Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rescued from the Shelf: A Certain Slant of Light

I have, like most of you, piles of books. There are so many books that we don't have enough shelves for them -- even though our house is full of shelves. We have boxes of books and stacks of books and piles of books. We hoard our pennies to buy more shelves, but we always end up with more books. Somehow. Oddly. As if the universe were conspiring against us.

There are never enough hours in the day (yes, I know: a topic for an entire week of posts, debating a myriad of sides), so, of course, I've only read a portion of the books I own even though I'm always reading. Not too long ago, however, I rescued A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb from the shelf and finally devoured it.

I had originally picked out the book because of -- you guessed it -- the title. Any reference to Emily Dickinson immediately piques my interest. Secondly, the picture was intriguing: a girl with long hair mostly submerged in a bathtub with only her hands showing.

The premise -- a ghost who falls in love with the only boy who can see her -- is not that of a love story or that of teenage angst or even that of being invisible, although these elements all permeate the text. Instead, it's a novel that explores both acceptance and forgiveness, more specifically the ability to accept and forgive oneself for past failures, mistakes, missteps.

My review in a nutshell: As an English major, I enjoyed the references to literary figures woven into the text. As a writer, I appreciated the nuances of emotion, both teenage and adult, deftly unveiled through character development. As a reader, I reveled in the plot less traveled. As a teacher of teens for the past ten years, I had to admit: I've seen far too many students in Billy's predicament, with home lives in turmoil and drug and alcohol abuse constant companions. I've seen none in Jenny's, however, none who live imprisoned in some gestapo-like "Christian" household. That was the one unrealistic part, the part that felt like Whitcomb abused as some authorial soap-box of sorts. It left a metallic taste in my mouth, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book. Even though I recommend it to you now.

The Connection:
A Certain Slant of Light perched on the chair next to my computer desk for a month or so before I happened to read on KatW's blog that she too was reading it. How funny that both of us picked up a book, published in 2005, and read it at the same time. I just love connections like that.


Lady Glamis said...

That sounds like a book I would really like. Thank you for your great review. And yes, it is something I would pick out based on the title and the cover. Emily Dickinson is one of my all-time favorites.

Alex Moore said...

I usually have my students memorize "The Chariot" but I have to say that I love most all of her poetry. Hope you like the book!

Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't read it. Not sure I've even heard of it. Gotta check it out.

stu said...

I have a solution to your lack of shelves. Make shelves out of books!

I didn't say it was a terribly good solution...

Anna said...

a catch 22, of sorts... shelves for books to book for shelves. :)))

hope you're getting some sun! we have rain today... :)))

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

My household also has an uneven book to bookshelves ratio.

Thanks for the review too!

Blooming Eventually said...

I took a seminar from Laura Whitcomb at the Willamette Writer's Conference last summer and loved her. She's a master of the craft and was full of fabulous, concrete suggestions.

Ken Kiser said...

Reading your reviews reminds me of how difficult it is getting for me to just read. I wonder if anyone else ever has this problem:

1) I'm reading a BAD book and I find myself saying, "I can do better than THIS!!!" So, I'm inspired to go write. The book gets put down.

2) I'm reading a GOOD book and I find myself saying, "Wow, I wonder if I can write this well if I really try!!!" So, I'm inspired to go write. The book STILL gets put down.

Either way, I find it hard to read for very long without putting the book down and going to write.

I guess that's not an entirely bad thing. Could be worse.

Peter said...

The one huge downside of living on a boat.. not enough shelf space.. :)

Alex Moore said...

@Lady Glamis: thank you. Isn't she awesome?

@Charles Gramlich: I think she's just put out her 2nd fiction piece, but i haven't read it.

@stu: you are genius! actually it's better than the box system we're currently using...

@Anna: tee hee. well, we had a beautiful sat. walked five miles and was rewarded w/ blisters :P

@Kate Karyus Quinn: i just trust people w/ disproportionate numbers of books to shelves. they just seem more honest, somehow :)

@Blooming Eventually: I've heard such good things about the Willamette Writer's Conference. Are you planning on attending this year? Ever attend PNWA? Wenatchee's Write on the River?

@Ken Kiser: i love your experiences. They always make me feel expansive and hopeful, somehow, even though they don't happen to me :) I'm at the point where I *think* what you do, but I don't act on it. Movies, too, are ruined that way :P

@Peter: that reminds me of Matt's dilemma from Kenneth Oppel's Airborn :)

Tara Maya said...

I have the same problem with book shelves. :D