Friday, March 30, 2012

Jeanette Winterson

Living in New York, I now have the opportunity to easily attend hundreds of book signings as authors tour their latest titles. I've always found it amazing to hear authors read their work aloud, so I love attending these types of events and do it as often as possible, especially for authors whose work I particularly enjoy. In fact, last night I made compiled a list of all the readings taking place over the next couple of months so that I don't accidentally miss any more (the night I missed the cast of The Hunger Games less than five minutes from work was particularly painful).

 Anyway, as I said, I love hearing authors read their work aloud, as I feel that often it can give me a better sense of the tone they intended to convey through their writing. For Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, I found this to be particularly important.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Jeanette Winterson's writing through a course called "Queer Plots" my junior year, where I read her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. When I saw that she had written a memoir and would be doing a reading at McNally Jackson, I was so excited. I went, of course; I laughed, I nearly cried. I didn't faint (although one woman did! It was really hot in there!), I bought the book, braved the line, and nervously thanked Jeanette for reading as she thanked me for coming and signed my book.

Before the reading, an employee came into the children's section a few feet from where I was standing, leading a small, older woman behind her, looking for a stool. Not seeing any stools or chairs in the crowded basement of the store, the woman declared, "We'll take the mushrooms!" and picked up a large wooden mushroom from the children's toy reading house and made her way to the front of the crowd. The woman, Jeanette Winterson, put the mushroom down and stood on top of it, where she began to speak. It was not the last hilarious thing she did, but it was a mark of character. Many other authors might have demanded more of a "celebrity treatment," but Jeanette was more than content to stand atop the mushrooms and read; she said at the end that she wished she'd had them throughout the tour (New York was her last stop). The entire reading was wonderful. As I said, it was very hot, but I really did not want it to end. Luckily, when it eventually did, I bought the book and was able to come home and enjoy it a little longer. It was, without a doubt, the most honest memoir I have ever read. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal has been described as "witty," "fierce," "heartbreaking," "chatty," "moving," and "raw," but the best part of these reviews is that while they are all accurate, still none do it justice. "Powerful," might be the best catch-all, but I recommend you see for yourself.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why We Broke Up

We all have those things that come out of nowhere and affect us deeply: songs, movies, books, even people. When it happens, it's sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful, and often unnerving, but it's almost always life changing.

I am always reading something, and especially since moving to New York, it seems I'm reading everywhere: on the train, in the park, at work, at home, and everywhere in between. For the past couple of days, I've been reading this:

I'm not sure if I can explain how much this beautifully simple, illustrated young adult novel affected me, but I wanted to write about it here and give it a shot. This book has been given a mix of reviews on Amazon and GoodReads, and I suppose many of those giving it negative reviews make valid points. I'm not even here to offer a five star review (although if forced to assign a personal star count to it, I'm not sure I could in good consciousness give it any less), I'd just like to discuss my reading a little.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (perhaps better known as Lemony Snicket), is composed of Min's, a high school girl's, final letter to her ex-boyfriend, Ed, documenting the reasons they broke up as she gives him back the most meaningful keepsakes from their short relationship. Each section is exquisitely illustrated by Maira Kalman, adding further weight and beauty to each otherwise ordinary item Min returns. Really, that's the story in it's entirety. There isn't much else to say about the plot; no completely unforeseen element of the story arises in chapter seventeen, no major unexpected climax occurs in the last few pages. Nevertheless, I was heartbroken from the first moment the characters met. No, this would not, could not, be one of those books that defied expectations and allowed its title to be untrue. I loved this book. Loved it from page five (loved it from the cover, but never judge a...). So this could not be one of those books. It would stay realistic, heart wrenching, true, because the best books mirror real life. It was my story, Min's and Ed's, in so many ways. Their story was "different," as Ed so often told her it was. But it was the same, as all of our love stories are, though we would never admit it.

There isn't much more I can say about this book. I was moved, am moved, by it, in a strange, completely personal way that I haven't been by many other books lately. I have trouble boldly stating that the writing was a ten, because I was never focused on the writing. I didn't need to be, and maybe that's how I know it was wonderful. I can tell you that the illustrations were enough to pull me away from the plot at times, an impressive feat. The pages are glossy...yep, that's about my only complaint.

Cupcake Recap

I've been very bad about posting lately, even after the big redesign when I thought I'd finally start getting better again. Here I go trying promises, but I'll try!

For a recap on what's been baking around here, it's been cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes still. As I sit here typing this, however, I have to be careful not to drool on my keyboard in want of some simple, warm chocolate chip cookies. It's my lenten resolution, though, to eat a vegan diet on Mondays, and as I cannot be trusted to keep vegan within reaching distance of a bowl of cookie dough, alas, those will have to wait until tomorrow.

That being said, it's taking a good amount of willpower to stay away from the bag of frosting in my fridge that's leftover from these, my most favorite cupcakes...

These, though not as near to my heart in flavor, were also a nice St. Patrick's Day treat and a simple vanilla bean cake.