I never post reviews on websites. Sure, I’ve joined online communities like Goodreads, Audible or Amazon. I read and value what other people say, I’ve made purchases based on what strangers with likeminded tastes have recommended.
But there are two books that so profoundly impacted me this month that I have to write them up.
A Little Background:
A benefit of moving to Los Angeles, (a hidden benefit, or you might say a backhanded benefit): audio books in the car. Not surprisingly, I spend much more time in the car than I did in San Francisco. Oodles. When I drive the boys to school in the morning, the drive time can vary from 17 minutes to 35 minutes. Doesn’t seem like much but that’s almost a 20 minute variant! Who knows what this depends on – right when you think you have it figured out it changes on you: holidays, school in session, accidents, road work, or the way the wind blows. During that drive time we have started listening to Harry Potter in the car. This is great for a couple of reasons. First, the boys don’t complain about being in the car. Instead they get so completely lost in the world of wizards and muggles that they barely even register the passing homeless tent cities or feel the sedentary motion of sitting in gridlock. Also, they don’t get scared. We read the first two books at home, at night right before bed. They are scary! The first one had a scene that spooked me to the core (ahem, I’m 41), and I’ve heard they continue to increase in scariness. In sum, listening to audio books can guarantee fewer nightmares.
But back to me and my books. These two that I fell in love with are total opposites … yet, not. I realize I’m a feminist to my core and I love women writers and narratives about women (and women musicians and singers for that matter). The first book is Yes Please by Amy Poehler and the second is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
Poehler is famous. Big time. She spent years on Saturday Night Live and most recently wrapped the primetime series Parks and Recreation. What’s fascinating about her though is her story. Amy (yes, we go by first names) describes to us readers/listeners about growing up in Boston with an accent that wouldn’t go away, about her family dynamics, and about the successes and failures that vaulted her to fame.
But she also talked to me confidentially. Really, just to me, not to the thousands of other fans who bought her book or downloaded her audio version. Just me. She told me about a regret she had playing a mentally challenged woman on Saturday Night Live, who later she had a correspondence with after many years of guilt and regret. She brought me to tears when she told me about her love for her two sons, and about the secret to time traveling, and about a post-divorce trip to Haiti. Her writing is eloquent yet accessible. As I drove down the boulevards in East Los she would create simple metaphors to illustrate her point, or remind me to get rid of that little self-shaming, critical voice inside our heads. A bonus to the audio version is Amy reads the book, but also has guest readers like Kathleen Turner, Carol Burnett and her parents.
My Brilliant Friend
The second book couldn’t be more unlike Amy’s wry memoir in style, yet touched me in a similar way. Elena Ferrante (if that’s even her real name) is a famous recluse who gives few interviews. She has written a strong handful of books, one being tied together as a series aptly named The Neapolitan Series:
As I write this I am one third through the second novel. The first novel, My Brilliant Friend, rang my bell. This book was published in September of 2012 — where have I been and how could I have been living my life for three years without having experienced Ferrante’s prose?
But it’s not just the prose of course; it’s the storyline. It’s the setting (Naples), it’s the characters (poor town, two best girlfriends), it’s the conflict (domestic violence, life choices) and it’s the unraveling and raveling of all of this interacting through time.
I constantly wonder about the author. It even isn’t clear who the brilliant friend is. But it’s about girls, impending womanhood, fears and thrills. I can’t stop listening (you’ll often find me parked in my driveway long after arriving home.) Hillary Huber reads the audio version and she has such subtle nuances to her voice, all melted together in a soft purr of dictation.
The most difficult aspect to listening to books in the car is that I’m unable to underline. The sentences these women wrote would elevate me from myself, but then they float away and I can’t perseverate on the prose. With Ferrante, it’s the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to purchase a tangible book so that I can soak in the writing with my eyes, not only my ears.
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