family book club: house of leaves

house of leaves by mark danielewski

A house with a dark secret. A creeping sense of foreboding. A story told through documents, footnotes, and scraps of paper.

House of Leaves is like nothing I’ve read before. How this story is told is as much a part of the experience as the story itself. In a committed storytelling device, we meet our narrator–of a sort–Johnny Truant. Johnny has come across a trunk full of documents and photos after a man he knew, Zampano, died mysteriously at home.

The book wades through these documents as a story unfolds about what Zampano was studying through all this information: a house with a deep, dark, twisty universe inside it and the family who lives there.

Think Poltergeist + Paranormal Activity + the Labyrinth.

The text itself tells a story. How it’s laid out on the page feels like wandering through a maze. The footnotes take you on a different path that can leave you confused, a bit lost. It’s a trip (figuratively of course) to read, but during family book club we felt talking about it was more fun than actually reading it. It was a lot of work to wade through this book, but the payoff is there, if you want to delve in (much the opposite of the house itself). There are secrets on secrets on secrets to learn, if it interests you. Unfortunately, it didn’t interest us too much.

But storytelling always interests me. How we do it, and why. So much of our lives are digital now, this book might look very different if it came out today instead of 2000. So what story does your life tell, only looking at scraps of paper, images collected, messages sent here and there? Here’s some from my life. Nothing unusual.

pictures

notes from iphonetextsnotes4notes3email

As I said, nothing unusual.

Our next family book club book is Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King (Kindle here). We’ll be able to do this book club in person when we are all together for Christmas. Won’t you join in?

(I bought this book on my own and am not being paid to write about it. But I am a part of the Amazon affiliate’s program, so if you buy through my links I’ll make a little bit of money off of it.)

family book club: icy sparks

icy sparks

Normally I’m begging for authors not to explicitly spell things out for their readers. We’re smart, and we can tell who is sad without having to read “John is sad.”

But in Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio (Kindle version here), I needed some things to be spelled out. It was an easy read, but one that left us with more questions than satisfactory answers when we held our quarterly book club meeting. (This time, we did it in person while we were all on vacation. Photo from my mom.)

family book club meeting

Icy Sparks is about a young girl in the South during the 50s who deals with tics and urges she can’t explain or control. She becomes an outcast and spends some time at a mental institution for observation. It’s a coming of age novel (kind of like Middlesex), and Icy goes through a lot without fully understanding why.

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family book club: middlesex

middlesex jeffrey eugenides

We met a few weekends ago to discuss our #familybookclub pick, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Kindle version here). We used Google hangouts, and it worked pretty well!

family book club video chat

It was so fun to see everyone and to get together from our homes all over the country. And it didn’t hurt that my adorable nephews jumped on to say hello. We were all glad we read Middlesex because it wasn’t something we would have picked up on our own, but I don’t think any of us will probably reach for it again. We classified it as a coming of age novel–for our narrator and many members of his family.

Coming of age

Cal begins his story with his grandparents all the way in Greece. Desdemona and Lefty are brother and sister while a war is raging around them and their own feelings for each other are raging inside. When they leave their burning city and get on a ship to America, they create a new life. Quite literally, in that they lie to everyone and to themselves by telling a story of how they met and fell in love. They became husband and wife on this trip, and they also became adults with an entirely new history. And in America, they begin their adult, married life. But it’s not as easy as they’d pretended it could be.

Milton and Tessie, the next generation and parents to Cal, are cousins. What starts as an exploration of their sexuality turns into a marriage and a family. And, likewise, Cal’s first experiences with sex help him find out who he really is.

Continue reading “family book club: middlesex”

in cold blood

in cold blood

Our book club book this month was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Have you read it? It’s a really amazing, in-depth account of a horrible murder of a family in Western Kansas in 1959.

I’m an editor, and I actually interned at the Kansas City Star, which comes up often in this book. I can’t seem to ever turn off my editor brain, especially when I’m reading nonfiction. And after some recent controversy came up doubting some of Capote’s claims, my editor brain was all over this novel.

Please don’t misunderstand me. The amount of research that went into this book is astounding. I am confident 95% of it is right on the money and expertly and beautifully presented. It’s the other 5%–the nonexistent attribution for conversations Capote couldn’t have been present for, or describing expressions when he wasn’t in the room–that sparks a teeny tiny bit of skepticism from me. These details probably won’t matter to most people. He makes his claims based on days–months probably–of interviews and years of research. So even if he was assuming how someone’s face looked when they got bad news, he likely assumed correctly. But if you’re claiming your novel is 100% accurate, then I think you should be able to clearly say how you know these things are true, even the little moments and expressions that don’t matter much to the whole tale.

We talked about this in book club, and most of the people who weren’t journalists didn’t sweat this small stuff. But we did talk about how he got his information, and journalistic standards and ethics. My book cub notes are here:

in cold blood notes

Like how close is too close? Did his relationships with his subjects color his account? My issue isn’t with the writing (how could it be, it’s incredible), it’s with transparency. Having more transparency may not have made this book a better story. But I do think it would have made it a stronger journalistic piece. And if you don’t want that–if you’d rather it be a gorgeous piece of writing that’s 95% accurate and blurs the lines of truth here and there–then I’m totally cool with that. Really. As long as you tell me that’s what’s happening so I can read it with that in mind.

The structure of this novel is brilliant. He twists the victims’ and the killers’ stories so that they really only meet toward the end–once Dick and Perry are caught and are telling their tale. I read that Capote was one of the first to do this kind of nonfiction novel. He made it popular, and, when he was writing, footnotes and strict record-keeping weren’t really a thing yet. I understand, but I do wish they were there. Because I’m a big nerd, and I like to read them. And also because if they were there, it would be easier to dispute/support others’ claims of inaccuracy.

One of my favorite themes in the book is perceptions versus reality. The killers eventually confess, but do you believe every word in their confessions? Their personalities can seem sweet or callous, depending on circumstances, so who are they really? Sensitive and charming? Or manipulative, cold-blooded killers? The Clutter family was well-off and lived in a big house and took care of big business. The killers believed they were rich, but found next to no cash in their house. What’s real? Does reality or perception even matter when the end result is a dead family?

What do you guys think?

(I bought this book on my own and am not being paid to write about it. I am not affiliated with Word; I’m just a fan.) 

my to-read list

Well, I finished Middlesex over the weekend, on the plane (Kindle version here). I don’t want to talk too much about it yet because I’m saving all my good discussion for Family Book Club. Don’t forget you have until the end of the month to read it to participate! But now what do I read?

under the dome

I started Under the Dome because it was already on my Kindle. You guys know I love Stephen King, and so far I’m really enjoying it. I am only about 10% into it, and so far most of the characters I have met have died, but King does a really great job introducing people and making me care about them before he kills them off. And I have a good picture of the town in my head. As you can maybe guess from the title, a large dome drops down over a Maine town and encloses everyone inside. The dome is invisible, but you can feel it. This reminded me of something someone said in real life book club about Safe As Houses: The author could really make you see an invisible church. I feel that way about this invisible dome, too. I’m pretty into it so far, but it seems less urgent than all the other awesome books I want to read. [paperback, kindle]

lean in sheryl sandberg

I’ve also heard great things about Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. It’s come out recently and has been all over the internet. Plus, I’ve gotten recommendations from friends. I’m really into reading about people talking about feminism and women in the workplace. Especially since I am a woman in the workplace. [hardcover, kindle]

in cold blood

In Cold Blood is this month’s book club book. I started this book a few years ago but gave up because I had a nightmare. So I’m excited to reread it as a more mature (??) adult who doesn’t get scared by detailed stories of real-life brutal murders. Also, I just talked to my dad, who is from Kansas, and he remembers when it happened. Exciting! [paperback, ebook, from Word]

the revolution was televised

I didn’t grow up watching much TV. I mean, sure, I watched the Disney channel, but it wasn’t until I got older that I realized the incredible storytelling of serial dramas. So I’ve made up for it, plus some. This book covers The Sopranos, Oz, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, and how they changed TV. I just want to finish watching The Sopranos and Buffy before I pick it up, but I’m just about done with both of those series. [paperback, kindle]

Which book should I do first?!

(I bought these books on my own and am not being paid to write about them. But I am a part of the Amazon Affiliates program, so if you buy it through my links on Amazon, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it. I am not affiliated with Word; I’m just a fan.) 

real life book club

You know about #familybookclub already, but let me tell you about this real life book club I went to last weekend. It was at Word, a local bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and it was really fun! We talked about Safe as Houses by Marie Helene-Bertino. It is a short story collection, and I very much enjoyed its surrealism and wit. I had a lot of thoughts about this book on my own, but book club helped me see how all the stories worked together. We talked about themes, what we liked and didn’t like, and what we thought was good and bad about the book. And to my surprise, there were a few stories that seriously divided the room. It was so great to hear why others loved the stories I didn’t like as much. Here are my notes from our discussion.

book club notes

I absolutely recommend this book, especially if you’re into surreal/absurd/magical realism. My favorite story was “Sometimes You Break Their Hearts, Sometimes They Break Yours.” I thought it was hilarious and sweet–I underlined almost every line. My next favorite was “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph.” I loved how the characters interacted, and it hit some emotional notes that I adored.

Next month is on Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. I haven’t started it yet, but I am already looking forward to the discussion. It will be on March 2 at noon at Word. And don’t forget about #familybookclub! You have until March 30 (well, probably a little bit later even) to read Middlesex (paperback here, Kindle version here).

(I bought these books on my own and am not being paid to write about them. But I am a part of the Amazon Affiliates program, so if you buy it through my links on Amazon, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it. I am not affiliated with Word; I’m just a fan.) 

family book club

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I come from a family of readers (for this, I am #thankful). I’ve never known a moment where reading wasn’t celebrated or encouraged, and believe me when I say I am grateful and know this isn’t the norm for everyone. Now that we are all adults (I’m the youngest), we keep reading and talking and sharing our stories.

So this may have been a long time coming, but we’ve recently started Family Book Club. We are picking one book each quarter, and rotating who gets to choose. Our first book was The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Kindle version here) purely by accident because several of us picked it up when it came out. Our discussions were loosely structured and a lot of fun. We decided to do one book each quarter, so one book for every three months.

This time, I get to pick the book. So whoever wants to participate (no pressure) will pick up Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Kindle version here) and we’ll talk about it on the phone or in person or on video chat or in email around the end of March.

middlesex jeffrey eugenides

So, friends, would you like to read it too? Whoever wants to should pick up a copy and join the discussion! It will be casual, it will be fun, and I’d love to talk about it with you. You have until March 31. If you’ve already read it, feel free to join in as well! We’d love to have you. I’ll post some of our talking points on here, so get ready to comment away. You can follow my reading also on Goodreads and find me always on Twitter.

Also also, I’m reading Safe as Houses by Marie-Helene Bertino so I can participate in Word bookstore’s book club meeting this weekend on Feb. 2. If you’re in the area please come with me! I’ve heard great things about this book and can’t wait to get some book club experience under my belt.

(I bought these books on my own and am not being paid to write about them. But I am a part of the Amazon Affiliates program, so if you buy it through my links on Amazon, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it. I am not affiliated with Word; I’m just a fan.)