Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Just Kids

Not sure what I can say that hasn't been said already about Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids. Not only has it been widely praised, but was also a nominee for book of the year in the National Book Circle Critic Award in the autobiography category.

Smith, I didn't know, grew up in the South Jersey area. I also had no idea that she lived at the Chelsea Hotel, that she never thought she'd be a singer, that she went to New York to be an artist in drawing and poetry. I had no idea that she was such an amazing writer, either.

It's not really a rock and roll memoir. Instead, it's a coming of age story about a confused young woman who moves to New York at 20 years old after giving up a baby for adoption. She lives on the streets for a while until she meets the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Together, they struggle with their work, themselves, and if not each other, then their relationship with each other, particularly Mapplethorpe, who was exploring his homosexuality at the same time he was in a relationship with Smith.

It's beautifully written, and even if you're not familiar with Smith's music, worth a read.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: Spoiled

In July, I bought a pair of pink loafers. I had just started a full time gig and needed something other than flip flops to wear to work. Closed toe shoes were vital, too, since I'd banged my toes up pretty good running, and no one wanted to see that.

After an hour in DSW, I found a pair of pink loafers. They seemed ridiculous. I hate pink. I don't really like loafers. But they were deeply discounted, so I figured I'd give them a shot.

Eight months later, I traveled to a conference in Tampa with only one pair of shoes in my bag: the pink loafers. They are comfortable and, believe it or not, go with almost anything.

I tell this story because that's how I felt about Spoiled. Looking at it, I thought that the book wasn't for me. It's a young adult book about a spoiled Hollywood brat and the stink she puts up when the half sister she never knew moved into her mansion. Not exactly my kind of thing, especially since (aside from the half sister part), I figured it'd have a very Sweet Valley, Jessica/Elizabeth thing going on.

But the book is written by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan a.k.a. the Fug Girls. The person who had this computer before me apparently loved their work, and since she didn't clean her cache, I accidentally got to their website. I'm hooked. It looks at celebrity fashion, but with snark and a slight British overtone (Cocks has dual citizenship). Based on that, I gave Spoiled a shot.

And read it in a day.

Is it brain bending fiction? No. Is it predictable? Of course. But was it something wildly entertaining to read? Absolutely. At times, I forgot that it was written for a younger demographic.

My only quibble is that I worry it'll go stale fast with all the name dropping of celebrities and fashion lines. But hey, if you're taking it on the beach this summer, will you really care?

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: Drinking with Miss Dutchie

My feelings on Drinking with Miss Dutchie: mixed. And short.

On one hand, Ed Breslin's story is worth telling. He finally was able to commit to sobriety and quit smoking after he and his wife adopted a lab they named Dutchie. He circled the drain multiple times with his drinking, and having a dog helped him, he thinks, finally pull out of that death spiral.

On the other hand, the narrative of this book is a muffled. Breslin jumps back and forth from the current day to the past and back again, and repeats himself. I think this would have done much better told in a linear fashion. It would have given strength to the memoir element rather than shucking it behind the story of a couple and their dog.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility was on the top of the stack of galleys in my office when I was about to leave on vacation. I saw the cover, read through the preface and though, OK, this book might have a shot.

It had more than a shot. It's a stunning novel, and one that I read in just over a day.

Rules of Civility is about Katey Kontent, a 25-year-old secretary who, with roommate Eve, meets a Tinker Grey on New Year's Eve, 1937. Katey is a legal typist. Grey comes draped in a fine cashmere coat and orders the girls champagne just as they ran out of nickels for martinis. Yes, he is Gatsby-like, but without the overlapping obsession about one woman. And since the book starts in the 1960s with Katey looking at an art exhibit featuring Tinker as a poor penniless man, you know that this wealth will not last long.

The trio hit it off, and eventually make dates together. Tinker seems to be leaning toward Katey, which doesn't rest too well with Eve. Right when Eve seems to shake it off, though, well, I won't say too much more or I'll ruin the book for you.

I wouldn't say this is light vacation fluff. There's too much depth and texture. Even though the book revolves around the trio, the character of Katey, who was orphaned at 19, is almost like its own story. It made me wonder how Amor Towles, a 46 year old man from the suburbs of Boston, could capture the limbo that is being in your mid-20s.

The setting of late 1930s New York City, too, is well done. This book makes me want a historical novel and gives me a headache at the prospect at the same time.

I regret to say that you can't buy it until July, though. But mark it down. Make sure you grab it when it's out. Yes, I think it's that good.

P.S. I just read through the Q&A that came with the book. Towles allowed himself one year to write the book. He wrote, revised and, as he said, "banked" one chapter a week. What a marvelous idea. I think I might try that since I'm struggling with my fiction (though he did add that the entire process took about three years, which included revisions of the entire thing).

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