Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Talk: REUNION, by Hannah Pittard

Reunion: A Novel
Hannah Pittard (Twitter)
Grand Central Publishing (October 7, 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 1455553611 / 9781455553617)
Fiction, 288 pages

A version of this discussion was previously published as a Starred Review in Shelf Awareness for Readers (October 21, 2014). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

Via Shelf Awareness, book discussion on The 3 Rs Blog: REUNION by Hannah Pittard

Three ex-wives, one widow, and four sets of children ranging from in age from six years to nearly forty are called together by the sudden death of their common husband and father in Hannah Pittard's (The Fates Will Find Their Way) second novel, Reunion.

Kate is the youngest of the three children of Stan Pulaski's late first wife. Deeply in debt and desperate to save her own marriage, she is en route to Chicago to attempt just that when she learns that her father has killed himself. Her brother and sister's insistence that she meet them back in their hometown of Atlanta to deal with the aftermath redirects Kate to the city, and the extended family, that she has avoided for years at a time when she particularly doesn't want to be there. Kate's resentment of her father's philandering and dishonesty kept her at a distance for years, but what unfolds over several days with her oldest and youngest siblings will force her to face just how much like him she really is.

Pittard takes a bit of a risk in making the self-absorbed, often oblivious, admittedly untrustworthy Kate Reunion's narrator; her narrow perspective limits the development of other, potentially more engaging characters. However, Pittard is working with a familiar and fruitful premise here--a family's discovery of one another's secrets following the death of its patriarch--and takes it in some unexpected and affecting directions. While Reunion's framework feels reminiscent of Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You, the story of Pittard's Pulaski clan has its own very particular complications.

Book description, from the publisher's website:
Five minutes before her flight is set to take off, Kate Pulaski, failed screenwriter and newly failed wife with scarcely a hundred dollars to her name, learns that her estranged father has killed himself. More shocked than saddened by the news, she gives in to her siblings' request that she join them, along with her many half-siblings and most of her father's five former wives, in Atlanta, their birthplace, for a final farewell. 
Written with huge heart and bracing wit, REUNION takes place over the following four days, as family secrets are revealed, personal foibles are exposed, and Kate-an inveterate liar looking for a way to come clean-slowly begins to acknowledge the overwhelming similarities between herself and the man she never thought she'd claim as an influence, much less a father. Hannah Pittard's prose masterfully illuminates the problems that can divide modern families--and the ties that prove impossible to break.
Opening Lines:

"On June 16, at roughly eight-thirty in the morning, I get the phone call that my father is dead. Actually, that's not quite right. At eight-thirty in the morning, still on June 16, the plane I'm on takes a detour and lands two hundred miles south of its destination (Chicago) because of a massive storm system that's closed both O'Hare and Midway. We sit on the runway for an hour. As a concession, the flight attendants pass out bottles of water and tell us we can turn on our cell phones until it's time to redepart. I have three messages. They're all from Elliott, my brother, who I talk to a few times a year, which would suggest we're not close, but we are. We don't see each other much, but when we do, everything catches up immediately, like the time between meetings never happened. We are thick as thieves, but we suck at the phone."

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

(Semi-)#WordlessWednesday: Scarecrows of the Central Coast

While traveling up and down California's Central Coast this weekend, Tall Paul and I spent a little time wandering through Cambria. Cambria is the real-life inspiration for Christopher Moore's fictional Pine Cove, and was in the midst of its annual Scarecrow Festival while we were there. I thought I'd show you some of the participants we encountered along Main Street.

Cambria 2014 Scarecrow Festival collage on The 3 Rs Blog

Apparently, crows are scared of skeletons. Who knew? 

With California's severe drought in mind, the Festival's theme this year was "water conservation." These bathing beauties took the blue ribbon.

Cambria 2014 Scarecrow Festival Theme Winner on The 3 Rs Blog

I knew we'd be sightseeing and taking a lot of photos during our long weekend--if you follow me on Instagram, you've seen some already. But could not have even imagined running into these critters.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Talk: THE LUMINOUS HEART OF JONAH S., by Gina B. Nahai

The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.
Gina B. Nahai (Facebook) (Twitter)
Akashic Books (October 7, 2014) trade paper (ISBN 9781617753206) and hardcover (ISBN 1617753211 / 9781617753213)
Fiction, 380 pages


A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (October 21, 2014). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

book discussion on The 3 Rs Blog: THE LUMINOUS HEART OF JONAH S. by Gina B. Nahai

A substantial Jewish contingent established itself in Los Angeles in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, joining the daily battle between old-country culture and American ways in this multicultural city where everyone comes from elsewhere. In The Luminous Heart of Jonah S., Gina B. Nahai (Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith) explores the complicated forces holding this exile community together, sometimes in spite of itself.

Some immigrants reinvent themselves in a new country, while others never get free of the history they bring with them. The Soleymans have done both. By the time politics force Elizabeth Soleyman and her daughter Angela to escape Tehran, the young mother has lost nearly everything imaginable--parents, siblings, a husband, a child, and a home--but an old friend already in America, his connections to new friends, and her own startling intellect help her rise to the top of the Los Angeles Iranian-Jewish community.

But Raphael's Son, the man whose claim to be her late husband's nephew and heir has never been accepted by the Soleymans, has brought his mother's mission to destroy Elizabeth and her family from the old country to the new, never foreseeing that the "curse of the widow's sigh" might bring him down as well.

Nahai has crafted an engaging combination of family saga and murder mystery, placed it in the framework of an unfamiliar subculture, and populated it with fascinating characters. Flavored with both elements of magical realism and down-to-earth observations from a very specific cultural perspective, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. brings a little-known Los Angeles community to vivid life.


Book description, from the publisher’s website:
From Tehran to Los Angeles, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a sweeping saga that tells the story of the Soleymans, an Iranian Jewish family tormented for decades by Raphael’s Son, a crafty and unscrupulous financier who has futilely claimed to be an heir to the family’s fortune. Forty years later in contemporary Los Angeles, Raphael’s Son has nearly achieved his goal—until he suddenly disappears, presumed by many to have been murdered. The possible suspects are legion: his long-suffering wife; numerous members of the Soleyman clan exacting revenge; the scores of investors he bankrupted in a Ponzi scheme; or perhaps even his disgruntled bookkeeper and longtime confidant. 
Award-winning novelist Gina B. Nahai pulls back the curtain on a close-knit community that survived centuries of persecution in Iran before settling and thriving in the United States, but now finds itself divided to the core by one of its own members. By turns hilarious and affecting, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. examines the eternal bonds of family and community, and the lasting scars of exile.
From Chapter One:

“Raphael’s Son died alone in his car, sitting upright behind the wheel with his safety belt on and his throat slashed from right to left—a clean. some would say artful, cut of almost surgical precision. His body was discovered at 4.45 AM on Monday, June 24, 2013, by Neda Raiis, his wife of seventeen years who, according to her statement to the police, had found him cold and unresponsive in his gray, two-door Aston Martin with the personalized license plate—I WYNN—as it sat idling against the wrought-iron gates of their house on Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills. Nearly one hour before that, Neda had been awakened by what she imagined was a car accident—metal crashing against metal—on the street. She had spent the next fifty minutes drifting in and out of sleep. Then, finally, she had decided to investigate the source of the earlier disturbance, risen from bed, and walked the length of the yard to the front of the estate. The sound she had heard was that of the Aston Martin crashing head-on into the gate.”

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Friday, October 24, 2014

What's Caught My Eye: This Week's Links & Quotes & Whatnot

I'm going away for a few days, so I thought I'd leave you with an expanded edition of "What Caught My Eye This Week." This is usually part of my Sunday Salon posts, but I don't think I'll be around the blog much this weekend. (You may find me on Twitter and Instagram, though.)

"Eyecatchers" links & quotes roundup on The 3 Rs Blog

Some of us book bloggers have occasionally joked about "author stalking" at book festivals or on Twitter, but I doubt many of us have ever thought about it going in reverse. Enough people have linked to Kathleen Hale's Guardian essay that I'm not going to bother--I'll just save you a few seconds of Googling--but let's just say that we know differently now.
"A new study from Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life confirms the worst news about online harassment. It is pervasive, endemic, and disproportionately levied against women. What we have done so far to deal with it isn't helping. As horrible as these findings are, do they offer ways to help safeguard ourselves, to be better Internet citizens, or to change the onslaught of harassment and danger? 
"...Women were more likely than men to find their most recent experience with online harassment extremely or very upsetting—38% of harassed women said so of their most recent experience, compared with 17% of harassed men. The harassment levied against women is frightening and creates real stress and impact. This is huge confirmation that what happens online is real, and it is really unsettling to victims. We are so guilty of creating arbitrary lines between on- and offline that don't exist, and this old way of thinking allows us to diminish the injury caused by online harassment. 
"...Up until recently, advocates have been most worried about online harassment that is either an extension of real-life stalking or violence, or is the precursor to offline stalking or death threats. Those threats are dangerous and need our full systemic response. But we also can no longer be expected to shrug off what these Pew findings are telling us about harassment that is born and stays online. It is damaging, it is silencing people from full participation, and it is pernicious."
-- "New Pew Research Confirms the Worst About Online Harassment" by Deb Rox at BlogHer.com

Harassment--on- and off-line--is a key component of the Hale story. Hale's response to perceived online harassment was to turn the situation upside-down and backwards, but this was emphatically not a case where the victim became the victor.

Unless it was. I've been fascinated to see authors reacting to this story very differently than bloggers have. Does the identification of a troll depend on which side of the bridge you're on?
"Responses to this story fell into three general camps. One merely found it a freakishly fascinating yarn about two people with a dysfunctional relationship to the Internet; Hale makes largely unsubstantiated claims that the blogger had triggered a 'ripple effect' of 'vitriol' throughout Goodreads in opposition to her book and that the blogger had mocked Hale in a series of posts on Twitter. Bloggers, reviewers and Goodreads members were appalled by the Guardian essay, and accused Hale of stalking a reader who had done nothing more than give her a bad review. They also condemned the Guardian for publishing the blogger’s (maybe) real name. With authors this nutty running around, the reviewers maintained, it’s little wonder that many of them prefer to blog or review anonymously or behind the screen of a false identity. Lastly, there were also plenty of authors who cheered Hale on for 'exposing a troll,' and for confronting, in the words of one supporter, 'a typical online bully hiding behind anonymity.' 
"...If the horrified response of book bloggers and Goodreads reviewers to Hale’s confession is well-founded, what about the authors and other commentators who felt that Hale was holding a troll accountable for her misdeeds? Most of these did not approve of the author’s visit to the blogger’s home, but they still sympathized with her frustration at being unable to effectively challenge someone she believed had treated her work unfairly. Still other writers — those unfamiliar with the well-networked world of YA authors, reviewers and bloggers — expressed bafflement that anyone would bother to look at their Goodreads reviews in the first place, let alone become so fixated on one of the people who writes them.  
"...It’s worth pointing out that both sides in this conflict feel disadvantaged. The reviewers tend to see successful authors as culturally powerful. (So much of the Internet’s nastiest manifestations come from those who view themselves as underdogs striking back in the only way they can.) Authors, having been told that only word-of-mouth can sell a book, see the worst-case scenario playing out online and believe the reviewers capable of 'ruining' their careers."
--"Battle of the trolls: Kathleen Hale reveals the war raging between authors and readers" by Laura Miller at Salon.com

The Hale story may be a consciousness-raiser for book bloggers, but online harassment is an entrenched problem in other spheres of the Internet, and is all too familiar to women in the tech and gaming sectors. Not being in either, I'm really not qualified to discuss #GamerGate--although I'm happy to save you some Googling on that too--but this leads me to think our problems aren't all that different:
"Does this mean occasionally there will be a review you don’t agree with somewhere? You better believe it. First off, a review, BY DEFINITION, is subjective. It’s one person’s take on a moment in time from their own perspective. If you don’t like it, look at some other reviews. There’s plenty out there!"
--from "Why #Gamergaters Piss Me The F*** Off" by Chris Kluwe on Medium (if you don't read any other links from this post, read this one)

My own feeling is that becoming a citizen of the Internet is accompanied by loss--or surrender--of some degree of privacy, and we need to accept that as part of the online condition. However, we shouldn't expect that loss to threaten our personal safety.
"You get to decide how you interact online. Set up boundaries and feel free to stick with them or change them as you want to. If you want to use your real name on one site and not another, go for it. If you want to share details of your employer, feel free. But also know those choices come with consequences -- I know more than one person who had their employment information easily findable and have had people from the internet contact their bosses about something. I've had situations where someone has been looking for someone with the same name as me, has found my place of employment, and tried running a collection agency through that work place's HR to get my address. HR warned me they weren't looking for me, but told me to be safe and run credit reports anyway (yes, this has happened multiple times).

"You don't owe anything to anyone on the internet.

"You don't have to use a real picture. You don't have to use a real name. You can be inconsistent with your handles. You are the only one who has to have a handle on it, and you can choose those levels of privacy for yourself."
--"7 Steps to Protect Your Privacy As A Blogger (Or As A Person On The Internet, Period)" by Kelly Jensen at Stacked

One of the steps mentioned in Kelly's post is having a dedicated email account for your blog. I have one, and maybe before too long, I'll be accessing it on mobile with Google's new Inbox app. It's currently in invite-only rollout, but I've asked for one. I don't love the Gmail app for iOS, and I really don't like the standard iOS Mail app, so I've been skipping around among different third-party email apps for the last couple of years. If Inbox lives up to its press, I may finally have a mobile mail app I can commit to.

See you next week, and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#WordlessWednesday: She Wears Many Hats

#WordlessWednesday Woman With Many Hats on The 3 Rs Blog
Specifically, a fedora, a bowler, and whatever style the one on top is...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Instead of 1000 Words...Happy Anniversary!

A few photos from eight years ago today...some of my happiest memories, colored with love and anticipation of memories we have yet to make, together.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's What in the Sunday Salon: "Almost" Monday Edition

The Sunday Salon on The 3 Rs Blog

What I’m reading
  • in print / on screen
I finished reading On Immunity this morning. Well, I mostly finished–in full disclosure, I didn’t read through all the endnotes. However, I have a feeling this is another book that will inspire more than one post--this fall has been pretty good for those!--so I may get to them yet.

I'm hoping to finish my galley of Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking this week, and am seriously considering taking nothing but ebooks with me on our upcoming long weekend up on the Central Coast.
  • on audio
I’m past the halfway point of The Magicians. I’m liking it more than I expected to and not minding at all that I’m finding it quite derivative (I wonder if that’s at least somewhat intentional). Friends who’ve read the entire series have given me the impression that it’s improved with each book–so far, I’m glad I decided to start it.

What I’m watching

It’s all about comic-book TV around here lately–ArrowThe FlashAgents of SHIELD. I’m not sure I’m totally sold on Gotham just yet, but we’re hanging in with it. And even though it didn’t originate in comics, I’ll count Doctor Who here–it has the right sensibility, plus it has comic-book spinoffs.

What I’m writing

I’m finding that my “100 Days of Day One” journaling project is taking a little bite out of my desire to write for the blog. It’s like there are some days when I’ve only got so many words, if that makes sense. Along with that, the time factor is always an issue, and it may be even more of one during the next couple of weeks. I’ll be making my best effort to write something every day, but I won’t guarantee how much of it will show up here for the next little while.

BTW and FTR, I’ve only missed one day of journaling since I started the project a month ago this week. I have a variety of entries, including transcribed quotes and little notes recorded while I’m reading a book. I have never kept that kind of “reading journal” before and I’m not sure it’ll stick, but I’m open to seeing how it works out for me.

What caught my eye this week
”No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state. Few—if any—books can even completely capture the spirit of an individual. And yet there are those stories that so beautifully evoke a time and a place and a way of life that it becomes close to impossible to separate the literary perception of a place from its reality—one winds up informing the other. 
”So while some of these stories do indeed paint in rather broad strokes, others speak to singular experiences that still manage to be expansive in their reach. This is the writing we want to celebrate. Several of these books number among the usual suspects of lists of this kind, but many remain anything but widely known. Almost all are fiction and most are novels; some were written for children, but just about every genre is represented. All are literary in voice and spirit; every last one will let you understand a time and place in a more profound way than you maybe thought possible.”
“The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State”’ on Brooklyn Magazine’s website. Which book did they choose to speak for your state? What do you think of their pick?
7. Ending a sentence with a preposition: Writing at the Oxford Dictionaries blog, Catherine Soanes refers to the notion that one may not end a sentence with a preposition as “fetish” rather than a rule. And if you’ve ever tried to contort a sentence to avoid ending on a preposition, you might suspect that fetish is linguistic masochism. Like so many rules-that-aren’t-rules, this one gets blamed on Latin-loving English grammarians who thought they could squeeze an English-language peg into a Latin-language hole. Latin infinitives are contained in a single verb; therefore, we must not split infinitives. Latin prepositions must always precede prepositional phrases; therefore, English prepositions must always precede prepositional phrases. Even if you never learned it in school, Latin is still messing with your life.”
—One of “10 Grammar Mistakes People Love To Correct (That Aren’t Actually Wrong)”, via Lifehacker

Gratuitous Photo of the Week

I didn't sign up for this weekend's 24-Hour Readathon, but to my pleasant surprise, I was able to participate unofficially for a few hours of productive reading...and a little snacking.

Fall Readathon photo collage The 3 Rs Blog