Wrong Monday – Marge Piercy

Marge+Piercy

Wrong Monday

Marge Piercy

First the alarm is mute. Forgot the plunger.
I discover the milk is sour right after
I pour it on cereal. I pad
to the door stepping into what the cat
threw up. I clean the floor and then
my hands smell bad. Washing them
I splash my blouse and have to change.
After driving for an hour I remember
I forgot to pack underwear and the speech
I’m paid to give. The next sign
I see is ROAD CONSTRUCTION
NEXT 144 MILES. At that moment
stalled in traffic, my period starts.

And The Fiercest Comeback of the Year Award goes to…

dovekeep

Ooooops, she did it again!

Remember my fond review of Alice Hoffman’s Local Girls where I first expressed how impressed and mesmerized I am with the way she writes? Remember how high my expectations were for ‘Here on Earth’ and how frustrated and disappointed I was after having read it? Remember when I stated in one of my Tag Thursdays post that I have a love-hate relationship of sorts with her? Well, this book settles the score then because she freaking won me over completely for the second time with ‘The Dovekeepers’—her most recent book and regarded by readers and critics alike as her best work yet. And oh, how absolutely right they are. It somehow makes you wonder how she’ll ever outdo herself with this one because it’s just that goooood.

To date, Hoffman has already published 46 books and you can say that my opinion about her writing may not count so much (having only read three of her works so far), but I’ve been reading for my entire life and hot damn, this book!—It’s asdfghjkl asdfg perfection.

As a reader, I have a special admiration reserved for authors who know how to redeem themselves from any misconceptions hurled against them by naysayers. Alice Hoffman did just that when she came up with this book. Never have I been so delighted to be proven wrong. It’s like an in-your-face open letter to everyone who has ever doubted her writing because I’m telling you, this gorgeous stunner of a novel will make you a believer that no one writes about women like Hoffman does and that when it comes to magical realism, at her very best—She’s queen.

I really wish I can tell you more about how wonderful this book is, but you know too well by now that it’s my handicap as a book blogger–when I love a book too much I tend to spout nothing but gibberish. So I’m telling you about how much this book meant to me instead. In three portraits.(Disclaimer: Alarmingly massive amount of cheesy metaphors ahead.)

I.
“Here is the riddle of love: Everything it gives to you, it takes away.”

A portrait of women from the beginning of time. Let’s get real: when we think of wars and colonial siege, our minds automatically picture gruesome sword-wielding, shedding of blood, and—of course—men warriors. How long does it usually take us to remember that women also existed in these pivotal moments of history? Do we ever pause to think about the hardships they might have also suffered while the men are away and how they found among themselves to hold each other up and their fortresses safe altogether? In many ways, this book has been an eye-opener because I, for one, am guilty. Maybe it’s because I live in such a different time than theirs, or I just really never identified myself in the traditions of the past. But ah, this book. At every page, it seems to be asking me: So you think you’ve seen the worst this world has to give? And so it scorns, as much as it smiles. After every somewhat-sneer, it will ultimately whisper: We’ve been through it all and you have to believe that this, too, shall pass.

This is a tribute to the unsung bravery of women at a time of tragedy and sufferings, in a period of history unbeknownst to most of us, making it all the more sublime and wonderfully strange. Let me just say that the power of this book is in the beauty of its characters. I don’t know how Hoffman does it, but she unfailingly creates women characters that are very much alive on the page: compelling in their heartbreaks, extraordinary in their sophistication and moments of triumph. The Dovekeepers features four women: the Assassin’s Daughter (Yael), the Baker’s Wife (Revka), the Warrior’s Beloved (Aziza) and the Witch of Moab (Shirah). They’re all so brilliantly written that picking a favorite is just next to impossible. Such a beautiful dilemma to be enamored by everyone and everything in a story—I loved them, envied them, despised them, wanted to be like them, wept for them. It’s not a mere reading experience—it’s a freaking relationship.

II.

“Even as a small child, I understood that woman had secrets, and that some of these were only to be told to daughters. In this way we were bound together for eternity.”

A portrait of Alice Hoffman’s growth as an author. I know Alice Hoffman has turned 61 last month and I, on the other hand, will turn 23 later this year, but there’s this attachment she establishes so seamlessly with her readers that I can attest to, despite the 39 years of gap between us. I know it’s a crazy opinion but I just feel so proud of her achievement with this book and how much she’s grown in her writing. Age is but a bridge, and she helps me see through her eyes how the world looks like from there—horrifying and beautiful and magical. It’s like each of her book is an intimate loveletter from an imaginary friend who knew everything about me. I maybe reading too closely between the lines but with The Dovekeepers, it’s as if she’s writing: Dear Friend, I am entrusting you this secret. Because that’s what she did. This is a gift from her imagination, so rich in detail, so vividly painted in lyrical, poetic narrative; a piece from her incredible imagination that she’s so generous to share with everyone who will read her story. And I wish nothing more than to say Thank You, for giving us a voice that not only speaks in silence but shouts above the noise and even in sadness, sings.

III.

“Being human means losing everything we love best in the world,” she murmured as she released me.

“But would you ask to be anything else?”

A portrait of myself as a reader. Enumerating all the emotions I’ve felt throughout this book will take me one whole day to write and probably a week for you to read, but I guess what matters most is the fact that I felt I also grew up so much while reading this book. It’s not every day that I come across a book that makes me feel this way, and though, I might be mistaken, I am still nothing but grateful for this feeling and, well, for all the feels. I loved The Dovekeepers, it’s as simple as that, and it’s no question that it will join my all-time favorite reads. The only thing better than a book I love is a book that also loved me back, and I felt that when this great story ended. It cradled me into its arms and I was holding onto it, never wanting to let go.

Last Words — Dean Young

deanyoung

Last Words

Dean Young

I too love my small life.
The miracle gets shoved into the oven,
comes out with its desire whitened.
A crack is not necessarily a fault,
and when the fire lies down, it becomes
earth and earth has a dream: us,
so you can’t be too careful. In fact,
you can’t be careful at all.
Too many facets.
The bus of everything
pulls into the depot of nothing.
Or is that the bus of nothing
pulling into the depot of everything?
In god’s image: acid-yellow slow sign.
In god’s image: muster of crows.
The times the symptoms are memory loss and falling.
Times the symptoms are memory loss and falling,
and the sick friend walks across town and knocks,
and the sad friend hangs a map of laughter
on his office wall, and the crazy friend swears
everything will be all right.
Sure it will.
O horse, come nearer.
Maybe when you die.
’Tis well, says George Washington,
dismissing the doctors trying to
blister and bleed him out of becoming
the dollar bill. I am slain, says Polonius,
Act III, scene IV, the only instance
of his getting quickly to the point,
audience reaction calculated to the ounce
of fake blood. Too much: farce, too little:
quaint. Walt Whitman wrote that death
is far luckier than we supposed, although
he may have considered addenda as he lay
turning into mush, not grass.
Your last words, I never want to hear them!
What if everyone’s combine into one big poem,
and I’m stuck with a preposition? Oh well,
even prepositions have their place,
like kudzu. We are human beings, not
texts. Not loudspeakers or layers of gas.
Not even jellyfish. Is tranquility
possible? I want dot dot dot gasp.
You must dot dot dot gurgle.
I used to move pretty fast.
Invisible, barefoot river.

A very Victorian Vacation

lifemask

I’ve known for so long that reading books are no different from going on trips–we pack our imaginary suitcases and fly elsewhere according to our whims. Reading historical fiction gives us the bonus perk of time-travel so apart from the freedom in choosing our dream itineraries, we’re also very much in control of calendar and clock. Pretty neat, right?

 Life Mask, at nearly 700 pages, is the longest book out of the three in my March Reading List and it’s probably why I was so scared to pick it up. Before I had the chance to chicken out, I started on a chapter right away so I know there’s no turning back. It’s like buying a plane ticket to wherever with my eyes closed—I just wanted to get over my nerves before my nerves get to me. I’d be lying if I said Emma Donoghue’s ‘Slammerkin’ didn’t raise the bar for my expectations; that book is incredibly good and even ended up on my top 12 best reads of last year. There’s also this point of comparison since both books are set in medieval London, at almost intersecting periods in that century. Thankfully though, the books are set-apart from each other, distinct in their differences.

 While in ‘Slammerkin’ we get an in-depth view of prostitution and the sufferings of the lower class, in Life Mask we get a first-hand account of the upper echelons of high society–nobles and lords and artists—and their own share of hardships. It’s a breath of fresh air to see problems of a different sort than the usual. Instead of poverty, starvation, homelessness and terrible working conditions, we have scandals and political feuds galore complete with Victorian tabloids, countesses with a ravenous appetite for gossips, extramarital affairs left and right and even a French Revolution to boot. Delicious. It’s like Donoghue is telling us that regardless of whether you are living in filth or living filthy rich, we’re all tragedies waiting to happen just the same anyway. And ain’t that just so oddly comforting?

 Life Mask is made up of Assorted Aristocrats—a cast of characters so extensive that I’ve been tempted more than once to grab a piece of paper and create a freaking graph just for me to remember all the names and their respective titles. (For the sake of example: if I come across ‘Duchess of Devonshire’ anywhere in the story, I had to keep in mind that it refers to Georgiana.) At the end of the day, we have three people at the heart of this novel: we have Lord Derby, founder of the pioneer horse racetrack and cockfights, who is head over heels for Eliza Farren, a widely celebrated actress regarded as Queen of Comedy, who has been a close friend to Mrs. Anne Damer, a widow of a noble and a very talented sculptress. This brings to mind one of the funniest parts of the book, wherein the lords from the opposing party of the parliament did this hilarious albeit sexist and offensive drinking game called ‘Connections’, where they take turns interlinking names of persons who’ve in one way or another has been sexually associated. In a nutshell, it’s basically a game of who-slept-with-whom. There’s the English tongue-in-cheek humor for ya. I thought it’s a brilliant way to capture the complexities and vulnerabilities of relationships during that era and how messed-up everything is.

 Lord Derby is the character I liked the least because, well, he’s just not as charismatic or magnetic as most Victorian protagonists usually are, and frankly, not man enough, in my opinion to even be half as brave as the other two ladies. He’s got no real major conflict which might explain why I’m not as compelled to him as I would have liked to be. Eliza Farren, the actress, was my favorite for the first half of the book. She’s likeable alright and I understood and admire her every reaction and decision to circumstances. I love that she’s got spunk and is no pushover—this girl knows how to stand up for herself and places her virtue above anything else. Mrs. Anne Damer, on the other hand, stole the limelight for the second half of the story all the way until the very end. How do you like homosexuality during the Victorian age as a dilemma and High Society as the big bad villain?

She heard it like a voice in her head: I am what they call me.It was strange how quickly these revelations could strike when they came at last after years, after decades, after a lifetime. Like the Greek philosopher in his bath, crying out Eureka, I have found it. Or no, more like Monsieur Marat in his bath of blood, stabbed to death by a girl. That was what Anne felt like now; one sudden blow and a helpless draining away…There were words for women like her, women who saw all the natural attractions of a man like Charles O’Hara and were left cold. Women who asked for more than had been allotted to them. Women who became fixated on shallow, glamorous actresses. Women who loved their female friends not generously but with a demanding, jealous ruthlessness; women who got in the way of good marriages and thwarted nature. There were words for such propensities–hidden inclinations–secret tastes–and she knew them all, had heard them all already.

…How little she’d known, thought Anne–and how little she’d known herself. It seemed she wasn’t naturally ascetic or born to solitude. She was no good at renunciation after all. It was as if her virgin heart had been fasting all her life, building up an endless appetite, and now she couldn’t have enough of pleasure. She was glutting herself on love. She was unshockable; there was nothing she didn’t like, nothing she could do without.

For all it’s worth, Life Mask is an incredibly well-researched and fine detailed novel in as much as it’s a intimate tale of friendships blown out of epic proportions. Donoghue’s storytelling is assured and lyrical and compelling. I agree though, that the editing of its length could have had made it a better story. The pacing would’ve been so much more fluid if things picked up within the first hundred pages but I guess it was necessary to linger in establishing the world and the parameters by which it exists—some things probably take time. Nevertheless, as a journey, it is one I am so happy I have been to.

Stunning, dramatic and memorable—Life Mask is a Victorian trip on High definition grandeur. I feel every bit the tourist with the truckload of pictures and millions of stories to make all my friends jealous. And really now, just how gorgeous is a reading experience for a souvenir?  

Maker of All Things, Even Healings – Mary Oliver

mary_oliver

Maker of All Things, Even Healings

Mary Oliver

All night under the pines the fox
moves through the darkness
with a mouthful of teeth
and a reputation for death which it deserves.
In the spicy villages of the mice he is famous,
his nose in the grass
is like an earthquake,
his feet on the path
is a message so absolute
that the mouse, hearing it, makes himself
as small as he can as he sits silent
or, trembling, goes on
hunting among the grasses for the ripe seeds.
Maker of All Things,
including appetite, including stealth,
including the fear that makes
all of us sometime or other,
flee for the sake
of our small and precious lives,
let me abide in your shadow-
let me hold on
to the edge of your robe
as you determine what you must let be lost
and what will be saved.

How the Book Thief stole my heart—in 7 interludes

bookthiefreview2

I’ve been holding my breath for the Book Thief from the time it has been part of my acquisitions late last year. The suspense is so precious that I’ve left it untouched for so many months, not even venturing as far as tearing off its plastic wrap because I wanted to wait for the perfect day when I could have all the time in the world to finally unleash and bite into its goodness. I also have this predetermined plan to record my reading progress and emotions in check every hundred or so pages so as to fully capture the experience in detail.

All this, and the fact that pretty much every reader who has ever laid hands on this book speak nothing but good things, led my expectations skyrocketing like mad. When the day finally arrived, I’ve come to understand fully why even the grandest of preparations can’t always assure that our hearts will be ready for what is to come. Because the book thief still stole my heart in the end and oh boy, was it worth the freaking wait.

Page 108: So far I’m really digging the distinctive kind of storytelling Zusak is using to propel the story forward. I still re-read some paragraphs twice though, just for me to make sure I grasped everything right, but it’s refreshing and it’s awesome how the detached nature of our narrator, although very pragmatic and consistently objective, brings out the raw sentiments in every situation. I’m still yet to love Liesl the heroine, though. There’s not much of her character yet at the moment, but I think we’ll get there soon enough. Also, the description of the setting and the era is very engaging and atmospheric. I think Saumensch will be a fixture in my vocabulary now, haha.

Page 204: Boy, I love Liesl’s foster parents so much. Hans Hubermann and his wife Rosa are fast becoming my favorite characters in this story so far , as things take a turn for the worst. Also I’m already getting the hang of the storytelling now as bits and pieces are already falling into place. I can say I’m now fully invested in the dilemma of the characters and Liesl is already growing in on me.

Page 238: Uh, is there something wrong with shipping a 24-year old guy with a 12-year old girl? Because oh my goodness, I do. Ugh. That’s not exactly a bad thing right?

Page 303: That’s it. Book has officially broken my heart. Rudy Steiner, you bleeding heart Saukerl! Come here and let me love you, poor boy. I’ll give you all the kisses you want!

Page 398: FOUR FREAKING WORDS FROM A SINGLE NOTE and I am immediately in tears. Oh man, how to survive for the next hundred or so pages? How?

Page 550: There are no more feels because dardenitaaa’s heart has now been successfully stolen and is now shredded into pieces and presently crumpled in death’s pocket.

The Book Thief is the kind of book you can hold your breath for, but would still take your breath away nonetheless. Get ready for as long as you want, and you would still be knocked over. You could document your thoughts about it but it will be utterly useless because it’s all engraved in your mind anyway, and will be there, unforgotten, for a very, very long time.

Roses and Rue (III & IV) – Oscar Wilde

Oscar_Wilde_portrait

Roses and Rue

Oscar Wilde

III

I remember so well the room,
And the lilac bloom
That beat at the dripping pane,
In the warm June rain.

And the colour of your gown,
It was amber-brown,
And two little satin bows
From your shoulders rose.

And the handkerchief of French lace
Which you held to your face—
Had a tear-drop left a stain?
Or was it the rain?

‘You have only wasted your life’—
(Ah, there was the knife!)
Those were the words you said,
As you turned your head.

I had wasted my boyhood, true,
But it was for you,
You had enough poets on the shelf,
I gave you myself!

IV

Well, if my heart must break,
Dear Love, for your sake,
It will break in music, I know;
Poets’ hearts break so.
But strange that I was not told
That the brain can hold
In a tiny ivory cell
God’s Heaven and Hell.

Must-Have Mondays #5

rainbowrowell

I don’t know, it must be the lovely book cover designs, or probably the seemingly poignant subjects of her books, or her style of writing which is raved about by many, but I’m absolutely drawn towards Rainbow Rowell’s books and I’ve been dreaming about owning them ever since I first came across a glowing review of her stories. My gut feel tells me I will love these novels, and well, not to be haughty or anything, but recently my gut feel has always been right.

Just look at those gorgeous art covers! Aaaaah. It breaks my heart that I’m nothing but penniless these days. I want them books so baaad.

In the Bookstore – Julia Vinograd

JuliaVinograd

In the Bookstore

Julia Vinograd

I went down to the bookstore this evening
and found myself in the poetry section.
But for every thin book of poems
there was a thick biography of the poet
and an even thicker book
by someone who’s supposed to know
explaining what the poet
is supposed to’ve said and why he didn’t.
So you don’t have to waste your time
on the best the writer could do,
the words he fought the darkness and himself for,
the unequal battle with beauty.
Instead you can read comfortably
about the worst the writer could do:
the mess he made of his life,
how he fought with his family,
cheated on his lovers, didn’t pay his debts
and not only drank too much
but all the stupid things
he ever said to the bartender
just before getting 86′d will be printed for you
and they’re just as stupid
as the things everyone says just before getting 86′d.
The books explaining the poet
are themselves inexplicable.
The students who have to read them
cheat.
I left the poetry section
thinking about burning the bookstore down.
Some of the poet’s work comes from his life, ok.
But most of the poet’s work comes
in spite of his life, in spite of everything,
even in spite of the bookstores.
So I went to the next section
and bought a murder mystery but I haven’t read it yet.
I find I don’t want to know who done it
and why;
I want to do it myself.

Scripture Sundays #4

scripturesundays4

The Soundtrack of Your Independence

dardenitaaa

They danced upon the breaking of their strings,
Of love and liberty and other pretty-sounding things,
Ripping, shredding flags that didn’t represent them anymore
Their blood, swimming back to their lifelines,
Their tears, relenting safely to shore–
Just like sleepless, scorched spirits they crawled back to bed
Singing elegies to their nightmares for their villains are dead!
And for the first time since God knows when
It’s alright to dream.
It’s alright to dream again.

Listen now, hearken hope
As it painfully echoes,
mourning over what nobody knows:
that behind one soul’s laughter,
were a thousand weeping of heroes.