Thursday, February 11, 2010

From My Bookshelf: Recent Reads

It seems as though it has been quite some time since I've written up a "From My Bookshelf" post. So let me fill you in on some of my notable recent reads, leaving aside titles I've been reading for review assignments and feel that I should not disclose prior to the reviews being completed/published (how do other reviewers approach this, btw?).

LIT: Many months ago, I attended a reading at Hunter College featuring Mary Karr. Karr is a writer I've admired for a long time, but I'd never had the chance to see/hear her read in person. WOW. What an amazing presence. That evening, she read from her then-forthcoming third memoir, Lit. I knew right away that I'd want to read Lit as soon as it came out. It took me a little while, but I did get to read it last month. It was terrific, especially for someone with varying levels of degrees of familiarity with the "scenes" of low-residency MFA study, Cambridge/Boston, and literary awards. Intrigued? Check out Francine Prose's reliably smart take on Lit here.

THE HELP: Remember last week's link to Michael Copperman's Luna Park post on "authenticity"? Particularly if such questions interest you, you'll want to take a look at Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help. Chances are, even if you haven't read it, you've heard about it. Here's a snippet from a November 2009 Motoko Rich/New York Times article to refresh your memory:
'The Help,' a novel about the relationships between African-American maids and their white employers in 1960s Mississippi, has the classic elements of a crowd pleaser: it features several feisty women enmeshed in a page-turning plot, clear villains and a bit of a history lesson.

The book, a debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, also comes with a back story that is a publishing dream come true: at first rejected by nearly 50 agents, the manuscript was scooped up by an imprint of Penguin and pushed aggressively to booksellers, who fell in love with it. Since it came out in February, 'The Help' has been embraced by book clubs and bloggers who can’t stop recommending it to their friends.
By the way, The Help, too, features writing and publishing within its narrative. Very much so. Which surely contributed to my engagement with it.

GRINGA: A third book I've had the pleasure to read lately is Melissa Hart's memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. Although Hart and I have never met, we're both contributing editors for The Writer magazine, and I'd seen Gringa mentioned in her bio notes. I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to read her new book, which she'll be talking about in an interview featured in the March issue of The Practicing Writer. I don't want to say too much about Hart or her book quite yet, but you can of course learn more on your own.

And what am I reading right now? Currently, I'm a little more than 100 pages into Chris Bohjalian's Skeletons at the Feast, a novel which will be the focus of the next Jewish Book Council Twitter Book Club "Twunch and Talk" on February 25. Perhaps you'll join me there?

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