Saturday, February 02, 2008

some recent reading

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, read by Steven Crossley
High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother. He is angry and alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in his imagination, he finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a land that is a strange reflection of his own world, populated by heroes and monsters, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book...The Book of Lost Things.

I had heard good things about this book, but didn't remember much about it. Listening to the book, I thought it was very well done, but it was much darker than I expected. I liked how Connolly incorporated fairy tales into the story and gave them a twist to serve his needs though in most cases they ended up darker and more menacing than even the usual not-so-nice versions of fairy tales.

In some ways this book reminded me of Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy, which I read last year. It is very different, but I loved Gruber's take on the fairy tales.

I though Crossley was a wonderful reader, especially in how he brought the different characters to life through his voice.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman's face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the searing pain of peer rejection and the paralyzing fear of never being loved.

I picked up Autobiography of a Face and Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty around the same time after hearing that they were both fantastic books and should be read together.

I have yet to read Truth and Beauty, but it seems to me that it is impossible to read Autobiography of a Face and not be curious about Grealy's life beyond the part described in the memoir. In doing that supplemental reading, I discovered the tension between the two books and the fact that Suellen Grealy, Lucy's older sister, came out against Truth and Beauty in The Guardian.

Autobiography of a Face wasn't the easiest to read, but Grealy wrote about her life and struggles eloquently and with great honesty. The saddest part of her story, however, is the cause of her untimely death in 2002.* After I learned about her death, I began to see Grealy as much more of a tragic character than I did when I finished the book.

I'll be reading Truth and Beauty soon. I understand Suellen Grealy's concerns, but I know that each of the books only contains a version of the truth and, for better or for worse, Patchett, by writing Truth and Beauty has brought Grealy and Autobiography of a Face much more exposure than they would have had otherwise.

* Apparently she became addicted to prescription painkillers after her last reconstructive surgery (similar to the brief codeine addiction she describes in the book), which served as a gateway to heroine and her eventual accidental overdose.


  1. I hadn't heard about either of these books but having followed through your links and having loved Patchett fiction I'm going to have to see if I can find them in the library. They sound fascinating.

  2. Autobiography of a Face is still languishing on my Mt. TBR, but I read and loved Truth and Beauty. I didn't realize that Lucy's sister was against Truth and Beauty. Yes, Patchett was pretty honest about Grealy's struggles, but I think that Patchett's love for her friend despite all the problems really shined through and took the sting out of what could have been construed as a negative portrayal of Lucy's life. It seemed to me like Ann Patchett captured *all* of Lucy, not just the good or just the bad - which was what made it so good and such a fitting tribute to friendship. But I suppose I can see how it might rub a relative the wrong way nonetheless... *shrugs.*

  3. Hi. I am glad I stumbled by your book review blog. I recently did a post on both the Lucy Grealy and the Ann Patchett book, on my site . Lucy's book has been part of my coming-to-terms with and understanding myself, since I was a teenager. My post is about how we sometimes want to connec with other readers who happen to enjoy the same books we do. Hope you and your readers enjoy it, and I will be reading and sharing your insights and opinions with others! :)-Shahin;