Inner Peace for Busy People – Joan Borysenko – 8/10

“Remember that letting people help you gives them an opportunity to be kind. Refusing help is a subtle kind of selfishness, you know.”

Inner peace2

In this simple and approachable book, Borysenko sets out weekly strategies for bringing a little more serenity into fraught daily lives.

I did not expect to get on with this one, but at no point was I bored reading it (and on one occasion I had a panic on the Tube, thinking I’d missed my stop!). Borysenko doesn’t talk down the way I had expected; instead I think her aim is that if a reader can implement 3 or 4 of the 52 weeks’ worth of strategies, she will have done some good.

The strategies are simple but memorable and crucially, varied – this is not 200 pages on why one should take up meditation.

I read it straight through as an ebook, bookmarking lots of passages (including the names of other books the author cites) but am tempted to buy a dead-tree copy to keep on the shelf and flick through.

Additional information:

Apparently I bought this on the Kindle. Suspect it was a £0.99 deal?
Publisher: Hay House, 228 pages
Order Inner Peace for Busy People: 52 Simple Strategies for Transforming Lifefrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Some recent DNFs

I’ve struggled with some books recently and a recognition that I have too many of them means I am abandoning them pretty quickly. I thought I’d make a note here of them.

Torn by Casey Hill. I really enjoyed Taboo, but something in the writing here just irritated me too much.

The Silversmith’s Wife by Sophia Tobin. This was a review copy that had been loitering in my house for a very long time, and when I finally cracked it open on the commute this week, I found the incredibly short chapters which constantly switched perspective and time (before and after a death) too much.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. Iris raves about Jansson, as do many others, but I’ve struggled with her before and again the slow, simple writing irritated me. I imagine she writes extremely well for children.

I’ve been depositing them at the Oval Tube bookswap shelf, which looks like it does a roaring trade (certainly in terms of people taking books from it). While I don’t permit myself to take books (I’ve got more than enough at home) it’s a very convenient place to drop them off! Plus I always get an enthusiastic thank you from the station staff, especially if I’m dropping off multiple books.

(pictures are affiliate links, if you really want to check the books out on Amazon…)

The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan – 6/10

“Those were the small rituals we had, what comforted us, what we loved, what we could look forward to, what we could be thankful for. And remember afterward.”

bonesetter
Ruth Young doesn’t know what to do about her ailing mother LuLing – she’s forgetful and argumentative, clearly on the cusp of Alzheimer’s. In an effort to break through her mother’s increasing paranoia, she finally makes time to sit down and read the memoirs her mother has been asking her to read for years. She learns about her mother’s difficult childhood, the time in a Christian orphanage, the struggle to get to America, and suddenly so much is clear.

The book is divided into three sections – Ruth’s initial struggles with her mother, the written account of her mother’s life in China before and during the Second World War, including the Japanese occupation, and the ending.

I actually particularly enjoyed the first section; Ruth’s struggles as the put-upon daughter, her relationship issues and distrust of her partner’s ex-wife. It’s standard commercial fiction stuff, but tempered by the cultural conflict, and more sensibly introspective than most.

The middle section is the longest. It feels like this is section that the book is really supposed to be about and the other bits are bookends (literally?) but I couldn’t have made it through the whole book if it was all in the tragic, disaster-ridden tone of the middle section. So many of these books seem to tell the same story – The Kitchen God’s Wife, Chinese Cinderella etc. i.e. the story of a daughter of the family who is somehow apart from the others, and her shameful treatment at the hands of the family. This novel is a little happier than average, and LuLing gets her happy ending without too many disasters. I found this section at once the least interestingly written and the most interesting subject matter.

The ending is a little saccharine – the domestic battle that has been bubbling for months is forgotten through a lavish financial contribution; the step-daughters who are surly and difficult at the start of the book suddenly want to spend time with Ruth and her mother. There is a late discussion with someone who would actually have been able to help with Ruth’s troubles had she only thought to ask earlier (as was the case in The Kitchen God’s wife). I wonder whether the concluding section was actually carved too savagely by an editor? In any case, all the issues are neatly wrapped up.

As I always do with this type of book, I found the female characters strong and easily identifiable, while the men were one-dimensional and muddled. Why is this always the case? Something to do with the fact that the whole narrative is from a female perspective? Ruth is a sympathetic protagonist; struggling with her duties as a good daughter, partner and step-mother. LuLing is a more difficult character to understand, but she holds her own well enough.

A perfectly good holiday book, but there’s better works in this genre (by this author, too).

Additional info

Copy from Bookmooch, I think. It has moved house with me twice, judging by the 15/10/10 post-it on the inside cover. 
Publisher: Flamingo, 339 pages (paperback)
Order The Bonesetter’s Daughterfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Sunday Salon – Sniffles

TSS

Atchoo! It’s been sneeze-central here at Maison RWT as I came down with my first bad cold of the year. Unfortunately, my normal method of “dose up on everything that might be helpful and proceed as normal” was stymied by the fact that pretty much every cold med I would normally take is not permitted during pregnancy. So I had to tough it out the traditional way. Which was less fun. I spent yesterday sleeping and watching BBC shows on iPlayer until 2pm, then made it as far as the sofa for a lot of episodes of Friends, then back to bed. It was an exciting day.

Today I feel MUCH better and have got as far as tea, the study, and actual thought again.

Quick recap of reviews that went up this week:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, an introspective, very personal account of grief

How It All Began by Penelope Lively, a study of inter-connected lives thrown into turmoil by a mugging.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff, the experience of being a 20-something working in the literary industry in New York.

Coming up this week:

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan (which has moved house with me at least twice)

and anything else I get around to reviewing today!

Question

WHY has no one made a film of Code Name Verity? WHY?

Film industry, you are being remiss. Get to it.

My Salinger Year – Joanna Rakoff – 8/10

“Carolyn began talking about friends of hers named Joan and John, and their daughter, who had an odd name, an odd name that sounded oddly familiar to me. I’d heard her discuss Joan and John before, but now I realised, with a jolt, that she was talking about Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunn. These were Carolyn’s intimates, the people whose pedestrian travails – bathroom renovations and missed flights – she chattered about.”

my salinger yera

Joanna is a newly minted Master of a literature degree, badly in need of a job. She wheedles her way into a job assisting a literary agent – and discovers, several weeks into the job, that the agent represents J. D. Salinger. With no background in Salinger at all, she muddles along in the job and in the big city, while trying not to let leech-like boyfriend Don scupper her prospects.

Not masses happens in the course of this year – although obviously enough to fill a short book, it’s not action-packed. Which is fine; it gives Rakoff plenty of time to muse on being young and broke and working in the literary world in New York. I would happily read more of Rakoff’s writing; maybe it is easier to be funny and light-hearted and insightful when writing about one’s own life rather than making up a world, but I liked what I read. It was intelligent without being overwrought, evocative without being cluttered.

At this point in a review template, I have the prompt “characters”. Which is tricky when reviewing non-fiction. The protagonist is impossible to review, given that it’s the author! But Rakoff does a good job of moulding the people around her into characters on the page, particularly helpful office furniture Hugh, deadbeat boyfriend Don, Next Big Thing in Literary Agency Max. I liked these people (apart from Don, who sounds like a waste of space), and they were fine to spend some time in the company of.

This was yet another instalment in my recent New York themed reading and watching – as I mentioned in my post on the subject, I loved the frequent references to a little bit of New York I spent some time in recently (and I was most amused to find the quoted reference to Joan Didion, author of The Year of Magical Thinking which I read immediately before this!). I know it was set 20 years ago, but apart from the technophobic set-up in the office, I hardly noticed this at all. I suppose not knowing what Brooklyn rents are these days probably helped, that the figures given didn’t age the book!

Well worth the quick read, whether you’ve read Salinger or not, just as a fun “a year in the life” story. If you’ve read Salinger, possibly more interesting?

Additional info
Copy from publisher through NetGalley (which I have not used in a while!)
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 273 pages
Order My Salinger Yearfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

How It All Began – Penelope Lively – 8/10

“But time does not end, and stories march in step with time. Equally, chaos theory does not assume an ending; the ripple effect goes on, and on. These stories do not end, but they spin away from one another, each on its own course.”

How it all began

When Charlotte is mugged in the street one day and breaks her hip, a chain of events is set off for a much wider group of people. Her daughter Rose has to cancel a day’s work. Rose’s boss Henry goes to Manchester to give a lecture without his notes. Henry’s niece Marion cancels a date and thus reveals the affair to her lover’s wife. All because a delinquent wanted Charlotte’s cash.

Lively writes a good book. I loved Moon Tiger, quite enjoyed Heatwave (which I don’t seem to have reviewed); were I to sit down and consume her entire oeuvre, I’m confident I would enjoy it. She strikes the balance between clever writing, interesting characters, and just enough plot progression to keep things going. The plot only really exists to make the characters do things, and in fact the plot movements are only really as the result of a passage of time rather than the result of actions or events.

The cast of characters is appropriately limited so that we feel we know each of them well, without getting them mixed up with each other. It is clever to have multiple perspectives but linked characters so that the transitions from one narrator to another are not as jarring or frustrating as such transitions often are.

It’s not a demanding book to read – and this is a huge part of why I like authors like Mitchell, Patchett, Lively; you notice the quality of the writing only when there is a showy sentence. Apart from the odd “look at me, I’m good with words” sentence (like the one below), the text is not too dense, but concise and clever. It’s only 230 pages long, and I would happily have read another 100 pages, but on the other hand, it felt complete without being overcooked.

“That evanescent, pervasive, slippery internal landscape known to no one else, that vast accretion of data on which you depend – without it you would not be yourself. Impossible to share, and no one else could share it anyway.”

Something I noticed in How It All Began and hadn’t noticed in her other works was the occasional breaking of the fourth wall – every now and again (and pleasingly infrequently) the narrative moves from the consciousness of one of the characters out to an omniscient third party style narrator who is very conscious of the reader. The quote I selected above is just one such example. I couldn’t decide whether these added to or detracted from the book; they broke up the flow in a slightly irritating way, but the writing is so good and these little bits are sufficiently valuable to the book, that I didn’t really mind.

If you’ve enjoyed anything else by Lively, you’ll like this.

Additional info
Copy bought at Strand Bookstore in New York on a recent visit. 
Publisher: Penguin, 229 pages (paperback)
Order How It All Beganfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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