Category Archives: Sarah Nelson

The Monday Book: EVERY HOUSE NEEDS A BALCONY by Rita Frank

This book came into the shop, and I’d seen somewhere online that it had been nicknamed “The Israeli Kite Runner.” So I took it downstairs to our flat and made it my bedside book.

Hmm….. on the one hand, it’s very atmospheric, makes you feel the Haifa poverty and inner city activity of the time period (post-WWII). On the other, translated books have that one-step-removed feel, and this novel has that in spades. It feels like reading from behind a curtain.

The story centers around a woman who decides to marry a guy from Barcelona, both Jewish, different classes, dealing with a lot of the ethnic and economic and political effects of the day. Marriage strains, sick babies, family members who aren’t cooperating, etc. If it weren’t for being set in Haifa, it would be an Aga Saga. But instead, it’s kind of an atmospheric time piece. Maybe even a peek behind the curtain.

I love character-driven books best of all, and this one isn’t. It’s setting-driven, and I have to admit that works really well. I didn’t care about the people, but it was like watching a television instead of reading in terms of the filled-in living details and little tossed-on-top nuggets of unexplained culture. It’s written from the inside, and those of us on the outside can learn a lot just from watching the casualness of the unexplained as it appears.

It’s not a book in which a lot happens action-wise, at least not most of the time, but it’s a great depiction of how time, place, and money can rock a marriage. Any marriage, any time, any place.

Four stars, shall we say?

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The Monday Book: DANCING AT THE SHAME PROM (Ferris and Dexter, eds)

So this isn’t really a book you LIKE. It’s a book I personally read to see how writers handled the subject (a point in your life about which you are ashamed). I wanted to study them, from style to emotion to word choice.

Some of them handled it very well, and others left me feeling like the story they had to tell wasn’t the one they were telling.

This book is a collection of short stories/essays by women who have felt shame for something, ranging from divorce to making fun of people to being bad in school. The stories tend to focus on women who have influence and affluence (discovering her husband was having an affair, one writer lobbied his Emmy at his head, if that gives you an idea).  They’re not “on the ground” stories of not being able to provide, etc.

They’re also not as no-holds-barred as I was expecting as a whole, although in some cases they’re so intense that much is demanded of the reader. I read this book because Seal Press, who published it, have a great reputation for women authors with meat on their wordy skeletons. These women have things to say, and because I was dealing with a point in my own writing where shame came up, I wanted to see how they could do it graciously, conversationally, without justification or haranguing.

Well, some did and some didn’t, but when one reads for instruction and edification, one gets those things. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not a sit-down and feel-good book. In fact, at the risk of sounding demeaning or facile, this is the kind of book one keeps in the smallest room in the house, and ponders piece by piece. To do otherwise might be overwhelming. I found that reading a chapter a night dragged me down, whereas a bit here, a bit there, with time to ponder and piece together ideas and smell the flowers between, was better for my mental health.

So this is less half-hearted endorsement than an upfront admission that I read this for personal reasons, to gain insight into good writers talking about bad stuff, and I got what I came for. If you’re not interested in how shame holds us, or you’re more interested in the inspirational side a la Brene Brown, you may not like this book. But it certainly got interesting.

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The Monday Book: SLOW LOVE by Dominique Browning

I really like memoirs, so when Browning’s came in with the charming title, “How I lost my job, put in my pajamas, and learned to enjoy life” I packed it on a recent flight. (It is also smaller than the average trade paperback.)

Although following a predictable pattern – NYC insider gets the boot because of hard times – what I liked about the book was Browning’s meta-writing: slow, lyrical sentences to illustrate how her life slowed down, picked up on music and gentle living, and added some herbs.

Granted, Browning is wealthy. Even though she wrote about the fear of the plummeting stock market harming her retirement savings, well, she had savings. And another house to move into that she could afford to renovate. Etc. This is a yuppie memoir.

And beautifully written. Her lazy, gentle sentences don’t meander. They are densely packed with words you might have to look up every now and then. Her observations are pithy but not concise. I found myself following her for the way she told the story, not the story she was telling.  Browning is a writer’s writer.

Following my quest to find how other writers handle making the inaccessible (or at least the non-experienced) interesting to readers who don’t share the passion of the book, I read Browning to the end, and enjoyed it. If you like lyrical writing and peeking at others’ strange lives, this is a good one for those of us who don’t live, and don’t care to think about living, in Manhattan.

A full bouquet of home-grown roses for Dominique Browning’s SLOW LOVE.

 

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The Monday Book: ENDGAME by James Frey

well-this-sucksOh dear God in Heaven, Frey, you make up a memoir about drug addiction and somebody gives you the keys to a fictitious city????

How many ways is Endgame bad – the writing that has characters doing abrupt turns from their previous hopes and dreams, all in the space of one sentence? The conceit of hiding a treasure hunt inside, along the lines of that golden rabbit buried a couple decades back, and getting people to buy the book so they can do the math and be one of the treasure hunters? The really, really stupid plot device of 12 ancient lines who all know about themselves but not each other, and who have successfully passed this secret from family to family without anybody else knowing? Kids killing each other – wow, where did you get such a great new idea in YA fantasy?

Shall I go on, or do we now have enough reasons to leave James Frey’s book alone? He’s the guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces in which he claimed to have had dental surgery without anesthetic, crawled into a crack house within weeks of getting clean in order to carry his girlfriend out and enroll her in a program holding a spot for her, and been taken into the fold of a gangster who treated him as a son during their rehab. At the time I was reading Pieces I was working with addicts in a literacy program, and I remember thinking about halfway through the book, “No way, man. He’s lying.” Which turned out to be what everyone else thought, too.

Give it up, world. There is no taste, no truth, and no future. The Sky Gods are coming for us all, unless we’re one of those ancient lines or found the golden rabbit.

Short version: this book sucks.

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BOOKSTORES YES!!!!!

Jack and I are headed out to emcee the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival in Elizabethton, TN this weekend. Busy and running about, I offer in place of a hand-written blog this LOVELY piece of news.

INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES ARE THRIVING!!!! Click the link to read all about it.

http://theweek.com/articles/573874/4-reasons-why-independent-bookstores-are-thriving

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The Monday Book: Bridget Jones – Mad about the Boy by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding

 

Regular readers will know that I (Jack) tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, but I do make exceptions. So when ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy’ slid into the shop, I made one of these exceptions.

My introduction to ‘Bridge’ was through the movies of the first two books in Fielding’s series, which led to me reading them as well. And enjoying them.

This latest addition is very much in the same style as the previous ones and I agree with many reviewers that Fielding really does have a knack for capturing a place and a life-style. The life-style is that of engaging and fashionable 30 to 40 year olds and the place is modern day London.

My problem is that I’ve always hated London – actually, I’m not that keen on any big cities, but London is right at the bottom of places where I’d like to live! So it’s meant as a compliment that I’ve enjoyed all the ‘Bridge’ books despite their setting.

I could say the same for ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ as well as ‘About a Boy’ – also about the same kind of social group and in the same setting. Maybe there really is getting to be a specific genre that we need to create a special shelf for in the bookstore: Trendy 30-somethings in the Big City. We could title it ‘Cheers’ or ‘Friends’ – – –

Seriously, though – I did enjoy ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy’ as poor Bridge dealt with being a widow with two small children, the guilt of wanting a new companion, school events, life on Twitter, and the inevitable daily catastrophes. I particularly liked Fielding’s cheeky inclusion of Bridge’s negotiations with a movie company over her updating of ‘Hedda Gabbler’ by Anton Checkov (yes – Gabbler with two ‘B’s and, yes, Anton Checkov!). Fielding’s writing is just short of madcap, and paints word pictures one can’t forget.

Two glasses of sparking Evian Water up for ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy!’

 

 

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