Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden

This is a wonderful book! I absolutely loved reading "Memoirs of a Geisha," I couldn't put it down!

What a I especially love about "Memoirs" is that it reads like a culture-study. The books is extremely well researched, without feeling tedious, and authentic. Golden immediately emerges the reader in Japanese culture, and it only gets better from there. Everything about this book is enrapturing. It is a wonderful complex story to get lost in.

Sayuri's life was such a captivating mixture of tragedy and elation. Well, elation may be a bit strong a word. After being sold from her family, Chiyo/Sayuri endured torture at the hands of Hatsumomo and looked as if life would end with her being a maid forever. But through unexpected turns of good luck, Sayuri manages to become a geisha. There is something innately alluring about the mention of "geisha." They're exotic and exquisite and reading about one was like taking a peek into some kind of exclusive, elite world. (Though now I would like to read a book from the perspective of a wife and a maid at the time and see how much they enjoyed their lives compared to Sayuri.)

Frankly, I didn't care too much for the love-story aspect of the book. I thought Sayuri's initial reaction to the Chairman was like a schoolgirl crush on the knight-in-shining-armor/pseudo father figure. It seemed a little ridiculous how obsessed with him she became. I suppose that's why the New York Times referred to the romance as "Dickensian."

Sadly, I found the last few chapters to be a disappointment. I cannot believe what Sayuri wanted to do to Nobu after he showed her so much kindness and truly she owed him her life. Then she unexpectedly learns that the Chairman has been the driving force and savior of her life ever since she first met him, without her knowledge, and now the can live happily ever after because he's been secretly in love with her too? Please. That was much too neat and tidy and unrealistically convenient. It felt like a cop-out. Sayuri absolutely deserved a happy ending, but not the way Golden crafted it. The plot and the whole atmosphere of the book was so well executed up to that point, it was like letting air out of a balloon.

That's the other thing I really liked about the book: it's poetry. The story is full of beautiful metaphors, which felt like a very Japanese touch, to me. Also I liked the way it did read like a true dictation of a geisha's life.

I know the book looks long, but it is well worth the effort, and once you're in it, reading it won't feel like effort.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

I really enjoyed this book. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.

The world of the train circus Gruen creates is thoroughly fascinating and engrossing. It was like reading about a foreign country, a totally unfamiliar culture, complete with exotic animals. "Water for Elephants" is a really well thought out and well-crafted story that reels you in right from the onset.

Each character Gruen created feels genuine and believable. I bought into every situation and reaction. It's a book I didn't want to put down!

I only have two small issues with the book: It took Jacob too long to figure out Rosie only understood Polish. And I don't understand why Jacob carried around so much guilt for such a long time. What happened wasn't his fault; really it wasn't anyone's fault. Though he did explain that elephant executions were common at the time. Still, I think he could have told Marlena and nothing would have changed between them. His guilt was important to the story, but in relation to what happened and to his life, I think it was unnecessary. I was expecting him to be holding some horrible secret, and really it wasn't that awful.

Jacob gets a hard-knock education in life and love during his three months with the Benzini Brother's Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Initially I had my doubts about his abilities to survive, but he quickly integrates himself into circus life and endears himself to many through his charm, hard work, and open heart.

I can see why it was chosen to be developed into a movie. It is vivid and expansive and, I think, easily lends itself to film.

"Water for Elephants" is for any reader looking for an enthralling story, complete with star-struck love, deception, suffering of all varieties, and in the midst of all that, a circus! Gruen wrote a remarkable story that deserves to be read again and again.

Monday, May 9, 2011


by Tina Fey

I have an infinite amount of respect for Tina Fey. She is one of the greatest female role models in the media today. I love that she has had so much success in the male-dominated comedy world, as a writer and actor. She is fearless, or at least manages to quell her fear enough to go for what she wants. And what makes her a great comedy writer and actor (and this goes for women like Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig as well) is she isn't afraid to look foolish or goofy or downright unattractive at times. She makes comedy look as it should: FUN!

"Bossypants" is a great read. It's a little formulaic when it comes to famous people writing books: childhood stories, lists of positives and negatives, funny pearls of wisdom, commentary on her current situation in life. But "Bossypants" is well worth reading. There are times when I find a kindred spirit in Tina Fey.

Fey has some truly classic anticdotes (I particularly love the one about her first appointment to the gynocologist!). I think it's interesting to see where she came from and how she grew up. And she commits to her stories. She doesn't gloss over the awkward or unfortunate, she owns it.

The chapter "Dear Internet" is a very clear example of why Tina Fey kicks ass. And I'm not saying that because I am and she is a woman. If Craig Ferguson had to answer those kinds of idiotic emails, I'm sure I'd find his responses just as hilarious and awesome. Though, being a man, I doubt Ferguson would have as many sent to him. Fey's responses are snarky and biting and smart. I admire how she is so unapologetic and really owns who she is and what she does.
"Do your thing and don't care if they like it."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Judith Viorst

I've always liked this book but felt there was something slightly upsetting about it. Now it's all been explained to me. Also I thought the mother was not sympathetic enough about the little personal disasters going on throughout Alexander's day. But I suppose the moral really is: Suck it up; that's life.