365 Books to Bliss: Book 6 — “The Red Tent” By, Anita Diamant

Cover of "The Red Tent: A Novel"
Cover of The Red Tent: A Novel

3 sentences into this book and I shouted to my hubby in the next room– “okay, I’m  not disappointed.”    My son looked at the cover and said —  “Look Mom –it’s you!”  I thought the woman featured on the cover kinda looked like a guy. But, Dougie assured me that she was me. It’s no wonder that after 180 pages, I fell asleep  with my ear crunched into the book  and dreamt of a time when my son was my nephew — and I struggled to get him to remember me as his mother.

“The Red Tent” is the story of Dinah — sister of Joseph (as in Joseph and the Amazing technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph). It’s biblical fiction in all its flowery language and detail.

Before reading it, I had my own preconceived notions of men with multiple wives, arranged marriages, dowrys, and oppression of the female. Fiction or not — being able to see a female perspective of old testament days was pretty fascinating.

She’s a slow writer, like I am a slow eater — making sure every word is just perfect before spilling  the beans.  Every word is so beautiful, but there’s not a lot of action happening. I got a little bored but only a little. It’s hard for me to read fiction  because I want so much from it. I want crazy words to pop out of the air. I want risks and twists and magic. I want stuff to happen in fiction that you wouldn’t so much want to happen or believe could happen in real life.

I thought about how difficult  it is to edit my own chapters when I love the words, but they simply don’t move the story forward.   Still this book feels like a giant glossy love letter, and if you are a romantic — you will love it.  If it were to be edited  to satisfy my tastes,   it would completely disrupt the flow that fits so perfectly with the era she is writing about.

Perhaps now, I will value the whole “slowing down” thing in my own work, and see where that takes me.

I can’t spoil endings or too much detail, but I will tell you that the red tent is where the women hang. They go there to rest on moon days, to take care of the sick and nurse babies. This is where the women tell secrets and share their stories. Amongst 4 wives, 1 husband and 12 sons– there was only 1 daughter, and she is Dinah — and so Dinah carries the memories of her mother (Leah) and her “mother aunties” (her mother’s sisters and the other wives of Jacob, who was also their cousin).

There is some excitement. You do get to hear Dinah’s version of what happened to her brother Joseph.  And more. But, I won’t spoil it.

Ciao,

G

I’m reading 365 books this year, and that’s a lot.

365 Books to Bliss: Book 4 — “The House on Mango Street” By, Sandra Cisneros

Cover of "The House on Mango Street"
Cover of The House on Mango Street

It’s late, and I had a wee bit too much durian tonight — so I’ll try to make this quick.

I got WOWED.

I broke my fiction fast with “The House on Mango Street” because it was one of those gleaming golden nuggets that survived my book purge today. I brought it from Chicago. Somehow stole it from an old roomie. Thanks, Tina!

When I was 8 or ten my fave books were  tied between those “Choose  Your own Adventure” novels and the Harlequin Romances that my neighbor Kathy would let me borrow. I thought I was cool reading about kissing and men with “Roman Noses.”

Between the ages of 8 and 12 I read one book — “A Wrinkle in Time” — which is still one that I buy for everyone I know, with the hopes that they will enjoy even an ounce of what that book did for me.

As a teen, reading became uncool for me. So did getting good grades and wearing jeans. I didn’t read an entire book all the way through until I was 17 and in Mrs Galvin’s AP English class. And, that book was “The House on Mango Street.”

The first time, I gobbled it up by the time my bus from the Harold Washington Library reached my stop at 63rd and Nashville. I was officially a reader again. And, finally the stuff I’d been writing made sense. So, I wrote a very passionate letter to Sandra Cisneros. Yeah, she totally didn’t reply.

Today, I didn’t begin reading until at least 8pm. It was tough to decide which book would float my boat today. After not being wowed for 3 days in a row, I was afraid to commit.

The library swears I owe 48 bucks for some ludicrous fees for not bringing back movies???? I promise I will take care of that. I didn’t make it to the bookstore because Dougie was too hungry ( go figure).
So, back to my shelf — I had to choose from “James and the Giant Peach,” “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” and “Mango Street.” I let my gut decide.

Every word rolls like butter from the page, and I read the first three chapters (vignettes) out loud to Dougie — who dug it til he fell asleep.

When you write in short short stories like she does — every word counts. And, when you read this book, you will want to hold onto every word. As a writer, I am re-inspired. This book is juicy and chunky with imagery and emotion.

It’s not easy to write so short. I mean, see here I thought I was going to keep THIS short. You gotta know what to cut and what will pull at folks’ heart strings. But, this book — this book feels like you are sitting there listening to a little girl dream and dream, and all you want to do is jump rope with her.

I’m from Chicago — where “Mango Street” is set. Reading it brought me back to the “block” with our jump-rope marathons, “ghosts in the graveyard”, curfew.. the Catholics and the Publics. My story. Not Esperanza’s (the main character). It was like I was seeing hers and mine intertwine.

She grew up poor and mentions that a lot. Me — we never thought we were poor. In fact, most of my friends thought we were rich. But, it was our attitudes that made us rich. Our house was where all the kids could come after school for a snack.

But, I know there were weeks and weeks where we ate chicken and chicken and chicken that my grandma sent from the bulk store to help us out. And rice patties. My mother made things so simple. So delicious. And never once did we feel like we were hurting.

I remember a guy on our block. I think his name was Rico.. if you lived on my block…. please help here. Rico would climb on his roof and howl at the moon every night. Sometimes he’d blow off fireworks. Then, one day the kids on the block said he died from falling off the roof into a tree or a pool. Is this true? Anyone? I don’t know.

But, the best stories come from times like that. From the blocks and neighborhoods inside bigger places where kids make their own worlds, and little girls can dream about making it big as a writer and coming back to get all those beautiful souls who could not leave as easily as her. Like Esperanza. And me.

I’ m reading 365 books this year. Clickity Click here to see what’s up with that

xo

G