Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book 10: The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

I had high hopes for The Typewriter Girl . I just happened to pick it up from the library because it sounded like a historical fiction with a strong female lead and an interesting story.

The blurb on the back of the book is deceiving. All of the action that it mentions happens in the first thirty pages. After that, Betsey, our main character, is forever at the mercy of her boss, John Jones. She constantly asks him if she'll be fired and completely lacks the confidence she had when we first met her.

There is also the problem of the sexual tension in the book, or lack there of. I didn't know going into this that this book was a historical romance and it wasn't until three quarters of the way through that I figured that out. There isn't anything in the beginning of the novel to suggest a serious romantic connection between Betsey and John, and even after something begins between them, neither seems to think it anything more than sex. Once the word love actually does start to be a consideration it's so close to the ending that the whole thing just feels forced. There are so many characters and side plots in this book, that the happily ever after ending just feels like a convenient way to tie up lose ends.

Keeping in mind that this is a debut novel, I'd say it was a good effort. I don't usually read historical romance, so I won't be picking this up again, but someone more familiar with the genre might find it more interesting.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book 9: Coco Chanel An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney

It took me about 2 months to read Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life. I had expected it to be a fairly interesting book, based on the back flap and what little I already knew about Coco Chanel.

Sadly, it didn't really live up to my expectations. There is a lot that we don't know about Chanel's early life, and so there are a lot of areas in the book that are glossed over. Beyond that, the writing is fairly dry and not very interesting to read.

Ordinarily, I enjoy reading biographies as long as the subject matter is interesting. This one however was not written in a particularly fascinating style. Everything is presented in a very matter-of-fact way, and there is not much detail. If you enjoy this sort of objective reporting, you will probably enjoy this book, but I personally prefer a storytelling approach.

The woman herself was a truly interesting person, but this particular retelling of her life doesn't do her justice, in my opinion. She revolutionized the course of fashion in the 20th century, and I wish that this book was more of a celebration of her accomplishment than a dry retelling of fact.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book 8: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

I really, really want to tell you all that I loved The Plague of Doves, but I can't.

I know, that's weird, it's a lot of my favorite literary things built into one novel, and I just wasn't crazy about it. First off, you have to know that Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite living authors, so I went into this novel with high hopes. The story itself centers around a small town in North Dakota haunted by an unsolved murder from several years previous. Four Native Americans were hanged (one managed to survive this) for the crime of killing a white family (except for the baby which was left alone) but everyone in town knows they were only the scapegoats. Everyone except the children, who only know bits and pieces of the history.

The relationships between the characters are so complex, and their lives are all intertwined, that at times it's impossible to tell who's related to who. Erdrich does a fine job of illustrating these relationships. It doesn't matter that they get a bit convoluted because there is a sense that she does that on purpose to show the readers that the characters are just as unsure about it as we are. 

There was a great section of the book where one of our main characters checks herself into a mental hospital. Probably all of my favorite parts of this book were centered around Evelina Harp (the grandchild of the one Native American who survived the hanging) because of how completely she throws herself into things. Anything, be it love, school, mental illness, Anais Nin, once she has chosen it, she lets her whole being be immersed in it, and I have to admire that kind of conviction.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. If I had to point a finger at the reason why I had such a lukewarm response to it, then, I would have to say that it was because I listened to the audiobook. The version I listened to was read by Peter Francis James and Kathleen McInerney. Their talents I don't think were right for this book. His voice was too grandiose and hers too little-girlish. Sure Evelina starts the book off as a little girl, but that's only the first few chapters. By the end of the book she is in her mid twenties and surely she should sound like it. 

I think certain books need to be enjoyed without any kind of middle man, be it an interpreter, a voice actor or what have you. Certain books need to be enjoyed as simply a direct connection between reader and text, and this book is one of them. So, for now, I will continue on with my project, but some day in the future, I may return to this novel and try to tackle it on my own.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I've written before about focus. It's one thing that I think all successful people need - a clear and obvious focus in life. 

Recently, I've been finding in my own life that I have been more and more easily distracted. At one time my whole focus was my literary career and my commitment to my writing. As that didn't tend to pay the bills, I found myself gravitating towards things that did, thus losing my focus. 

Now, I'm looking around my apartment and my life and seeing all of these things that don't contribute positively to the life that I want and that force me to concentrate on other things. For example, the past few months I've been buying a lot of clothing, since I work in retail. As a writer, what do I need to be fashionable for? I'm finding that I have more bills now because I'm buying more clothes, and thus spending even less time focused on my writing because I am forced to focus on paying the bills. 

I know that most aspiring writers come to this place in their career eventually. The writing isn't being read, the book won't sell, you realize that you're not the next J.K. Rowling and this is where a lot of people give up. But I am not going to do that.

I'm simplifying. I'm cleaning out the clutter in my mind (and my apartment) and I'm going back to focusing on what matters. Yes, I still have my same job, so this will be a test of will power and resolve. However, by streamlining a lot of things in my life, I think I can get back on track.

I've been cleaning out my desk and my closets. I've been meditating and doing yoga to clear my mind and get rid of the stress I bring home everyday. I'm making writing a regular part of my daily routine again. And of course, I'm still committed to my 100 Books Project, because writing without reading is pointless.

How do you stay focused when you feel yourself getting off track?