Friday, September 15, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank
Puffin Modern Classics

Ms. Hen decided to read this book again because she was bored at work one day, and happened to look at Wikipedia, and it was Anne Frank’s birthday, so she decided to read the Wikipedia article. She found out that this new edition was released after the death of Anne’s father Otto, and the book contained previously unpublished material. Anne received her diary as a gift for her thirteenth birthday.

Ms. Hen originally read this book when she was a young hen her freshman year of high school, which was a long time ago. She had a different experience reading the book this time. When she read it before, she was the exact age as Anne when she died in the concentration camp. Ms. Hen didn’t realize it then, but now she thinks that’s extraordinary.

This is a story everyone knows. Anne is a young Jewish girl in Amsterdam in the 1940s, and her family goes into hiding because the Jewish residents are being taken away. They have all heard the rumors of the concentration camps and how the people are starved and gassed. Anne hides with her parents and sister, and four others.

A lot of the book is about the problems Anne has with her mother and the cohabitants in hiding. Anne was a positive girl, and she looked at going into hiding as an adventure. She had dreams for her life, and she wanted to be a journalist, a writer, also to travel, and study art history. She was philosophical at a young age; she seemed to have a lot of thoughts about humanity and the way the world works. She writes about the older people versus the younger people in the annex, and she says, “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them, because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart.” Ms. Hen doesn’t know how a young girl in hiding from the Nazis could still believe that people are good. This made Ms. Hen think of her own life.

When Ms. Hen read the book this time, she thought back to what she was like when she was fifteen and she read it then. She wondered how she would have managed if she had been in an annex hiding from the Nazis. Ms. Hen was not a positive teenager; she was young in the 80s, and a lot of teenagers then were caught up in gloom and doom, the disillusionment that the Reagan administration gave to ordinary young people. The romantic notions of the hippies of the 60s became the excess of the 80s. That was a time of affluence: people weren’t fighting a war, they were fighting with their apathy and indecision about the distorted state of society. This was the time of the Material Girl, We are living in a Material World and I am a Material Girl, as the song went. A lot of teenagers fought against this ideal, but some did not and got sucked into it. Some of us were hiding in our rooms listening to the Cure, trying not to think about how terrible the world was to us and how our future was bleak.

Ms. Hen came to the conclusion that she would not have been the exact same person as Anne Frank when she was locked in the annex, but she was her own person, locked in a prison of her own mind. Anne lived forty years before Ms. Hen, and the world was completely different then. The book also made Ms. Hen wonder about the society now, and how much has changed since she was young. She wondered about the fifteen year old girl today, and what she is like, and what troubles she must have, which Ms. Hen can imagine are enormous.

This book made Ms. Hen think a lot about her life and youth, and the way everything has changed. She didn’t get all that the first time she read the book in 1988, which was almost thirty years ago. The good news is that Ms. Hen is not as morose as she was a teenager. She knows there’s nothing we can do about the past, and there’s nothing we can do yet about the future, we have to learn to live day by day and embrace life as it comes. Which, incidentally, is the way Anne lived her life in the annex. Reading this confirms Ms. Hen’s philosophy on how to live. Enjoy yourself as much as you can, do what you have to do, and try to be find as much happiness as possible.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE BOSTON GIRL

The Boston Girl
Anita Diamant

Ms. Hen chose to read this book because she had wanted to read a book by this author for a while. She happened to be walking by the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, and this book popped into her head, so she went in, and by chance it was in there, on the shelf, waiting for her to check it out.

Ms. Hen likes the title of this novel because she also considers herself a Boston Girl. There are different incarnations of Boston girls, and she thinks the young woman in this novel is a smart, savvy, industrious person, and Ms. Hen thinks that if this is what it means to be a Boston Girl, she thinks it’s a positive aspiration.

Ms. Hen thinks that this novel reminds her of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN in the way that it’s about a young woman trying to make her way in the world during the beginning of the twentieth century, but this novel takes place in Boston, and the character is Jewish. The same pathos is there, the poverty, the lack of education, hardship, and the desire for a better life.

This novel makes Ms. Hen think of her own family’s history. Her family lived in Boston at the time the novel took place, in the Charlestown neighborhood, and her grandmother was slightly younger than Addie Baum. Ms. Hen had an aunt who was exactly the same age as Addie, born in 1900, and Ms. Hen knew her when she was growing up. Ms. Hen can’t imagine her Aunt Mary having as much gumption as the woman in this novel, however. She doesn’t picture her aunt fighting for causes and having her friend listen in on phone conversations at the telephone company to find out where to apply for a job. But this is what Addie Baum does.

Addie is a young woman who lives with her parents and sister in the North End of Boston, where many immigrant families live from different countries: Italians, Irish and Jewish people all live adjacent to each other, and the young people are friends. Addie has several friends from different ethnicities, that she meets at a place called the Saturday club, where young women socialize. Addie has problems with her mother and father; they don’t understand her, and she is taken out of high school because her sister gets married and cannot work to support the family anymore. Addie misses going to school, but she works successfully as a secretary for her brother-in-law. She has several jobs, and dates men, and finally falls in love.

This is not a love story, nor a women’s novel. This is a novel about a woman who learns to get what she wants and to help others to get what they want. She has friends, and her friends take care of her, and she takes care of them. At first she doesn’t know what she wants from her life, but then she discovers it as she goes along. This is a novel about the journey of one woman’s life, and the character finding herself.

Ms. Hen was excited there are chickens in this novel. At Thanksgiving the family plans to have a chicken instead of a turkey. “ 'Trief meat in my house?’ Celia whispered, like she didn’t want God to know. She rubbed her hand up and down her cheeks  ‘No. If it has to be, you can come her to eat, but chicken from the kosher butcher.’ ” The girls fight, but Celia wins and they have chicken for Thanksgiving.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a nice novel, but not too nice. The author doesn’t sugarcoat things, but tells things the way they are. Ms. Hen doesn’t like books that are sappy, but she thinks THE BOSTON GIRL has enough edge to keep her interested. Ms. Hen enjoyed Boston as a character in the novel; she knew a lot of the places described, which are still there. Ms. Hen likes being a Boston girl, or a Boston hen, and she admires Addie Baum for living a life with purpose.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews ICY SPARKS

Icy Sparks
Gwyn Hyman Rubio
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she found it at one of the Little Free Libraries near where she lives. She knew nothing about the book; she had never heard of it, but she liked the cover and she read the back, and decided that it was something she would be interested in.

This novel is about a troubled young girl, Icy Sparks, who lives in Kentucky in the mountains with her grandparents. Her mother dies shortly after she is born, and her mother ate a lot of crab apples while she was pregnant with Icy, and her grandparents tell her that is the reason why she has golden hair and yellow ocher eyes. Icy believes that is why she croaks like a frog.

Icy has problems getting along with people. When she is ten, her fourth grade teacher does not like her from the beginning. Also, the same year, she starts to have fits and twitches and she feels like she has to get something out of herself. She doesn’t want anyone to know, but a boy sees one of her episodes and tells everyone. The teacher puts her in supply room to get her away from the class, but she has another fit, and the principal decides to put her in a hospital. Icy has more issues with people at the hospital. When she gets out, she does not go back to school, and spends time with her grandparents, and her friend, Miss Emily, an obese woman who gives Icy her school lessons.

This book reminds Ms. Hen of a lot of other novels she has read. It has snippets of magic, and reminded her of GEEK LOVE.  It also made her think of GIRL, INTERRUPTED and THE BELL JAR, with the scenes in the hospital. It also has elements of Southern Gothic, as in Flannery O’Connor, and her short stories about disturbed people.

Ms. Hen really liked this novel, but she thought the ending was a cop out. She didn’t understand why Icy did what she did. She will not tell you what happens, because she thinks the novel is worth reading anyway, but she thinks there could have been a more substantial ending. In the Epilogue, Icy goes to college and she is diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. She likes knowing there is a name for her disorder and she is not alone. Ms. Hen doesn’t think there are many novels about Tourette’s Syndrome, but she did see a film about the illness called NIAGRA, NIAGRA, many years ago which she really enjoyed.

This is a rural novel, and of course, there are some chickens. There is a scene where Icy is spying on her neighbors that stole chickens, and killed them. Afterwards, someone steals the family’s chickens, and Icy knows it was the neighbors. She tells her grandfather, and he doesn’t believe her, so they go to the other farm and see the dead chickens, “When he rounded the corner, I heard him. Even before I saw him, I heard him. A sad, low groan, like the bellow of a sick cow came to my ears, and I knew he had seen them Henrietta and Bonnie, dangling from that wire – blood like droplets of rain – scattered over the ground.”

Ms. Hen thinks this is a decent novel because it is about a troubled young girl with an issue that is not discussed much in literature. The book is beautifully written, and captures the voice of a place. She liked it, but there were problems with the character’s development at the end, but she forgives Icy, because she knows Icy was lonely and just wanted to try to fit in.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


House of Splendid Isolation
Edna O’Brien
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen decided to buy this book because she’s read other books by Edna O’Brien, and she’s enjoyed them. O’Brien is a contemporary Irish writer, and Ms. Hen thinks she writes from the gut, which is, she writes about important and disturbing things, but those that are necessary all the same, such as internal strife in Ireland, which is the subject of this book.

This novel has many different sides to it. It is about domestic terrorism in Ireland, and how it affects the people around the violence. The men and women fight for what they think is a just cause, but create so much mayhem around them, the cause seems to be lost in the bloodshed. It is also about the people affected in the violence, how the fear grows and terrorizes everyone, including young children.

This is a novel about a house, and its occupant, Josie O’Meara. The reader visits her when she is a young bride, and brought to the house by her new husband, who turns out to be a brute. In later years, she is an old woman, after being sent from a nursing home back to her house, a man name McGreevy breaks into her house to hide from the police who are chasing him. He is a terrorist with the IRA, and fighting a losing battle. Josie is afraid, but she and McGreevy become friends after a while; she pities him when she discovers his story.

Josie and McGreevy have a strange relationship. She is afraid of him, because she thinks he will kill her, but she tries to get him to open up. This novel is about how tortured an existence it is to be Irish; some people want to do the right thing and fight for their beliefs, but at the same time, they seem to have lost sight of what they are fighting for, and don’t know what’s right and wrong anymore.

Ms. Hen took pity on these characters. She read another book by O’Brien recently, THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS, and she felt the same way. O’Brien is a master of darkness and pathos, she nudges the reader into feeling for characters who have had horrific lives, and introduces the reader to the idea that everyone’s life can be miserable in its own unique way.

Irish folklore and poetry play a huge part in this novel. The police officers walk around spouting poetry, which Ms. Hen thinks is strange, because she doesn’t think any of the police where she lives would do this. But she knows other cultures are different, and in Ireland it is likely to be common for police to be literate. Also there is a scene that invokes the legend of Cu Chulainn, when a bird comes down and licks the blood of someone who has died. Ms. Hen doesn’t want to ruin the book for anyone, so she won’t tell who dies. The legend of Cu Chulainn was about the warrior who is killed, and a bird comes along and licks his blood, and that’s how the English know it’s okay to take over the country. Birds are considered bad luck in Ireland because of this tale.

There are a few hens and chickens in HOUSE OF SPLENDID ISOLATION. At one point, the criminal is on the run, and the village is in terror. They are trying to find him. “ ' Good God, he was in our yard,’ Ma Hinchy says, opening her dirndl skirt so her two children can huddle in their like chickens under a mother hen.” Since this is a rural novel, there are chickens all around, not just in metaphors and similes.

Ms. Hen loved this novel, not just because it was beautiful, but also because it was disturbing, and it made her think. She is a hen who likes to ponder how horrible the world can be, but at the same time, she tries to find beauty where she can, and is able to most of the time.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


The Love of a Good Woman
Alice Munroe
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen bought this book because she knows that Alice Munro is a great writer, and she should read more of her. Ms. Hen doesn’t love short stories as much as novels, because she likes to sink her teeth into a novel and become entrenched in it, but these stories are different. Ms. Hen was able to live in the short stories; each was its own complete world, and Ms. Hen became immersed.

These stories are all about women in Canada, and they take place in a time past, mostly in the Fifties and Sixties, when life was completely different from the way it is now. Women were not treated with much respect, and were expected to live a certain way, and if they did not live like that, they were judged and maligned. All of these stories are about women who have taken a bad turn.

These stories are not light-hearted. They remind Ms. Hen of Flannery O’Connor’s writing. There is murder in “The Love of a Good Woman,” adultery in “The Children Stay,” spouse swapping in “Jakarta,” and a graphic description of abortion in “Before the Change.”  A scene in “Save the Reaper,” seems to be completely inspired by O’Connor, in which a grandmother takes her two grandchildren on a ride, and comes across a house of debauchery, and ends up with an escaped, rough young woman in her car. The grandmother feels unsafe, but she figures a way out of the trouble.

One thing Munro does well is subtext. The characters are saying or doing one thing, but they are actually something else is happening. In the story, “Rich as Stink,” Karin, a ten-year old girl visits her neighbor, Ann, and Karin notices, “She had put makeup on her face so it didn’t look so blotchy.” Karin notices that Ann had been crying, but Ann takes her to find some old clothes, and she puts her wedding dress on Karin. Ann tries to distract Karin from the fact that she had been crying, because she has to sell the house, and her husband doesn't love her anymore.

One other story in which there is subtext is the last one in the book, “My Mother’s Dream.” It is about a young woman, Jill, who has a baby, whose husband dies in World War II, and afterwards she stays with her in-laws. Jill doesn’t like the baby, and the baby doesn’t like her at first, but the baby takes to the sister-in-law Iona. Iona and Aisla and their mother have to go for a ride to visit someone, and Jill does not know how to be alone with the baby. When they come back, Iona thinks Jill murdered the baby, and mayhem ensues; the doctor comes to visit. The doctor and Aisla have a moment, “Too speedily and guiltily he took his own hands away. If he had not done it, it would have looked like an ordinary comfort he was administering. As a doctor is entitled to do.” There is something between the doctor and Aisla, but it’s a secret, as there are other secrets in this collection.

Ms. Hen did not think she could finish this book in a week, because it is long, but she did. She doesn’t give herself deadlines when she reads, but she likes to write about a book once a week. But even thought this book is lengthy, it is engrossing. It’s no wonder that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize – Ms. Hen thinks she deserves it! And though Ms. Hen has strong opinions, she’s usually right.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Susan Vreeland
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen found this book at the Little Free Library in the town where she lives. A little free library is a small box where people can pick up books and drop off books for free! Ms. Hen is excited that there are some where she lives now. She picked this book up because she liked the title and the cover.

Ms. Hen didn’t know what this book was when she first started reading it. She thought it was a novel, but it turned out to be a novel in stories. All the stories surround a painting by Vermeer, GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE, and the mystery of its origin. The book takes the reader back through the history of the painting, and the different owners, and how they felt about it.

The book opens with the story, “Love Enough,” about a math teacher who owns the painting, and he is not sure if it’s a Vermeer. He acquires this painting through dubious means, and shows an art teacher colleague to get a professional opinion. He keeps the painting a secret from everyone, and it nearly ruins him. This story, and “Morningshine,” a story about a family who finds a child and the painting together, in which the wife does not want to let go of the painting, since it is the only beautiful item they own, remind Ms. Hen of the novel, THE PEARL by John Steinbeck. In that novel, the characters are left to ruin by a pearl that they think will save their lives, which is similar to these stories; the characters thinks a painting will save their lives, and it does not.

The story, “Adagia,” reminds Ms. Hen of the story, “The Dead,” by James Joyce. In “Adagia,” a husband and wife walk behind their daughter and her intended, and they reminisce about their life together. The man tells his wife about the story of his former sweetheart, whom he left by the wayside, but always regretted it. The story is wistful, and sad, and the wife became troubled after the husband tells her about his past. Ms. Hen thinks this is similar to “The Dead,” because possesses a comparable feeling; in that story, a wife tells her husband of a boy she loved who died, and she never forgot him.

Most of these stories take place in the Netherlands, which Ms. Hen thinks is lovely. She hasn’t read that many novels that take place there. She tried to imagine the countryside, with its flooding and windmills; she was entranced.

There are a few chickens mentioned in this novel.  Ms. Hen’s favorite is,

“ small and new it was only a few twigs above the water, to see if their chickens were in it. Maybe Stijn would find them today. She felt the loss of Pookje the most. She was the beauty, with those chestnut feathers soft as baby’s hair on her throat. And how she always rose so dainty-proud to show the perfect egg she produced.”

This is from the story, “Morningshine,” which Ms. Hen thinks is the turning point of the novel because the owner of the painting is heartbroken to sell it, since it brings her so much happiness.

Ms. Hen loved GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE. She thinks it is a beautiful small book, and it is very fast to read, not only because the pages are small, but because she became engrossed with the characters and their lives and their relationships to the enchanting masterpiece.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews ART AND LIES

Jeanette Winterson
Vintage International

Ms. Hen bought this book because she has read several books by Jeanette Winterson, and she enjoyed them. She had a hard time getting into the lyricism and poetry of this novel, because her head was still wrapped up in the of the language of last book she read, UGLY GIRLS, which is completely different; it’s more stark, plain, rough storytelling.

But when she was in ART AND LIES, it became magical. This novel is about three characters, Handel, Picasso, and Sappho, who are all traveling on a train. The different chapters describe each character.

Handel is a priest and a surgeon, and he has led a colorful life. He works in a hospital and administers help to the poor at times and is a breast surgeon. One of the most powerful scenes in the book is a scene with a charity patient who is a prostitute and he removes the wrong breast during surgery. Handel describes the bucket of breasts left by the operating table.

Picasso is a young woman and a painter. Her brother molested her for her whole life, and her parents refused to see it. She goes insane and paints the walls of their house odd colors. Picasso is always obsessed with art, but her father tells her that women are not artists.

Sappho is the poet from Lesbos. She describes her life across the ages. She is mad for love and sex and people. There are several fairy tales intertwined into her story, and she does not hold anything back.

The three characters are separate, but they work together. Handel is a priest, and has nothing to do with sex, and Picasso was molested, so she is scarred, and Sappho is a nymphomaniac. They have three different attitudes when it comes to intimate relations. They could be a manifestation of all of us, a little piece of all of them lives in everyone.

One of the ideas put forth by the novel is that  “language is artifice.” Ms. Hen agrees with this, even though she does not want to. She knows that language is a made up thing, but we need it in our lives to express what it is we want to say. Ms. Hen thinks in words all the time, and she cannot imagine a life without words. But in nature, there are no words, there is only feeling. Humanity has gone past that and lives in words instead of breathing and air and intuition.

There are a few chickens in the novel. Ms. Hen's favorite is, “At night her mother pecked her on the cheek as hens peck at their food. Her face was a dirt yard where hens peck.” She enjoyed this metaphor of Picasso’s face as a dirt yard where hens peck. She’s never read a description of a face like that before. This entire book is full of that type of image, and charming little stories.

Ms. Hen loved this book, even though she found it hard to swim through its waters. It’s philosophical, and deep, and she doesn’t think it was the right book for her to read at this exact time. It’s not a summer, airy book; it’s more of a November or February book, meant to be read under the cloak of darkness and mist. Nevertheless, she gives it her stamp of approval.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews UGLY GIRLS

Lindsay Hunter
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Ms. Hen found this novel in a bookstore when she was on vacation in a faraway place. She picked it up because she liked the title, but is usually wary about buying books she knows nothing about. She doesn’t want to get tricked by a cute title, but then, when she looked at the back, she noticed that one of her three favorite teachers from writing school Bret AnthonyJohnston wrote a blurb and raved about the book. She respects his opinion, and thought that might be a sign telling her to buy the book, so she did.

Ms. Hen was caught up immediately in the girls’ world. They are bad girls, and Baby Girl is the ugly one; she is half bald and a little chunky. Perry is cute, with a blonde ponytail and green eyes; she’s the one that the boys are always after. They are not friends in the way that girls are usually friends. They don’t share their secrets with each other and gossip and talk about boys and their hair. They do bad things.

Perry and Baby Girl steal cars in the middle of the night. They don’t try to sell them; they just drive them around. They stay out all night and sleep during class. The future holds nothing for their bleak lives. Perry lives in a trailer park with her mother, Myra, and her stepfather, Jim, who works as a prison guard. Baby Girl lives with her brother Charles, who had been in an accident and is now disabled, and also with her Uncle Dave.

The girls are both being stalked online by Jamey, a boy who they think is in high school, but is actually a lot older. Baby Girl is jealous of Perry because she thinks Jamey is using her to get to Perry.

Ms. Hen would categorize this novel as a “girl buddy” novel. There aren’t many of these in existence, but Ms. Hen knows there are some. These girl buddies are into their delinquency for the thrill of being bad and nothing else.

There is an overall ominous tone to this novel. Ms. Hen knew something horrendous would happen, possibly many tragedies, and she was not wrong. Even though Ms. Hen knew it was coming, she was not disappointed. She didn’t know what exactly would happen, but when the climax of the novel occurred, she was disgusted and sad.

Even though Ms. Hen thinks this is a fantastic novel, she didn’t love it too much. There seemed to be too many visuals carefully placed about the characters’ lives. The details of certain things seemed as if the author is painting a picture that to her is an unknown world, something quaint to discuss among friends who know nothing of such places. Ms. Hen knows these places exist, but she thinks this is a portrayal that’s forcing itself to fit into a space that is not quite right.

Other than that, Ms. Hen thinks this is a fun novel. It’s a little too rough for the delicate book club set, so if you loved A MAN CALLED OVE, this book is not for you. This book is meant for people who don’t mind vulgarity and want to be a bit disturbed.

Friday, July 21, 2017


Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Penguin Books
1985, 1988
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

Ms. Hen decided to read this again after she read THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera because the character in that book reminded her of the character in this one. If you read Ms. Hen’s post about that, she decided that Florentino Ariza was less unsavory than Tomas in the Czech novel. Ms. Hen remembered Florentino Ariza as a romantic soul, and she was reminded again why she loved this book so much the first time.

Ms. Hen recalled that the last time she read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA was eleven years ago. She was a younger hen back then, and not that experienced and wise in the ways of literature. She has since received two degrees in this subject, and she has read countless books since the last time she read this, and thought about them deeply. She was startled reading this in the beginning, because she didn’t remember admiring Fermina’s husband Dr. Urbino that much the first time. During this reading, she found him more sympathetic at the beginning of the novel, but towards the end, she felt more compassion for Florentino.

Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza meet when they are young and have a romantic correspondence. He first sees her at her father’s house when he is delivering a telegram, and he becomes entranced. They write to each other for years, until Florentino follows Fermina in the market, she turns to him, and she tells him that nothing can be between them. From Ms. Hen’s first reading, she does not recall the moment when that happened in the book. She always remembered the couple not getting together, and then she marries the doctor because her father wishes it, and they go their separate ways.

Ms. Hen thinks it’s funny how memory can trick us. She remembered the story one way, but it unfolded in a different way.

When Fermina rejects Florentino, he becomes a womanizer. Not right away, but he does eventually. He travels up the river, and a woman bursts into his cabin on the boat and she seduces him. He doesn’t know who she is, but he thinks it’s one traveling with a group of women who have a child in a birdcage. Multiple birdcages spurt up in this novel in different places; many birds and animals appear, and Ms. Hen enjoyed this.

What she enjoyed most was the mammoth amount of hens, roosters and chickens that appear in this novel, mostly roosters. She took the time to count: she calculated there are twenty-nine times one is mentioned in the book! There are numerous beautiful quotes about chickens, and every time Ms. Hen read one, her feathers ruffled. One of her favorites is, “In Valledupar, she realized why the roosters chase the hens.” Another one she enjoyed is when a widow is talking to Florentino about how old people smell, “‘Now we stink like a henhouse.’"

Ms. Hen remembered when she reread ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, she discovered the book was full of chickens as well. She might have to read Marquez’s books eventually to find all the chickens that live in his worlds.

Ms. Hen thinks that this is one of the perfect love stories of all time. It shows that a person can love someone his whole life, and wait (in a way) for her forever. Florentino was true in his heart to Fermina Daza, and he one of the most romantic characters that Ms. Hen has read. Ms. Hen loved reading this book again; she consumed it hungrily, it was more than she had remembered, and she was grateful she went back.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE BLUE FOX

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2004, 2008
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

As many of Ms. Hen’s fans know, she went through a spell of reading Icelandic novels right before her trip to Iceland in April. She thought she might have been finished reading those books, but how could she finish? She stumbled across this small gem, and decided to save it for the midst of summer when the weather is sweltering, since it takes place during an Icelandic winter.

At first Ms. Hen didn’t know what she was reading: she didn’t know if it was poetry or short prose. The pages in the first section are spaced like flash fiction. The novel starts with a priest hunting a blue fox in the winter in the wilderness. The fox teases the priest and gives him a hearty chase.

It is also the story of the priest’s life before the fox hunt and the world that surrounds him, including his neighbors and a Down Syndrome girl the people find on an abandoned ship.

A section of the book had the priest and the blue fox arguing about electricity. Ms. Hen had never considered that electricity would be something to argue about, but in Iceland in 1883, when the book takes place, she understands why that would occur. She believes it might have been controversial the way stem cell treatments are now, or enhanced minds will be very soon. Ms. Hen has read a lot about brain implants and the thought terrifies her. She does not want the Internet in her head, but she thinks that this development is most likely inevitable. She fears a world where nobody will take the time to read a novel or look at the blue sky, but it’s already happening, since a lot of people are glued to their phones incessantly. But she does not wish to digress and preach about her opinions on technology.

This novel is brief and it reads like poetry. Ms. Hen dashed through it in two days. She doesn’t usually read a book with so much speed, but this one lent itself to be read that way.

There is one mention of a chicken in THE BLUE FOX, “Wiping the food off her hands, she embraced the young man’s head as he wept in the chicken hatch, comforting him with the following words: ‘Furru ahm-ahm, furru ahm-ahm.’” The disabled woman who was taken into the household tries to help the young man who is crying, but she does not know the language, and she does not know any words. They are in the chicken hatch because they sleep there, since they are outcasts.

Ms. Hen loved this book; it is wispy and air-like. The author is a lyricist as well, and has written songs for Bjork. Ms. Hen thought that she finished it too soon, and it didn’t make her as cold in the middle of the summer as she might have wanted. But her air conditioner works now, so she is not fainting away, dreaming of snow in Iceland.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


By Milan Kundera
Harper & Row
Translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim

Ms. Hen happened to buy this at a used bookstore a while back since she had heard it is considered one of the great books. She had no idea what it was about when she started reading, but soon she was engrossed in the story of tortured love.

The title of this novel has to do with lightness and heaviness. The protagonist, Tomas, believes that everything is light and nothing he does, including having numerous sexual partners, matters. His lover, Tereza, who becomes his wife, believes that everything is heavy, and she cannot bear the weight of the world. He believes she came to him in a “bulrush basket” like Moses, and he cannot turn her away, because that would be cruel.

She comes to visit him in Prague after a brief encounter in the small village where she lives. After he seduces her, she gets very sick, and he believes that he has to take care of her. He refuses to give up his other lovers, however, and even introduced Tereza to the sly Sabina so she can help Tereza find employment.

Around Tomas and Tereza, Prague is in an uproar. The Russians are taking over the city with tanks and guns. Citizens are being shot. Tereza, a photographer, takes pictures of what is happening to prove to the world that this is wrong.

Tereza and Tomas leave and go to Switzerland, but come back eventually because Tereza leaves and Tomas follows her. They have a difficult love; he loves her, but he thinks he needs other women.

He chases what he says is the one-millionth part difference between all women. He is a surgeon, and he believes that intimacy with a woman is similar to cutting open a body with a scalpel; he does it to discover how unique each woman is underneath everything else. He considers tastes in art and music interesting, but he is more interested in finding out the secret difference that dwells beneath.

Even though Ms. Hen knows this is one of the great novels, she found the character of Tomas to be unsavory. She doesn’t know anyone like him, nor would she wish to. She found his philandering unpleasant, and she was reminded of another novel she had read years ago, one of her favorites, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, in which a man, Florentino, and a woman, Fermina, are in love, but she is forced to marry a doctor because of his money and status.

In that novel, when Florentino’s heart is broken, he sleeps with every woman he can find. Ms. Hen did not find Florentino as creepy in that novel as she did Tomas in this one. In LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, the character stayed true to his heart. Tomas never stays true to his heart, and that is what disgusts Ms. Hen about him, and it prevented her from loving this novel too much.

There are some chickens in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, but not too many. What Ms. Hen did learn was the original German meaning of the word “kitsch.” It is “an aesthetic ideal of categorical agreement with being in a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist.” This can mean actual shit or figurative shit. The word has become used in all Western languages and has changed its meaning. Ms. Hen does not deny shit; she knows it exists; her world is full of it. People who deny shit have rose-colored glasses, and Ms. Hen cannot tolerate that. The world may be full of shit, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things too; Ms. Hen is not a complete pessimist. But she does not ascribe to kitsch.

Even though Ms. Hen did not love this book completely, she found it illuminating and educational. The world does have unpleasant people in it, like Tomas, and that cannot be denied, but that doesn’t mean that some things can be beautiful.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews ANAGRAMS

Lorrie Moore
Alfred A. Knopf

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she had read another Lorrie Moore book years ago, and she knows she is one of the great writers of our time. Ms. Moore is known as a short story writer, but is a novelist as well.

When Ms. Hen started reading this, she didn’t quite know what it was. She thought it might have been a novel, but other stories appeared. All the stories in the book have the same characters in different situations, like an anagram. An anagram is a word that can form another word by rearranging the letters; this collection rearranges the characters in the story to make a different story.

A woman, Benna, and a man, Gerard, are sometimes friends or lovers in different stories. Benna has a friend Eleanor, who in other stories is involved with Gerard. The various characters are lounge singers, college professors, or aerobics instructors. They sit in diners and proselytize their thoughts on the world around them. They live in a small town in upstate New York.

At first when Ms. Hen started reading this, she had no idea what year it was published. She didn’t understand why there was no technology until she learned it was published in 1986. She wondered how books about people and relationships have changed since the advent of the Internet and cell phones. She wonders if these characters would have an entire different outlook on life, if they had existed twenty or thirty years later. This book seems like an anachronism to Ms. Hen, a window to the way the world used to be, unlike some other books she had read about this time.

The style of this collection is exquisite. Ms. Hen could not get over how clever the writing is in ANAGRAMS. It is the work of a genius of words; everything that is written is perfect and funny. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if people like this actually exist in the world, who say exact funny things at every moment, but she found it entertaining.

Ms. Hen heard the author Mary Gaitskill give a lecture once about the importance of being original in our writing. That’s all she said for an hour and a half, but Lorrie Moore is another one of the authors who succeeds at that. Ms. Hen thinks it is difficult to pull off such wit for an entire book. Ms. Hen doesn’t think people are as charming as they used to be. In the days before constant entertainment online, people had to work to amuse each other more. Ms. Hen thinks this is sad, that society is losing its tendency to be funny to technology. Everything these days is dumb humor, and Ms. Hen had no tolerance for that.

Ms. Hen did find one chicken in this book. The character, Benna is writing Christmas cards in a diner, and she sees, “the faded photo of fried chicken over the counter: six pieces dead and breaded, arranged carefully in a circle on a plate with parsley and cranberry sauce, red and green, like Christmas.” This is at a low point in Benna’s life; she is depressed because she has to face reality, and other things. Ms. Hen thinks the chicken is there, and she mentions that it is dead, because everything will be dead some day.

Ms. Hen loved this book. It’s strange and entertaining, and a window to a different time. People are still dysfunctional in the same way today. That’s what timeless writing does, it shows us how we are and how we’ve always been.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Ms. Hen surrounded by Kipple, in the novel Kipple is trash that multiplies

Philip K. Dick
Ballantine Books

Ms. Hen read this because she likes to read science fiction from time to time. She had heard that Philip K. Dick is a great writer, and a lot of sci-fi films are based on his books. She liked this book, but she found herself distracted while she was reading it. She found she couldn’t fully immerse herself in it, that may have been because of the silliness of the book, or the fact that it takes place two years into the future from now, in 2019, and she kept looking for things that were real that weren’t there. Also, the writing is not perfect. Ms. Hen is a fussy hen about writing, and if she reads something that is not exquisite prose, she is disappointed.

This novel is about Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who retires (another word for destroys) androids that have escaped to Earth after having worked on the colonies in space. His wife, Iran, is a weak woman who clings to their Penfield machine, a device that takes a person’s emotions and gives the emotions of other people away. Isodore is a man who is a “special” meaning he can’t emigrate to the colonies. He meets Pris in his apartment building and wants to help her.

Isodore is considered a “chickenhead,” which Ms. Hen thought was very funny. A chickenhead in this novel is a person who has no skills and a very low IQ. They are considered to be less that other humans. Ms. Hen is a little offended that chickenheads are considered inferior, because she thinks chickens are superior, being a chicken herself. Isodore contemplates, “Can I give her any help? he asked himself. A special, a chickenhead, what do I know? I can’t marry and I can’t emigrate and the dust will eventually kill me. I have nothing to offer.” This is a perfect description of a chickenhead.

Another reason Ms. Hen did not thoroughly like this novel is the women characters. All the women seem to be either nagging housewives or sexpots. There are no complicated, strong women is this 2019, and Ms. Hen was annoyed by it. Ms. Hen understands that this was written by a man in 1967, but Ms. Hen thinks that was not that long ago, and Ms. Hen thinks writers should be ahead of the times with their predictions of the future. But this is not always the case, as she has learned.

After she read the novel, Ms. Hen watched the film BLADERUNNER, which is based on the book. The film is starkly different than the book, but it is a decent film and well made. In the film, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, does not have a wife. Also, Ms. Hen was shocked by the amount of smoking in the film. She thinks that people in the future shouldn’t smoke so much, and is disturbed that the filmmakers thought that the culture of the future would be the same as when the film was made, in the Eighties. And Ms. Hen kept looking for cell phones or computers, which of course do not exist in this 2019 the way they do now. The film is a stripped down version of the novel.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t like it too much. She was not completely invested in the characters. She thinks the future is something that nobody can predict, but the writers and visionaries should have more advanced ideas of what will come.  This novel was written fifty years ago. If someone were to write something that takes places fifty years from now, it’s difficult to say what will be. The world could be a better or worse version of what it is now, or it could be a starkly different place, or it could be gone.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews A MAN CALLED OVE

Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press
2012, 2014
Translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

Ms. Hen read this novel because she was planning to watch the movie, but someone told her the book was much better. That’s usually the case, so Ms. Hen read the book and watched the movie. The book is more detailed, of course, and funnier than the movie.

A MAN CALLED OVE is about a man who has recently lost his wife, and afterwards, his job. He doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he decides to end his life. The novel is a journey about his finding reasons to live, and learning to keep his head above water.

The first time he tries to take his life, his new neighbors back a trailer into his mailbox. Ove gets angry that the husband doesn’t know how to drive properly. Ove is a person who thinks there is a right and wrong way to do things, and expects people know the correct procedure for everything. He scoffs at the wife when he discovers that she cannot drive, and doesn’t understand why anyone would buy a car other than a Saab.

Ove keeps trying to commit suicide, but he never manages to do so. Something always gets in his way. Throughout the novel, Ms. Hen also learns about his life with his wife, how he met her, and their relationship, and her problems. Ms. Hen thinks the book is very sad, and she found herself tearing up in public while she was reading it, which she found embarrassing, since she doesn’t think a grown hen should cry while reading a book in public.

Ove is a curmudgeon. Ms. Hen understands that men can be like this, and she has known some in her life. They think the world should be one way, and if things aren’t that way, they get frustrated and angry. Ms. Hen understands that men can be very linear, that their minds only go in one direction, this way or that way. Ove’s wife Sonja, is a typical woman, she is a teacher and loves to read. She and Ove find happiness and love, though they are different.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t love it too much. She found the characters and situations a little too nice and pleasant for her taste. She prefers a novel to have an edge to it. She understands why A MAN CALLED OVE is very popular in book clubs. It’s the kind of novel that women like to read, non-offensive, with nothing disturbing about it, and no darkness. There is sadness, but not desperation. Ms. Hen prefers a novel to take her over a cliff.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a women’s novel, even though it is by and about a man. Ms. Hen believes that a women’s novel can be anything that is soft and non-threatening, which she takes A MAN CALLED OVE to be.

Ms. Hen understands why people love this book. It’s nice, and that’s it. It made Ms. Hen tear up in public, but she found it too sentimental. In her writing workshops, Ms. Hen was taught not to be sentimental in her work. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if this is a universal concept, but either way, it sells books. Ms. Hen would rather lose her breath with excitement, than be too cozy in her reading life.