In the following “My Height in Books” reviews I further explore the book which inspired the TED Talk by Dr. Meg Jay that examines our “thirty-is-the-new-twenty” culture. Also, I delve into the mind of Stephen King, wander Africa through the perspective of white women and tempt the fate of the man who claims to have killed Harry Houdini.
The Defining Decade – Meg Jay, PhD
In “The Defining Decade,” clinical psychologist, Dr. Meg Jay, argues that opposed to a society urging that the twenties are some kind of “second adolescence” when in reality they are some of the most important years of our lives. Using science, and a decade of work with clients in their twenties and beyond, Jay offers the tools on how to maximize your twenties. She claims that if we use time wisely, we can set ourselves up for success in all areas; work, relationships, personality, social networks and identity. I found her book thought provoking and encouraging.
However, I have heard others argue that her cookie cutter mentality simply fosters feelings that accomplishment is difficult without following her strict guidelines. Others say she is not factoring in the difficulty of actually finding a job. Regardless, I took what she suggested and made it my own and ultimately embraced the overall message that life, especially in our twenties, means something. Now is the time to create the life you want for your future.
The Confabulist – Steven Galloway
Magic is something that we choose to believe although we know it to be untrue. The same can not be said about this book. I found myself wanting to attach to the characters but ultimately left feeling disengaged, I wanted to be mesmerized and amazed and yet I became lost in an intricate web that led me nowhere. I was asked to believe, when I felt like I could see right through the magic mirror to the writer on the other side, bent over his computer, desperately clinging to his plot line. The laborious rhythm of events, which consistently winds around back to the beginning, felt like being trapped in a roundabout, or a book that lacked any real depth.
The moments of mystery barely held a pulse and the characters felt like cardboard cutouts. A rabbit has more appeal. The dialogue was choppy, overly planned and felt staged. There were no human flaws to offer authenticity, the language felt like chewing wood and wandering through the pages of prose felt like walking on glass. The shards of interaction found scattered about felt forced for the sake of conversation. I would have preferred silence. Overall, the magic was lost, the tricks fell flat and by the time the sheet was lifted to reveal the truth, I frankly didn’t care who killed Houdini.
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
This is a story told from the perspective of a woman and her four daughters. When the fierce husband, father and evangelical Baptist, Nathan Price takes his family on a missionary trip to the Belgian Congo in 1959, they believe they will intervene on the sins of the people and guide them towards holy light. What follows is a suspenseful unraveling of the family and a remarkable journey of self-discovery over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
I thought the clash of cultures was believable, although at times I felt that the characters were one-dimensional, as if Kingsolver had decided who they were and kept them within those barriers. To equate a certain, almost cliché, characteristic to a group of people (white = good, black = bad) not only felt prejudicial but predictable. I also found it interesting that we never heard from Nathan Price. After all, he is the man who essentially caused the domino effect to their demise. He affects the other characters so profoundly and yet he remains a mystery. Then, as Kingsolver continued to paint him as evil and we still did not penetrate his mind, I thought that perhaps he was only meant to be a conduit for the downfall, and the personification of our human flaws and greed-ridden intentions.
Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees….Away down below now, single file on the path, comes a woman with four girls in tow, all of them in shirtwaist dresses. Seen from above, they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you’ll have to decide what sympathy they deserve.”
Stephen King – On Writing
As a Stephen King fanatic, it was incredible to learn the inspiration behind what would go on to be some of his greatest work. And though he reiterates that he can’t make you a better writer, his tips and “tool box” certainly make you hopeful. That is until he offers an assignment (which he encourages you send to him afterwards) and you can’t help but think, ‘I do not have time for THAT.’
Well, then that is the truth… you aren’t meant to write a novel, perhaps not now, or ever. It is through these subtleties that Stephen King helps you find your own answers as to what kind of writer you can be, if a writer at all. He never tries to trick you or convince you of your capabilities, because in a way he believes you either have it or you don’t (and most of us simply will never get a sniff of literary genius). If you truly want to write, then this is the book to read.