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!