the Trump assignment (and some sex with a man she met on Tinder) and follows the campaign from the very beginning of Trump’s announcement of his candidacy to the final victory party. She pieces together her time on the road through memory, tweets, TV scripts and a compilation of notes that were outlined and then published for us to enjoy. Although Tur asks difficult questions of Trump, she claims no political affiliation to remain unbiased. I did feel she leaned toward Democratic views, but her book focuses on Trump and the evolution of campaign coverage. It truly was the CRAZIEST campaign in American history and she was there through it all.

What makes this book so great? I keep asking myself this question. I cannot pinpoint the exact reason that I loved it except to say that I took my reading further than words on the page. When an interview was mentioned, I found myself searching YouTube for the video. When a person is mentioned that I hadn’t heard of, I found them on Twitter. Tur’s story is down to Earth, easy to read and opens your eyes to the things that journalists deal with in our current media climate. Trump called her out on multiple occasions and violent threats were a real possibility from his supporters. Her interviews weren’t flawless, she didn’t claim to be perfect, she was real.

I think this book is a must read for anyone who enjoys politics, history or a laugh when it comes to presidential candidates. I will look at political coverage in a new light and have become an active Twitter follower of many news sites and organizations. I have been looking for a journalist from the Clinton campaign to come forward with a similar title, but no luck so far. As many of you know, I try to always read both sides of any story so if you have recommendations, please feel free to share!