Feb 28, 2013

Staircase Review, Vol. 2

20130228-235534.jpgCan I call these posts “volumes”? I’m not sure. I just went around and looked at all the magazines in my house (some Martha Stewart Livings and a few literary journals, and the two InStyles from 2006 that are currently employed in maintaining the shape of my brown boots) and could not find a defined industry standard, and THEN I remembered that that’s why God made the CMOS, but just when I opened my copy, I realized that I was really just procrastinating because I gave myself a job, and that job is to write this post, which means that looking up magazine issue numbering styles is only slightly more interesting than usual and why am I even trying to categorize this with magazines, it’s a blog post, and also have I even seen the inside of my medicine cabinet? I really need to take care of that mess. When I’m done writing this post. Because I have an attention span. Like an adult.

So. These are some books I have read recently.

Bel Canto by Ann PatchettBel Canto by Ann Patchett
Bel Canto is the story of a Japanese businessman, Hosokawa, who cares about one thing, and that thing is opera. Hosokawa is invited to meet his favorite soprano at a state event in (an unnamed) South American and goes, knowing that the party is given in his honor, that the South Americans will expect this party to open up trade, and knowing that he will not do any business with the country beyond this party. He goes to see Roxanne Coss, the soprano. The party is hijacked by Spanish-speaking freedom fighters, who, in their confusion, kidnap everyone at the party: Russian business men, French diplomats, American Coss, Japanese Hosokawa, and his translator. There is no common language but the music.

The book feels like a dream. Most of the dialogue goes through the translator, which almost gives it the feeling of listening to a conversation through a glass against a door. (Sometimes I forgot the translator is there until I see him standing in the corner, translating the conversation I was reading reading, and then I was kind of mad at Patchett because how in the world do you do that with just words?) Relationships form around the sopranos singing, and the hostages and kidnappers begin to build a community, and the reader learns about this through a constantly changing perspective. The book is beautiful and hopeful and heartbreaking, as all the best books are. This is a book I will read again and again.

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma StraubLaura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Elsa Emerson has grown up in the theater her parents own in Door County, Wisconsin. All she wants is to be on the stage, and once she gets her first part, all she needs is to go to Hollywood. Elsa finds her way, is transformed to Laura Lamont, and climbs her way up to being a real-live movie star.

I like this book because it feels like I could switch out the names and it could be about any starlet. It’s a small story about a larger-than-life time and place. It’s a peek behind the kitchen curtains of the beautiful black-and-white women I’ve always watched, but it’s written in a way that feels true, not voyeuristic. I read this just before listening to Beautiful Ruins, and they were almost perfect companions. While Laura Lamont follows the story of one woman through her childhood on the stage, grown-up stardom, and (spoiler alert) eventual aging, Beautiful Ruins twists five or six storylines together to tell a similar story on a grander scale about golden-age Hollywood, success, failure, love and loss.

Around the Internet
The Extraordinary Science of Junkfood
This is how they get you. There’s nothing in here about Trader Joe’s new rocket-ship-shaped cheese crackers, probably because things shaped like rocket ships are intrinsically healthful.

The Secret Burrito
Speaking of which, this burrito is my new life goal. It’s not even that it sounds that good, it’s just that I like secret burrito codes.

Adventures in Amish Fiction
A lit fic reader takes a look at Amish fiction.

Fireside Magazine Year 2
Remember when I told you about Fireside Magazine and how it’s a fiction magazine dedicated to good stories and paying the writers who write them? Well, they’re working on funding year two of the magazine. It’s kind of a long story, but if the Kickstarter gets funded, I get a share in a pony. So, check it out and consider donating.

Happy March, happy people. This is my favorite month, and not just because I have 31 days to drink 31 shamrock shakes.

By the way, that photo is from the library at the Irish American Heritage Center, where I spent a few hours with my family last weekend. This explains why book titles are in a language you can’t read. Unless you read Gaelic, in which case we should have a discussion about how you’re supposed to tell me when you can read Gaelic.



  • I’m dying to read Bel Canto. And everything else Ann Patchett has ever written. May, when will you be here?? (Do not tell me how many weeks because I will freak out.) Instead I am reading about Helen Keller and the beatniks (which to be fair is pretty awesome, except for the part where I then have to write about it). (more parentheses)

    Yay for more reviews, and for you pre-reading cool things so I have a permanently full to-read list! (Also, yay for Friday and March and shamrock shakes and all the things. The end.)

    • I know, me too. A friend just recommended Patchett’s memoir about female friendships and I want to drop everything and read it. And then read all of her other books. All at once.

  • Yes, I loved Bel Canto too! Your description is perfect: it feels like you’re in a dream. Great thoughts.

    • Thanks, Stephanie!

  • Bel Canto truly IS dream-like and beautiful and word fairy Jesse has left it a beautiful tribute. It’s like no other book ever, and is currently in my most limited re-read pile now that I’m older and dream better and have a fancy autographed copy to break in (Ann Patchett being one of my favorite people on the planet and all.)

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