Thursday, December 31, 2009

Grave Sight

by Charlaine Harris

So, after ignoring my blog for the entire semester (my last, by the way. I am now officially a college graduate - and terrified by the uncertainty that is my future...but that's another story.) I am back and reading for fun. Of course I read a lot during my semester, but didn't blog about any of it because all of my reading and writing was for my classes. Though I will say this: I heavily dislike the majority of Restoration English drama, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is brilliant (no great surprise there) and I adore The Dead from James Joyce's Dubliners (but I've known this for a while).

And now, as a recent graduate, I'm finding myself with a lot of time on my hands. So I'm back to blogging.

My latest read was Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris. I read this on the recommendation of one of the library patrons from the library I worked at this past summer. She originally told me I had to read the Sookie Stackhouse books, but I said I need a break from vampires. I am tired of our culture's fascination with vampires. Let it go already! So she said I should read the grave books instead. Since this patron is one of the nicest women I have ever encountered, I took her up on her suggestion.

I doubt I will continue with this series of books. I don't care for Harris's style of writing. Her book actually reads like a TV show, i.e. Harper is in the car and then she's standing in the cemetery, or she is at the front door, finds the key, and is then in the living room. Obviously I can fill in the blanks for myself, but I would much rather the author lead me there.

Plus, the book wasn't much of a mystery. As soon as Harper found out Teenie was pregnant and almost no one knew who her birth father was, I knew she and her boyfriend Dell were related. It's a common convention now. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, get pregnant unexpectedly (not always though, sometimes they're just deeply in love), boy turns out to be girls sister and lives a ruined.

This book isn't really worth reading. You could spend your time reading much better novels. It's not even a fun read or a beach read. It's just a waste of time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Accidental Billionaires

The Founding of Facebook: a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal
by Ben Mezrich

I guess I'm on a bit of a nonfiction kick this summer, which almost never happens.

I thought it might be interesting to read about the two guys who started Facebook. It's amazing how it's become such a phenomenon. I mean, I have a Facebook application on my phone; I never have to be without Facebook access. Crazy, right? When you think about it. What I think is even greater, is that it was created by two college geeks...who just wanted to meet girls. Classic. This book made me wish I were a genius with computers and could create something marketable. Instead I'm good at...reading...and singing. Not exactly marketable skills. But that's beside the point. This book also made me wish that Facebook was more like the way it was when it started. More exclusive. As soon as Facebook opened up to everyone, it started to loose its appeal. And now it has all those stupid quizzes and applications and you're bombarded with emails and notices and crap about these little things that do nothing but take up your time when what you could be doing is reading a book instead of staring and mindlessly clicking at your computer screen. ...Sorry. I spend too much time on Facebook, and I miss the way it used to be. Reading this book, about how simple and sleek Facebook used to be, I was moved to clean up my own Facebook page. A kind of modern spring cleaning. And I feel better for it.

Anyway, I found this book incredibly interesting. It makes me glad I never wanted to become a business major. Business is brutal. And there is so much emphasis in this book about how things weren't personal, "it was business," or that whatever was done was done "for the best of the company." But those are justifications that don't stand up when you really look closely at things. If I were Sean Parker, I would have been painfully frustrated and given up on Silicon Valley altogether. I suppose that says a lot about his character - and about mine...

The author does have a tendency towards the overly verbose. The majority of the chapters begin as jarringly poetic and flowery, which is especially unexpected considering what the book is about. It's out of place and almost laughable.

The one problem I found with the book, is that a lot of it is hypothetical. Many of the episodes began with phrases like, "we can imagine him..." So, I guess that makes the book less reliable, in a sense. But, I read it for the story, not for a biographical account, per se.

"Accidental Billionaires" is a great book, and a great lesson about dreams, reality and the loss of innocence. I suppose everyone has that one particular moment in their life when they become abruptly disillusioned and lose their sense of innocence, regarding "the real world." I don't believe I've had my big "ah-ha!" moment yet, but I can say that after reading what the Facebook developers, partners, and oppositions went through, I'm not looking forward to it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

American Idols LIVE

I actually went to the American Idols' concert last night in Hartford, which is hilarious, because I basically hate American Idol. Being good at American Idol is like being really great a karaoke.

The best part of the concert, without a doubt, was Adam Lambert. He's a terrible singer. I mean, he has incredible vocal skill, but his execution is ridiculous, and not in a good way. However, he is an exceptional performer. Truly unparalleled in comparison to the other top 9. He has so much energy, so much stamina, and puts on a phenomenal show. Plus, his musical choices were the best, by far: Led Zeppelin (though no one can touch the real thing), Muse, and Gary Jules's "Mad World." He's like my musical soul mate. After seeing him perform, I've decided that I want to be Adam Lambert's best friend. And if you ask me, it's almost cruel to make anyone perform after him.

Seeing American Idol 2009 Kris Allen after Adam Lambert was really anticlimactic. By the time he got on stage, I was hot, uncomfortable, and ready to go home. I was over it. As far as his musical choices, I was not so thrilled. I hated what he did to "Ain't No Sunshine." "Ain't No Sunshine" is a bluesy R&B song, not a rock song. Live with it, don't try to change it. I think Kris Allen will do much better singing his own songs rather than messing with classics.

As for the rest, let's see. I can't remember all their names, to tell you the truth. But I'll try.

Michael was alright. Good looking, good sounding, not a great performer.

Megan Joy was...interesting. "Three Little Birds Sat on My Window" sounded good. That song really suited her. But her Amy Winehouse cover was terrible.

The blind guy...Scott? He was ok. I liked his cover of the Keane song. It got better as he got more into it. He's got a nice sound. But it's a little old and very different from the rest of the Idols.

Anoop was fun. That's about all.

Lil Rounds was terrible. It sounded like she was close to losing her voice too.

Matt was great. He was fun to watch. You can tell that he really loves what he's doing. Plus he is a great piano player. I really enjoyed his performance...although I can't remember what he sang...

Allison was interesting. She's a throw-back to 60's female rockers. It's like, she's over the audience, doesn't put a lot of stock into her performance or public opinion. For all I know, she's on drugs. Her cover of Pink's "So What" was bad. She kept turning her head away from the mic and looking down at her guitar. That leads me to believe she doesn't actually know how to play the guitar. And her singing style is more like...yelling. I think she only sang a total of about 10 words. But there's something really compelling about it. The way she uses the entire length of the stage and throws herself around, it's kind of great.

Danny Gokey. I was expecting to like him a lot more than I did. He was...ok. It sounded like he was over-singing and starting to lose his voice too. I didn't like "Pretty Young Thing." His Rascal Flatts covers were good though. But he was yelling too much. It hurt my vocal chords just to listen to him. And he's a music teacher! He should know better. That was disappointing.

The concert was fun. But, again, it was like a giant karaoke competition. And there are some songs that simply shouldn't be messed with. I don't care who you are.

But I'm serious: Adam Lambert? Need a new best friend? Look me up!

Monday, August 10, 2009


By Chuck Palahniuk

My interest in "Last Orders" has been increasingly waning (oxymoron. ha!). Yesterday I wandered around the library (when it was slow!) looking for something else, anything else to read. After perusing the new shelves, the "donated in the name of" table, and fiction shelves A-P, I settled on Chuck Palahniuk's "Diary."

I have a friend who is a big Palahniuk fan. He's probably read close to all his novels, if not all of them. I, however, am not a fan. I hated the movie "Fight Club." I liked that the main character was schizophrenic. Good twist. But as soon as the movie became about forming an army to blow up a credit card company, or something, that is where I cried, 'Too Far.' I couldn't follow him on that. But I decided to give Palahniuk a second chance. After all, I only saw the movie "Fight Club."

I had no desire to read the book "Fight Club" (and coincidentally, the library does not own it), so that was out. I know a little about "Snuff" and "Choke", neither of which I wanted to read either. "Diary" was the next book of his I came across, (Now that I think about it, his novels clearly aren't in alphabetical order on the shelf and I'll have to fix that.) and thought I'd give it a try.

Just for the record, "Diary" is immediately intriguing. It is impossible not to get sucked into the personal mesmerizing coma that is Waytansea Island. I didn't know quite what I was reading when I began, but I was decidedly hooked, and had to keep reading.

"Diary" is dark and dirty and raw, and it's great. Such a compelling story. Struggling with demons and a fate she can't control, Misty is an tortured character. I felt myself rooting for her, wanting her to discover what it is that could make her want to really live.

Granted, the novel gets weird, but it unfolds like a mystery, which propels the reader forward. The parts of the story - the writing on the walls, the clues left around the island - they all come together like pieces to a puzzle.

My question, having only read one of his novels, is does Chuck Palahniuk write formulaicly? Do all his novels end with some catastrophic disaster? He almost lost me at the end, with the fire at the hotel, but I was willing to overlook that and go along with the end of the plot. That was the one plot stretch I did not care for. It felt almost like a deus ex machina. Don't know what to do with all these secondary and fringe characters who could ruin your nice neat ending? Kill them off!

Regardless, I really enjoyed this book. I even liked the repetitive lines: "What you don't understand, you can make mean anything."

Side-note: When Misty comments on the weather saying "Just for the record, the weather today is"... reminds me of the Panic at the Disco song with the line "just for the record, the weather today is slightly sarcastic with a good chance of A) indifference and B) disinterest in what the critics say." The book probably came before the song, but that line put the song into my head.

"Diary" is a very cool book with plenty of unexpected turns. It requires a suspension of belief, but doesn't become overly unbelievable. I do believe in the old adage that creative brilliance requires suffering. I'd like to say I don't believe that's true, but I do. This novel addresses that concept to a disturbing degree.

It could be argued that the book begins to get preachy towards the end. Quoting Plato about how life is remembering what you've already learned from past lives, about being stuck in the pattern of past lives, about how everyone is lost in their own personal coma, but it didn't feel preachy to me. It did feel like something I've heard before, but I think Palahniuk addresses these cliches in a way that makes them feel new. I think "Diary" is a great, unique novel.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie & Julia

I don't make it a point to blog about movies, because that's not what I'm about. Don't get me wrong, I love movies. I'm all about escapism. Some of my top faves: "The Visitor," "Once," "The Live of David Gale," "Good Night and Good Luck," "Finding Neverland," and, of course, "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and "Office Space," among others. Not current films, I know. I don't write about movies because I don't know enough about film to talk about them with any kind of authority. However, today, I will make an exception.

This afternoon I went to see the movie "Julie & Julia" and I loved it. Such a great story. I think there are very few, if any, people who can't relate. What person doesn't, at some point or other, feel stuck in a rut? There is a lot to be said for creative outlets. They nourish the soul. They're downright necessary to survival.

And talk about persistence. To cook over 520 (524? I think? 542? Maybe I'm dyslexic.) recipes in 365 days is a big undertaking. And to not quit after a major meltdown says a lot about a person's character.

But to spend 8 years of your life working on a book is astounding. That's one hell of a commitment. I don't know if I would have that in me. My attention span is considerably shorter than that. I think Julia Child's dedication and passion is admirable. And the belief she had in herself is inspiring.

I think Amy Adams is adorable. She's a lovely actress and a joy to watch on screen.

And there truly are no words for Meryl Streep. She is exquisite. Without a doubt one of the best actresses out there. She has the ability to immerse herself in a character which is unparalleled.

This movie makes me wish I had any kind of talent for cooking. The food they create looks so delicious, especially the bruschetta - and I don't even like tomatoes. I can bake well, but that's about it. Too bad I can't live off of cupcakes.

I am compelled to the read the book now. I think I'll add that to my list.

"Julie & Julia" is well worth the $7 or $10 you have to pay at the theaters. Go see it. It's adorable and funny and just a wonderful film.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Breaking Dawn

By Stephenie Meyer

My reading of Graham Swift's "Last Orders" was temporarily interrupted by a long anticipated arrival.

Monday afternoon a woman came into the library where I work. She came up to me at the desk and said, "You're Liz, right?"

"Yes," I said, wondering who this woman is and why she knows my name.

She held out to me the fourth and final book of the "Twilight" saga, "Breaking Dawn," and said, "I wanted to hand this to you in person. I know you've been waiting for it. You're going to love it."

I was so excited, I couldn't contain myself. I smiled and smiled and said, "I am so excited! You have no idea."

She said, "Yes I do. It's just a great as the others. Enjoy!"

I began writing this blog in pieces, gradually as I made my way through the book. The first draft started out with things like, 'I don't love this book as much as the others; I think I may be outgrowing the whole thing,' 'I still think Jacob's character is manipulative and rash,' 'I think it's ridiculous that Bella is pregnant, and to push the idea of the martyrdom of motherhood on top of that!,' etc. But I've thrown those thoughts to the way-side.

In this book, I have to admit, I warmed up to Jacob. I would still take Edward over him any day, but Jacob definitely grew up in this book, which is just what his character needed. And, as for Bella, I still think she is far too self-deprecating. She feels she is unworthy of the love she has received in her life. No one is unworthy of love (Ok, fine, it gets a little dicey regarding serial killers). However, once she became a vampire, her character drastically changed. Not nearly as self-deprecating or mopey. She finally became a character I could appreciate. I didn't find myself skipping over her internal reactions.

Even though I originally found Bella's being pregnant too far-fetched, - I realize the whole thing is fantasy - as soon as Jacob imprinted on Renesmee, I reneged that statement. What a great twist! Maybe other readers saw it coming from a mile away, but, I have to admit, I didn't see it coming at all. But how perfect! - Maybe a little too perfect though. A nice neat plot. No loose ends... Regardless, I was completely captivated by this book, even more so than the others, except, maybe, for the first book.

My biggest complaint about "Breaking Dawn" - and I use the term "big" relatively - is that it was too long. I felt that this last book could almost be split up in two; the second book being Bella's life as a vampire and the impending doom of the Volturi. There was too much down time in the preparation for the Volturi's arrival and it slowed things down. But, outside of that, I can think of no other complaints!

Beautifully and simply written, I greatly enjoyed the final "Twilight" book, "Breaking Dawn." And what a nice change to read a book with such a perfectly pure happy ending. I think the "Twilight" series is positively bewitching. I'm glad I read it, even if it did make me feel like an obsessed teenie-bopper. Worth it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

It's Not That I'm Bitter

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World
by Gina Barreca

Yes it is. You're just trying to be amusingly sarcastic or to convince yourself otherwise. Stop. You aren't a cartoon character; you don't need a catch-phrase.

Meh. I don't feel strongly one way or another about this book. Maybe I can't connect to it because I'm a twenty-something and think worrying about a sagging elbow is beyond ridiculous. This book was slightly depressing in that sense. It's like, all I have to look forward to, as I age, is worrying about wrinkles and sagging and obsessing over all the wrinkles and sagging. That's exhausting! How do women manage to get anything done? I'm self conscious, sure. There are parts of my body I would like to change, and most women feel that way. But I can't spend my day obsessing over it. That would drive me crazy! And probably drive me to gin or Xanax, or both.

The chapter "Why Do They Call It a Glass Ceiling When It's Really just a Thick Layer of Men," about the GWDLTWW (Guys We Don't Like To Work With), I found hilarious, though she may be stating the obvious. Barreca points out the terrible qualities in those guys who talk louder and faster when they have no idea what they're talking about. We all know one of these people. But to see all their terrible qualities, put so concisely in print, is hugely funny.

I do very much like one of her idioms:
"Next point: 'Grow where you are planted.' This applies only to vegetable matter. What are you, an endive? Get out of your little patch of dirt and do something."
And I also agree with "Where's Carrie Fisher When You Need Her?" Princess Leia kicked ass. Padme is pathetic. We need to see more Princess Leia's in current movies.

About "Crazy Astronaut Lady": I may have had relationships that made me crazy, but I cannot relate Lisa Nowak. Although, maybe I just haven't had a relationship to drive me to that extreme, cockroach crazy. But, you know, I think I'd rather not experience that kind of crazy. Even if it would make me less snotty.

Barreca poses a lot of questions without offering a lot of answers. Which gets frustrating. How can I get much from that? Voicing the questions women constantly ask themselves isn't necessarily helpful.

The conversational nature of the book is nice, I will say. But there is a lack of flow and transitions. It feels very random, which, however, is the nature of conversation and thought. I just think I need a bit more of a road map through Barreca's mind.

There were some glaring grammar mistakes, which really bothered me:
"Why do holiday preparations remains[...]"
"This is not always happy thing."
Who edited this book? It's not as though it's thousands of pages long in Scottish dialect! 218 pages of conversational American English is too much for a thorough editing? Please.

There is no doubt that Gina Barreca is an intelligent woman. And I'm not saying this only because she mentions how she dresses like the stereotypical eccentric teacher everyone had at one time or another in school. Her writing is smart. And makes me feel...not smart. Her vocabulary is much more extensive than mine and makes me realize that if I hope to become anyone in the literary world, I need to bone up. She's a quick, strong minded woman, though, she does obsess about clothes and female stereotypes and sagging.

"It's Not That I'm Bitter" is catalogued in 155: philosophy, recommended by the Library of Congress. I guess that fits. I can't say I gained much from this "philosophy." It's mostly random opinions and observational humor. But, then, there is no dewy decimal for "opinion." However, there is one for "attitudes," which is pretty much the same thing. So much for a snippy ending to my post.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Me of Little Faith

by Lewis Black

My name is Liz, and I have a problem: I try to read too many books at once.

The other day, at work, I was putting away some of our new arrivals and stumbled across Lewis Black's second book "Me of Little Faith." I am a huge Lewis Black fan - I've seen him perform live twice, I read his book "Nothing's Sacred", I even met him when he was in Boston working for The Daily Show's Indecision 2004 - so I had to pick it up. And I enjoyed this book tremendously. Maybe even more than his first.

I began reading his book while I was at work (it was a slow day), and I quickly found that to be a bad idea. It is mildly embarrassing to be literally laughing out loud while in a nearly silent public library, and usually calls for explanation. I actually snorted. I couldn't control myself. That's when I decided I had to read this book in private. His chapter "notes from the land of dreidles and hamantaschen" put me over the top. It's hilarious. I love his comparisons between Christmas and Chanukah (or "Hanuuukaaah" or "Cha-Noo-Kah"). This chapter (among others) actually made me wish I were Jewish so I could have a deeper appreciation for his jokes (and maybe feel slightly less guilty for laughing so hard).

There is so much about this book that I love. His writing is great. He is unapologetic and intelligent, as well as surprisingly open-minded. The key, when it comes to religion, which Black puts so perfectly, is a necessary level of respect: "I may not believe, but I believe if you are in the presence of believers, you should show a little respect for their beliefs." And that is one of the most prominent problems when it comes to talking about religion. Everyone is entitled to their opinions; that doesn't negate respect. Plus, if you respect other's beliefs, it's ok to voice your opinions/jokes/rants, because, below the surface, you still respect those who believe.

I also learned a lot from this book. For one, the origin of ridiculous. I can't believe people can be so committed to such a ridiculous story. (Granted, Catholicism has some ridiculous beginnings and stories, as well as a LONG list of missteps, but it's been around longer and feels way more legit than Joseph Smith.) And televangelists are a breed all their own. The hate they spew in the name of God is appalling. Again, I can't understand how people can honestly buy into what they say. But I'll stop here.

His ranting about athletes constantly thanking God for their victories, is spot on. As if God wouldn't have anything more important to deal with than helping some rapist win his basketball game.

Another thing I love about the book is the preface - or the warning. I do think people tend to take religion far too seriously, and it is important to look at it in a different light, at least every once and a while. But the last paragraph is a nice, and fitting, touch:
"So if religion has taken over your life and you don't want to think about it or laugh about it because it will upset you, DON'T READ THE GODDAMN BOOK.

My one complaint, is that I do not like the play included in the book. I didn't like the book Black included in his first book either. Maybe I just don't care of his plays in general. His stand-up and his books are outstanding. So, I'm actually surprised I don't care for his plays. Go figure.

"Me of Little Faith" is a truly stand-out book. It's wickedly hilarious, witty, intelligent, and makes for good comic release. The best thing about the book is the anecdotes. Black has had some truly unique and compelling experiences, and is a great storyteller. He has seen so much and has gone out of his way to see other people's lives and points of view; it's impressive and admirable.

I highly recommend reading this book, unless of course, you are a person who the preface/warning was designed to discourage.

And so, I'll leave you with a few gems:
"Death is the abiding mystery that is the root of all religions, except Scientology, which doesn't count because I refuse to to consider seriously anything that Tom Cruise believes in."

"How does someone have a bar mitzvah for a dog and not end up committed?"

And my personal favorite:
"Each of us is full of shit in our own special way. We are all shitty little snowflakes dancing in the universe."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Discussion

Last night was the July book discussion at the Warehouse Point Library, led by B.J. Smith. There was a great turnout (more than I anticipated) and a lot of participation, which doesn't always happen.

I've only been to two book discussions led by B.J. Smith: the one last night, and one last July. It's an interesting set up. It's more of a class than a discussion. B.J. steers the conversation so we don't wide up completely off track, which is necessary. Otherwise we would end up like the women in "The Reading Group" (the book we discussed) and talk about everything but the book. But, in my opinion, the discussion is too much of a class. I love my literature courses at school, don't get me wrong, but B.J. has a different style compared to my professors. She's a little closed-minded for a teacher. Which she is entitled to; it's a discussion. But if she's going to run it like a literature class, she needs to be more open to other people's observations and opinions. I'm not only saying this because we disagree on some points. At times, she shuts down potential discussion by putting forth her opinions as fact. It's a bit of a turn off, to be honest.

However, my eyes were open to how much I miss as a reader. I am so willing to get wrapped up in characters, that I'm easily blinded to theme. B.J. pointed out that the book is very clear on certain topics: abortion is bad. mothers are mothers through and through and would gladly become martyrs and sacrifice anything and everything for their children. there is a big difference between romantic love and comfortable love. infidelity is a big no-no. Now, it's not that I missed these things, I just didn't pay too much attention to them. I focused on the characters, and not so much their function as a vehicle for the author's ideas. I forget that authors write because they have messages to convey. There is always something bubbling below the surface (although, "The Reading Group" doesn't bother to delve very deep). I have to remember to look for all those things, otherwise, there's just too much I'm missing.

We got off on a small tangent at the end of the discussion. We started talking about "Twilight." And, again, there's so much I've missed. All the Mormon ideas Stephenie Meyer is conveying, subtle as they are. The anti-Catholic feelings (the Italian "Volturi").  I never picked up on these things, without being probed. Bella's self-deprecating nature annoys me to no end, and I didn't realize it had anything to do with any bigger ideas, let alone Mormonism. Young adult literature has become very clever.

I guess what all this means is that I need to pay more attention to what I read. When I'm out of school and just reading for pleasure, I forget about all those things like theme and authorial intent. They're easy to pick out when having a discussion, but those are things I don't always look for on my own. I guess I'll have to read the next book more carefully.

The theme of this summer's discussion books is "groups." so we started with Elizabeth Noble's "The Reading Group," and next month's book is "Last Orders" by Graham Swift. We started with a group of British women and now we're moving on to a group of British men. I hope to like this book better than the first.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I made an attempt, feeble as it may have been, to read the book "The Song is You" by Arthur Phillips. Phillips was called "one of the best writers in America" by The Washington Post, but I don't see it. At least, not in this novel. I could only get through 27 pages of this book.

I don't much care for Phillips' style. It's probably premature to make a statement like this, considering I haven't read a complete novel of his, so this is a gut reaction. He interrupts his sentences too much. Now, I'm a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing, but Phillips' style just doesn't flow. I found myself reading sentences over and over trying to remember all he was talking about. And the novel wasn't keeping my attention. I didn't care where the story was going.

I have an issue with people who write about music, but don't seem to understand it, not really. Barbara Hall wrote about music beautifully and accurately in her novel. Phillips, not so much. There's too much talk about ipods and memories connected to music. But it's all superficial. There's no strong emotional connection, just surface-level descriptions. It's very unconvincing. 

Also, I prefer first person narratives, but that's my own prejudice.

So I bailed on "The Song is You" and retreated to "My Antonia." I took my own advice and decided to pick up where I left off.

What I think is fantastic about Willa Cather is her characterizations. I haven't read this book for months, but I can remember who every character is. The people she creates are distinct and vivid, and I care about them. I can't explain why specifically, but I do.

There is something very comfortable and soothing about Cather's style. I can feel myself settle into it. There's a nice flow and cadence to her writing. It's very easy-going and even paced. And her natural descriptions are beautiful (which is what everyone says about her, I know, but it's absolutely true). What I love is that she creates these wonderful descriptions without being overly verbose, which I greatly appreciate.

I am more than happy to curl up with "My Antonia" for as long as it will last me.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I thoroughly enjoyed Stephenie Meyer's "Eclipse." Although, Bella is extremely frustrating. When she becomes a vampire, her super power will be the ability to instantly depress everyone in a ten-mile radius of her. She refuses to ever be happy. What's that Bella? You're getting everything you've ever wanted? Well, sure, who wouldn't be miserable? I frequently censor her reactions to things like the man/vampire of her dreams wanting to marry her and pledge his love to her forever, and insert my own reactions. It makes for a better read, to be honest. Otherwise I get too caught up in thinking Bella is an idiot.
And she's a little slow on the up take too. It's like watching a suspense/detective movie, and you put the pieces together faster than the detective, and you're yelling at the TV because the answers are so obvious to you. That's how I feel about Bella.

Also, I can not stand Jacob Black. He's a manipulative punk. He made me absolutely furious in this book. I would like him to be out of the picture now, at least for a while. I did not enjoy the epilogue from his perspective; I don't need to be inside his head.

As for the writing though, I like Meyer's style. Her books have a good flow. I don't find myself getting tripped up on sentence structure or having to re-read passages to figure out what's going on. However, I do have to pace myself sometimes. When the action starts to get really good, I have to force myself to slow down and make sure I read everything so I don't miss anything. 

One more book in the series to go. I hope it doesn't disappoint.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mirror Mirror

Since I'm waiting for the books I want to come back to the library, I decided to pick something off of my own shelves. I own a few books I haven't read yet, so I picked one up.

When I was in high school, the musical "Wicked" first came out. I was obsessed with the soundtrack (it doesn't get much better than Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith); I couldn't get enough. So my father bought me the novel "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire, which the musical was (loosely) based on, along with Maguire's other novels: "Son of a Witch," "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister," and "Mirror Mirror." Well, I only read "Wicked," and I didn't particularly enjoy it. It was a very slow read. It's a great story, but Maguire managed to make it drag on and on and on and kill the immediacy and adventure.

So the rest of the books have just been sitting on my shelves, not doing much else but collecting dust. And I don't like the idea of owning books I haven't read. Hence, I'm reading "Mirror Mirror."

I'm barely six pages into this book, and I'm already wanting to put it down. There is something very off-putting about the way Gregory Maguire writes. It's like he's trying too hard. There's something almost archaic about his writing. It doesn't keep my attention. The words get in the way of the story.

Granted, I'm less than six pages in, and I should give it more of a chance, but I don't know how long my attempt will last.

I hope the books I want get back to the library soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Moon

What can I say about Stephenie Meyer's "New Moon"? It's wonderful. The "Twilight" series is about pure escapism, and it delivers. It is so easy to lose yourself in the story, it's magic. I found myself crying when Edward and all the Cullen family left Bella. Pathetic, I'm sure, but cry I did. 

My one criticism is that Bella is beginning to get on my nerves. She's the ultimate emo kid and it's frustrating. Bella spends too much of her life sulking and being miserable. Granted, her true love left her, but even when he comes back, she insists on finding ways to be miserable. Lighten up some Bella, you're a bit of a buzz kill.

But still, I can't get enough of the "Twilight" series. I can't wait to get my hands on "Eclipse."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Music Teacher

Typically I say it's easier to write about a book I hate than a book I like. I am now revoking that statement.

Yesterday I started reading "The Music Teacher" by Barbara Hall. I'm about halfway through it now, and I am in love with this book. It's like my literary soul mate. But it's going by too fast. It's one of those books that I just don't want to end.

The novel is about a shoulda, coulda, woulda musician, Pearl Swain, a violinist. She's been reduced to a music teacher, out of necessity, mostly. Which happens to so many musicians and which makes a bad music teacher, to be honest. Not a bad private teacher necessarily, but a bad music teacher in the school system, definitely. Students can tell when their teacher is a frustrated musician who had bigger ambitions than to be the high school band teacher, or the private violin teacher. And that, my friends, is why I do not want to be a teacher. In my eyes, to be a teacher is to give up on my own ambitions. And I'm not nearly ready to do that. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that, down the road, I am probably destined to become a teacher. I have yet to decide if that's good or bad. But that's besides the point.

Pearl is a fantastic woman. She's really one of the boys at McCoy's music shop in LA. She is rough around the edges and unapologetic. She's sarcastic, on the verge of bitter, with a wonderfully dry, almost sadistic, honest sense of humor, that those who have been there (or somewhere close) can understand, and even commiserate. 

Some gems so far:
"'Music is the closest you will ever get to God. Some people need to have God explained to them through scripture and ritual. Others just go right to the source.'
That's why I cut down on drinking,"
But that is just exactly how I feel about music! It sounds so cheezy and inadequate and it's embarassing to say, because you know people who don't know can't possibly hope to know that feeling, but that's how it feels. And then, when you're not the critically-acclaimed musician you've dreamed and hoped to be, you apologize for and down play that sentiment. You write it off by explaining, I only say things like that when I've had too much to drink.

"A musician is used to that -- caring to an outrageous degree about something everyone else ignores."
It's so true. I can easily lose myself in thought or conversation about music, or literature, and quickly find that no one is listening or gives a shit anymore. They've stopped trying to even feign interest. Hilarious to see in print.

"The way I see it, the world is divided into two parts. People who do stuff, and people who mock the people who do stuff. I'd rather be a doer."
Sadly, I think I'm more the mocker type. That's probably why I want to be a critic. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't find success in what they have a passion for, criticize.

"'People like sitars,' Patrick tells me.
'But they're like guns,' I say. 'Nobody should get near one unless they know how to use it.'"
I adore this humor.

The brief exchange between Pearl and Franklin about women and men in LA being nothing more than girls and "girls in disguise," is wonderfully funny.

The descriptions of Pearl's passion for music are dead-on. Hall captures the inescapable passion and "moral obligations" of having talent and having a dream.

Barbara Hall's writing is nothing short of brilliant. She understands, beautifully, the "tragic infatuation" that is music for the musician. I simply cannot get enough of this book.

The Reading Group

I finished "The Reading Group" by Elizabeth Noble. My summer reading group (which refers to itself as a "book discussion" because it's more formal and run through the library I work at over the summer) chose that as the book for July, which is mildly ironic and kind of funny. I'm still processing how I feel about it. What I do know, is that the characters frustrated me.

The women are too bloody British! I often times think of the "make a cup of tea" cure-all as a stereotype and not typically true, but, since the author is British herself, I guess it is more truthful than I thought. 

What I was craving from this book was some emotional blow-outs. Susan and her estranged sister Margaret came close to emotional fisticuffs, even raised their voices to each other in public (at their mother's funeral, no less), but then it was all "stiff upper lip." They make tea and talk it out. There's no real resolution, just resignation. I suppose that's life, but I would rather live vicariously through some emotionally vocal woman.

And then there's Nicole. I so wanted Gavin to get what he deserved! Nicole wasn't about to let him have it. To be honest, I think she was stupid. Have a baby in hopes to make your sleezy husband stop sleeping around? Please. But, back to the break-up. She was painfully calm when she finally caught Gavin in the act (on vacation, which I find to be extra unfortunate). Part of me liked how she swallowed all her violent emotion so she could compartmentalize and do what she had to do. But what I wanted, was someone to haul off and slap Gavin across the face. Nicole is a bit weak though (as her history with Gavin has already proved), and she wouldn't be able to do it. I wanted her backbone Harriet to do it for her. Since Nicole married Gavin she's been itching to give it to him, and after Nicole finally got to the breaking point in her relationship with him, Harriet should have taken her opportunity.

But none of that. It's all very calm and dignified and tea-filled.

The book is a good read. Nothing Earth-shattering or life changing, but enjoyable enough. I like the book and recommend it if you're looking for a nice book to read.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

One of the Many

Well, it's official: I've been sucked into the Twilight phenomenon. I was sick yesterday and found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I considered reading Mrs. Dalloway - I really love Virginia Wolf - or A Light in August - I equally love William Faulkner - but I was sick and tired and wasn't in the mood for either of them. On the floor next to my bed was the paperback copy of Twilight my sister-in-law had lent me a while a go. For months I refused to be one of the many reading the Stephenie Meyer series. I mean, vampires? How could a book about vampires, let alone teenage vampires, be any good? Besides, I am a college English major who reads Wolf and Faulkner and Cather; I don't read contemporary fad lit.

But I was sorely mistaken. I have fallen under the spell that is Edward Cullen. Twilight is a great book. Especially for the summer when I should give my brain a rest. It's a fast read and completely enthralling. The only problem with it's being a fast read is that I'm already halfway through the book; it's going by too fast. I am loving the book. I'm almost ashamed to admit it. But I shouldn't be, it's a good book. Millions of readers can't be wrong. And at this point in my life, I am more than willing to get lost in the world of teenage vampires. Edward Cullen is just too easy to fall in love with. Or I am just too willing to fall in love with him. Either way, I'm liking this relationship. I can pick him up when I get the urge to have him in my life, but I can also set him aside for hours when I've got other things to do. Convenient. 

I may make it my goal to read the whole series this summer. Doesn't sound like to tall a task. 

I can't believe how much I am enjoying this book. I feel like such a teeny-bopper.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Whatever Doesn't Kill Me...

I spent the last week or so fighting my way through the rest of Wally Lamb's latest book "The Hour I First Believed." It wasn't worth the fight.

First of all, the book is too long, it spans too long and detailed a period of time. I didn't need to read the entire dissertation about Lizzy Popper. It was completely unnecessary. But I'm the type of person who won't skip over anything because I'm afraid I'll miss something. I wouldn't have missed anything. Shortly following each excerpt of the dissertation was a spark-note version, through conversation or thought, of t
he passage which precedes it. I would like to know who said, "Yeah, Wally. That's a great idea. Include the entire dissertation of this woman's life. It's enthralling!"

The plot is so tightly wound together with extensive character connections, it makes my head hurt. And each "plot twist", once into the first 400 pages or so, you can see coming. So much so that it makes me nauseous. Long ago Caelum was told a story about how an African tribe believes the praying mantis is God. Then Caelum finds one on his front stoop. Maureen gets imprisoned in Caelum's family established jail
. The brother of the boy Maureen accidentally killed goes to work for one of Caelum's tenants on the same property his mother is fighting to win in the civil suit.  And these are only the big connections, there are too many other too irritating to mention. It's too much.

These elaborate connections make me feel like I'm being hit in the head, repeatedly, with the unnecessarily large novel. And it's Wally Lamb bashing the enormous book into my face yelling, "THIS IS IRONY! THIS IS IRONY!''

And is it necessary to include as many crises in
 the country's recent history as possible? Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Iraq War (and I know I've missed more than a few). Why? Just to tug some heartstrings? Make the novel more appealing somehow? It boarders on bathos.

Having Maureen die from an undetected and unexpected brain aneurysm, was a cop-out. Lamb took the easy way out. Maureen's character had served its purpose and run its course, and he probably didn't care to extend the story through the entire 5 years of her imprisonment, so, hey! I know! Conveniently kill her off! Perfect! And on to the speedy resolution!

I will say, the ending is beautiful. It didn't resolve anything, but it was beautiful. The final chapter was short, elegantly written, short, and concise. I wish I could say that much of the rest of the novel.

Maybe my expectations were too high for this novel, and so it couldn't help but fall short. Regardless, "The Hour I First Believed" is not worth the struggle.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Falling Short

I had been waiting for four years to read Wally Lamb's newest book "The Hour I First Believed." He came to UConn four years ago, during the spring semester of my freshman year, and my creative writing I class went down to the Stern Lounge in CLAS to hear him read from his work in progress ("The Hour I First Believed"). At that point, I was really into the idea of changing my major to English and becoming a writer and wanted to read everything I could. But, of course, that book wasn't available yet, so I read "She's Come Undone" instead. Loved it. So when his latest book finally came back to the library, waiting with my name on it, I was thrilled. Finally I have the book!

I'm about half way through it now. And, I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. I blame my disappointment partially on the editor. If I had been his editor, I would have have told him to clean it up and tighten it up. His approach doesn't really work for me.

Wally Lamb is a great story teller, but not all of his stories within his novel are necessary. The biggest problem I have with this novel, is that it feels like a series of creative writing exercises strung together. It almost feels like something I could have written, and I don't consider that high praise. It's very formulaic. One paragraph about the character's internal thoughts, the next about the external circumstances, internal thought, external circumstance. Break for the next section. Alternating paragraphs of an internal conversation.

But what really drives me up a wall is the introduction of characters. Page 321, chapter sixteen, the Seaberry family is introduced. Without any explanation. Just a brief telling of their story through a reporter writing the "A Victim's Victims" article. WHY? A creative writing exercise. Introduce a character, begin telling their story, leave them for a while. Later, explain how the main characters and these fringe characters are intertwined. Textbook. BUT ON PAGE 321? That's just a recipe for intense frustration on the part of the reader!

And all these breaks and jumps to other stories, other times, other characters gets really old, really fast.

And another thing: I get it. You're from Connecticut. You worked at the University of Connecticut. You really like Connecticut. Enough specifics already!! I-84, I-95, Route 32, Vernon, Rockville, and the fucking UConn Huskies. Enough already. I don't need a road map in order to follow in your characters imaginary footsteps. It's as bad as name-dropping celebrities. However, I do think "Governor  Roland T. Johnston" is clever.

I also feel that he goes too much for shock value. The exchanges with Velvet remind me of the lesbian episodes in "She's come Undone." Shock value. Make the reader feel uncomfortable. Get too real. Blech.

I desperately want to like this book. But my liking can only go so far. It's a good read, but, for me, there are too many flaws I have to overlook. It's a bummer. But I'm determined to get through the whole novel. All 740 pages of it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And So It Begins

Periodically (habitually it seems) I get the urge to blog. It never ceases to amaze me how dedicated people are to blogging. There are blogs that have been ongoing for 5+ years. I don't have that kind of attention span, really. Eventually I get bored with what I'm saying, and the blog falls by the wayside, and months after I've forgotten about it, I delete it, and potentially start a new one (like today). I don't fully grasp the appeal of blogging. Maybe it's the thrill of being self-published (of sorts). When you stop to think about it though, it seems pretty pretentious, like, My thoughts are so incredibly important and relevant that the whole world should be privy to them. (No wonder the trend caught on so fast.) 

So why am I blogging? Well, fittingly, I'm a pretentious English major who feels her thoughts are incredibly important and relevant, and I need a venue aside from writing papers for professors who could probably care less about what an insignificant undergraduate has to say about anything.

I'm not making this blog some grand endeavor, just a place to voice book reviews, the occasional music review, or rant about the education system. Nothing earth-shattering. Maybe nothing interesting to you; in that case, bummer.