Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Gender Divide

UPDATE 9/5/11- Thank you so much for all the suggestions. I just finished requesting library books! I do want to add a few favorite male authors that I hadn't been thinking about at the time of this post: Ken Follett (best known for The Pillars of the Earth, but I prefer The Key to Rebecca and Jackdaws); Chris Bohjalian, who is absolutely brilliant at plunging into ethical dilemmas of current interest, such as transsexualism (Trans-Sister Radio) and midwife law (Midwives); and finally P.G. Wodehouse, a much less contemporary author whose comic novels, particularly the ones starring the butler Jeeves, are side-splitting funny, if you enjoy British humor and puns, which I very much do. I'm sorry to have ignored you, gentlemen!


I'm already learning things from this blog. When I put together my list of favorite authors, I realized how few of them are men, and most of those are nonfiction writers like Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, The Tipping Point) or Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States). Do I not read enough fiction written by men, or do I just not enjoy it as much? Is it natural for men and women to gravitate toward same-sex writers?

I enjoy Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, and I've already mentioned my favorite play by Oscar Wilde. I read George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm every few years and still think they're relevant. I love Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I laugh out loud at David Sedaris's essays. And yet I wouldn't consider any of these men to be favorite authors.

(I have to make a quick point here about The Princess Bride. The book is so, so much better than the movie. The Pit of Despair can't hold a candle to the description of the Zoo of Death. Read it.)

I've read most of John Grisham's books, although I prefer his earlier work. I think Stephen King is a great writer, but his plots usually make me either nauseous or afraid of the dark, so I tend to avoid him. I find Nicholas Sparks too sentimental, Dan Brown too contrived, and James Patterson too sensational.

Am I giving male authors a fair chance? Am I just reading the wrong books? I would like to correct this imbalance, so if anyone has suggestions for fiction written by men, please post them in the comments section. At the very least, I'll make an attempt to read them and write a fair and honest review. At the most, if I'm lucky, I'll have my mind blown by some new writer, and can in turn share that passion with you.

If you don't have an author to share, but you do have an opinion on male vs. female writers, I'd love to hear that as well!

Monday, August 29, 2011


This was one of the first books I downloaded on my new Kindle, and the first book I read straight through on our trip to Alaska this summer, after trying and failing to get into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (more on that later.) I would give it five stars, or two thumbs up, or whatever you prefer. Maybe I should come up with my own rating system. Hmm.

Synopsis (no spoilers): The story is told by Jack, a five year old boy who lives with Ma in Room. Jack has lived his entire life in Room. He believes that there is no world outside Room. Despite their confinement, Ma helps Jack to grow up as normally as possible. They have routines involving physical exercise, mental gymnastics and limited television time. Sometimes at night, the man called Old Nick comes to visit, and during those times, Jack has to sleep in Wardrobe. Jack feels safe, loved and happy in Room, but his journey truly begins when his mother tells him about the outside world, and they begin to plot to escape Room.

Review: The genius of this book is in the point of view. It is very courageous of Emma Donoghue to use a five year old narrator with such a limited worldview, but she does it brilliantly. Jack's voice is instantly comfortable to the reader, and I found myself falling into his point of view in no time at all. He is imaginative and curious, brave and heroic, intensely loving toward his mother and loyal to the characters he sees on TV. The reader loves him and feels protective of him from the first page. Donoghue somehow makes Jack's voice, his feelings, his very existence feel like a miracle to be cherished.

Though Jack sees his mother as no less than a goddess, through subtext Donoghue still manages to convey Ma as a woman with her own pain, suffering and flaws. All the adults in the novel are portrayed equally well, further proving Donoghue's genius for subtext. A whole world is going on over Jack's head, and the reader sees it clearly even though the narrator does not.

This novel is sometimes difficult to read, but I think the story of a woman and child in captivity is both more real and easier to swallow from Jack's point of view. It's a novel that will keep you thinking, about love and pain, about assimilation, and about what a child really needs during his formative years.

Of all the books I read this summer, this one stuck with me the most. If you haven't read it, pick up a copy, and if you have, please post a comment letting me know what you thought. If you'd like more information about the book, see the author's interactive website:

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I've had a few ideas on the back burner for awhile: starting a book club; starting a blog; writing book reviews. It wasn't until last night that I realized I could do all three of those things from the comfort of my home computer. (I may be well-read, but I'm also slow to process.)

I present to you the following qualifications:

1. I read a LOT. If someone asks me if I've read a particular book or author, I would say 4 out of 5 times, I have. If I haven't read it, I've at least heard of it. I browse libraries, bookstores and the Amazon Kindle store about as much as my sister browses Zappos for shoes. Which is to say, a lot.
2. I read fast. The better the book, the faster I devour it. I read "The Help" in one day on the beach last summer. You may think that fast reading means missing details. You would be wrong. (At least for me.)
3. I'm also a writer. I write every day. I'm working on publishing short stories, researching and writing a novel, and keeping a daily journal. I've taken fiction writing classes from Gotham Writer's Workshop and magazine writing and research classes through the DCC online classroom.
4. I am opinionated, but I also try to be open-minded. I enjoy a lively discussion from differing viewpoints, especially about books. You are welcome to disagree with me!

As I write this, we are in the midst of hurricane Irene in the Northeast. It's the perfect day to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea, especially if you are without power. I plan to do just that while I consider which book in my smorgasbord of summer reading to review here first. If you'd like some suggestions for books to read on a rainy day, here are a few from a variety of genres: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (novel); The Importance of Being Earnest (play) by Oscar Wilde; Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner (novel); And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (mystery); Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster (memoir).