May 9, 2011

"We read to know that we are not alone." — C.S. Lewis

It’s that faithful time again.  I’ve finally completed the next twenty books of two-thousand-and-eleven and I’ve capsized the boat of my bookshelf and emptied them onto my floor to take a stronger look and give you the most intimate details of my relationship with that book.  It’s been a long time comin’; between family gatherings, holidays with food that makes you sleepy (most vegetables make me dreamy, so in essence I want to sleep, or just lay there with my eyes open, staring at the clouds and guessing at their shapes.  Mostly I just see Abraham Lincoln).
So, as always, I’ve torn apart, stared into the heart of, and developed crushes on about one-hundred book characters in the last two months and I want to share with you my not-so-scientific findings of what my heart and brain both agree to read.
1.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan’s name is too long for me to fit all five stars and because the fifth one goes to the next line, I’m just going to be completely and utterly OCD and leave it simply at four (even though he deserves five).  His books will appear two more times in this list (including the book that made me turn to Vegetarianism) and I am pretty much obsessed with him.  If he wasn’t married to Nicole (who writes drawn out novels that don’t make connections between plot lines until the bitter end), I might have tried to scoop him up.  Completely ignoring the fact that he’s Jewish and I’m Catholic and that he possibly has a facial mole (which for some reason I can’t get over….I’m not molist or anything, I just would need time with the thing).
Anyhow, this book is everything magical about September 11th.  I know that it’s a devastating day in US History and will probably be discussed in eighth grade textbooks for the next millennium, but this book makes it so different from a day filled with smoke, and humans, like you and me, flinging themselves out of seventy story windows to die from pavement rather than fire.
This book is told in the perspective of a young boy, Oskar, who has lost his dad in the September 11th attacks.   Oskar finds a key in a vase, and goes on a secret mission to find everyone with the last name of Black in NY which is the name on the envelope where he found the key.  He’s quirky, inspiring, innocent, and thoughtful.  He’s like the nerd you always wanted to be friends with in elementary school, who had that awesome My Little Pony lunch-box, only you finally got that seat at the cool table and it was too early in your life to realize it’s cooler to be uncool, and to just be smokin’ hot.
I may or may not have cried till there was snot creeping at the corner of my mouth, and then laughed until I spit all over my cat.  This book will run you the whole emotional gambit and it will be worth every cent, or gas for the trip to the library that you have.  My favorite way that I’ve seen this book described is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Jonathan Safran Foer’s love letter to New York City,” and I could not agree more.  (Plus, no one calls him “Foer” in reviews because they’re not sure if they should put
“Safran” as well, so they just put the entire, fill-up-all-the-scantron-bubbles name).

2. The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood  
This is a retelling, sort of, of The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus.  It’s in a collection of books where modern authors take myths and turn them into modern novellas.  I really like Margaret Atwood, the cover popped out at me at the library, and I decided why not, you’re a pocket-sized novel I could take a bite out of for an evening.  And, I did just that.
Now, I’m kind of a freak when it comes to Greek Mythology, like I’m obsessive.  I really think I was Cassandra in another life (thus the name now) and that my name can tell you a lot about me by just googling.  It’s like people who are obsessed with horoscopes except a sort of reincarnation, with less rope sandals and just as much maiden-esque hair.  So, that said, I’m a bit bias.  Atwood did this novella so well, she even had the Greek Chorus (which were the thirteen maidens who ended up dying because of their supposed gossip over Odysseus’ grand adventures) and Penelope comes off as such a strong and cunning individual rather than the way she is portrayed in history as the faithful, and do-whatever-my-husband-asks, doting wife.
Atwood is a known feminist (as am I) and I think she did Penelope a favor, and I choose to believe Atwood’s bra-burning version of the tale rather than the all-men chorus of Greek Writer’s who alluded to Penelope or wrote about her.  It is time a woman author, and a woman character had a voice equivalent to their powers and Atwood does just that.  This book can be read in two hours, literally.  So, pull out your dusty rocking chair, covered in pollen from the last few weeks, and put on some bug spray and dive into an evening of Greek myth and romance where the female winds up on her white steed and controls her house, and her many suitors.

3. Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult 
If you read my blog regularly, you already know my feelings on the menace that is Picoult.  I have not and will not (most likely unless I’m in an airport lurch or something) pick up another book by Jodi Picoult.  This book is about a school shooting and after you’ve read David Cullens’ Columbine (which I highly recommend) this book looks like a drab, and stolen version.
Jodi Picoult repeats herself too much (for a book that is over three-hundred pages…) and probably needs a new editor.  Also, her characters have very little depth (my opinion based on this book).  There are two things I will give her credit for; the book was an easy, fast-paced read and she has amazing curly hair that is very much like mine.  Otherwise, I will continue to turn her books over when I see them in Barnes and Noble and other bookstores.  In all fairness, here are some quotes…
  • “You don’t need water to feel like you’re drowning, do you?”
  • “So much of the language of love was like that: you devoured someone with your eyes, you drank in the sight of him, you swallowed him whole. Love was substance, broken down and beating through your bloodstream.” 
4. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier – Ann Packer 
We’ll….if I didn’t have some chick-lit on my list, what kind of list would it be, eh?  I was pretty heavily medicated on this book when I started reading it.  It was quick and easy, and the story made me have feelings that I don’t usually have.  I’m emotionless – can you tell by my earlier blog posts?
No, but really *SPOILER* I hate the guy she dates in the middle of this book with his pool-playing, leather-jacket-wearing, smug little ego.  The back cover already tells you that her fiancée jumps off a pier and becomes paralyzed, what they don’t tell you is she is about to embark on a journey, leaving him behind and her past-self-in-a-small-town and indulge in all things unlike her, or things that she once wished she could be in Small Town America.
 Obviously, you feel pity for the handicapped fiancée and you loathe the middle section, but by the end it’s okay.  I think the book DOES end wrong, but I didn’t write it and maybe Packer was right in her concept of the end, but then again, every girl wants a happily ever after, correct?  This book was like a telephone call between two people who haven’t spoken in years and let the silence fill in the obvious space between them.
I do not have quotes for this book, nor did it have any post-it stickies running through it.
5. Truth and Beauty – Ann Patchett 
I’ve tried my darndest to read Bel Canto, but I just couldn’t get into the commotion of the opening scenes and the first few characters were not relatable for me.  However, Patchett’s non-fiction in this book about her college best friend who eventually passed away is pretty good, at least that was what I thought when I read through it.  
Now, I’m a little pissed at Patchett because of how Lucy Grealy’s family really didn’t appreciate Patchett’s portrayl of their sister.  And to be honest, if someone made my sister look needy, melodramatic, selfish and constantly in debt, I’d be pissed too.  Lucy Grealy wrote the book, Autobiography of a Face, which I unfortunately haven’t read and so I can’t comment on, but it was a best seller, so that says something I guess.  I think rather than reading Patchett’s book you can just watch the following youtubbe videos to get to know Grealy, then read the book, and then read the letter about the book from Grealy’s sister.  I will post two of those here:
And the letter from Grealy’s sister can be found here


6. Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer 
I did an entire blog post on this book, which can be found here.
7. Hector and the Search for Happiness – Francois Lelord 
I thought this book was chotsky (which is coming up as a spelling error, and I once found the correct spelling, but still managed to spell it wrong in a story I sent to graduate schools, oops).   It just didn’t hit me any which way.  I read it in a day.  And it was very…listastic.  It was like a long list and not a book of all the places Hector goes to find happiness and his own list of what happiness means (which turns out to be very corny, quite literal, and nothing we haven’t already learned through living each day of our own lives).
This all may be due to the translation of it from French to English and if so, I’d really love to learn French just to re-read this book.  It’s a Worldwide best seller and Lelord has written a few more Hector books along the way so it’s worth something.  If nothing else, it’s a quick-sitting-read for a train ride into work if you’re one of those lucky, dark, sophisticated people who live on the outskirts of New York City or D.C.
  • “They were both going to the big country where there were more psychiatrists than anywhere else in the world. We could just as well say more swimming pools, more Nobel prizewinners, more strategic bombers, more apple pies, more computers, more natural parks, more libraries, more cheerleaders, more serial killers, more newspapers, more raccoons, many of many more things, because it was the country of More. No doubt because the people who lived there had left their own countries precisely because they wanted more, especially more freedom.”
8. I am an Emotional Creature – Eve Ensler 
I am one of the only women on earth that hasn’t read Vagina Monologues, I’m sure.  However, I did read this Ensler book and half-enjoyed it, half thought it was too … trite?  Maybe that’s the word.  I enjoyed the poems in the book, I think Ensler captured the quintessential voice of the teenage female well, but when she did get into the hard stuff (child sex slaves, abuse, etc), she didn’t really capture the violence, and aggression the way I would need to see in order to get a feeling from the stories.  Obviously, I was sad for the “character,” but the writing just wasn’t there and neither was the content.
When I picked up this book, I was told it was a must-read for the teenage females and their struggle against and with the world, however, I don’t think it hits the note that it needs to in order to be that book.  (Don’t worry, I plan to write that book so one day there will be a book that hits that note.  YAY, Young Adult novels)!  
A teenage female is so much more than just words about her short skirt and her prowess, and I don’t think Ensler has met her mark with this book.  
  • “I am here.  I am hot./My short skirt is a liberation/ flag in the woman’s army./ I declare these streets, any street,/my vagina’s country.”
9. An Object of Beauty – Steve Martin   
Oh, Steve Martin.  Ever since Shopgirl, and the banjo, and the movie where you had twelve children, I’ve been secretly in love with your Cerano De Bergerac nose and your combed-over white hair.
I think that Steve Martin is one of the most underrated talents of this decade.  I’m not sure I can say that enough.  Now, this novel wasn’t outstanding and it didn’t really change or re-shape my life after I finished it, but it stands out in this collection of twenty for its’ knowledge of the arts and art world, and how much it taught me about certain paintings that were featured in the novel.  Although it was a work of fiction, it still had information you would have otherwise not known about the New York art world.  I didn’t necessarily like the character that actually told the story, I think his part was quite unbelievable because most of his stories were told to him from another person and then he was writing them down and so, by the end, I felt like I was part-lied to.  I hated and loved the main female character that the story centered around.  *SPOILER* I do wish she would have stayed with richie-rich, pad-in-France, but you can’t control your characters anymore than you can control your own destiny. 
  •  “The emotions of men, however, were of a different order. They were pesky annoyances, small dust devils at her feet. Her knack for causing heartbreak was innate, but her vitality often made people forgive her romantic misdeeds.” 
  • “If you occasionally wonder how I know about some of the events I describe in this book, I don’t. I have found that–just as in real life–imagination sometimes has to stand in for experience.”
10. The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan 
All I need to say about this book is that immediately after finishing the book, I e-mailed all of my girl-reader-friends, much like a circle of evil villains with big hair, and tight, leather outfits and told them they need to go to the library and pick it up.  Especially my friends who are in love (I believe that I used physical force on my friend Nat so that she would borrow it from the Carrboro library).
This book is like no other book I’ve read before.  It took me less than two hours to finish.  And in that two hours I experienced the entirety of a relationship written in the form of a dictionary.  It reminded me of DeBartolo when she encompasses an entire relationship in God Shaped Hole and if I compare you with her, in any way, it’s a compliment.  The quotes will speak for this book, since I filled an entire journal page with them.
  • “nonsequiter, n. – This is what it sounds like when doves cry.”
  • “corrode, v. – I spend all this time building a relationship.  Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust.”
  • “Ubiquitous, adj. – When it’s going well, the fact of it is everywhere. It’s there in the song that shuffles into your ears. It’s there in the book you’re reading. It’s there on the shelves of the store as you reach for a towel and forget about the towel. It’s there as you open the door. As you stare off into the subway, it’s what you’re looking at. You wear it on the inside of your hat. It lines your pockets. It’s the temperature.
    The hitch, of course, it that when it’s going badly, it’s in all the same places.”
This book also has a twitter:!/loversdiction
So, with that all being said…I’ve decided to do ten today, and ten tomorrow, or the next day so that no one gets overwhelmed with which books to choose.  Now go to the local library and get your self a book, sisters and brothers (that sounds totally like a preacher and I definitely just freaked myself out a little). Weird. Also, I’m sorry that the font changes color so much, and there are indentions and then none and then some more.  Wordpress just hates me sometimes and then other times I’m purely computer illiterate.
Happy Reading! 
3 comments so far.

3 responses to “"We read to know that we are not alone." — C.S. Lewis”

  1. Brenda says:

    Agree with you on the ‘Lover’s Dictionary and Bel Canto’. I read ‘The Magician’s Assistant, by AP, odd story, but I liked the way she wrote. Didn’t get far into Bel Canto tho… Sometimes I am just ready for the story, and will try again later. I’ve never been drawn into to read Jodi Picoult, the jacket summary never quite speaks to me. I enjoyed these beautiful recaps, I need to read more of, glad to have found you. I have to come back to reread the quotes, I like doing that (not typing them up) but highlighting them as I go along.

    • cassiemannes says:

      It sounds like we have really similar tastes in books and if you liked “Lover’s Dictionary,” you have to read “God-Shaped Hole.” I recommend it to everyone, not just people who like the other book, because it’s one of the BEST books and anyone who’s ever read it tells me they are obsessed with it now. And obviously, I agree about Picoult, she lacks depth, even her book jackets don’t interest you! I concur!! I’m going to read The Magician’s Assistant now – thank you for the recommendation! I’ll be posting ten more books tomorrow at some point so read those too!

  2. […] are over the U).  I think I especially loved this collection of poems because I had already read Margaret Atwood’s version in Penelopiad and I think they go well together.  I love anything with Greek myths, I want all my children to […]

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Hi, I’m Cass

I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.

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