Reading, for me, has always been my greatest escape. This summer, given the number of pequeno crises and moving from one country to another, I had many reasons to retreat into books. My reading tastes have been changing; I read more biographies, histories, and spiritual material. But this summer my brain craved two types of libros: memoirs (under the guise of research) and fiction, fiction, fiction. And trolling the aisles in Barnes & Noble and Costco (yes, I admit it!), I came up with the following goodies:
“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I know I am behind the curve on this one due to overseas living. I had resisted reading it for an entire year because the press on the author was, frankly, negative. Not to mention it seemed a little gimmicky and I am past the age where I find other people’s twisted relationships interesting. A lot of people who hadn’t read the book opined vociferously, a trend on the uptick in America. But, ni modo, I snatched it up since it fit the memoir category and was staring up at me from a pile in Costco. I loved it. Loved it. Let me say it again: loved it. Loved it and the gimmick. Readers, weigh in. I know some of you have read it. Last thought (and I am not giving away the story): I am not buying that the lover was actually Brazilian. www.elizabethgilbert.com.
“Bitter is the New Black” by Jen Lancaster. Shallow me, I actually read a review in People magazine of her new book, “Pretty in Plaid”, waiting in the dentist’s office with the Things and promptly ripped out the page and stuck it in my purse. Skeptics out there might say, “People magazine? Really?” As a not-so-reformed preppy, the title resonated with me. But, because I had a lot of books to buy for my new overseas life, I myself distrusted the source and did not buy Pretty In Plaid in hardback* at B&N and opted for her first book, Bitter, found in the memoir/biography section. Can you spell H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S? Bitter is the New Black chronicles her downward spiral from Prada handbags to penury after the dot com bust, a snort out loud cautionary tale if ever there was one. Later in the summer I read her other book, “Such a Pretty Fat or Why Pie is Not the Answer,” also deliciously wicked. Jen Lancaster is a comedic genius and why none of my friends or family had heard of her is a complete mystery to me. Oh, wait, they don’t read People magazine. (They read Us, a cheaper version, which doesn’t have a book review column.) If Ms. Lancaster ever comes to Spain, I hope to serve her a nice Rioja in my living room as I have even more barware than she does! (Alternatively, we could go have a martinit at the Ritz after a visit to the Prado, across the street.) Visit Jen’s blog at www.jennsylvania.com for a preview and then go order all four books for yourself as an early Christmas present.
Ratcheting it back a notch, I read “Perfectly Imperfect” by Lee Woodruff. I am not even going to say that she is the wife of a famous Woodruff because that would mean she is second fiddle. Don’t think so! Again, in the memoir section, her collection of essays is very touching, covering everything from mothering to a must read set of tips on how to deal with families in the midst of tragedy or loss. If she lived in Madrid, she’d be my NBF, we have so many things in common. Well, not the famous husband … I commented on her blog and she personally replied, which says a lot about the woman. www.leewoodruff.com.
If I learned nothing at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference, it is that vampires are still big. Thing 3 ripped through every one of Stephenie Meyer’s blood sucking novels this summer. Huzzah. Vampires have always been big, however. Cruising the religious section of B& N, I discovered Anne Rice’s memoir, “Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession”. Twenty years ago I read “Interview with a Vampire” to see what the fuss was all about and then decided the subject matter was not for me, notwithstanding her fine writing and attention to historical detail. So, you can imagine my shock when I saw her memoir documenting her return to the Roman Catholic iglesia (like how I slide that vocab in?) of her youth. A committed athesist for the majority of her life, her reversal piqued my interest. How does that happen? Is it an incremental process or is there a scales falling from the eyes Road to Damascus incident? I was interested in her answer, and so will be those of you who are RC. Her enthusiasm is blatantly rapturous, in a way only the recently born again can truly be; those without a spiritual inclination, let alone an appreciation for organized religion, will find this over the top. Since her reversion, she only writes Christian books. I am saving a few of my own theories on her former atheism for an Interview with Ms. Rice. We’d have a good chat.
At the same time I was reading Ms. Rice, I was also reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Angel’s Game”. Ruiz Zafon, the author of the global bestselling book, “The Shadow of the Wind”, has a dark mind. His two books complement each other as they are both set in Barcelona, and share some of the same locations and many of the same themes (the nature of evil, reading/writing). The Angel’s Game ended up creeping me out and disturbed me enough to want to undergo a purification rite. Plus, it was a little long. Not my fave.
6) In the cookbook section I picked up Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa Family Style” because I don’t own enough of Ina’s books and can’t cook. That’s a joke. Ina is my speed: simple, family friendly, and easy. I can cook, I just don’t like to every day; it is not one of my hobbies. If you know what I mean.
At the Hudson Bookseller’s store at the Newark Airport, I picked up two more books by my favorite authors right before boarding the plane: Richard Russo and Pat Conroy.
6) “That Old Cape Magic” by Richard Russo is perhaps his “tightest” novel. He does a lovely job tying up all the ends and those familiar with his work will recognize his themes (marriage, parents, quasi-success, academic life). He made me think long after I finished the book. Straight Man is still, by far, my favorite but this one is worth your time and is not nearly as ponderous as “Bridge of Sighs” and “Empire Falls”. Funny and sad at the same time. No one does dialogue like Mr. Russo.
7) Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad” is, well, something of a disappointment to me. Mr. Conroy, like Ms. Rice, is a fellow Southerner and Roman Catholic, a topic featured prominently in the book. Those two need to get together for some beignets and lemonade some time. Some of the story just seemed too contrived for me, unlike his other work, and Nan Talese, who has her very own imprint at Random House, was not fastidious with her editing. What’s up with that??? It was the most expensive book of them all and to find a grammar mistake at the beginning perhaps jaundiced my view. But no, the dialogue was tedious, the metaphors repetitious, and the characters unbelievable, right out of central casting. I hated, hated the end of the “Prince of Tides” at the time I read it (not to mention the casting of the movie) but “South of Broad”‘s ending almost makes up for the preceding schmaltzy 487 pages. Maybe it’s just me?
In the end, I didn’t escape too far. I only went to Connecticut, Chicago, New Orleans, Cape Cod, Charleston, Barcelona, Rome, nowhere India, and Bali. But it got me through and, in lieu of copious amounts of alcohol, was much healthier. As soon as I fix dinner, fold the laundry, wash the floors, vacuum, unpack 64 more boxes, and check my email, I’ll be diving into another book as there are no dollar DVDs to be found in the First World.
*hint, hint (look at the month October on a calendar).