“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful ForeversTitle: Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Author: Katherine Boo
ISBN: 9781400067558
Pages: 288
Release date: February 7, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: eBook and paperback
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 5 out of 5

Behind the Beautiful Forevers had a long gestational period with me. I began it in February 2013 on a work trip to India. I quickly became immersed, partly because the book reflected so much of what I was seeing in Mumbai—the dramatic inequality; the overcrowded, underserved slums; the breathtaking optimism of those we met. India is overpowering enough on its own, and so I put the book down partway through so that I didn’t become too overwhelmed.

That feeling of being swept up into a powerful, often depressing story stayed with me, and I didn’t return to the book again until more than a year had passed. I knew it would capture me again, and I wasn’t ready. In July of this year, I finally finished it and chose it for the nonfiction book club at One More Page. I’m very glad I did—we had a wonderful discussion. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is, in turns, painful, disgusting, gorgeous, and heart-wrenching—and always incredibly well-written.

Yet I waited again to review it—six months, in fact. It’s a book that resonated deeply in me, one that I would recommend to pretty much anyone—quite possibly the best nonfiction book I’ve ever read. One of the best books I’ve ever read, period.

Yeah. Sounds like a lot of hyperbole.

Part of me wanted to wait to see if the book would hold up—if I would still feel that way after the people and their stories had coursed through me, diluting with time. Part of me was so affected by Boo’s deep storytelling and by the lives of those she observed for five years, I wondered if I could possibly do it justice—how could I possibly offer any insight or opinion that hadn’t been expressed before?

But here’s my take anyway: Behind the Beautiful Forevers has changed the way I look at journalism—changed the very way that I want to tell stories. I admire Boo’s patience, her dedication, how immersed and thoughtful she seems to have been, so unwilling to accept common narratives, so determined to tell nuanced stories.

But more than the techniques of the journalist, I admire all of the times that Boo stepped back and allowed her subjects and their narratives to shine. That’s what truly great writers do. They remind us of the secret hopes we all nurture, and they show us how, at heart, we are all the same, all in different ways. They allow the characters to speak directly to us, without artifice or interruption.

That’s not hyperbole.

Quotes of Note:

Annawadians now spoke of better lives casually, as if fortune were a cousin arriving on Sunday, as if the future would look nothing like the past.

It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged.

Asha believed a person seeking betterment should try as many schemes as possible, since it was hard to predict which one might work.

Sunil and Abdul sat together more often than before, but when they spoke, it was with the curious formality of people who shared the understanding that much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Behind the Beautiful Forevers for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

Meet “Magical”!

I am very pleased to announce the release of Magical: An Anthology of Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Other Magical Fiction, a collection of 31 stories from writers around the globe–including yours truly!

That’s right–my short story, “Invisible,” is included in this anthology, which is now available for purchase in paperback and on the Kindle.

I’ll just wait here for a minute while you go buy the book…

….

Awesome–thanks for your purchase!

MagicalAs you know–since you just procured your very own copy!–stories in this collection retell classics like “Little Red Riding Hood” and invent new tales of goblins, dragons, witches, or singing frogs. There’s something here for everyone!

These tales for adults will take you back to a more innocent time–times when certain people fooled other, more gullible people into trading cows for a few beans; allowed dudes to use their hair in bizarre rock-climbing experiments; turned ordinary crops into gold; and otherwise maimed, killed, and ate other people. Ah, fairy tales!

And here’s the best part: I, and several other contributors, will be reading selections from our stories at on Friday, December 5, at 7 pm. (That’s tomorrow night, if you’re reading this today!)

Location: The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh St
Bethesda, MD 20815

Exciting, right? I know!!! Please RSVP here. It will ask you to “buy” tickets, but the tickets are free; we just ask you to RSVP so we know how many snacks to buy.

BUT THERE’S MORE!

A full ten (10!) percent of the proceeds–now through Christmas–will go to Tim’s Team, a foundation to help raise awareness of cystic fibrosis. I mean, really! If you haven’t bought the book already (and I did give you ample time above), how could you refuse Tim? In the words of the dear, sweet editor, Kelly Jacobson: “Even if we can’t make magic real, we can do some magical good in the world with our stories.”

Well said.

Thankfully Reading 2014: My TBR

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I’m so excited to get started on my Thankfully Reading Weekend! Here’s what I’ll be reading, in no particular order:

  • The Fever by Megan Abbott
  • On Immunity by Eula Biss
  • Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
  • Paper Love by Sarah Wildman

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And, if I have time (haha yeah right!), I’ve also got a backup TBR list:

  • Dear Life by Alice Munro
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Now, on to the reading! As long as Jack doesn’t disturb me, that is.

Check out my #ThankfullyReading progress here!

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Thankfully Reading 2014: My Giveaway!

I always love participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend that Jenn (Jenn’s Bookshelves) organizes. It’s always a lovely excuse to slip away and bury my nose in a book when the holiday gets to be a little too much.

This year, I’m extremely excited to announce that I will be sponsoring one of the giveaways! I’m offering a $20 store credit for the Friday challenge, good for anything in my Shop! Jenn will announce the rules later on, so stay tuned on her site.

ThankfullyReading_zps031c0cceIf you’re interested, please check out Jenn’s post for more information. There aren’t really any rules; you may join in for the weekend or for only a single day.

In any case, I hope you’ll follow along; the hashtag on social media is #thankfullyreading. I’m planning on posting updates as I go–although sometimes, if I’m in a really good book (or enjoying the company of friends and family!), I forget. :) But as Jenn says: No rules, no pressure!

“Across the River and Into the Trees” by Ernest Hemingway

Across the RiverTitle: Across the River and Into the Trees
Author: Ernest Hemingway
ISBN: 978068482553
Pages: 288
Release date: December 12, 1996 (this edition)
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Plot Summary

Would it be too cynical to say “none to speak of”? Oh, all right. A 51-year-old army colonel goes to a town in post-WWII Italy to visit his girlfriend and go duck hunting. While there, he tries to get his affairs in order, reminiscing about his life and how he turned into such a sourpuss.

Analysis

Glad we got that plot taken care of. This story is really about two relationships in the Colonel’s life: with his 19 year old girlfriend Renata, and with his own past.

The book has innumerable flashbacks to more interesting times in the Colonel’s life, featuring battles lost and won, and mistakes made that cost lives. It has left the Colonel a coldly competent but bitter man.

What the novel fails to explain is exactly what Renata sees in him. Renata is almost painfully naïve for the entire story. She apparently comes from a wealthy family, but nonetheless is happy to pose and preen for the Colonel, and finds nothing amiss about the fact that he constantly calls her “daughter” and is in fact older than her father. Here are a few examples of their not at all romantic interactions:

The Colonel said. “Turn your head sideways, beauty.”

“Like this?”

“Like that,” the Colonel said. “Exactly like that.”

And then there’s this gem:

“Walk a little ahead so I can see.”

She walked ahead and the Colonel said, “You walk like a champion before he is the champion. If you were a horse I would buy you if I had to borrow the money at twenty per cent a month.”

“You don’t have to buy me.”

“I know about that. That was not what we were discussing. We were discussing your gait.”

What a charmer! There is nothing a woman loves more than being compared to a well-bred horse!

It seems like half of their interactions are just the colonel commenting on how beautiful she is. Wouldn’t she get tired of this? I know I did.

Why a beautiful young girl from a good family can’t find better prospects than a 50-year-old colonel who occasionally drops by isn’t explained. Which is a real shame. None of their interactions feel true, and as a result Renata comes across as a very limited, flat character.  The Colonel is a bit better developed, but still isn’t exactly compelling. It doesn’t help that the characters have to do all the heavy lifting for the nonexistent plot.

Conclusion:  There are better Hemingway books to read, and I recommend you check one of those out instead.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Across the River and Into the Trees for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

“Answers I’ll Accept” edited by Kelly Ann Jacobson

OKCupid 3

OKCupidMy self-summary

I’m just a fun-loving collection of essays, looking for a reader who enjoys the same. Sometimes I like to get deep and talk about the pain other relationships have caused me, but most of the time I try to stay light and fun. Above all, you gotta have a sense of humor, am I right?

I’ll admit, I’ve been around the block a little bit. I’ve tried Match, OKCupid (my fav!), Craigslist, eHarmony, JDate, AOL chatrooms, emails and listservs–and sometimes, all of the above. I’m not just looking for love; everyone needs friends, and sometimes I just want to have dinner with someone who doesn’t have the social skills of the Unabomber. Could that be you?

I know that everyone has a different experience with love. I just hope I’m one of the success stories.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food

Books: That’s me! ;)
Movies: Rom coms, documentaries
Music: Because I’m an anthology, I’ve got pretty diverse tastes. But I especially enjoy love songs—anything from Etta James to John Legend to Beyonce. All my single ladies!

I’m looking for

• Girls who like guys who like books
• Guys who like girls who like books
• Girls who like girls who like books
• Guys who like guys who like books

My Details

Orientation: Nonfiction (essay collection)
Height: 6 x 9 inches
Body Type: Paperback (80 pages)
Birthday: March 2014
Job: Publishing
Income: $9.99 per copy
Sign: CreateSpace
Relationship Status: It’s complicated
Offspring: No sequels… yet ;) With the right contributors, though, I’d consider a trilogy…

Hit me up if this sounds like a good match! I’m available at independent bookstores and Amazon.

(Each sale from these links helps support the silliness that is Melody & Words.)

By the Book

I am the kind of person who likes to do things by the book. At least at first. Tell me the rules, tell me exactly how to do it. Later, I’ll bend or break the rules and make my own way. But first, I like to know what I’m supposed to be doing.

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I began knitting when I was nine or so. My mother sat down with me and Steve, who is a year older than me. She taught us the basic knit stitch, which is all she knew. Steve and I made row after row of stitches.

I don’t know what Steve thought of this new hobby. I imagine he stopped after being teased about it. There is no end to the things children will be teased for, and boys who knit must be pretty high up.

But I loved the orderly rows, and the sense that I was making something. My fingers were stitching together something you could see and touch. Something beautiful that would last.

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When I ran out of yarn, I abandoned the hobby. Then, in college, I was paired with a roommate who was awful but who nonetheless reminded me of my old pastime. I took it up again.

When I grew tired of the knit stitch, I watched a video on YouTube that taught me to purl, too.

Now I knit and purl and knit and purl to my little heart’s content.

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Yet there is always the niggling fear that I’m doing it wrong.

First, there was the awful college roommate, who laughed at the way I held my yarn. That’s how I learned my mother had taught me the continental stitch, as opposed to, I dunno, the transatlantic stitch. (I know there’s a name for it, but I don’t care enough to look it up.) I hold yarn in the left rather than right hand. I couldn’t unlearn it, even though I tried. It seemed so wrong.

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Now I know it doesn’t matter. No matter how you hold it, the stitches still come out row after row. But back then, I was intimidated by all I didn’t know. So I stopped knitting again for a few years. I definitely don’t remember knitting again in college.

College was really hard. I mean, I know it was hard for everyone, but for me it seemed like a unique and exacting punishment. Punishment for what? I suppose I thought it was for wanting more. More than I deserved. For believing someone like me could become someone else, through the simple alchemy of learning. Someone better.

I’ve devised my own system for tracking stitches. I’m very proud of it. If one day I find that I’ve absorbed this by osmosis–if I discover that every other knitter does this too, and I picked it up without realizing it–I will be sad. This is my one original contribution to knitting, or so it seems.

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And that roommate. She really was awful. She never missed the opportunity to tell me I was white trash, that I didn’t belong at that school and never would.

I imagine at some point I began to believe her, because the evidence was everywhere. I worked late at odd jobs while everyone else partied. I ate macaroni (no cheese) for a week straight while my friends took Daddy’s credit card to the mall. I was miserable, and so I decided that I needed to push harder, learn more. I was pot committed. All in.

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One day, when I got tired of the color I was using, I decided to switch to another. This time, I didn’t have access to the internet, so I devised my own system for stitching colors together. When one row neared the end, I cut the yarn I was using and tied it to another color. Then I kept knitting, tucking the little knot inside the next row.

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Is this how everyone else does it? I still don’t know.

The drawback to this method, as I see it, is the line of colors that mix together. It’s only on the purled side, never on the knitted side. It drives me crazy; it’s so messy, asymmetrical. It taunts me. But I have no idea how to fix it.

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My siblings were never much for school. It was too limiting, too imposed-from-without, too authoritarian. They were confident they knew everything they needed. What they would need to learn, they all seemed to feel by some instinct, they could not learn in a classroom.

But I put all of my faith in education. It was my way up and out, my ticket to a new life. A better self. If I just worked hard enough, learned enough, I could become someone else.

Another thing that bothers me is the roll. This doesn’t always happen, but it happens enough to annoy me. The sides of a piece will roll inward. Is it because I am pulling too hard on the stitches? Not hard enough? I can’t figure it out. It seems to depend on the kind of yarn I’m using.

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I will use an iron to smooth out these rough edges, but it makes me feel like a cheater. I wonder what will happen if other crafters see the shortcuts I take, the imperfections of my amateur work. Will they see these pictures and laugh at me? “That’s such a simple mistake, everyone knows how to fix that!” You see how deep these insecurities run.

Is there a YouTube tutorial that would cure me of my self-learned ways? A book I should be reading? Maybe. Probably.

Yet I don’t seek them out. I’ve come to take a perverse pleasure in these imperfections. There is something very freeing, I have learned, about going your own way. Making your own mistakes, and finding your own epiphanies. Yeah, I know. Everyone else already knew that; I am, as usual, late to the party. But at least I’m here, right?

The thing is, I was wrong. Yeah, my education helped me into a different life. I went to a good school, and a good grad school, and I got a job that I never would have dreamed of before.

But knowledge didn’t change me.

I’m still the same girl. Still scared that you will look closely enough at me and see that I am faking it. When you examine my seams, you will see that I have no idea how to hold this life together. That I have no idea what I’m doing. Scared that you will find reasons to mock the beautiful things that I am trying to make with my own hands.

A few days ago, a friend came over for dinner. She stood by the coffee table and reached out to touch this scarf, my current work in progress. She ran a finger down the mixed line, that blending of colors that so maddens me. I winced and waited for her judgment: “How… interesting,” I expected her to say.

“This is so cool,” she said. “How did you get it to do this?”

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