Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens













I've been getting myself in the Christmas spirit. The tree is up and decorated, stockings are hung, presents are bought (though not yet wrapped...), and I thought it was about time I read "A Christmas Carol." I know the story as well as the next person, but I'd never read it before. And what better time than now?

I can say nothing negative about this story. It is a wonderful classic story. But that doesn't mean I like Dickens any more than before. He is too verbose. Period. And I know Dickens wrote in installments and was paid by the word. I know. I have been told this same tiresome fact since I was a small child. I know. But that does not excuse his style nor do I forgive him for it. I just don't enjoy reading Dickens. And yet, I do love this story.

"A Christmas Carol" has become a cliche and endured many permutations: "A Diva's Christmas Carol," Jim Carrey playing all the main characters, Scrooged (though admittedly I do like that one). But when you strip it bear and get right down to it, it is a truly great and creative story with a valuable lesson. You can't help but feel merry by the story's end.

However, this is still my favorite version:
"[...] for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolat

by Joanne Harris













After my recent failures to read "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Bridget Jones' Diary," I made a new policy for myself to not read books of which I've seen the movie. I know most people say, 'Oh the book was waaaaaayyy better than the movie,' and I usually agree. However, I've realized that I prefer whichever version I came across first (case in point). I don't like reading a book after I've seen the movie, because I inevitably compare the two while I'm reading; I'm playing the movie back in my head as I read. I don't like to do it. It doesn't really give the book a fair chance. But I read "Chocolat" because it was in our book discussion series "Books Made Into Films."

I enjoyed this book despite having seen the movie first. However, contrary to my usual preference, I wish this book were narrated in third person; it would have given the book a better sense of mystery and magic. There were more unanswered questions than magic. However, if the book were in third person, we wouldn't learn so much about Pere Reynaud, which I liked. Getting glimpses into Reynaud made him slightly more sympathetic, not much, but a little. At least the reader knows he doesn't condone Muscat's behavior.

Roux is much less likable in the novel as compared to the movie. But then again, who doesn't like Johnny Depp?

I enjoy that Armande plays more of a central role in the book. She's important in the movie too, but to a lesser degree. She is a wonderfully dynamic character, probably the best in the book. Armande is the most three dimensional and diverse, I would say.

I found it interesting that in the book the priest is basically "the bad guy" where in the movie, that role is taken on by the count. I think that was to make the movie less controversial. It's easier for audiences to accept the government as the "bad guy," as opposed to the church and its traditions. But the books needs the priest and the church to be the main opposition to Vianne and her way of life for the story to work.

The movie wins out this time. The book is enjoyable, but not as much.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Other People's Rejection Letters

edited by Bill Shapiro













Over my long Thanksgiving break, I let my brain turn to mush. I watched too much TV and hardly read at all. Since then, I've been in a book-funk. I kept taking books home and just couldn't get into anything: "The Devil Wears Prada" (although I love the movie), Michael Caine's biography "The Elephant to Hollywood" (by the way, "Noises Off!" has got to be the funniest movie I have ever seen despite the reviews it received), "Bridget Jones' Diary," "Napalm & Silly Putty," "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" - it certainly wasn't for lack of trying.

But I found a book to pull me out of my funk: "Other People's Rejection Letters." Now, this has got to be some kind of record. I was on hold for this book since I first found out about it in July. That's right, I waited 6 months for a book that took me about 2 hours to read. And yet, I think it was worth it.

This book is just what it advertises: a collection of various people's rejection letters. I really enjoyed it. And as Shapiro writes in his introduction, "I felt comforted [...] I saw that no one is alone in getting shot down in love, work and creative pursuits." However, being the person I am, I did feel some sense of schadenfreude.

There are so many great treasures in this book: James Hendrix's discharge notice from the army (he spent too much time thinking about his guitar), Jackie Robinson's letter of disappointment in the President, Mary Ford being told women have no place in illustration with Disney, Harry Truman's telegram to Senator McCarthy telling him he has no sense of responsibility! Mark David Champan's rejection for parole in 2004!

Arthur Gonzalez turned his rejections into works of art. I would like to see an exhibition of those. (I'm thinking of buying his book "The Art of Rejection.")

F. Scott Fitzgerald's letter to his daughter is pretty harsh. Although what stuck me is that he denounces his daughter for behaving just like the women of "Gatsby."

I love that Shapiro included some background information and accompanying stories to some of the letters as a postscript. It adds some depth and needed understanding to some of the rejections.

This book is well worth a flip-through, at the very least. It's funny and sad and poignant. Shapiro came up with an excellent idea for a book and I find it entirely successful. I'm now inspired to keep rejection letters of my own to remind me of the chances I took, and are yet to take (my grad school applications are all submitted, and now I just have to wait...).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fashion Break

This isn't a fashion blog (clearly). But I had to take some time out to mention a few things. I've already plugged Out of Print Clothing (and they have more shirts and fleeces now), which I love, and I've found a new love. I don't keep up with fashion trends, so I'm probably the last person to discover these, but I think they're fantastic! I need to own one. That way I can advertise visually that I'm an intellectual and a book-snob ; )

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Eat Pray Love

directed by Ryan Murphy

I expected to like this movie a lot more than I liked the book, but as it turns out, I only liked this movie a little more than I liked the book.

The whole exposition is extremely rushed, which is understandable because otherwise the movie could be 4 hours long, but unenjoyable.

The build-up to Liz's break-down is too short, too sudden. There is not enough time to make her pain or despair believable or even relatable. I didn't care about her enough yet.

That "Permeable Membrane"  play as an explanation of Liz's behavior in relationships is nothing short of terrible. Which it's supposed to be, I realize. But I think it's inclusion is what is truly terrible. They should have found another way to include the Liz-being-absorbed speech.

Also, the husband is a completely petulant and miserable, and I think it's a little unfair. If her husband were truly that awful, she never would have married him in the first place. I can't understand why she would be hanging on to any feelings for him. Good riddance.

On the whole, the movie felt too rushed to make any kind of connection with. It's cute, it's funny, her affair in Bali is wonderful, but there's nothing particularly, aside from the scenery. great about this movie. See it, sure, but don't expect it to have any impact on your life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slammerkin

by Emma Donoghue













After reading "Room" I wanted to read more of Emma Donoghue's novels; "Slammerkin" looked like the most interesting.

Donoghue is a truly noteworthy story teller. Her writing style is immediately appealing and alluring. It is both accessible and vivid. Donoghue puts her readers in the center of Mary's world. Of course, it helps that when I studied abroad in London, I lived down the street from the Charring Cross underground station and went to the Cheshire Cheese a time or two. But regardless of my own knowledge of London (which is vastly different from that of Victorian London), Mary's haunts are clear and have distinct character. Donoghue turns the grime of 18th century London into poetry. Even when Mary moves on from London, the sense of place is clear and the town on Monmouth comes alive.

Mary is an incredible character. I didn't know until reading the notes in the back of the book that she is loosely based on a real person. But that's not what makes her great. To go through her world and grow up with her makes this story riveting. This is a really twisted kind of bildungsroman, which is excellent.

I really enjoyed this book because it was something different. It is set in a historical time, with references to real people and places, and Donoghue is more than skilled enough as s writer to make the whole thing believable, for the sake of the novel. This book is propelled by its characters and circumstances (Doll is a truly fantastic character, I think she may be my favorite in the book). There is a real conflict of whether to be compassionate towards Mary or not; that's for the reader to decide.

Definitely read this book. There is a lot of sex in it, but that's not what the whole story is about. Read it. It's some really excellent escapism.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Haggard & Halloo

This isn't a book. Haggard & Halloo is a creative writing magazine, both online and in print.

When I was at UConn and working on the Long River Review, as part of the course everyone had to team up and research another creative writing magazine. I have to credit my partner Joe for finding Haggard & Halloo. As part of the assignment I sent an email to the magazine editor Travis Catsull, not actually expecting much of a response. Catsull turned out to be very nice and accommodating and answered all of my questions. Our presentation turned out really well (I do believe we got an A). The website has changed since we first stumbled upon it, but it is still great and publishes some stimulating poetry, as well as short stories and reviews. A little avant-garde, certainly current, and definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's a Book

by Lane Smith














I could not resist about writing about this book. It just came into our library today.

"It's a Book" is wonderful! This book is for everyone of any age who loves books and is occasionally disgruntled with or four-square against technology. "It's a Book" is the book-lover's antidote to the digital age. It is simple, concise, and perfect, not to mention hilarious. There are not enough to words to praise this book. Read it, without a doubt. It will only take a few moments of your time and is well worth it; it will have you smiling all day.

It's a book, Jackass.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Flowers for Algernon

by Daniel Keyes













I liked this book better when I read it in Middle School, because it was something new. Now I don't care for it. Maybe that's because this is my second reading of it, or because now I'm a better judge of literature.

"Flowers for Algernon" makes me think of "Frankenstein," a Michael Crichton novel, and "Girls of Tender Age" -- the bits about Tyler. There are definitely echoes of the Byronic hero in this novel: both Charlie and Prof. Nemur. Though Nemur is also a little bit like Macbeth, but the little story Burt tells about Nemur's pushy wife is really just a throw-away poor excuse for his behavior.

This book feels painfully inauthentic to me. It is clearly someone trying too hard to write a novel about a mentally-challenged/ coming-of-age young man. It comes across as stereotypical. The personal accounts and insights don't go deep enough. His progress is too fast to appreciate. The author continually draws attention to this in a way that feels like an apology and cover-up of flawed story telling and structure. And none of the stories ring true. That is partially a result of the way Charlie recounts his past, as if he is watching someone else, rather than reliving and experiencing his past, making him a bit of a schizophrenic suffering from a personality disorder. But, again, this are observations upon second reading.

That being said, this book does make one think about the way they treat or have treated other people in the past. It is a good book worth reading.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas

by Lewis Black













I love Lewis Black. I have such respect for him as a comedian. Not only is he hilarious, but he is educated. His humor is on a different level than the Blue Collar comedy guys, or George Lopez or Jeff Dunham; he makes his audience think.

I've read Black's other two books, and I have to say, this is not my favorite. "Me of Little Faith" was his best book. Part of the reason I don't love this book as much is because I really do love the Christmas season and still get that warm-fuzzy feeling when we turn the corner in December. I'm all about cooking and cocoa and wrapping presents (and getting up ungodly early Christmas morning to go cantor the 3 morning masses...but I love it, don't get me wrong...). So some of Black's ranting seems a little overly harsh. But I get it. And "I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas" is still funny. It is also surprisingly sentimental. That was unexpected, but nice in the midst of his ranting and extreme self-deprecation.

This book makes me think of a roommate I had in college who is Jewish and absolutely hates Christmas. I understand where she's coming from, but she wouldn't even let me hang nondenominational white lights around the dorm room. Still makes me sad.

Black is a great comedian and he knows how to write. He isn't like so many other comedians or celebrities who think, I can talk so I must be able to write a book. No. But Black gets it and his books are well worth reading. It may not be earth-shattering and it probably won't change your life, but it is a nice change of pace (especially if you're in the midst of studying for the GRE subject test...).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Room

by Emma Donoghue













This book is like nothing I have ever read. It's suspenseful, intriguing, and completely addicting. This is the kind of book you want to call out sick from work so you can stay home and read it all day.

Seeing life through Jack's eyes was especially interesting, it made the story more emotional. On one level, reading Jack's words was like connecting with all my first experiences. You forget how scary the world must have been when you had to experience everything for the first time. Every step of the way I felt everything Jack felt: scared of Old Nick, scared when Ma was Gone and completely attached to Room, who becomes a character itself. When an 11ft x 11ft Room is all you know, how else could he react? But I was also terribly sad and pitied Jack because he knew nothing about Outside. No matter how Ma tries to tell him about the world she used to live in, he refuses to believe; and I felt for Ma. Jack's stubbornness would have made me crazy and made me feel even more hopeless.

There were parts of the book I found hard to believe, like Old Nick's driving away and leaving Jack, although Old Nick was a coward, so perhaps it does fit with his character. On the whole though, I was willing to go with it and experience it all right along with Jack. However I was somewhat dissatisfied with the ending. The last seen is wonderfully poignant, but I'm still worried for Jack's overall well-being.

This book is remarkable. It's an incredible and vivid story. Donoghue really makes you feel like you are living Jack's life, every step of his sometimes traumatizing ordeal. The book is truly beautiful and excellently written. I can understand why it's on the bestsellers list. Definitely pick this one up.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak













This is another one of those books that we're supposed to believe is a real book written by a fictional character. No, I'm sorry: the real writings of a fictional character retold by Death.

Sigh... Where do I start.

"The Book Thief" is certainly "hugely ambitious" as The New York Times says, but is most certainly not "life changing." It's Holocaust literature. I hate to be crass, but it is the same old same old. It told me nothing new about the Holocaust nor did it present anything about WWII in a new, unique, or interesting light.

*HOWEVER* I will say that this is an excellent book for young adults (which is what it is and how it is cataloged). But if your mental capacity is beyond that of the 5-minute attention span variety, don't read this book. Well, you can read it, but don't say I didn't warn you.

I have so many issues with this book; the biggest of which is style. Stylistically, this book is terrible. One of the discussion guide questions is "How Does Zusak use the literary device of foreshadowing to pull the reader into the story?" Miserably. He doesn't foreshadow. He has Death literally spell out what happens 6 months or years in the future and then says something flippant like, But I'll talk more about that latter. It's annoying. It doesn't pull me into the story. If anything it's a turn-off.

And I don't need a preview of every chapter. Each section lists the chapters within it. Why? So I can estimate how long the section will be and how much time it will take me to get through it? And there is no fluidity to the chapters. 20 lines, page break. 12 lines, page break. 54 lines, page break. The story is initially told in cloudy, vague snippets. There is no way to piece together a coherent picture of what is going on. It isn't until around pate 170 that a story really begins to be told, and then it takes another 100+ pages for that story to be any good.

For a book focusing on the power of words, Zusak has a pretty poor grip on language. It's like he's trying too hard. I'll throw in a lot of unnecessary swearing and blaspheming because then the kids will think the book is edgy and cool. His metaphors are terrible. It's as if he was trying out the concept of pathetic fallacy for the first time, and continually failed. His images are almost there, and then they fall pathetically and sometimes confusingly short. I honestly tried to overlook it, but after a while I just couldn't; it became to much. Does he even understand the difference between a noun and an adjective? "the darkness sky", "kindness silver eyes." These are elementary mistakes. He's not trying to be new and edgy with language, he is misusing it all together.

Here are some other examples of what I could not ignore:

The book was "like a beautiful itch at Liesel Meminger's feet."
"It chores me."
"His muscles felt like cake."
"something ridiculed her throat."
"a miscarriaged pause" (Is that supposed to be a play on a pregnant pause? Even so, it doesn't work.)
"Her expression stroked the man on his face."

It's just so unpolished and, well, juvenile.

Another thing I couldn't stand were Death's little interruptions. On the whole, they were patronizing and unhelpful.  This one was particularly supercilious:

***An Observation***
A pair of train guards.
A pair of grave diggers.
When it comes down to it, one of them called the shots.
The other did what he was told.
The question is, what if the other is a lot more than one?

Thanks for the painfully obvious not-even-veiled allusion to the beginnings and operations of the Nazi party. I could have figured that out on my own. Also, I didn't need Death to point out exactly why Liesel stole the first book. But yes, maybe because it is young adult literature the author leads the readers more deliberately to his own conclusions.

Death in general bothered me. Don't use Death as the narrator, as a real person. Saying if I want to know what Death looks like just look in the mirror. Giving Death a physical heart. It's too far-fetched. I believe in suspension of disbelief, but that is just asking too much of me. Also, Death's obsession with colors and the half-baked descriptions of a day as a color serve no purpose. Take it out.

"The Book Thief" received monumental praise and several awards; I don't see it. Again, it is a great young adult book. So in that respect I understand the accolades. But there is nothing new about the way this book presents WWII. The mechanics are faulty. If your interest in literature exceeds that of a 16 or 17-year-old, skip this book.

Monday, October 18, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee













This year marks the 50th anniversary of this American classic, so I thought it was time to finally read "To Kill a Mockingbird."

This is one of the greatest books I have ever read; it is flawless. I have nothing unfavorable to say about this book. It's perfect.

Using Scout to narrate the book is brilliant. It allows the reader to see Maycomb through her naive eyes, largely ignorant of the classism by which her town lives. Well, that's a little unfair to Scout. She isn't ignorant exactly, but she is a child and all the classism seems unnecessary and silly to her; she can't understand her Aunt's feelings about people. People are just people, their ways are their ways.

I was so enraptured by this book. Lee is an amazing storyteller. I felt I got to know all of the eccentricities and nuances of the people of Maycomb, from Miss Maudie to Culpurna to the Ewells. Lee makes you feel like you are a resident of Maycomb, like you've lived there you're whole life, grown up with a fear of Mrs. Dubose and a consuming curiosity about Boo Radley.

This book is beautiful and insightful and a truly fantastic read. Absolutely read this book. Now! Go get it!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Guest Blogging

I am a featured guest blogger on Jessie May's blog Blossoming Brilliance Life Coaching. See my post here: So...What Now?

Thanks Jessie!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Letters to a Young Poet

Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by M. D. Herter Norton













First I just have to admit that "Letters to a Young Poet" reminds me of the "Sister Act" movies because in "Sister Act II" Sister Mary Clarence tells Lauren Hill's character to read this book.

Also this book makes me wish people wrote letters more often. And was Rilke naturally that eloquent? Or did he cross words out and go through several drafts? His writing is beautiful and personal, which makes me think, Well, Duh! These were personal letters he wrote. But I have to say I have never received an email that can measure up to what Rilke wrote to Kappus.

"Letters to a Young Poet" is the book for aspiring artists. It's one I'd been meaning to read, but would move on, read other things and completely forget about it. But a friend of mine mentioned this book the other day and I said to myself, "Self. I am going to read this book. Don't forget to find it when you go to work tomorrow." And now here I am.

This is one of those books that I am hesitant to pass judgement on because it was never intended to be published for public consumption. These are simply letter Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to a young, confused aspiring poet who asked him for guidance. It's personal and yet universal; or as Franz Xaver Kappus writes in his introduction, "important too for many growing and evolving spirits of today and tomorrow. And where a great and unique man speaks, small men should keep silence." In this case, I feel like a small man who should keep silent. Plus, Rilke speaks somewhat harshly of critics in his first letter: "With nothing can one approach a work of art so little as with critical words: they always come down to more or less happy misunderstandings." Yet, in his ninth letter, he says "doubt may become a  good quality in you if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become critical." Though, this refers to one becoming their own personal critic. However, here I embrace my inner critic and put down my own opinions on Rilke.

Rilke puts so much of himself and so much compassion into each letter, it is full of gems that will speak to each person who reads them individually, so take my own opinions with a grain of salt.

Rilke is quite the Romantic in the literary sense, with his advice to cling to nature and to "go into" oneself. And I agree. There is a lot to be said for solitude and reflection, especially if you are of the creative persuasion. However, I also wholeheartedly believe that regular human contact is a necessity. The trick is to find a balance between the two and know when your mind and soul requires which state: solitude or community.

I like Rilke's assertions about love, that one must know oneself before falling in love so as not to lose oneself in the other person. His response to first love is very interesting: "I believe that that love remains so strong and powerful in your memory because it was your first deep being-alone and the first inward work you did on your life." That certainly rings true. Who doesn't remember their first love?

I found it interesting that Rilke is almost envious of "the feminine human being": "Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and more confidently, must surely have become fundamentally riper, more human people." Is this because we are less burdened by the trying things in life (in Rilke's time and opinion" and have more time for the necessary solitude to already understand what Rilke is trying to explain to Kappus? I think I am a mixture of offended and flattered.

At times I find Rilke too Romantic and maybe even a little sappy, but he lays out these simple and yet profound observations of, well, growing up. There is so much I could quote from these ten short letters, but I'll leave you with just a few that ring especially true for me at this point in my life.

"[...] be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue."
"[...] rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you, and be kind to those who remain behind, and be sure and calm before them and do not torment them with your doubts and do not frighten them with your confidence or joy, which they could not understand."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Let's Talk Technology

Have you seen the commercial for the child's e-reader which says, "Once upon a time, there were books."

Once upon a time? Books have become the thing of fairy tales?

I know. Books aren't cool. They aren't interactive. They require more than an 8 minute attention span. But come on!

Now, I like e-readers. My library just got to Sony Readers which will be available for patrons to check-out. I think it's pretty cool. It's great for traveling so you don't have to carry tons of paperbacks with you. (Did you know the most common item left behind in hotels are books?) The Sony Readers are great because you don't have to exclusively purchase books, you can check out ebooks from the library, which is convenient if you are house-bound or you just can't get down to the library all that often.

But if we're trying to encourage our future generations to read, why market books as old, out-of-fashion things? Maybe the day is coming soon when schools issue e-readers instead of text books or printed novels, but that day hasn't arrived (yet) (thank God). Personally, I think that will be a sad day. I like the feel of a real, tangible book in my hand. I like underlining passages and making notes and feeling like I form a relationship with what I'm reading.

Maybe I am one of a dying breed, but I like my books. I like the idea of an e-reader for travel, especially if you live in a city and are taking the bus,or the metro, or the T, or the tube to commute. But I still think there is great value in paper books. They may have gone out of style, but there's something to be said for being vintage.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'd Know You Anywhere

by Laura Lippman













I inter-library-loaned this book from another library, so I felt the need to read it fast, especially since it is a new book and I could only keep it for two weeks.

I had seen Lippman's interview with Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show and was intrigued. She talked about taking a personality test and that it showed she has sociopathic tendencies, but she said, since she puts all of those thoughts into her books she thinks she's ok. Naturally I was thinking this would be some seriously twisted crime novel.

Lippman does offer creepy insight into the mind of the rapist/killer, especially when it comes to his way of thinking and the justifications for his actions. But, on this whole, this book just didn't push it far enough for me. If I'm reading a suspense-type novel about a rapist contacting his one victim who got away (or whom he let go, rather), I want it to be seriously disturbing. By the way Ferguson and Lippman spoke about her book, I thought it was going to be far more twisted. Unfortunately, Lippman's novel falls short for me.

She spends too much time on the exposition. I don't care that much about Eliza's life now, or then as a child. If anything, Lippman should have worked bits of that among the story of the creep and when he kidnapped Elizabeth. There was too much time devoted to, frankly, boring details that I could have gone without - about Eliza, her sister Vonnie (weird name, by the way, then again so is 'Iso'), Mrs. Tackett, etc. I was more than halfway through the book and dying to hear more about Walt Bowman and Barbara Lafortuny. Spend your efforts on the good stuff! I know you're trying to get me to connect emotionally to the victim/s and care about their well-being, I understand that as a reader right off the bat, you don't need to spend so much time spelling it out for me, I get it, now get to the psychopath. It wasn't until about 260 pages in that I really became invested and was eager to know what was going to happen, and ultimately I was just disappointed.

Also, I don't understand the point of dividing the book into parts and naming them after popular 80's songs. It seemed arbitrary and without purpose. It makes me wonder if her editor said anything. In her notes she mentioned that she watched a lot of 1985 MTV music videos while researching/writing the book; that's not enough of a reason to include them.

In the end, I gave a little nod to Eliza and though, 'Good for you.' Beyond that, I really don't care about any characters in this book. Mrs. Tackett was a total bitch, so kind of was Barbara, so was Walter, blah blah blah. At least Eliza changes because of her ordeal. But really, this book leaves me feeling luke-warm.

Though this book did make me think of "The Life of David Gale" (a truly excellent movie). They're somewhat related theme-wise. However I much prefer "The Life of David Gale" to I'd Know You Anywhere.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Arsenic and Old Lace

directed by Frank Capra

This play/film is supposedly loosely based on the convalescent home in Windsor, Ct and Amy Archer in the early 1900s (see The Devil's Rooming House). But, truly, there are no similarities.

"Arsenic and Old Lace," written by Joseph Kesselring, is a dark comedy about two old ladies - sisters - who take in one boarder at a time, a lonely old man, and kill him, practically instantly, with a concoction of elderberry wine, arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide, as a favor, a service to the lonely man and to the community. And then it gets screwy. It's funny, but it is beyond ridiculous. I was with them until the bit about Jonathan and Dr. Einstein. Then it got a little confusing and nonsensical. I also think this would be funnier to see as a play, as opposed to the film version.

Kesselring was perhaps inspired by the Windsor, Ct murders, but that is where the connection ends. I don't know why M. William Phelps dwelled on it in his book.

It's a loony movie. See it or don't. I'd say it's worth it just to look at Cary Grant.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Girls of Tender Age

by Marry-Ann Trione Smith













I love love love this book. This is one of those completely engrossing books that I couldn't put down.

The first part of the book is filled with the matter-of-fact descriptions of a child. It's almost flippant, which makes the book all the more funny. Her innocence and misunderstandings are hilarious with a tinge of sadness, like when she doesn't want to tell her uncle she's sorry for the loss of his son because she thinks that means she was somehow responsible for his death. There's a real honesty and vulnerability to Smith's words. I respect that she opened herself up so much in this book.

What else I find amazing is Smith's brother, Tyler. Growing up unable to express emotion, unable to even make a sound when she burns herself on the toaster for fear of how Tyler will react seems awful. I think her professor's assessment of Tyler as a "manipulative lunatic" is harsh, but also true. But what is especially amazing is Tyler's brief explanation for some of his behavior:
  
          Tyler, what happens when you hear crying.
          He ignores me.
          Or sneezing?
          Nothing. I persist: Or laughing?
          I keep at him because he is only biting his wrist a little bit. Nibbling.
          Finally he says, A cloud of needles flies into my face and it takes me a long time to pull
          them out because they have barbs at the end.
          Oh.

Incredible. Honest and adept.

Smith's mother, on the other hand, I didn't care for so much. Smith doesn't paint a flattering picture of her mother. Her mother seems like the type of woman who shouldn't have children. Thank goodness for Smith's father. He broke my heart though. The way he took care of his younger sisters when his mother died so that the family could stay together, the way he was so unflappably devoted to caring for Tyler (a stark contrast to his wife).

There was plenty in the book that got a rise out of me. For one thing, the way Smith was taught in her catechism class that "The worst sin you can commit against an adult, particularly against your mother and father, is to ask Why?" That's terrible. How else is a child supposed to learn? That's dismissive parenting. I was also furious with the Hartford Police Department disbelieving Bob Malm's first victim, saying her strangulation marks looked like hickeys. Unbelievable. At the time it was "too difficult to prove that the teenager didn't victimize her rapist with her wiles." Unbelievable.

And, a small thing, but I never knew Hartford had so many firsts: electricity, female police officers. There's a lot to be proud of.

I do think Smith spends a little too long on the trial, appeal, and execution of Bob Malm. It gets a little bogged down. But once she switches back into memoir-mode it picks up again.

I was completely heartbroken over Tyler and Smith's father when the both had to be put into separate care facilities. And I was devastated when when they died. I had to stop reading and let it all sink in.

On a random note: I know the song Smith's mother sang to her grandchildren. We used to sing it at camp, but our version was a little different:

          A part of myself,
          What is this here?
          This is my boy-kicker, yeah Mama dear!


          Boy-kicker, Knee-knocker, Baby-bouncer, Bread-basked, Rubber-necker, Chin-chopper, 
          Boy-kisser, Soup-strainer, Nose-blower, Eye-blinker, Eye-browser, Sweat-browser, 
          Top-notcher
          Yinky-dinky-do!
          That's what I learned in my school, yah-yah!

I think the best way to sum-up this book is with Smith's own words: "I am well trained in silence. Denial is my family's religion, my brother Tyler our god, and the Reverend Dr. Peale our pastor." There's more to this book than that, but I think those few sentences say a lot.

Definitely read this book.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald













In honor of BANNED BOOK MONTH, I decided to read a classic banned book on the ALA banned book list.

Ok, actually that was just a coincidence. I was putting off starting the next book discussion book because I have the annoying habit of finishing them too early, and then when the discussion rolls around I've forgotten character names and places and some plot points. So I needed something else to read. I thought about re-reading The Catcher in the Rye or The Stranger, but I saw The Great Gatsby sitting on my shelf, and I'd never read it before and thought I needed to change that.

The last time I'd picked up this book must have been in high school because I found a hall pass from 2005 for me and my friend Jen to go from the band room to the computer skills teacher's room. And I'd gotten no further than page 28. This time I successfully finished the book.

I liked this book more than I expected. This is a good, tragic story and I really enjoy the way it unfolds. It's compelling the way the characters are such a mystery and their lives are slowly explained, and ultimately you find yourself wishing you didn't know and wishing you could go back to the way things were.

In general, however, based on the limited exposure I've had, I don't care for post-Word War I American lit. I dislike the boozy atmosphere. The characters are all wealthy after the war and throwing around their wealth and living drunkenly and passive-aggressively. It's unattractive. It's why I don't like being around drunk people. It's uncomfortable. And it's depressing. And to then say their behavior is the result as the slow, inevitable corruption of the Middle Westerners living in the city is a poor excuse. These people, aside from Nick, work hard to keep up their happy, affluent facade, and as soon as you get a glimpse behind it, you really wish you hadn't: booze, infidelity, spousal abuse, shady dealings, lies, and shallow women.
They were careless people [...] they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...
If you ask me, Nick was lucky to get away from those people when he did. He entered an ugly society and luckily didn't get wallowed up by it. Nick is right to describe himself as the only honest person he knows.

So I may dislike the general tone and the majority of the characters, but this is still a good book when you think about Nick. Fitzgerald crafted a well-written and compelling story, whether you like the society he depicted or not.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Devil's Rooming House

The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer
by M. William Phelps













This is completely outside my usual scope of subject matter. But I saw this book come back to the library and thought it looked interesting: female serial killer, Windsor Ct (not far from where I grew up). I thought this book was going to be great: compelling, shocking, maybe even a little gruesome. But in reality, it wasn't any of that.

The first part of the book is nearly entirely about the 1911 heat wave that hit New England. If I wanted to read about the 1911 heat wave, I would read Hot Time in the Old Town by Edward Cohen. But I don't (not right now), and I'm not. I want to read a book about the female serial killer Amy Archer from Windsor, Connecticut during the early 1900s. And, silly me, I thought that's what I was getting. Clearly Phelps included the information about the heat wave to say to the readers, This is an excuse Amy could have used to explain away or cover up the murders committed: lots of elderly were dying because of the extreme heat. But Phelps didn't say that, and neither did Amy for that matter. So there was no need for that section whatsoever. It's completely infuriating. Stick to the story you're telling.

The timeline is completely screwy in this book. It jumps around a lot from the late 1800s to early 1900s and beyond, and can be extremely frustrating. I think if Phelps wanted to paint a clear picture of the times and thoroughly explain events leading up to Amy Archer's investigation, he should have done it much more chronologically. One would think that would be the logical approach in this kind of book.

Worst is that it seemed Phelps was trying to make the story more dramatic, which had the complete opposite affect. He added unnecessary hyperbole like, "[Archer] was no more a God-fearing Christian than Lucifer himself." And his attempts at sarcastic authorial intrusions were miserable: "Indigestion? If that was true, it was some case all right." It really detracts from the story.

Phelps also frequently alludes to Amy Archer's devout nature, but it is never really shown. She's called "Sister Amy" around town and was described to be "bible-toting," and yet there is no clear picture of her as a religious woman. At the end of the book, Phelps paints Archer as a woman using her pious nature to veil her sociopathic nature, which isn't truly evident. The reader gets no real sense of who Amy Archer was, so I had a difficult time jumping to Phelps's conclusion.

The fact is, this just isn't a good book, which is shocking considering how incredible the subject matter is. There is no finesse to this book. It is meant to come across as journalistic, but with the author's embellishments, it falls somewhere left of that. This book would have been much more successful if written with the players in mind. By that I mean I want to know more about Amy Archer and Dr. King and the others involved. It should have been written from the perspective of inmate Franklin Andrews. That way it would have been a more enveloping story, and could still encompass all Phelps's research (The book is extremely well researched, although to almost to an exhaustive and unnecessary degree.) Though, then I suppose it couldn't be considered a "true crime" book, but historical fiction or creative non-fiction.

The Devil's Rooming House in a nutshell: In the early 1900s, Amy Archer opened a home for the aged and convalescent and slowly killed her inmates by arsenic poison in order to make more money by filling more beds. No one suspected her. It took people far too long to even suspect anything, despite the fact that large numbers of inmates were dying and being carried away in the middle of the night. Amy played the insanity/drug addict card during the trial and spent the rest of her life hospitalized.

Feel free to pass this one up when perusing your library's book shelves.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly













The Book of Lost Things is like The Chronicles of Narnia meets The Wizard of Oz meets The Neverending Story meets Pan's Labrynth meets The Nightmare Before Christmas (just the end bit with Oogie Boogie).

This book makes books feel magical again. I remember reading The Chronicles of Narnia when I was younger and thinking they were the most magical books in the whole world. They were wonderful and scary and great stories of conflict and victory, and what child wouldn't love talking animals? I absolutely loved reading those books and desperately wished I could walk through a wardrobe to a magical land. But I had forgotten that feeling of stories being magical and having the power to transport. It was great to feel that again. I felt like a little kid again, when a book was a kind of treasure. I wanted to read this slowly, savor it, while cuddling in bed, secretly and alone.

Connolly has a beautiful way with language. His descriptions are vivid and fitting, like calling David's mother's disease "a creeping, cowardly thing, as sickness that ate away at her from the inside, slowly consuming the light within." The way he writes is well suited to this fairy tale-style book. I will say that it is a bit formulaic, however that is just the way fairy tales function; it's to be expected, and I don't fault Connolly for it. But he does put his own twist on familiar fairy tales, giving the reader new perspectives, like what happens when Snow White doesn't live happily ever after. When I read "The Woodsman's First Tale" about the adult Red Ridding Hood, I thought, Ok. WHAT am I reading?? But by then I was hooked and couldn't wait to see how the story unfolded.

The problem with fairy tales is that they have to end, and it seem that no matter how they end, I'm left feeling a little dissatisfied, and I don't quite know why. I think it's that I don't like that cryptic, did it happen/did it not happen? sentiment. I want it to be clear cut: Yes it was all true, or no it was all imagined in David's head as a result of some trauma. I'm right there with him for his journey, regardless; suspension of disbelief is not an issue with me. But then he comes out of it, grows up in the span of 6 pages (David "became a writer and he wrote a book. He called it The Book of Lost Things, and the book that you are now holding is the book that he wrote"? Lame. I hate that. No, it is not his book. It is not narrated by him. Don't try to make what is clearly a piece of fiction a nonsensical reality. I'm not that dumb, and it just doesn't work.) and suddenly the whole thing is over. However, I did like the last page and a half. I thought that was a nice way to end. Again, maybe a little predictable, maybe a little lame, but I thought it was fitting and just, well, nice.

The Book of Lost Things is a great dose of escapism. I don't really think it's all that great of a coming-of-age-story, as some reviewers have said. But it does put a great new, dark twist on fairy tales and is a genuinely good read.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ex Libris

Confessions of a Common Reader
by Anne Fadiman













My friend and fellow book lover, Erin lent me this book.

Ex Libris is completely charming. First of all, it's one of those books that feels comfortable to hold; comfortable as in familiar and inviting. It's the perfect size and feels like it's made of real paper, not all glossy and shinny. And the essays themselves are lovely, in the most loving way.

I will say that reading these essays requires a dictionary, and not just for "The Joy of Sesquipedalians," (a word which this spell-check does not recognize but I assure you is a real word). I wish I had Anne Fadiman's vocabulary. But I didn't not grow up in the kind of household where my father quizzed my brother and I on word meanings.

Fadiman shares wonderful anecdotes about the books in her life and how they relate to her life, including the difficulty of marring her and her husband's libraries: "[...] it was a good thing the Book of Common Prayer didn't say anything about marrying our libraries and throwing out the duplicates. That would have been a far more solemn vow, one that would probably have caused the wedding to grind to a mortifying halt." Adorable. And is there some unspoken rule that book lovers/writers must be fascinated by Antarctic expeditions of the 19th century? She and Annie Dillard: two peas in a pod.

My favorite essays are "Marrying Libraries," "My Odd Shelf," "Never Do That to a Book," "True Womanhood," and "Sharing the Mayhem." "Nothing New Under the Sun" makes me crazy because I really dislike footnotes. Yet these are the kinds of essays which can (and should) be read over and over again because, while they are personal, they are also personable and accessible and will hold individual meaning for each individual reader. They are extremely well crafted in a kind of ciclicle way, always returning to her original observation.

This is a book that I feel the need to buy a copy for myself. I want to mark it up, leave it open and face down on my night stand, and lend out to my friends (as long as they promise to give it back).

If you love books, then you are bound to love this one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Suite Francaise

by Irene Nemirovsky
Translated by Sandra Smith













This book was donated to the library's paperback rack, and the director was thinking about putting it in the permanent collection, so he asked me to read it to see if it's any good (apparently the praise from The New York Times Book Review wasn't sufficient).

Nemirovsky's book takes place in Paris and the French countryside during the German invasion in 1940 (again, I've got a thing for war-time lit). What is truly amazing to me is that the author wrote this book not long before she was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where she eventually died. I wish I were fluent in French so I could have read it in it's original form, but this is an excellent book nonetheless.

Initially I was wondering why a Russian Jew was writing so exclusively about French Catholics. It was later reading her notes and the collection of letters I realized she was Catholic and had immigrated to France to escape Russia. It is amazing that her notes and the correspondence, let alone the book, survived. Including those adds another dimension to Nemirovsky's book.

It is an incredible book, written by an incredible woman. It is a stunning and frightening picture of humans stripped of their humanity, reverting back to animal instincts, for good or bad. The attitudes of some of these "middle class" (only slightly below royalty and nobility) characters makes me want to throw up from an overdoes of arrogance and entitlement. Nemirovsky presents dramatic contrast between those concerned for their families and for France, and those out for themselves. It is an honest and stripped look at what happens to people under this extreme, inhumane stress.

I like the more hectic Storm in June better than Dolce, and I wish Nemirovsky had lived to finish her vision. I want to know if Benoit made it to Paris safely! This book is full of vivid, unique characters, which makes for an excellent story. The reader truly grows attached to characters like Fr. Pericand, and even to the German soldier Bruno. Nemirovsky blurs the lines of friend or foe and her characters are caught up in struggles between right and wrong, when no one can say for sure which is which.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Teaching a Stone to Talk

Expeditions and Encounters
by Annie Dillard












On the advice of the woman who runs the summer book discussion series at my library, I am reading more Annie Dillard. Shocking, I know. But I thought I would give her another chance. And as it turns out, I like Annie Dillard, but only in very small doses. Any more than ten pages, and I'm out. Admittedly, I didn't even make it through all of the essays.

Teaching a Stone to Talk is a collection of poetic essays involving nature and God. "Living Like Weasels" is particularly beautiful and truly excellent essay.

Her writing style is still too precious, but I can commune with her for a few pages, and I enjoy that.

The real down side of this book is that the one I read was from another local library and someone wrote in it. Now, I understand; I write in all my books. But not in a library book! Come on, people! Plus their notes were obvious and stupid. It was distracting. Yet however annoying the distraction was, it was also a little nice because it gave me a chance to form my own opinions against those of this dumb person. It was like being back at school.

This is the kind of literature that truly needs to be studied. This isn't a leisurely read, at least it wasn't for me. It's almost as if Dillard is talking to me from some spiritual platform just out of my reach. Sometimes I think I understand her, and I get it, but then she looses me again and I lose interest. I think we simply have a one-sided love/hate relationship.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Broken Colors

by Michele Zackheim













I immediately fell in love with this book. It's stunning. The story is completely enveloping and beautifully written. It is vivid and emotional and just wonderful to read.

I've recently become more interested in war-time literature, specifically WWI and WWII; not just books written then, but books set in that time as well. It's completely fascinating. I think I'd like to specialize in war-time lit. I also just started watching the History channel's series on WWII and it's incredible. It's truly amazing anyone made it out alive. But this book isn't so much about the war as it is about Sophie growing up and living her life while trying to repress and cope with what she went through during the war and after.

My heart broke for Sophie with every tragedy which befell her, which was a lot, to be honest, and almost to the point of ridiculous. I wanted to shake the author by the shoulders and say, 'Give Sophie a break already!' Not a lot of time is devoted to Sophie's happiness.

I lost interest a little when Sophie moved to the U.S. But the book does pick up after she meets Nico and things get more complicated. The book spans such a huge portion of time (nearly Sophie's entire life), so naturally there are gaps of time which are glazed over or not really mentioned. Zackheim wanted to cram a lot into one book.

Zackheim gave this book a really lovely, calm ending, which is what Sophie deserved after the life she lived, and what the book needed.

This book is nearly impossible to put down. I absolutely adore it. I'm gushing, I know, but this book is just that good. It's been a while since I've read a book I've loved so much. Read it. Seriously, read it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Medium Raw

A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
by Anthony Bourdain













Initially I thought this book was not really for me. His chapter on "lust" is definitely beyond me. I don't lust after chicken innards or blood soup. I'm not quite that adventurous when it comes to food. I get the idea of "food porn," I do, but eels don't exactly get me hot and bothered. Plus, he mentions so many restaurants and chefs of which I know absolutely nothing.

However, I enjoyed and whole-heartedly agree with his chapter on "virtue," where he talks about basic cooking skills which every human, at least every adult, should possess. That I believe in. I particularly appreciate his opinion that:
[...] it is only right and appropriate that before one sleeps with someone, one should be able--if called upon to do so--to make them a proper omelet in the morning. Surely that kind of civility and selflessness would be both good manners and good for the world. Perhaps omelet skills should be learned at the same time your learn to fuck. Perhaps there should be an unspoken agreement that in the event of loss of virginity, the more experienced of the partners should, afterward, make the other an omelet--passing along the skill at an important and presumably memorable moment.
I don't think that's too much to expect. I absolutely support the idea of people learning to cook for themselves, enjoying the endeavor as I currently am.

His chapter on meat is also excellent and a little terrifyingly eye-opening.

I agree with his basic assertion that we have rich douchebags to blame for over-priced shitty food. Douchebags are ruining cuisine for everyone, driving up prices and lowering standards--making cooking for oneself an even more necessary kill.

I also love his "Grandma rule" for travelers:
You may not like Grandma's Thanksgiving turkey. It may be overcooked and dry--and her stuffing salty and studded with rubbery pellets of giblets you find unpalatable in the extreme. You may not like turkey at all. But it's Grandma's turkey. And you are in Grandma's house. So shut the fuck up and eat it.
But, as someone with IBS, I can't always accept Grandma's hospitality. In fact, I sometimes have to refuse, unless I want to be sick for a day or more which, generally, as a traveler, I do not (and I'm sure Grandma doesn't want that either). But if you are just a vegan/vegetarian self-righteous jerk, eat the fucking turkey.

When it comes to food, I personally like unpretentious food. However, I have never had the cash-flow necessary to give pretentious food a chance. If I did, I would go to Le Bernadin in NYC.

There is no real sense of time in this book, which initially annoyed me until I came to terms with the fact that this is not really a biography; a memoir of sorts, maybe. Nonfiction, yes; biography, no. Also, I have never known an author to like using dashes so much. But it's a small stylistic obstacle to overcome.

At time the book seems a little dense, especially considering my limited knowledge of big name, fancy restaurants and chefs. But the book is smart, satirically funny and genuinely interesting.

And everyone should know how to properly roast a chicken.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Goodbye Summer

by Patricia Gaffney













I have to admit, I enjoyed reading this book. It's cute, it's quick, it's a little formulaic, but it's a nice read. It's the kind of book you can read while watching tv or at a baseball game and not have to retrace your steps or feel like you need to read the same sentence over 20 times.

Although the end stinks. Caddie spends one page griping about New Years and how much she dislikes it, and then she's saying to Magill how much she likes it, that it's a gift. Please. No one goes from surly to sweet that fast, especially not Caddie.

This book is the definition of "chick-lit." The feminist in me hates me for saying that, but, let's face it, it is.

Every once in a while it's nice to give yourself a literary break. But I had a nightmare image of myself tucked up on a chair with an afghan over my legs, cat curled up in my lap, cup of tea beside me, reading this book. Not yet. Not yet! I haven't come to that yet.

Now it's time to move on to something more substantive.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Reader

directed by Stephen Daldry

This is a move which stays remarkably true to the book. Very little is changed in the film version, which I appreciate

I don't think I would actually change anything about this movie. Maybe a little less sex and get to the trial faster. But the movie is still exceptional.

What struck me after watching the movie is how emotionless the book now seems. The books is mostly a factual account, and there is something about how it's written that gives it now emotion. Michael asks questions and struggles with the relationship he had with Hanna, but somehow, none of that translates to strong emotion in the reader, at least not in me. In the movie however, there is so much more emotion, most of it repressed, which makes it all the more powerful when it does manage to leak through (very German). This is a case in which reading the book and seeing the movie each enhance the other.

This is an excellent film adaptation of the book.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Reader

by Bernhard Schlink













This is a really simply and elegantly written book, almost poetic.

My chief complaint is that the narrator asks too many questions. I realize he had to process several moral dilemmas in his life, but he just asked too many questions; a metaphor every once in a while would have been nice. All those questions make the narrator sound juvenile, which makes sense considering his relationship with Hanna started when he was only 15 years old, but he is telling his story as an adult, not as the 15 year old. Plus the excessive questions continue as he recounts later events in his life.

I also found the beginning of Michael and Hanna's relationship ridiculous. Who becomes that obsessed after only one encounter? And then falls so all-consumingly in love after sleeping together so suddenly? But then again, Michael is 15 and Hanna is lonely with nothing to lose. So why not? (The question thing, it's catching.)

But I think this is a compelling story and an easy read. Schlink poses poignant moments effortlessly. I especially loved this observation:
"The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive."
Beautiful. That one sentence captures so much of what the book is about.

Once you get past all the cougar sex, the book is really excellent (not that the sex isn't excellent, but it's really only a small part of what the book is about). When the trial begins is when the story really gets going, and it is great. It is well crafted and enthralling. Hanna becomes completely sympathetic despite her past or her short-comings. Michael is more complex and I haven't settled how I feel about him.

This is one of those books that is over too soon. It's a captivating story, beautifully written, and well worth your attention.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Risk Pool

by Richard Russo













I have a lot of respect for Richard Russo; I think he is a truly excellent writer. This is the second novel of his I've read (Empire Falls is the other) and I plan to read more of him.

He reminds me of a modern-day Faulkner, except that the families in Russo don't completely collapse into ruin, and his novels take place in Main and not down south. Russo is a fantastic storyteller (not so convoluted as Faulkner). His plot is neat and connected, but not so much so as to be annoying (like Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed). His characters are believable and have complete lives. The relationships between characters are very well crafted as well.

Really, there is nothing not to like about this book. Ok, maybe it's a little long and I initially lost interest once Ned was grown up and no longer living in Mohawk, but he returned and things picked up again.

There are some similarities between The Risk Pool and Empire Falls which I find interesting: the Catholic Church and its priests playing important roles, the local diner being the key meeting place and only constant business, and the old-as-the-town-itself family being the only ones to have any money in the run-down town trying to hold on to its dignity (the family and the town).

The Risk Pool is an excellent book and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good story and isn't intimidated by its 479 pages.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I am America (and So Can You!)

by Stephen Colbert













Disappointing, teetering on the edge of annoying.

Usually I find Stephen Colbert very funny. However, I have decided that I can only tolerate him in 15 minute (or less) segments. His sense of humor really begins to wear thin after that. Plus, he's not funny in print; the humor doesn't really translate to the page.

I didn't get through the whole book. I was determined to, but when I was about 3/4 of the way through, I decided I had better things to do with my time.

So, watch the Report, but don't bother with the book.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An American Childhood

by Annie Dillard













I finally finished this book!!

I have had a very long love/hate relationship with this book, and I am glad it is over.
"What would you do if you had fifteen minutes to live before the bomb went off? Quick: What would you read?" - Annie Dillard
Not this book!

It's dull.

I imagine this book being dictated by an adorable elderly grandmother from her old wooden rocking chair, with a self-knitted blanket on her lap and a cup of tea by her side.

This book is lovely. It is well written, sweet, and poetic, very Wordsworthian. But it's just too precious for me.

First of all, all the talk about the interior and exterior life, it's nice, but no eight year old is contemplating it in such metaphoric language. Either narrate this book in the present looking back, or as your young self, don't flip-flop and make yourself out to have been the most insightful, melancholic, intelligent eight-year-old there has ever been. I'm not buying it. She idealizes her young self and her childhood so much, it's really off putting. Everyone in her past was sweet and intelligent and funny and bold. Where's the conflict? Oh, you were a moody teenager. That's not enough. That's not real.

There are some amusing little stories about Dillard's childhood which are cute and well written, but, again, she uses high, poetic language to analyze these cute moments which ruin them. Children do not think in those terms.

Typically I like reading memoirs, but not this one. To make a good memoir, I either have to have an interest in the person or an interest in their exotic/traumatic/chaotic life. This book has none of that, and worse, it's dull.

This is our July book discussion book, and I have no idea what we're going to talk about. Maybe I missed some insightful moments, but I doubt it since Dillard really leads her reader by the hand every step of the way.

At least the book was short.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This Book is Overdue!

How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
by Marilyn Johnson












This book made me want to stand up and cheer, "Yes! Librarians are important!" "Librarians are cool!" We provide information and assistance to the public AND we stand up for things like privacy and free speech.

I'm tempted pursue library/information science, but I'm not convinced it's the route for me.

I do love the idea of blogging librarians, and I've certainly collected my fair share of stories to impart...

All the information about Second Life and cyber librarians was intriguing and sounds like a lot of fun.

I must have skimmed the bits about international, information science programs for students who live in developing nations who cannot afford internet connections or computers, let alone books...Maybe I missed the mark on that part, but I don't exactly see the good in that or why people are so excited about it...

The Darien, Ct library sounds pretty incredible, and I may need to make a pilgrimage there.

All in all, this is an interesting book with a lot of information about all those sides of librarians you never knew about. However, I'm not sure how much this book will excite non-librarians. At times it does feel dense and like you're trudging through a lot of words, but it's still interesting. If the spirit moves you, read This Book is Overdue, if not, that's ok too.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

by Giulia Melucci












First of all, to "A. J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Year of living Biblically and The Know-It-All," this book is nothing like Eat Pray Love and is decidedly better. The two books are only similar in the sense that they are both memoirs and both women are searching for something in their lives. I'd say that is he extent of the similarities.

Mario Batali got it correct, calling it "a foodie's dream version of Sex and the City."

I love memoirs (a statement to be refuted in a later post if I ever finish the freaking book...). I especially love food memoirs. In my mind, all the moments, the emotions, all the complications become so much clearer and stronger and tangible when paired with food.

This is a great book and a fast read. Her tales of love are honest and endearing, and her recipes are wonderfully simple and sound infinitely delicious. My one complaint is that I wish she could have worked some of the recipes into her stories more seamlessly. For the most part, she incorporates them successfully, but occasionally they pop out of nowhere. But, nonetheless this is an extremely enjoyable book which will make you hungry and full in one bite.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I had to share this

This is a post from Stuff No One Told Me: Fun

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sh*t My Dad Says

by Justin Halpern













This book is excellent! You could have just had the worst day of your life, but open this book and I guarantee you will be smiling.

I'm currently in the middle of reading two other books, but when this one came through the interlibrary loan system with my name on it, I had to read it right away. It only took a few hours to read, and those other books can wait, this was totally worth it.

"Sh*t My Dad Says" is insanely hilarious and heart-warming. After reading only a few pages you will literally be laughing out loud. (I don't recommend reading this in the library or any other quiet public place because you will get concerned looks regarding your mental state.)

I've never encountered a book like this before. It's right up there with Lewis Black's "Me of Little Faith" in terms of hilarity. Halpern shares glowing anecdotes about his childhood and growing up with his eccentric father who is unconcerned with how other perceive him and says exactly what he means, exactly how he wants to say it; it's refreshing. I absolutely love this book and it's convoluted, foul-mouthed pearls of wisdom. There is a lot of love in this book as well as a lot of humor.

Everyone (who is not offended by gruff language) should read this book.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Eat Pray Love

One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
by Elizabeth Gilbert












I have jumped on the bandwagon, late as usual, but after hearing about the upcoming movie based on this book, I decided I wanted to read it.

I really enjoyed book. I think Elizabeth Gilbert is a very honest and unashamed writer, which makes her words all the more accessible. I willingly lived vicariously through her. There is also a great sense of calm about this book, once you get into it; it's a comfort to read.

The book really gave me the urge to travel. I want to go to Greece, but I've heard they're not too friendly with tourists. For now I'll have to settle with visiting Seattle for a month in July (I'm attending the Tallis Scholars Summer School, which I could not be more excited about! Although, who knows how much of the city I'll actually have time to explore...).

But I didn't come to any dramatic self-realizations while reading this book. I didn't feel the need to drop everything and suddenly go on a spiritual journey. Instead, it reaffirmed how I currently feel. I know who I am and what makes me happy. I guess I haven't had enough time in the "real world" to lose my sense of self yet, and I never plan to. For me, at this time in my life, I didn't find the book to be hugely relatable; maybe I'm a little young yet to truly appreciate it.

I am decidedly somewhat un-American because I fully embrace the Italian concept of bel far niente (the beauty of doing nothing). I have for most of my young life. My mother calls this being lazy. But I think there's a lot to be said for taking the time to enjoy a little nothing.

Occasionally while reading I found myself thinking, Well good for you. You get to experience all these wonderful things that I don't have the opportunity to.  Or is that take the opportunity to?

Anyway, there were parts I liked and parts I did not like about the book. I really liked Italy, India was very interesting, but got a little too spiritual for me to grasp (transcendence during meditation: I can't yet relate to or quite understand that), and I thoroughly enjoyed Indonesia. Originally I thought I liked Italy the best, but there were some truly fantastic stories from her time in Indonesia which I found pretty compelling. Other readers will probably get more out of this book than I did, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Between the Bridge and the River

by Craig Ferguson













I don't particularly care for the cover of this book; I don't know why.

The praise from Mitch Albom written on the back cover should have been enough to deter me from reading this book (I read "Tuesdays with Morrie," liked it at the time but I won't read another book of his because it's a bunch of carpe diem crap that I don't want preached at me.).

This is an odd book, bordering on Christian fiction with a lot of smut and swearing mixed in. It's about redemption and God and psychology and not at all what I was expecting from Craig Ferguson.

Ferguson needed a better editor. There's a lot going on, a lot of characters, not all of whom stick around for the whole story, and a lot of unnecessary detail. It's as if Ferguson was really amused by his own thoughts and included them in the book just for himself. In the end, the characters end up being too tightly wound together, meeting each other in dreams or while walking the desert of their soul. It's too coincidental.

I wonder if this was a sort of healing book for Ferguson, the kind that the author writes at a difficult point in his life because it's the only way he can think of to make himself feel better, kind of like how T.S. Garp had to write "The World According to Bensenhaver" to get over his tragic loss.

All in all the book is amusing, a little "out there," but you can feel free to skip this one.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Bronte
(Gothic novel/ Christian fiction)

I have no picture for this book because the edition I read is from the library and is old (©1976 --ok, that's not old, I realize) and has no book jacket.

I can now cross another of the classics off my list. "Jane Eyre" is one of those novels I always felt I should read, and now I have. Bully for me.

It took me a while to get through this book; I found it a little tedious and some of the chapters rambled on too long for my liking, although I did enjoy the book more than I anticipated. What struck me most though, is that, originally I found Jane Eyre to be a sad character; she never got a chance to know herself. She spent her life being submissive to others and bending over backwards to please other people. I find that very sad. First it was Mrs. Reed, then to the teachers at Lowood, to God (especially), to Mr. Rochester, then to Mr. St. John. Jane Eyre is simply an acquiescent young woman who constantly feels the need to stifle her true being, to the point of denying herself, feeling herself unworthy of love, even; constantly considering herself plain to the point of ugliness and believing no man, other than Mr. Rochester, could love her. Jane is told and agrees that she is "made for labour, not for love." She's only nineteen years old and that is how she feels about herself. I realize this was set in a different time, but still, Jane made me feel sad for her.

I will say it is good to see her stand up for herself every once in a while, but she waits until she reaches the boiling point to say anything. I was happy when she exploded to Mrs. Reed, that was excellent. But Jane doesn't express herself enough, which really doesn't help her.

I'm glad Jane found some family, but I despise Mr. St. John Eyre Rivers. He is unfeeling and downright mean to Jane, which she doesn't fully realize. First of all, cousins marrying = not ok. But beyond that, he tries to force Jane to marry him by telling her:
"[...]and do not forget that if you reject it, it is not me you deny, but God. Through my means, He opens to you a noble career; as my wife only can you enter upon it. Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself for ever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity. Tremble lest in that case you should be numbered with those who have denied the faith, and are worse than infidels!"
What a bastard! He exploits her devotion to and faith in God and her sense of duty. How could she in good conscience deny him, and thus deny God? It's deplorable. She suppresses parts of her being so St. John will think she's obedient and almost says yes to his oppressive offer! Glad she didn't though. Amidst John's ridiculous marriage proposals I kept thinking Jane should have just stayed with Mr. Rochester in the first place and been happy. Sure there's a crazy woman in the attic (By the way, mental health was clearly a severely neglected and unfortunately misunderstood issue.), but that's easily overlooked...

I was happy to see Jane go back to Mr. Rochester. When she made the decision to go back and seek him out, that is when she gained my respect. That is the moment when she owns herself, and I applaud her for that. And it's made obvious in contrast to her relationship with St. John that she is more herself, and does truly know herself when she is with Mr. Rochester. Kudos, Jane.

(On a juvenile note: Every time Mr. Rochester said, "What the deuce?" I thought of Stewie Griffin. ^_^)