Tag Archives: Kaya McLaren

Books to Mend a Broken Heart – and One to Break It Again

Recently, a customer was asking about a copy of The Bell Jar to send to her granddaughter. “Do you think she’d like it? She’s been going through a very rough time lately with her young man.”

“NOOOOOOOO!” we booksellers cried as one, throwing our bodies in front of the classic literature stacks.

Alright, that’s the dramatized version. What actually happened was, Nancy said, “Um, well, I’m not sure that’s a very good…er…” and Reid fled to the basement, and I said, “You really have to be in an emotionally secure place for Plath. She doesn’t want to read that now. Let’s find you something cheery.”

Years ago, I made the mistake of giving a copy of The Bell Jar to a good friend who was sad. Needless to say, this did not help. Individuals currently on pain meds, starting birth control pills or other hormone-based therapy, beginning a regimen of blood pressure regulating drugs, being treated for depression, anxiety or other emotional ills, or even just having an off day should avoid Plath like the plague. Her writing – both verse and prose – has great power and emotional heft and is best left for better days. The Bell Jar does have one of my very favorite (and supremely creepy) opening lines though:

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

If you don’t know the story, it’s not like it gets any sunnier from there. Not good stuff to read while experiencing heartbreak.

What is? Here are some ideas – all safe as a hot cuppa, comforting as a pint of Ben & Jerry’s:

Kaya McLaren’s novels, The Church of the Dog and On the Divinity of Second Chances, are both uplifting in a non-goopy way.

I also like Peculiar People: The Story of My Life by Augustus Hare, for pure it-could-be-worse-you-could-be-him value. He laments the Decline of The English Eccentric. His stories are enchanting, but I can’t share his reluctance to see these people go. Loons, every one. I have also sometimes wondered if Augusten Burroughs wasn’t influenced by this writer, or if he might even have chosen his name based on Hare’s, but then I think that Augusten Burroughs can hardly be a pseudonym, because who would do that to themselves?

Anything by Henry Mitchell. I first came upon his Essential Earthman, a collection of his gardening column for The Washington Post, when I won a copy from the lavishly generous people at Indiana University Press (long story). His non-garden stuff is even better, though not much of it is still in print. He writes tenderly, with great understanding, and with the humor necessary for same. Try Any Day.

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield is funny and diverting and contains little mention of love. Plenty of polite snark, though.

I Don\’t Care About Your Band by Julie Klausner and My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me (Hilary Winston) are good for general grrl power rallying and the exorcising of bitterness. Band is better, but the quote on the back of Boyfriend is, all by itself, worth the cover price. Oh, marketing department at Sterling, are there t-shirts? Can there be t-shirts?

 F**k You, Box is, sadly, only available from the author as a digital download now, but is superb for this (or really, any) situation. Who doesn’t love a swearing cat?

Thus supplied and with plenty of chocolate, a girl can make it through some trying times.

But this, this is a book to shatter your heart and make you weep:

On Canaan\’s Side, by Sebastian Barry.

You don’t want your heart shattered? You don’t feel like weeping? You will. This is the sort of novel to make you glad you speak English. It is what our language is for. A haunting story, the book is unmatched for sheer lyricism. It is poetic, colloquial, and full of a wrenching beauty that will keep you reading, your mouth hanging open for more. Barry has been shortlisted for Man Bookers before and he won a Costa in 2008, so you open this book expecting something pretty good. And then Barry makes you fall in love with a suicidal 80 year old living on Long Island and leaves you praying that her talk will never cease. It comes out in September. Don’t’ miss it.

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My Summer Reading List: Something old, something new, some things fiction, some things true…

New Fiction

The Whole World, by Emily Winslow (New from Delacorte)

This smart, tightly plotted mystery will keep you guessing till the last. The characters are strange and engaging and very real. The setting leaps off the page. You feel like you might put this novel down and look up to find yourself there in Cambridge, England – cycling through the streets, surrounded by students from all over the world, in a strangely small-town-like city that thrives on the unusual and bristles with 800 years of architecture.

The Blind Contessa\’s New Machine, by Carey Wallace (Coming in July from Pamela Dorman Books)

I cannot shut up about this book. It’s lyrical and spare as a line drawing, but full of the kind of lush fancy I’d expect from Allende or Atwood. The contessa of the title grows up, marries and slowly grows blind – escaping into an interior world of stunning detail where few can follow and none, it seems, can stay.

Displaced Persons, by Ghita Schwarz (Coming in August from William Morrow & Company)

As we lose survivors of the Holocaust, this wise, tender novel brings us closer to an appreciation of what it is to go on, to create a new life out of whole cloth with little if any family, and fierce friendships grown on bitter ground. Schwarz considers what it costs to live in the present and allow the past in on one’s own terms. Her characters’ depth and strength are shocking.

New in Paperback:

The Blue Notebook, by James Levine (Coming in July from Spiegel & Grau)

Attention, readers who liked Little Bee:  The Blue Notebook is what you should read next. It’s even better.

New Non-Fiction:

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, by Jillian Lauren (New from Plume)

A great, guilty pleasure. Lauren takes the reader along on her unlikely-but-true trip from drop-out drama student to lover of the Sultan of Brunei. Unflinching and fascinating, this screams to be included in every beach bag.

Not so new, but so, so worth reading:

The Help, by Katherine Stockett (Amy Einhorn Books)

Ok, if you haven’t read this already, get with the program, will you? It’s important. The voices ring hypnotically true and the whole book is full of insight into a pivotal and often-neglected time and place in American history. Seriously, this is your homework: read it. Bonus? You won’t be able to put it down.

Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

Great for fans of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, the Twilight series and the smarter sort of paranormal set, Rosemary and Rue features a heroine who’s a PI and also? A fairy. Not your pink, glittery type fairy. No, October Daye is about as noir as they come, and so are her supernatural cohorts. There’s a lot for a reader to learn about the myth (and pronunciation) surrounding the fae, but a helpful list at the front of the book will quickly bring you up to speed (and give you a wicked advantage at scrabble).

R& R came out in 2009 and was followed this March by its sequel, A Local Habitation, which is even better. The third October Daye novel, An Artificial Night is due in September 2010. I’m looking forward to it.

On the Divinity of Second Chances, by Kaya McLaren (Penguin)

For me, this is the ultimate feel-good novel. A quirky western family with some serious issues discovers (each member in their own style) that second chances are out there waiting for us all, one way or another. Surprising and different and full of humor, I like this even more than McLaren’s first book, Church of the Dog  (which was no slouch either).

Fluke, by Christopher Moore (Harper)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I do love me some Christopher Moore novels. This one is perfect for summer. Self described “Action Nerd” and marine behavioral biologist Nathan Quinn records, photographs and generally pesters humpback whales off Maui. His crew includes Amy (research assistant and “goth geek of the Pacific”), diver and cameraman Clay Demodocus, and dude-of-all-work, Kona —  a white-boy Rastaman from New Jersey. Things just get weirder from there. I dare you not to laugh.


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