Guest Review: Any Man by Amber Tamblyn

[Warning: This blog talks about the incidence and aftermath of sexual assault and rape.]

Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have interviewed Christina Cox, fellow book lover, about a recent read she enjoyed: Any Man by Amber Tamblyn.

any man amber tamblyn
[Source: Goodreads]

VL: How did you come to read Any Man?

CC: I’ve been a fan of Amber Tamblyn for a long time, but not for her writing — for her talents as an actor. When I found out this book was coming out, it piqued my interest immediately. Then I found out she was going to do a reading at Fountain Bookstore (down the road from me), and I knew I had to get it!

amber tamblyn fountain bookstore
Amber Tamblyn reading at Fountain Bookstore

VL: Is it typical of the books you read?

CC: Not at all; it’s much more intense than the books I typically read. From its jacket description, you can see why:

A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude. She hunts for men at bars, online, at home— the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man. Her victims then must live the aftermath of their assault in the form of doubt from the police, feelings of shame alienation from their friends and family and the haunting of a horrible woman who becomes the phantom on which society projects its greatest fears, fascinations and even misogyny. All the while the police are without leads and the media hound the victims, publicly dissecting the details of their attack.


What is extraordinary is how as years pass these men learn to heal, by banding together and finding a space to raise their voices. Told in alternating viewpoints signature to each voice and experience of the victim, these pages crackle with emotion, ranging from horror to breathtaking empathy.

As bold as it is timely, Any Man paints a searing portrait of survival and is a tribute to those who have lived through the nightmare of sexual assault.

As you can see, it’s a dark premise. It’s shocking to read at some points, but Tamblyn does a really wonderful job of introducing lighter parts when you need them.

VL: What did you like best?

CC: Tamblyn began as a poet, so the book is written as a mix of poetry and prose. The writing is breathtaking, and she does a great job of conveying a lot of information and emotion in fewer words. So many pages gave me chills.

VL: What did you like least?

CC: It was hard to read such an intense book; at times I needed to put it down for something else. But at her Fountain reading, she talked about our society’s history of ignoring survivors of sexual assault/rape or sweeping their stories under the rug. I think this is an important story, and an interesting take considering a woman is the perpetrator.

VL: Would you recommend Any Man to family or friends?

CC: I would (and have), but I would do it with the caveat that it’s very difficult to read in parts. I’m careful with whom I recommend it, because you never know if this story will hit too close to home.

VL: Have you read other books by this author?

Tamblyn has several poetry books under her belt, but I haven’t read them yet. They’re definitely on my list!


Have you read Any Man? What did you think?

Short Blog for a Short Book

short blog short book
Last week I blogged about Susan Hankla as a teacher. But thinking about Susan, and about the RTD article about her as a poet that prompted that blog, I decided to explore her writing. Besides ordering Clinch River, I also acquired a copy of this 1979 chapbook.

 

There are eight poems in this chapbook:

 

  1. “The Air Is Getting Thin”
  2. “Lost Glove”
  3. “Burning Your Letters”
  4. “Hours”
  5. “Pleasing Mrs. Faris”
  6. “Three Foolish Things”
  7. “A Larger Pain”
  8. “Running Home”
Each poem includes rich images, unexpected transitions, and surprising endings. You can read this book in minutes. Or hours. Or over days. But if you can get access, do read it.

 

Only 350 copies were printed, so there aren’t that many copies floating around—which is unfortunate.

 

Good luck in your quest!

Consider Personal Symbols

I recently read The Thorn Chronicles by Kimberly Loth. This is a 4-book series for an early teen audience.
thorn chronicles
[Source: Goodreads]
It’s a fairly familiar plot line of good versus evil, with an eventual twist of trying to mediate and balance those forces. (Frankly, the books could use a good edit to catch repetitions, omitted words and using the almost-right word, e.g. viscous when the context suggests the right word was vicious.) I’m writing about it because within this series, the two major women characters had symbolic plant connections.

 

The series opens with Naomi, a sixteen-year-old girl, running away from an abusive home. While at home, Naomi gathered strength and peace working in the rose garden her grandmother started. Each chapter begins with a rose the name of which ties to the content of the chapter.

 

The characters age slowly, but they do age. Their save-the-world challenges are so big-stage that the reader (I, at least) must readjust when there is a reference to going to school, being suspended for a week, etc.

 

I’ve read that YA fiction features protagonists who are 3 to 5 years older than the target audience. Perhaps that’s the reason for the shift in the second two books.

 

secrets kimberly loth
[Source: Goodreads]
In the third book, the focus shifts to the POV of a younger protege of Naomi’s. She was 12 or 13 when Naomi befriended her, and is now 15 or 16. The plant symbolism shifts to cacti. Each chapter starts with cactus facts, names, and/or descriptions.

 

lies kimberly loth
[Source: Goodreads]
In the latest book of the series, both women are prominent. Each chapter begins with a plant epigram, either rose or cactus, signaling POV.

 

The point here is that having signature symbols can ease transitions between/among POVs. It needn’t be plants. It could be pets. It could be something astrological, or mineral elements, or whatever your imagination suggests.

 

Bottom line: Consider some symbolic representation for your protagonist and/or other major characters.

Creative Nonfiction = Literary Nonfiction = Narrative Nonfiction

naked drunk writing adair lara
I bought this book recently because I’ve enrolled in Creative Nonfiction, a class that begins later this month at the VMFA Studio School. I haven’t taken a writing class in years, but why not?

 

Once upon a time I took a class with a title something like “Writing Memoir Using Fiction Techniques.” It was a great class. And now there is a whole genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives written to entertain. There’s quite a good Wikipedia essay about it, and/or you can check out www.creativenonfiction.org.

 

Once I started thinking about it, I realized how much of my pleasure reading is some version of creative nonfiction.

 

Dean King is a Richmond writer who is a master of the form. He brings history to life, whether he’s writing about a shipwreck off the coast of Africa in 1815 or the legendary American Hatfields and McCoys.

 

Three of my other favorites are Bill Bryson, Charles Panati, and Mary Roach.

 

Charles panati books
Each is an educator in his or her own fashion. Panati gathers fascinating bits and pieces, often organized around quirky themes.

 

mary roach books
Mary Roach researches current themes and issues, including their historical roots and cross-cultural connections. And she’s humorous!

 

bill bryson books
Bill Bryson varies between historical research (e.g., Mother Tongue) and personal experience (e.g., A Walk in the Woods).

 

And then there are the personal adventure stories. The first of these I read was Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille about living alone in the Adirondacks, isolated by winter.
woodswoman anne lebastille
The next creative nonfiction book on my agenda will probably be Wild (2013) by Cheryl Strayed. Obviously, I don’t jump on the lists of just published books! But I expect a thrilling read.
wild cheryl strayed
Bottom line: Creative nonfiction can be as varied as fiction. And why not try writing a genre I so enjoy reading? I’ll keep you posted.

Read This Book!

meatballs people gary sotomeatballs people gary soto
It’s a fast, pithy read. The book is small enough to carry virtually anywhere: 6” x 4” x 3/8” and 141 pp. and every one of those pages has a lot of white space.

 

read book meatballs people gary soto
According to Soto, “[Proverbs] don’t take effort to read. They are not riddles or cagey games, but do require an ‘aha’ moment.” Here are some of his proverbs I especially like.

 

If you plant a garden
Get ready to weed
 
You become corrupt
In increments
 
In love with his baritone voice
The politician
Believes what he says
 
A backbone
Is more useful
Than a wishbone
 
As Soto so aptly observed in his preface to this book, “Also, proverbs, in all languages and over the centuries, are quips that speak of our human nature.”

 

Gary Soto is of Mexican-American heritage. His work has taken him from the fields of the San Joaquin Valley to his literary life in Berkeley, California. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley and at University of California, Riverside. You can read about his awards and achievements in Wikipedia and visit his website at garysoto.com.

 

gary soto 2001 national book festival
Gary Soto’s literary oeuvre is as varied as it is extensive, including 14 poetry collections, 21 books for children/young adults, a series of children’s picture books in Spanish and English featuring a cat named Chato, 8 memoirs, 1 play, 2 films, and 4 edited volumes.

 

gary soto meatballs people
Meatballs for the People: Proverbs to Chew On (Red Hen Press, 2017) can be found in the poetry section.

 

“You can always spot bright people. They are reading a book.” Gary Soto.

Top Literary Posts About 2017

top literary posts 2017

It’s the end of the year, which means everyone is posting their “Top ___ of 2017” lists. Among them, of course, are the lists for readers. After seeing these posts left and right, I’ve collected a few to make a masterpost. Enjoy!

And, as an added bonus:

Whatever your “reading about reading” preference, make it a goal to make 2018 a great year for reading!

Wanted: A Book You Can Put Down

It’s almost a truism that “I couldn’t put it down” is about as high praise as a book can get. And yet, it might not always be the highest recommendation!

 

wanted book can put sinco christy esmahan
Right now, I’m reading Sinco: A Love Story Set in Spain, the second book in the Cantabria American School series. Bueno, the first book in the series, was part of my reading for Spain. I wrote about it after I returned.
 
[Source: Amazon]
But back to Sinco. The characters remain the same as in Bueno, with all their individual concerns, fears, and grudges. Some characters are brought to new prominence, others have faded a bit, but the point is, it is a smooth continuation of the plight of struggling young first-time private school director Harvey Jones.

 

His nemises at the school have nicknamed him Sinco because when Jones is pronounced in the Spanish way, it becomes Sin Cojones. These enemies are becoming ever more vindictive and plotting.

 

The book is funny, full of human foibles, and steeped in Spanish culture. It’s a good read.

 

And I can put it down at any time! Indeed, I’ve done so several times times recently. And this is a good thing! This is a hectic time for me—as for many—so I treasure a book I can pick up for a few minutes or an hour, put aside, and not struggle to get back into the story when I pick it up again.

 

For your holiday reading pleasure, I recommend Sinco, a book you can put down!

Thankful for Books—

—AND THE ABILITY AND TIME TO READ THEM!  Although the book mentioned here are Thanksgiving themed, they are good reads any time.

 

Thankful for books thanksgiving turkey
Murder and mayhem. Janet Evanovich has three Thanksgiving themed mysteries: Thanksgiving, Foul Play, and The Grand Finale. Apparently Evanovich knows the potential of holidays for drama!

 

Also, Thanksgiving Angels: A Mercy Allcutt Mystery by Alice Duncan.

 

For more options, click here!
thankful for books thanksgiving
Otherwise, here are some suggestions from Goodreads readers.
  • Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch
  • The Ghost at the Table: A Novel by Susanne Berne
  • The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
  • A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
  • Thanksgiving by Michael Dibdin
  • A Thanksgiving Miracle by Wells Earl Draughon
  • The Thanksgiving Virgin by Charles Haas

 

 

thankful for books turkey
 Classics
  • An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
thankful for books silver turkey
BOTTOM LINE: Be thankful for online searches, for you can find Thanksgiving books for all ages and genres!
 
thankful for books happy thanksgiving

Books, Travel, Life is Good!

spain book
In a few days I am leaving for Portugal and Spain. For the modern traveler setting off on such an excursion, the expected reading is likely to be a travel guide. In that type of book, I highly recommend the Lonely Planet guides. They are clear, accurate, and comprehensive.

 

virginia is for mysteries vivian lawry
But those are not the only books people turn to for travel guidance. At one point, Virginia Is For Mysteries was ranked #3 in the Amazon list of travel and tourism—presumably because each story was set in a different Virginia location. People at book signings have said they actually used the book to decide where to go on vacations. One woman said she and her friend were in the process of visiting all the places written about!

 

charlaine harris malice domestic mystery most historical
A similar volume is likely to appeal to the armchair traveler. My story in this volume is set in Civil War Richmond, but other authors chronicle death and destruction from Puritan Massachusetts to post-WWII settings, and from Buffalo to Wales.

 

bill bryson books
Although not always writing of travel, when he does, Bill Bryson is one of my favorites. He has a slanted view that appeals to me, along with rich detail, humor, and a fresh take on familiar places.
Perhaps you read Blue Highways when it first came out in 1981. It was a bestseller. And it has staying power, for it was reissued in 2012! William Least Heat Moon traveled what one might call secondary roads or scenic byways—the ones shown on road maps as blue lines. He has an amazing voice for taking one off the interstate!

 

Bottom line: Travel reading is good, and travel is made even better by reading!