Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: Cradling insanity

Patrick Somerville’s The Cradle I feel would make a good Hallmark/Lifetime movie. Granted, I’ve never seen one, but it has all the elements that I’d assume would make a good film for that world. It’s family-based, it’s sentimental, and it has a redeeming ending.

It tells the story of married couple Matthew and Marissa Bishop. Marissa is with child and all of a sudden, like a pregnant woman wanting pickles at 2.30 in the morning, she wants her baby to be brought up in the cradle she herself was raised in. It’s a civil war cradle. Though not one that her family had since the 1860s; they must have picked it up at some garage sale. But that doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want the baby to be in any cradle. She wants one with memories already attached. The caveat, it’s probably with her mother, and god only knows where she is. Being completely unreasonable she sends Matt off on this wild goose chase, because ‘You’re Matt. What about my keys? I look for six hours, then you get home and you find them in five minutes.’

Matt, out of husband duty, takes on this tall order and embarks on a small road trip with help from ridiculously estranged characters who get him closer and closer to his goal. It feels a bit hokey that all of the people he meets along the way are insane or deranged in one way or another – an old woman and her Star Trek loving stay-at-home son, Marissa’s family who believes in psychics and bizarre energy fields. Although they may fit in some heroic quest, this novella doesn’t really lift far enough off the ground, off a light level in order to permit such wild eccentricities.

On top of that, another story is told, about 10 years later, about a woman who’s about to send her son off to the Iraq War. She’s unhappy about it, but the son feels that it’s his American duty. She’s a poet turned children’s book writer (she used to write the stories for her own son), she’s lived through Vietnam. And she’s holding a secret back from her husband and her son. It’s not hard to see what this secret is, and you’ll assume it pretty early in the work. And this second story kind of hurts the rhythm of this short novel, which feels more like two overlong linked tales. That’s not to say that it’s not heartwarming, and when Somerville gets the tension right he nails it. There are even hints, sans the socialism, of George Eliot’s Silas Marner. But overall The Cradle probably could have done with some expansion, with patience, and with more trust in the reader.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The elitism of book lists

My good friend Michelle just sent me a link on g-chat with the comment, “the most boring list of books over and over.” She led me to this article on a NYTimes blog with the post title, “The Influential Books Game.” Apparently it was a bookish meme where people list the top 10 books that have influenced their view of the world. And every single book on that list is just pretentious. And so is this one linked in the article. And so is this one. And this one, though he did start with The Phantom Tollbooth, which sounds like the only honest answer in the bunch. [And at least that last guy mentioned his personal experience with the books so I believe he actually had a connection with them, rather than just listing the Top 10 Works of Philosophy Everyone Should Read.]

Albeit this meme seemed to circulate the “intellectual community,” but lists like this, of inspiring or influential titles, always contain the same expected few. And they’re books to which most people (at least the ones I know and like) would say, “Gross, BORING.” It’s like these are the expected answers; you mention them so you’ll sound smart and worldly. But really—influential works and theories on society? Maybe. But most influential books to YOU on YOUR world and YOUR viewpoints? C’mon now. Don’t just recite my reading list from freshman year Western Civ. With what books have you formed a personal connection, so they stick with you forever?
I can’t think of too many, but there are a few that never fail to pop into my head when the situation comes along:
  1. Harriet the Spy—I know I mention this one all the time, but it was the first story that made me want to explore and try a different way of life than the one in which I was raised. Harriet was always surrounded by people, and she became so observant of them, able to put herself into their situations. And now…well, I’m not called The Great Empathizer for nothin’.
  2. The Nanny Diaries—I did not like this book when I read it back in the 10th grade, and there’s not too much to take from it. But for some reason, I always think of the ending when I get really riled up about something. My first instinct is to just say what I think and react without censor. It would feel SO GOOD to just tell someone off, but then I think of this book and how it’s better to pick your battles. So now (for example) instead of sending back really passive-aggressive emails when dealing with incompetence, I type out my anger, pause, hit delete, and then write a rational reply.
  3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—Another favorite I mention a lot but from the moment I read this, I’ve been reminded to pay attention to the small things and look for the beauty everywhere.
  4. The Laramie Project—I read this play a few years ago and was struck by the lack of bias about a story that has always been so slanted in the media. Regardless of the why, the story is a tragic one. But, this has since led me to question the people and the lives behind any story. On paper, they’re just a name, but individuals are complex; a lot can be behind a story, unseen. Also, I see how the media can stereotype a story—categorize it one way while ignoring all the details surrounding it, just so it becomes a phenomenon, incites emotion in people, and ultimately makes the news media a lot of money.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: Death by pillows

As Martin McDonagh has a new play up in New York, A Behanding in Spokane, I decided to take a look at an earlier work that he had written. The Pillowman is probably McDonagh’s most famous play, and for good reason: it has some great anecdotes within, proving the worth (and power) of storytelling; and it is literary, as it affirms the importance of the written word on society and on the individual. Except in this case, the outcome isn’t so pleasant.

The Pillowman is a play that takes place in some anonymous totalitarian state; it’s about a writer of stories, which actually read more like faerytales. The writer’s name is Katurian Katurian Katurian. (He had funny parents, in his own words.) The absurdity of such a name is a strong echo to Kafka’s protagonists and even the concept of the anonymous – as with having so many of the same names, it’s hard to think that Katurian can be pinned down, that Katurian himself must be elusive. Our protagonist though has fallen into the hands of two detectives, a good cop/bad cop situation, in their own words. Tupolski and Ariel are questioning Katurian about his stories, why they focus on child abuse and dismemberment, what these stories could mean in the grander scheme of things. The name Tupolski makes us want to think that this anonymous totalitarian state is to echo that of the Soviet Republic. The name Ariel makes us want to think that this character is a more vengeful version of Shakespeare’s in The Tempest.

As they interrogate him, Katurian hears the screaming of his brother Michal, a mentally handicapped man whom Katurian cares for. We soon find out, after Katurian is brutalised by the police, that Michal was ok, that he was told to scream…and that he’s hiding some dark secrets that Katurian didn’t know about. And perhaps doesn’t want to know about. It makes us question the logic of storytelling, its effects on the reader (or in this case, the listener), and why storytelling for certain writers is more necessary than life itself.

In many ways, The Pillowman feels like a story we’ve seen before. It has hints of ‘The Gospel According to Mark’ by Jorge Luis Borges in certain aspects of its torture. It has the flavour of many of Kafka’s shorts, the pains of the characters’ plights. And it does tie together its multiple narratives and voices like a good Tom Stoppard play. But like the comedy and tragedy of his Martin McDonagh’s first feature film, In Bruges, the drama unfolds unrelentlessly, painfully – even through the laughs.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review & GIVEAWAY: Washed-up cowboy boots

And after that discussion on the book versus the movie, I move on to a recent example—Thomas Cobb’s Crazy Heart. Jeff Bridges just won the Oscar for his portrayal of Bad Blake, an aging country music singer, so this one’s timely.

Bad Blake epitomizes the stereotype of a washed-up country-western star. He drinks too much, he eats too much, he’s on the road too much. He hasn’t written a song or cut an album in five years; he’s booking bowling alleys and rural bars; he has a handful of divorces under his belt. Bad is past his prime. But he is who he is, and singing is what he does. Enter Jean Craddock, a reporter for a local paper in Phoenix looking for a story on the man behind the singer. She’s younger than Bad, a single mom, and her life is pretty much the antithesis of Bad’s. When the two strike up and friendship that develops into a relationship, Bad begins to question his way of living and must decide if he can settle down in a life off the road.
I’m very glad I didn’t see the movie prior to reading this book, because the reading experience wasn’t tainted with the images of the actors in my head. Bad is a wonderfully crafted complex character. Cobb did a great job describing the conflict within Bad and garnering up some sympathy for him, despite the fact that Bad has brought his decades-long downfall upon himself. Bad knows he is on a self-destructive course, and at times finds the inspiration to change, but his weaknesses seem to prevail and he seems to just accept the fate of a has-been.
The language was strong and the liquor flowed like water in this book, but I loved everything about the atmosphere of this story. The setting seems so familiar to me that I feel like I can smell the stale cigarette smoke of a dimly lit nightclub, taste the warm beer, hear the applause for a singer the audience didn’t even realize was still alive. You start to feel tired reading it—worn out like someone who’s been too many places, seen and done too many things. It’s neon lights reflecting on a windshield in an otherwise empty parking lot, the hum of an air conditioner in a roadside motel, the crackle of the radio as you start to leave the station’s range. It’s like Los Angeles (or in this case, Houston, or for country music in general, Nashville) at its finest, a city that never quite throws out the stars it created.

Oh, and I almost forgot! Harper Perennial has generously offered ONE lucky reader a copy of Crazy Heart! To enter, just leave a comment below with your email address. Contest will end Monday, April 5th at 11:59 PM EST. The winner will be announced the following day. Good luck!

But don’t let this discourage you from discussion! Have you read the book or seen the movie??

Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The endless debate of the Book versus the Movie

It really is an endless debate, isn’t it? Last night I watched (finally) the silver screen version of The Time Traveler’s Wife, and it got me thinking about this whole debate all over again, but with a couple questions other than just “Which is better?”

I didn’t really get into this movie until the last third or so. I thought it hopped right in to the meat of the issue without much of an introduction to the characters, and as a result, they seemed rather flat and under-developed. In the book, there is so much introduction that you get really attached to Henry and Claire and really caught up in their situation. Also, any “scientific” explanation of time travel was mentioned so briefly that, if you hadn’t read the book and known what was being referenced, you must’ve said “…Huh??” This brings me to my first question:
Are some books adapted to screen with an intended audience that is already a big fan of the book? Some films have their own merit and can stand alone, but to me, this just didn’t feel like one of them. I think fans of the books will love the movie (or be severely disappointed depending on their level of fandom) but average moviegoers will be a little confused and detached. Oftentimes, a book will be adapted to screen and no one will know it was a book first, but other times it’s the fans of the book that are intended to drive ticket sales.
  • Examples: The Time Traveler’s Wife, Harry Potter, Twilight, Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Baby-sitters Club (remember that awesomeness from the mid-90s???)
In terms of quality, this leads to my second query: How closely should the film adaptation mirror the novel? It may work better if the screenplay becomes its own story, taking on characteristics better suited to the screen; frankly, sometimes words on a page just don’t translate well to film, and it’s better for each medium to tell the story the best it can. Details may be different or expanded, but each can stand alone (these are where you see the ‘Based on’ in the credits).
  • Examples: Alice in Wonderland (the new one), Jumanji, Where the Wild Things Are, Mean Girls, The Hours
Finally and most importantly, it seems to be a booknerd’s mantra to say, “The book is always better than the movie,” but I disagree. In many cases, we as booknerds have probably read the book first and you just can’t cram all the details and intricacies of a book into an hour and a half, so yes, we are disappointed in the film version. But I can think of three definite cases in which I like the movie better than the book.
The first is Atonement. I read the book last summer, knowing absolutely nothing of the story. It was boring. Then I saw the movie, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. It was nice to see the story play out visually. The second is The Notebook. The movie contains everything I love: summer, the South, and the 1940s. The book was sappy and typical Nicholas Sparks BLEH.

The third is my absolute favorite movie of all time, Harriet the Spy. I saw this movie when I was 11 and pretty much decided to be Harriet M. Welsch. I loved everything about the aesthetics of that movie. It made me want to live in a big city where I would encounter all kinds of people. I wanted a sleek yet cozy house and a room full of eclectic finds and hand-me-downs. I wanted a school and grocery close enough that I could walk to them. And I wanted it to eternally be autumn so I could run around in blue jeans, Chucks, and a rain coat. I may just love this because it reminds me of childhood, but I never got as attached to the book. [Side note: I discovered a community garden in the East Village that reminds me a lot of the garden Golly takes Harriet, Sport, and Janie to in the movie. It was one of my happiest days of 2007.]
Do you prefer any movies over their book versions?

For an in-depth list of movies based on books, check out this site.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I ask one thing of you: COMMENT NOW!

As part of my ongoing site update and maintenance for the Blog Improvement Project, I decided to try a commenting system other than Blogger’s. Because what do I like most about book blogs? The discussion! And discussion can be a little hard to keep track of if the comments aren’t threaded. So, I officially linked Disqus’ commenting system to this blog for a test drive. It accepts fun things like OpenID and gravatars and even your Twitter account. Sorry you can’t sign in with your Google account anymore…but comment threads may just win out over that one.

Now I want to test it out! So I ask this of you: make a comment!

It can be anything! What are you watching/listening to/reading right now? Do you like cheeseburgers (because that’s what I just had for dinner)? Do you think any chick-flick is better than When Harry Met Sally (because I was just watching that on TV)? Give that REPLY button a whirl as well.

Many thanks!

Review: A Roman Holiday

One summer in high school, I don’t think I read anything but chick-lit. And now, I don’t even remember the last time I read it. But, I went to the beach and what could be more perfect, especially for someone like me who frequently dozes off and therefore can’t read anything that requires a lot of focus?

Kristin Harmel’s Italian for Beginners is another one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf since I won it in a giveaway last summer. It’s about a 30-something woman named Cat who is single, living in Manhattan, and has absolutely nothing exciting in her life. I mean, from the start you want to like this character but you quickly realize she is BORING; she’s done nothing interesting since she studied abroad in Rome thirteen years ago. At her younger sister’s wedding, Cat gets humiliated by Grandma and, with a push from her nearest and dearest, decides to take a four-week long vacation to Rome and reunite with her former Italian flame.

Well it’s no surprise that Francesco turns out to be a dud (I’m not spoiling anything; it’s on the back of the book), and Cat must now find her own way in a city all alone for four weeks. Enter a cast of eccentric characters and a setting fit for a movie (oh wait, it is…it’s called Roman Holiday), and we have a story about woman who finds herself taking risks for a life she never expected.

When I started reading this, I said to myself, “Oh dear god, I don’t know if I’m going to make it.” It’s not that I’m criticizing chick-lit, it’s just that it has a language of its own. I’m sure it is a more accurate interpretation of my verbal skills on a daily basis than, say, Faulkner, but it is not a language I have encountered in a novel in quite a long time. However, chick-lit did what it always does…and it sucked me in. And for a genre I usually find predictable, I was actually anticipating and guessing how it would end.

Italian for Beginners is good for a quick, enjoyable read [perfect for that SPRING READING I have been talking about]. I’m adding Harmel to my list of go-to fun authors because sometimes, you just gotta get lost in some chick-lit. Right Sal and Colin?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: Crash Diet

I don’t what else I can say in an introduction to a Jill McCorkle book. If you want a background on her, check out my other reviews on her works here and here. With that said, I’m just going to dive in. [Bear me with—I don’t really know how to review short stories too well].

Short stories are not usually my thing. It’s not that I have anything against them; I’d just rather get sucked in to a story that will last more than 20 pages. However, a daily commute on public transportation is perfect for short stories, and I made a commitment to myself to spend time on each individual story. For instance, when I finished one story on the subway ride to work in the morning, I’d wait until the evening commute to start another one instead of immediately moving on to the next. I found this was the perfect way to read a short story collection, because I had the opportunity to mull over each story.

Crash Diet is McCorkle’s first collection of stories, originally published in 1992 (she’s since published three more, along with five novels). She tells stories of Southern women—some old, some young, some happy, some sad. The situations are relatable without being too generic, the emotions are raw and real, and the voices ooze honesty.

My three favorite stories in this collection—”Gold Mine,” “Departures,” and “Waiting for Hard Times to End”—I deem absolute perfection. “Gold Mine” tells the story of a young mother of two as her high school sweetheart husband carries on an affair and their roadside motel struggles for business after the newly opened interstate bypasses their small town. “Departures” is about the daily adjustments of a woman recently widowed as she comes to terms with her own emotions while shielding herself from the behaviors of everyone around her. “Waiting for Hard Times to End” was perhaps the most heartbreaking of the collection, as a sixteen-year-old girl waits daily by the mailbox for word from her older sister who was disowned by the family. These stories had such compelling characters and situations that they will stick with me for sure. Do you ever run across a book or author where you feel the need to underline about every line because it’s just so poetic and perfect? That’s McCorkle to me, particularly in these stories.

Just pick up a book by Jill McCorkle.

Do you like to read short stories? What are some of your favorite stories or collections?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Adolescence in pictures

Well, there’s a first time for everything and the time finally came for me to read a graphic novel. Yes, I did it. I read a graphic novel.

Enter Craig Thompson’s Blankets, which I was inspired to read from a glowing review by write meg! Blankets is a heavy volume that serves as a semi-autobiographical record of Thompson’s adolescent years. It opens with boyish fights between Craig and his younger brother, Phil, during their childhood in the blustery winter of Wisconsin country. Thompson then proceeds to explore family life, sibling rivalry, and his awkward journey through adolescence, characterizing himself as an outsider. Craig’s devotion to Christianity leads him down a righteous path as he matures…and also leads him to church camp where he meets Raina. Ah, first love. Thompson’s illustrated novel (the term he prefers) takes on a lot as Craig faces issues of love, religion, and identity.
Before I get into a deeper analysis, I have to say that I enjoyed the graphic format. I’m not sure I’d be into the sci-fi side of graphica, because I’m not into sci-fi. But reading a 582-page novel in only a couple of hours? SWEET! [However, I discovered that graphica is really easy to speed through, so I had to focus on paying close attention to the illustrations.]
I have mixed feelings about this one, and I can’t quite define my opinion. It definitely didn’t live up to my expectations after reading Meg’s review, because I didn’t really sympathize much with the character. I thought he was, to put it bluntly, kind of a wimp. I get it; you feel like you don’t fit in. And yes, the trying years of adolescence can give you strength and ultimately define you. But do I really need to hear you endlessly whine about how you were teased because of your shoulder-length, Jared-Leto-circa-My-So-Called-Life hair? The religious undertones (or OVERtones) were a little too much for my taste, but that’s not the author’s fault. The love story is perfectly adolescent; it’s that relationship that feels like the only thing in the world at that age—a feeling that’s next to impossible to authentically retain in memory as you grow up and it all becomes part of the past.
Thompson can certainly be praised for his honesty, and it really showed in his illustrations (which I quite enjoyed. I respect this art so much). He tried to address many parts of his life but never really fully developed on any of them. I guess maybe that was his point is painting a portrait of his formative years when things seem hodgepodge without any clear answer. I’ve read lots of reviews from people that love this novel and lots of people that take issue with it, so it really depends on the reader. I’m certain that this is one of those stories in which the reader’s personal experiences will shape his/her opinion of it. Maybe I’m just too “adult” now to remember the feeling behind the melodramatic teen years, but I found the story a bit hokey and felt empty at the end rather than inspired. I think I enjoyed the process of reading more than the story itself.
I do want to read Thompson’s illustrated travelogue, Carnet De Voyage, though. It’s been on my TBR list for months, and I never realized these books had the same author until a couple days ago!
Does anyone have any good graphic novel recommendations??

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The thermometer hit 60! Break out the books!

Inspired by my Wordless Wednesday photo, the unseasonably warm few days we’re having here in New York, AND the fact that my beloved Daylight Savings Time begins this weekend, this post is going to be all about SPRING READING! Yayyyy!

I could probably justify each season being the best for reading in some way. In winter, there’s nothing else to do, so why not snuggle up under the covers or in front of the fireplace with a good book? In summer…well, it’s not called ‘Summer Reading’ for nothin’! Beach reads, pool reads, it’s always good reading when it’s in the sun. Fall…eh, I don’t have much for that one. But SPRING! Spring, I think, is my favorite time to read. In the winter, I end up either falling asleep under those warm covers or just watching a movie (my viewing of TV on DVD increases dramatically during this time). In summer, I end up dozing on the beach or by the pool (sleep is a pattern with me, as you can see). But in spring, I can finally get out of the stuffy indoors and plop down on a bench in the park. Back in high school, I used to park myself on the porch swing or in the hammock and read for hours after school. It’s probably the biggest thing I miss about the way of life outside of the Big Apple.
I always have a pretty good queue of books to read, but right now I feel like I have a GREAT one…just in time for what I have officially dubbed Spring Reading. On my list (and these are just the NEWEST of the great!):

  • Carolina Moon by Jill McCorkle (you know my McCorkle love, and this is only 1 of the 5 or so I have waiting patiently on my shelf)
  • The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes by Randi Davenport
  • The Bird Room by Chris Killen
  • Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber
  • The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
  • Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb
  • The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy
  • Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith
  • The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
  • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Have you read any of these?
What’s your favorite reading season? And what are YOU excited to read?

Wordless Wednesday: Spring in the air


For more Wordless Wednesday fun, go here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Goodbye, Beach

Last week I was here:

Ah, glory. Man, the end of vacation really blows. I’m struggling to get back into the swing of things. Work? Pshh. Grocery store? Eh. All I want to do is lay on the beach and daydream (and by daydream I mean doze off). This was my first grown-up vacation that gave me a break from my normal work week, but after which I still have to return to that normal work week. In college, it was so much different because all of life was pretty much like a vacation. Now I think I appreciate vacation more, but it’s also hard to not spend all day every day dreaming up and planning my next one. I also have about zero motivation to write reviews for all the books I’ve read recently, and the list of things waiting to be reviewed is getting a bit backed up. Time, people. Just give me time.
So in honor of my Dominican vacation, here’s a list of books with a Dominican theme (mind you, none of which I have read. Perhaps I should’ve thought of this before the vacay, but I am more inspired to read them now after having been there).

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz — I know you’ve heard of it and probably read it. It won the Pulitzer in 2008. Apparently it’s about a nerdy Dominican-American teenager that wants to be the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and find love (I’m summarizing from Goodreads).

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez — Set in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, three sisters are found dead in a Jeep crashed off a coastal cliff. Using the perspectives of the four Mirabel sisters, we get a glimpse into life under the Trujillo dictatorship. I hear great things about this one. Alvarez has several other novels set in the D.R. as well.

Let it Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz — Blending past and present and focusing on a family’s escape from Trujillo’s regime, Let it Rain Coffee is a novel about loss, love, family, memory, and the culture and history that define an individual. Lots of readers have praised this one for its history.

Unburnable by Marie-Elena John — Lillian Baptiste fled Dominica when she was 14, amidst secrets and scandal. Now she’s returning to the island to face the demons of her past. Set in both contemporary America and WWII Dominica, the story weaves together the history and culture of both.

Do you like reading books of places you’ve been? What’s your favorite world lit novel and/or favorite vacation destination?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Review: Bike is a bike is a bike is a bike

David Byrne began riding his bike out of necessity in New York City, but after using this “uncool” mode of transportation in numerous cities throughout the world he grew attached to the new point of view cycling gave him. Bicycle Diaries is a collection of Byrne’s notes and recollections of various cities throughout the world as seen by bike.

I received this book as a gift because I am an avid cyclist. I don’t bike every day, but I generally support the lifestyle cycling promotes. Bicycle Diaries interested me on this level and because I am a huge Talking Heads fan. Don’t expect, however, to read about Byrne rehashing the glory days of “Stop Making Sense.”

The most intriguing parts of this book were when Byrne departed from his travels and drifted in his own memories and philosophies. Byrne’s thoughts are generally quite coherent and interesting—his theories on outsiders in foreign countries really struck me. I am sure he’s had a ton of experience in this field. Bicycle Diaries amounts to a glimpse inside the mind of some level of genius. David Byrne is by no means a cyclist on the level of Lance Armstrong, but he’s had years of experience riding in all sorts of environments. There is certainly some nugget of truth in this work.

It’s hard to separate David Byrne bicycle aficionado from David Byrne the co-creator of The Talking Heads. I assume Byrne wrestles with this everyday and it is apparent in his writing. Those expecting to read Bicycle Diaries the treatise on cycling as a means of urban transportation will be most disappointed to find only a few passages dealing with cycling as politics. The politics of this debate are tired, it’s nice to read a cycling piece that deals with cycling and the people who it brings together.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: BEACH

Puerto Rico

All this week’s posts are scheduled, and I am somewhere like this right now. HAHAAAAA, enjoy the cold!

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Short cuts

I’ve moved out of my apartment in Brooklyn due to an impending leak disaster. So I haven’t really been able to focus on any reviewing as of such. But in lieu of full out reviews, I just wanted to mention and shortly discuss some rather good books – fiction and non-fiction and drama – I’ve engaged with. I wish I had more time to go into them more fully, but for now I think this’ll suffice.

Cold by Bill Streever (Little, Brown) is a fascinating read. Part travelogue, part memoir, part science discussion, Streevers’s book takes you through the world of cold: whether it’s on the Arctic Circle in Alaska or on the bitterness of the Middle West of America. Streevers,, who chairs the North Slope Science Initiative’s Scince Technical Advisory Panel is obviously not just a scientist – he’s a rare-breed: a scientist who can make discoveries – and write! Streevers goes into why people sometimes want to take off their clothing when their blood temperature starts to decrease, how nerves begin to die when it becomes bitter cold, how a group of schoolchildren never made it through a blizzard. There are a lot of entertaining and curious anecdotes. This is well worth the trip.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) tells the story of the young girl Minli who has a heart of gold; unfortunately her parents don’t have such wealth. They live nearby a mountain – the Fruitless Mountain, so called because there’s not much to reep from it. Minli is determined to have better fortune for her family. When told by a goldfish salesman that goldfish bring good luck, she gives the last of her money to him to purchase a fish. And so begins her epic journey, one that includes dragon companions, solving riddles, and eventually discovering the true meaning of friendship. It’s a four-colour book, so the sketches, also done by Lin, are absolutely gorgeous. It’s something just to have on the bookshelf, at the very least.

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster) is probably one of the best paeans to ‘writer’s block’ I’ve ever read. It certainly gives Nabokov’s Pale Fire a run for its money. The concept is simple: a reviewer/professor of poetry, who himself has been published every now and again, is supposed to write an introduction to this anthology of poetry. But he just can’t seem to do it. So his special lady friend leaves him. And he has quite the existential crisis. Oddly enough, the book isn’t really about this writer – his name is the ridiculous Paul Chowder – but rather about his strong opinions about English language poetry. Which make this ride wonderfully entertaining. It’s like listening to a professor rant, but hysterically. (At least you’re not in the classroom.) It’s brilliantly done. I’m sorry to say that this is the first Baker book I’ve read.

The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett may have been the best investment I made whilst at Oxford. Though it’s sad that it took me until now to read past Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and my personal favourite Play. It’s so intriguing to watch Beckett grow as an artist. Not that he needed to grow, per se; but you’re able to see how he’s able to eliminate character and words more and more through each of his theatre, television, radio, and film work. If anything, this collection makes you respect him more as an artist. Even when the work is tedious, the reader should be able to understand why. Absolutely stunning. And it’s gotten me to finish reading his collected shorter prose, which is what’s been engaging my mind as of recent.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: He has HOW many wives?

David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf to be read for way too long. But actually, I’m glad I waited this long to read it. I won it last summer during a blog tour at the height of its hype…so pretty much everyone else read and reviewed it in a two month span of time. Now, it may be brand new for you!

The 19th Wife tells two stories interwoven but divided by a hundred years. And can you guess their connection? Yes, polygamy! More generally, the Latter-Day Saints, but more specifically, the Fundamentalists. The book opens in the late 1800s with the story of Brigham Young’s infamous 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young. She spent several years in a polygamous marriage with Young before fleeing the church and crusading across the country against polygamy. The other story is of a present-day 19th wife, Becky Lyn, who’s a part of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, or the “Firsts.” Becky Lyn is in jail and accused of murdering her husband. Her son Jordan, one of the “Lost Boys” excommunicated from the church during adolescence, finds out about his mother from a newspaper article and heads back to Utah convinced of her innocence and on a quest for the truth.
What I loved about this book was that it served as both historical fiction and a murder mystery, though both stories are complete works of fiction. I don’t know much about the Mormon faith or its history, but I could completely buy everything Ebershoff wrote as truth. The whole controversial premise was very intriguing to me and led me to Wikipedia many times during reading. I’ve read some criticism from Mormons about this book, but I found Ebershoff to be very balanced in dealing with such a controversial topic. I found the author to be very clear in distinguishing that this is a subgroup, a minority, of the Mormon faith without generalizations.
Some sections dragged, but overall this was a very thought-provoking read about faith and community. Google search will come in handy after reading this one! I’m kinda interested in what else Ebershoff as written.