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review 2017-11-15 04:58
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

OMG, I totally loved this book. This was the long-awaited prequel to her bestseller Practical Magic, which I had read 20 years ago. Set in the Sixties, it follows the lives of Owens sisters, Franny and Jet, and their brother Vincent. Through the decade they each experience love, heartache and loss due to a family curse. The characters were so vividly written, I did not want to put the book down for a minute!! I have a feeling that a re-read of Practical Magic will be in order for me soon!! Highly recommended!!

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quote 2017-11-13 14:06
Even now [Hemingway] is, as Helene says all men are, fragile.
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review 2017-11-09 12:44
'The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas' by Gertrude Stein
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas - Gertrude Stein

If you start thinking too deep about Gertrude Stein's motivation and headspace in writing this book it's easy to lose yourself in a hall of mirrors. Stein — noted, notable, an influencer before #influencers were a thing — wrote this book "largely to amuse herself" [according to the back cover] in the persona of her partner Alice Toklas, but largely about herself. It is easy to find ways throughout the book that she seems to play with the form, frustrate expecatations, amuse herself, which makes it fun but can also feel like an inside joke, especially if you're not in on the game.

 

I was expecting to get away from the popular vision of Stein into the actual writing. I was knew little more than what I had seen read in Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which was written much later, and seen in the movie Midnight in Paris, which presents a fan-fiction version of Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others in the Paris social circles of the time. Stein, played by Kathy Bates, comes across as a kind of oracle, a sought after voice of guidance who dashes off short, enigmatic quips to her cadre of famous artists and writers.

 

To my surprise, my image hasn't changed that much after reading this book. I imagine this is at least in part an effect of the playfulness, playing into the image that had been built of her. She shows us the same ultra-cool group around her, they all come to 27 rue de Fleurus for advice which is always more quizzical than practical. But when you expect intimacy, she changes the subject, when you expect to hear about art she cuts you off with a neologism, you're ready for more Picasso but she has already drifted to Picabia. 

 

The story constantly jumps from anecdote to anecdote, following thread forward through the years and back so that you lose track of the fact that the chapter that started 40 pages ago is supposed to be about 1907-1914. All her famous friends appear but rather than a revealing look, we get a glimpse and a quip. About Bebe Berard's paintings, she says, "they are almost something and then they are not." And Picabia, "although he has in a sense not a painter's gift he has an idea that has been and will be of immense value to all time." [I'll note that both these instances appear in the book attributed to Stein by Toklas.]

 

At the heart of my issue with this book, and the way it most conforms to the tell-all, is the assumption of a deep familiarity with the subject. Many things that are entirely uninteresting if it's some guy on the bus are suddenly newsworthy if it's done by Anne Hathaway. TMZ owes it's whole existance to this phenomenon and goofy sound effects. In more narrative stories, where the people are fictional or unknown, you would establish that connection between the reader and the principle characters, but in tell-alls and memoirs you can trade off the reader's existing connections to public figures.

 

Going back to Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson [the only name I will ever use for any character he portrays] meets a man at the party who introduces himself as Scott Fitzgerald. He is dumbstruck and the audience is expected to be as well because it's assumed we all know who F. Scott Fitzgerald is. If we had given the name Charles Boyle it would have been a very strange scene, no person watching would have any reason to know why meeting this Charles guy was exciting.

 

So it is here at points. There are so many artists and wives and personalities that flit in and out and we get no characterization. Of course I was very interested in the Hemingway part not only because I like his work but because I know something of his biography. Picasso's work I really enjoy but I know little of his life so I didn't really know what to make of the events that happened to him. He is with Fernande, then he is with Eve and neither mean much to me. I am told Stein and Toklas like Fernande but that's about as high as the stakes get. I know almost nothing of Cezanne's biography though I love his painting, same with Matisse. Juan Gris and Braque, I know their names and a few pieces, and many I don't know at all. 

 

That is why the writing feels so unconnected and why it dragged so much at moments, it sometimes felt like random pages torn out of a notebook and mixed up, there is a story there but I don't have all the pieces to make sense of it. 

 

Adding to the slowness, Stein uses a conversational style, which here means following loose trains of thought and bouncing around between subjects and time periods. In my mind I could picture Toklas professionally lit for a documentary and just speaking for hours straight running through the notable events of her life with Stein. But it doesn't build to anything and the chapters run to about 50 pages so staying focused took some doing. 

 

That is a lot of complaining for a book I enjoyed fine and may revisit someday, probably when I have learned more about Picasso and the art scene in early 20th century Paris. If that is your focus, this is surely a must-read, but if not, I'm hoping there are other routes into Stein that are more inviting.

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quote 2017-11-08 18:02
[Gertrude Stein] always says she dislikes the abnormal, it is so obvious. She says the normal is so much more simply complicated and interesting.
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text 2017-11-07 12:02
Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
Survival Lessons - Alice Hoffman

One of America's most beloved writers shares her suggestions for finding beauty in the world even during the toughest times. Survival Lessons provides a road map of how to reclaim your life from this day forward, with ways to re-envision everything―from relationships with friends and family to the way you see yourself. As Alice Hoffman says, “In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make.” Wise, gentle, and wry, Alice Hoffman teaches all of us how to choose what matters most.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this nonfiction work, novelist Alice Hoffman thinks on some of the most challenging periods of her life and puts together lessons she's learned once coming out on the other side of those trying times. In her preface, she starts with the year of her cancer diagnosis, right when professionally she was feeling extraordinarily blessed and busy. Her novel Here On Earth had recently been chosen as an Oprah Book Club pick, while another of her works, Practical Magic, had a film adaptation in production starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. As she flat out says, "I didn't have time to be ill." But cancer doesn't care what you have going on, so... ill she was. The experience led her to not only get in some "what does it all mean?" kind of deep thinking during this process of trying to get well, but also other moments in her life that brought her to a similar state of mind. Hoffman thought it might be beneficially to put it all down and create an inspiring little booklet for dark times. So Survival Lessons was born. 

 

 

Just some of the soul-strengthening ideas Hoffman offers:

 

* Find a hero figure, someone who exudes an inner strength and love of life you admire

* CHOOSE to enjoy yourself and your life. Sure, you're bound to have responsibilities that you need to address, but every so often set time aside to have a (guilt-free btw!) you-day! Yes, take care of your loved ones but also make sure you sometimes give into your OWN wants! Be unapologetically you :-)

* CHOOSE to forgive.

* Friends & Family: Choose your friends wisely, surround yourself with people who exude positive energy. Keep supportive, nurturing people close and turn away selfish, manipulative, soul-sucking people. Carefully consider the source before choosing to take advice of someone. Also, even in the midst of challenging schedules, be sure to make time for your friends.

* It's good to live in the moment but also not a bad idea to also make at least a few plans for the future! Give yourself goals to keep you mentally stimulated and motivated!

* Accept that there will be inevitable times of sorrow but choose to live in the light and allow yourself to dream of beautiful things / moments to come.

* Take risks and try new things. Make beautiful things.

* Tell your own story, in your own way, in your own time. Claim your past: Embrace, acknowledge and come to terms with your experiences. Don't be afraid to share your life story sometimes, never know who it could help -- talk with strangers, join support groups, volunteer at non-profit organizations. 

* For those emotionally struggling and in a relationship: don't block out your partner / spouse. Choose love and remember that while they might not know exactly what you're feeling, they ARE there going through it with you in their own way. They're trying to figure all this out too! 

 

If you're a member of the crafty crowd, Hoffman also includes a knitting pattern for a knit hat designed by her cousin, Lisa Hoffman. For bakers, she includes a recipe for the perfect boiled egg that she learned from Julia Child as well as the brownie recipe (requires a double boiler) of a close friend.

 

Here's a warning: Maclin's brownies will not appear perfect. They will sink in the middle. The top will crack. You'll want to throw them out. Don't. They will be everything they should be and more. They are perfect inside, which is even better than merely looking good.

 

Hoffman also includes some lovely blue-toned photographs and art images that nicely add to the calming vibe of this entire book. 

 

 

I don't think Julia {Child} would mind me giving out her secret. She was a survivor. When we worked together raising funds at the hospital where we had both been treated, I instantly wished she was my best friend. Her warmth and compassion were legend. She didn't want to talk about herself and was deeply interested in other people. She knew who she was, but she didn't know who you were, and she wanted to. Frankly, she was more alive than people half her age. Everything was beautiful to her: an egg, a stranger's life story, a battered cooking pot. 

 

This made it onto my list of favorite books I've read in 2017. It was one of those ones that seemed to find me at just the right time. In addition to sharing her cancer story, Hoffman discusses the experience of having to essentially be a parent to her mother (been there myself!). I also found myself feeling a bond over both of us having discovered the works of Ray Bradbury when we were both twelve years old. Though I've been aware of Alice Hoffman as a writer for many years, it's only been in the last couple years that I started cracking open her books for myself. She's since become a favorite of mine. It was just the cherry on top to discover we had such similarities in our life stories. Having lost my mother earlier this year, this inspiring work gave me just the heart lift I needed to work my way back to healing. Survival Lessons will forever have a place on my shelves and will likely be a book I gift out for many years to come! 

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