we are water

As a fan of Wally Lamb and his previous work, I was excited to get a copy of We Are Water for Christmas (2013, ahem). I added it to my TBR and there it sat until now! From Goodreads:

In middle age, Annie Oh—wife, mother, and outsider artist—has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Annie has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success. Annie and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora’s box of toxic secrets—dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs’ lives.

This has all the great drama I’ve come to expect from Lamb, with interweaving story lines and multiple characters with complex, intricately drawn-out histories. Everyone is damaged and has devastating secrets. They’ve weathered trauma after trauma that come to a boiling point in an expected way. Lamb has a way of making the characters very fleshed out, even those you think are secondary. The alternating perspectives each chapter worked for me—you get to live inside the minds of the characters as they go about normal days and reflect on their pasts. We Are Water is equal parts intrapersonal and interpersonal; it’s easy to become immersed in the thoughts and backstories of the members of the Oh family.

While I did get sucked in to the novel, the characters weren’t as intriguing as those in Lamb’s older books, like She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much is True; they were all pretty shallow. It read a little bit like a soap opera at times, but more sophisticated. Everyone frequently posed rhetorical questions in their very lengthy inner monologues, which became glaring to me after a while. I bet this could have been shaved down about 100 pages and still been just as good.

There are some heart-stopping scenes, though, especially the disastrous flood and an event at the end I don’t want to spoil. Although I felt the characters lacking a bit, Lamb does portray them all with compassion (as he’s known for), and he’s just awesome and sweeping family dramas where so much more lies below the surface. There are many elements here (child abuse, LBGTQ marriage, infidelity, and more) but it doesn’t feel bogged down, each issue is handled in a way that is relevant to the overall story.

We Are Water is my fifth of twelve books read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge.

Read/listened from July 27 to August 1, 2015.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I can’t believe it’s August! This summer has just flown by. Always does, doesn’t it? Anyway, I had a pretty slow week last week (yay!) so I was able to finish We Are Water by Wally Lamb and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I even had time yesterday to draft up posts—coming tomorrow and Wednesday!

I’m still working my way through Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton—halfway done and it holds up nearly just as well 24 years later. Last week I picked up The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan at the library. Our non-fiction book club is starting back up again, and this is the August pick. I’ve had this one in mind for a while now and I’m looking forward to it! I also want to read another from my TBR Pile Challenge in the next week or so, maybe A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.

What are you reading this week?

reading recap: july 2015

monthly recap imageThank goodness for audiobooks, otherwise I don’t think I would have finished more than two books this month (and just barely, at that).

july recap

Six total. Just Kids and My Cross to Bear bumped up my Ebook Challenge to halfway done, yay! And looking at them all listed out, I only had one fiction with the rest as nonfiction. It’s hard to pick a favorite this month, it might be a three-way tie between My Cross to BearBehind the Beautiful Forevers, and Where Men Win Glory.

How was your month for reading? What are you looking forward to reading in August?

my cross to bear

I was turned on to My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman when it first came out and I bought a copy for my dad for Father’s Day… only to find he had already gotten it for himself! I exchanged it for a different gift, but then couldn’t resist when I saw it on sale on iBooks a while ago. From Goodreads:

As one of the greatest rock icons of all time, Gregg Allman has lived it all and then some. For almost fifty years, he’s been creating some of the most recognizable songs in American rock, but never before has he paused to reflect on the long road he’s traveled. Now, he tells the unflinching story of his life, laying bare the unvarnished truth about his wild ride that has spanned across the years.

I had fun reading My Cross to Bear. Sure, it’s not the most eloquently written, but it is authentic to Allman’s conversational voice and I think it would be even better on audiobook, if he’s the narrator! You get more of a feeling of kickin’ back with Allman and him telling you stories from his life he feels like telling. He comes across as salt of the earth, humble, and a bit mystified at his dumb moves and astounding luck. Allman was, is, and forever will be a Good Ol’ Boy who just wants to play music, man. The chapter on his brother Duane Allman’s death was heartbreaking. I loved when he talked about his songwriting, recording iconic albums and some of the stories behind them, and playing gigs both small and large. He’s honest about his shortcomings and a father, and his drug and alcohol abuse, however…

Since he went there, I found myself wanting more depth on recounting his drug abuse and rehab. And while I wasn’t shocked or surprised by Allman’s experiences with women (lots of girls, lots of wives, etc.—it’s totally a boy’s club throughout the whole book), I would’ve appreciated more introspection here, too, especially on his six failed marriages, which he basically attributes to the wives all being crazy or expecting him to change. It doesn’t matter that the marriages ended, it happens, but I mean, who’s the common denominator here, bud? You’ll take no responsibility for what went down here? Just sayin’.

One thing I made sure to do as I read the book was to listen to the albums he talked about. It was wonderful to have them as background to the stories, especially the early stuff—Idlewild SouthAt Fillmore EastEat a PeachBrothers and Sisters. My dad loves the Allman Brothers—Duane is his all-time favorite guitarist—so listening along brought back great memories of our shared love for music. I forgot how much about these albums and Duane I already knew thanks to my dad!

Bottom line—not the most in-depth account of the history of the Allman Brothers, but a great, easy summer read after which you’ll feel like you just hung out with one of America’s living rock legends, which is pretty damn cool.

ETA: Fun facts I just remembered to include—I share a birthday with Gregg Allman (Dec. 8) and I saw The Allman Brothers Band in Madison, Wisconsin, August 2000! Awesome.

My Cross to Bear is my sixth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from June 29 to July 29, 2015.

2015 kc fringe fest coverage

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Whew! It was another whirlwind of a week with the KC Fringe Festival. I scaled back my coverage a little bit from last year (14!)—that was nuts, I couldn’t possibly do that again! But just because I scaled back to nine total this year, doesn’t mean KCMetropolis.org scaled back. In fact, we exceeded our record, with more than 50 articles covering or related to Fringe. It was an exciting if exhausting week! We had a blast. Here are the direct links to my reviews:

BONUS: Not on Fringe, but I also saw Victor and Penny perform at the MET:

behind the beautiful forevers

Two years after it first came out I finally got around to reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, a fascinating, heartbreaking exposé of a Mumbai slum and its residents. Edited from Goodreads:

A bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.

I’m embarrassed this took me so long to get to, and then so long to read. I think I was just too busy this past month, because a book like this is right up my alley and wouldn’t normally take me so long. When I was able to catch moments with this over the past month I was spellbound. Boo crafts this narrative non-fiction with compassion, grace and objectivity, exposing what life is like for these hardworking individuals at the bottom of the ladder in one of the world’s wealthiest cities, taking into account social and economic context. Annawadi could be any slum in any large city in the world with substantial economic inequality.

The families on these pages came alive to me, especially the children. Education is basically nonexistent. They compete with each other in garbage trading to scrape together a little money for their families. They endure beatings and witness suicides, often contemplating it themselves. But some we learn about in Beautiful Forevers are tenacious and hopeful, striving for a better life.

The struggles of Annawadi’s residents are wide-ranging, from unemployment to addiction to disease to suicides to corrupt police and government to fear of their homes being bulldozed. The fact that they are fundamentally no different from anyone else—needing to provide for their families, hopes and dreams for a better future for their children—is made crystal clear. Beautiful Forevers is a powerful, tragic, affective glimpse at the daily lives of these spirited people in abject poverty.

Read from June 18 to July 26, 2015.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Last week was insane, with KC Fringe Festival happening! I saw and reviewed nine shows total (more on that Wednesday). I’m exhausted! But it was so much fun, as always. Tonight I’m going out to send off a friend who is moving to Wisconsin. Not far, though! I’m sure we’ll see him either back in KC or when we visit Wisconsin.

DSC04243I mentioned last week that I found my old mass market paperback copy of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton at my folks’ house when I was up there a couple weeks ago, and well, I just couldn’t wait to dive in. I’m only about 25% in and already has triggered some great memories of my mom reading it to me first on a road trip, then rereading it at my grandparents’ house in Green Bay. I love how books can transport you to where you bought it, or where you were the first (or second) time you read it!

What are you reading this week?

 

just kids

I’m on a rock bender lately! Maybe it’s my awesome new turntable stereo I just got set up. In addition to reading Gregg Allman’s My Cross to Bear (almost done!) I started reading Just Kids by Patti Smith on my iPad. From Goodreads:

In Just Kids, Patti Smith’s first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality to Just Kids as she has to the rest of her formidable body of work—from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

I am in the middle on this book. While I loved the illuminating look at life of the starving artist in New York City in the 70s, and I can totally identify with being in an artist-artist relationship, being each other’s muses, supporting each other, etc. There’s a lot of name-dropping—Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and numerous other artists, poets, and musicians—but that’s part of the allure of this book. Just Kids was a beautiful, loving tribute to Mapplethorpe. The last section about their last conversations and his death were intimate, poetic, and heartbreaking.

There is a lot to love about this book, however at times it felt weirdly sincere AND contrived at the same time. Does that make sense? I feel like, I can forgive her romanticism of New York and her relationship with Mapplethorpe, but that she was so naive about the lifestyle (drugs, mostly) and 70s NYC arts scene in general is hard to believe. There was a lot of “this happened, then this, and I did that, and he did this.” Her language is just a little too antiquated for me too, trying to hard to be poetic maybe. On one hand, I enjoyed listening to this on audiobook better, read by Smith (I split it up this time between audio and ebook), but I had to speed it up to 1.5x because it was a slog at normal speed.

If you can get past the quibbles I had, then I’m sure you’d like Just Kids. I do think it’s a must-read for fans of Smith and Mapplethorpe, or who want to live vicariously through two gifted artists in 1970s New York City.

Just Kids is my fifth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read/listened from July 22 to 24, 2015.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

July has been nuts so far, and shows no sign of slowing down for at least another week. My husband is at a music festival this month on a composer residency, so I decided to extend my usual trip up to Wisconsin for my family reunion a few extra days (also partly because my 11-month-old niece was there, too! They are in the process of moving back from Hawaii—my brother just graduated from the university there with his master’s in food science). Then, as soon as I got back, KC Fringe Festival started up and I’ve already been out to review three shows for KCMetropolis.org. I have one or two shows a night to go until the fest concludes! It’s always a bit crazy and exhausting but a lot of fun.

The reunion was spectacular, as usual! We have it at my gramma’s farm and always pick a theme, with costumes and music and skits—the whole works. This year’s theme was Disney, so of course as a redhead I had to do a spin on Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

DSC04243

Well, close enough at least! :) I ended up listening to two audiobooks on the trip (reviews linked to titles):

But that’s about it. Not much progress on my paper or ebook reading. That’s always how it goes on family trips for me though. I’m too busy having fun and visiting! Still working on My Cross to Bear and Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Of course, at my folks’ house I found my old copy of Jurassic Park and want to drop everything to read that now!

What are you guys reading this week? (“You guys”… you can tell I was in Wisconsin ;) )

where men win glory

Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his books before I finally got to Where Men Win Glory, a biography of Pat Tillman, on audiobook this summer. From Goodreads:

Like the men whose epic stories Jon Krakauer has told in his previous bestsellers, Pat Tillman was an irrepressible individualist and iconoclast. In May 2002, Tillman walked away from his $3.6 million NFL contract to enlist in the United States Army. He was deeply troubled by 9/11, and he felt a strong moral obligation to join the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Two years later, he died on a desolate hillside in southeastern Afghanistan […] in a barrage of bullets fired by his fellow soldiers.

I was completely engaged by this book, part biography and part exposé. I vaguely remember the scandal as it was happening; I was early into my college years and not quite yet the political junkie I am today, but certainly the 9/11 attacks stirred my interest in learning more and becoming involved, if just a minuscule amount compared to how it impacted Tillman and drove him to action. Krakauer presents Tillman as a loyal all-American patriot who values hard work, respect, and honesty. Aside from being a little hot-headed, he really did seem like a stand-up kind of guy, dependable by family, friends, and teammates alike. His journal excerpts are particularly affecting, which include entries from his college years through his NFL career and even during the war. Tillman was forthright and specific about his disillusionment, anger, and discontent with the war, and what he wished for in the event of his death.

I was struck by the utter audacity of the government and military, then, to propagandize Tillman’s death, covering up and redacting key details of the tragedy. And of course, it’s important to remember this has happened to countless others who were not celebrities back home. Without saying it, Krakauer makes his position on the matter and opinion of the war and Bush administration clear. It’s a little hard to ignore that Krakauer is kind of doing just what Tillman did NOT want here—to be posthumously paraded around in the public eye (I’m paraphrasing). But Where Men Win Glory does especially succeed in reminding you of exactly how big the machine is (politics, military, media). Great read.

Listened to audiobook from July 14 to 16, 2015.