Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Picture is Worth...

When I was little, I had a book with a picture of a girl holding a book. On her book was a picture of a little girl holding a book. On her book...When my youngest sister was little, I found a book called Zoom. On each page, the camera zooms out and you realize some detail of the previous picture is part of a larger picture. Recently I discovered a book for my son called Flotsam. A boy finds a camera on the beach. He develops the film and finds a picture of a child holding a picture of a child holding a picture...until you see a picture of the camera's original owner.

Although it is not a picture book, Click is a book of layered stories. Each story takes us a step deeper, a stop closer, into the life of a photojournalist and his family. As each of the ten stories is written by a different author, details shift from the background into the spotlight. And back again. We zoom into a Russian prison, an Australian beach house, and a French village. Along the way, we also see the photographer's impact on his grandchildren and watch them grow into adulthood.

On a side note, the jacket for this book notes that the purchase of this book benefits Amnesty International. Let's give it more exposure.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gin Vida

Some may go giddy over free publications like this, this, or even this. Me? I do a little happy dance when I see this for the taking at the library.

The latest edition mentions Vida by Patricia Engel. It is a collection of stories, tied together by a central narrator, Sabina. Sabina's parents are from Colombia, but she has grown up in New Jersey. On 9/11, she finds refuge at the home of her married guitar teacher. She watches her aunt die of cancer. She befriends a former prostitute. She battles anorexia. Not all at once. The stories shift back and forth in place and time and boyfriend.

Strangely enough, as I was reading Vida, I kept confusing it with another book I picked up this week, Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison. When her grandmother dies, Stella discovers her mother has a sister no one has heard from in years. Stella finds Tilly living in a ramshackle trailer - with more than a few empty gin bottles stashed in the closet. The pair go to live with Tilly's son to try and beat her drinking habit. Stella, too, has her ghosts - a former eating disorder, a married boyfriend, a string of dead-end jobs. Sound familiar?

Dysfunctional, gritty, "crazy-ass," and all those other buzz words to describe this kind of fiction apply. Trust me, you'll be hooked.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Marvelous Muddle

Precocious Victorian children grew up and came of age in a time of war. A.S. Byatt examines this age in The Children's Book. Centered around the family of Olive Wellwood, the novel follows would be potters, writers, and suffragists as they embrace and discard the burgeoning social movements of the day.

After her husband leaves the banking industry, Olive supports the family by writing scary stories for children. She leaves the upbringing (and sometimes even bearing) of her own children to her spinster sister. For each of her children, Olive has written a personalized storybook with an ongoing tale. But closest to her heart is the story she creates for her eldest, Tom. Without consulting Tom, Olive takes Tom's story public as a play. Her collaborator on the play just happens to be a fantastical German puppeteer and the father of one of her daughters.

Questionable paternity appears often in this tale. Into the muddle of an extensive cast of characters (and bedfellows) goes pages from Olive's stories, an excerpt from a randy novelist advocating free love, letters from boarding school, poetry from the tranches, and entreaties by world leaders. Out of the muddle comes an ending which ties up nicely. Quite satisfying, really.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When a Drowning Isn't the Worst Thing

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Mary Beth is a landscaper and mother of three. She worries about what to throw together for dinner, whether her son is depressed, and if she should be having more sex. She has best friends who call her for parenting advice and old friends that don't speak to her anymore. She fights with her daughter. She calls her mother occasionally. Then, she wakes up in the hospital.

Despite the tragedy that upends the whole thing, I fell into this life. One adage I took especially to heart (along with the recipe for chicken tetrazzini): "small children, small problems, big children, big problems."

So after reemerging from that life into my own, I hugged my son, made a cake for my husband, and read my daughter a bedtime story. One with a happy ending.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Are we there yet?

Perhaps Labor Day Weekend has you taking one last road trip with the family. If that family includes anyone between the ages of four and four hundred, be sure to pack the audio book collection of The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne.

The Magic Tree House books travel with a brother/sister team (Jack and Annie) as they visit famous historical events in their time-machine tree house. Hardly rosy, the pictures Osborne paints are tremulously vivid. You'll slip with the slanting of the Titanic as it sinks, taste the grit of the San Francisco earthquake's aftermath, and smell the blood of the wounded Civil War soldiers. And you'll feel immensely relieved as they escape each adventure unharmed but not untouched.

And who knows? With these CDs on play, "Are we there yet?" may also be history.