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.