Corner

Simon, David and Edward Burns. The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

Reason read: Maryland become a state in April.

The Corner is very similar to Simon’s other best selling book, Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets. As a freelance writer he has been allowed access to the darkest and grittiest corners of West Baltimore. With Edward Burns as coauthor, Simon takes the reader on a cruel and complicated journey. Together they illustrate what junkies will and won’t do to score the next hit or blast; what crimes or capers they will commit or won’t…because even full blown addicts have their limits. West Baltimore is a shooting gallery where the drug war rearranges police priorities. It’s a harsh reality. The operative word is “real” because even though the plot line reads like a movie and the people you meet could be actors, they are all real. As readers, you get to know people and care about them. Be forewarned. It’s no fairy tale. It grips you as only a never ending nightmare could.

Quotes I need to repeat, “The corner is rooted in human desire – crude and certain and immediate” (p 57), and a couple of pages later, “For those of us riding the wave, the world spins on an axis of technological prowess in an orbit of ever-expanding information” (p 59). Here are two more, “Even heroine no longer suffices to obscure the daily insult that her life has become” (p 179), and “He knows what he likes and to some extent, he knows how to get what he likes, if God is in the details, when DeAndre’s view of the sexual world is decidedly agnostic” (p 225).

Author(s) fact: David Simon writes for the show “The Wire” and Edward Burns was a cop turned teacher.

Book trivia: The Corner has a few photographs of some of the main characters.

Nancy said: Nancy said she couldn’t go to Baltimore without first watching The Wire which was based on The Corner (p 34).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go  in the chapter called simply “Baltimore” (p 34).


Blues Dancing

McKinney-Whetstone, Diane. Blues Dancing: a Novel. New York: William Morrow and Co, Inc. 1999.

We had a long weekend to laze around and do nothing so I decided to spend part of that time lazing around with a really easy book to read. Indeed, I read it over the course of three days.

To say that the plot of Blues Dancing simple doesn’t do McKinney-Whetstone’s novel justice. The plot is pretty straightforward but the substance of it is, at times, difficult to read. At the center of the story is Verdi. We bounce between her naive life as a young college student and, twenty years later, her adult life as a professional in the field of education. Young Verdi is dating Johnson. Mature Verdi is dating Rowe. Johnson is a college student one year her senior while Rowe is a college professor twenty years older…guess where they met? Throughout the plot Verdi’s over-the-top, willing to do anything passion for Johnson is revealed and her reasons for being with stoic, stodgy, stick-in-the-mud Rowe twenty years later are at best, murky. It isn’t until the past and present collide that it all makes sense. Along the journey we learn that Johnson introduced Verdi to heroin and being so eager to love Johnson allowed Verdi to love the drug even more. Rowe’s presence during this time is shadowy, progressively coming more into focus.

Author Fact: Diane McKinney-Whetstone won the American Library Association’s Black Caucus Award for Fiction twice, once in 2005 and again in 2009.

Book Trivia: There was a lot of music in Blues Dancing (beyond the title of the book). Artists like Johnny Hartman, Louis Armstrong, Roberta Flack, The Temptations, and Sarah Vaughn perform within the pages.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “African American: She say” (p 12).


Pretty

Lauren, Jillian. Pretty: a Novel. New York: Plume, 2011.

This is another one of those can’t-put-down books that I read in just seven hours time (on a car ride from Jamestown, New York to Western MA).  I was mesmerized by the characters, the story, everything. Beth “Bebe” Baker has just lost her boyfriend in a horrific accident. Disfigured from crawling over broken glass and deeply dependent on drugs she enters a halfway house to find sobriety and a sense of self. There, and at the cosmetology school, she meets a cast of misfit characters who take her under their own broken wings. It’s a troubling tale of coming to terms with not just the past, but the unknown future as well.
Before reading Pretty I had just finished reading Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts and I think I had that storyline running through my head because I found a few similarities where there shouldn’t have been. Letts’s character, Novalee Nation, shares many personality traits and similar experiences with Lauren’s character, Beth “Bebe” Baker. Both are young woman essentially far from home and practically homeless (Novalee lives in a Wal-Mart and Bebe lives in a rehab halfway house). Less than scrupulous men abandon both women. Both women deal with pregnancy. Both women adopt creatives outlets as a coping mechanism and a means of escape (Novalee takes up photography while Bebe studies cosmetology). Both women search for salvation in the arms of a quirky community of misfits. Both experience the return of lovers and learn to let go.
But for all that, this is where the similarities end. Lauren’s style of writing in Pretty is raw, gritty, real. While the title of the book is  Pretty Bebe is someone who isn’t always pretty. She has her moments of displaying downright ugly. This characteristic just makes her all the more human. One example of this reality is the wearing down of her resolve to stay away from someone less than good for her. This man is a connection to her drug addled past and Bebe knows that in order to remain sober she needs refuse all contact with him. She does well to ignore his phone calls until the rest of her life starts to unravel and she weakens…but isn’t that always the way?
This is a quick read…but that’s a good thing because that only means you’ll have time to start at page one and read it all over again.


Cruddy

Barry, Lynda. Cruddy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

From the very first pages you want to know what this Cruddy book is all about. First, you are introduced to sixteen year old Roberta Rohbeson via her bizarre suicide note. Then, hoping to shed some light on the situation, you read chapter one which is only seven sentences long which says nothing about anything. Then you encounter chapter two and read the word “Cruddy” nineteen times in the first paragraph. Funky, funky, funky was all I could say. I was not prepared for what happened next. Little did I know I would end up saying sick, sick, sick by the end of the book.

Cruddy is told from the perspective of Roberta Rohbeson at two different times in her life; as an eleven year old troubled little girl and as a sixteen year old angry teenager. Her story is tough and tragic and tinged with terrible humor. As an eleven year old she is thrust into the raging, alcohol-blurred world of her father who refuses to see her as his daughter. Instead, Roberta is not only his son, called Clyde, but his accomplice. When he discovers her in the backseat of his getaway car he takes her on a murderous journey across the desert fueled by hatred for his suicide-dead father who left him nothing.
As a sixteen year old Roberta is strung out on drugs and driven by abandonment. She befriends a group of outcast suicidal drug dealers who do nothing but fuel her craziness. One boy in particular, Turtle, gets Roberta to tell her sad tale.

This was a book I found myself wondering about long after I put it down. Was Roberta modeled after anyone Lynda knew? Where did she come up with such a violent, messed up plot? What was the acceptable age range for this book? Would parents cringe if they knew their kid was reading this under the covers late at night?

Lines that got me: Roberta’s father’s motto: “Expect the Unexpected and whenever possible BE the Unexpected!” (p 142), “He was explaining how perfect it would be because he could kill me right in the concrete ditch itself and when the water came it would gush me and all the evidence away” (p 163), and my personal favorite, “There is a certain spreading blankness that covers the mind after you kill someone” (p 273).

Author Fact: Lynda Barry was born on January 2nd, 1956 and is a cartoonist (among many other things).

Book Trivia: This was called a novel in illustration but only the start of each chapter has an illustration (creepy illustration).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lustand More Book Lust . From Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 104), even though Cruddy isn’t a graphic novel. Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Teenage Times” (p 217). What Pearl should have called the category for this book was “Fukced up Teenage Times.”
Book Lust trivia – Lynda Barry and Cruddy were not mentioned in the index to Book Lust. In fact, only One! Hundred! Demons! made it into Book Lust’s index.


Home Girl

Matloff, Judith. Home Girl: Building a Dream House on a Lawless Block. New York: Random House, 2008.

I could not put this book down. From start to finish it had me looking to answer that What Happened Next? question.
Matloff trades in one adventurous life (as a foreign correspondent) for another (home owner and wife in New York City). The exchange seems benign until the reader (and Matloff herself) realizes the Victorian she is buying is decrepit; in need of repair in every possible way, the new neighborhood is a one of the biggest drug zones in the country, and on a daily basis she must protect her property from the addicts who have called it home. If that wasn’t enough, Matloffmust walk a fine line of graceful respect and distance with the dealers on the street while becoming a mother, a crime fighter and witness to the tragedies of September 11th. Throughout it all, Matloff remains humbled and humorous.

Other observations: The picture on the inside cover indicates the title would have been Home Girl: Building a Dream Home in a Drug Zone. Not sure what I think about that.
I hope they keep the author’s note. Matloff’s sentiment about wishing the events weren’t true really intrigued me…really made me want to read the book.
Of course, there were quotes I absolutely loved, but I’ll keep them to myself until the book is published.