Saturday, January 17, 2009


Somewhere around the holidays, I stayed up late, finishing up the advance reader copy I have of How Far is the Ocean From Here by Amy Shearn, a graduate of the MFA program in which I am currently enrolled.

Sometimes I wonder at the fairness of that: I'm already tainted by realizing if time had aligned properly, she could have been my classmate in Reading Across Genres. Thus, the reading experience is changed, but aren't we always the worst jurors, having read reviews or word of mouth, having judged the cover in whatever way and been drawn in or repelled by all the blurbs?

Either way, I think there's something that draws me to Shearn's style, the snippet we read of Frankie (whose storyline may be the most interesting of the book and much buried under others) for 1101 last semester had some gorgeous language, though with strange plot turns (a child having full conversation with a classroom skeleton?).

The novel itself is fine. I generally am drawn into a book for the language, the setting, and the characters (development). For me, just this time around, the setting was fine, and the characters made me squirm a bit. I don't think characters need to be likable in a novel, but perhaps what I wanted was more dimension, more reason. I felt extreme indifference and even annoyance.

However, I can't help but think: this Amy Shearn, she's got something. She's got charm (for she charmed many in the program on her visit) and she's definitely got a gift for figurative language. This is strange to admit, but sometimes it was actually too much: like gathering little twigs for a fire, not enough for a full flame. (Ah, the irony of using a simile to point out too many similes.) Too much of a good thing maybe?

I do know this: I strongly believe Amy Shearn has a gorgeous book in her. This one might not be it, but it's a decent first book. And you can bet I'll read whatever she has out next.

Recent library acquisitions: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (we're starting with this one in the class I'm TA'ing for this semester: EngL 1201W Contemporary American Literature--look, look, there's my name again!), The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (our next book club pick), and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (recommended by a co-worker at the bookstore where I worked over the holidays). These will accompany me to Florida next week.

I'd love to hear books at the top of your must-read list. My own: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, something by Michael Pollan, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, A Mercy by Toni Morrison. (I've been saving these and so many, many more. It's that whole save-the-best-for-last food philosophy that sometimes gets me in trouble when I get full too fast.) On the way from the library: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, and 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.


shari said...

the history of love is just plain gorgeous. i loved it.

i'm reading my life in france by julia child and it is charming and enthusiastic and well, fun. i love her husband's photos too.

next up for me is wildwood by roger deakin. it's a thick one and i can't wait.

Chrissy said...

i read HFISOFH last year, and i liked it very much. i am a sucker for similes, so they didn't bother me very much, but i was a bit annoyed with the characters at times as well - maybe a little likable would have been nice! i'm very much looking forward to her next book.

i'm currently reading american wife by curtis sittenfeld, and so far it's fascinating.