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The Book of Dahlia: A Novel The Book of Dahlia: A Novel by Elisa Albert

My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s funny to me that most of the reviews I’ve read of this novel, the central point of the story, arguably the reason we meet Dahlia – her cancer diagnosis, for the love of god – is glossed over. Dahlia is annoying. Dahlia is a slacker. Dahlia is a miserable fuck who can’t pry her privileged ass off the couch, and I’m glad I don’t know her in real life. Sure, all of these things might be true. However, it is these qualities which allow the real brilliance of the story to shine through. The way the author allows the main character to manage this experience which slams her out of what little control she felt as if she might have had like a car speeding over an unforeseen patch of ice. The reader is almost dared to grant Dahlia the modicum of concern that her humanity might deserve by rubbing the reader’s face in her unlovable qualities.

Dahlia’s reaction to her situation is real. It is raw, bitter, and thusly completely in character. The myriad of issues that a person in the same situation would be dealing with from the simple alteration in day-to-day routine (even if that involves only sitting in front of the television and eating Cheerios) to facing death at a young age are vast and at the very least, difficult to handle. Using the vehicle of this character, the author creates a space where the reader doesn’t question the brazenness of Dahlia’s thoughts, her questions and actions. For instance, her rejection of the cult of positive thinking that so many cancer patients are encouraged to participate in. Because of the way Dahlia’s character is constructed the reader almost expects it which grants the reader a chance to consider what kind of feelings might prompt her thought process as opposed to the reader simply reacting to “unacceptable” thoughts and behavior from Dahlia.

This ultimately leads to the truth of the human condition – that with all of her apparent malice, her seemingly half-assed life, she is still not ready to give it up. This book is an artful treatment of an unlovable character in an impossible and unforgiving situation.

View all my reviews.

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I recently read Baby Love for my book club and wasn’t particularly thrilled with it. To be totally honest I came to this book with some preconceived notions after reading

several reviews of it. Overall I found it to be a little whiny and very self-absorbed. I was kind of fascinated to see her react to different peoples’ take on things and opinions, about her life, about parenthood in general, etc. in a very knee-jerk way – a difference of opinion almost always seems to be taken as a challenge. She’ll speak of the truth of others but utterly fail to recognize any kind of relativism in virtually any situation or statement.

There were specific moments in the book where I was taken aback at moments which were mentioned but washed over. Once she’s talking to a friend who decided not to have children. Walker quickly glosses over the fact that she’s had several major illnesses and goes on to talk about how she wishes she could tell her friend that she is wrong. For Walker, there is no room apparently for physical barriers to pregnancy. This is further exacerbated by her assertion that one can not love an adopted child as much as one’s own. Again, no acknowledgment that her truth might not be another’s – this is posited as an point of absolution. There is another moment during a birthing class she attends with her male partner, where he asks “Where’s the penis?…”, after talking about vaginas, etc. the whole class. He is apparently looking for the inherently male role in the process. It has been said in some reviews that the author comes off as narcissistic in this book – based on this exchange I’d say her partner does as well.

I’m a little concerned that the book does not come out to talk about feminism more explicitly. I feel that there is room for it. A little discussion in this vein would add some weight to an otherwise rather fluffy piece, but it does not occur. Instead we are left with a piece that looks, very much, as something that could be considered a post-feminist take on pregnancy and motherhood. I find this very, very unfortunate. The book was a disappointment.

— Review cross-posted to goodreads.

In today’s NY Times there’s an article about Elizabeth Edward’s role in her husband’s presidential campaign prompted, in part, by her call into Hardball with Chris Matthews when Ann Coulter was a guest. The article talks about her “free operator” status in her husband’s presidential campaign, as evidenced by her willingness and freedom in speaking publicly and sometimes impulsively. For example, when she spoke at a San Francisco pride event last week she stated that she was in favor of gay marriage. Allegedly, John Edwards found out about this statement after-the-fact.

elizabeth edwards

The first real attention that I paid to Elizabeth Edwards was when she was interviewed by Diane Rhem on NPR when she was promoting her book, Saving Graces. I should preface this by saying that I listen to NPR almost all day, 5 days a week without discretion. I usually don’t care who is being interviewed or why. As in this case, this often results in my becoming interested in things and people I might not otherwise have been, and to my benefit. Elizabeth Edwards spoke with such wit, wisdom, and insightfulness about her life. It was very impressive. She was composed but not in such a way that her humanity didn’t show through.

In the NY Times article today, it states that, “her friends suggest…” that her role in her husband’s campaign, i.e. her being her own figure within it, “reflects the clarity and perspective that come from her cancer diagnosis”, as well as her “increasingly confident political instincts”. After my own cancer diagnosis, I understand, at least to some degree, the way that change happens. The desire to cut through the bullshit. The desire to not waste time that might be limited. The confidence of stating feelings and following that up with actions that one might not have previously taken. With her newly metastatic status, I can only imagine that these feelings might be heightened for her. You may recall an interview with her published in Newsweek earlier this year where she said, “I’m not praying for God to save me.” To say that publicly, from her position, takes some confidence.

At the same time, it’s not as if her experiences have created an entirely new person. Those elements of her personality which are so clear now and benefit not only her, but her husband’s campaign, had to have been there all along. As she is quoted in today’s article, “There’s a reason to talk to me separately: You’re paying more attention to me, but I was always sitting there in the corner.”

Today I hit the ALA exhibits area and had a totally fun time. I feel like I’m one of the few people that I went through grad school with who has never been to any part of the ALA conference. I decided to go to the exhibits area since it was inexpensive exposure to the conference and my company would easily cover that cost. Talking to various exhibitors, I was a little surprised that very few of them got my title (which shortened to “Internet Librarian” which was the official title of my predecessor). One library software exhibitor that I talked to was all but hostile when I told him my title and where I worked, saying, “What’s that have to do with libraries?” I was amazed at the degree to which many people in and serving the field, simply didn’t get it.

Regardless, I had fun. I got to look at products that I’m interested in but don’t currently have the opportunity to use, and re-familiarize myself with all of the pertinent vendors. I’ve also gotten to hang out with local librarians, and friends from grad school whom I rarely get to see which has been super nice.

the cover of the book,

Most importantly I scored lots of free books and went holiday shopping for my little cousins. It’s nice to have that out of the way so early. I got them:

I’m trying to keep a list of all the books I’ve read over the course of the year. I know this isn’t all of them, but it’s a start. If any of you have any questions about any of these books feel free to ask. Also, if anyone else has read them, what did you think?

Cancer Etiquette: What to Say, What to Do When Someone You Know or Love Has Cancer, by Rosanne Kalick

My One-Night Stand With Cancer, by Tania Katan

Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters

Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book:4th Edition, by Susan M. Love

The Feisty Woman’s Breast Cancer Book, by Elaine Ratner

Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown

In Her Day, Rita Mae Brown

Lucky, Alice Sebold

Babyji, Abha Dawesar

The IHOP Papers, by Ali Liebegott

I’m currently in the middle of Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties, by Felicia Luna Lemus

Seriously.

Yesterday when reading the NY Times I noticed that in the top 10 best selling paperbacks in the fiction category, two feature a character who just happens to be a librarian.

“7 – TRUE BELIEVER, by Nicholas Sparks. (Warner, $12.95.) A hip young New Yorker finds love with a beautiful librarian who lives in a North Carolina town.”
“8 – MORNING COMES SOFTLY, by Debbie Macomber. (Avon, $7.99.) A reprint of a romance involving a librarian from Louisiana and a Montana rancher.”

image of red breast irish whiskey

Also Forbes releases it’s list of “must drink Irish whiskeys.” A favorite server at the Irish Lion in Bloomington turned Pete and I on to Red Breast Irish Whiskey, which both of us became rather fond of. mmm….whiskey.

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