Monday, October 5, 2015

Outbox/Inbox: Personal Recommendations from The Writer's Center

In the inaugural post in our Outbox/Inbox series, communications and marketing intern Claire Handscombe tells us about the last book she read, the one she is reading, and the next one on the list.

I am a huge “West Wing” fan, so it’s always exciting to find books with links to the show, however tenuous. Mary-Louise Parker’s recurring guest character, Amy Gardner, is one that I alternately hate to love and love to hate—complex emotions that have inspired much of what I write. I’ve also seen her in a couple of plays, and she is fabulous. I couldn’t wait for November 10thDear Mr. You’s official release date. Luckily, I didn’t have to;  I managed to snag an advanced review copy, and I got reading immediately. 
Dear Mr. You is a memoir with a twist: it’s written as a collection of letters to the men in the author’s life—some real, some imagined. It’s quirky, smart, playful, trippy at times, exactly as I imagine Mary-Louise Parker herself to be. If you're after the salacious tell-all the media seemed to think this would be, don't bother. She's far classier than that, and so is this memoir.

She doesn't name the men she is addressing, and while one or two of them might be guessable if you have your finger on the pulse of celebrity gossip (I don't), I very much doubt that it was her intention for us to read it this way. This is a book full of heart and tenderness, desperately sad at times, witty at others. It was fascinating to get an insight into who Mary-Louise Parker was before she was Mary-Louise Parker, too: incapable of learning to juggle in 
what might be my favorite chapter, Perennially Unpopular at School. Hope for us all, maybe?

There are few things I love more than a good book-related bargain. I spend far more time than I should mindlessly scrolling through Book Twitter, and last night, when I couldn’t sleep, Exit Stage Left popped up on my timeline, and I snagged it for my Kobo for just $1.99. know there have been endless think pieces on why grownups shouldn’t read Young Adult literature, and I’m actually sympathetic to some of the arguments, but honestly? Sometimes, that’s just what I’m in the mood for. There’s something about the earnestness and the depth of emotion and the high stakes of adolescence that still appeal to me on a visceral level; there’s also, often, something deeply raw and unpretentious about such books, and that can be a breath of fresh air in between a literary memoir and a Shakespeare play, or when my brain is addled by anxiety and by the aforementioned lack of sleep. Obviously didn’t just buy this because it was cheap, though. I bought it because it’s partly about acting and the theater, and I am a) slightly obsessed with these themes and b) not unrelatedly, currently working on a novel 
in which they are very much, ahem, center stage. This novel is apparently “perfect for fans of Fame,” and that sounds like me. Ruined dreams of Broadway stardom and the torture of watching someone else get what you want— a boy, a role, both—add another layer to what I love about the emotional intensity of Young Adult novels. I think this is going to be fun. 

I always have several books on the go, but usually they’re of different genres. At the moment, though, I am partway through three different novels: I started Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event, then promptly put it on hold because of its plane crash plot when I was about to fly across the country and back. While I was on the other side of the country, lying on the beach and not wanting to wreck the cover of The Versions of Us, I picked up a book I’ve been looking forward to for ages, Tiny Pretty Things. In much the same vein as Exit Stage Left, its teenage angst and jealousy, first love and dreams of stardom. Plus, ballet. So very, very much in my wheelhouse. It’s also a bit of an argument for unlikeable characters – you wouldn’t want to be friends with them in a million years, but they are so fun to read about.  
I’ve been looking forward to The Versions of Us since I first heard about it last year. Like me, like the author, the main characters, Eva and Jim, studied in Cambridge, where they met. Or where they didn’t: this book has three parallel narratives, Sliding Doors style. It’s an intriguing concept and one that is playing out in interesting ways over the course of an entire lifetime. I’m about half way through, and interested to see what comes next. The Versions of Us comes out in the US in 2016; I had to search high and low to buy it somewhere in the UK that wasn’t going to charge the earth for shipping it across the ocean. came to my rescue in the end.

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