When Life Gives You Lululemons

Oct 1, 2018 by

When Life Gives You Lululemons

It was something out of character for me to read Lauren Weisberger’s When Life Gives You Lululemons, almost like picking up Cosmopolitan magazine I would think and reading it cover to cover. But several weeks ago it was big on the New York Times Bestseller Hardcover List and it spent several weeks there and in my quest to become a better reader, I bought it, read it, and studied the novel in hopes of it making me a better reader.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

To her credit, Weisberger at least knows that U.S. senators don’t ride around in limousines all the time like Lisa Wingate errantly seems to think in Before We Were Yours in modern day South Carolina.

Weisberger’s plot hinges on a senator being in cahoots with a local police department being able to frame his wife with DUI on a holiday and a Hollywood-based spin doctor being able to get her out of trouble after finding the senator’s wife and the spin doctor have a mutual friend in the suburbs of Connecticut. So the story winds around the three women who learn new things about themselves–mostly about the spin doctor who learns that she’s not a washed up spin doctor and that there is more to life than helping the country’s elite lie their way out of their sick problems. So much so that at the end of the book … well, I don’t do spoilers, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

When I read books I usually actively underline passages that I might like to come back to or find insightful about the human experience. I didn’t underline anything in this book.

This is/was not my genre and it does have a happily ever after ending. How nice. But if you want to read anything that’s based upon reality or anything that will advance the cause of humankind, this is not the book.

 

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One of those ‘God Things’

Sep 22, 2018 by

One of those “God Things”

There are times in life when I’ve found myself saying I’m in the middle of one of those “God Things.” Where no amount of my own pushing seems to be getting my anywhere, and then when it’s God’s time, things click right into place.

The seal of The Grammatic Artist.

Over the past three or four weeks now I’ve been working on the premise for a book project. I actually have a very well developed Hero’s Journey. The story takes place in two worlds. One where my primary character is having a dream/encounter where an angel has appeared and is taking him to a meeting with God. On the outside world, he’s on his way to the funeral of his maternal grandfather, the last of his grandparents, and the woman who takes the seat next to him on the flight, not his wife–she has declined to go with him–tells him it sounds like to her he’s grieving a lot more than the loss of his grandfather.

The day I really got to working on the plot of the Hero’s Journey, I found myself at Kinkaid’s Hamburger’s with my own personal mentor Ron Rose. The discussions we had were timely to what each other were doing. The conversation itself became on of those God Things.

As I continued working, things have fallen into place in like manner.

This past Monday I spent an hour with my preacher who suggested I do more to punch up the ferociousness my lead character has when he has his meeting with God, assuming this is a work of fiction. One I’m trying to make more mainstream than a Christian novel.

Then tonight, I met someone at a Mexican restaurant who it sounds like can help me punch up some of the scenes I’ve been struggling with. Another God Thing. She herself has written a book about finding God in unlikely places. I ordered hers from Amazon already. What are the odds?

I’m behind in my book reviews–nine books behind right now–When Life Gives You Lululemons, The Summer that Melted Everything, Imagine Me Gone, My Name is Lucy Barton, Are you There God? It’s Me Margaret, The Outsider, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, Across the River and Into the Trees, and Tailspin, all because I’ve been working on this new book idea.

But that’s okay, because I’m into one of those “God Things,” and when those are happening, well, anything can happen from there….

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My Summer Vacation 2018

Sep 6, 2018 by

My Summer Vacation 2018

During my summer vacation 2018 I travelled the world and never left North Texas. How’s that? I read 40 novels and visited at least three other continents, eight other countries, and many other US cities, all from my living room. And I’ve tried to keep a list of the people I’ve met, but it’s well over 100, so I’ve quit counting. Oh, and I traveled back and forth through time. That is an important point I need to emphasize because when it came to Paris, that really sent my mind for a whirl.

The seal of The Grammatic Artist.

So what did I read this summer and how did I pick the books?

My Summer Reading List

I have been reading straight fiction with a purpose since December 2016. My goal is to read 101 works of fiction in order to improve my writing as a fiction author. Already I have seen improvement in my work, but it was midway through this summer’s reading when a light bulb came on in my head and showed me that I need to work harder at raising the stakes and writing more passionately about the human condition. My perspective about writing, the innocence of telling a story shifted, and as much as I disliked reading Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, I have to admit, I think that’s the book that awakened me to what I just explained. I didn’t like his book because I thought he was a little too much like Henry James, and packed what he could say in four pages into 20. But the realness of the book, the human emotion, the rawness, that spoke to me, and I’ve seen it, looked for it, or been aware of it not being there in every book I have read since.

So what are the 40 books I read this summer?

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

The Torrents of Spring, Ernest Hemingway

The Figure in the Carpet Henry James

The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway 

EileenOttessa Moshfegh

Animal Farm, George Orwell

The OverstoryRichard Powers

The Captives, Debra Jo Immergut 

10 Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

11 Warlight, Michael Ondaatje

12 The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin

13 Your Destination is on the Left, Lauren Spieller

14 The President is MissingBill Clinton and James Patterson

15 Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler

16 The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

17  Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Oscar Wilde

18 A Long Way From Home, Peter Carey

19 My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh

20  The Pearl, John Steinbeck

21 The Human StainPhilip Roth

22 The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante

23 The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne 

24 Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

25 There There, Tommy Orange 

26 The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

27 The Woman in the Window, A. J. Finn

28 When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger

29 The Summer That Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel

30  Across the River and into the Trees,  Ernest Hemingway

31 Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout 

32 Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett

33 My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout 

34 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

35 The Outsider, Stephen King

36 On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

37 The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

38 To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway

39 The Waters and the Wild, DeSales Harrison

40 Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate

Where Have I Been This Summer?

In reading 40 books, you’d think I’d been to a lot of unique places, but that’s the thing, it seemed like I ended up in some more frequent locations, just at different times. But that’s okay. There were lessons to be learned in this regard as well, particularly when it comes to Paris.

And this happened by chance, it was not planned. You see, I have been making a careful study of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and their days in Paris in the 1920s and early 1930s. Add in Paula McLain’s perspective with The Paris Wife, told through the point of view of Hadley Hemingway, fictionally, then you have a pretty good idea of what Parisian life was like pre-World War II. Then when you pick up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and read about the Nazi’s invading Paris and rounding up the Jews, well, then your head does a weird emotional turn–probably something very similar to what it was like when the Nazis were taking over and rounding up the Jews and sending them away, shooting people in the streets, and it becomes hard to comprehend and imagine in juxtaposition to the color and magic described by Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

I would not have had this experience had I not invested so much time with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and McLain in advance and then read Hannah.

But this is just one instance.

I came to the belief that drunken women on pills should be its on genre in bookstores, only to realize that this is an old trope itself–Valley of the Dolls, which I’ve not read. Regardless, it is prolific in today’s modern literature. And it sells. Why? I’m not exactly sure, but it does. Ottessah Moshfegh’s book this summer hit the New York Times Bestseller list for one week with My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window spent weeks this summer on the NYT bestseller list. (Both stories centered in NYC).

Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home  took me on a road race in the 1950s around the continent of Australia and then got side tracked in an Aboriginal camp.

The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway took me fishing and bullfighting in Spain. I didn’t realize it got so hot there in the summer. 

I re-read The Pearl by John Steinbeck and had forgotten about the racism and greed and evil that can come from having found a gem like that. 

I made it to Africa with Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh. Though the book was somewhat confusing at times, it was nonetheless a good commentary on the news media.

Then there were the books on Maine–Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. How it was I managed to read them back-to-back the Lord will only know, but that’s how my reading adventures seemed to work out.

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything brought me to Ohio.

There and Back Again

What have I learned? I think in many ways, I’m still figuring that out. I have noted that I need to do more in raising the stakes in my writing. I’m not going far enough in my negation of the negation–I’m not getting to the very end. But like I said, The Human Stain helped me see this more clearly. I do not, however, see myself reading another “Roth.” The guy is just too wordy.

I read 14 novels in August. I’ve finished one so far in September. Off pace already. Right now I’m 20 pages into Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I’m wondering why in the world it was necessary to describe her getting a Hollywood wax job by page 16.  Has including that much sexual detail become completely necessary to entice someone to keep reading a story that might not otherwise be able to stand on its own? Or is this something for a book club? I’m beginning to see a pattern in books for book clubs–lots of explicit sex, presumably to keep housewives interested in the reading to keep them coming back for more? I don’t know, because to me it seems like–well, it’s not the best of literature, that’s for damned sure.

Okay, time to do some writing for the day.

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A Migraine from Medication Overuse Headache

Aug 25, 2018 by

A Migraine from Medication Overuse Headache

I awoke this morning after 14 hours of sleep caused by a migraine from Medication Overuse Headache. That’s what my neurologist calls them.

They’re the result of having been on opioids for 10.5 months as a consequence of what happened to my back after going to a local chiropractor for treatment.

I didn’t know the person who treated me on Friday the 13th, May 13, 2016 didn’t have a license when he walked into the room. That’d come two weeks later. I’m going to let the lawyers figure that out.

There is not a morning still, more than a year and a half later, when the first thought that shoots into my brain is that my back and legs still hurt. That’s because when I move, even slightly, a sharp pain rockets from somewhere along my spine to my brain and screams, “WHAT IN THE HELL!”

It’s chronic pain now. That’s what they call pain after it’s been with you after six months. Chronic pain tends to never go away.

And then there are the migraines. I had a bout of insomnia Thursday night. Friday was insufferable. By 6 p.m. last night I took an olanzapine, what my neurologist has ordered for relief, and went to sleep at 6:30 p.m.  I got up this morning, still woozy, at 8:30 a.m.

It’s kinda hard to live a normal life with the back and leg pain. Throw in the insomnia and the migraines on top. That’s my life now.

The church service I like to attend begins at 8:15 a.m. on Sundays. That’s about impossible to make anymore. Not when my body isn’t functioning on normal hours and within normal tolerances of pain. Yes, I have a pain stimulator on my back, but it also feels like I have a knotted grapefruit of pain around my spine and when the grapefruit moves, I’m in agony.

After so long, people don’t come around to check on me. They don’t call or text either. I get that. Why call and ask when the answer is going to be the same? Though quite honestly, it’d be nice to hear from friends. Claustrophobia is settling in as my neighbor.

I managed to not get addicted to opioids. Hurrah for that. But the long-term effects of what it’s done to the chemistry of my brain seems to have lingered.

The one positive in all of this is I read a lot. I’ve read 10 books so far this month and I’m on book 11, Olive Kitteridge. I consider my reading work because it is helping my writing. Though that’s harder to do these days because I’m not getting out as much so new ideas aren’t getting fed into my brain. Such vicious cycles, all of it.

The past two days I binge watched Amazon’s The Last Tycoon. I read the F. Scott Fitzgerald book in July. Maybe it was June. It’s one of the 33 books I’ve read since May, I know that. Regardless, the TV series was quite excellent, though I am not sure they went far enough in raising the stakes. They sure did a good job of setting up what characters wanted and then depriving them. That part was done most skillfully. And the acting was very good. Phil Collins’ daughter, Lily Collins, is amazingly beautiful and talented. I’m sure we will see her in more roles going forward.

All that said, my head still hurts and it’s 11:11 on Saturday. The pain has been there for more than 30 hours now and I wish I could go to the ER for an IV, but the last time that happened, BCBS said the drug the doctor used to stop it, (the normal migraine cocktail didn’t work) that his use of the drug wasn’t necessary and they then went about denying payment. But I’ve not gotten a bill and had to send them an ugly letter telling them it was the only damned thing that worked so just pay it. Maybe they have. What a mess.

We live in a society full of pain. When I was first referred to a pain specialist after my injury in 2016, the scheduler said they receive 50 referrals a day.

I’m going to go lie back down now. My head hurts too much to do anything else….

 

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Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale

Aug 22, 2018 by

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale is one of the best books I have ever read. On Goodreads, it scores a 4.55 out of 5. There are few books out there with a cumulative score that high.

The Nightingale

Kristin Hannah’s fine work, The Nightingale is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

I read The Nightingale having recently read Hannah’s latest bestseller, The Great Alone. A book I reviewed and said there were several issues I had with it.

This was not the case with The Nightingale. The Nightingale far and away is the better of the two books. There almost is no comparison.

Set in World War II France, the story involves two sisters who are at odds with each other following the death of their mother and subsequent abandonment of their father. As France is invaded by the Germans, the older sister, Vianne, remains home with their daughter, Sophie, and is compelled to billet German officers. The younger sister, Isabelle, goes from the country home to Paris to join their father, who is said to be working for the German high command. This disgusts the younger daughter who has decided she is going to resist the offensive Germans. The story then evolves into an account of what each of the three do to resist the foreign invaders in their own ways.

Quotes from the Book

In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. pg 1

Generally, Madame, the failing of a student to learn is the failing of the teacher to teach. pg 21

Because of them I know now what matters, and it is not what I have lost. It is my memories. Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain. pg 438

This was not a book I spent a lot of time underlining for great phrases or prophetic insights. But the writing is excellent and the story compelling.

Modern v. Old Frame

This story uses a modern day frame to leap back into the old. Right up until the end, Hannah seeks to make it unclear about who the narrator of the story is–which of the two sisters. She also begins in the story in Oregon, 1995, and then retreats to August 1939. This works. It helps make it so she can hide the identity of the narrator until the end, and then pull the survivors out of the past into the present. And she does it quite well.

Paris

I have never been to Paris, perhaps one day. But what I found the most troubling in my mind was the chronological timeline. What I mean to say is that I have been reading a lot about Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the others of the Lost Generation and their time in Paris–all BEFORE the World War II, in the 1920s and early 1930s. I have that imagery well planted in the visual descriptions of my mind. Given all that, it is hard then to supplant those thoughts with what happens in this book, what happened in real life, to Paris, with the invasion of the Nazis.

Reading The Nightingale truly played tricks with my mind, as in, how could this possibly have happened?!

I think that is the magic and power of reading. Reading history, even if it is fiction.

This makes me all the more understanding of what life must have been like for Parisians when the German tanks came rolling in. And then when the Germans began rounding up non-French born Jews and sending them off.

The way I have done my reading, a totally random act, reading the Hemingway and Fitzgerald stories and accounts of 1920s Paris and then contrasting that with a book like The Nightingale really created a stark amplification for me personally. I am not sure I would have received the same impact had I read The Nightingale first.

Conclusion

I encourage you to read this wonderful book. The writing is excellent. The drama and story is superb and realistic. There weren’t any moments when I jumped out of the story and said to myself, “Come on….” I was under Ms. Hannah’s spell from page one until it ended. And several days after having read it, I still am and probably will be for a long time to come.

 

 

 

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There There by Tommy Orange 

Aug 21, 2018 by

There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange is one of those profound books that only come along once in a long while.  This is a book that should be considered for a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize. It offers such dramatic insight into the human soul, such I’ve not read but in a few works ever in my life.

There There

There There by Tommy Orange is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.

The story itself tracks several Native American characters as they eventually make their way through life to rendezvous at a pow wow in Oakland, California in modern times. They’re off the reservation, urban Indians, struggling with their past, struggling with their present and futures all rolled into one. And the stories are rich and real. Life is harsh and the book provides a vision of lives most would never even know exist. I certainly did not realize the struggles characterized in the book. The novel was an eye-opener. The beauty in it lies in that this isn’t a story only for the Native American soul. It is something that matters to the soul in all of us.

Tommy Orange has written a very great book.

Quotes from the Book There There by Tommy Orange

We stayed because the city sounds like a war, and you can’t leave a war once you’ve been, you can only keep it at bay–which is easier when you can see and hear it near you, the fast metal, that constant firing around you, cars up and down the streets and freeways like bullets. pg 9

…nothing is original, everything comes from something that came before, which was once nothing. Everything is new and doomed. pg 11

“We don’t have time, Nephew, time has us. It holds us in its mouth like an owl holds a field mouse. We shiver. We struggle. for release, and then it pecks out our eyes and intestines for sustenance and we die the death of field mice.” pg 36

…the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone there was no there there anymore.” pg 38-9

But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there. pg 39

She told me the world was made of stories, nothing else, just stories, and stories about stories. pg 58

Even the old people in charge, they’re acting like kids. There’s no more scope, no vision, no depth. We want it now and we want it new. This world is a mean curveball thrown by an overly excited, steroid-fueled kid pitcher, who has no more cares about the integrity of the game than he does about the Costa Ricans who painstakingly stitch the balls together by hand. pg 82-3

Being bipolar is like having an axe to grind with an ax you need to split the wood to keep you warm in the a cold dark forest you only might eventually realize you’ll never make your way out of. pg 88

You can’t sell life is okay when it’s not. pg 98

When we see that the story is the way we live our lives, only then can we start to change, a day at a time. pg 112

Jacquie can’t remember a day going by when at some point she hadn’t wished she could burn her life down. pg 152

Secrets lie through omission just like shame lies through secrecy. pg 165

The poor dog was probably just trying to spread the weight of its own abuse. pg 170

To get injured and not recover is a sign of weakness. pg 214

Most addictions aren’t premeditated. You slept better. Drinking felt good. But mostly, if there was any real reason you could pinpoint, it was because of your skin. pg 217

Maybe we’ve all been speaking the broken tongue of angels and demons too long to know that that’s what we are, who we are, what we’re speaking. Maybe we don’t ever die but change, always in the State without hardly ever even knowing that we’re in it. pg 224

Places Featured in There There by Tommy Orange

Oakland, CA, USA
Oklahoma City, OK, USA
Phoenix, AZ, USA

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Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere

Aug 20, 2018 by

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere

I recently read Celeste Ng’s best selling novel, Little Fires Everywhere, and enjoyed the book. It is a very well written novel and worthy of a read.

From the beginning, things are happening. There is no set up that takes pages to develop. We dive right in. The Richardson home in the suburbs of Ohio has been burnt to the ground and the kids in the family believe, rightly, that their sister Izzy has set little fires everywhere throughout the house to burn it to the ground. The rest of the book is an explanation of why their sister, who the other kids run down as being strange, weird, disturbed, maybe is the sanest one of the bunch.

Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.

There are some good passages I underlined while reading:

“Did you have to burn down the old to make way for the new?” pg 160

“Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.”  pg 161

For the benefit of Penguin Press and additional editions, the word “the” was left out of the last paragraph on page 198. “Mia had boarded a Greyhound to Philly, then New York, with one suitcase and clothing and one of THE cameras.”

I also don’t understand why the word “laundromat” was capitalized on each use.

“Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow.” pg 295

Characters

This really is a good book. There are more than the usual number of characters to keep up with, but it did not get to be too much. Each of them were unique.

Mrs. Richardson becomes something of an antagonist.

Pearl a victim of the actions of adults in her world.

Moody, also gets caught up in all the drama of his family and could be something more, but in the end, fails.

Lexie proves to be as dishonest as her mother in a different way.

Trip has his own guilt and shame, too.

Then there are the McCulloughs and we see adult self-interests, which over-ride the interests of children throughout the book, are alive and well in this other family.

We have Pearl’s mother, Mia. Running from her own demons and past.

And then we have Bebe, another adult who acted in her own self-interests and who tried to correct her ways.

Conclusion

I liked reading this book. The writing is authentic and real. The story is not outlandish. This is something that could happen. Maybe it has. Celeste Ng has done a good job with this work. You would be wise to pick up this book and give it a read.

 

 

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