As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Through the cracks is a review series focusing on the ones that got away. These are the timeless classics that everyone has read – everyone, that is, except the reviewer, who is finally getting around to reading a book which somehow slipped through the cracks and trying to see if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m from New Albany, Mississippi. Birthplace of William Faulkner. I lived much of my childhood about two miles or so from his childhood home. I went to New Albany High School, where Faulkner pride was contagious and inescapable. I went on to attend Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi – where Faulkner lived as an adult. One of my classes met once at Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home, because, well hello, how do you attend Ole Miss and not visit William Faulkner’s home at some point? So, as you can see, a lot of Faulkner for me. A whole lot. I’m even a (very) distant cousin to the man. So can someone please explain to me how I never read a Faulkner novel, either in high school where, as I said, Faulkner was revered and beloved, or at Ole Miss, where he was possibly more revered and beloved? And I was an English major, for crying out loud… I guess it’s just that even though all my high school teachers taught a Faulkner novel most years, I somehow fell in the year that skipped him – all four years. Then in college, I never could work out my schedule to include the Southern lit class I so desperately wanted to take. When I finally did manage to get into a writing course that taught a Faulkner novel, I had to drop it because of unforeseen difficulties in commuting to the branch. I mean, I’d read a couple of short stories in some survey courses. I think I’d had “A Rose for Emily” at least three times. But no novel. It just slipped through the cracks. Well, no more. I recently picked up As I Lay Dying, and jumped in. It’s just not right to have grown up where I did, have gone to school where I did, even be who I am – a distant relative, a Mississippian – without ever reading a Faulkner novel.
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The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Dear Mr. Rothfuss,

Why is it that the more you love a book, the harder it is to review?  But the more you love it, the more you want to review it, because you want everyone else to know how great it is.  This is my current dilemma.  I recently read The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and I feel like I might explode from excitement.  But all the silly little words I’ve thrown at it so far have just flailed around in the air and bounced off its surface and finally crashed like paper airplanes.  And if I write paper airplanes, you write, let’s say, Air Force One or Starship Enterprise.  So how do I do this book justice?  I don’t think I can.  So I thought I’d just skip the heavy analysis that my English-teacher-brain always demands and just tell you how much I love your books, especially The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and how much Auri means to me.

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The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

                I’m a sucker for a good series.  Once I start, I can’t stop.  And I’m just a teeny bit of an Anglophile.  So when a former college instructor of mine recommended The White Queen, book one of The Cousins’ War series, I jumped in.  And I loved it.  This series tells of the Cousins’ War, or the War of the Roses, fought for the throne of England between the houses of Lancaster and York, from the point of view of the women involved – a unique perspective.  I loved learning about Elizabeth Woodville, the first known queen of England whom a king married for love rather than arrangement.  How influential she was in the War, how she was loved by some and hated by others, how she strove for power, how she loved her children…  She was painted as ambitious and power-seeking, yet as the protagonist, readers sympathized with her as she strove for influence and greatness and as she worked to advance her children in the world.  We cried with her when she hid in sanctuary in fear for her life and her children’s lives.  Gregory caused us to feel for Elizabeth and the Yorks.

But in The Red Queen, the second book in the series, Gregory completely shifts the point of view from York to Lancaster, from Elizabeth Woodville to Margaret Beaufort – mother of the last Lancaster heir.  This purposeful shift in point of view was the most striking part of this book.  Rather than continue in the spirit of York, readers are given a dose of the Lancaster side of the fight, specifically through the eyes of the mother of Henry Tudor.
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Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo

“Missy loved that poem [‘The Jabberwocky’].  She said it gave her hope, not understanding it, but loving the way it sounded.  Not understanding the thing you love, but loving it fiercely anyway…”

Mother-daughter relationships are known for misunderstandings.  It has been that way since, probably, the dawn of humanity.  Mothers and daughters argue, they disagree, they get under each other’s skin.  But they’re also known for being each other’s biggest fans, best friends, and the biggest source of support for each other.  As a daughter with a loving mother, I can attest to all of the above.  But I never disagreed with my mother quite to the extent that Abbie disagrees with her mother Ruth in Karen Rizzo’s Famous Baby.  This mother-daughter pair is one that could rival any other: Ruth and Abbie remind readers of the importance of communication with loved ones, and they illustrate to us that while  we don’t always understand those we love, we do still love them; and that’s what matters most.

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Jam Today Too by Tod Davies

I am twenty-seven years old, and I just recently started learning to cook.  I grew up surrounded by good cooks.  Good Southern cooks – even better.  I paid attention; I watched; I helped.  But when I grew up and moved out, I found myself wanting NaNa’s cornbread and not really remembering how she did it.  Did she use an egg or not?  How did she get the crunchy crust around the edges that made beans and vegetables and soups tastes so much better?  And some days, I’d think of Granny’s turkey dressing, and the only thing I could remember was that she threw some stuff in a bowl, she put it in the oven, and a little while later, the oven opened like clouds parting to make way for sunshine, and something truly heavenly came forth.  In winter, I’d start craving Mama’s chili and stare at my barely-used slow cooker, willing the stuff to blend and cook with the Force.  Why couldn’t I do this?  Why did it seem like such a foreign concept?  Unless I could master my Jedi mind tricks (or slow-cooker tricks?), I was doomed to a life of frozen pizzas and dehydrated noodles and dry toast.  And I didn’t like that thought.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I can hardly call myself a competitive runner.  But I do run, and I give it my best.  So I humbly use the title “Runner” to describe myself these days.  When I first started running, I was forty-five pounds heavier, emotionally insecure, and mentally drained.  It was a particularly low point in my life.  I was stuck in a serious rut, to say the least, and I had to get out.  But at that very difficult point in my life, after much hardship, I needed to accomplish something.  And before I could accomplish that something, I had to figure out what that something was: I had to set a goal – something I hadn’t done in a very long time.  Out of the blue one day, I decided I would go to the track after work and see if I could run at all.  I’d heard about “runner’s high” and heard friends of mine who run describe how great it feels.  So on a whim, I made this my goal.  I was going to start running.  And I was going to lose some weight doing it.  And I was going to run a 5K.

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Grendel by John Gardner

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Who doesn’t have a little bit of the monstrous in his or her personality? Sure, we know that criminals, little siblings, and middle schoolers do… But psychology teaches that every person, no matter how genuinely good, still retains some amount of the bad, too. Artists and philosophers and writers and judges and psychologists and mechanics and dog groomers and vacuum cleaner sales people and waitresses (Shall I go on?) have pondered over this idea and reached all kinds of conclusions. Even Star Trek got in on the discussion in 1966 with the episode The Enemy Within, in which Captain Kirk is literally split into these two sides of himself – the good and the evil. All this pondering of good and evil leads to further philosophical ideas: Nihilism, Existentialism, and so on. Now, I’m no philosopher; but I do find this philosophical discourse in Grendel [Spock voice] …fascinating.

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