25 Women to Read Before You Die

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Bethany Dotson has commented on (20) products.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

Bethany Dotson, March 19, 2013

I received an ARC for this at request because I absolutely loved the last Colum McCann I read, which was Let the Great World Spin. There's no doubt about it, this guy knows how to write.

Transatlantic is composed of individual sections that are linked by the women in them--sometimes the women are the major characters, sometimes the minor characters. They travel back and forth across the Atlantic to/from North America & Ireland.

Every chapter is set in a different time & place from the early 1800′s to the 1970′s ( 1845-46, Ireland; 1919, Newfoundland), and each is written from a different viewpoint. Only two chapters are NOT written from the viewpoint of a woman, which is an interesting choice on McCann’s part, seeing as in Let the Great World Spin I think there was only one section from a woman’s viewpoint�"correct me if I’m wrong. The majority of the time it sounded authentic�"only once or twice did I stop and think wait, what gender of person is supposed to be narrating this? Because this sounds like a man.

It took me about halfway through the book to see the connecting female line, which could just mean that I'm slow. I was pretty frustrated for the first half as to WHAT the heck was going on…because seriously, the first cross-Atlantic flight & Frederick Douglass do not really go together. & then when I figured out the women thing (b/c they are both VERY minor participants in the first couple sections) I was like….ohhhhhh.

The only beef that I had with this book is that McCann has one sentence structure and he sticks with it. Through the whole book. I wanted to scream. Bloody murder. And throw the book. Possibly across the room. After 50 pages.

You get the idea. To be honest, it's not so jarring for most of the book, but there are several sections where it's just unbearable. Other than that, McCann's writing is lyrical, evocative, all those good things.

Anyway, four stars out of five for some beautiful writing, clever plotting�"but really obnoxious sentence structure. If you’re going for a we’re-all-connected novel, I think I prefer The Illusion of Separateness (by Simon Van Booy), which (although the title could be improved upon) did it better, in my opinion.
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Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
Frances and Bernard

Bethany Dotson, February 27, 2013

This is the sort of book that should be read on a quiet evening with classical music--Bach, Schumann--playing in the background. Piano music. It's an epistolary novel, written mainly in letters between Frances and Bernard, the two title characters, through a period of years, as their relationship develops and changes.

The best sort of books--my favorite sort--are those that, when you have finished, you put down quietly and sit and stare off into space. The best sort make you want to imitate the writing style and capture a little of the beauty in your own speech. The prose is perfect; for a debut novel, it was stunning. Definitely an author to watch, and anyone that loves literary fiction or literature needs to pick this up!
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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Bethany Dotson, January 2, 2013

I read 132 books this year, in 2012, and this was by far my favorite in all categories. Doris Kearns Goodwin makes Lincoln come alive in such a real, human way--you see him with all his flaws and faults, all his brilliance and triumph. Her emphasis in this tome (this is one long book) is on his rivals for the 1860 Republican nomination (Seward, Stanton, and Chase) and how he incorporated them into his cabinet to unite his party. Although Goodwin does go into his personal, economic, religious life, the emphasis is on his political savvy and genius in one of the most difficult times in American history.

Five stars. Breathtaking. It's like she was there!
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The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
The Garden of Evening Mists

Bethany Dotson, December 14, 2012

I made it a goal this year to read all of the Man Booker 2012 finalists; I only got through a couple, but that's another story. This one was my favorite (other than Bring Up the Bodies, which won). If you're a fan of rip-rolling plot & action, it may not be for you, but it is beautiful, evocative--everything the reviews say that it is.

Garden of Evening Mists follows (Teoh) Yun Ling, a survivor of a concentration/prison camp in Malaysia in WWII. It's told in two different times--the "present," when Yun Ling is old and retiring, and the past, as she writes her memories down of when she first came to Yugiri, the Japanese garden, and met Aritomo, the Japanese gardener. It's a beautiful, thoughtful book about the horrors of war, guilt, and regret, and the capacity of nature & the human spirit to heal.
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Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Birds of America

Bethany Dotson, December 4, 2012

One of the best collections of short stories that I've read in a very, very long time.

Moore neatly, perfectly, succinctly packages life into small incidents and moments, conveying a sense of disillusionment, abandonment, and isolation that surrounds all her characters. I found myself wondering if Moore hadn't lived some of these moments, because it seems fantastic to me that she would know so intimately, be able to convey so perfectly, the pain of a baby with cancer, the ex-pat.

Strangely, I found myself reading Ethan Frome and other Stories by Edith Wharton, and being stunned by the similarity in themes and everyday tragedy.

My favorite quote from the book sums this up better than I can myself, speaking of how life sometimes pushes the bounds of believable fiction:

“But this is the kind of thing that fiction is: it's the unlivable life, the strange room tacked onto the house, the extra moon that is circling the earth unbeknownst to science.”
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