Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Again and Again

The last book that I finished was a really good book to bring along on vacation. It was intriguing enough to make me want to read it and it was light enough reading to carry around while traveling. The book was Replay by Ken Grimwood. It was recommended by a member in my book club and was chosen to be our May book selection.

Replay is about a man who dies from a heart attack and relives his live several times over, making many different mistakes with each fresh life. The first time that he dies and comes back, he wakes up confused in his college boy body. He quickly figures out what happened (I think I would have been confused for much longer) and goes on to make millions by making bets on things that he already knows the outcome of or by playing the stock market. He marries, has a daughter and then dies again.

And again.

And again.

Each life is lived a little differently with the middle ones being lived in a pissed off way. And no kidding... I'd be pissed too if I had to do it all over again. Sure, maybe reliving one life- having a chance to do it all over again- would be kind of cool, especially if you were rich. And then, what the heck, have a try at it once more. But after that, I'd get a little pissy, too. Poor guy. I felt his pain of coming back again and again.

The middle of the book takes a turn and has a bit of a surprise that I won't share with you so I don't ruin the entire story. But trust me, it's a good read. Very good timing for an interesting beach book, if you happen to be looking for one.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Santa Clara, California, The room is nicely done; it's completely renovated with all of the conveniences a modern hotel should have. And it's not only a hotel room, but a one bedroom hotel room, complete with a door on the bedroom!

I find myself sitting in this nice room, waiting quietly for my daughter to wake from her nap in the bedroom that has an actual door (if you are a parent and do any type of traveling with kids, you'll understand the importance of this door). I'm wondering what to do; I'm not at home so I can't clean or fix something. There's no laundry to do. No dinner to prepare. I can't leave the hotel room to do anything because my child can't be left alone. I stand to look out the window- cause I actually have some spare time to gaze longingly out of a window- and realize that it's awfully bright in here. I like it dark and cozy. What the hell am I doing with the curtains open so that the sun has full access to my room? That's not like me. So I pull the blinders across the window most of the way, allowing a tiny amount of sunlight in, and the room transforms into my den; a dark, cozy room that's now the perfect setting to read or write. I pull up the chair, brew some hotel packet coffee, logon to my laptop and find myself here, ready to tell you about my latest read.

One morning, many months ago, I met a friend for coffee. We both realized around the same time that we were avid readers and decided to use this opportunity of meeting for a book exchange. What a great way- and a free way- to get more books to read. At the end of our session of chatting it up with some brew from the heavens above, we went to our cars and did the exchange. In the stack that I got was a book called Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.

It had been months since our book exchange and I felt kind of guilty for not reading any of the books that she gave me. And what if, at our next meeting, she asks me if I liked the books. I needed a response. A real response, just in case she decided to quiz me.

I didn't know much about Frank Lloyd Wright, and if you're the same, I won't ruin the story for you (like one of my good friends did while I was reading the book- flaunting her knowledge about his life and all!). Loving Frank is about Frank's affair with a married woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney and the trials and tribulations that they go through to be together. It takes place in a different time- a time when cheating on a husband was regarded as a very, very bad thing to do. Cheating on a wife, that was a little more acceptable- still bad, but not as bad as what a woman might have to endure. Frank was also married to a woman named Catherine, but he seemed to struggle much less with the decision to move on without his kids.

Mamah ends up leaving, not only her husband, but her two kids as well. That really broke my heart to read about. It made me angry to think that a woman can give up her kids to be with another. I understand marriages not working out.... I'm divorced and have a child with my ex-husband. I also have that wanderlust spirit in me and if I didn't have my son, I would have up and moved at least a couple of times now. But, I stay. I stay so that my kid has both parents. I stay because I don't want to have to make him chose which one to live with. And I stay so that I don't ever have to give him up. It's somewhat simple in my mind. Do what you need to do and then be there for your kids. If that doing what you need to do involves leaving your kids behind, figure out something else because you're going to hurt those babies of yours and yourself in the long run.

The author did a great job of making you feel Mamah's sadness because she left her kids behind, but it was a sadness that I didn't really want to feel, especially because I do most of my reading at night, right before I drift off into dreamland. Yes, I had a couple of dreams about this and woke up in a bad mood because of those miserable dreams.

During Mamah's travels with Frank (they spend time in Germany and Italy), she meets Ellen Key, a well-known feminist who wrote several books on the feminist movement. So, that got me to thinking: does being a feminist make it ok to have kids and then run off and leave them because you realize there are other things to do? Does being a feminist mean that you shouldn't always have to be with your kids to raise them and then send them off when they are old enough to cope in the world without mama? What exactly does being a feminist mean? Especially these days? Has the woman's movement pushed us all a little too far and away from our kids by making it ok to not be so into being a mom?

What do you think?

I finished the book depressed by the entire story. Not to say that it wasn't a good book. It was just sad. Definitely not a story to lift your spirits. I did like it nonetheless. In fact, I plan on passing the book down to a friend of mine whose mother just graduated from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, Taliesin. I thought she might like to read it since she has a closer connection through her mother to Frank.

Now I'm off to do some reading while the little one still sleeps. A two hour time change has made my little girl sleepy and given me some unexpected spare time!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Red Leather Diary

My book club chose to read The Red Leather Diary for the month of May. I bought the book online and couldn't wait to start reading it. Why was I so anxious to get it in the mail? Because it's about something found in the trash that tells a story of another woman's life. Sounds good, eh?

It all starts with a bunch (I think close to 100, if memory serves me correctly) very old steamer trunks that are being dug up from the basement of an apartment building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Lily Kopel, the author of the book, is a budding writer for the New York Times who happens to be living in the building at the time that the management decides it's time to clean out the basement. On her way to work one morning, she finds a trash bin full of old stuff in trunks and then hops on into the dumpster to begin her dig.

Let me stop here to say that my chest was tight when I was reading that part of the story. How could all of that cool old stuff be so overlooked? Were they really going to just trash everything without even looking through the trunks? How insane! I wanted desperately to be there, digging my way through the private lives of unknown people with her. Ah, the joy of digging through the trash... you never know what you'll find. (I'm being a bit silly... I don't go digging in the trash, at least not that often.)

Among other vintage items that Lily couldn't part with, she finds a red leather diary that belonged to Florence Wolfson- a teen aged girl who received the journal as a gift for her fourteenth birthday. In her diary, which she writes in on a daily basis, she journals about the big and small things in her life; what it's like to as a socialite living in the upper class of New York City, her dreams and aspirations as a soon-to-be-woman, her lovers (many of them were lesbian relationships), and her school and family experiences. On a side note, I thought people back then didn't have sex until they were married. Wow, there was lots of sex before marriage happening in the 1930's. Very impressive.

Lily uses her skills as a journalist and the help of an investigator to track down the original owner of the diary (Florence lives in Florida now and is in her nineties) and the book is born.

The idea of the book was wonderful, but I thought it wasn't written as well as it could have been. I understand that the author tried to recreate Florence's world, and I appreciated the history of what it was like in New York at that time. However, I thought that her story could have been told a little better. By the end of the book, I still had so many questions.

I finished reading this book while on a plane ride back from a weekend without my kids and husband in Los Angeles, therefore, I had plenty of time to think about it. What's impressive to me is that the yearning that women have for a life of their own, lived on their own terms, hasn't changed much in the last hundred years. But does society still secretly urge young girls to hurry up and find herself a husband to have babies with? Is there still that pressure for women to have an identity that's tied into a man to be successful? I wonder.

Florence was incredibly gifted and could have gone on to make a life for herself, as an artist, a writer; whatever she wanted to be, she was the type of person who probably could have pulled it off. But what did she do? She up and got married and had babies and stayed home to raise those babies. Not that that's a bad thing. But why? Why did she cave to the pressure of society and her parents to do what was required of women at the time? What happened in Florence's life after she quit writing in the diary? What propelled her to make the decisions that she did?

See what I mean? I wanted more when the book was done. Not having closure at the end of a book is never a good thing, unless there's a sequel planned. I doubt it's going to happen with this one, so I will just have to make assumptions in the case of Florence Wolfson and her life that she lived.

What was the general thought from the others in the group who read the book? There were a couple who didn't like it, possibly because she had non-traditional relationships and many people don't like reading about people who are gay (even if they are only gay for a short period of time). I think I asked why, but I can't remember their reason for not liking it now. Must have been the two beers that I had downed by the time we started talking about the book that made me forget parts of the conversation. But, the majority of the ladies seemed to like the book. In fact, we spent the most time talking about this book than any other in our book club for the past year and a half. So I'd say you should buy it and read it. And tell me what you think. But make sure I haven't started drinking yet or I'll just forget what you said.