Cutting for Stone

I’ve decided to do book reviews again. Today, I’ll review Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This book was commended to me by my dear friend Erin, who is uncompromising with her reading standards and so can always be trusted for a good recommendation. By the way, she loved The Other Side of Silence.

Cutting for Stone is a historical fiction that takes place in Ethiopia (and later in in New York) and is centered on a missionary hospital. It follows the lives of conjoined twins born in scandal, and raised by the doctors who surrounded them at their birth. The introduction looks back at the story from the endpoint, and felt like it gave me some information about the way things play out. Instead, it managed to only add tension and suspense at all the critical moments. As a writer, that truly impressed me.

Each character in the book is believably flawed, and ascends to their own moment of beauty at some point in the novel. Secondary and minor characters are often illuminated with a few artful phrases, so the world Verhese creates is full and rich without wasting words. I was also very impressed at how the two main characters are written so well as to stand completely on their own, and yet also exhibit a blend of qualities inherited from their birth and adopted parents. Those qualities flesh out and lead them in ways that are totally separate from their parentage, which seems consummately realistic to me.

The only caveat to my admiration for Verghese’s characters would be Genet. She enters the story inexplicably, exits in infamy, and seems to do nothing but harm on her way through the world. In fact, she brings out the absolute worst in all the characters she comes in contact with, and in the end her very blood is a deadly poison. She can’t even be described as a destructive force of nature, because destruction in nature is almost always renewing in some way. Because the rest of the book is so precise and masterful, I would really love to hear the author talk about that character and what was behind her creation.

Since I loved this book so much, I will tell you about my very favorite part, which actually made a significant impact on the way I see the world. One of the characters dies of cancer, and he dies so well and so happily that I return to the imagery of his death quite frequently in my mind. To him, the best thing in the world was to be surrounded by the family that he loved, the ragtag home he’d built up around himself, being served with the compassion and care he’d shown to others his whole life. For most of my life I’ve talked about where I want to be when I’m 50, but this was the first time I really thought about what will be important to me at the end of my life. Verghese brings an end to one of the most beloved characters with a total lack of morbidity or pathos, and that alone makes it inspiring.

I highly recommend this book, and it has the notable honor of being one of twenty-four books I’ve given a five-star rating.

I keep meticulous track of what I read on Shelfari, so if you’d like to know more about the books I enjoy, check out my shelf.

A Review of My Book

Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre was kind enough to read and review my recently released novel, The Other Side of Silence. Guante is a national poetry slam champion, an insightful rapper who can be heard on the Current, and has his own blog (which is way cooler than mine) here

Here’s the review.

“The Other Side of Silence” explores faith, but doesn’t sugarcoat or mythologize it; instead, it’s a story about regular people coming into contact with something transcendent, a story about the God that exists inside every moment of clarity, embrace with a loved one or decision to keep fighting. The novel is heart-warmingly optimistic, but it also pulls no punches; while humanity’s goodness is on display here, that goodness is shining through a brutal, dark-and-dirty realism. Characters deal with racism, poverty, homophobia and oppressions of all kinds, and the sometimes suffocating bleakness only makes the novel’s various spiritual and emotional payoffs all the more satisfying. To top it all off, it’s written with supreme confidence and remarkable lyrical skill; this is an impressive, powerful debut novel.
–Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre, 2-time National Poetry Slam champion

The book can be purchased in print form at CreateSpace, or for the Kindle on Amazon.

The Neverending Story

Very good young adult fiction, and thoroughly enjoyable to this adult as well. The pure fantasy of the world inside it is inventive and varied to a wonderful extreme. It does seem that this one book could easily be divided into two, being that there are two great conflicts resolved, one after the other. But the feeling that the book has meandered past it’s natural ending only lasts for a few chapters in the middle, and the plot picks up again. Which normally I would cite as a fault, but even that droopy center is an intentional part of the protagonists development. It’s a great book for storytellers in particular, especially the droopy bit, as it breaks down the individual elements of story in an engaging and imaginative way that won’t be soon forgotten. A small word of warning; the scary parts are actually pretty scary. I read part of this book to a three-year-old friend of mine, and she frequently put her hand on my shoulder to interject a earnest “whoa.”


A book by Gayl Jones. Corregidora chronicle in a stream-of-consciousness, history-come-present style, the use of African female slaves as prostitutes and breeders. Ick.

I can’t say that it’s bad writing, but I can say that I hated it. Perhaps I’m not deep enough to understand it, or maybe I don’t have the strength to look some of the horrors of the world in the face. I’ll take the blame for my inability to want to read this book, for hating every single page, and being sorry I ever picked it up in the first place. This is very similar to a lot of the literature that I hated in college. It is soul-sickeningly painful to read, and manages to make me feel like a small person for not liking it. I can recognize the literary merit of the piece, even the justice of exposing so hideous a truth. But I do not want to read it, and would not willingly inflict it on another human being.

I will add to that review simply that I have loved Gayl Jones in other books, and that no one should judge her, good or bad, based only on this piece. I recommend The Healing, which is magical.

By the Light of My Father’s Smile

This is the loveliest book I have read for some time.  Alice Walker does what I always dream Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood will do.  She writes the most difficult things in the most honest language, but she makes it beautiful.  Her books fill me with a quiet hope, a peaceful belief in goodness and beauty.  The apex of this book is not the moment of tragedy, but the moment of renewal.  There is no denying (nor any wish to deny) that this book is about sex and that quite explicitly.  My respect goes to any church-goer who finishes the first chapter.  I couldn’t do it myself without pouncing on my husband.  For all that, I feel like it’s a book I would like my children to read, when they are old enough to appreciate it.  Because I would like the world to believe that sex is beautiful, and that it is good.  The world would be a better place for that belief.  So I thank Alice Walker for this book, a book which I will surely read many times and treasure in my heart.

I haven’t been able to keep up with the book reviews, because my goal to read 50 books this year has required that I read rather quickly.  I’m also still working on a schedule that accomplishes all my goals and maintains my sanity, so wish me luck on that one.  If you want to really keep up to date on what I’m reading, and books I’ve already read and loved, please check out my shelf on Shelfari.  A lot of my quality time waste goes into that website.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Yesterday a friend suggested that I post book reviews of the 50 books I plan to read this year.  Since I also would like to blog more often in 2011, I thought this was a good plan.

The very first book I read in 2011 was “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” by the great Salman Rushdie.  I read a little bit of Rushdie in college, but I fell in love with him last year when I read “The Enchantress of Florence,” which remains one of my all-time favorites.

“Haroun and the Sea of Stories” opens as the tale of the son of a renowned story-teller.  This is a challenging premise, as it requires a higher level of expertise than a book that opens as the tale of a cobbler or bank accountant.  There are elements of magical realism in the first and last chapters; a city that has forgotten it’s name, factories that produce sadness, and rain that bathes the city in ecstasy.  These elements caught my interest at the outset, because I love magical realism and I’ve seen Rushdie do it very, very well.

The bulk of the book (that which takes place between the first and last chapter), takes place on a mythical second moon that orbits the earth too quickly to be detected.  Because it takes place off of the earth, involving alien peoples with different physics and such things, I would have to classify it as pure fantasy. Probably a lot of people are delighted with that development.  The fantasy section is imaginative, interesting, and stays true to the boundaries it sets for itself.  That is impressive.  However, the fantasy world is too simple, containing only two peoples who represent light and dark, speech and silence, so the entire thing becomes a binary.  The world, despite being a moon, comes off rather flat.  It lacks the color and depth that I expect from Rushdie.

The characters are similar in their construction.  They are interesting, and they interact in a believable way, but they don’t feel dynamic by the end of the book.  They don’t change, they merely press into their original molds and become more sharply who they were to begin with.  One of my favorite characters, Mudra the Shadow Warrior, is introduced in a most intriguing way.  The creativity that is involved in the concept of a shadow warrior is stunning.  But like other aspects of the novel, the introduction of Mudra is the most interesting part of his character, and what follows feels predictable.

Perhaps the really unfair comparison I’m making is to “The Enchantress of Florence,” which was the reason I was so quick to pick up another novel by Rushdie.  That book wields its magical power right here on earth, interweaving with historical events, love, lust, war, and all the greatest and most terrifying aspects of life.  “Haroun,” by comparison, feels somewhat shallow.  Yet, it is a funny, imaginative, and interesting book that is most likely meant for a much younger audience.

Geeking Out

Recently, I started reading Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster. It sounds so cool to say that, like I’m a super responsible writer, investigating great commentary on my craft. Which is good, because it totally obfuscates the sad reality that I started reading that book because I’ve had trouble falling asleep lately. Nevertheless, I am very pleasantly surprised at how much fun I am having with it. I recall that I really enjoy the novel as an artistic form, that I have read a great deal of very heavy literature in order to understand the novel, and it is oh-so-much fun to read someone interesting and witty comment on that very heavy literature. Because despite the fact that E.M. Forster is a man, British, and dead, I still share a common experience with him. We have both read a specific set of books.

The cute husband is a tech nerd, and can talk endlessly (I mean it, someone has to make him stop) about the latest operating systems, cell phone carriers, internet providers, browsers, open share software, megabit storage, redundancy practices, and on and on. And honestly, I’m sure at least three of the subjects I just mentioned are fallacious in some way, and I have only scratched the surface of what he’s interested in. It confuses me, because while I love the cute husband with my whole heart, I cannot muster up a proportional amount of interest in those topics. Much like he cannot understand why I had to wake him up last night to read him this hilarious sentence where E.M. Forster said that Defoe’s characters are easier to analyze that Jane Austen’s, because Jane Austen’s are complicated by a plot.

It’s because we are both geeks, and we enjoy geeking out sometimes. We like to cull over topics that only a select group of people will understand. Not only are these topics particularly compelling for us at the outset, but it makes us feel special. Some people would think it’s funny that E.M. Forster said that Charles Dickens has no taste, but very few people would really appreciate why E.M. Forster thinks that, and how it’s different from how he thinks of Virginia Woolf or Sir Walter Scott. But I do understand. And so I will continue to revel in the witticisms of E.M. Forster, and because he loves me very much, the cute husband will nod and be glad that I’m happy.