Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Narrator: Meryl Streep
Length: 5 hours, 30 minutes
What it is: Seven months pregnant, cookbook writer and food personality Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband has been having an affair with someone she knows. Meanwhile, her well-heeled friends spend their time planning events and gossiping about The Other Woman; they suspect she’s having an affair, but they can’t figure out with whom. Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes for Rachel’s various comfort foods. Rachel just doesn’t know what to do: she wants to make things work with her husband, but she also wants him to drop dead. The book was originally published in 1983.
Why I listened to it: I was looking for a short, light-hearted audiobook. I’d been meaning to read this for a while now because it seems to be universally loved, and it didn’t hurt that Meryl Streep was the narrator (she also starred in the 1986 film adaptation).
What I thought: I think I might have to come to terms that I love Nora Ephron the screenwriter and director, but not Nora Ephron the author. Heartburn is indeed light and entertaining — I can see why people seem to love it so much, and there were moments that genuinely made me laugh — but it felt very one-note/stand-up comedy routine.
Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans
Publisher/Year: Verso, 2015
What it is: A graphic novel about Rosa Luxemburg, who was born into a poor Jewish family in Poland. She was tiny (probably from malnourishment) and sickly (she would walk with a limp for her whole life), but by the age of fifteen, she was rabble rousing on behalf of the working class. She fought to be sent away to receive an education and grappled with Communism in a way that would make it accessible to the people. By her twenties, in a time when women still lacked any authority in important matters, Luxemburg had earned a PhD and made a name for herself in Germany as an important theorist, organizer, and writer whose ideas are still relevant to this day.
Why I read it: I love books on women’s history, and I loved that this one was presented as a graphic biography.
What I thought: First off, I commend Kate Evans for being able to work so much theory into the text in an accessible way! It was still a little clunky at times, but…have you ever read Marx? Overall, though, Evans did a wonderful job of showing Luxemburg as a person — someone with a fiery determination to make her ideas known, but also someone with a rich and fascinating private life. I’d never heard of Luxemburg before reading this, and I am grateful for the introduction.
You can view some of the artwork from the book after the jump. You can also read an excerpt at The Nation.
In December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz moved into their new home in Amityville, NY. With three young children and a limited budget, they could hardly believe their luck: the house on 112 Ocean Avenue had everything they wanted at the right price. After they toured the house, they found out why: the previous year, Ronald DeFeo Jr. had gruesomely murdered his parents and four siblings there (true story). Still, when they learned the reason the house was so cheap, they brushed it off.
But from the moment the Lutzes moved in on December 18, weird things started happening. Certain rooms were ice cold no matter what they did. The priest that they’d asked to come and bless the house quickly fled; he became ill and had extreme physical reactions any time he tried to reach out to the Lutzes, even over the phone. George and Kathleen grew moody and lashed out at the children. George found himself waking up at 3:15 a.m. every day like clockwork. One of the children suddenly had a mysterious imaginary friend.
Having raved about Anthony Marra’s debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, a couple of years ago, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his latest offering. The Tsar of Love and Techno is somewhat similar to its predecessor in its focus: life during and after Soviet rule. But where Marra had a whole novel to convey the crushing weight of life under Soviet rule with Phenomena, accomplishing this same task a second time with short stories as his vehicle of delivery was probably a lot trickier.
The Tsar of Love and Techno is a book of connected short stories. It’s a mixtape of sorts, an appropriate concept considering the symbolic significance an actual mixtape plays in several of the stories. The book begins in the 1930s with a Soviet censor, a genius in his own right, whose job it is to “correct” photographs, painting over offending parties that have been disappeared by the government and erasing them out of existence. For reasons he can’t explain, he’s drawn to the photograph of a ballerina whose identity he does not know. He leaves a small part of her visible on the photograph, a move that could jeopardize his life.
Vinnie Miner is an American professor living in London for six months to work on her new book of children’s rhymes. She was never considered attractive when she was growing up, a fact that she made her peace with over the years. Instead, she focused on cultivating her career and her image as a refined anglophile; she actually disdains her fellow Americans. Now that she’s in her mid-fifties, she’s secretly pleased to see that she’s aged better than her peers. While still no great beauty, she has her own modest place among London’s intelligentsia and theatre community. She has a feeling that others might consider her prim and sexless — not true; she’s had her share of lovers! — but it’s a thought that she prefers not to dwell on.
On her flight to London, Vinnie finds herself sitting next to a talkative man from Tulsa, Oklahoma named Chuck Mumpson. He’s the epitome of everything she detests about Americans: he may be well-off, but he’s loud, brash, and uncultured. He didn’t even bring a book to read on the overseas flight! Desperate to shut him up, she offers one of her books to him and settles in for the flight.
Valerie Martin’s latest book, Sea Lovers: Selected Stories, features previously published works that span her career. The twelve stories in this collection usually start out firmly based in moody realism, then end up taking a couple of steps into dark whimsy. They’re organized into three different themes: animals, art, and transformation.
Content-wise, the first section, “Among the Animals,” was probably the most difficult for me to get through (and yet I couldn’t look away). Let’s just say that nature — human nature, animal nature, life in general — is not terribly kind, and Martin explores this theme from different angles. The first story in the collection, “Spats,” is an excellent example not just of the section on animals, but of the atmosphere of book as a whole. In it, the narrator is struggling to move on after the break-up of her marriage. Her husband has left her for another woman and is in the process of settling into his new life, so she spends her days dreaming of ways to get revenge.