Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Most recently, I alternated between tears and smiles as my dog peacefully slept at my feet while reading The Art of Racing in the Rain - a tale narrated by a dog. Enzo is the most clever of dogs - interpreting his surroundings infinitely well (including the English language) which leaves this novel completely rich with detail.

Of course, Enzo is handicapped by his inability to speak (tongue is much too long) and his lack of a thumb. So all he really has "is gestures." But as we all know, dogs perform amazing feats - to stir or sooth our emotions - using...gestures! Throughout this compelling story line - of a race car driver who must fight for custody of his daughter - Enzo never forgets his purpose.

All dog lovers will relish in this book. Race car enthusiasts will also be amused. And those who appreciate strong prose will think, "Smart dog."

This morning I sat on the floor, attempting to stretch my legs. My faithful dog, Percy, decided to join me. I thought to myself, "I wonder if he understands more than we even realize." So, I looked into his big brown eyes as he wagged his tail. Then I gently reminded him,

"Remember what I told you about not putting your paws on my tummy right now. That would be a no-no. Because it hurts pretty bad."

He wagged a bit more. Before reaching his little paw right over to my sore belly. So, he might not have Enzo's mind. But he does have gestures. And that's all he needs. That's all we need, Percy.

Our Percy...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L'Engle

Once in awhile the stars will align, your dog will come when you call,  someone will let you have her parking space, your son gives you a hug, and your daughter says, "That was a really good book you gave me." Hmm. You try hard not to smile. Because she probably wouldn't want to hear how proud you feel about the fact that your girl's got some depth. Anyway, I picked up A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L'Engle as a small Christmas gift (almost selfishly) explaining it was one of those books that for years was on the "banned list." It might be fun to read together and find out why.

Wrinkle is an allegory, disguised as an adventure, with several layers of social elements to consider. First and foremost, we meet our social misfit and heroine -Meg Murry. While most of us have felt "different" at some time or another, Meg is brave enough not to deny who she is. So she gets in trouble a lot. From her troubled hearth, with a missing father, we are thrown into an adventure with a wild cast of characters including her brainy young brother, a charming schoolboy and three magical neighbors with the monikers of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. Don't worry about keeping them straight- the author is completely and wonderfully magical herself at creating her characters. I'd like to read a few passages again and study the art of L'Engle's writing - undoubtedly, the dialect of the dialogue helped, but I was truly taken in by some of the cast of actors. I found myself reading aloud  - as if I was in a play! And I had grown quite fond of Mrs Who and her ability to quote great men AND to traverse between languages.

Beyond the intriguing characters, the social commentary (especially in light of the time the book being written -1962) should stir some robust dialogue. As Meg is on the mission to save her father and brother, the tale leads us to question the convention of conformity and authority. How much is too much? Where do we draw the line? But there are so many other underlying issues to consider. Like when the group stopped at a peaceful planet and it occurred to Meg that on earth, the same beasts that nurtured her would have been shot without warning.

The ending is sublime. And as Meg has carried resentment because of her lack of convention, ultimately she has what it takes to be the heroine. But what's her secret weapon? I won't spoil it for you - you'll have to read it for yourself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Lay down vampires. Pave way for that literary genre known as historical fiction. With books so well written as Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, readers will quickly become spoiled by clever plot (with embedded biblical symbolism), compelling backstories about circus folks, subtlety pleasing prose, robust dialogue, gripping cruelties, and the clincher - a love story to die for.

The tale is about Jacob Jankowski - a 90-something (he forgets) nursing home resident who is watching a circus set up across the street. He begins to reminisce events of his youth - unbelievable events as he found himself in the midst of a quagmire as a circus menagerie attendant.

The author aptly pulls us into Jacob's life. One minute we're sitting with him in his room. Sometimes we're humored by his wit which involves his sharp sense of his dull surroundings. Other times we're saddened by his lonely and deteriorating situation. But in a flash, we traverse to the Depression era world of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth - Jacob's youth.  Novelist, Sara Gruen is so crafted at her art, I  read this book in colors. The transition from Jacob's nursing home room to the circus world was in sepia. (As a matter of fact, when editing this post, I had to to change the word "movie" to "book" several times. Talk about creating imagery.)

Okay, I must admit that perhaps the movie trailers with the handsome lead may have motivated the read...but the first few paragraphs quickly had me hooked. And I'm not even sure if I want to see parts of the movie, because there were cruelties that were certainly difficult to digest. Again - another indication of the author's writing talent.  But overall, I found the tale from beginning to end a complete indulgence.

I have a few indicators of great reads - compulsion and bookmarked prose. This book scored high on both of these. I was going to quote a sampling so readers could at least have a "taste." But guess what? I couldn't find a passage where I felt I could stop. I started reading the whole thing again. So get your own selves hooked at the Amazon's "Look Inside"section!

Monday, April 4, 2011

comfort food by kate jacobs

After reading Louis Zamerini's nonfictional account of surviving sharks and deranged Japanese guards in a POW camp, Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs (who also wrote the best-selling Friday Night Knitting Club) seemed a bit...trite. Obviously I had to keep reading. And it became deliciously trite.

Ms. Jacobs weaves a story (with plenty of of spicy characters) around an aging (ahem - a few years older than myself!) Food Network celebrity in danger of losing her show. The grand old elements of humor and romance spin into some fun and there's even a life lessons learned in the tale. But if you decide to read this book, I'm positive you'll walk away craving...food. I was quite impressed with the author's knowledge of the culinary arts - tossing around terms like canapes, fontina or pimenton as if they were as common as salt and pepper. While these terms probably meant something to real foodies, it was Kate Jacob's descriptives of homemade buns,  chicken and noodles, or (my personal favorite) cake that would make my simple tastes percolate.

Anyway, I do believe the Food Network owes this lovely author of comfort food some royalties. After completing the book, I was strangely drawn to the TV yesterday...and watched a marathon of celebrity Chopped nearly all day. Coincidence? Me thinks not. I bet I wasn't the only reader who became mesmerized by some chefs after reading this appetizing novel.