Thursday, February 25, 2010

"People do not come to Greece to rest. They come to gain their days."

Get comfortable, it's story time. Today's feature presentation is the myth of Persephone (as told my Sue Monk Kidd in Traveling with Pomegranates:

"The maiden Persephone, is picking flowers in a meadow when a hole opens up in the earth and up charges Hades, lord of the dead, who abducts Persephone into the underworld. Unable to find her daughter, Demeter, the great earth Goddess of grain, harvest and fertility, lights a torch and scours the earth. After nine futile days of searching, Demeter is approached by Hecate, the quintessential old crone and Goddess of the crossroads and the dark moon, who explains that her daughter has been abducted.

In a rage and too dejected to keep up her divine duties, Demeter lets the crops wither and the earth becomes a wasteland. She disguises herself as an old woman and travels to the town of Eleusis, where she sits beside a well in despair. Zeus tries to talk some sense into her. Hades will make a nice son-in-law, he says. She needs to lighten up and let the crops grow. Demeter will not budge.

The earth becomes so desolate Zeus finally gives up and orders Persephone returned to her mother. As Persephone prepares to leave, however, she unwittingly swallows some pomegranate seeds, which ensures her return to the underworld for a third of each year.
Mother and daughter are reunited on the first day of spring... When Demeter learns about the fateful pomegranate, her joy is tempered, but she stops her mourning and allows the earth to flourish again. After all, her daughter is back. Not the same innocent girl who tripped through the meadow picking flowers, but a woman transfigured by her experience.

When I was in younger, my mom decided it would be a good idea to put me in Greek school. She would drive me to the Greek Orthodox church a few towns over and pick me up after a few hours of intense Helenic immersion. We had language classes, history classes and even dance classes. I learned the Greek national anthem. I performed in plays and dance recitals. It was very intense. But I loved it. I felt special (and no M, not eat the paste special) because I was the only one of my siblings to go to Greek school. It was a really nice way to connect with my dad and learn more about his country and culture. And it doesn't hurt that my dad still boasts (more than 10 years later) that I won $50 for being the best student in my class.

The best history lessons were the ones that included Greek mythology. One of my favorite myths was about Persephone. It's a basic tale about "empty nest" syndrome. But instead of calling Persephone's phone incessantly and sending text messages that say, "are u ok? call home" (like my mom), Demeter (P's mom) is so distraught over her missing daughter that she falls behind on all her responsibilities and basically lets nature go to shit. I can't even imagine what kind of state the world would be if my my mom had mythical powers....*shudder*

Anyway...I had forgotten about this mythical tale until I stumbled upon it while reading Traveling with Pomegranates. A story about a mother and daughter, trying to come to terms with themselves and make some significant strides in self-discovery and self-acceptance. Kudos on this perfect pairing with Persephone's tale, Sue.

I have to be honest though, this book was not one of my favorites. Kidd is in her fifties and she's going on and on about how she's now an old woman, suffering through menopause. She makes these statements about losing her womanhood, accepting that death is right around the corner, etc. Unfortunately, I just could not relate to this older woman coming-of-age situation. I was expecting a fun tale about a mother and daughter gallivanting around Europe, getting into fun trouble and good-natured misadventures (kind of like what happens when my sisters and I go away with our mom). But, I guess I was wrong.

I know I'm not in my fifties, and I have no idea what it feels like to go through menopause and what it might do to your psyche in regards to your "womanhood", but I would hope that it didn't bring about this: take life too seriously, severe introspection that Kidd experienced at the time. I am in no way trying to diminish her journey. I just can't really understand it.

It was easier to relate to her daughter Ann. Yes, there were some moments where I felt stifled by both her and Kidd's uber-feminism (do we have to question everything?) but I was definitely able to enjoy/understand her twenty-something angst more.

All that being said, I did enjoy many parts of the book. One in particular is a moment where Kidd experiences an epiphany concerning her and Ann's paralleled self-discovery and sums it up with this: "Ann is new potential in search of ripening and I am ripening in search of new potential." I can dig this idea of a natural shift occurring once you reach a certain age. A cyclical rite of passage if you will.

I think that if you are looking for a book you can share with your mom, and are willing to overcome Kidd's (for lack of a better word) preachy moments, you might learn something new that could help you understand each other a little better, you know, woman to woman.

P.S. I also liked the fact that Kidd talks about her creative process while writing Secret Life of Bees. From a writer's (I use that term loosely) point of view, I appreciated that she also deals with writer's block and feelings of inadequacy and doubt, even with all her success. Gives a fledgling scribe some hope.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger **Double Feature** Part II

It is time to bestow upon you another one of my obsessions: twins. It's possible that this might even be worse than my obsession with Jewish people. While I can't convince myself that I am a Jew (although my mom likes to point out that we are "a little German-Jewish" on her dad's side), I have yet to give up on the idea that I had/have a twin.

The conversation with my mom usually goes like this:

Me: Mom?

Mom: Yes, honey?

Me: Tell me the truth.....I had a twin right? She died at birth? You had to give her up? You can tell me. It's ok. I just need to know.

At which point my mom rolls her eyes and continues doing whatever she was doing before I interrupted her with my ridiculous question.

I have had close encounters with fulfilling my life long dream of twin-dom. My sister and I always get confused for each other, and on one family vacation, my mom even got asked how old her "twins" were, that has to be something right? Did I fail to mention we're 8 years apart? Mere technicality.

My second encounter is with my friend L. There are so many things in our lives that mirror each other, it's just uncanny. We both sang in high school, our parents are divorced, our names rhyme, our moms are from South America, we both went to BC, we both had boyfriends named Steven...the list goes on and on!

I don't know why I am so intrigued by this. I guess I like knowing that people can be connected even when they are not together just because they shared a womb. Like when you hear those stories about a set of twins being separated at birth and then when they find each other, they find out they broke the same bones when they were little, they grew up to have the same jobs, they have spouses with the same name, they have the same number of children....etc. It's just so freaking AWESOME!

So you can just imagine when I started reading Her Fearful Symmetry and found out that the main protagonists were twins, my heart fluttered with excitement. Even though it was Audrey Niffenegger and things got dark and weird, it didn't really matter because I got to feed my obsession. Of course, this book wasn't all about twins. It was about deception, family secrets, unhealthy dependence and ghosts.
I definitely recommend you read this!

Stop Reading If You Don't Want to Know What I Thought Of the Ending (I do not actually tell you what happens, just thought I've give you the option. I know how it is when someone tells you something vague about a book and then all you want to do when you're reading it, is know what the heck she or he was talking about):

Once again, Niffenegger didn't disappoint with her whacked out twist that filled me with anger and uncontainable rage. How could she do what she did?!?! I think I actually had to put the book down before I finished the last 70 pages because I just couldn't believe it. I mean I had been suspecting that something like that would happen, but really? REALLY? ....BREATHE......Even with all that anger and rage, I still would recommend this book, because it was a great read, and shouldn't we be having these passionate reactions to books no matter what side of the emotional spectrum they land on?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger ** Double Feature ** Part I

I've now read two of Audrey Niffenegger's books and I think I see a bit of a pattern. First she lures you in with the promise of mischievous fantasy, makes you fall in love with her characters and just when you are getting comfortable she pierces you with a (slightly expected but unwanted) twist.

I am frequently being sucked into bargain book stores, garage sales, and used book fairs. It doesn't matter if I'm running late for something or meeting up with someone for lunch. I can't stop myself from being sidetracked. The sirens call me and I answer. You might be thinking, "Get some self-control, woman!" But if it hadn't been for one of my unanticipated stops at one of these burgeoning blacktop businesses, I would never have stumbled upon my copy of The Time Traveler's Wife.

Normally, a book as clunky as this one would have made me look the other way. The vague description on the back would have waved me along. But something about the image on the cover kept me coming back. The impatient little girl with her pristine, white knee socks and the large brown leather shoes placed neatly on a flannel blanket waiting for the feet to fill them. Circling around the tables of books, I methodically made my way back to the same pile over and over again, the image of the shoes peeking back at me, urging me to give it a chance. So, what else could I do? I bought it.*  I didn't think anything of it. I knew this book would be placed on my shelf where it would wait for me to pluck it from its slumber when the mood struck. What usually ends up happening is, I forget that I own the book, I eventually hear that a movie is coming out based on the book, then I search for said book, plop down and read it.

When books get turned into movies, I become anxious and panic stricken. Will I have enough time to read the book before the movie comes out? Will the book be good? Will the movie be good? Will there be disappointment like there always is when Hollywood tries to recreate something as magical as what an author has created on his or her pages? Those pages that ignite your own imagination? But those aren't the thoughts that went through my mind when I finished Time Traveler's Wife (TTW). I was intrigued and somewhat excited to see how they would portray this epic love story on the silver screen.

It was the first time that I wanted them to Hollywood-ize a book. That's not to say that I was dissatisfied with it. I would even go as far as to say that TTW is one of my favorite novels. But when you are given the opportunity to see a different outcome, wouldn't you want it? It's kind of like watching a movie that gives you the option of seeing the "alternate ending"; don't you click it, just to see what else could have happened?

I was given the chance to appreciate both adaptations of a love story that surpassed practicality and time. I fell in love with Henry and Claire. I appreciated the innocence of fate weaving itself throughout their story. At times it was dark, a habit in Niffenegger's writing, but the dark moments just helped highlight the lighter ones. I really don't want to spoil it by giving away anything about the book, but I do highly recommend it.

In regards to the movie (which I am eagerly awaiting! I ordered it a week ago!!), what can I say? It won me over. The first song accompanying the beginning credits was "Lo, how a rose e're blooming", one of my all time favorite songs. And I think that they cast it well with Rachel McAdams as Claire and Eric Bana as Henry. But I may be biased, because I love them both. Yes, there was some disappointment with certain details, but all in all I liked it.

With all that being said, I would still suggest reading the book before seeing the movie. It is a personal preference, but I like to maintain the authenticity and integrity of the author's work in its original form. It makes it easier to create my own versions of the characters, instead of picturing the actors cast in the roles.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Love is not love which alters when alteration finds." - Shakespeare

I don't hate Valentine's Day. You all should know by now that I love love. And I am not jaded just because I am sans lover this February 14th. Even if there is a certain unwanted pressure for single girls to shed their "loneliness" before the dreaded Hallmark holiday rolls around.  I am not worried because Cupid has blessed me with awesome friends to spend the weekend with!

May your weekend also be filled with good laughs, good friends, good loves and great drinks ;)

And if you're looking for a Valentine's Day book to read this weekend try:

 Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans

My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

I Do, But I Don't by Cara Lockwood

Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie

Monday, February 8, 2010

Light as a paperback, stiff as a hardcover.....

Remember when I said I wanted to be part of (whined about not being in) a book club a few months ago? Well my prayers have been answered and I am officially part of THREE book clubs now!

Well, I don't really know if I can say I am "officially part of" a book club since:
1. I have missed three meetings so far because I have not gotten, liked or read the books in time
2. I just created one, and we haven't met yet
3. My sister just created one and we haven't met yet either.
(We do have our books picked out, that's a good start, right?)

I know what you're thinking, how could I be part of a book club, if I haven't even attended one meeting and I haven't even read one book? Some could even say that I'm ungrateful. But this first book club that I have unintentionally snubbed is kind of a big deal. My friend, N from work invited me to be part of it. She and her friends meet at her apartment every month. I have tried three times to be ready in time, but something always stops me. It's like that shy nerd inside me is too much of a chickenshit to just go to a new place to meet new friends and talk about new books, without worrying: Will they like me? Will I say insightful things? Will I just sit there like an idiot saying nothing, eating cheese cubes?

Don't get me wrong. I was so close to going to the one that just passed. But I got the book on Friday and had to read it before Monday...and that just did. not. happen. Maybe once I get my own book club going and I go to my sister's first meeting, I will have more confidence? I am in desperate need of some intellectual stimulation. I miss heated discussions about character development and plot lines. But can I be honest?

I am a little nervous. You may be shocked to hear this, but I have never belonged to a book club before. I've been so romanced by the idea of joining/creating a book club, I haven't stopped to think about what it entails. I was blindsided by the idea of friends coming together from all over for a girl-talk-meeting-of-the-minds. That need for scheduled "girl time" may be residual from all those weekly Girl Scout meetings when I was younger, who knows?

Not the point.

What do you do at a book club? Do you use the guide in the back of the book? Should you take notes while reading? Is there going to be a test in the beginning? It's kind of exciting, like the night before the first day of school. You've got your new outfit picked out, and your backpack ready to go at the door full of freshly sharpened pencils and crisp clean notebooks. I would even go as far as to say this is better. It's like the first day of school and a slumber party all rolled into one.

Getting together with good friends, talking about good books, drinking good wine and eating good food? Sounds like a pretty kick-ass, adult version of a slumber party to me.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fantasy or be the judge

I'll admit it. I'm a snob. If you ask me, I'll tell you I don't like fantasy or sci-fi books. I roll my eyes anytime someone suggests reading Harry Potter (I read the first one in 8th grade and had to do a stupid reading journal for it and I. did. not. like. it.) and I will throw you eye daggers if you even mention Lord of the Rings (UGH). But everyone's convictions get challenged at some point, right? I was bound to get put in my place about my hypocritical detestation of the "fantasy" genre, and it went a little something like this:

C: Did you just say you hate fantasy? 

Me: Ugh, yes. I just don't get it! I hate reading about things that could never, ever happen in real life.

C: Are you serious? What about Time Traveler's Wife?  Or better yet, Twilight??

Me: Well.......that's real. It could totally happen.

So, I've been outed. I love books about vampires and unrealistic brushes with the "other world". One of my favorite books when I was younger was Ella Enchanted. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and I occasionally watch Wizards of Waverly Place. Okay, okay. You got me.  

To my defense though, I did try to resist the Twilight craze, but how can you say no to a small paperback for $6.99, just to see what all the fuss is about?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Take two and call me in the morning...

I am experiencing some writer's block. And it's not like I don't have material to write about. I mean, I just finished Her Fearful Symmetry (I'm thinking about a double feature piece, including Time Traveler's Wife, what do you think?), I'm almost done with Traveling with Pomegranates AND just this past weekend I went to Strand Bookstore in Union Square for the first time! I should be pouring out my jumbled thoughts and adventures to all of you, but for the past couple of days, it's been hard to sift through them.

Maybe writer's block is the wrong word...I'm experiencing writer's overflow. My brain is too full. If you looked inside my head right now you would probably see something like that scene in I Love Lucy with the conveyor belt and chocolates. I feel like I have a lot to say, but my pesky inner critic has been coming out to play. She's like the mean girl at school  who comes to knock your blocks over after you've just finished placing the top piece with a proud flourish.  So while I wrestle with my inner bully, I'll share a priceless conversation I had with my parents about my love life:

Me: I'm going to die alone.
Mom: What are you talking about? You are going to find a nice, successful, handsome, wonderful.....(then she goes off on her own tangent while my dad talks over her)
Dad: When it's the right time, you'll find the right man.
Mom: man who will make you as happy as Daddy makes me. Maybe you should call your friend, S and go out to the discos with her? You have to put yourself out there!

Me: Ugh, I know all that, but... ***big sigh*** are just big headaches.
Mom (nods in agreement): Yea, I know. But you'll find the right man to give you the right headaches.
Dad (appalled and defensive): What and you think women aren't headaches? Sometimes you just have to .......... learn how to take Tylenol.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"In Jewish Tradition, it is a mitzvah, a good deed, to invite those who are traveling or without a seder. For one night everyone is mishpucha - family."

So I've avoided this post for a while because every time I go to write it, I come off as a crazy person.....kind of like when I debated sending a "support" letter to Britney Spears when she was at her most......unstable. I thought surely, this was the right time to swoop in and become her best friend; get her back on track, you know? But, I could never get the tone right and would come off as a psycho fan who had Hit Me Baby One More Time and Gimme More posters lining her walls.

Dear Britney,
I  love you. I really think we could be best friends. You should really think about getting your shit together.......

Dear Britney,
We should hang out some time.....

Dear Britney,
I'm nuts....

Anyway, I say this because I don't want you to think I'm crazy. Or that I'm being ironic when I say that I love Jewish people. No, I don't have posters of Moses and Woody Allen lining my walls, but I do have a great appreciation for everything that has to do with those I affectionately refer to as the Chosen People. And I apologize in advance if I offend you with my flippant language but rest assured my affection is genuine.

Whenever I meet someone who is Jewish, I am star-of-David-struck. "You're Jewish? Oh my G_d, I love the Jews!" which then prompts the cocked head, inquisitive brow look, "Are you Jewish?" at which point I answer,"Me? *disappointed sigh* No. I love Jesus.....But he was a Jew too, so....." which I follow with a noncommittal shrug.

I don't know where this love comes from. My cousin, A,  is Jewish, and she's pretty much one of the funniest and kindest people I know, so maybe it stemmed from there. Like most Jews, she's been given the gift of story-telling and humor. When we get together, besides the constant playful jabs at each others' religious affiliations, she will have the entire room in stitches, tears streaming down our faces, stomachs aching from our constant giggles due to detailed accounts of her hilariously unique adventures. Unique in that only she would be accosted by a rabbi on her way to class so she could participate in some random Jewish holiday involving a pineapple and a wooden cane. Or only she would get locked out of her yeshiva (in Israel) on a Friday because she forgot that on shabbos they disable the electronic gate; and just as she's hiked up her skirt to try and climb up the wall (a no-no where all the girls are basically dressed like Amish women), the rabbi comes out of the darkness and gently prompts her to freeze in a running man position with a, "Good evening, my child."  Or only she would come home to an unexpected order of a Costco-sized box of KY jelly to go with her new Ab FlexBelt. I don't know why these things happen to her, but I have faith that they definitely have something to do with her being Jewish. :)

Not only is she my favorite Jewish cousin, but she has spoiled me with her encouragement towards my Gentile curiosity. I must confess though, this kind of freedom has made me forget that sometimes my interactions with her may seem.....offensive (?) to other Jews who don't know that my love for their culture is pure. However, rest assured that I do try to keep my chutzpah to a minimum.

Anyway, when I was at a used book fair, I saw this lime green treasure peeking out from the pile and had to have it. The Matzo Ball Heiress by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Chick-lit and matzo? L'chiam! 

Reasons why I loved it:

Yiddish - check
Self-deprecating Jewish humor - check
Hot Jewish men - check
Girlfriend with the last name Hitler - check

What else could a Jew-loving shiska ask for? Baruch hashem, let the hilarity ensue!