Hope Was Here

Hope Was Here by Joan BauerHope Was Here by Joan Bauer
Publisher: Puffin
Number of pages: 186
My copy: borrowed from Louize

When Hope and her aunt move to small-town Wisconsin to take over the local diner, Hope’s not sure what to expect. But what they find is that the owner, G.T., isn’t quite ready to give up yet–in fact, he’s decided to run for mayor against a corrupt candidate. And as Hope starts to make her place at the diner, she also finds herself caught up in G.T.’s campaign–particularly his visions for the future. After all, as G.T. points out, everyone can use a little hope to help get through the tough times . . . even Hope herself.

* * *

The first time I read about this book was from Peter’s blog, and it had me with the words diner, pie, and hope. I’ve seen Joan Bauer’s books in bookstores but I always ignored it until I read Peter’s review of it, and I put it on my radar. When my book club friend Louize brought a copy during our last discussion, I asked if I could borrow it, and immediately started reading it the next day. I had a feeling it was going to be a feel-good book, and I wasn’t wrong.

Hope Yancey’s real name is Tulip, but ever since her mom left her in the care of her aunt, she changed her name to Hope, something that she thought fitted her better. She moved around a lot with her Aunt Addie, who is an excellent cook and a diner manager. When the owner of the last diner they worked in in New York City stole money from them and left them with nothing, Addie and Hope move to Wisconsin to help manage Welcome Stairways, a little diner owned by G.T. Stoop who was sick with leukemia. G.T. got them onboard because he had other plans for their little town – he wanted to run for mayor to beat the corrupt Eli Millstone who’s had the town in his hands for year. Hope and her aunt gets involved in this campaign, but they didn’t know what people desperate to keep power would do to keep people out…but Hope chose her name for a reason, and even if she isn’t feeling particularly hopeful herself, she is finding that there were a lot of reasons to keep the hope in the midst of the hardest time in her life.

I breezed through Hope Was Here, not because it was a super-easy read but because it was really interesting. I realized that I really like reading about small town, diner settings (case in point: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler, Speechless by Hannah Harrington, and Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins). I really liked the small family that always forms inside diners, and how it makes working there seem really fun, despite it being hectic come peak hours. Of course I loved the food descriptions (homemade corned beef hash and fried eggs with a big piece of maple corn bread slathered with salted butter…mmm), and how food played a big part in their lives without it becoming too much of a foodie book.

I liked how the book didn’t seem complicated even with several plots — G.T.’s campaign, Hope’s issues with her mom, her search for her dad. I liked how they all played with each other well, all supporting the main theme of having hope and keeping it, even if things don’t feel particularly hopeful. Yes, there’s also romance, and one of them I predicted from when the lead interest appeared, but both of them worked quite well. A part of me felt that the love interests seemed too old for their partners, but I learned to adjust how I imagined them later on. I think I just had a bit of stereotype in my head when I started reading it.

This book reminded me of those books that my mom bought for me when I was in elementary and high school — full of life lessons and utter positivity. I can still remember most of them, and I think the reason why those books stayed with me even after years is because the plot felt real, and the characters were wonderfully flawed and yet they still prevailed in the best way. I bet if my mom had read the blurb of Hope Was Here back when she was still buying books for me, she would have gotten this, too.

I think Hope Was Here accomplished its goal with me: when I finished reading it, it left me with hope. Hope in the good things, hope in the midst of difficulties, and gratitude in knowing that there is always something to be hopeful for. :) I really liked this, and if you’re looking for a feel-good book (for the right reasons, and not just fluff!), then Hope Was Here would not disappoint. If Joan Bauer’s other books were as good as this one, then I would love to go through her entire backlist. :)

Number of hypothetical dog-eared pages: 15

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I think hope is just about the best thing a person can have. (p. 7)

New places always help us look at life differently. (p. 10)

Then she hugged me with permanence. (p. 12)

She said you’ve got to love yourself with all your shortcomings, and you’ve got to love the world, no matter how bad it gets. (p. 56)

There’s something about diner setup that soothes the soul. Something about making good coffee in a huge urn glistening in fluorescent light, something sweet about filling syrup pitchers and lining them on the back counter like soldiers ready to advance. It gives you courage to face another day. (p. 61)

The thing I hate most about dying is how we deny its existence for as long as we can. Nobody knows how long they’ve got on this earth. And all we need is to live our lives just a little bit like the hearse is outside ready to cart us away – make the days count. That doesn’t mean living in fear, but we don’t have to be dumb bunnies either and take life for granted. (p. 67)

— you don’t know which way a thing will come at you, but you need to welcome it with your whole heart whichever way it arrives. (p. 174)

It’s a complete rush to get what you’ve been hoping for – to get it so full and complete that it fills your senses. (p. 174)

Rating:

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Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira KalmanWhy We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Number of pages: 357
My copy: borrowed from Kai

I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed. I’m writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

* * *

I think I mentioned it before that sometimes, you need to be in a certain mood to appreciate some books. Sometimes, no matter how other people like a book, if you’re in not in that kind of mood, you won’t be able to relate to any of the characters no matter what you do, or you won’t be able to feel what the book wants you to feel. (Of course, there are some books that are just really hard to get into, even if you are in that same mood, but that’s another story.)

So, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (and illustrated by Maira Kalman). I’ve seen this book and wanted this book when it was published, but I think I saw a not so good review of it somewhere, so I stopped wanting it. I have to admit that this is the kind of book that is right up my alley, especially since I was all about embracing your inner romantic last year. Then the book fell out of my radar, until it came back again and a friend lent me her copy because I figured it was time to read it.

Then I tried. I read the first few chapters, and then had the extreme desire to throw the book away so I stopped. I didn’t want to throw the book away because it was bad, no. I wanted to throw the book away because it was getting too close for comfort. And the truth comes out. :P Suffice to say, maybe I was in the mood for this book, but it was too hard to read it because I was too much in that mood. Did that make sense? Anyway, months later, I decided to try reading this book again because some girls in our book club was reading this. I figured, why not join them? It could be some sort of release, as a good friend told me when I mentioned it. So I put my brave face on and started again.

Why We Broke Up is a break-up story, a long letter from Min Green to Ed Slaterton, her ex-boyfriend, telling their story from her side based on the items in the box that she was returning to him. These items (the illustrated parts of the book) were remnants of their short-lived relationship: bottle caps, a box of matches, movie tickets, a protractor, a note, a book, among other things. Take it, it’s yours. This is why we broke up. Either you have the feeling or you don’t, Min writes, and we are left to wonder what exactly happened that led to Min and Ed’s break-up.

Warning: this is a book full of drama. Every page is dripping of Min’s bitterness and anger and heartbreak, and…well, it was kind of expected because of the title alone. The hard part of it, I think, is that I was kept in the dark why they broke up. I just know they broke up, but I didn’t know why, and Min just kept on repeating “this is why, this is why” with every item she wrote about. It wasn’t until the very, very end that we know, but the entire time, she just rambles on and tells their love story without a hint of the real reason why. And it’s hard to see, too, especially since Ed seems a perfectly good guy from the start. Okay, perhaps he’s not perfect — he seems secretive, he has this thing about saying “no offense” and he seems judgmental about some guys who aren’t into sports and labels them “gay”, but he seemed to really like Min, so why is Min being so damn dramatic about everything?

Since I was reading the story from Min’s POV, it was easy to pin the blame on her. You know how when a friend tell us a love problem, the first thing we often do is to try to find what our friend is doing wrong because it’s something we can fix, because we know our friend better than the other party? It’s that kind of thing. I read everything from Min’s POV, so it was easier to try to find something that she did wrong…until I found out the real reason why they broke up and then, damn it. Ed, you’re an asshole. I understood why Min is so angry. Granted, she wasn’t perfect, either — she shouldn’t have jumped right in ahead in the relationship, she should have took her time, she should have seen the signs from the start…but well she’s a teenager. This is young love. We have all been there. And I guess even if we have the wisdom of the years with us, things like this still hurt just the same.

The best part of the book, though, is Min’s friends. I loved Al and Lauren (there was another name, but I forgot, eep), and to some extent, Jillian, that girl that Ed dated before Min. I loved them, and what they did for Min in the end. They didn’t do anything so special, really, but they did what good friends do in times like this. I reread the last parts of the book because of them, and I was glad that Min had them with her in the fallout.

I’ve never been in a relationship, so it follows that I’ve never been in a break-up…but there were some times in my life where it seemed like the pain I was feeling is something akin to a break-up — at least, based on what I read and saw on TV. And maybe that’s why I ended up liking this book, because in some ways, I have been there. I know at least a fraction of what Min felt. Whether it’s a relationship ending, or an almost-relationship that never became one, there’s still pain there, and it hurts just the same. But the good thing I got out of all of this is…well, reading Why We Broke Up was strangely cathartic. Huh, my friend was right. Reading this book at the end of the year was a surprising release of feels. ;)

So yeah, I liked Why Why Broke Up. Perhaps if I read this last year, or any other time later, I wouldn’t have liked it as much. But I liked it, and I am glad I read it, despite all the drama. (Because trust me, I’ve had enough of drama in the past year. :P)

Either you have the feeling or you don’t.

P.S. The illustrations were a good touch. :)

P.P.S. And no, I don’t think I’m the “return all things” type person. I think I’m more of the “throw things away” one. ;)

Number of imaginary* dog-eared page(s): 7
* Because the copy isn’t mine. :)

Favorite imaginary dog-eared quote(s):

…let’s go, let’s go together toward something extraordinary and I started making plans, thinking we would get that far. (p. 39)

…thinking there was time, plenty of time to see what pictures we’d made? But we never developed them. Undeveloped, the whole thing, tossed into a box before we really had a chance to know what we had, and that’s why we broke up. (p. 65)

A note, who writes a note like that? Who were you to write one to me? It boomed inside me the whole time, an explosion over and over, the joy of what you wrote to me jumpy shrapnel in my bloodstream. I can’t have it near me anymore, I’m grenading it back to you, as soon as I unfold it and read it and cry one more time. Because me too, and fuck you. Even now. (p. 69)

We couldn’t only have the magic nights buzzing through the wires. We had to have the days, too, the bright impatient days spoiling everything with their unavoidable schedules, their mandatory times that don’t overlap, their loyal friends who don’t get along, the unforgiven travesties torn from the wall no matter what promised are uttered past midnight, and that’s why we broke up. (p. 86)

Rating:

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No One Belongs Here More Than You

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda JulyNo One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Publisher: Scribner
Number of pages: 224
My copy: paperback, borrowed from Bennard

Award-winning filmmaker and performing artist Miranda July brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a startling, sexy, and tender collection. In these stories, July gives the most seemingly insignificant moments a sly potency. A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world. Her characters engage awkwardly — they are sometimes too remote, sometimes too intimate. With great compassion and generosity, July reveals their idiosyncrasies and the odd logic and longing that govern their lives. “No One Belongs Here More Than You” is a stunning debut, the work of a writer with a spectacularly original and compelling voice.

* * *

I spotted this book on another blog, really, and didn’t really think of it until my friend posted about it on his blog. I was curious, only because of the first post I saw, and when I had a chance to borrow it from my friend, I jumped on the chance. I like short story collections, and ever since I read my first Carver, I felt like it was the kind of book I can manage back then. I wasn’t in the mood for a lot of books, so maybe something like this would shock me out of the slump. Or at least, the bright yellow cover would, somehow.

No One Belongs Here More Than You is a collection of stories from Miranda July, who…I really have no idea who she is. I don’t even know what the stories were about, so I really, really just took a chance on this book. This book contains stories of women, mostly, stories of ordinary things. People who do things, who are in search for things, who lost things. These are stories of the seemingly ordinary things that become extraordinary with the way the words were woven and how these simple things came about in each story.

I liked this well enough. I liked the ordinariness of it all — the quiet and the commonplace things in the stories, and how they all translate into something that made me think and wonder if the story was real, or perhaps just the imagination of the character. I guess a little mistake I made when I first started to read this was to compare it to Carver. They’re very different — Carver’s stories (from the one collection I read, anyway) left my heart in a bit of disquiet, like there are questions you want to ask but are kind of afraid of asking. July’s stories, while some of them have the same effect as Carver, are different in the way she tackled things and left me thinking about how her stories just end, and there are no questions that I don’t want to ask.

Here’s the thing: everyone seemed to be so sad in this story. Not the heartbreaking sadness, but just a tinge of it, like these characters need a little hug or something. Sometimes, I feel like I need a hug after I read some of the stories, because I wished I could say something to the characters to ease them of things.

Did the title of the collection mean something? I guess so. It is what it is, I think: No one belongs here more than you. I may be over thinking it, but maybe these stories are really just about belonging, and how we long for that. I don’t think all the characters in the stories found a place to belong, but as a reader, I hoped that they would still somehow find it, or that it would somehow found them, in their own fictional worlds.

Okay, I’m rambling. There were several stories that I wasn’t fond of, but the interesting thing was the first and the last few were the ones I really liked. I started this on a high, then the excitement lulled, and just as when I was already resisting the urge to skim, I got to the last stories and found that I really, really liked them. My favorite, of all, is Birthmark, a story about a woman who had her port-wine stain removed from her face and her husband who didn’t know anything about it, and how this birthmark affected them. It left me with very fond thoughts with the book after.

Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You is a good read, especially for people who are fond of short story collections. It’s not exactly my favorite, but I would read another July book again, given the chance. Plus that yellow cover and simple text is just something I would want to have printed and framed to remind myself that yes, no one belongs here more than you.

Total number of dog-eared pages: None, because the copy isn’t mine. But I did keep a lot of notes on my Goodreads review page for the book. :D

Favorite “dog-eared” quotes: (Would have been dog-eared if the copy was mine :D)

Do you have doubts about life? Are you unsure if it’s worth the trouble? Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise. (p.11)

To fall for a million years like a flute falls, musically, played by the air it is passing through. And to land with no mind, but with a heart that was breaking. (p.112)

I was actually writhing in heartache, as if I were a single muscle whose purpose is to mourn. (p.128)

It was a delicate, new strangeness, and I held onto it like a candle, hoping it would lead me to an even newer, stranger strangeness. (p.151)

He was waiting for her on his knees. He was worried she would not let him love her with the [port-wine] stain. He had already decided long ago, twenty or thirty minutes ago, that the stain was fine. He had only seen it for a moment, but he was already used to it. It was good. It somehow allowed them to have more. (p.176)

Rating: 

Required Reading: August 2013

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond CarverWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 159
My copy: paperback borrowed from Angus

This powerful collection of stories, set in the mid-West among the lonely men and women who drink, fish and play cards to ease the passing of time, was the first by Raymond Carver to be published in the UK. With its spare, colloquial narration and razor-sharp sense of how people really communicate, the collection was to become one of the most influential literary works of the 1980s.

* * *

I attended the wedding of my brother’s best friend last week. I like weddings. It may be something that runs in the family since my brother is a wedding videographer. But I really, really like attending weddings, because it’s such a happy, happy day. Plus, I really like hearing wedding vows.

Anyway, my wedding weekend read is Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which I borrowed from Angus when I got the chance to check out his bookshelf. This is my first Carver, and the first time I have heard about him also because of Angus’ rave review. This is a collection of short stories about people who talk about, well, love. I figure it may be a fitting book to bring since it’s a wedding and all. What do people talk about when they talk about love in weddings?

Before I go to the proper review, let me tell you what people talk about when they talk about love in a wedding. Weddings are happy, happy days, not only for the couple but also for everyone who came to celebrate with them. It’s funny, though, how people often look forward to the wedding and see it as a “happily ever after”, when it is really just the start of something new. The priest gave this lovely homily during my brother’s best friend’s wedding that had all of us laughing and me thinking really hard. He talked about good memories and bad memories, and how ten, twenty years down the road, the couple will lose a lot of things: their youth, their health, their money. And when people lose these things, when life gets difficult, sometimes it’s harder to hold on and remember your commitment. And then he reminds them that they’re not the boss of each other, and getting married in the church – in front of God and in front of the people – is their promise of giving up the right to give up on each other, no matter how hard life gets. Then they said their vows, and…it was so real and so beautiful.

Then, I spent time with my parents over the weekend, and I took the time to observe how they treat and interact with each other. My parents have been married for 30+ years, and sometimes I think I take that for granted. That weekend, I saw how they act around each other, and I realized how their love is that quiet, enduring love that I also want for myself. There are some things that my mom would say or do that, if I were my dad, would rub me the wrong way and I would say something back in defiance…but my dad does nothing. Instead, he smiles, and just takes it and does something. My dad would do something, or say something that, if I were my mom, would feel like it lacks emotion or affection, but I see that my mom doesn’t see that. I see how they’re around each other and how they support each other and how they love us so much, and my heart just swells because I see a glimpse of what the priest said, and I see what kind of love I want, and the one that I wish I would be able to give, too. Imperfect, yet strong and enduring.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love isn’t too romantic — in fact, sometimes I think it’s not romantic at all. It’s not like the romance books I usually read, with fluff and cheese and swoon and kilig that makes them so fun to read. No, Carver’s collection of short stories about love is about love in many forms, but it dealt with love after all the kilig and swoon and cheese and fluff are gone. Most of the stories are melancholic in its nature, and for a moment, it didn’t seem like the right thing to read on a wedding weekend. But it seems perfect, too, because this book somehow set my thoughts straight — or at least, gave me a different perspective, after the reception is over and the wedding fuzzies have started to fade.

Most of the stories in this collection are stories of lonely people, or people seeing lonely people, or people talking about old experiences of loneliness that is related to love. The realness in these stories is what got to me: this is what could happen, days, months or years after the wedding day. These stories can happen, but it doesn’t mean that it is the only ending. Love doesn’t mean mistakes won’t happen, or your loved ones will always be healthy or you will never fight. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. The stories were short and the writing was simple, and sometimes I get surprised when a story is over and I wasn’t exactly sure what it was supposed to tell me. But as I read on, I realize that these stories are fragments of love in its everyday form, during the hard parts, and also, in some of the happy parts, too.

I liked most of the stories, but three stories stood out: After the Denim (“He’d tell them what to expect! He’d set those floozies straight! He’d tell them what was waiting for you after the denim and the earrings, after touching each other and cheating at games.“), Everything Stuck to Him (“Things change. I don’t know how they do. But they do without realizing it or wanting them to […] he stays by the window, remembering. They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else – the cold, and where he’d go in it – was outside, for a while anyway.“) and the title story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (“I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.“). When I was done, I found myself rereading parts of some of my favorite stories (especially the last one), and then sitting down at home and thinking about love.

Because really, what do people talk about when they talk about love? My friends and I do this a lot, and while we all have these ideas and dreams and everything, I don’t think we will ever grasp what love really is about. The best we can do, I think, is try.

Let’s have a toast. I want to propose a toast. A toast to love. To true love. (p.141)

This is my first Carver, and I don’t think this will be my last. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: May

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84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
Number of pages: 97
My copy: borrowed paperback, TFG’s traveling book

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

* * *

Here’s a little fact: I love snail mail. I love letters, specifically. I think it started when our third grade teacher taught us about letter writing, and we had to pick pen pals within the class. I loved getting letters in the mail, but since my classmates and I live close to each other, it’s not really that practical to be pen pals with them. When I was in sixth grade, though, my best friend from elementary school moved to the United States. We didn’t have much contact when she left, until I happened to get her mailing address from a common friend and I sent her my first snail mail letter. This had us sending letters back and forth for the next two years, until email came and we switched to that.

Reading 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is almost like a trip back to memory lane on those days when I would spend so much time writing letters to my best friend who lived in the other side of the world. This thin volume is a collection of letters from Helene Hanff, a screenwriter in New York search of second hand books to a bookstore in 84, Charing Cross Road in London. This sparked the friendship between Helene and the staff of the bookstore, one that consisted of letters, books and gifts and spanned for decades.

84, Charing Cross Road is a little gem of a book for book lovers, and it’s most appropriate that the copy I read is a shared copy from our book club. We call it our own traveling book, and it’s gone through several readers before it landed in my hands. It’s a quick and funny read, and I finished it in a few hours — smiling, laughing, and then sighing at the end. Helene’s letters were witty and sarcastic most of the time, and Frank Doel of the book shop were always formal and proper, yet still filled with warmth. Pretty soon, the rest of the staff were writing letters to Helene, too. I find myself checking the dates in the letters every now and then, and I can’t imagine the time that pass before the letters get to the recipients. My own mail takes two to three weeks before it arrives, but some of them span months in the book. I guess it meant that they were more patient back then, whereas I get so miffed sometimes when I don’t get a reply to my email or my text message within the day. But true friendship transcends time and distance, right?

This book is very reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with the letters shared between book lovers. I love that 84, Charing Cross Road has that same warmth I got from the other book, even if the ending was slightly different. But I liked the latter more because it’s a true story. I think that’s the reason why I added one more star in my rating — there’s something about knowing how all of this is real that makes it even more charming. It’s too bad that the actual bookstore doesn’t exist anymore, but I would love to see where the building stood and imagine what the people inside were doing, and how excited they were every time they received Helene’s letters and packages. And maybe, even do what Helene asked her friend to do:

If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll stock up on my stationery so I can go write some letters again. Anyone want one? :)

Rating:

Required Reading: May

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