Friday, July 31, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
In case you haven’t heard of this story (or have been living in a hole and not seen the mass marketing campaign featuring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams), Julie Powell is a married 29-year-old who works as a temp in New York and is feeling a bit of ennui. She decides to embark on a year-long project in which she will cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about her endeavors. Obviously, this turns into one of those projects that seemed like a good idea at the time…until egg- and lobster-related disasters leave Julie screaming profanities at anything within vocal range.
At first, I was a bit put off by Julie’s blatant emotional honesty. She screams irrationally at her husband, to the point of me wanting to scream at him, “Please divorce this crazy woman;” her frustrations with work seem a bit selfish when they relate to dealing with the public after 9/11 [she writes the inappropriate thoughts that you may say in your head, but would never say outloud for fear of being labeled cruel and insensitive!]; and she curses…a lot. Which I don’t mind (I do live in New York, after all), but others might find excessive (as did some of her blog readers).
However, I grew to love Julie’s voice. I could care less about cooking, but, though it was the core of the project, it was not the core of her writing. She kept the dialogue interesting and humorous enough by focusing on her life outside of the cooking as well. You really want to cheer her on with this project as she describes all its ups and downs, and you think, “Hey, maybe she’s not so bitchy and obsene all the time,” as she describes how close she is to her husband. The writing is witty and her personality is fiery, to say the least. Plus, she does eventually realize the error of her ways in blog-whining (though it doesn’t happen until 211 pages in).
When I said I am glad I read the book, it’s for this reason: sweet little Amy Adams is not going to play a character that openly hates Republicans and uses the word “fuck” profusely. It’s just not as marketable. Sure, the basics of the story will be the same, and Julie’s character will keep her “crazy person” quirks, but I have a very strong feeling her personality won’t be exactly the same. And for this reason, I’m glad I know the original voice that told this story. It’s an entertaining, somewhat-inspirational, and very hilarious read.
Julie & Julia will be released in trade paperback on July 1 by Hachette Book Group.
Check out the film-adaptation starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, in theaters August 7th.
Monday, July 27, 2009
- Summer (I spend 8 months of the year waiting for the 3 best ones)
- Sitcoms (except Everybody Loves Raymond and The Cosby Show)
- Fountain Coke (cans and bottles, ick)
- the South (homeland!)
- Road trips (anywhere, any distance)
- Ellen Degeneres (I can no longer watch at work due to spontaneous bouts of giggling)
- College football (beer and pizza on a fall Saturday is classic)
- Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper
- Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment by Julie Powell
- The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
Friday, July 24, 2009
The Imposter’s Daughter begins during Sandell’s early years; she recalls her father’s stern attitude and heavily guarded secrecy. But as a child, these traits seem admirable in their intrigue. When her father loses his job—claiming political prejudice cost him his career—Sandell understands that it would be worse for her father to compromise his ideals than to get dressed each morning. During her later years, after a few credit cards come back declined despite her never signing up for them, Sandell begins to realize the father she thought she knew didn’t exist. The second half of the novel follows Sandell as she deconstructs her father’s past as well as her journey confronting her own demons.
The art is colorful, bright, and full of emotion. Using vibrant hues, Sandell crafts a wonderfully touching story of her past. The memories are vividly put to page in a way that reminds the reader that this is her version of the past without distracting from the narrative. Each frame contains a fully furnished image; Sandell adds hints to her own work as well as notes and addenda.
Her life as a celebrity reporter helped make her middle years entertaining instead of just expository. Despite her father’s disappearance for much of the middle of the novel, her storytelling managed to keep the piece compelling and exciting. Name dropping some still relevant celebrities didn’t hurt her either.
Sandell’s case is compelling and I don’t think anyone can judge her negatively considering her circumstances. The mistakes she might have made were her own and she’s obviously begun to come to terms with them. But to watch as she paints energetic images to describe her past is a treat for any reader. This is definitely worth buying, borrowing, or stealing from a friend.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Nick Laird is a rather talented poet. Both of his collections, To a Fault (which features the poem ‘On Beauty’, something Zadie Smith – his wife – used in her eponymous novel) and On Purpose (an evolution and growth of the same themes put forth in the former work), are brilliant pieces of wordplay, male anxiety, stunning imagery, and bitter resentment at relationships.
However, Laird also writes novels. And they’re the male equivalent of chick-lit. Utterly Monkey was a quasi-autobiographical caper that had a bit of immaturity running through it. And Glover’s Mistake, although an improvement on prose style and story, still doesn’t hold a candle to Laird’s poetry. His talents certainly lie elsewhere.
Glover’s Mistake is a modernised version of Othello meets The Great Gatsby, in a very loose kind of way, set in the heart of London. David Pinner, a 30-something bitter blogger, falls for his old art school teacher, Ruth Marks, an American 40-something who is having some success in London with her current paintings and exhibitions. They go out on a few dates, sometimes accompanied by David’s flatmate, the religious James Glover, a 20-something who knows how to make people laugh, who is much more physical than the others (he runs every morning, which is how he became fit; formerly he was like Pinner, a bit mushy – his physicality becomes important later). Eventually, what comes as no surprise, Ruth begins to fall for James and both of them move on the fast track, heading to marriage. And what’s no surprise further, David becomes insanely jealous and almost a voyeur, eventually setting up situations much like Iago that attempt to destroy James and Ruth’s happiness. As this narrative is told from (basically) a third-person limited way, through David, he becomes relatively creepy and oily.
Laird’s prose eye in simply not as deft as his poetic one, and unfortunately that makes the writing kind of flat and ordinary. Perhaps in another’s hands, this book would have been relatively exciting; but because expectations were higher for him, he failed to meet them. For example, a couple of stanzas from On Purpose, from the poem ‘Holiday of a Lifetime’, goes:
Sit at the desk. It’s mid-
Your cigarette, neglected,
to ash. The study walls are
strung with hoops of light
thrown by a glass
of water. The sash window
north-west. You checked.
Laird captures the ordinary here in an extraordinary way. There is a patience pervading this poem; every word is balanced, every image is checked, every emotion is handled correctly. In Glover’s Mistake, however, we get more axiom-like statements and unmemorable prose. ‘Ruth said nothing. Glover’s curse had flavoured the atmosphere, suddenly turning everything a different colour.’ Although statements like that are redeemed further on in the paragraph: ‘David could see the thinness of her shoulders, the tilt of her breasts, then the angle of the lifted arm that brought a glass of water to her tightened, silent, lovely mouth.’ But there just isn’t the same type of electricity infused as his poetry’s.
As Ruth is an artist and David is an English teacher, there is a great deal of discussion on art and artistic theory, which is certainly a plus. But unfortunately David (and Ruth) sadly aren’t compelling enough characters to make you feel for them. David’s decisions aren’t tragic; they’re just sad and misguided. In fact, the only likeable person within is James Glover, who seems to get the short end of the stick. And people within the book, and perhaps Laird himself, wants to make him into a caricature – simply because he’s the youngest character and the one that takes faith seriously. This then begs the question, why is the book entitled Glover’s Mistake? Is his mistake to room with David? Is it that he got engaged to Ruth? Is it that he was too young for all the persons within the narrative? Is it to mimic The Great Gatsby‘s use of the non-narrrator’s name? Even with all these questions that might make one inquisitive enough to dive deeper within the text, the novel isn’t interesting enough to formulate enticing answers.
Nick Laird is certainly an author to watch, and an author who I will continue to read regardless, but I think that he’s proven that he’s much more talented than what this novel suggests.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
“We’re human after all!’
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God details what you’d think it would. Looking at how the concept of god has changed from ‘western’ polytheism to Judaism to Christianity to Islam, Wright investigates the way perception of deity (or deities) have influenced the world. In sometimes entertaining and colloquial prose, this tome adds some interesting characters to the religious debate.
As Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have received praise for their fervent atheism, Wright takes a more agnostic stance. Although he himself may not believe, the book itself looks at the arguments for the case of god in a scientific way, without meddling with the author’s own feelings and inclinations.
Wright brings to light a few personalities that I had hitherto not heard of. Philo, a Greek Jew, tried to piece together the majesty of the Grecian gods with that of the Jewish one; he revealed to the forum-going populace how these religions weren’t all that different from one another. (Judaism originally had several gods, which should not be a surprise to anyone; just at some point, as the ancient state of Israel was being formed, someone had a fantastic idea to either unite them into one or get rid of the excess and have one God with a capital G.) Wright explains how Paul, the epistle writer of New Testament fame, was really like a CEO or ambassador, trying to reign in all the different sects of Christianity springing up so that there was some centralisation.
Unfortunately the Islam section doesn’t seem as well researched as the other sections. It’s quite cursory in comparison, making more sweeping brushstrokes than specific and pointed ones. The focus is on Mohammad’s rise to fame, ability to create armies, and his legacy – it doesn’t discuss any real major theories or texts about Islam instead. There isn’t a thorough discussion on Sunni versus Shi’ite Muslims. Thus, it felt more like a history lesson than a true analysis. There was also more contemporary discussion on the effect of Islam (ie: a chapter devoted to the jihad) than that of the time Islam was born, which was a shame since the Islam part should have been the most fascinating and enlightening section of the book (or at least the section of the book that most ‘western’ readers are going to read this for). It was interesting to note though that the Qu’ran is much more poetic than the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, poetic mainly in the sense that it has rhymes and rhythms.
Some of the major weaknesses with Wright’s argument, which also happens to be that of the many of Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, is that a) he doesn’t really discuss any ‘eastern’ religions and b) he really is preaching more to the choir, those that are religiously curious. I feel that Hitchens would be ineffective in a dialogue with a ‘true believer’; I don’t think that would be the case with Wright. But I do think that, although Wright argues the evolution of god relatively methodically and scientifically, there are some hurdles that faith won’t overcome – which is in essence what faith is. One cannot fault him for that, but one wishes that there was some give and take.
On the other hand, I thought the greatest strength of this book was the revelation on how economics and economic theory really played a role in shaping the concept of god. God is shaped into what his believers need him to be: the concept that if we were horses god would also look like a horse. Wright goes into game theory and how religion was also (and of course still is) a business, be it an economic or a political one. He also details the importance and controversy of translations and interpretations. Each religion has its issues when it comes to figuring out what its sacred texts really mean, and Wright does an absolutely wonderful and thorough job looking at how words have multiple or layered meanings, as well as how Allah, Yahweh, and Jehovah are even all linguistically related.
Although this is unfortunately a cursory look at Wright’s book itself, The Evolution of God was a very good read, well argued most of the time and fascinating or refreshing every chapter. Weaknesses aside, it was good to be reminded of the powers of religion and how similar the major monotheistic religions really are, as well as their intense and bloodied histories.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I just started Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer this morning! Have you read any National Book Award winners?
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
First thought – her style of writing hasn’t changed, and it’s a good thing. She has an incredible way of giving every object in her stories some kind of history – a person doesn’t lay their bag on the floor or fill a glass of water without it somehow conveying intimate details of their past – I’ve always admired this about her writing.
The problem? Well, effective as this is, she doesn’t mix it up at all! The entire book, unfolds in almost the exact same patient style, to the point where I was almost longing for short, meaningless spurt of dialogue. Perhaps it’s the Digital Native in me.
Lastly, the thing I really had trouble getting over, is that…well I can’t imagine how terribly her life or the lives of people she loves must have been in order for her to produce this collection of depressing stories. I understand that things don’t always go well, the world doesn’t always turn, but gosh – they don’t always go awfully either! It feels like an odd complaint somehow, but there you are.
A more reasonable complaint perhaps is that…well the flaws in the characters that cause the conflicts appear to always be the same – someone is too traditional and can’t get past it, another character is too unforgiving and unforgetting, a third keeps secrets against all good judgment – then rinse and repeat. I felt like she told the same sad story in six different ways, and by the end, I was happy to get back to sweet, sweet reality.
“According to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses.”
Friday, July 3, 2009
The year is 1976, and Eli Book is ten years old. With the book told entirely from his perspective, the reader learns first hand why this summer is different than all the others. The story starts at the beginning of the summer, when a ten year old’s world is suddenly graced with freedom and responsibility is out the window. Days consist of bike rides, swims in the lake, and not much more.
When we meet the other characters, we discover the conflict present in Eli’s seemingly paradisaical world. His beautiful mother seems distant, preoccupied with smoothing ties between his Vietnam traumatized father and his sister, a former Vietnam protester that has taken up residence in the Book house. Eli’s older sister Josie is in a spree of rebellion, questioning all she was taught to believe and clashing with her parents who just doesn’t understand her way of thinking. Edie is the girl next door and Eli’s best friend, but she turns inward when her parents decide to split up.
Eli is stuck in the middle of it all, as he watches the people he loves tear at each other. But he always remains on the perimeter, usually eavesdropping.
This book was much more than I expected at first glance. It is incredibly heartfelt, and Eli is one of the most likeable characters I have encountered in a while. He possesses a deep understanding of what is happening around him, much more than anyone would guess. The narrative is a nice mix of what’s going on both inside and outside his head. I was reminded of how much thought goes through a ten-year-old’s mind–observing, analyzing, pondering life’s events. House gives us the full story by using the adult Eli to recount the summer from his ten-year-old perspective. The situations beyond a child’s understanding are explained by this older voice.
Eli the Good had me crying at the end. Not out of sadness; but it just seemed so poetic. I remembered the complexity of being a child–figuring out the world and how it all worked, and holding on to little moments and feelings that you want to last a lifetime. Eli has profound little one-liners that are sprinkled throughout the book, but the most telling of his story is this:
“Whole scenes of your life can slip away forever if you don’t put them down in ink.”
This instantly became an all-time favorite, and I highly recommend it.
AVAILABLE SEPTEMBER 8, 2009
304 Pages, Hardcover
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Overwhelmed and exhausted, Kate escapes her heartbreak and struggling fashion career with a trip to her ancestral home of Ireland. She stumbles upon the quaint coastal village of Glenmara and befriends a group of local lace makers. As Kate learns the secrets of their traditional craft, she finds the inspiration that has eluded her for so long—and soon the women are working together to create a line of exquisite lingerie. But not everyone is enamored with these new ideas. Kate’s presence in Glenmara has sparked controversy, and the women must summon the courage to face opposition and confront their own personal troubles. As they work together, the lace makers gain the determination to achieve their own goals and face their long-standing demons.
Barbieri found inspiration for this, her second novel, on a trip to the Irish coast and a New York Times article about Polish lace makers. Despite a fairly predictable plot, she has created an interesting story using exceptional characters and the dynamic backdrop of Glenmara, a traditional town trying to balance old world values with modern practices. Barbieri weaves together stories on life, love, friendship and family to create a multifaceted novel, where personal histories define her characters and influence their decisions.
In her affinity for literary patchwork, Barbieri has created an entertaining novel by blending a thoughtful story with a light read, perfect for this summer’s vacation.