Thursday, July 03, 2008

My book club friends are going to laugh, if not heartily at least under their collective breath, but the book I picked up at Emily’s Used Books in Nisswa, Minnesota was “Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjolian. Our group enjoyed Bohjolian’s “The Double Bind” so much that we chose to read “Midwives”, making our discussion back to back Bohjolian. Then I was at the library and checked out his latest book “Skeletons at the Feast” which I wasn’t super fond of and thought that, perhaps, I was just Bohjo-ed out. But then, in the far reaches of northern Minnesota, I found a Bohjo book that I hadn’t yet read. I did what any traveling obsessive reader would do, I pulled it off the shelf and took it on the road with me.

“Trans-Sister Radio” is the story of Allison and Dana. Allison is a divorced elementary school teacher living in a small Vermont town with her daughter Carly, who is getting ready for her first year of college. Dana is a professor at the local university. Allison is a student in his class on literature and film. Allison and Dana become friends and eventually begin a romantic relationship, both falling in love more deeply than either of them had ever fallen before. What Allison doesn’t know is that Dana is in the final stages of gender re-assignment, preparing for the surgery that will change him from a genetic male into a physiological woman. Allison has to decide what to do with this new relationship, whether to stay with the person she has fallen in love with or to end it and avoid the controversy that inevitably will come with it.

Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Allison, Dana, Carly or Will, Allison’s ex-husband, allowing the reader to see this supremely complex issue, if the soul or spirit of a person has a specific gender, from multiple perspectives. Thanks again for reading with me. Next time, we’re going old school, really old school

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I’m a glutton, pure and simple. I have this habit, which I am altogether sure I am not the only one who does, when I enjoy a book, I feel compelled to read as many books by the same author as I can stomach. Often it’s intentional and I actively seek out additional titles. Other times it is like the universe hands me the books, like tiny existential presents.

On our Great Northern America Road Trip (that’s what I am calling it these days), I have had instances of both. Since I was not able to pack a whole lot of books for the long drives across the Northern States, my plan was to stop in thrift stores and used bookstores along the way, in order to trade in the finished books and to pick up new ones. I started in Seattle with a book of short stories by Jane Smiley called "The Age of Grief". Smiley is the author of several books I have loved, "A Thousand Acres" and "Moo". If I believed in past lives and reincarnation, I would propose that Jane Smiley was a weaver or rug maker. Her narratives are beautifully rich and complicated, with many, many different characters and plot lines woven together to create a larger story, not unlike a rich tapestry. Her short stories are quite the opposite. The stories in "The Age of Grief" are clean and direct, yet beautifully crafted. There is not an extra word or detail in any of the stories, but they never feel spare or minimal. Each is exactly right. On an interesting note, the 2002 movie "The Secret Lives of Dentists" was based on the title story. I haven’t seen the film yet, but it is certainly going on my Netflix queue.

By the time I got to Montana, I was done reading "The Age of Grief" and was on the lookout for my next fix. In Miles City, while visiting my brother-in-law and his family, we found a thrift store run by the St. Vincent de Paul society. I stopped in and headed straight for the book section. The first book I picked up was "Horse Heaven" by (wait for it, wait for it) Jane Smiley. "Horse Heaven" is a novel about the world of Thoroughbred horse racing. As "The Age of Grief" was minimal, "Horse Heaven" is ornate. As much as I was engaged in the stories of horse trainers, breeders, jockeys, owners and those who simply love thoroughbred horses, I sometimes felt like I needed to be taking notes and keeping a log of who belonged to whom. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book immensely and am looking forward to a day trip to Golden Gate Fields to place a little bet on the ponies. Thanks for reading with me.

Next time, what I picked up in Nisswa, Minnesota.