Sunday, December 26, 2010
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Sueden
Life by Keith Richards
Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes
They Call Me Baba Booey by Gary Dell'Abate
The Missing by Tim Gautreaux
The Stuff That Never Happens by Maddie Dawson
My Hollywood by Mona Simpson
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
The Believers by Zoe Heller
A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Following Polly by Karen Bergreen
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson
Angler by Barton Gellman
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Bangkok 8 by John Burdett
The Beach House by Jane Green
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman
Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Butcher of Beverly Hills by Jennifer Colt
The Case of the Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Caught by Harlan Coben
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
City of the Sun by David Levien
The Company She Keeps by Georgia Durante
Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad
The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Deception by Johnathan Kellerman
Deeper Than Dead by Tami Hoag
Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
Easily Amused by Karen McQuestion
Faith in Love by Liann Snow
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
My sister Macy is going to join the ranks of the bloggers (in a similarly leisurely fashion), so that's pretty fun!
I hope you guys are still out there and doing wonderfully!
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
It's very cold outside today. I have a pretty wretched head cold, for which I give thanks to my beautiful sister Macy, who so generously bestowed it upon me this last holiday weekend. I would really like to write a review of this book, which was a page turning memoir well worth reading, but our very own Allison Sanchez reviewed it back a few months ago and I am cozily bundled under a blanket with my head too full of snot to have any room for words, so I'm just gonna go with "Ditto what Sanchez said."
Monday, November 29, 2010
This book has the most heartbreaking last sentence I think of any book I've ever read. What a punch in the gut.
Which I guess means Buck really got me to invest in Wang Lung. Jeez Louise.
This was, incidentally, the last of my lucky-starred second-hand bookstore pile. I have to restock now.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Angela's Ashes has been on my Everybody-Else-Has-Read-This-So-Why-Haven't-You list (Alongside A Clockwork Orange and The Handmaid's Tale, both of which are now checked off, and 1984 and Farenheit 451, which are not but hopefully will be during this Magical Year. Wow, looking at that list I realized that I really missed out on the dystopian future books in high school. But that's for another post. Back to the Irish.), so when I found it for 25 cents at a thrift store around the corner from my house, I took the world's hint and read it. And I'm glad I did, I think.
The things I liked about Angela's Ashes are all good important things. I appreciated that it was matter-of-fact rather than woe-is-me, although he certainly had more than enough cause to write this memoir as a dramatic weepfest. I appreciated the storytelling - it was completely devoid of flowery description such that it felt as though Frank McCourt were sitting next to you by a fire, telling you his life story. Well, his birth to age 18 story. It painted a vivid, vibrant, touching, darkly funny, and often harrowing portrait of Ireland in the 1930s and '40s. I liked all these things.
The things I didn't like about Angela's Ashes are things that I never like about memoirs. The characters were not rich or particularly developed, because Frank knows everything about them and doesn't need to illustrate it. Sometimes this was interesting, and sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes it allowed me as the reader to fill in the details for myself, but sometimes one of his friends would die and I would forget that friend had even existed. Also, the pacing is strange and the ending abrupt. Which is like life. And that's what memoirs are: stories about life. So I almost feel bad faulting it for that, but I just can't let it go. I just wish it had been paced a bit differently, allowing us to sit longer in some moments than others, rather than every event getting equal treatment.
In the end, I'd say I recommend it, but I also have the suspicion that this will be one of those books that, when I click on my Round Three link on October 31, 2011, I will say "Oh yeah, I forgot I read that one." I'm sure there are those who violently disagree with me, but that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
But HP7/Part 1 comes out November 19! I had to reread the book!
So my first book of the new session is a retread, after last year, during which I did a good amount of rereading. And that's that.
If you want to read what I thought of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when I reread it last year, be my guest. I don't predict I'll glean anything new from it this time, but I do know I'll enjoy myself thoroughly.
One thought: Rowling includes, for the first time, two literary references at the beginning of the book. It might be a tiny bit pretentious, but I'm generally in favor of artists plastering their work with snippets of whatever it was that inspired them, acknowledging that no work stands alone. I may have Chuck Mee to thank for this.
Here's one of Rowling's inclusions:
"Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal."
Later that night, Josh introduced me to a useful and true mnemonic: ABAB (always bring a book).
But back to being locked out without a book (WAB): I was deeply tired from the night before, the kind of tired where you're perpetually about to cry and you feel hollow inside (you know that kind?). I had left work without eating the free meal because all I could think of was getting home to bed. My bed. My bed. My bed. So even the thoughts of catching an afternoon movie or going to the zoo or shopping for winter accessories were totally overwhelming.
So I went to the bookstore, got a book, and read at a coffee shop till Casey got off work and rescued me. The book I bought was Never Let Me Go. I had been wanting to read it after seeing a preview for the movie. I didn't realize till I found it at the bookstore that it was written by Kazuo Ishiguro. He also wrote A Pale View of Hills, which I loved.
Blah blah blah. Never Let Me Go was good. I liked A Pale View of Hills better. I think I knew a bit too much about the setup here. It was uniquely sad. Great, beautiful title. I recommend it, but I had been on a spectacular run, with Showboat, Freedom, Matterhorn, and Rebecca. This was just a bit of a dip. But still really good. It's always great to mark the official beginning of a relationship with a new author. Nice.
Friday, November 5, 2010
A review on the back cover of The Professor and the Madman boasts "the linguistic detective story of the decade." Now that is a hilarious phrase. How many linguistic detective stories was it competing against that decade? Or, more to the point, how many linguistic detective stories are there at all? I had to laugh. But let's be honest here: a LINGUISTIC DETECTIVE STORY?! If that isn't my idea of heaven, I just don't know what is.
The Professor and the Madman (subtitle: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary) is the gripping story of the relationship between Dr. James Murray, one of the chief editors of the OED, and Dr. William Chester Minor, one of the dictionary's chief contributors. Oh, and Minor was also clinically insane and spent nearly 40 years of his life locked up in Broadmoor Asylum, sending quotations to the OED without the recipients knowing his situation.
It's more wonderful than you can even imagine. Not only is it a fasicnating story, elegantly told, but the insights into the surrounding history are also equally marvelous. Winchester touches on the techniques used to compile the OED, our changing views of mental health issues, a healthy dose of lexicology, you name it. As Winchester writes it, the Murray/Minor story is a vehicle to illuminate an entire era, in addition to being the chief point of focus.
Really. This book was fantastic. I know we have some Lost City of Z and Devil in the White City fans on here; I urge you guys in particular to check this one out.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I've always loved the movie version of Rebecca (1940), and the book was just as good. Really unsettling - I lost a little bit of sleep over it, and I mean that as a compliment. Also, lots of girlie details about the famous Manderley. The whole thing is tense and romantic and weatherblown and a little trippy. And the ending is nervy as hell.
If you haven't seen the movie, read the book first. I would have loved to be surprised by all the reveals. And the movie (Alfred Hitchcock's first American film; David Selznick's second consecutive Best Picture Oscar after Gone With The Wind; Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine).
Do it now! It's the perfect weather outside!
Included here are two versions of the Rebecca book cover: the larger one is the cover I wish I had; the smaller is the one I was able to dig up in that used bookstore on Belmont. How embarrassing!
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
This book is unique. I've never read another like it: about the war in Vietnam or about any war. One surprise is the degree to which I found myself identifying with the soldiers re: despair in leadership, anger at absurdity and ineptitude, sadness and yearning in the face of...the world. I don't think I've ever been allowed, as a reader safe and sound in my bed, to draw parallels between my civilian life and those extraordinary experiences had by men and women at war.
Matterhorn somehow let me do that. I've read my fair share about war in general and Vietnam specifically, but this book made it real to me. The confusion, the futility, the pointlessness of that war have become American generalizations. This book, in making these elements specific, actually underscored them and made them real to me.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Sandra Cisneros' writing is beautiful and stark. This was my favorite vignette from the book:
A House of My Own
Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody's garbage to pick up after.
Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.
~Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I loved it more than The Corrections. It was beautiful, easily the most timely book I've ever read, and eerily relevant to me personally.
One thing though: is there any endeavor or approach to life that Franzen finds worthwhile? I mean really. That was way harsh, Tai.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
So instead we're left with 3 mildly connected story lines in the lives of Chaplin, Duncan, and Black during the misery of World War I. One is a famous actor who tries to prove his worth by stumping for the war rather than enlisting. One is a wannabe actor who is forced into enlisting. And the other just enlists.
These 3 plot lines are interesting enough for awhile, but this was one of those books where the last 100 pages or so just felt like labor. And not the good kind. A majority of this book was entertaining and seemed to have a good feel for the mood of the times around WWI (I say "seemed" because I was born 69 years after war's end) but I think the 3-story format might have been too ambitious and the connections between them too loose to sustain that entertainment throughout the whole thing.
However, I did get to read about Charlie Chaplin, World War I, the origins of Rin Tin Tin, and a spectacularly scheming Jewish family. And I did enjoy over half the book. So all in all I think I'd call it a modest success.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Soñé con detectives helados en el gran refrigerador de Los Àngeles en el gran refrigerador de México D.F.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
The City of Ember (its another dystopic young adult novel, I admit it!) is a fun read. In the city of Ember the sky is always dark. The only light comes from the electric lights that line the city and houses. Beyond the city is only darkness and unknown. This is the only life teens Doon and Lina have ever known, and they are happy here. But as the city approaches 500 years in existence, the lights are beginning to fail and the food is starting to run out. If the citizens of Ember don't do something drastic and soon, they will die in darkness.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Hey, Andy? Remember when you said these things about this book? I don't want to discount your feelings in any way, but I think you may have been biased as a result of having small or perhaps even a large crush on this lady, the book's author. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame you. I, in fact, am also drawn to her quirky adorableness - that fearless creative spirit, those huge eyes, that curly puff of hair, that bold rejection of quotation marks as an indicator of spoken dialogue. I would say that 95% of the charm of No One Belongs Here More Than You is, in fact, the charm of Miranda July. Her voice as a writer is, as you might imagine, quirky and adorable. It is not, I would say, a versatile voice. The stories in this collection from the point of view of, say, a teenaged girl or a sixty year old man are utterly unconvincing. The stories about a kind of weird woman living alone and thinking about life? Magic. My favorite one of all was "The Swim Team."
I think if this exact same short story collection was penned by someone other than Miranda July I wouldn't have liked it. But she is an appealing person and so the stories have an appealing quality, even though the more I think about them I didn't like very many of the individual stories that much. Still, because of Madamoiselle July, there was something appealing about the experience. Strange how that happens. I also think I might have found these stories to be more compelling if I read them separately in a lot of magazines over a period of time, instead of all back to back where they all sound a lot a like and that quirky adorableness starts to feel redundant instead of imaginative.
It is, however, such a pleasant moment in time, to be sitting on the bus, or on the couch, or in a coffee shop, and pull this volume out of a tattered satchel, clutch this cover and having a quirky, adorable woman remind you, on a backdrop of highlighter pink so there is no mistaking the urgency, that no one belongs here more than you. Affirm, affirm, affirm.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World is a thoughtfully collected anthology of essays all centering around one question: If our world is facing an imminent environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now? Dozens of writers, poets, CEOs, activists, scientists, from Alice Walker to Michael Pollan to Howard Zinn and everyone in between, weigh in on the topic.
The result is an inspiring, humbling, thought-provoking tool kit. It is an unflinching look at the ways in which humanity needs to change in order to not completely destroy ourselves and everything all around us, but it always bursting of hope, optimism, and a celebration of the amazing world that we are fortunate enough to live in. The voices included in the anthology are extremely diverse - some I agreed with, some I did not, but all provide a unique and thoughtful perspective on an all-pervading problem. Regardless of you personal or political values, there is a voice in here for you.
Hope Beneath Our Feet is a book that I will undoubtedly visit and re-visit and re-re-visit. I already can't wait to read it again, this time attacking it with a highlighter, circling passages, and jotting down notes and ideas. It's the kind of book that makes you want to get up and do something, and then actually gives you a wide range of tools to follow that urge. Plus, beyond just being helpful and inspiring in its own right, each essay has a short paragraph biography about the person writing it, opening the door to follow up, read more on the topics you connected with the most, and in some cases even directly contact that individual.
This book is indispensable. I hope you all read it.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
I couldn't put this book down. Not because I enjoyed it. Au contraire, mes amis. I couldn't put it down because I simply could not wait to be finished with it so I didn't have to read it anymore. But I guess it's real famous and won a Nobel Prize for Literature and all that, so maybe if you're really into reading about the pointlessness of human existence, The Stranger would trip your trigger in a big way.
Meursault's mother dies. He is tired. It's too hot. His friend beats a woman up. He kills a man. He has a love affair with a woman named Marie. He's put on trial. He's still tired. It's still too hot.
I guess French absurdism/nihilism/existentialism just isn't my cup of tea. I'm sure none of you are surprised by this fact. Life is arbitrary, I get it. But I also think there's room -- and a need -- for hope and optimism.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I love Margaret Atwood the way Andy Lampl loves The Corrections. Every sentence is so rich and beautiful. It's like sitting down to a perfect meal and savoring every bite.
A related-but-not-related-anecdote. Recently, we had our auditions for Filament's 2010-11 season. Instead of monologues, we asked the actors to perform a poem, and suggested Margaret Atwood as a good poet to check out. The result was marvelous and so I'll just toss out to you all: Margaret Atwood poems can make for some really amazing audition monologues.
The Tent is a collection of not-really-short-stories. Prose-poems? Fiction essays? Hard to define, but marvelous to read. Because Margaret Atwood's writing speaks for itself much better than I could, I will just excerpt one of my favorite ones here. It's called "Faster."
Walking was not fast enough, so we ran. Running was not fast enough, so we galloped. Galloping was not fast enough, so we sailed. Sailing was not fast enough, so we rolled merrily along on the long metal tracks. Long metal tracks were not fast enough, so we drove. Driving was not fast enough, so we flew.Flying isn't fast enough, not fast enough for us. We want to get there faster. Get where? Wherever we are not. But a human soul can only go as fast as a man can walk, they used to say. In that case, where are all the souls? Left behind. They wander here and there, slowly, dim lights flickering in the marshes at night, looking for us. But they're not nearly fast enough, not for us, we're way ahead of them, they'll never catch up. That's why we can go so fast: our souls don't weigh us down.
Everybody's favorite NPR host compiled together a lot of his favorite bits of literary non-fiction (which he refuses to call it); excerpts of journalism that are innovative, captivating, and told as interesting stories. Full disclosure: the David Foster Wallace essay "HOST" was in this collection, and since I'd already read-and-not-loved-it in Consider the Lobster, I skipped it. But since this book was nearly 400 pages long (not counting HOST), I'm still counting it.
This collection was tremendous fun to read, if not a bit uneven. I loved the following essays: "The American Man, Age Ten" by Susan Orlean, "Crazy Things Seem Normal, Normal Things Seem Crazy" by Chuck Klosterman, "Losing the War" by Lee Sandlin, "My Republican Journey" by Dan Savage, and "Power Steer" by Michael Pollan. There were a number of essays, however, that I did not love, and one about being a hostess at a New York hot spot that, while enjoyable, seemed to belong in a different essay collection. Still, it's a great carry-in-your-bag book for something fun and substantial to read in transit.
This is a lovely play. Just lovely. It's one of those that is tender and delicate, and I can imagine being produced very poorly but I can also imagine being a sincere and moving evening of theatre. I might want to direct it someday.
It's based on an actual theatrical project from the 1970s, where a theatre company went to a bunch of farms and interviewed the farmers and then made a play out of it called "The Farm Show." Apparently the show ended up being a really powerful movement in Canadian theatre. Beyond the little mentions of it in The Drawer Boy, I don't know much about the project, although now I would sure like to. The Drawer Boy - whose original production contained several people who were involved with "The Farm Show" - is a play inspired by that event.
A young actor from Toronto, Miles, goes to Angus and Morgan's farm (two salty, middle aged farmers) to stay with them, help out, and collect information to bring back to his rehearsals. What follows is some typical but charming conflict between city and country life. What follows after that is the slow unfolding of Morgan and Angus's history and relationship. This is where the play is at its loveliest.
It's a story about the power of story, a love letter to art. It's also wonderful to see a play that shows two adult male life-long friends who care for each other with extreme affection and tenderness. Definitely worth a read.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Ok, so I have been sooo overwhelmed with trying to read, I have neglected posting any reviews. I am going to try to catch up!