Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reading Down Memory Lane

I decided to go back to my old LibraryThing records and pull up my favorite reads that fit in with the Gay Pride Month theme. Now that I've done it, it was so fun that I may make this a regular thing--pulling old reviews that somehow tie together with a theme.

A Home At The End Of The World, by Michael Cunningham

This is still one of my all-time favorite books, and after overcoming my fear that his other books would dash my expectations and leave me despondent, I went on to read, and love-love-love, every book Cunningham has written (that link is to my gushy post about him). Rumor has it he's contemplating writing the screenplay for a slasher movie after his next novel. If so, it'll be the first slasher movie I ever go see. He'll probably manage to make the slasher lovable. Here's what I wrote in May, 2007:

I don't reread books very often, but this is one of those books where you read a passage and it so succinctly captures a moment, scene, or character, that you have to read it again just to take the whole thing in. Then you want to look up from the book for a minute to absorb it, read it again, and then dive back into the story to find out what happens next. This is the first book I've read by Michael Cunningham and I'm afraid to read any more. But, I'm going to anyway.

It's the story of two childhood friends, Jonathon and Bobby, who drift apart and together again throughout their lives because they can't quite admit to being in love with each other. They find various ways to be together, along with Clare, who becomes the mother to a baby that is biologically Bobby's but emotionally just as much Jonathon's child. They build a life together. But the brilliance in this book is the way it presents the characters in all their imperfections, the way they don't do what you want them to do and you understand why. No, the briliance is how it's written, actually. The plot is secondary. I need to go read it again.

My Heartbeat, by Garret Freymann-Weyr

I read this long before starting my LibraryThing account, so it's not in my library. The fact that I still remember it speaks volumes about how much I loved it, because I started on LibraryThing to keep authors and titles from flying out of my head so quickly. The gist: Ellen is 14 and fascinated by the close relationship between her big brother Link and his best friend James. When she developes a crush on James, she comes to realize that his relationship with her brother is more complicated than she had thought. This is so well done. I can't believe I haven't read any of Freymann-Weyr's other books--just got her latest from the library and it's calling to me over the top of my book pile.

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill

I picked this up because of my penchant for Irish fiction. Though my 2007 review was mixed, I find that I remember it fondly in hindsight:

I enjoyed parts of this book very much. O'Neill does a brilliant job of unfolding the relationships between people and letting them grow and contract in a very natural way. I read several of the scenes (no, not just the racy ones) two or three times because they were so beautifully laid out.

It was a little hard to understand at times, not because of the dialect ('tis very Irish, so it is--if you like the lilt of Frank McCourt's 'Tis you'll love this) but because of the author's style. Incomplete sentences. Thoughts unfinished. Many words on the page, one after the other, the way words normally occur, and yet—. Sometimes describing thoughts and at other times, the scene. Confusing.

The book takes place in 1915-1916, just before the Easter Rising that resulted in the independence of the Republic of Ireland, and it puts the reader into the middle of that conflict. This is good if you like history, which I do. If you didn't I think it might pull you away from the story, trying to figure out which side is which and how it all connects. I never did quite figure out which side a couple of the characters were on--or maybe that was the point. And, well, I didn't love the ending, but that's personal preference--it was very well done, it just wasn't the exact ending I would have chosen.

The Lost Language of Cranes, by David Leavitt

Okay, my review of this looks pretty critical, but I had friends who adored this book so I was coming at it from that vantage point. In fact, one person told me that if I'd liked A Home At the End of The World (still on my all-time favorites, list, remember) I would love this. So, I wanted to be blown away. Here's what I wrote after I finished it:

I wasn't impressed with this one. Leavitt has a tendency to tell us what's happening, then take three steps backward to tell us what led up to that happening, filling in the even earlier backstory along the way. The result is that you read 10 pages to find out: Owen is walking somewhere. His wife is home working (and they have to either buy their apartment or move, and they have a grown son, here's what his apartment is like, and here's what they talked about when she had lunch with him one time and then she took a cab ride but that was another day because now we're back in the apartment hearing about how her husband was gone when she woke up and now it's page 14 and she's working, like she was on page 4, and she's going to go for a walk.) Then we meet the son and his lover, but now we're going back 3 weeks to read the story of how they met.

Novels don't have to be completely linear, but I began to feel like I was floundering around inside this one, trying to find the story, trying to figure out if anything was actually going to happen that related to the situation the author chose to begin his novel with. (It does, but by the time it did I cared less than I had at the beginning.)

Some of the dialogue seems contrived. Phillip sounds like a bad parody of a mental health counselor: "I miss her. I feel very sad about it." And some of the conversations between father and son toward the end of the book, I just found impossible to swallow, which in turn made the relationship seem false. Since that relationship was a pivotal part of the novel, it was disappointing to say the least.

Do you have a favorite book or author to highlight for Gay Pride month? Why not participate in this month's Diversity Roll Call here on Worducopia?


  1. One of my favorite books for Gay Pride month is Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden. It's a young adult read and well-written. I first read it when I was a teenager. I plan on reading it again soon.

    I also just read The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson. Very realistic and very honest portrayal of the life of a teenage boy.

  2. I think I need to check out Michael Cunningham's work.

  3. The Lost Language of Cranes- that has such a beautiful title. But it sounds like one I would flounder in, too. I get easily confused when the backstory is inserted along the way in that fashion.

  4. Vasilly, I'm looking forward to hearing more about Annie on My Mind when you've reread it. Will you please be sure to include your link on the Diversity Roll Call post so I don't miss it?

    BermudaOnion, you've never read Michael Cunningham? You absolutely must!

    Jeane, Yes, I love the title too! I don't think I was ever confused about the timeline, more like impatient to get on with the story. Sounds like it may not be the best fit for you, either, though.

  5. Cunningham's and Freymann-Weyr's books sounds like something I'd like to read. Thanks for the post.

  6. I share a penchant for Irish books...and Irish movies and Irish music...and while I saw the movie, I am ashamed to say I have never read anything by Cunningham either. I really must check him out.

  7. My Heartbeat sounds good plus it has a shiny Pritz sticker.

  8. I've been meaning to read more Michael Cunningham ever since I read The Hours - it's been something like five years now and I still haven't! Thank you for the nudge.

    At Swim, Two Boys is one I've always been drawn to, mostly because I like Irish lit and love the title. I actually didn't know it deal with glbtq themes. One more reason to read it!

  9. At Swim, Two Boys has been on my radr for years, but I've never found a used copy. I may have to actually buy it new -- gasp!

    I have Tipping the Velvet on my iPod now. If I get to it by the end of the month, that will count.

  10. Rose City Reader, I'm pretty sure I read a library copy.

  11. What did you think of the film version of A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD? According to IMDB, Cunningham wrote the screenplay.

  12. Rich, I had no complaints about the film. I saw it on DVD soon after reading the book and while I didn't fall in love with it the way I did with the book (it's just not quite the same with movies, is it?), I thought it was done well. I remember there was dialogue that was pulled directly from the text, so it doesn't surprise me that Cunningham was in charge.

  13. I've added "My Heartbeat" and "At Home at the End of the World" to my list of books to read. Thanks for the recommendations.

  14. I really need to read "Home At The End" - I've already seen the film and remember it being amazing.

  15. Thanks for these titles--the cover of At Swim... makes me think of that REM song, "Nightswimming," which is so beautiful...

  16. Zetta, I love that song. I'll have to listen to the words more carefully and see if it fits with the book.