Adventures in Reading

Fiction: My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates, 2008

“The death of a beautiful girl-child of no more than ten years of age is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” – E.A. Pym from “The Aesthetics of Composition,” 1846

Joyce Carol Oates’ most recent novel My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike is a foray into the world of childhood tabloid stardom. Unquestioningly based on the JonBenét Ramsey case of the ’90s, My Sister, My Love is told through the voice of Skyler Rampike – the brother of legendary child prodigy figure skater Bliss Rampike, who was murdered as a young girl. The novel is a memoir manuscript of sorts exploring Skyler’s perspective and experience, as well as the tabloid influence on his American life post-tragedy.

As my first novel by the prolific Oates, My Sister, My Love delivers everything it promises. Written from a medicated and spoiled/privileged viewpoint of an American, wealthy adolescent, the character Skyler is written in a jumpy or nervous style that switches between first and third person narrative as well as through the eyes of a younger boy and an adolescent. (If you’re not comfortable with alternative narratives, I’d suggest staying away from this one.) The narrative becomes more curious as throughout Skyler reflects on his own use of literary devices.

I didn’t love this book, though I did speed read through the first 3/4ths of the book. The gritty tabloid aspect of the book works brilliantly, as does Skyler’s childhood experiences with the Rampike family, and I found myself reading it like I scan the “trash mags” at the grocery store check out aisle; however, the latter portion of the book just isn’t as interesting. *Shrugs.* Regardless, this is what the book promised from the start and Oates does deliver it. Perhaps not her best book, but still one that I (mostly) enjoyed reading. In addition to the theme of media and particularly tabloids, Oates has a lot to say on this particular venue and type of America and the people that are produced from it.

One point of additional interest for myself was that when Skyler was a child during the ’90s so was I, and I felt like I had a more intimate look because of this (a.k.a. my mom totally dressed at times like the mother in the book!)

A Girl Walks Into A Bookstore… had an interesting post awhile back about the cover, and starting the book I initially concurred that the cover is just not appealing, but now that I’ve finished the book it is strangely appropriate (that and I have no other ideas to suggest that would be any more appealing!).

Conclusion: Returned to the library.


Fiction: The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

Of all the book genres to shop in, my favorite section to make a book selection based purely on the weight of the book jacket has to be the children’s section. It is the one area of books where covers can be as fanciful and whimsical as you like, with no concern for the austerity that settles upon the art of adult’s books [1]. Vivian French’s The Robe of Skulls has been one such book, and I made sure to check it out before all of our available copies went to Halloween displays.

The Robe of Skulls is the story of the abused orphan Gracie Gillypot and her escape from her evil stepfather and sister thanks to the help of a bat. It’s also the story of Prince Marcus, whose overprotective father has contributed to his boredom with being a prince and it is the same bat that helps him with an adventure. Marlon the bat works for the Ancient Ones, weavers, and these ladies exist at the center of the story. But it is Lady Lamorna and her desire to acquire a dress decorated with skulls that she cannot afford that truly begins the story. In a world of True and Falsehearts, who will escape the weavers?

French’s tale is a ghoulish book filled with marvelous names and locations punctuated by Ross Collins’ illustrations that have a Roald Dahlish quality, a certain gruesomeness and starkness that encourages the viewer to fill in more detail. Though a relatively simple and short story, The Robe of Skulls manages to embrace many fairy tale nuances: orphans, princes, beautiful damsels, royalty turning into frogs, a witch with an inept sidekick, and everyone (mostly) returns home after learning valuable lessons.

A cute story with just enough fright to keep it interesting (but not too scary), I am sure it will be an endearing read for children. However, I did feel it lacked the complexity that makes children’s books also attractive to adults.

[1] Excluding some fantasy and sci-fi books, but even then they’re usually a bit more mature for adult consumption.

Conclusion: Returned to work.

Other opinions: Charlotte’s Library.

Odds & Ends

Chuck Palahniuk’s latest book Snuff is out and with the most god awful cover. While I am attempting to reserve opinion of the actual book until I have read it, the cover is simply atrocious and the digital format actually does it justice. I keep wondering what high schooler created this cover with Photoshop and it is particularly disappointing when you consider most of Palahniuk’s book covers are quite attractive. I hope that someone will most definitely redesign this before it comes out in paperback.

Over at Pharyngula’s blog there’s a post and some great follow up posts about bookstore “vandalism.” Apparently some guys took books out of the bible studies section, redistributed them throughout the story, and left a lone copy of Sam Harrison’s Christian Nation. How original. While most of the athest/religious hubbub has died down in my store we are dealing with a lot of political book shuffling. Most commonly this is reflected in people flipping over Obama books, which I really cannot say is a huge issue to remedy.

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