29 August 2014

Book Review: David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks

I have been putting off writing my review of David Mitchell's new novel, The Bone Clocks for nearly three months, largely because I feel completely inadequate to write a review of such a novel.  I'm not one of those readers who has been a Mitchell Completist or general devotee; in fact, before this novel, the only book I've read with his name attached is The Reason I Jump, which he translated but did not write. In other words, aside from knowing that a new book by David Mitchell qualifies as a world publishing event, I did not know precisely what to expect.

What I got was a soaring work of triumph that beautifully blends literary fiction with experimental and/or genre fiction. I can't pretend that I fully understood this book, and I was aware of that fact even as I was marveling over some of the prose and puzzling out the implications of time as Mitchell presents it.

Any attempt to summarize the plot of this book will necessarily fail -- even the short publisher promotional summary is a full three paragraphs and doesn't convey all that much other than the various locales of the novel.  But reviewing a book without any attempt at synopsizing is foolish, so here I go: The Bone Clocks hangs heavily on the narrative of a woman named Holly Sykes, one of the most remarkable characters I've ever had the privilege of meeting.  Her sections bookend the novel in a very nearly cradle-to-grave manner, beginning in the 1980s as a misunderstood teenager (surely there's no other kind?) and ending in a dystopian future setting when she is a grandmother fretting over the future of the children in her life. In the other sections that comprise the bulk of the novel, Holly is present either as a secondary character or merely in the reader's memory, but she's always there, lingering at the periphery of the reader's, and occasionally the other characters' consciousness.

So far, so good. But here's where the summary gets complicated.  In her youth, Holly has an affinity for the paranormal, and certain things happen in the first section that will have major reverberations in the later sections.  There are politicians and doctors and novelists and war correspondents and trustafarian rich kids, all living in more or less our own reality. There are also beings called Anchorites and Atemporals, locked in centuries-long psychic warfare. Along the way, Mitchell plays with the  notions of time, not just in a nonlinear or circulinear way, but in a... I can't even keep going, because trying to summarize is just too preposterous.

I think it simply must suffice to say that The Bone Clocks (incidentally, a rather poetic reference that comes very near the end of the novel) is a work of staggering imagination and craft. It's not perfect, and there are some sections that strained my credulity even as I was suspending my readerly disbelief. But that's almost beside the point in the face of what David Mitchell has accomplished.

I no longer have access to my ARC, so I cannot quote any passages from the book, so I'll just conclude with a quotation from the review of one of my Goodreads friends, New Englander, because it's something that I wish I had written, "Overall, then, a fantasy that tries and then comforts your patience. The plot will reward, you just have to be willing to take a long and winding road and enjoy the journey by stopping to smell any paranormal roses along the way. "

(I have to confess that David Mitchell's use of the golden apple (also pictured on the cover) was most poetic.  I only know Yeats' poem, The Song of Wandering Angus, from taking a Southern lit course in college and reading the source of Eudora Welty's title, The Golden Apples:  "And pluck till time and times are done the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun." That line means a lot more now after reading Mitchell's book.)

28 August 2014

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

It happens a few times a year: a publisher sends me a comp copy of an audio book that I would otherwise never pick up to read of my own accord, and in the process of listening to it I become terrifically surprised.  Such is the case when my Penguin sales rep, Karl, sent me the unabridged audio of Liane Moriarty's new novel, Big Little Lies, a couple of weeks ago.

I hadn't thought of reading this book, but I'm always willing to listen to books that I wouldn't dream of reading, as I enjoy listening to the audios in my car on my commute each day.  Little did I know just how enamored of this book I would become.

On the surface, the book seems like it could be a mystery: "Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. One parent is dead. The school principal is horrified. As police investigate what appears to have been a tragic accident, signs begin to indicate that this devastating death might have been cold-blooded murder." 

Really, though, it's the story of female friendship amidst the perils and politics of modern parenting.

Also, it's Australian. I didn't know the author was Australian until I looked her up.  At first I just thought that the casting of an Australian reader for the audio was a quirky directional choice. Anyway, we've got Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, who are all mothers of children entering the kindergarten class at Pirowee Public, and the novel centers around them, telling their stories in a third person narrative that flits about from one to the other.

Madeline is in her forties, on her second marriage and third child.  She works part time and is that rare bird in this particular Sydney suburb: she is neither a Career Woman nor a Career Mom. She's funny, a little brash, obsessed with clothing and looking good, but she's also extremely loyal and passionate, and it takes the smallest thing to make her outraged. Her kindergarten daughter Chloe is feisty, kind, and imperious in fairly equal measure.

Celeste is a quiet woman who happens to be gorgeous -- not run of the mill gorgeous, but other-people-trip-up-walking-down-the-street-to-do-a-double-take gorgeous.  She's also introspective and a little distracted, unsure of her true worth, and amazed that a vivacious woman like Madeline would want to be friends with someone like her.  It eventually becomes clear just why it is so convenient that her husband travels out of the country frequently for his career, and in the meantime, her hands are full raising their twin boys full time.

Jane is single and the newcomer to Pirriwee, and a good 10-15 years younger than all of the other mothers.  She's hiding a secret about the identity of her boy Ziggy's father, and she's unsure whether to let herself be drawn into a friendship with Celeste or Madeline.  When Ziggy is accused on the first day of kindergarten orientation of choking a little girl, Jane and her son get off to a rocky start with all of the other parents and children.  If it weren't for Madeline championing her the whole way, life would be very lonely and difficult, indeed.

Moriarty positively nails the type of helicopter parent that has made a bad name for parents in this country, and via the character of Madeline she takes delight in skewering them. If this doesn't sound funny and interesting, then I'm just not doing a good job of telling it, because this book is both.  In spades.  In fact, I got so frustrated with the slow pace of listening to the audio that I borrowed the physical book to take home and read instead.  There are lots of clichés in this book, but Moriarty either turns them on their head or paints them in a new light through her humor and wry observations.  I loved the friendship that develops among Jane, Celeste, and Madeline, and I love the come-uppance that happens in the end. The reader, Caroline Lee, is great and she voices Madeline particularly well with a sexy voice and a husky, breathy tone.

 Nobody is more surprised than I am that this book resonated with me the way it did.  It's a light and very fast read that occasionally gives way to darker material. Material so dark, in fact, that it might bog down and change the tone of any other book.  In that sense, the book puts me in mind of Joshilyn Jackson's novel, Someone Else's Love Story.   

26 August 2014

Book Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

It is a worldwide major publishing event when Japanese writer Haruki Murakami puts out a new book, and even bookstores in the US, a country not precisely exalted for either its love of literature or celebration of other cultures, hold midnight release parties for his books.

This is the story of Tsukuru, who narrates this story as a bachelor in his thirties but spends a lot of time exploring memories from his high school days when he was part of a group of five friends.  Best friends, to be exact, though Tsukuru always had a bit of a complex about his place in that circle.  His lack of self confidence leads him to think of himself as metaphorically "colorless, " a term derived from the names of his friends: each of them has a color in their name except for him.

Tsukuru is the only one who leaves Nagoya to attend university in Tokyo, and after his first year in college, he comes home one weekend, only to be informed, categorically, that none of his friends want to be friends any more.  Tsukuru isn't to call them or contact them in any way, and once the truth sinks in, his descends into a malestrom of depression from which he barely emerges. His friends' rejection of him colors (pun intended) all of his future relationships, or lack thereof.  He is unable to form emotional attachments or lasting relationships of any kind.

Sara, a woman he is dating, encourages him to track down these four friends and confront them with their desertion, to demand why they abandoned him so cruelly, and the second half of the book is dedicated to Tsukuru's efforts to do just that.

While I am glad that I read this novel, because I think it's important to read works in translation and because  I think Murakami is one of the world's most important novelists, I can't pretend that I really understood it. In fact, I've concluded that there is just too wide a chasm of cultural disconnect for me to "get" Murakami at all.  This is the third novel of his that I've read (not including a fourth novel that I never finished), and I don't think I'm any closer to an appreciation than I was before. To me, his dialogue is completely stilted, the depiction of suicide as both prolific and mundane is countercultural to the way most Americans approach or understand it, and the sex scenes are so overtly lacking in anything remotely erotic that I wonder why they're even present.  In fact, they read more like a technical manual.  They are the unsexiest sex scenes I have ever read. Those are just three generic examples from this book of how it didn't work for me as a reader, but I felt that away about the two previous novels of his that I've read, too. This is not, I hasten to add, because I think the American approach to suicide, sex, etc is the correct way and Murakami's is the wrong way; it's just that the American culture is what I know.  I just don't "get" him.

In fact, I feel about Murakami the same way I felt when I was studying French in college and trying to read a short story by Guy de Maupassant or a poem by Rimbaud. I was trying so hard to grasp the surface meaning in a language I was trying to learn that all of the substance underneath utterly slipped by.  That's how I feel about Murakami, except, of course, that here I'm reading an English translation. I'm absolutely convinced that I'm missing a world of meaning in his novels. Still, I'm glad that I put in the effort to read it, and I hope that one of my internet friends will share with me the genius that they see in his work.

My review wouldn't be complete without giving a nod to Chip Kidd for the fascinating design of this book, and a nod to Knopf for the beautiful production values.  Before I saw the actual book, the cover design didn't do much for me, but the physical book is very interesting and well put together. Tsukuru, represented by the "thumb" of the cover design, is shown as a map of subway or train lines (fitting, since he is a designer of train stations, and also for some spoilery reasons), while the fingers are the colors of his high school friends.

The four lines of the fingers are repeated on the tope of each page, and curiously, the pagination is printed in black with the exception of the number four, which is always printed in white. I have a half-cocked theory about this, but it might be a little spoilery to get into. Also, the endpapers in the book are all different colors: red and blue in the front, black and white in the back. Printing in the various colors, putting together a book like in general, is a very expensive proposition, so extra kudos to Knopf for undertaking it. Be sure to check it out--a lot of thought went into this design, more so than most novels and the book, at least the US edition, is worth seeing in person (for which read: worth buying in the physical format, not as an e-book).
The two front endpapers

Most page numbers looked like this except... 
...All of the pages with a four had the "4" printed in white, not black.

22 August 2014

Book Review: Invisible Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

Whew.  It's been so long since I've written a book review that I've been putting it off.  Seriously. Not since April--I just checked.  I've blogged a lot of bookish things since then, and I did several posts in the readalong for Caitlin Moran's forthcoming novel, How to Build a Girl, but an actual book review?  Nope.  This is embarrassing, and for those of you who come to this site looking for bookish things, I extend my apologies.

I'm an unabashed fiction reader, through and through, and while I love to read novels, I don't pay as much attention to short stories.  Oh, I might read one or two story collections a year and the occasional stand alone story in a publication like The New Yorker, but most of the time I really prefer to sink my teeth into a book and become immersed in its world. Let's face it, good short stories are more difficult to write than good novels--at least from this reader's perspective, since good short story collections seem a bit scarce on the ground, whereas good novels are being published every day. However, if all short story collections were as good as Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's book, Invisible Love, I would soon change my reading habits.

Every single story in this collection was very good, and a couple of them verged on excellent, but one of them?  Ahhh, one of them was nothing short of sheer perfection. The first story, "Two Gentlemen From Brussels," tells the twin narratives of two couples. One young couple is getting married in the town cathedral to much fanfare, whilst in the back, two men secretly murmur the young couple's wedding vows to each other, sealing their union under God, if not in the eyes of the state. The men take a proprietary interest in the young couple's relationship and guard over it, keeping watch over the baby they produce as the young boy grows up, showering him with treats and honoring him as a child they could never have themselves.

In another story, "Ménage À Trois,"  the young widow of a musician becomes increasingly convinced that her new husband has an unhealthy obsession with her dead husband's original music.  Uncomfortable, she goes about her life feeling like her marriage bed is a bit crowded, sandwiched between her current husband and the ghost of her first one.

It's the story called simply "The Dog" that broke my heart wide open and made me appreciate anew just how much emotional ground one short story can cover.  I'm not sure I've ever read a piece of Holocaust literature than has moved me more.  An old man kills himself within a week after his beloved dog dies, and his daughter and only friend are left to piece together the old man's history, which is quite different from what he's always told his daughter.  I think any reader would appreciate this story, but if you're an animal lover, and in particular a dog lover, I think this story will completely undo you. To say more would be to spoil, so I'll just say this: "The Dog" is, I think, the best short story I have ever read. If it's not the best, then it ties for first place with Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," which I haven't read since it was first published in The New Yorker seventeen years ago.  No other short stories have their equal for emotional heft.

These stories are exquisite little gems of literature that are full of philosophy and quiet moments of epiphany, those moments when the story pivots in the reader's mind to cast an entirely new slant of light on what has just been read. Each one left me with a sigh of satisfaction and contentment, but also a little bit slack-jawed with amazement that so much could be accomplished with such efficiency -- the longest story is only fifty pages. If you value fine writing and the remarkable execution of a difficult craft, this is a book you should purchase right away.

I don't make sweeping proclamations very often, but I will say this: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is the finest short story writer of our time.  I wish more of his books were translated into English, but thanks to Europa Editions, this is his fifth book available to readers like me.

NB: This book was provided at my request by my sales rep.

19 August 2014

Bizarre Customers: Face-Palm Installment

Ugh, it's been one of those weeks again.  I've got two coworkers out this week, which means I'm spending more time on the sales floor, less time at my desk.  This could be why there seems to be a proliferation of bizarre customer interactions this week.  Now you, too, can delight in my experiences because I will share them with you.  Sharing is caring. Isn't that what they say?

Man: Hi, I'm here to see Nancy about selling used books.
Me: Yes, she's in her office.  Do you need help bringing in your boxes?
Man: No, I just have the one book to sell her.
Me: Okay, I'll page her...[talks to Nancy]...She'll be here in a minute
Man:Oh.  Should I go get my book?
Me: You don't have it with you?
Man: No, it's in my car across the street.  Do you think I should go get it?
Me: No, that's okay.  Nancy specializes in buying invisible books.  No need for her to actually see it.

Lady on phone: Yes, I'm looking for recent published books for my book club to read.  They can't be longer than 250 pages.
Me: Do you have any preference for content, as long as the length of the book meets your requirements?
Lady: No. We just don't want to get bogged down in long books.  Anything is fine.  What would you recommend?
Me: Well, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is quite short.  It's even less than 200 pages, and it's pretty new.
Lady: That's a strange name for a book.  And it might be too short.
Me: Okay. Um, how about The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy? It's just over 200 pages and it's brand new in paperback.
Lady: That title sounds familiar.  I think we may have read that one already. What's it about?
Me: It's about several characters, separated by time and place, set over the course of several decades, and eventually the reader discovers what connects these characters who seem quite separate on the surface. It's only been out in paperback for a couple of weeks.
Lady: Well, that doesn't sound familiar, but I still think we read that one already.
Me: How about The Orphan Train? It's just over 250 pages, and it's been out about a year already, but I've heard back from various book club members that it was great.
Lady: What is that one about?
Me: It's based on the period of US history when orphans were removed from urban centers like Boston and New York and sent west on trains to be adopted by families.  Their stories were often full of hardship, as more often than not, they were put to hard work by the families.
Lady: That sounds too sad.
Me: Well, what kinds of books does your book club usually read?  I've got some lighter fare, but they're all around 300 pages.
Lady: [with great exasperation] No, I told you: no more than 250 pages.
Me: And nothing sad?
Lady: Are you making fun of me?
Me: No, ma'am.  But maybe if you came in to the store I could put together a stack of books for you to look at.
Lady: No, that's too much work.  I'll just see what Amazon recommends. Thank you for your help.

Lady: I'm looking for a chapter book for a four year old boy.
Me: Great, let's look over here.  Is he reading already? Or are you looking for something that someone else can read aloud to him?
Lady: Reading aloud--maybe a couple of chapters each night before bedtime.
Me: *Shows her various books from different series: Tashi, Ninja Meerkat, My Weird School, Magic Tree House, Heroes in Training, Lulu & the Brontosaurus, etc*
Lady: The pictures in these aren't very good.  I'm afraid he'll get bored.  Don't you have any picture books?
Me: Yes, we have a very nice selection of picture books.  Would you like to see those instead of the chapter books?  They won't have as much text in them, so you won't be able to stretch them out over the course of several nights.
Lady: No, I want to see your section of chapter picture books.
Me: Well...we have a number of graphic novels, but they're written for older kids, so there's chance the content won't be appropriate for a four year old.  Maybe Zita the Spacegirl? Or the Lunch Lady series?
Lady: No, I don't want him reading those comic books.  I don't like those.  What else do you have?
Me: [!!!]  Well, perhaps you'd prefer browsing our picture books, but as I said, they don't have chapters. [Shows her a variety of picture books]
Lady: These picture books don't have many words.
Me: [Thinking: you complete and utter idiot]. Here, try Skippyjon Jones. It's got more words.
Lady: Hmmm...too many words, I think.

Me: [Aside: like that scene from the movie Amadeus! "Too many notes."] Ummm...okay.Well, how about a wordless picture book? That way the four year old can "read" the story to you. [Shows her the beautiful picture book, Journey.]
Lady: Perfect!
Me: [Aside: so basically you wanted the complete opposite of what you said you wanted. Great. Thanks for wasting my time.]  Can I gift wrap that for you?

Lady: Hi, I'm looking for a book recommendation.  What should I read?
Me: Well, what are you in the mood for?  Escapist? Funny? Literary? Plot driven? Mystery? Romance?
Lady: I mostly like nineteenth century literature.  I love Dickens.
Me: Okay, let me go through our classics and see what you've not read yet.
Lady: Oh, I don't want a classic.  I want something new that reads like a classic.
Me: Great!  How about Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch?  "Dickensian" is often an adjective used to describe it.  Or maybe The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  They're both novels that have won major literary prizes.
Lady: Hmmm...No, I don't think so.  Those are too long.
Me: Okay, then.  How about The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin? It's got a 19th century sensibility to it.  Or maybe something from Sarah Waters?  She's a terrific writer, and some of her books are set in the Victorian era.  She's a writer who, like Dickens, pays attention to class and social issues.
Lady: That doesn't sound very interesting.
Me: [In other words, someone who is reminiscent of your own favorite writer isn't very interesting?]  Yes, well, perhaps you could give me a bit more to go on.
Lady: I don't have any more time to browse. I'll just take this. *grabs a Dan Brown paperback off the rack.*
Me: WTF? Yes, clearly a Dan Brown thriller and Dickens have everything essential in common.
Stop wasting my time. Stop wasting your time, for that matter. If you *want* a thriller, then just say so.  Heavens, I'm not going to judge you for wanting to read a thriller.  Or a romance.  Or YA.  Or whatever. I like to read Dan Brown, too, but generally not when I'm in the mood for Dickens.  I like to read many things, like romance and YA and essays and memoirs and travel books and really, almost anything with a narrative. That's why I work in a bookstore -- I like to read and I'm good at my job, and I want *you* to be reading, and I want you to be happy with your choice. But for the love of all that is holy, just SAY what kind of book you're looking for.  Otherwise we'll both just get frustrated.

12 August 2014

Penultimate Day In Paradise

Another beautiful morning on Barnes Bay    
It's Wednesday, which means it's our penultimate day on the island.  Instead of traveling to far flung beaches, we make it a day for relaxing at home and visiting friends. We ate a light breakfast at home on the porch at Caribella, then walked again up and down Barnes Bay.  Already we can see changes in the shape of the beach.  Our swimming cove sand is building up, while in front of Mango's the sand has been quickly eroding to the tune of more than two vertical feet.

Around 10:45 we hit the road for Irie Life again so that DH can pick up two more copies of his favorite AXA baseball cap.  He's terrible about losing them, so it's a good idea to stock up. By then it was time for us to head to Crocus Bay.  We had a date with our friend Andrea for lunch at the DaVida Bayside Grill,  a place we hadn't visited in a few years.  Am I ever glad we gave that place another chance!  Turned out to be rather nice for lunch, with good food, plenty of shade, and a nice breeze coming off the water.

I had the fish sandwich, which was grilled panini-style, Andrea had the chicken salad, and DH has his usual hot dog.  I swear, the man is practically incapable of ordering anything else if a hot dog is present on the menu. Both the fish sandwich and chicken salad were quite good and the portions were ample. We had a good time catching up with Andrea, mostly talking about work and family and the ups and downs of both.
My fish sandwich
Andrea's chicken salad
After a while, Andrea had to head out, but DH and I remained to take advantage of the chairs and we sat in the shade to finish our books.  While waiting for DH to finish his, I walked along the beach and made some photos.  It was really beautiful there, and with the greenery on the hillside reflecting downward, the water at that end of Crocus Bay is greener looking than anyplace else I've seen on the island.
Almost at the end!
Click for the full size 
The sand took on this interesting texture just to the left of the restaurant
DH sporting his new AXA hat
Late afternoon, we packed up, but not before deciding that DaVida and Crocus Bay definitely need to be added to our usual rotation of places we enjoy. Just goes to show that any restaurant can have an off day and that redemption can be found in a second visit. And speaking of second visits, we knew we couldn't leave the island without a second visit to Pamela at Sea Spray, so we stopped there on our way home.  It was time to try the White Sands smoothie, which apparently is known far & wide throughout the island.  I'd always chosen one of the fruit flavored smoothies before, as I sometimes feel that coconut flavored things are hit-or-miss -- but when Pamela told me that it was made with pure coconut coconut cream, I was sold.  Well, all I can say is that I may never order any other flavor again. I'm a White Sands girl all the way!
The 100% delicious White Sands smoothie
Again, we sat and chatted until it was almost time for Pamela to close up shop, then bid her adieu until next trip. On the way back to Caribella, we stopped by Rendezvous to make some photos, take a little sand, and say goodbye to our favorite beach.
In honor of Eudora Welty, I kept my shadow in the frame
Then it was time to head to Blanchards Beach Shack to pick up dinner. I have become a big fan of this place because the food is good and reasonably priced, and not least because of the ways they're reducing their eco footprint.  It's the only place I know on the island where the disposable cups and cutlery are derived from corn (and are therefore biodegradable), not plastic.

We've occasionally regretted our choices from the Beach Shack -- not because the food wasn't good, but because we didn't choose foods suitable for keeping in the fridge for a couple of hours before eating.  This time we chose wisely: a Caesar salad, some chicken wings, and a shrimp poboy (which somebody recommended on a travel forum about one week earlier, for which I'm grateful). The salad was good and big enough to share, the wings were fine, but my shrimp po-boy, dressed in the Blanchards' homemade sauce that was redolent with dill, was excellent. Succulent and cooked perfectly, the crispness of the shrimp was balanced by the creaminess of the dilled dressing, and as you can see, the sandwich was stuffed to overflowing. I definitely recommend it!

I've already removed half of the salad onto my plate
My shrimp poboy
We watched the sunset, accompanied by some of their chocolate chip cookies (still warm when we bought them) and some bourbon, and sat together, plotting our last perfect day.

11 August 2014

Caitlin Moran: The Ending. Or is it?

So we've come to the end of this book, and this readalong.  Maybe.  The original idea was to post about the last section and do a wrap up all in one day, but part of me is feeling a little bereft that we're at the end.  Thus, I propose that those of us who want to continue our conversation about Johanna and her family and her awakenings can do so next week, right here.  I'll put up another Linky and we can go from there.

So...Section Three.  When we left off last week, Johanna had recently discovered that rather than being critical and smart and pointed in her music reviews, she was just being a dick.  Now she's worried that she's been a dick to John Kite, and maybe THAT is why he hasn't been pursuing her, even though she's been writing to him about her swashfuckling sexual adventures (I am so glad to live in a world where swashfuckling is a word).  And we can all rest easy that John Kite is an upright kind of fella, not some pedo, and that maybe, just maybe, they will get together when the time is right.

In the meantime, though, two other major things are happening. One of which is Johanna comes to the realization that her relationship with Tony Rich is abusive and then leaves him.  I wonder how metaphorically we're supposed to take this. That is, Johanna finally gets that Tony's sexual sadism isn't doing anything for her and that not only does he hurt her during sex, he treats her pretty shabbily, too.

While I wish her telling him off would have been as mean as her music reviews, I love her self-realization afterwards: "I feel excitingly...free. Things were going to happen to me last night that I did not like -- and I stopped them. I have never prevented my own doom before! I have never stood in the path of certain unhappiness and told myself -- lovingly, like a mother to myself -- No! This unhappiness will not suit you! Turn around and go another way!"

The other major reveal is we learn why the family's benefits were cut 11%: Johanna left school full time.  I have to admit, I didn't see that coming at all, and I was both surprised and impressed by the way her parents handled it.  And this: "I'm learning a whole new thing: that sometimes love isn't observable or noisy or tangible. That sometimes love is anonymous. Sometimes love is silent. Sometimes love just stands there while you're calling it a cunt, biting its tongue and waiting."

A few bullet points for other things I responded to this week:
  • When Johanna mispronounces a word that's only ever seen written out, never heard spoken: "This is the terrible thing about learning everything from books -- sometimes you don't know how to say the words. You know the ideas, but you cannot discuss them with people with any confidence."
  • When she plays her dad's mix tape for the guys at D&ME and what plays is a song called "Sit Down" by James.  My senior year in high school, my very serious boyfriend did a year abroad in England and he made me a mix tape of that song.  I loved it.  And I thought I was endlessly cool because nobody else in my school had access to it, or to the music of The Wonder Stuff.  
I still like the song, but I can't separate my nostalgia for it from any actual merit it might have.  I especially like the last bit, where the singer invites people who feel a breath of sadness, who are touched by madness, or who find themselves ridiculous to sit down next to [me]. Here, go listen it to it for yourself:

  • Incidentally, I found out later that the same boyfriend's parents sent him away for a year as a Rotary Club exchange student because they worried we might be having sex. Remember when I said I had a fucked-up attitude toward sex and wish I could have been more like Johanna? That's because where I lived, it was healthier to send your 18 year old son away for a year than to deal with the fact he might be having sex with his steady girlfriend of two years. (Incidentally, we weren't.)
  • OMG.  How does Johanna not know that Krissi is gay? 
Overall, I've had so much more fun with this book than I thought I would. I mean, I expected it to be fun, but I mostly thought it would be of the frivolous sort.  This book is far more substantive than a casual glance would indicate, chock full of wry social commentary, class issues, and above all, feminism. Beneath the humorous, and even raunchy, veneer, the heart of Caitlin Moran's first novel beats time with the age of feminism.

Part of the fun has been the readalong aspect, so I'd like to thank all of you who have been participating.  Some of you are old internet friends, but the rest of you are new ones and I'm glad that we could all come together each week to hang out there.  I'll miss this! It's been a tough week and I'm otherwise gif-less, but I couldn't end the readalong without letting you know how I feel about y'all:

NB: We wouldn't be gathering here without the help of Harper Collins, the American publisher of How to Build a Girl, who has provided the galley in physical or e-galley format to all of us participating.  I'd also like to give a shout out to Caitlin Moran herself, for writing such an entertaining and provocative novel.

10 August 2014

Magical Mystery Tour Part Three

Pastries & iced coffee at Geraud's
We were on a roll from Monday and decided to spend Tuesday continuing our quest for sand. Naturally we had to fortify ourselves at Geraud's for breakfast, and that's where we ran into iluvdanny, her DH, and her DD.  In fact, it was Mr Iluvdanny who dubbed our quest the magical mystery tour.  We had breakfast with them and then parted ways -- they were headed back to Shoal Bay West and we, rather shamefacedly, were heading back to Katouche Bay.  Where we had just been the day before, and where each of us thought the other had picked up a small baggie of sand.

Still, it looked even prettier in the morning sunlight, so we made some pictures and I even clambered over the rocks on the far right to see what was on the other side (more of the same, with Crocus Bay in the background). Then we grabbed the sand together and headed off in search of Limestone Bay.  At one point we had a nice view back across the island to where we'd been.

Limestone Bay was easy to get to and we passed a couple of jaw-dropping villas along the way, and the public access for it was immediately next to an abandoned building bearing the sign Limestone Cafe.  We'd half-expected the beach to be deserted, but there was a Rasta guy enjoying a dip in the water when we arrived, and by the time we turned back to our car, there was another car there. A Dutch couple approached us, asking for directions to Little Bay. Apparently they didn't know that it was accessible only by boat or by climbing down the cliff.

Once we left Limestone Bay, it seemed natural to seek out Blackgarden Bay, which on the map looked like it was just one cove over.  We drove around, backtracked, and still never managed to find it.  Once again, the gravel track "road" had grown up in the middle, and we were very wary of getting weeds jammed up in the undercarriage, not to mention our fear of getting stuck on the rough-cut coral and having to call for help.  So discretion being the better part of valor and all that, we turned around to Limestone Bay and headed out to the main road.  If anybody reading this *has* found Blackgarden Bay by car, I'd love to get explicit directions from you how the heck to do it.

From there, we drove directly to AARF to drop off the collars and leashes we'd brought to the island for them and so we could meet the kitty we would be transporting back to the US. Wonder of wonders, there were no pups or adult dogs in need of adoption that week, and only a few kitties were around.  We took some photos and I cuddled a recent intake: an absolutely loving black & white young cat, just shy of being full grown (maybe eight months?). Our kitty was actually asleep, but there was another small kitten who very curiously watched all of the proceedings from the roof of the cat enclosure.
This black & white cat was all affection and purrs

This one shied away if we approached but watched
all of the proceedings with great interest
We thanked Tintin for her time showing us around again and made arrangements for our departure later that week, then headed to Savnnah Bay/Junks Hole. The road, while in terrible shape, at least had better signage than the last time we headed there.  We got out and explored the wonderful textures there -- this beach is really quite lovely, offering something for almost everyone.  There is a long crescent of sand, a very calm section on one end that is perfect for swimming (even for little kids), then the sand gives way to tidal pools, which are perfect for exploring, and beyond that are the breakers.  The breeze was both stiff and constant, and it could create one of those situations where you're completely unaware of getting sunburned because the wind off the water is so cooling.

We know we're getting close when we see the palm
trees and the road surface turns to sand

I had wanted to stay there for lunch, but DH said that he'd been looking forward all morning to that melon & prosciutto salad at Elite.  He so rarely voices an opinion that differs from mine, and since I do approximately 99% of the planning for our trips, I was happy to acquiesce, but we did take a moment to enjoy the shade and drink a couple of Tings. I also might have made a photo or two. I'll have the chance next summer to make sure we spend more time at Nat's.

We picked up a small baggie of sand and then drove once again to Island Harbour for Elite.  Our server recognized us from the day before and welcomed us back. DH had the same prosciutto & melon salad but I chose a grilled vegetable panino.  While we waited for our food, DH read and I wandered outside to make some more photos.  With the bright sunshine, it looked like a whole new place.
Elite, seen from the beach
Scilly Cay, seen from the beach at Elite

My lunch this time was better than the day before, but I wasn't in the mood for dessert this time around. This time we didn't linger after eating, but hit the road again, pausing at the church in Island Harbour to make some pictures before heading to Shoal Bay East. We stopped in again at Elodia's, where Carole apologized that only about ten minutes earlier, somebody had taken "our" cabana."  No worries, we responded.  We'd been in the sun quite a bit already that day, so we were content to sit, read, and drink in the shade of the restaurant itself.

I tried Carole's version of a BBC (Banana Bailey's colada), which made a much better dessert than any of the options presented at Elite, and when I'd finished it, DH and I took a walk up to the point that leads to Upper Shoal Bay.  It's so fascinating to me how the colors can shift and evolve in just a few minutes' time, like they did in these photos.

When it was time for last call at Elodia's, we paid up and said goodbye to Carole for this year, then headed west to first Long Bay, then Meads Bay, to pick up a little sand.  While DH and I are both well-accustomed to seeing the erosion on Barnes Bay and Upper Shoal Bay, it still came as a shock to see the erosion at Long Bay.  Cf: the photo I made a couple of years ago with where the water line was this year.
Older photo.  Note where DH is standing on the steps

I took this photo standing in the same place where DH
is standing in the photo above this one
Last year: June
This year, shot from nearly the same angle
as the photo above this one
Then we quickly hit Meads Bay, pulling up near the big tree on the Malliouhana property.  There was clearly still a ton of work to do before this place opens.  I'm very doubtful that it will open this year, but this time next year it should be pretty special. I don't know if their bar & restaurant is going to be constructed in the old location or not, but the empty shell of the old one was still there, looking a little sad.

Meads Bay at the golden hour

This post is getting on long enough as it is, so I'll continue another time and leave you with another Caribella sunset photo, this time not shot on my phone. It looks like it could have been the right conditions for the Green Flash, but I didn't see it that night.