St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

unnamedKaren Russell is on my list of six authors I want to read for the first time in 2014. I’m starting at the beginning with her first novel, a collection of interrelated short stories all set in the same swampy, beachy area of Florida. The hype in my head was MASSIVE and there was no way Russell was ever going to live up to such a beast.

Ten stories – all of them odd, all of them weird. Most of them are narrated by a child or teenager. They feel like coming-of-age stories. Many of them are allegorical in nature. And none of them end neatly. I’d even go so far as saying only one of them actually has a traditional beginning, middle, end narrative structure. So you’ve got to let that desire go immediately.

You have stories about alligator wrestling theme parks (which will eventually become Swamplandia!), little girls who sled out to sea on a crab shell never to be heard from again, and girls raised by wolves who must go to a reform school to learn how to live as human. The characters are strange and often unsettling. It can be hard to connect with the absurd plot lines at first, but soon you begin to see the humanity bleeding through the weird. And Russell at 25 creates some of the most imaginative and audacious imagery I’ve read – maybe ever.

So why only four stars instead of five? It took me a while to get invested. It took me too long to get over my initial frustration at how she ends her stories – or doesn’t end them, so to speak. Once I was able to let that go and just enjoy these brief slices of life for what they were, I was swept away and didn’t want to swim back to the mainland. That’s the magic Russell has created. She took me places I did not want to go, kicking and screaming, and left me bereft with their absence by the collection’s end.

Swamplandia!, I’m coming for you.

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The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

8517332People really love their Sarah Addison Allen. Rapid fans gobble up her particular brand of southern comfort with unadulterated joy. For these reasons, I wasn’t shocked when The Girl Who Chased the Moon won our February round of voting. We have some Allen followers among our ranks here at Atlanta’s Lady Litwits.

Allen’s signature magical realism is woven through a tale of two women. Emily, a teenager who has lost her mother and moved back to her mom’s hometown to live with the grandfather she never knew she had. Julia, a woman who has reluctantly moved home after escaping the rejection and emotional distress of small town life. Mullaby, North Carolina is there to welcome them with wallpapered rooms that change with your mood, lights that glow and dance underneath the moon, and the local neighborhood friendly giant. There is also cake.

I’d never read any Allen before this book. But it went down like sugar. So easy and light and smooth. She paints an eerily accurate picture of what small town Southern life is like. The oppressive feeling of not fitting into what often seems to be a very singular acceptance was honest and moving. The group loved Julia and her story far more than the insta-love teenage affair between Emily and Win. We connected to Julia’s emotional struggles and journey from troubled youth to the well-adjusted thirty-something. I suspect this has something to do with Julia being more our peer than Emily.

We did, however, wish that Julia’s story had been given more time, more depth. We wanted to see all the dirty in between times where she was in therapy and recovering from the self-abuse of her teenage years. It’s great that she’d been able to recover and move on, but we wanted to see and feel that struggle alongside Julia. In fact, that’s how we felt about the whole thing. We wanted more. MORE. Allen is a great writer and there are nuggets of something really special about her characters, but the book’s length and density never quite get to the substance we so ardently hoped for.

Most of us bemoaned the end as something far too tidy and way, way too easy. What started off with the tremendous promise of being a great character study of how small towns shape a person and the struggle for acceptance, quickly devolved to something no more substantive than a run-of-the-mill rom com. Michelle even mentioned that the end felt too much like a beginning, like we were only getting started. Several members were ready for a meaty book two!!

Sarah Addison Allen might not have completely won us over with The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but several of us will definitely be seeking out more of her work. I have Garden Spells on the shelf. Have you read any of her books? Which is your favorite?

The Walking Dead: “Claimed”

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It’s my birthday and I’ll write what I want to!! Which is The Walking Dead. Because. See first sentence.

Anyway, Michonne gets a new shirt, but Rick is still running around (I use the term running loosely) in that nasty rag. What is with that guy and dirty shirts? Thankfully, he manages to find something new and clean. I like that Rick and Michonne are both wearing white. Does that make me weird?

My favorite thing about the show right now is Michonne and Carl’s relationship. It is so perfect.

Rick running around in that house with those crazy fuckers had me on the edge of my seat. This show can really do suspense like no other.

Oh! And Rick was reading a bedtime story. Jack London’s short stories.

I do think it’s weird how accepting everyone seems to be about signs advertising sanctuary.

Glenn and Abraham were boring to me. I just have nothing invested in Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita yet. Plus, mullet dude seems shady. Tara wasn’t as annoying this week.

BUT THIS POST IS REALLY JUST SO I CAN FLAIL OVER AN ALL DARYL (and some Beth) EPISODE NEXT WEEK.

FLAILS.

Anyway, see y’all tomorrow with a book review. Now back to my birthday celebration that includes huge spreadsheets, cubicles, and that annoying thing called work.

The Sunday Salon: On Turning Thirty

TSSbadge2Tomorrow I turn 30. It feels sort of liberating to dust off the dirt, sweat, tears, and self-consciousness of my twenties. So I’m thoroughly excited about joining Club 30 and advancing in years. Maybe I’m not so excited about the tripling of my gray hair count. Or the fact that apparently you shrink an inch in height during your thirties. What? Is this a thing?

To celebrate this momentous occasion (how’s that for melodrama?), I went to a fabulous dinner with friends last night. We ate at Ink & Elm, a restaurant near Emory. Our table ordered most of the menu – a meat and cheese plate, lamb sweetbreads (the thymus gland of lambs…!!!!!!), charred octopus, pork loin, lamb steaks, grilled GA shrimp, and grouper. Lots of grouper. Libations were also consumed. I had two lovely bourbon cocktails. One smooth and delightful, the other warm and bitter.  For dessert we trucked over to Leon’s in downtown Decatur for more drinks and lots of cake. It was a life-affirming kind of night where you’re surrounded by your favorite people, great food, and all your worries float away.

We talked at length over dinner about the things we’ve learned during our twenties – the heartbreaks and struggles, the joyous moments of self-discovery. We discussed in what ways our 30th birthdays are different from our 20th birthdays a decade ago. Namely, we’re eating better food and drinking liquor rather than beer (not that we don’t still drink beer).

We talked and talked and talked and talked. And by 1 am, I was tucked sweetly into my own bed. Because these days, I’d much rather be hearing myself snore than listening to last calls for alcohol. Sweet, sweet bliss.

I want to end this post with a few books that were extremely influential to me over the past decade. I’m not going to give reasons why, just a simple list. Because trying to put how I feel about them into words will more than likely bring me to tears, and there’s no crying on your (almost) birthday.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Marge Piercy’s poetry

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath & Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Harry Potter forever and always

Have a great week! Let me know what books meant a lot to you during a certain period in your life.

New Project: The Watch List

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For so long I’ve tried to become a pseudo film buff, but it never seems to stick. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’m just too ambivalent about cinema in general. Or maybe I’ve just never found the right combination of time/desire to really advance my film buffery (a word I’ve just invented). Whatever the case, I’m embarking on a new cinematic journey and wanted to tell y’all about it.

I’ve compiled a list of great movies by decade starting with the 1930s. This list is a combination of hours of internet scouring. I’ve got movies loved by men, women, white people, and black people. I’ve gathered films in foreign languages and the English language. I searched lists of differing genres and those that are considered underrated, best of the all times, serious, quirky, etc.

With the trusty help of random.org, I will be selecting four movies to watch each month starting in March. One from the 2000s, 90s, and 80s each. And then one from the 30s-70s. This method makes the most sense in my mind.

The only hiccup I’ve come across thus far is movie availability, particularly with foreign language films. For the more obscure movies, I’m either going to skip them altogether (what can you do, ya know?) or wait until the project really catches hold and consider spending extra money. I’m sure adding the Netflix snail mail plan would get me most of the way there, but I’m not ready to commit to anything beyond my streaming only option just yet. Amazon Prime seems to be the best way so far. Most movies are either free or $2-$3 rentals.

So, without further ado, here’s my To Be Watched list for March! Join me if you feel so inclined or ignore me altogether. Both are valid life choices.

High Fidelity (2000)

JFK (1991)

The King of Comedy (1983)

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

I haven’t seen a single one of these so I’m super duper excited. Let me know which ones you’ve seen and what you thought!!

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

1649385E.M. Forster is an author I’ve always meant to read but never have. I started doing a buddy reads thing with my best friend and co-organizer of my Atlanta book club last year, and our most recent selection was A Room With a View. I quickly downloaded a free copy onto my Kindle and settled in.

Lucy is a young girl on holiday in Italy. She wants to break out of the constricting, conservative mold of proper English society, but constantly finds herself and her means thwarted by older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte. They meet many interesting characters abroad including an older gentleman and his younger son, George Emerson. The Emersons aren’t the right kinds of people, but George and Lucy share a kiss in a field of violets that puts Twilight to shame. After the incident, Lucy and Charlotte flee to Rome and then back to England where we discover Lucy’s become engaged to a colossal douchebag named Cecil. But then the Emersons move into the neighborhood and things get very interesting.

I’m glad I read this around Valentine’s Day. If you were unsatisfied with Twilight, try this! Seriously, a great love story not just between two lovers, but also between a woman and who she wants to be – free to love and live as she chooses. It’s short, sweet, and simple, but poses a lot of questions about English society and the changing of societal norms from the Victorian Era to the Edwardian period. Plot and substance! Plus, you can watch the miniseries that has Daniel Day Lewis. I repeat, Daniel Day Lewis.

Victoria wasn’t as enamored because she couldn’t connect or like any of the characters beyond George Emerson. She wanted to like and love Lucy but wasn’t able to. She thought Lucy did a whole lot of talking about breaking free without a whole lot of actual doing. This is a valid complaint (until the end, at least), but I just think she’s a product of her time. We can’t hold her to the standards we hold women to today, can we? I think that can be one of the hardest parts of reading literature over 100 years old.

Anyway, loved this and will be exploring Forster further. Highly recommended.

Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

17707720Anything That Moves is Dana Goodyear’s journalistic endeavor to discover just what modern day American foodies are made of and the extreme things they’ll eat to remain at the top of their game. Jimmy and I (along with several friends) consider ourselves amateur foodies and so this kind of book pushes my buttons. If nothing else, I thought it would provide some interesting fodder for future supper club outings we organize every Wednesday night.

Goodyear’s book reads more like a collection of similarly themed magazine articles that cover a wide range of foodie topics such as foodie bloggers, the raw movement, and insect eating. She sets out with many different foodies from all walks of life to discover why, how, and what they eat. She also provides a decent amount of background, historical information on the origins of some of the bizarre foods/movements mentioned. It’s a great introduction to the foodie society.

Some have complained about Goodyear’s disconnect from the weird food experiences she’s writing about. I think this is a valid complaint. She was pregnant through much of her research and didn’t feel safe eating the questionable foods. I understand her decision, but it leaves a rather large gap between her and her subject matter. My favorite bits involved her actually describing her personal experiences with the food – the tastes, smells, textures, and emotional responses to what she was eating. So just be prepared for several third party moments.

My personal favorite topic she discussed was insect eating. It just fascinated me. Not only how psychologically against turning bugs into an edible protein source most Americans are, but also how sustainable and environmentally friendly these little critters can be. And I’m not going to lie, they sound delicious. Well, the crunchy ones. I still have mental issues with worms and such. I don’t like squishy things. I started trying to Google Atlanta restaurants that serve things like tempura fried grasshoppers and couldn’t find any. I suspect I’ll have to use underground methods to discover such delicacies.

So, if you’re adventurous and aren’t overly sensitive to graphic depictions of eating animals, I’d suggest this book as a fascinating look inside the food culture of modern America. There’s a lot to learn and some genuinely disgusting moments such as the eating of a baby bird (bones, beak, feathers – the whole shebang). If you’re already well-established in the foodie world, you’ll have tried many of the rare meats and food described here, but it’s still fun to see if anything Goodyear discovers will gross you out! And I’ve now removed foie gras from my diet. I had no idea how it was made and now I’m amazed that such a thing is even legal (which it isn’t in many states).

What are your favorite foodie investigation novels? Any food bloggers you love to read? What’s the strangest food you’ve ever tried? Mine is probably stinky tofu, but I also love chicken gizzards.