Standing in the Rainbow, Flagg

~Abby

This book had about a hundred main-ish characters. The book is divided into decades beginning with the 40's and ending in the 90's. While reading it, we thought that this book could be divided into separate stories, but as it comes to a close, the similarities and relationship between growing up and growing old create a solid case for choosing to make all of these characters exist under one book title. Not only do the people grow and develop, but the town of Elmwood Springs grows, shifts, develops, nearly dies, and comes back again. The division of the book into decades marks time that is the obvious theme of this book.

Because I don't want to give away any details of the story, I'll just say it was a mostly pleasant read, identifiable characters, and just as in Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, everyone seems to think their own time is the worst in political history. We, here in 2017, are nothing new or special to political ridiculousness. In fact, the author seems to have had a SERIOUS premonition about how to get a person like Trump elected. Maybe his campaign staff read this book.

Writing lessons: 1. There is no rule about main characters. Have as many as you like, but me? I don't think I could write about this many people and keep all the strands straight! 2. The lesson, or point, or climax of the story does not have to slap you in the face. As we look at this travelogue writing project, it's important to consider a theme and lessons learned over time. This book does this even as a novel with plenty of action and mini-plots. 3. Fictional stories with cameo appearances by real people (like Elvis and President Truman) draw the reader into the idea that LIFE is nothing more than a story. We are just characters, possibly fictional ones!

Standing in the Rainbow, Flagg

~ Anne
Standing in the Rainbow, by Fannie Flagg, copyright 2002, is yet another coming of age novel read by Abby and me.  I am not sure how that keeps happening, but as grueling as the books are, sometimes tugging on my heartstrings, and leaving me emotionally rung, because there is so much relatability the older I get, all serve some purpose.  I would say for myself they are satisfying and justifying to read and the many characters compliment my own feelings and attitudes about our changing world, as well as my current spot I have chosen in this world.    


The book is segmented into decades, which makes it interesting because I have a history with the decades beginning with the 40’s, a time my parents knew and ending in the 90’s.  It is hard to believe the words in the last chapter, like the words in the chapters preceding mirror so much or the repetitious political, social and personal issues we encounter today, almost the 2020’s.  

I highly recommend this book as I found myself wanting to plagiarize several chapters throughout on a social platform to remind all of us, that we are not so special, lost, alone, different, or radical as we think we are and maybe it is a good time for truly reinventing some of our platforms, not just regurgitating emotions and thoughts.

Running with Scissors, Burroughs

~Abby

This book was made into a movie that I have never seen... I'm not sure I want to. These are the memoirs of a 10-17 year old boy living among absolute insanity. If you don't have a strong stomach for crazy shit, rough sexual scenes, or the general mistreatment of children, just don't bother with this book. The beauty of the book is that the author held NOTHING back. It is wild, insane, and yet, even if your world is perfectly normal, the characters are people just down the block, completely believable even though they maybe shouldn't be.

Take away: 1. The book is definitely a series of stories, each chapter could stand alone very boldly. The characters and general timeline keep the individual story-chapters linked. Don't be afraid to write short stories and tie them together to create a complete tale. 2. Don't hold back! Nothing is so insane as to be unidentifiable to a reader. 3. Your history does not define your future.

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry, Cox

~Abby

We were looking for SOMETHING, anything that was light and funny without so much death and growing up. When we opened this book at the library, Anne laughed so hard at the first page that tears streamed down her face. SOLD! It was funny and mostly light, but it was seriously 100% about a man and his cats and his parents' cats and his neighbors cats. Not in the cats' voices or point of view, just Tom Cox's (the author's) point of view. He's funny and does love his cats, but, I dare say, he is obsessed...  and this coming from someone with one cat who shows up more on my facebook feed than I do!

Notes to self: 1. Write what you know and love. 2. A simple book with cat appeal can be filled out with pictures and entire chapters of how-to and other silly lists. 3. A book just is not rocket science... or at least this book proves it does not need to be and that's not a put-down. The world needs love and kitty snuggles.

Cripple Creek Days, Lee

~Abby

I'll be honest. When Anne pulled this book off the shelf because we were about to visit the location in which this book was set, I was fairly luke warm. It looked like one of those historical books you buy in a gift shop of the cute little tourist area of a town, but because we had plans to travel there, why not know something of the area?

Turns out, Mabel Barbee Lee writes a really good story. She herself is the main character. The reader watches her grow up with her parents in a gold mining town in Colorado from 1892 onward. The additional factual tidbits are interesting and the story is really very well written. This is no tourist store book. Well worth the read.

Things to note: 1. Sometimes real life IS stranger or at least as interesting as fiction. 2. A complete story can be supplemented by chapters filled with "outside of the story" information or facts in this case. 3. Don't judge a book by it's cover!  Haha :-)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Smith

~Abby

Francie Nolan was born a scrawny poor child in 1901. She was a sensitive soul who didn't seem to fit in and found her way in the world as a reader and writer from a very early age. This book is the story of her growing up in Brooklyn along with her parents, brother, and extended family members.

The incredible descriptions of daily life in Brooklyn from 1901 to 1919 are stunning. If author Betty Smith missed a detail, I can't imagine what it could have been. Reading this book, you are absolutely there. The energy, the struggle, the colors, tastes and smells are so well described, I feel honored to have read this book, to have been allowed to know these lives even if they are only fictional characters. The author has a lot to say about social injustice toward women through Francie's sensitive yet strong eyes, thoughts, and actions. A book published in 1943 is just as valid today, if not more so.

Lessons to us writers: 1. You can never have too many details! 2. A person's emotions and episodes on a day to day basis are invaluable to building a believable character. 3. The stories of lesser characters serve as a mental break to the main story as well as contrast and therefore build the main character.

The Book of Lost Things, Connolly

~Abby

A young boy's mom dies. He turns to his love of books as he hates his real life and the lack of control he has in it. His books become reality.

My favorite part about this book is how Connolly takes fairy tales that we all know well and twists them into much more horrifying or more realistic situations. David, our main character, is not caught off guard by these changes. He solves the problems in each episode and moves along. In the end he does realize the horror and danger he is now surviving and that his family back home might not be so bad. A classic tale of growing up, but twisted a bit just for the adult reader.

Lessons to be remembered: 1. "Reality" is what you make it, 2. Even a true story has a point of view, and that point of view might be absolute fiction to another person's point of view, 3. When writing, freely write your truth... there are lessons to be learned even if your truth isn't precisely factual.

Travels with Charley, Steinbeck

~ Anne

Well hello there Mr. Steinbeck!  Like many, I was forced into reading Steinbeck books as a middle school attendee and was not a particular fan.  The books all seemed to have the same subtle theme of hot and dry with miserable humans.  I would never have guessed, that as an adult, if the question was posed "who would I most like to sit down and have dinner with, living or dead?" I would answer John Steinbeck.

I actually read this book twice.  Most of it anyway.  I liked it so well, but never finished the end due to an interruption and was able to re-read it with Abby and enjoy it all over again.  Right out of the gate, I was happy to be travelling with Mr. Steinbeck from the introduction of his mighty truck Rocinante, so named after Don Quixote's horse.  The description of his travels continue on some back roads throughout the U.S. as some of the least perfect experiences one could have on the road.  Steinbeck includes an ongoing verbal and silent dialogue between himself and his ride along partner and loyal dog, Charley. Despite the lack luster travels, the book made me want to start packing, reminding me that I have seen  barely 2% of the United States.  It also reminded me that travelling is rough, even with serious forethought.

Don't let it be a spoiler alert: In reality, the book is a hoax, in that it is not really nonfiction.  One would never believe such a thing while reading it, until the end of the book.  It isn't disclosed in any way that this book is or isn't non fiction, beyond Steinbeck referring to himself as Steinbeck.  However, the book becomes a curious and somewhat depressing read in the last chapter as it seems Steinbeck struggles with a way to bring closure.  This was still effective for me, as now I have started paying very close attention to how stories are ended and the importance of leaving an audience fulfilled!  None of that changes the fact that I very much enjoyed the value of travel, companionship with animals and my capacity to get out and see the states, this book bestowed on me.  Thumbs up!

 

Travels with Charley, Steinbeck

~ Abby

This is, believe it or not, my first Steinbeck. Anne received this book as a gift and we chose to read it together because of the obvious interest in subject matter. Steinbeck travels the country in a camper creation before the days when campers were readily available. The book was published in 1962 and shares a good number of details that show how our roads have changed. It also shares details that prove many ideals and political sentiments have not.

As a writer contemplating the idea of some sort of travel memoir project, I have always struggled with how to wrap the story up, how to finish the book. Steinbeck does this in his final chapter in a series of paragraphs about how this journey is now, gladly, over. He had positive encounters along the way, but as any traveler knows, going home feels particularly sweet after a few trials which he certainly had. I labeled this book non-fiction because it is a travelogue, but as we know, Steinbeck is a novelist. What a person does with his own truth to create a story is not necessarily lying nor the creation of fiction. If we are to argue that this travelogue is entirely fiction, we should also argue that every biography and travelogue out there are also fiction. No one person's perspective, no one person's "truth" is precisely dead true to all facts and other perspectives. Steinbeck certainly gives us a collection of truths for the time and along the road.

Future goals: 1. read more Steinbeck, 2. try to be as friendly and hospitable as Steinbeck was, 3. share time-sensitive information so that when someone reads my book in 2060, they will get the same giggles about how some things change and how other things have not.