Started the month with Goodwillie, ended the month with Goodwillie.
Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time by David Goodwillie. An account of Goodwillie's life, from a childhood in London to how witnessing 9/11 in New York changed the course of his life. He was a minor league baseball player, a private investigator, and copywriter for auction houses, all while struggling to be a writer and take advantage of start-ups when the Internet was just taking off. The book is long, but so well-written and interesting that you'll keep flipping pages. Throughout the book, Goodwillie is on a quest to write fiction, to be an artist and live a good life. It's fascinating to read about his true feelings while he's getting caught up in "real" jobs - something most everyone can identify with. While it's an excellent autobiography, I would be more likely to categorize it as a book about writing - it was inspirational; it made me feel that familiar itch to put a pen to paper. It didn't hurt that he had some excellent quotes:
- Friend Ken Hamm, talking about trying to be an artist. "You realize you need something more than a career. And that's when you notice the exits snaking off that highway to riches. They don't have signs, only ramps leading into the unknown distance. But if those exits nag at you, then you still have a chance. It's a cold, isolating decision, turning off that highway. Your life becomes defined by one goal … It's just you and your art. But you know what? You're finally living with no regrets."
- "…but is there a better challenge, a better life, than creating your version of the world in words? The beginning of every story is a blank screen with a faint reflection of the writer."
- "You find a voice, a style, a plot, and run with it, then cut off the rough edges until you're left with only the essence, the rounded center, wrinkle-free and ready-to-wear. Except I can't do that. I mix metaphors. I copy cliches. I say too much or too little. I show when I should tell, tell when I should just shut up."
- "There are two parts to being a writer: desire and purpose. Desire I've had for a long time, but purpose is trickier. Purpose is what carries us through. I want to write about a genuine life, about journeys and dreams and all the stuff we learn as kids. Because it's the same when we're older. We make decisions. We gain experience. And at some point, we all have a story to tell. I spent years dreaming of writing, and now, finally, finally, I'll write about those years of dreaming."
Jimmy's Girl by Stephanie Gertler. Emily Hudson is married with four teenage children. Jimmy Moran is married with an adopted daughter. Emily and Jimmy were in love when they were sixteen and seventeen, before Jimmy was shipped off to Vietnam. They lost touch, but never fell out of love with each other. When Emily can't stand the memories anymore, she seeks out Jimmy. And finds him. The writing in this book seems a little formal; the chapters are told by alternating characters, but both sound the same. The story itself, however, is incredibly well-done and emotionally suspenseful.
Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick. I'll admit I had this book on my To-Read list based on the title alone (rock star obsession), and had no clue what it was about. Amber is a high school junior who lives in the yellow bus her mother drives for the school district. It seems like a bleak existence, but Amber prays nightly to "JC" and fills her life outside of school with charity work that makes her feel better about her life. Everyone calls her the Princess of Hope, because she raises their spirits by just being around. But when her life takes a horrible turn for the worst, she's not sure she can be herself anymore, much less carry everyone along with her.
When I started reading, I wasn't even sure I'd finish this book. Amber overuses phrases like "sucka," "word," and "True? True." In my mind, that was the author trying to act like how he thought a teenage girl would, and it rang false. However, the story picked up and I couldn't put the book down until I finished it all. Amber remained a bit flat to me, which is strange since the book was told in first person. The secondary characters totally stole the show though, shining through and really making the whole book absolutely amazing. I won't like - I pretty much cried through the last third of the book, because it's so inspiring and powerful.
Big Sky Mountain by Linda Lael Miller. Reviewed here with a guest post from the author.
Beyond the Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. I enjoyed the sequel way more than the original Chocolate War, which I felt moved too slowly and didn't have much at stake but it's best to read before going for this one). Everything is heightened in this book - there is more suspense, more at stake, with the boys on the verge of graduation. Archie has to pick a new Assigner for the Vigils, while the boys seem to be turning against each other. Those who seemed broken down at the end of the first book came back, and they had new resolve, new emotions, revenge at stake. The ending is all you could want it to be.
Life After Death by Damien Echols. Reviewed extensively here.
Zombie Tag by Hannah Moskowitz. Zombies are popular right now, but this is the book that is so imaginatively unique, you wish you had come up with it yourself. The book is set in a world where zombies are a reality - proof of them was found as recent as thirty years ago. The problem is, no one knows how they were raised, how violently they acted when they were "alive", or how they died again. But when he finds a way to raise the dead, Wil knows he wants to bring his older brother back. Graham died months before of a freak asthma attack, and the family has been struggling in his absence. Wil's always been fascinated by zombies, has done extensive research, and plays a game with his friends called Zombie Tag. He finds a way to bring his brother (and all the dead in a five mile radius) back, but Graham… isn't Graham. He's missing all his emotions and soul. Wil is intent on helping Graham get all his feelings back, but Graham doesn't care. At a certain point, Wil has to decide if he should keep struggling or give up and let Graham have what he wants. As usual, Moskowitz writes brothers from a boy's point of view excellently. She includes instructions on playing Zombie Tag in the back of the book.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. A great book set up to inspire you in a more structured format than typical creativity books. Tharp breaks the creative process down chapter by chapter to help you get a great habit going. She goes through the negative sides of getting stuck in ruts and having fears, then how to change those ruts into grooves and rationalize the fears. Each chapter ends with exercises relevant to what was discussed in the chapter. The book relates mostly to dance, which is Tharp's specialty. Sometimes it was a little hard to transfer what she was talking about and utilizes into other creative fields, but the overall main ideas worked across the board.
American Subversive by David Goodwillie. I love Goodwillie's writing style (and last name…). I can't even describe it; it's effortless to read. Aidan Cole is a New York society blogger who lives the typical socialite life. Paige Roderick worked with environmental causes before getting, how should we say… side-tracked. It seems hard to believe that these two people's lives cross, but they do, and I can't tell much more without spoiling the book. Goodwillie's characters and settings are described vividly, but things never get bogged down with flowery language. I had previously read his memoir and loved it, and his first novel did not disappoint. The story sucks you in from the beginning, and the suspense grows with each chapter. It is told using two first person narratives, but both characters are drastically different, in terms of lives and voices. Their paths cross, of course, and the suspense that follows is even better than the build-up.