{Currently Reading} Kingsolver, Fitzgerald, DFW & Gawande

It's time for another "Currently Reading" update! In an effort to not spoil any of the novels for you, I've hidden the remaining reviews after the jump. If you have no qualms reading revealing notes on The Lacuna, This Side of Paradise, The Broom of the System, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Complications, have no fear and read on!

The Lacuna {5 Stars}
I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna as part of the newly formed Seestor Book Club, which first met in May 2013. My sister and I are the only members, and chose this book based on a recommendation from Seestor’s friend.  I was a bit cautious at first, as I hadn't read any of Kingsolver at that point. In truth, I had some notion that her books were just pop fiction, as they were always charted – even Oprah touted them as some of her favorites. It had to just be hovering above chick lit, right? Reading the first few pages of Kingsolver’s writing, I soon learned that this was completely false. Her imagery was so fitting for the story, scenes just came alive. "The mood of the fiesta was enclosed in a perfect square: four long lines of electric bulbs strung from posts at the corners, fencing out a bright piece of night just above everyone's heads." I felt as if I was accompanying the narrator, Harrison Shepard, through the avenues of the market.

Kingsolver also invests heavily in her characters, including those that we only may see for a short time as we progress through Harrison’s life {i.e. Leandro, Tom Cuddy, Violet Brown}. The main character is almost a ghost, seen from the way he barely mentions himself in the letters of this mainly epistolary novel. I found this extremely interesting, and my sister found this somewhat irritating.  Furthermore, his mother’s personality popped right off the page, as flamboyant and dramatic as she was. Part of me thinks this has to do with Harrison’s tendencies to be introverted, but mostly I think it’s because of his sexuality and in the time period he lived.
Let’s talk about Frida. “{She} pulled a bottle of wine from the basket and uncorked it, pouring it into two good crystal glasses that probably shouldn't have risked the journey. But that is Frida, using her best, the devil can take the shards."  This one sentence explains her philosophy on life, particularly because of her ill luck in health and relationships; this attitude is ultimately what Harrison rolls over and over in his memories of and letters from her, which leads him to his final act in the lacuna.
On a side note, during the second third of the book, I was quietly reading in a coffee shop near the university area of town, when I overheard a couple discussing their dinner plans. I piped up and told them about a place around the corner, and asked if they were visitors. The gentleman said they were in town because of an organ transplantation conference; he had had the operation in the early 2000s, and was invited to share his experience there. Ultimately, the conversation led to them noticing my book, The Lacuna, and my telling of the plot. The gentleman became intrigued when I mentioned Frida Kahlo, and said he remembered hearing about Frida because his great grandfather was involved with her for a time. My jaw slacked. Really, I said. He told me that his great grandfather was Leon Trotsky, the famous Russian revolutionary, and I completely lost it. I had just read about the assassination in Coyoacan, Mexico, and about the secretive affair he had with Frida when Diego was busy painting murals. It was unreal. We continued to talk about his family and the connections to the novel before it was time to part ways. Fate, yes? The people you meet over coffee!
It’s no secret that I loved every minute of reading this book. Kingsolver is a master wordsmith, and cannot be chalked up to just another pop fiction author. She performs in-depth research to weave her stories accurately, but doesn’t shove a history lesson at her readers. That’s a hard line to walk.

This Side of Paradise {3 Stars}
In the Fitzgerald craze that’s been spurred upon us with the release of The Great Gatsby movie {2013}, one of by book clubs selected to read a different novel in his collection – This Side of Paradise. The short novel follows Amory Blaine, whom we’ll call the quintessential tormented “frat guy,” always pressured to be the well-liked “Golden Boy” and center of attention. Mirroring my college experience, the majority of this book annoyed me, especially his attempt redeeming himself by developing his taste for composition and reading great works. The book clubbers found the female characters to be somewhat flat and naive.
Fitzgerald’s use of structure kept things interesting for this reader. He wrote a section as if it were a play, fast-paced and continually moving. This section was the book club’s favorite by far. Perhaps Fitzgerald could have been far more successful as a playwright if he were only in our time period.
I can’t help but compare this first novel with TGG, and it seems to be the same situation for me as when I read Morrison’s Beloved then Home. I need to quit setting myself up for failure!

DFW: The Broom of the System {3 Stars}; Brief Interviews with Hideous Men {2 Stars}
Within the last month I’ve read two works by David Foster Wallace. If you’re a supreme fan of DFW, I’m not sure you’ll like this review – Being that I’m not one for philosophy {especially not past my two semesters of pained undergraduate coursework}, the underlying themes went right over my head. I’m sure that if I had studied Wittgenstein at some point prior, I would have been riddled with laughter at The Broom of the System’s plot, but unfortunately, it just seemed over-the-top and excessive. I enjoyed Lenore {the Younger} for three-fourths of the novel, but towards the end she became someone unwilling to truly attempt to change her disastrous circumstances. Name a character. I bet I was despondent at their situation at least eighty percent of the time. Again, if I would have known to get a primer in logic and philosophy, then I would have possibly liked this novel more.

After reading this first novel, I was persuaded by a DFW-lover to look into his short stories to see a different facet of the author’s works. I picked up Brief Interviews with Hideous Men first. Mistake. I was horrified, laughably, at the telling of these short stories. The detail. The disgust. The unmentionable acts.
My initial thoughts on Goodreads say it all: “Do not let DFW's persona of hidden witticisms fool you - the title is dead on accurate. I liked The Broom of the System much better, but then again it was a more palatable subject matter. When reading this collection of short stories, I felt like I was watching a sickening newscast on an insane kidnapper and their victims. I'll be moving on to other DFW collections to wipe the slate clean.”
Please, please, let Consider the Lobster be better.


I first read Atul Gawande in the New York Times, in his monthly {or so} article regarding health care delivery in America and beyond. He’s a gifted writer {and a host of other things, including a surgeon and professor at Harvard} who can paint a picture to the layperson about today’s top medical discussions. Complications was written when he was a resident, completing his final few years of training. This was an adventure into mostly uncharted waters, as the nonfiction novel is written as somewhat of a ‘tell-all’ on issues in medicine; the focus is on the ongoing educational piece of a physician’s practicing years, which Gawande seeks to drive home. Physicians never stop learning or training, and medicine continually evolves as we progress, making it far more of an art than a science.  I’ll update my review after I finish.

What have you picked up for reading? Any suggestions?


  1. From what I can remember, Consider the Lobster does have mostly different subject matter...it's a collection of essays, not short fiction. I didn't finish all of them, though, so no guarantees!

  2. You'll be proud to know I'm on Chapter 2 of The Bad Girl. This may be a record year for novel-reading! I apparently am unwittingly attracted to South American revolutionary stories... Trotsky has showed up in this book as well! I'm only on page 35, but I would already recommend adding Mario Vargas Llosa to your massive list of books/authors to read!

  3. That gives me hope! It's on my shelf now, so maybe I'll give it a try this weekend.

  4. So proud!!! You're doing so well!
    Isn't it amazing how public figures seem to pop up all over the place? Evidently this Trotsky guy was quite the traveller...
    I'll add a few by MVL to my list. :) Thanks!

  5. Yay, fellow Pittsburgher!!! I lived in Lawrenceveille ("Lawlessville!") for a few years, at 38th and Howley, near Arsenal Park. Now, I'm in Friendship :)

    I copied this from your "about page" - "My favorite ways to spend my time: cooking, traveling, reading, penning and crossing things off a list, having an interesting conversation over coffee, bargain shopping like a mad fool, and discovering new haunts." and I think we might be twins! Pittsburgh is full of really fun little places to chill out with a beer or cup of coffee.

    I haven't read "Brief Interviews", but I really enjoyed Consider the Lobster. It's WAY PG and talks about totally random, unoffensive things. There's a little bit about porn, but it's not racy.

    I know what you mean about being SO uncomfortable / disgusted by a book and really struggling to get through it. I couldn't finish Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" for that reason. He has won so many awards, but...ugh!

  6. Yay for a fellow Pittsburgher as well!!! I love when people find each other over the blogosphere. :) If you're in to what I'm into, that's incredible. So glad you're here.

    We're in L-ville for now, but we're moving to Shadyside at the end of the month to be closer to school. My husband and I are both in graduate programs, so we spend a lot of time in Oakland! But the food...

    I haven't gotten to CtL, but I'm planning to give it a try before it's due back to the library on the 20th. I'm kinda on a tight deadline, huh? Are you on Goodreads by chance?

  7. I'm at Pitt (work/grad school), so I'm in Oakland, too! We have probably passed each on the sidewalk or while grabbing takeout, ha!

    Personally, I like Shadyside and Friendship a lot more than Lawrenceville. They're much quieter and greener and closer to awesome grocery stores.

    I just found you on GoodReads! Looks like we are both Margaret Atwood fans :D

  8. oops! Looks like I need to know secrets about you before I can add ya. I think I'm under alexandria.maruca@gmail.com if you want to add me :)

  9. Oh no! I just realized they added a 'challenge answer' requirement...and didn't tell anyone! For shame. I'll add you shortly.


Thanks for your comment; I'm all ears!