Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Graffiti Foliage

October races through tunnels of gold,

A graffiti artist spraying rainbow paint,

Striking matches in mountain groves,

And torching cobalt skies.

Too soon, neon tags fade to grime,

Leaving only memories of maple shine.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Family Weekend at Middlebury College

Last weekend my husband and I visited our son at Middlebury College in Vermont. The perfect weather and peak foliage called for a hike up nearby Snake Mountain. From the summit, we had a spectacular view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, across the border in New York.

The golden trail was an easy 1,000 feet over two miles ascent. The ski team passed us, running up and down, but we easily overtook the yuppies hiking with an elderly basset hound. A garter snake slithered by on the way down.

Middlebury campus was gorgeous. This is the view from the science building, where my son spends most of his academic hours. In his free time, he plays Chopin on piano, and he's joined the bike club, the nordic club, the film club and Mchaka Mchaka, a group that runs around campus at night, chanting in Swahili. I can understand why he's enjoying freshman year.

The ivy on his dorm was burning bright red, complementing the maples.

My British husband felt at home in the Shoreham Inn, run by a Brit and his American wife. The pub style restaurant served delicious hot cooked breakfasts and locally brewed Switchback Ale with a tasty dinner. Our luxurious loft room was in a converted sheep barn, a twenty minute drive from campus. All of Middlebury and neighboring towns were booked five months in advance of family weekend.

While our son did his homework, we went to a book talk on Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection by Debora Spar, a fellow Middlebury parent. Afterwards we settled into Adirondack chairs (scattered throughout campus) to read in the sun.

Back home in Maine, the leaves in our yard aren't too shabby either.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fall Foliage Reflections & Refractions

The leaves were so perfect

On my morning dog walk,

I returned with my watercolors

Minus the wet dog.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Double review: Fangirl and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is a new addition to my favorite authors list. Her novels are hard to categorize. St. Martin's Giffin is a Macmillan imprint geared to adults, but you'll probably find Fangirl and Eleanor & Park shelved in the young adult section at the bookstore. Adults should crossover and read them too.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (September 2013) is one of the best books I've read this year. Abandoned by their mother at age eight, Cath and Wren became obsessed with Simon Snow fantasy books. By age eighteen, Cath is the most popular Simon Snow fan fiction writer online, with fans of her own. At college Wren wants to be a normal coed and distances herself from her identical twin. Cath holes up in her dorm room with power bars and escapes into Simon Snow's fantasy world. Her writing teacher and new friends struggle to pull Cath into the real world.

Don't let the fan fiction part make you miss out on a great book. I've always avoided fan fiction because it sounded like quasi-plagiarism, which is an attitude shared by the writing teacher in Fangirl. With due respect to J.K. Rowling's copyright, Rowell created a Simon Snow series inspired by Harry Potter. Dazzling excerpts from the Snow books and from the twins' fan fiction appear throughout the novel, echoing real world themes. Cath's fan fiction is distinct in style and spin: the two boy wizards are secretly in love with each other. The gay-romance conceit verges on satire without losing heart. Both fans and foes of fan fiction will find much to love in Fangirl.

Fangirl is also a coming of age story with a sweet misfit romance. College boys are mostly interested in casual hook ups or flirting for help with homework. It's no wonder that Cath retreats to a fantasy world, but the real world characters prove to be more compelling. Toward the end, I forced myself to read more slowly because I knew I'd miss the characters after the final page. Book bloggers of all ages are raving about and rereading Fangirl. Rowell taps into something universal in the terrifying but exhilarating experience of freshman year at college.

I love Rowell's fresh writing style:
"Cath lived in a dorm, like a young adult - like someone who was still on adulthood probation.
"He made everything look so easy...Even standing. You didn't realize how much work everyone else put into holding themselves until you saw Levi leaning against the wall....He made standing look like vertical lying down." 
On writing fiction other than fan fiction: 
"When I'm writing my own stuff, it's like swimming upstream. Or...falling down a cliff and grabbing at branches, trying to invent the branches as I fall."
The book within a book: 
"'You don't do magic,' she said, trying to smile modestly and mostly succeeding. 'You are magic.'" - Gemma T. Leslie's Simon Snow

Eleanor & Park (February 2013) has been a big crossover hit with teens and adults. The main characters are in high school, but the narrative is set in the 1980s. The pop culture references would appeal to nostalgic middle aged readers. It's a sweet misfit romance between an obese girl and a glam rock boy. This engaging book sets the cruelty of bullying against the power of love.

Adult readers will appreciate that the parents in Eleanor & Park are well developed characters with subplots of their own. Her abusive step father and battered mom undercut Eleanor's self confidence while Park struggles to please his macho GI joe dad. My one gripe was that Park's mom wasn't Korean beyond her thick accent. She cooked Midwestern food, decorated her house in suburban style and avoided talking about her childhood in Korea (she met her American husband during the Korean War.) I grew up with several Korean American friends and that culture left an imprint on the whole family and on me (I still crave Joy Kim Slote's scallion pancakes.) Fangirl does a much better job with the Mexican American characters, but they were less central to the narrative. Nonetheless, I was pleased that Rowell had multicultural elements to her books.

Rowell writes in the third person, shifting between Eleanor's and Park's POV:
"She would never belong in Park's living room. She never felt like she belonged anywhere, except when she was lying on her bed, pretending to be somewhere else." 
"Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive."
YA author John Green summed it up so well in the NYT: "Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book."

Reviewer's Discloser: I bought Eleanor & Park in hardcover at Sherman's Books. I was too eager to wait until Fangirl arrived in Maine bookstores so I bought the ebook on its release date. Then I loved Fangirl so much that I bought a hardcover copy at Longfellow Books to reread later. I was surprised that Fangirl was 438 pages in print since it read like a book half that length. Rowell's Attachments, an office romance debut, is on my TBR list.

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@Barrie Summy