Jennifer Astle

August 5, 2009

Book Review: It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather B. Armstrong

it-sucked-and-then-i-cried-armstrongIf you read Dooce.com, then you are familiar with Heather Armstrong and her deeply sarcastic, somewhat sardonic sense of humor.  Armstrong regularly pumps out wit faster than MacDonald’s pumps out Big Macs, often amusing many, and enraging the odd wing nut.

At her blog, she talks about life the way we only wish we could; all of this after clearly expressing that she is exerting extreme restraint after getting fired for blogging about her boss and pissing off a few Mormons.  Before blogging was even a commonly used term, someone gave the girl a laptop, a wireless Internet connection and a way with words, and for that us sarcasm-aholics are grateful.  To put it plainly, she’s as funny as I wish I was.  Even her ridiculously excessive use of caps lock can’t make her less funny.

So, when I got my hands on a copy of It Sucked and Then I Cried I knew I had to read it.  Even though the subject matter is of absolutely no interest to me (I’m not a baby person), I couldn’t put it down.  This, I think, is the true testament of an excellent writer; the ability to make even calculus sound riveting. From her blog Armstrong writes of the book;

A few weeks ago when my publisher sent me several copies of my book in its final incarnation, I opened the box very slowly while Leta sat on a stool at the counter next to me. She was terribly excited because she thought it was a present from Santa Claus, and I assured her it was EVEN BETTER THAN THAT. Because look! It was a book I had written about her! Called It Sucked and then I Cried! HA HA! GET IT? GET IT? YOUR THERAPIST IS GOING TO LOVE ME! (Source).

Even when I got to the part about the dreaded evil episiotomy, I kept right on reading, because it really does take a lot of comedic talent to make that sound funny.  Her narrative of her pregnancy and the months following is honest, and you feel like you are riding the same see-saw of emotions she describes; wavering between extreme satisfaction and frustration.  You get a sense of what the pressure is really like, what people are really thinking, and how far they are willing to go to be better.  These more intense moments are nicely punctuated by letters to her daughter, Leta, in which she continues her sarcastic style, but is assertive about her deep love for the child and moments of sincere love for Leta’s father, that made me want to hug my husband.

As someone who is, and shall stay childless, and deeply skeptical of the Cult of Children, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this read, but Heather Armstrong delivers more than just babies.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loves children, hates children, or is having or thinking of having a child.

May 5, 2009

Book Review: The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

almostmoonWriters are very aware of this thing called a hook.  The hook, in reference to literary agents is the line you use to, well, hook them in your query letter.  That’s not the only time the hook comes into play.  It is generally accepted that a writer, once they actually have a book in print, have only won half the battle; the other half being hooking the reader.  It is also generally accepted that a writer has only sixty or so pages in which to do so.

Most books use every last inch of those sixty pages to build toward the books theme and story line, gradually sucking the reader into the remaining three hundred or so pages by getting them invested in the story during those first critical chapters.  Very rarely does a writer manage to hook me in the first page, let alone the very first sentence.  Alice Sebold takes the prize for the most intriguing opening to a book I have ever had the pleasure to read.

“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.”

Eleven words. That’s all.  Brief, succinct, and brilliant. Why did she kill her own mother?  And for that matter, why did it come so easily?  These are the very soul shaking questions the reader is left with as (s)he makes her way through the rest of the page, and inevitably, the entire novel.

Although, soul shaking is nothing new for Sebold.  Whatever source of personal anguish/professional insight she has brought to the literary table, Sebold has tapped into that je ne sais quoi, that certain something.

I knew this to be true when I read Sebold’s first book, Lucky.  Believe it or not, it was required reading for a seminar course in research methods during my last semester of my undergraduate year.  Despite the fact that I was putting the finishing touches on my thesis, and was just barely glancing at other required readings, I gave Lucky a shot.  The course focused on ethnography, and the book, I knew, was a memoir about Sebold’s rape while in college. I’ll tell you, as writer, it takes a solid brass set to spill your personal demons on the pages in the manner Sebold did and not have to be swept up off the floor afterwards.

Since then, Sebold has continued to impress with The Lovely Bones, which I hear is being made into a movie.  Success then, for a writer, must mean having your words made into images.  The Almost Moon could just as easily be brought to film.  I, however, wouldn’t watch it.  I wouldn’t want to ruin that feeling of urgency I had while reading it, that intense desire to get to the next page, to get more information, to find out what happens to Helen, the murderous daughter.  That single brilliant line simply can not be transfered to the screen without losing the magic.

So read it.  But be ready to devote twenty four hours to following Helen in the twenty four hours after killing her mother, and all of the baggage, rage, sympathy, and stoic resiliance the book will bring you.

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