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Is it Harder to Get a Job at Wal-Mart or Get into Harvard?
By lisa ryers (Mar 30, 2007)
Find the pattern: Amherst = Fred. Mt. Holyoke= Velma, Hampshire College = Shaggy. University of Massachusetts = Scooby, Smith College = Daphne. Yes, they are all Massachusetts colleges whose personalities are attributed to a particular Scooby Doo character. If you are nodding your head in recognition, chances are you are either applying to college or have a potential humanoid who is jumping into the applicant pool as we speak. More
Wistful for Cuba pre-Castro?
By lisa ryers (Mar 15, 2007)
In a time long, long ago before the nation state of the Bahamas captured American media attention due to one Anna Nicole Smith, another Caribbean country riveted our gaze: Cuba. Today Cuba boils down to the three C’s: cigars, Castro, and classic cars. In the 50s, as Maya Montero suggests in her sixth novel, Dancing to “Almendra,”, Cuba’s national identity was intertwined with our own. More
Every Bloom Has Its Own Story
By lisa ryers (Mar 5, 2007)
In the fifteenth century during the War of the Roses, the houses of York and Lancaster were symbolized by white and red blooms. In our time, roses and other flowers appear in local flower marts, supermarkets, drugstores, and Costco but we don’t have an inkling of from whence or how they came. More
Some of the Best Property You Can Buy
By lisa ryers (Jan 18, 2007)
With the exception of John Updike’s work, you rarely see sequels in literary fiction. You really have to like a character well enough to ask yourself at the bookstore, “Wow, What is he up to now?” This is a big commitment when you know that this character won’t be dodging any boulders, saving himself from a snake pit, or battling Stormtroopers. Actually, Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe is that guy. He is the man you hope to see at the end of the crowded bar precisely because you and he don’t really like anyone else there. More
A Bunch of Lefts Do Make a Right
By lisa ryers (Nov 9, 2006)
Why does Agatha Christie continue to sell? In fact, why do her books continue to be translated into languages in some countries at a rate that outpaces translation of the Bible? It stands to reason that her stories satisfy not because everyone has a secret affection for Belgian detectives mistaken for French ones or that British women with surnames like Marple really rock. The stories satisfy because the characters in her books always outshine the detectives in ways that are more believable than characters we meet on TV today. More
A Meandering Journey
By lisa ryers (Oct 26, 2006)
If you’re going to pick a title for your novel from a Rolling Stones song, you pretty much tell the reader right off the bat what kind of ride they can expect. “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)” will probably jazz someone electing to read on a Friday night while “Miss You” could offer a nice Sunday afternoon spent reading on the porch. So when you see “Paint it Black” you are either expecting a roller coaster ride with lots of lead singer preening and fun or you are expecting a descent into Hell. The problem with this book is that it isn’t the former and it’s not quite the latter. More
The New World Beckons
By Mario Bruzzone (Oct 12, 2006)
I'm not really sure why, but since finishing Chris Adrian's sparkling new novel The Children's Hospital, I keep thinking of a couplet from deep within Yeats's poem “Easter, 1916.” “And what if excess of love/Bewildered them till they died?” “Them” is transformed here, however, from Yeats' 16 executed Irishmen to everyone -- to me and you and all of our distant relatives who populate this Earth. More
Seventeen Stories to Make You Ponder
By lisa ryers (Sep 14, 2006)
To relate the unfamiliar to the familiar, people equate the known to the unknown: the “tastes like chicken” argument. Novelist Alix Ohlin has been compared to once-frequent New Yorker fiction writer Lorrie Moore. When I think of Moore, I think of a specific passage where a new college student says: “in the dorm you meet many nice people, some are smarter than you, some are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.” So it is with this in mind that one reads Ohlin, the Harvard graduate, wondering if her protagonists will share the same pompous burden. More
Behind a Very Tall Shadow
By lisa ryers (Aug 18, 2006)
When imagining an ideal sex symbol, Abraham Lincoln does not immediately spring to mind. Yet if we are to embrace the latest novel by Janis Cooke Newman (The Russian Word for Snow), we have to consider that for one woman from Kentucky, this was just the case. Newman creates a character of Mary Todd so emboldened by her sexual urges that she hits on the future sixteenth president until he relents. As their relationship develops, she is the constant aggressor, only thwarted by Lincoln’s crippling bouts of depression. More
Your Ticket Away From the Self-Help Aisle Forever
By lisa ryers (Jul 7, 2006)
As if to ward off the wrong kind of reader for his book, Gilbert warns in his introduction: “This is not an instruction manual that will tell you anything useful about how to be happy. Those books are located in the self help section and once you’ve bought one, done everything it says to do, and found yourself miserable anyway, you can always come back here to understand why.” More
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