Friday, October 30, 2009

Best Friends Forever (novel)

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner: The story of two women, best friends since childhood, torn apart by a betrayal in high school, and reunited as adults when they realize that their friendship really can withstand just about anything.

This is chick-lit at its finest: a light, quick read with a fun, somewhat implausible plot, and a happy ending all tied up neatly. There are some potentially serious subject matters thrown in to balance out the plot, such as rape and a brain-damaged sibling, but they are treated so lightly that it's difficult to take them too seriously. But this kind of literature doesn't claim to have social philosophical relevance. So read it for the escapism; Jennifer Weiner is a master at this kind of story-telling.

I borrowed this book from a friend, so can't offer it up for grabs; sorry!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Girl With the Gallery (Biography)

In addition to being a writer, I'm also an artist. Last week I began contributing a new column to The New York Optimist. It's called, The Art Virgin, and will follow my journey into the art world, working closely with New York art aficionado/guru Bob Hogge (Monkdogz Urban Art). When I went into cahoots with Bob a month or so ago, he recommended that I read Lindsay Pollock's book, The Girl With the Gallery. The book chronicles the life of Edith Gregor Halpert.

You're probably wondering who the heck that is. Well, this woman was not only instrumental in saving American art in the early to mid-1900's, she was also surprisingly critical in establishing New York as the art capital of the world. During the depression and the two great wars, Halpert pressed on in her deep belief in the value of art. She was a creative tigress when it came to sales and marketing, which (as you can imagine) was not expected of women during those times. I'm sure many a frown came her way. Did she care? Hell no! She focused on what she believed in with an unflinching eye, and said to hell with stereotypes, perceptions, traditions, etc. In fact, if you read between the lines of Pollock's book, it strikes you that those concepts weren't even in Halpert's interesting head. She was a true American cultural hero. The real deal at a time with everyone needed a New Deal.

Pollock's book is filled with details about the business machinations of the art world at that time, many of which spill over into today. Apparently, Halpert kept meticulous records over the years, giving Pollock lots to work with in piecing her book together. If you know a thing or two about art, you'll come across many a name you recognize. You'll likely be surprised how instrumental Halpert was in developing the careers of many of her generation's greatest artists.

Halpert grew up in a not-so-great scenario. The family's need to penny pinch taught Halpert the value of money, great sales technique, creativity, and gumption. She took off to New York at age 16 and never looked back. As a teenager and young woman, she actually forged a professional career in the big city when the majority of women who worked (not many) where pinned down to specific types of non-professional jobs. By her mid-twenties, she was ready to break out on her own, and had the skill to open her own art gallery. The rest is history--history that you should know if you have any interest in art or New York.

Pollock's book may not be for everyone, but those who want to know more about how the art world works (and why) should most certainly pick this one up. Also, if you'd just like to read a n inspirational example of someone who had vision, integrity, smarts, creativity and heart, it's for you.

Edith Halpert is one of my new heroes. She definitely belongs on my list of honorary members of the Aberration Nation.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Tiger's Child (memoir)

The Tiger's Child by Torey Hayden: This book is the sequel to One Child. In One Child, the author recounts her experience with a severely disturbed six-year-old girl, spanning a period of five months as a special education teacher. One Child ends in such a way as to leave the reader hopeful of a happy ending for the little girl, Sheila.

The Tiger's Child dispels that hope of a happy ending for Sheila. The first several chapters of The Tiger's Child summarize One Child, although I would recommend reading One Child in its entirety before reading The Tiger's Child.

One Child was extremely compelling and hard to put down, but at the same time, very difficult to digest with the telling of the horrific abuse this little girl suffered. Abandoned at age four - literally pushed out of a car on a highway in the middle of the night - by her teenaged mother, Sheila is placed in the care of her alcoholic, drug addict father where she is mostly neglected, often beaten and occasionally sexually abused, living in extreme poverty without such basics as running water or electricity (right here in the good old U S of A!). At age six, Shiela is placed in Ms. Hayden's special education classroom as a temporary measure until an opening at the state hospital (mental institution) is available for the child after she perpetrates a horrible act of abuse on another child. During the five months Ms. Hayden has Sheila in her class, however, she manages to connect with the little girl and draw her out of her rage and pain. The book ends with the end of the school year, with Ms. Hayden moving on to work towards her doctorate and Sheila being advanced a grade as a result of her apparent genius-level IQ.

The Tiger's Child picks up seven years later. During that seven years, Sheila and Ms. Hayden have all but lost touch. When Ms. Hayden locates Sheila, she is a sullen teenager living with her father who is still up to the same old tricks - booze, drugs, running from debtors, and repeated stints in prison and detox. The author discovers that Sheila has spent much of the past seven years being bounced from foster home to foster home, and it comes to light that her father pimped her out for sexual favors to his drug dealers when she was a small child to pay for his drug habit. Ms. Hayden reestablishes a relationship with Sheila, only now it is a personal rather than professional relationship.

Like One Child, I found this book hard to put down, and maybe even more disturbing than One Child. I found myself angry at the author much of the time, because I think she could have done so much more for Sheila. She chose to reenter Sheila's life on a personal level, and yet continued to be instrumental in sending her back to her father time and time again, even knowing the horrific things her father had subjected her to. It seemed to me that she only made a half-assed committment to Sheila, assuring her unconditional love and friendship, but never really doing anything to rescue this child. That bothered me A LOT.

Even after reading this book, I find myself extremely hungry for more about Sheila, but a Google search indicates that "Sheila" was a psuedonym, and I've been unable to find any information about what happened to her after the end of this book, except for a short blurb on Torey Hayden's website.

I'm going to offer this book up for grabs to my book club, as we are scheduled to discuss One Child next week. I do recommend both books though.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Joy Luck Club (novel)

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: Ahhhhh . . . I really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. It's one of those books that I've heard about for so long from so many people that I became convinced that I should read it and was supposed to come away thinking was a really good book. But in truth, I only thought it was so-so. It took me forever to get through it - and it's a slim book at under 300 pages. Although it's classified as a novel, it felt to me more like a collection of related short stories, and it just didn't hold my interest very well. It's about four Chinese-born women and their four American-born daughters. In many ways, the themes are universal: the push and pull between mothers and daughters, the struggle for mothers and daughters to find common ground between each other while respecting their separateness. And some of the themes in the book are specific to being Chinese and Chinese-American. It's well-written, but it just didn't grab me - not until the very end.

It's up for grabs - just say the word!