Review: The Surrender, Toni Bentley

So, I debated with myself for a couple of weeks. Should I review this one on my blog? I pretty much review all the books I read, but should I draw a line with books like Toni Bentley’s memoir, The Surrender? Maybe I should. I read it out of curiosity. I had heard about it, and I can’t remember when or how, but it recently popped back on my radar again, if you will, so I just read it. Bentley is known for writing a more conventional and well-regarded memoir about her time with the New York City Ballet. Who knows? Maybe I will not click the publish button. If you are reading this, then you’ll know I decided to be brave because I’m a grown-ass woman in her mid-forties, and I can read and review whatever strikes my curiosity. I guess if Toni Bentley can tell the world about her sexual escapades, then I can at least have to guts to admit I read the ensuing memoir.

Anyway, if this book isn’t on your radar, and you know nothing about it, let me enlighten you. It is a memoir about Toni Bentley’s sexual relationship with a man who introduced her to anal sex. If that squicks you out, I should mention there is not a great deal of detail in the descriptions. I mean, it’s explicit, but more with language than actual description of sex—of any kind, really. It probably crosses the line for a lot of folks. But, I mean, do you pick up a book like this if you aren’t a bit prepared for what its pages will reveal? I should think most of us would know whether reading this would cross our lines or not. However, I will say I didn’t find it titillating—and not because I’m a prude or closed-minded or anything. It’s more (unintentionally? purposefully?) humorous than anything else, and pretty much not sexy at all. Sort of sad? It is not badly written. The prose is a bit purple here and there, but it might surprise you that it doesn’t entirely suck if you decide to read it yourself. But, I mean, if she can write some of the lines she wrote in that book and take herself seriously still… well, I have to give her props.

I will admit I was curious as to how someone could write a whole memoir about the subject. Well, it sort of isn’t. It’s more about Bentley’s sexual exploration in general. Actually, it’s kind of an interesting psychological self-study at its core. She doesn’t even get to the affair with the man she nicknames A-Man (I know, I positively cringed, too) until halfway through the book. Ultimately, I finished it because I was pretty curious how this whole relationship of hers was going to play out. I found her to be fairly… shall we charitably say inwardly focused? She cops to it—one chapter is about how as a ballet dancer, she focused on the mirror in the studio, albeit as a study of her imperfections. But you can’t help thinking it did something to her psyche to be so focused on herself and her movement in that mirror. I found her to be somewhat passionless. She doesn’t come off as likable. Not that she was trying, I don’t think. I mean, do you write a book like this if you care what people think about you? She’s not a coward, however. No one who would put a memoir like this out there can be accused of cowardice. Insanity? Jury’s out on that one. I’ll spare you the details, but if you read it, you will definitely wonder what the hell is wrong with her at some point. Actually, there are some great reviews on Goodreads that go into more detail than I feel like doing. And some of those reviews are pretty awesome.

By the way, this memoir was made into a one-woman play, and it sounds like it was about like you’d expect. However, award for most hilarious thing I have read in connection to this book goes to Ms. Bentley herself. In an interview with Salon, she is asked the following question:

At the end of your book, you have only had anal sex with one other man. Now, years later, have you had other anal relationships?

Her response is pretty brazen:

I would rather not talk about my personal life.

Oh, honey. It’s too late to close that door now. (I resisted a pun here, unlike Ms. Bentley, so you are welcome.)

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Review: The Crossover, Kwame Alexander

Our middle school’s summer reading selection this year was Kwame Alexander’s verse novel The Crossover. It’s a book that has been on my radar since an English teacher’s conference I attended last November, but I hadn’t set aside time to read it until this weekend. It’s a very fast read, and I think the students will have enjoyed it. I know I did.

The novel is told from the perspective of middle-school basketball phenom Josh Bell, nicknamed Filthy McNasty by his father, a legendary former basketball player named Chuck Bell. Josh has an equally impressive basketball-playing twin named Jordan, and the two boys attend school where their mother is principal. Things get complicated for Josh when his brother starts dating a girl and his father’s health problems take a serious turn.

When one of my students read this book last year as an independent read, he said it was the best book he had ever read. I’m not going to go that far, but I understand why he said it. This student is not a big reader, and he plays hockey. Finally, he must have thought, here is a book about a boy like me, who loves the game with everything he’s got. I think it also opened up his notion of what poetry could be and do. I always say Kobe Bryant did us English teachers a solid by retiring with a poem. I think what happens too often is that our kids don’t see themselves in the books we select for them, and the boys who passed this book around my classroom last year saw themselves in this book. They also don’t see poetry as something that can be cool or that can speak to them. That’s something to thank Kwame Alexander for.

Some of the poems seem to mimic basketball on the page.

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Other poems are constructed in interesting ways. I am a big fan of poems in two voices. One of my students wrote an excellent one for a multigenre writing project she did on Robin Williams. In one voice, she wrote a monologue he had delivered as part of a comedy routine. In the other voice, she wrote what Williams was thinking as he spoke. When she presented to the class, she asked me to read Williams’s interior monologue while she read the comedy routine. It was an amazing poem, and I think we all felt its power, particularly when read aloud in two voices. Alexander includes a similar kind of poem in this book. It can be read three ways: 1) as one poem, going back and forth; 2) as a second poem on the left, reading vertically; 3) as a third poem on the right, reading vertically. It works each way.

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I can see why this book received so much praise from teachers and librarians as well as winning the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. Highly recommended to anyone who likes basketball, who likes to dip into children’s books on occasion, or who loves poetry.

Rating: ★★★★★

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August Owl Crate Unboxing

I recently found out about a book lover’s subscription box called Owl Crate. I love books. I love subscription boxes, too, because it’s like getting a present. I have been using Stitch Fix for two years now so that I could build a more professional wardrobe. I really dislike shopping for clothes, and I often get items in my Stitch Fix box that I might not pick but that I love once I try them on. So I definitely wanted to check out Owl Crate and see what it was about.

Owl Crate has three plans. You can go month-to-month for $29.99 plus shipping. You can do three months for $28.99 plus shipping, and you can also do six months for $27.99 plus shipping. Be aware if you choose three- or six-month subscriptions, you will be charged up front for all three or six months up front. If you want to cancel, you just need to be mindful of the dates because Owl Crate auto-renews until you tell it not to.

Owl Crate’s book focus is on YA literature. I happen to teach high school English, and I love YA literature, but if you don’t like it, then Owl Crate might not be the best subscription box option for you.

I received my first box today.

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A little bit Potterish, no? I think Harry Potter might indeed have been an inspiration.

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The box was packed full of goodies and fun eco-friendly crinkle-cut fill. The card on the top has information about this month’s theme: Fast Times at YA HIgh—just in time for back to school.

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Now for a closer look at the goods. First up, what’s inside this little blue organza bag?Photo Aug 18, 5 46 04 PM

A unique Eleanor & Park necklace! I loved that book. You can check out my review here.

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Don’t you love the little mix tape charm?

Next up, a handy Decomposition Book notebook. This is a small memo-sized notebook.Photo Aug 18, 5 47 01 PM

And some cute buttons.

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And a Harry Potter print by Susanne Draws that looks like it’s about 6×9 inches. Love this!

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An adult coloring book with patterns designed to relieve stress. I will probably need that as I go back into the classroom after summer break.

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Wrapped in cellophane with a set of golf-sized colored pencils for the coloring book was this month’s reading selection, Kasie West’s P. S. I Like You in hardcover.

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It was just released last month. I think my students will enjoy this one in our classroom library. Here’s a better look at the cover, out of the cellophane.

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There was also a letter from Kasie West about the book and a signed bookplate.

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I stuck it inside the book right away.

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It’s so cute! It matches the book.

Next, I found a teaser about next month’s theme, which sounds perfect to get into the RIP Challenge! (Incidentally, anyone heard anything about that challenge for this year?)

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I don’t know what it is, but it will be something connected to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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I am familiar with Out of Print. They make all kinds of cool bookish and nerdy things.

And that was it for this box.

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Here’s another peek at all of it.

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If I had to guess, I’d say that buying a similar necklace on Etsy would cost about $15-20 based on items like it already for sale. The book runs for about $11.00 right now on Amazon, as does the adult coloring book. The Decomposition Notebook currently runs about $5.00 on Amazon. By the time you add in the unique extras, the box is a deal. Plus it’s a lot of fun. You can check out past boxes on their website, which might help you decide if you want to try it, too. I can think of a lot of teacher friends who might like it.

Full disclosure: Owl Crate did not pay me or compensate me in any way, nor did they ask me to review their subscription box, but I did use my referral link in the first paragraph.

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A Few Thoughts on Re-Reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Again)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneI like to have audio books going when I’m doing mindless housework or making soap (though I haven’t made soap in a while). I don’t know why, but I decided to listen to the Harry Potter books again, even though I just re-read them (the British versions) last year. I could, I guess, space out my re-reads a bit. But one reason I did it is there is nothing like Harry Potter to perk me up. I was feeling just about as bad as I have ever felt when I discovered the books for the first time. I was actually reading the first one, I think, close to when 9/11 happened, if not during that time. I know I read it before that first movie came out that November. It seemed like when I was feeling my worst, there were these books, and they really did help me escape for a little while and feel a lot less bad about everything. I will always be grateful to them for that.

In this re-listen, a few interesting things popped into my head. First, it still irks me that Scholastic re-titled the book for Americans. The Sorcerer’s Stone is not a thing. The Philosopher’s Stone is a known alchemical object. Any reader who doesn’t know what something is can look it up. And many of them will. I would have (and did) as a child. Second, this book might be the only one of the series that doesn’t treat on the anti-Muggle and Muggle-born prejudice storyline. In fact, both Hagrid and McGonagall say things that one might consider anti-Muggle. McGonagall says “they’re not completely stupid,” when telling Dumbledore the Muggles are noticing the celebration of Voldemort’s downfall. Hagrid tells Harry that he was unfortunate to grow up in a family of “the biggest Muggles” around. There could be a couple of reason for this oversight:

  • J. K. Rowling didn’t know she’d be able to publish a whole series. I have had this argument with people before because she claims she had the whole series planned out (of course, she also changed and tweaked as she went along). I don’t care if she did. She can’t have known she’d be able to write seven books (and all the other things that came later, either). She had to tie the book up in a bow, and establishing this dark story arc that couldn’t be resolved in one book might have been a risk.
  • There might not have been room for it. Her editors did cut some things. She has alluded to this fact. She has said in interviews they wanted to cut the troll scene, and she put her foot down on that one as necessary for establishing the trio’s friendship. Not to mention their bravery and ability to work together to fight in a tight spot.
  • She hadn’t thought of it. See first bullet point, but I’m just saying it’s possible.
  • She had a lot of world-building and character-establishing to do and couldn’t fit it in gracefully when so much about the Wizarding World needed to be established first.

If you look at books 2-7, you see a very clear story arc about prejudice. I would argue that the series transcends a fun children’s series and becomes something more with that arc, but the first book still has some of my favorite scenes in the series:

  • Harry’s release of the boa constrictor from Brazil.
  • Harry’s first look at the Wizarding World when he steps through the brick wall doorway in the back of the Leaky Cauldron and sees Diagon Alley for the first time.
  • Harry’s sorting and the start-of-term feast (does anyone write food like Rowling?).
  • Harry’s first class with Snape.
  • The Halloween Feast and the troll.
  • The Mirror of Erised.

It’s funny that even after reading this book probably more than two dozen times, I still find things to enjoy and notice things I forgot or perhaps hadn’t noticed before.

 

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Stranger Things

Stranger Things Title Card

Image via Lowtrucks, Wikimedia Commons

I think I was about a week later than just about everyone else in starting Stranger Things. I finished it today after not having a lot of time to watch Netflix over the last week or so. There is a lot to like in this series, and if you were an 80’s kid like me, you definitely need to watch it. There are, of course, ubiquitous (and finely parsed—Google search it) nods to 1980’s books, movies, music, and pop culture all throughout. I was actually shocked to learn the Duffer Brothers, creators of the series, were born in the 1980’s instead of teenagers because they really captured the era. Who didn’t know boys like Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will? I went to middle school with those guys, I swear it. Actually, it’s set in 1983, which is exactly when I would have been their age.

I understand this series was rejected by anywhere from 15 to 20 networks, all of which are probably kicking themselves hard right now. I don’t know anyone who isn’t buzzing about this series. Well, anyone my age, anyway. Some of my favorite things:

  • All the “see if you catch them” references. I love that the title card looks like a 1980’s Stephen King novel. That’s only one among many a Stephen King reference. Lots of nods to IT, Firestarter, and The Body (aka Stand By Me). Actually, I think that the actress who plays Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown, looks like she could be Wil Wheaton’s kid. He played Gordie LaChance in Stand By Me if you forgot or haven’t seen it (you should really see it if you haven’t—it’s probably one of the better Stephen King adaptations).
  • The child actors. They’re actually really great. All of them.
  • Winona Ryder as a mom character. I know she was Spock’s mom in the Star Trek reboot, but you know what I mean. We first really met her in the late 1980’s when she was a teenage actress. It seems appropriate that she’s the mom.
  • The kids’ amazing science teacher. He’s geeky, but man, with all the complaining folks do about education and teachers today, it was refreshing to see such a recognizable, honest, and positive portrayal of a teacher. He actually reminded me a bit of my middle school science teachers.
  • Barb. Because if you grew up in the 80’s you either were someone like Barb or knew a Barb. She is perfect. For the record, I my personality as a teenager resembled hers, but I didn’t have her compelling glasses and mom-jeans look.
  • The storytelling. It’s paced well, and for some crazy Stephen King/Steven Spielberg (think E. T.) type stuff, the characters sell it all and make it completely believable.

I actually think my husband’s description of the binge-worthy nature of this series is the best one I’ve seen.

We didn’t get our stuff together to actually watch it together. I totally recommend watching it with a friend. Particularly a friend who was about your age in the 1980’s—if, you know, you are like me and grew up then. If not, find a friend who did grow up in the 80’s and watch it with that friend.

I volunteer because I kind of want to watch it again and see what I missed the first time.

Here is the trailer if you want to check it out.

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Site Has Returned

I apologize to folks who have been trying to access this site and found it had been suspended by my former host. I wrote a post on my education blog about my experience, so I don’t feel the need to replicate it here. Just follow the link if you are interested. In the end, I was able to find a new host and get my site up and running again within three days. I wish I had spent the last three days reading on the beach instead, but nope!

Some books in the review pipeline:

I have finished the first one and the second and third are in progress. I am reviewing the first two as part of a TLC Book Tour in the beginning of October, so those reviews won’t appear until then. Also, I joined up with three different reading/book subscription boxes—think Birch Box or Stitch Fix for books. I plan to review/unbox each of them here on the blog. I am hoping to get back into it with my reading mojo pretty soon. I did really enjoy The Bitch is Back, but I didn’t read a lot this summer, and now it’s nearly over. One week from today, I need to return to work. Students will be returning soon after.

We did have a good summer, though. We went to Bar Harbor, Maine and visited Acadia National Park, which is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. We drove up to Montpelier and Waterbury, Vermont and bought maple syrup and cheese and toured the Ben & Jerry’s factory. My oldest daughter visited and we took her to Salem, MA (it was hot as the side of the sun that day!) and Amherst (to see Emily’s house, naturally). We also went to the Worcester Art Museum, and wouldn’t you know it, I recognized this painting from an old paperback cover of The Scarlet Letter. Because that is how I would recognize a painting, you know? It was a fairly excellent summer for exploring New England a bit for sure.

I’ll leave you with a poem.

The Summer that we did not prize
Her treasures were so easy
Instructs us by departure now
And recognition lazy—
Bestirs itself—puts on its Coat
And scans with fatal promptness
For Trains that moment out of sight
Unconscious of his smartness—

Emily Dickinson, Fr# 1622

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Hypothyroidism

I recently had a physical for the first time in years. I know, I know. One of the reasons I went is that I have had some fairly bad pain in my knees, and I was worried I was developing arthritis. Knowing that my pain would likely only get worse, and worrying I might not be able to walk if I didn’t do something, I asked my doctor about it. She checked my knees. She asked me if I sprained my ankles a lot when I was a kid. I think so. I can’t really remember. I do remember hurting my ankle so bad one time playing basketball that I thought I broke it. My friend Darcy managed to help me get home. I also pronate when I walk, which is something I have attributed to my hips. Who knows. She also ordered x-rays just to be sure that I wasn’t developing arthritis and ordered a physical therapy appointment. I have had the x-rays, and I understand that my knees look normal. My physical therapy starts Wednesday.

Anyway, my doctor is really thorough, and she orders a series of blood and urine lab tests for all her new patients. I was a bit surprised to get a phone call from her office the day after I had all my lab work done. I have an under-active thyroid, and she had prescribed levothyroxine for me. The prescription had already been called in to my pharmacist. Minutes later, my pharmacist called to let me know it was ready.

I did some research, and it turns out that a laundry list of what I thought were unrelated physical complaints might all be due to an under-active thyroid. Fatigue, joint pain, some gastrointestinal issues, sensitivity to cold (I am always cold when everyone else is fine), and slow metabolism, most of which I chalked up to “getting older,” if I even thought it was a concern. I didn’t really think there was much I could do about it. I was most concerned about the knee pain because it impacted me most through my day. The fatigue was not negligible. I thought it might be job stress. I am naturally introverted, too, and people wear me out. I am a teacher, and I’m around people all day. My husband was concerned about the fatigue, but I don’t think I remembered to mention it to my doctor. I don’t have as much trouble with it during the summer.

I have been taking my medication less than a week. It’s supposed to take a few weeks before I feel any difference (I thought). But my knees already seem to feel better. I can’t decide if there is real change or if it’s in my head (cue Dumbledore quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), but I just walked up and down the stairs today for the first time without thinking my knees were going to give out on me. Even getting up from a sitting position was hard with my knee pain. People asked me often if I was okay. I grimaced and said I was fine. My knees just hurt a little. A lot, really, but I don’t like to trouble others with my issues.

To be honest, my first reaction on hearing I had this condition and that I would have to take medicine, probably for the rest of my life was Here we go. The aging thing starts. Before long I’ll need one of those pill packs so I can put my daily pills in the compartment for each day of the week. I’m not ready for that part of my life. I’ll be 45 next month. Still, if this medicine will make me feel more energetic and just, well, better, I don’t mind.

Sorry for any folks who come across this page Googling “hypothyroidism” and expecting to learn something. I’m no expert. I know a lot more than I did a week ago, though. I have joked with my husband, who is nearly four years older than I am, that I’m older than he is because I felt older. I have gray hair. He doesn’t. I don’t have his energy or strength. He can walk up the stairs without grasping the banister for support. For the first time in a few years, I’m actually hopeful that I can feel a bit more like my old self again.

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A Return

It won’t be too much longer before the school year starts again. It will be my 20th year. It’s hard to believe. It will be my fifth year at my current school. That time has flown by. I started four years ago as a technology integration specialist. Now I’m the English department chair. I love it. The people I work with are amazing. I have made some great friends. I love where I live. I feel good. I feel successful. I have an education blog where I tend to write about teaching. This blog originally started as a personal blog. A hodge podge of whatever I was interested in at the moment. Over time, it evolved in a books-only blog. I have been missing the hodge podge lately.

I am thinking a lot about a book I’m reading, The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier, edited by Cathi Hanauer. I’m reading it as part of a book tour. So far, I am really getting a lot out of it. One thing that impresses me as I read the essays in the book is that these women have an outlet and audience for things they’re thinking about. There is no reason I have to write just about books here, but some reason, for a long time, that’s what I’ve been doing. I don’t know if I thought people wouldn’t be interested in other things I might write (though it has crossed my mind), or if I thought that people would be confused about what, exactly, this blog is (as though it has to be something or other). I don’t think I would want to use a different blog to write about these topics, so I think I will use this one. I did contemplate starting another blog, even something without my name attached. I don’t need that kind of compartmentalization or confusion, though. I’m getting older, and with it has come a certain amount of, for lack of a better term, bravery. I find I care a little less what people think, though as someone with anxiety, I can’t stop caring completely—I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t care. I have things I want to say. I have worries about getting older. I have health issues. I have a wonderful family. I love music. I live in a beautiful state. There is a lot going on in my head besides books and reading.

What I’m trying to say is that I want to use this blog more like I used to use it. More like a hodge podge. I’ll still review my books here. But I will write about other things, too.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J. K. Rowling (???), Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

I didn’t go to a midnight release party, but I did drive up to the local Barnes & Noble some time yesterday afternoon to pick up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The Barnes & Noble had a power outage. The line was really long, and at first I thought it was because so many people were there to get the new Harry Potter book. Well, they were, mostly, but the line was mainly long because two cashiers were filling out receipts by hand.

Anyway, if you know me and know this blog, you probably know I am a pretty big Harry Potter fan. I may not be the biggest fan you know, but I’m the biggest one I know. I have read all the books multiple times. I have seen all the movies multiple times. I will have a ticket for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them when it comes out. I am on Pottermore and have been sorted into Ravenclaw at Hogwarts and Thunderbird at Ilvermorny. My cat is named Bellatrix. Appropriately, she is a black cat. I have read many of the articles on Pottermore several times, so the new canon is pretty well lodged in my head. I even wrote a fanfic for NaNoWriMo last November that imagined what Albus Potter’s first year at Hogwarts might be like.

I didn’t like this book much. I don’t know how much J. K. Rowling had to do with it, really, but it didn’t sound like her at all. It reads like fan fiction, and not very good fan fiction. Not only that, but a couple of things revealed in the play directly contradict canon that has been released on Pottermore or in interviews. Rowling is notoriously bad at remembering she’s said things, so that could explain it, but it seems sloppy to me.

For those who want a brief synopsis of the plot, it picks up at Platform 9¾ and retreads the epilogue of the last book, picking up with Albus Potter befriending Scorpius Malfoy on the train, much to cousin Rose Granger-Weasley’s disapproval. The boys become fast friends and are sorted into the same house at Hogwarts. I won’t tell you which one, but it was the first of several wrong moves (in my opinion). The two boys are unpopular loners at school and don’t much like it. Albus Potter overhears his father argue with Amos Diggory about using a Time Turner found in the possession of Theodore Nott to travel back in time to save Cedric Diggory. Amos is cared for by Cedric’s cousin Delphi (no reader will be fooled, like Albus was, that she was not who she said she was). Albus and Delphi concoct a plan to steal the Time Turner from Hermione, who is keeping it in her office at the MInistry for Magic (I won’t tell you her job, but it was one of the few satisfying aspects of the book). As you might guess, everything goes wrong when Albus convinces Scorpius to abscond from the Hogwarts Express and go back in time to save Cedric.

OK, where to start. The characters do not sound at all like themselves. I have read these books so many times, and I have immersed myself in everything I could find. These are not the characters I know and love. Harry particularly strikes a wrong note, as does Draco Malfoy. Ron and Ginny were just about the only major characters who sounded more or less like themselves to me. Even Albus Potter, whom we meet only in the epilogue, strikes a major false note based on the character I read in that single chapter. The characterization alone leads me to believe Rowling had very little hand in this play, and I can’t imagine why she rubber-stamped the results. The plot is also convoluted. Even for a story set in the wizarding world, where crazy things are expected, this plot strains credulity. I have big problems with the character of Delphi’s existence. Once it’s revealed who she is, the first thing I wondered was when did that happen, and the second was how. You will see when you get there, if you read this book. But that is not the only part that is confounding. The actions of Albus and Scorpius in just about every instance when they go back are ridiculous, as are those of their parents. And the last time? They send a message asking for help in the most gobsmackingly unbelievable way.

I expected a play would be different. I was prepared not to like it as much because the depth of world-building and characterization would be taken on by actors and stagecraft I wouldn’t get to see. Even taking the fact that this is a play into account, I was surprised by how much I didn’t like it because I was fully prepared to give it a real chance. My mind was way more open than it would have been for just about any other book of this type.

I managed to avoid spoilers, so I won’t discuss them anymore here, but if you want to follow me in the comments to discuss them, we can move the conversation there. I think I’m just going to pretend this book doesn’t exist and enjoy the rest of the stories J. K. Rowling has (actually) written. As flawed as my own fanfic is—especially toward the end when I was running out of steam and trying to meet the word count—I actually prefer it to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Review: A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler

Not too long ago, I joined Litsy, which has been described as a combination of Instagram and Goodreads. It’s not, but I guess that’s as close as it gets. I posted a picture of the books I had purchased and wondered which to start with. A commenter recommended Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread. While I’ve had some things going on and haven’t felt much like reading, it’s also true that this book only sort of half grabbed me. I picked it up because the opening pages are excellent, but they also deceived me about what the book would be.

You’ll have to forgive me. I haven’t read any of her other books, so from what I understand, this one is familiar territory for her: set in Roland Park in Baltimore, about family dynamics and the million tiny ways families disappoint one another. The Whitshank family lives in a house built by the patriarch, Junior Whitshank. His son Red and daughter-in-law Abby live in the house after the passing of Junior Whitshank and his wife (Red’s mother) Linnie Mae. Red and Abby raised their own four children in the house. The novel moves back and forth in time, beginning in the 1990’s with a phone call the Whitshanks’ son Denny makes to announce he’s gay and ending as Denny boards a train to New Jersey to see what appears to be an on-again, off-again girlfriend who is battening down the hatches for Hurricane Sandy. In between, we meet the rest of the Whitshank family and see the Whitshank grandchildren born, we go back and see Red and Abby before they started dating, and then we go further back and meet Junior and Linnie Mae both before and after they move into the house on Bouton Road.

When I say I was deceived by reading the beginning, here is an example of what I mean. Denny calls to announce he is gay. And that whole thread is completely dropped after the opening as Denny has relationships with women and even a daughter, Susan. I have to wonder what the point was. The thread is never picked up. And yes, I am using that metaphor on purpose. Maybe that was what Tyler had in mind. Leaving a lot of loose threads around. For instance, we learn Junior and Linnie Mae died in a crazy car accident, but we don’t really learn why. How did they really even feel about each other? After you read the section about Junior and Linnie Mae, you will wonder if there is more to it. The novel ends without a clear resolution, too. It doesn’t feel satisfying at the end. I wanted to like it more because I do feel that Anne Tyler drew very realistic and recognizable characters, and I liked them. I just didn’t get to see enough plot. It was sort of like peeking through the drapes and watching snippets of a family’s development. I guess I wanted to be a bit closer. In the end, I just kept wondering why Tyler wove in certain scenes and didn’t go anywhere with them.

I am not sure how to rate it because there are parts I liked, but as a whole, it didn’t hang together for me. I will not count it as historical fiction, even though much of it is, because the main storyline is too current.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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