Sunday, December 26, 2010

Books I read in 2010 that I liked.

As I was typing this list I noticed that kindle put the ones in my archive in alphabetical order so some from 2010 are missing and some of the following might be from 2009. Anyway I like all of these.

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

Bloggedly helpless

Could somebody please add my name to the 2010-2011 Round Three Readers? I can't figure out how to do that.

Friday, December 10, 2010


What can I say? I should have read this book decades ago but I'm sure glad I finally read it now. My question is: How is it possible that Nabokov was able to elicit even the tiniest bit of sympathy for a perverted pedophile (is there any other kind of pedophile?) such as Humbert Humbert? Fascinating character and the writing is exquisite. I was in awe. As a matter of fact, this is a book that calls for a second reading some day. There are so many layers beneath the surface of every thought and sentence that it really is a necessity to read again. I'll be holding onto my copy.

Let the Great World Spin

This was such a GOOD (great! awesome!) book! Colum McCann knows his way around the written word. I was captivated the whole time. He took an historical event, Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the World Trade Centers in 1974, but kept us (the readers) down on the ground to witness the lives of a select few people and how they were all somehow 'connected' around the time of this spectacular event. You'll want to pick this one up.

Ok. Ok.

Hello again from Mama Lampl. I just can't stay away so now that I see that we're reading at a more leisurely pace this year, I'll pop on now and then and post my oh-so-wise reviews, read all of yours, and get some more reading material ideas. Always a necessary and fun bonus.

A warm welcome to Macy. LOVE your name!
Karen, come back!
Mikey...oh Mikey!! Quit playing in the snow!
Andrew, I especially love your 'first-liners' entry.
Hi Julie!!
Hi Erica!!

Alrighty then. Here I go again......

"Do you want Mexico to be saved? Do you want Christ to be our king?" "No."

The Savage Detectives is about two visceral realist poets, Ulises Lima and Arturo Bolano, who leave Mexico City on the last night of 1975 and travel around the expanse of the globe, to Barcelona, to Tel Aviv, to Paris, Catalonia, Madrid, Mallorca, San Francisco, searching for themselves, for each other, for guidance, for a lost poet named Cesarea. The story is essentially a collage of hundreds of conflicting first-person monologues - told to an always absent interviewer, perhaps an inquiring mind, perhaps Bolano himself - which together paint two decades of a broken chaotic and insanely beautiful earth.

Roberto Bolano feverishly wrote this and his other sprawling epic, 2666, while fighting against the inevitability of a fatal liver disease. He died in 2003 at the age of 50, leaving behind nearly 1500 pages of the most heartbreaking, poetic, lucid prose I've ever read. 1500 pages of memories, of stories, of philosophy, of imagination. Bolano has deeply infiltrated my consciousness, my strange loop, and I'm very thankful for the afternoon that Zeke Sulkes mentioned his name and I thought to ask: who?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

and now:

I'm a dork, and I've compiled a list of every first line I read in the 2009-2010 season, so with your permission, and without further ado, here goes:

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.

When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.

If it were possible for me to narrate this story, I'd begin here.

Here they come, marching into American sunlight.

In some distant arcade, a clock tower calls out six times and then stops.

Eating in our time has gotten complicated - needlessly so, in my opinion.

The Dead Father's head.

Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black Levi's suede jacket, sneakers and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia.

The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through.

Roseto Valfortore lies one hundred miles southeast of Rome in the Apennine foothills of the Italian province of Foggia.

Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.

This is a joke book that I wrote.

I love people!

I first met Perkus Tooth in an office.

The first time that Jean-Claude Pelletier read Benno von Archimboldi was Christmas 1980, in Paris, when he was nineteen years old and studying German literature.

I get up, take a shower, have breakfast.

Let the wrestling match begin: my stories versus his stories.

poems like gunslingers sit around and shoot holes in my windows chew on my toilet paper read the race results take the phone off the hook.

Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife.

David was six feet two, and on a good day he weighed two hundred pounds.

Disguised as a young Dinka woman, God came at dusk to a refugee camp in the North Darfur region of Sudan.

Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair.

Back then, I'd reached the age of twenty and I was crazy.

My name has been a matter of some concern to me over the years...

Every morning I sit across from you at the same table, the sun all over the breakfast things - curve of a blue-and-white pitcher, a dish of berries - me in a sweatshirt or robe, you invisible.

From an early age onwards, I pondered what my mind was and, by analogy, what all minds are.

The last word in this sentence is a four letter noun.

I'm lazily sneaking this in from the end of Round Two, and because it's now Round Three, I won't say much, other than if you are at all interested in shifting your perception and thinking about the world (and life and mathematics and the self and the way in which your mind works) in a Completely new light, please please please read this book. Because, after all, haven't you ever caught yourself wondering what I is?

New Blogger!

It seems as though we have fallen out of love with the blog. I will still continue to post, most likely, because I've really enjoyed keeping track of my reads over the last few years, but I'm definitely not slammin' for 50 anymore.

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

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Or "2010-2011 Is Shaping Up To Be Julie's Year of Depressing Memoirs."

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."

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Or "Science and Liars and Heirs, Oh My!"

I can see why this book was such a popular one on the ol' New York Times bestseller list. It's intelligent and approachable, thoughtfully extensively researched, and written in such a way that makes me feel like I just might be an expert on cell cultures. Skloot's telling of Henrietta Lacks's story is clear and full of heart.

There are lots of layers to the book itself. Fundamentally, it's about Henrietta Lacks, or rather, Henrietta Lacks's immortal cervical cancer cells. In 1951 her cells, extracted without her permission, became the first human cells to successfully survive outside the body and - in one of many brain-exploding twists of science that seems more like science fiction - THEY ARE STILL ALIVE TODAY. Her cells were key to early cell research, vaccines, the whole nine yards. But none of her family knew about them until 20 years after her death which, as you might imagine, opens a whole can of ethical questiony worms.

It's science, scientific history, ethics, race relations, human drama, investigative journalism, and a little bit rock and roll. It made me think about all kinds of things that had never crossed my mind before... Who could ask for more? It's more than worthy of a look.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pearl S. Buck, how could you?

I was engrossed from the first page.

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 by Frank McCourt

Or "To Quote Erika, Two Posts Below: I Am Really Very Glad This Isn't My Life."

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

I apologize.

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."

William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude

I am really very glad this isn't my life.

I locked myself out of the house. I had finished my book (Rebecca) the night before in a marathon reading session that went late into the night - it was that good! - and then kept me wound up till about 3:30am - it was that creepy! After an early day at work, I arrived back at home only to realize I didn't have my keys. And I had not worked a new book into my rotation yet.

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

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Or "Startin' the Year Off Right!"

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

Books 28-50

I am so bad at writing reviews. But here goes a quick non-poetic recap of the last 22 of my Books.

A half girl- half chimpanzee navigates a cruel unforgiving and judgmental world, touching the lives of those around her. Eh, sort of an interesting premise filled with unrealistic and unsympathetic characters.

The Lonely Polygamist
A polygamist in Utah juggles the his wives, kids, job, grieving a dead child, and a secret affair.
This sounds awesome, like a book version of big love, but I just hated it. I don't know why. I guess like the last book I didn't like the characters and the story is pretty slow moving.

The Passage
A zombie (vampire-ish) apocolypse in 2 parts, the weeks preceding the outbreak and then a 100 years later in a surviving colony that is all being viewed through the eyes of a conference on the event and outbreak 1000 years after that- confused yet?. There is a lot going on and a lot of plots and characters to keep track of but that being said, this book is a 700 page epic, and too wonderful for words. Great characters, touching moments, action, romance, zombies, interesting plots and mysteries and there are still 2 more books in the works (the end has some pretty big cliffhangers)! Read it.

Shit My Dad Says
A collection of stories and quotes by Justin Halpern's dad throughout his childhood and adulthood. Hilarious. some quotes:
-Pay the parking ticket. Don't be so outraged. You're not a freedom fighter in a civil rights movement. You double parked.
-Can we talk later? The news is on ... Well, if you have tuberculosis it's not gonna get any worse in the next 30 minutes, Jesus
-"You're being fucking dramatic. You own a TV and an air mattress. That's not exactly what I'd call 'a lot to lose'
-Give your mother the front seat. I don't give a shit if she told you, you could have it, she's polite, she's supposed to say that, and you're suppose to refuse. If you think I'm going to drive around with my wife in the backseat and a 9 year old in the front then you're out of your goddamn mind.

Lost City of Z
A journalist uncovers history and travels the same route as a famous "City of Z (eldorado, city of gold)" expedition that disappeared without a trace.
Both fascinating and exciting, this is a true historical adventure that packs an incredible amount of information into every page.

People of Sparks and Prophet of Youngwood
Sequels to the City of Ember. Not good follow-ups. I guess not everyone can have a trilogy like the Hunger Games. I love you Suzanne Collins.

Malcolm Gladwell explores successful people and the factors that made them so.
Super interesting though at times repetitive. I knew that sometimes he was being manipulative with his facts to prove his point but I didn't care. He sold me every step of the way.

Why we feel good: A guide to being fat stupid and lazy.
Dennis Leary's idiotic, unintelligent, unfunny ranting about society. Yeah Dennis you are so above the system you hate every other person who drinks there starbucks and buys their kid play stations and is a cog in the machine. Interesting fact: most of the book he rants about how he hates everything and everyone and then suddenly in the middle of the book there is this chapter about Oprah. He says Oprah is a saint, and interesting and funny and does SO much good for humanity. It was so over the top and suspicious that I looked up if Dennis Leary has ever been on Oprah and I found out that he was on the show ONE WEEK BEFORE THIS BOOK CAME OUT. who iss a mindless disgusting brown nosing cog in the machine now dennis leary? Its you, you wrote a glowing chapter about oprah so she would invite you on her show and promote your book so you would MAKE MORE MONEY. Point, set, match.

The thrilling conclusion of the Hunger Games. IF YOU HAVEN"T READ THESE BOOKS YET YOU ARE RUINING YOUR LIFE.

The Cell
I love zombie books. This Stephen King one was about zombies that were created from a pulse on cell phones (everyone talking on a cell phone was turned into a zombie at a certain time) and was particularly gory.

In Everlost, kids who died and didn't quite "get where they were going" live in a fantastic world where the living are a gray shadow and the buildings and things that died are given a new life. This is a creative and fun young adult novel that I really enjoyed.

Diamond of Darkhold
Another terrible sequel to the decent City of Ember.

Billy The Kid-The Endless Ride
The swash-buckling adventures of Billy the Kid. Less swash-buckling, gun slinging than I had hoped for and more boring historical musings.

The Other Bolyn Girl
This was a quick enjoyable fictionalized read about Henry the 8th and his affair/marriage to Mary and Ann Bolyn.

Alias Grace
Margaret Atwood hits another one out of the park. Lovely fictionalized story about a real life murderess in Canada and her time in prison.

The Tent
Great short stories from Margaret Atwood.

In Cold Blood
Truman Capote's investigations/interviews of a brutal murder of an entire family in the 1960's. Follows both the family/police and the murderers. Like an episode of Dateline Mystery.

The Weight of Silence
This novel unfold in a day as 2 little girls go missing. It was kind of cheesy. Not the biggest fan.

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be your Class President
This funny novel from a Daily show writer is about a 12 year old middle schooler who has a lair underground, has hundreds of people working for him making evil inventions, and is secretly the 4th richest person in the world. Of course none of this will help him get through middle school. This was a very fun read!

Earth The Book
This Daily Show book tells Aliens what Earth was like after they find the planet in a post-apocolyptic state. Pretty funny (though not as funny as "America")

The Almost Moon
The story of a woman who over the course of 24 hours loses control and kills her elderly mother and then tries to deal with the consequences. This book is an uncomfortable read though i am not sure I wouldnt recommend it. It's just uncomfortable.

The Lorax
Be Kind to Trees. (yes I sort of ran out of time).

YAY! 50 books!

Year Two In Review!

Here we are!
Another year older, another year more literate.

On this day last year, I vowed to get to 50 because all I want is to be just like Andy Lampl. And I'm here on this day this year to tell you all that dreams really do come true, and I am one step closer to my lofty quest of being Andy-like.

I'm signing up for another year! Who's with me?!

2009-2010, By the Numbers.

Non-Fiction vs. Fiction:

Re-Reads vs. First Time Reads:

Young Adult Books vs. Grown-Up Books:

Number of Books I Would Read in 2010-2011 If I Kept Up The Same Pace At Which I've Been Reading During the Month of October:

Odds That Will Happen:

2009-2010, By The Opinions.

The Books I Recommend to Everyone I See!
The Hunger Games
Hope Beneath Our Feet
In Defense Of Food

The Books I Tell People To Avoid At All Costs!
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
Nickel and Dimed
The Stranger

The Books That May Have Made the Top 5 In Another Circumstance:
Bird by Bird
Shakespeare: The World As Stage
The Handmaid's Tale

The Books That Made Me Cringe (Intentionally):
American Psycho (oh the gore!)
Push (oh the cruelty of human beings!)

The Books That Made Me Cringe (Unintentionally):
The View from Saturday (oh the inadvertent racial stereotyping!)
Man On Wire (oh the self-importance!)

The Book That Changed My Life (For Real, Guys!)
In Defense of Food

The Books I Forgot I Read Until I Looked Back At My List (Although I Enjoyed Them At The Time):
The New Kings of Nonfiction
The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter

Two Years In A Row Means It's A Tradition...

Or "Again With the Rapid-Fire Review Round-Up!"

I fell super behind on my posts, just like the end of last year. So here we have 'em, Julie's Quick 'N Easy Haiku Reviews. (Haikiew Reviews? Haiku Revus?)

Tao Te Ching ~ Lao Tsu
I am well aware
That it was quite ironic
To speed through this one.

The Tale of Despereaux ~ Kate diCamillo
Tender and lovely
Even though it lost sight of
Itself at the end.

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse ~ James L. Swanson
It was no Manhunt.
(That would be a lot to ask!)
A joy nonetheless.

The Tiger Rising ~ Kate diCamillo
Tiger, a leg rash.
Suitcases full of not-thoughts.
Oh, the metaphors!

Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle ~ Betty MacDonald
Tongue firmly in cheek!
Has there ever been a more
Delightful series??

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker ~ Lydia Jones
Watered-down and dull.
Easily my least favorite
Book of the whole year.

The Last Lecture ~ Randy Pausch
There's nothing in here
That you don't already know,
But still worth reading.

Backwards & Forwards ~ David Ball
What a great tool kit
For all makers of theatre!
Dominoes and stamps...

The Elegance of the Hedgehog ~ Muriel Barbery
Hated it at first.
But the middle - enchanting.
Glad I stuck with it.

Hector and the Search for Happiness ~ Francois LeLord
Like The Little Prince
If the Rose were a hooker
And the Prince, a shrink.

The Trouble with Poetry ~ Billy Collins
Oh Billy Collins!
How I love all your poems!
Makes me want to write.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil ~ George Saunders
Weird, hilarious
And strangely uplifting too.
George does it again!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

So good!

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

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

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

The House on Mango Street

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

Edge of my seat.

What happens to the only girl to survive at the hands of a serial killer? Elizabeth (now known as Eliza) was 15 when she was kidnapped and held by Walter for almost 6 weeks. This is a psychological thriller that weaves back and forth between the present, when Walter has contacted Eliza from Death Row before his execution date, and 20 years prior when Elizabeth was first kidnapped. Lippman handles these transitions smoothly in a slow yet exciting pace, introducing each new character beautifully to the point where I couldn't stop reading. I've never read anything else of hers but I'll definitely be keeping her on my reading radar.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.

I'm sorry for posting so many poetry books, but not really, because as Mark Wahlberg says in I Heart Huckabees:

Excuse me, ma'am. Poems are amazing. They help you in your mind transform --

Who the hell are you?

I'm with Albert. They will help you to transform your mind into thinking differently. You guys need this, OK? This is great."



This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes -
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle -
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall -
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

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


Loved!!! (Almost as much as The Corrections.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

_________ Up

Charlie Chaplin appears simultaneously in over 200 places across the country. Lee Duncan tries to save him from crashing into a sure death trap while floating helplessly into the California coastline. Hugo Black is upset when Chaplin doesn't show for his planned appearance at a Texas railway station. But the real Charlie Chaplin knows nothing of this whole plot. And after that story line dissolves by page 10, neither does the reader. Which is too bad, because the idea was what intrigued me to pick the book up in the first place.

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

Weirdly wonderful

She really IS crushable!! And her writing's not at all bad either. In fact, I really enjoyed the twists and turns and tangents that her stories took. Some were a little strange, some a little uncomfortable, but that's what I loved about them. Ms. July is not your run-of-the-mill story-teller. Oh, and Julie? I agree with you about "The Swim Team". I think that was my favorite too. I listened to this book and was pleased to know that Miranda is the reader and she has a mesmerizingly flat, calming voice that goes well with her tricky stories. I wish I had a hard copy though because there were some lines that I'd love to quote in here and I know if I try to recreate them right now, I'll slaughter them. Maybe I'll just have to take a trip to B&N!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Beautiful, Slim, and Sad.......

This is how Doug Parker's twin sister, Claire, describes him when she points out that he's in great demand by the women in town now. That's because Doug is a 29 year old widower, his wife having died in a plane crash 2 years ago. And he is beautiful and sad and slim and young and there's nothing like a dashing tragic figure to bring out the maternal instincts in all the ladies. Plus he's got a great job writing a column for the local paper and a huge settlement pending from the airlines. This guy's going to be not only beautiful, slim, and sad but rich too!

Jonathan Tropper has written another great story here. I recently reviewed another one of his books: "This Is Where I Leave You" and promised that I'd be reading more and I have and am glad I did and will be reading others down the line. Tropper understands family. He understands family really well! I loved Claire and Debbie, Paul's sisters and his demented father and brutally upfront mom and his 16 year old troubled but lovable stepson. Tropper has written a sad story about a sad man in sad circumstances yet manages to throw in a lot of humor, a lot of wit, enough that this story doesn't even come close to being depressing or sappy. Tropper has been compared to the writer Nick Hornby and I tend to agree but I happen to think that Tropper is better. I loved Doug Parker. You will too.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Skippy Dies.

In the first few pages of this book, Skippy turns purple in a doughnut shop, falls onto the floor, writes a half-message in raspberry filling with his finger, and then, of course, dies.

The book then cycles back in time, splits itself into thirds - Hopeland, Heartland, and Ghostland - and gives us the whole story. It's about a private boarding school in Ireland called Seabrook. It's about the 14 year old boys who live there. It's about the teachers that teach there. It's about string theory and the 11 dimensions of space and time. It's about Irish folklore and repressed Fathers and diet pills and watching girls through telescopes and Hallowe'en dances and text messaging. And then it's about death.

I loved some of this book. The science experiments, the nervous breakdowns, bad boy Carl stealing fireworks to trade for diet pills to trade for blowjobs and anal sex, the musings on space and time and the fabric of reality. I liked all that. Other things, the 14-year-old dialogue, the lighting of farts into fire, the long tirades about priests and repressed homosexuality, and private school behind-closed-door dealings, the rather unlikable 2-dimensional adults... It's 661 pages, and Paul Murray tries to cram in, it seems, everything he's ever learned about the world. Some of it is fascinating. Some of it ends up being rather masturbatory.

But the book is fun, and it's fast, and you get to like Skippy so much that you forget what the book is called, until about halfway through, when you remember again, and then you get sad because you know that Skippy Dies.

Soñé con detectives helados en el gran refrigerador de Los Àngeles en el gran refrigerador de México D.F.


Back then, I'd reached the age of twenty
and I was crazy.
I'd lost a country
but won a dream.
As long as I had that dream
nothing else mattered.
Not working, not praying
not studying in the morning light
alongside the romantic dogs.
And the dream lived in the void of my spirit.
A wooden bedroom,
cloaked in half-light,
deep in the lungs of the tropics.
And sometimes I'd retreat inside myself
and visit the dream: a statue eternalized
in liquid thoughts,
a white worm writhing
in love.
A runaway love.
A dream within another dream.
And the nightmare telling me: you will grow up.
You'll leave behind the images of pain and of the labyrinth
and you'll forget.
But back then, growing up would have been a crime.
I'm here, I said, with the romantic dogs
and here I'm going to stay.


Listen carefully, my son: bombs were falling
over Mexico City
but no one even noticed.
The air carried poison through
the street and open windows.
You'd just finished eating and were watching
cartoons on TV.
I was reading in the bedroom next door
when I realized we were going to die.
Despite the dizziness and nausea I dragged myself
to the kitchen and found you on the floor.
We hugged. You asked what was happening
and I didn't tell you we were on death's program
but instead that we were going on a journey,
one more, together, and that you shouldn't be afraid.
When it left, death didn't even
close our eyes.
What are we? you asked a week or year later,
ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We're human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The City of Ember- Jeanne DuPrau

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.

The concept of the book is great and you spend the novel wondering what happened to the rest of the world and what lies outside the city. However, the characters are pretty weak and I'm going to tell you right now (this is a 4 book series) that the rest of the books are truly bad. But this one has it's merits and I enjoyed it. The world Duprau creates is vivid and bright in it's perpetual darkness.

And one last note, Bill Murray is in the 2008 movie version?

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Yay! Nice conclusion to the series. Very satisfying. Fast-paced. Thrilling. Yay!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

No one belongs here more than you. by Miranda July

Or "Live The Dream, Potato."

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


Why have you not yet posted your review of "Freedom"? I've been waiting and waiting and waiting. (I'm reading it now. Fantabulous book!)

Hope Beneath Our Feet by A Whole Bunch of People

Or "The Perfect Antidote to The Story of Stuff."

Hope Beneath O
ur 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

Two Davids embark on a road trip...

One David is a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. The other David has just written this magnum opus of a novel called Infinite Jest. The Davids hang out in airports, drive through midwestern sludge and ice, eat terrible food from Denny's and McDonalds, argue about music, and movies, and literature, and what it might be like to sit down for five minutes with Alanis Morisette and a cup of tea.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is an almost straight up five-day transcript of the time shared between David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace. And it's the story of two fundamentally different writers trying to understand each other. It's a story about friendship, and about two humans attempting to let down their guards.

And it's so sad in retrospect. Here is David Foster Wallace, bright eyed, optimistic, surprised, nervous, just this brilliant and kind of normal-sounding midwestern guy in an unexpected moment in his life. He doesn't know what happens 12 years later. But we do. Lipsky writes, "Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction." But for this brief five-day snapshot, we get to experience David Foster Wallace in that happy afterglow, chewing tobacco, hugging his dogs, reading Cosmo magazine, planning for the rest of his life.

And I will breathe into you, and you shall live again.

God takes the mortal human form of a young Dinka woman in Sudan and ends up dying in the desert of Darfur.

The short stories that follow ask one simple question: and then what happens? It's a pretty cool premise to explore, and the first few stories are great good fun, especially Indian Summer (set in the post-God world where a group of savage boys take turns bursting each other's faces with open with handguns in their dark parent-less house) and Interview with the Last Remaining Member of the Feral Dog Pack Which Fed on God's Corpse (pretty self-explanatory, right?), but it slowly grows pedantic, and unfunny, and a tiny bit pretentious. Ron Currie is a good writer, and his new book, Everything Matters!, about the world ending on the narrator's 36th birthday, looks much more intriguing. So, eh, I don't know, if the God is Dead premise tickles you, you might want to check it out. Otherwise, skip ahead.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Or "Dead Mothers, Domestic Abuse, Murder, and Other Ennui."

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

The Glass Castle- Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle is a Can't-put-down memior by Jeanette Walls. In it, Walls chronicles her and her siblings childhood with their restless, alcoholic father and depressed, unmaternal mother. It is a story that often seems too crazy to be true, and I could not tear myself away.
As the family moves from place to place (often in the middle of the night) and her parents become more and more mentally ill, Walls amazingly does not portray her parents as villians. They are her family and her memior portrays the complicated feelings of anger, frustration, and love that one feels toward a troubled family member.
This is a great quick read for all those bloggers out there pushing to 50!

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives.

This collection of short stories is really "sum"thing special.

I swear I don't have a writer. I come up with these gems all by myself.

I know this has been reviewed before so I will keep it short and sweet (just like this book). It is lovely and imaginative and will be a quick addition to the 50!

Dead-tossed waves=dead (of boredom)

I love teen books and I love zombies, so most combos of the two are delightful. This one was not.

and yes, the title was the best joke I could come up with. It's been a long day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

"Room" is the story of Jack and his mother, held captive in an 11' square room, locked in, never permitted outside. Jack is 5 years old and is the narrator of this story. His mother (Ma) was kidnapped 7 years ago, when she was 19, and held inside Room ever since, having given birth to Jack 2 years in. Jack only knows this life, what he experiences inside Room, what his mother teaches him, and what he see on TV. Though this is a terrifying story, it is also a story of hope and heroes and maternal love. Jack's is a voice you won't soon forget. I highly recommend this one!

The Tent by Margaret Atwood

Or "Margaret Atwood Can Do No Wrong."

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.

The New Kings of Nonfiction by Various Authors

Or "If Ira Glass Says 'Read' I Say 'How Much?'"

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.

The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey

Or "A Canadian Farm in the '70s? What's Not To Love!?!"

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

The Long Walk

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!

The Long Walk by Stephen King (written under Richard Bauchman) was really enjoyable. It's the first Stephen King book I have ever read. In it, these teenage boys elect to participate in the "Long Walk" a contest watched by the world where boys walk until only one of them is still walking. The winner is given riches beyond his wildest dreams. The losers all die. (remind you of any recent amazing trilogies Julie?)

Normally I read books while working out, but any movement during this book made me nauseous. The pace, pain, and monotony of the walking really messes with you as you read. I felt exhausted while reading it. Plus it was semi-dystopic future-ish. Which I loved. Many more to come.....

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

What a wonderful book! Karen already reviewed this one so I won't need to repeat everything that she said about it. I would like to say that I'm tempted to email the author and congratulate him on his amazingly creative skills as a story-teller. I love a good story and this is one not to be missed. It's long yet worth every word. Briefly, it's about twin brothers, born to a beautiful Indian nun and a British surgeon. They're orphaned when their mother dies during childbirth and their father flees the country (Ethiopia) immediately following their birth. What follows is a rich story told by one of the twins, Marion Stone, of their lives and the bond that holds them together. A stunning novel and a gifted author. These characters will stick with me for a long time.