Thursday, December 04, 2008

I have fallen in love with the library, again. The library and I have had an on-again-off-again love affair since my childhood. Reading The Bridge to Terabithia curled up in a comfy old chair by the magazine rack, while my mom browsed, stopping by the Red Bridge library in the summer to pick up the Read-It forms and a huge stack of chapter books followed up by a scoop at Baskin Robbins around the corner, sitting in the hammock in our backyard and devouring Sweet Valley High in 7th grade, college days spent at the Spencer Library digging through old art periodicals and dusty French language books on Congolese statues. God, I love the library.

But somewhere in my twenties I stopped going to the library and started buying books. Borders, Barnes and Noble, the amazing Jackson Street used bookstore in Omaha, hours spent wandering. And I love owning books, passing books between friends and family, sharing books I love, but our heaving bookcase and the tighter economy did me a huge favor, it brought me back to the library. And the library (how many times am I going to use that word? another 20 probably) in the 21st Century is amazing. I log onto the library's website, search the books I want, put them on hold and check back to see if they are ready for pick up, drive the 5 minutes from my house to the closest branch and there they are waiting for me! I still wander around the library and look for new authors, new releases, and I still love a good used bookstore but my buying habits have changed. I resist buying a book if I'm pretty sure I can get it quickly at the library, especially if its a new author I haven't read before. The last books I bought were used and by Joyce Carol Oates and Joe Perrotta, authors I love and am pretty sure I will read again and again. Otherwise the library is my answer 90% of the time! Free, easy, helpful, and brings me back to my childhood, lemonade stands, stacks of chapter books and that good ole magazine rack at the library. I think I'll pick up a Baskins Robbins scoop in a sugar cone for old times sake.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I've been so lax in posting this summer. Probably for a lot of reasons. Mostly sheer laziness and the speed with which I can be distracted, thanks mild case of ADD. Also Shelfari. I love Shelfari, helps me track my books, look for new reads, and chat with other book nerds like myself. But also sometimes I just have enjoyed the books so much and don't feel like analyzing them, don't feel like picking it apart and explaining it, I've just devoured the story and haven't felt like ruining the mystery or beauty of what's been created. Much like my odd aversion to listening to the commentaries on DVDs of movies I really like, it takes away the mystery, debunks the magic that drew me in, and just punctures that feeling of being swept away in someone else's story. So I'm going to keep leaping in to new books and ideally I'll post again soon, maybe when I find myself bored (rare) or read a book I loathe (not as rare). Why is it easier to write about a book when I hate it?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I read Pillars of the Earth and surprisingly loved it. I feel inspired to write an actual review so you might see my book report soon. Its due by Friday so I hope I don't turn it in late. My teacher (me) can be a real bitch about late papers.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I still haven't posted my book reviews and as time passes I'm guessing I won't get around to it. The blog doesn't hold my attention right now, but after all my jewelry gets made and my shows are over, really once things calm down a bit in my head, I'm sure I'll wander back. For now here is a single line review of the book I finished last night:

Lost by Gregory Maguire-compelling, creepy and with an unlikeable protagonist that I really liked, what does that say about me?

Next is either The Pillars of the Earth or 3 Meg Cabot books I'm told I'll love. They sound summery and light, so they are in the lead right now!

Monday, June 30, 2008

I've been on vacation lately. Literally for about a week, and metaphorically with all the gorgeous weather we've been having lately. My head is in the clouds and my feet are propped up on the deck furniture. So I've been lax in posting. But I certainly haven't been lax in reading. These are the heady days of devouring whole books in a weekend, luxuriating in the fifty one books waiting quietly in line in my bedroom cabinet. Who's next? Who's vying for the next slot? Who suits my mood, who can I learn something from? Who will make me stretch to understand them? Who will make me laugh? I will post on the books I've read in the last couple of weeks but I don't know when and I'm putting very little pressure on myself to post.
Besides, I'm busy reading.

coming posts on:

Immortal by Traci Slatton
Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
On Writing by Stephen King

Monday, June 09, 2008

Okay, I settled on Ahab's Wife for my next read. Not on my previous list but I started it last night and its beautiful so far. I'm excited for this one. I'll have to pace myself so I still have some of it to read on the beach or at least on the plane!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The options for the next summer read:

Paris to the Moon- a book of travel essays written by Adam Gopnick
Lost- another Gregory Maguire book
Foolscap - another madcap Southern adventure comedy by Michael Malone
The Emperor's Children- the life and times of 30-somethings in NY

I'm leaning toward The Emperor's Children - I love to read about whiny entitled rich people and their "difficult" lives, especially a book with so many damn accolades splayed on the cover and back, makes me just ache to dislike it, just to be different. Prove me wrong, Claire Messud.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulker

What a fascinating, masterful, unusual and utterly depressing book. I most certainly didn't like this book, but I felt like I really got something out of it. I found some of the characters hateful, ignorant and frankly repugnant but the stream of consciousness style, the fifteen different first person narrators, and the sympathetic and thoughtful characters like Cash, Darl and Vernon Tull made this book truly worth the struggle to get through it. Once I finished it, about thirty minutes ago, I spent the last thirty minutes researching the book, motifs, themes, symbols, all those good English lit class words that I've missed since college. This book was a challenge but it also reminded me how much I used to enjoy immersing myself in a complex fictional world, trying to parse out what feelings and thoughts the author was attempting to illict from the reader, and drawing my own conclusions. I think I'll read more Faulkner soon, but I'm going to need a little break first.

The poverty, lack of education, and sheer selfishness of some of the resident's in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County really made me struggle to figure out what the aristocratic Faulkner was trying to say about his rural, poor, fellow Southerners. Is he mocking them? Is he delving into the depths of their thoughts using visual and sensory techniques since their lack of education generally prevents his characters from using language to skillfully represent their own thoughts? Does he use the better educated characters, like Addie, to show some of his own lack of belief in the power of words to describe elements like love and family? I'm fascinated by Faulkner's style and Southern setting but it isn't the type of book that speaks to me or that I could say that I love. I love the challenge and I feel satisfied that I finished the book. But most high school and college students can say the same thing. I think my favorite part of the book was Addie's chapter in the middle where she shines such a bright life on her own life. Since she's dead for most of the book, her chapter in the middle was so enlightening, cynical, lonely, sad and heavily wrapped up in Christian sin and punishment, but it really allowed me to understand her bleak hatred of being trapped into her roles as a wife and mother. I finally felt like I understood the book, and frankly the point of the book. The other part that I really liked, mostly because the absurdity made me laugh out, was when Addie's widow, Anse, buries Addie on a Saturday, steals money from his daughter, and on Sunday buys some new false teeth and a new wife! Ridiculous.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Coming next, a book I can't believe I haven't read, and to be honest an author who I've only read short stories from, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. A little heavy for summer but hell, if Oprah and her minions can read I certainly can.
Its not that I didn't like The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta but it wasn't nearly as good as Election or Little Children. Basically the story of suburban northeast town struggling with the typcial evangelical versus secular battle that seems to have swept through American schools. Ruth is a sex education teacher, divorced single mom, forced to teach an abstinence only health course after a casual comment to her class brings down the wrath of the congregation of the Tabernacle, the local evangelical church. The other side of the book follows born again former rock musician/addict turned kids soccer coach Tim. The two main characters Ruth and Tim find themselves embroiled in conflict over the appropriateness of prayer at a town sponsored soccer match. The characters are often funny and open, fairly well developed and Perrotta doesn't give any pat answers to try and solve the religious struggles of modern American society, I appreciated all these things about the book but it just felt a bit cliched and forced in some places. I liked it, enjoyed reading it and would recommend it but something was missing. Some of the religious aspects of the book seemed very judgmental, with school scenes that were hollow and rather inaccurate. It just felt rather shallow, with Tim the most complex of the characters, likeable, conflicted and earnest. On the whole it lacked the insights of Little Children or the dark humor of Election. Read those two first and then maybe pick up The Abstinence Teacher.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Okay, so this is a book review site, but a quick review of the musical version of Wicked which I saw on Saturday with some lovely people. I actually liked it. I found myself smiling, laughing, interested in what would happen to the characters and singing the songs later in my head, certainly not out loud, since I didn't want to hurt my friends' ears and embarrass myself publicly. But I'm not a theatre critic so if I'm smiling, laughing and caring about the outcome and singing later, then that is a successful musical for my money. I sound surprised that I liked the musical because I really loved Wicked as a book. And usually my love of a book dooms my enjoyment of the movie or play version. And Wicked the musical is naturally incredibly different from the book, it kind of has to be. You can't make a violent, sexual and political musical based on characters from the Wizard of Oz and have 8 year olds attend with their parents. So the musical is vastly different but still entirely enjoyable for me. See it if you get a chance and musical theatre doesn't creep you out.

And on the fairy tale theme, over the long Memorial day weekend I read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire. Great book. Once again, Mr. Maguire takes a story that everyone knows, this time its Cinderella, and sets the tale on its head, the basic premise still exists but its been shot through with depth, complexity, and ambiguity. Told from the point of view of Iris, who is not so much an ugly stepsister as a horribly plain stepsister, Confessions is set in 17th Century Holland and follows the story of Iris, her mother Margarethe and her mildly retarded older sister Ruth, as they flee an angry mob in their home country of England, rushing to find safety with Margarethe's family in Holland. Finding no family left in Holland, Margarethe struggles to find work and lodging for herself and her daughters and ends up keeping house for a local painter. The painter is incredibly talented, helps Iris find her own skill as an artist and provides an opportunity for Margarethe to climb the social ladder to become housekeeper for one of the artist's clients. As the fortunes of Iris' family appear to improve, in comes Clara, the Cinderella character, a pampered and isolated child who is lovely beyond words and at the same time dreamy and spoiled. And of course Cinderella's mother dies, Margarethe marries her father, ball, prince etc. But while the basic story follows that of the Cinderella fairy tale, Gregory Maguire is able to inject the story with so much humanity and realism. While this is certainly still a fanciful tale with mystery and magic, the characters are not black and white. The stepmother and stepsisters aren't evil and Clara as Cinderella is certainly no saint. I love the way Maguire is able to flesh out the simple fairy tale and make it something fresh and original. This book is a study in contrasts, beauty and ugliness, kindness and cruelty. Maguire's ability to contrast the static and formulaic fairy tale against his dynamic, developed and flawed characters is compelling and a heck of a fun ride.
I read The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander this weekend. Or I should say I read about 100 pages of The Kitchen Boy this weekend, put it down and picked up something else. Ever since I freed myself from the rule of having to finish every book I pick up I feel so free and guiltless, like fat free cookies! I didn't like The Kitchen Boy. It did not hold my attention and so I put it down. This story follows the last days of the Russian Tsar after the Bolshevik revolution and before the execution of the Tsar and his entire family. So those few stuffy months stuck in a house awaiting rescue or death fill the pages of The Kitchen Boy. And the book felt stuffy and doomed. So I didn't finish it. I have always found the story of the Russian Tsar and his family fascinating but I just couldn't get into this version of it. I think I would have preferred to read a solid non-fiction book about the Tsars rather than this fictionalized and dramatized account. So on to the next book, or "And now for something completely different!" - In honor of seeing Wicked (the musical) this weekend (and since I read Wicked last summer) Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked) and enough with the parentheses! ( )
I finished Forever by Pete Hamill about two weeks ago and really enjoyed it. The book begins in Ireland following the life of Cormac O'Connor. Born in 1741 when Protestant rule made following any other religion punishable by death, Cormac grows up half Jewish and half Pagan, having to keep both a secret, all the while learning more and more about his family heritage and having to mask his true identity. Tragedy befalls Cormac and his family, and seeking revenge on those who have caused the tragedy, Cormac travels to New York to pursue the Earl of Warren.

This book covers a huge swath of New York history, I won't go into the details so I don't spoil some of the suprises, but Cormac can essentially live forever if he stays on the island of Manhattan. So with that in mind, Cormac watches New York grow from a small, dirty, wild town with not enough water or police to the thriving metropolis of today. I was fascinated by some of the characters, Cormac's boss at the printing press, Korhogo, the Countess, and many many other lively characters. But for me, the strongest part of the book is the first half. I was so sucked into Cormac's childhood in Ireland. His parents and the small piece of land he grew up on were so vivid and real to me. The author did a fantastic job of portraying this time and some of the more mysterious and ellusive pagan practices and beliefs. I also enjoyed the first part of Cormac's adventures in New York. But as we progressed out of the Revolutionary War and into some of the later Tammany Hall scandal, things stalled a bit. Though the lull rather fit with Cormac's struggles to stay connected to the world throughout the decades, I found that the author, who is a New Yorker and a journalist, really seemed to want to share all his knowledge about the city and some of his personal experiences within the city. This desire to share tended to overwhelm the plot and characters a bit for me. I felt like New York was certainly a main character but I felt disconnected from Cormac as the protagonist at times.

As the book was being written September 11th, 2001 occured and as book about New York, the author of course felt that he had to include this catastrophe. I understand the need to process that event and what it meant to the country and to New York in particular, but I felt as if the ending was sort of slapped together to include September 11th. I thought it was well written and fascinating to see September 11th from Cormac's perspective but I just didn't love how it fit in with the storyline and it felt a little manipulative. And naturally the ending left me a little conflicted but again, read it and we can discuss, I don't want to give it all away here! All in all a really fascinating study of New York, war, religious conflict and a little bit of love thrown in for good measure. I think you'd like it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Books I read while on Bravely Obey hiatus, 10 second reviews:

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
all three were fantastic! I felt like a teenager again, waiting anxiously for the final book in August.
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
Yeah, yeah, yeah, its Jodi Picoult again, twists, turns, improbable coincidences
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Great, silly, playful, sly, ridiculous
The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury
Classic over the top yellow journalism from the early 1900's, flashy, dirty and a bit fun
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
Jim from The Office is making this into a movie, I'd buy a ticket
Now is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer
touching sad funny story of a boy coming out in rural 60's Idaho
The Best American Non Required Reading 2007
The Best American Non Required Reading 2006
These are so good I give them out as gifts
Run by Ann Patchett
Not my favorite of hers but a compelling story and memorable characters, fast read too
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Strange, sad and left me wondering what happened?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
this book hasn't left me yet. I read it one night into the wee hours. Everyone should read it
Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King
Can we go back to Florence soon? I want to walk up the Duomo
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
I'm hungry writing about this one, I love a good memoir
The Great Influenza by John Barry
Scary and fascinating, I want to stock up on Tamiflu today as a precaution (fat lot of good it might do)
The Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin
Great story, action, interesting time period and plotting
The Serpent's Tale by Arianna Franklin
The sequel, also good, great strong female lead character, fascinating portrait of royalty too

More to come, hold your breath!
I got about 80 pages into Middle Age: A Romance by Joyce Carol Oates and found it to be dull, odd, in no way a romance, and as boring as middle age seems to the majority. A pompous, judgemental and as usual, beautifully written book but I just didn't feel anything for the book besides boredom and disdain. About the privileged rich who live in suburban New York, Oates seemed to dislike all of her characters and most every aspect of their lives. When the most interesting character is killed off within the first 10 pages I'm not sure that I'm going to like a book. And in practicing my new belief that there are too many books in the world and not enough time to waste on bad books, I set this one aside last weekend and picked up Forever by Pete Hamill. What a difference! Fantastic story, strong characters, and I found myself crying a bit in the first 25 pages. I'll report back once I finish this one, and I almost can't wait to see what happens!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Am I the only person over 30 who hadn't read this one? How can you not love The Godfather? Blasphemy. It's a part of our pop culture lexicon, classic and constantly repeated lines, countless television, movies and video games are based on the Mafia basics laid out in The Godfather, and yet I still feel like I learned a little something of the history, reasoning and brilliance of the old school mafia after finishing this book. I'm not talking about our modern day thugs, not two bit drug dealers or bookies but the leadership and community protectors that were the 1930-1950's mafia Dons and though the movie is probably what sticks out for most people, the book is actually better. Essentially it's a fantastic, well written soap opera for men, but that doesn't negate how great it is! Violence, intrigue, diplomacy, stealthy war strategy, sex, murder, murder and more murder. And by liking the book don't think that I'm condoning the lifestyle, violence and brutality of these people, but like reading The Prince by Machiavelli, I can respect the hell out of their ability to get things done, protect the people who respect them, and provide for those under their care. These men had balls and values. Not our typical Christian moral values but values nonetheless. And reading about men like this can be compelling, entertaining and fascinating. It's like sitting down and listening to stories from Tony Soprano's grandfather, a bit old-fashioned, sexist, and certainly not trendy but he's a better leader than Tony could dream of becoming. Good way to spend a few hours!

Next is Middle Age: A Romance by Joyce Carol Oates. This woman seems to write a book a month, prolific and challenging, a good contrast the Puzo.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I finished The Shadow of the Wind and was unsatisfied and rather disappointed. I had high hopes for this book because it sounded really interesting, set in a lovely place during a changing, dynamic time period but I was kind of bored. Too many secondary characters, too many random flashbacks, too many meandering separate story lines. I was bored almost from the beginning and then had trouble connecting with the rest of the book. So it was a bit my fault for shutting down a little early but just not one of my favorites. Now I'm reading The Godfather by Mr. Mario Puzo. Exciting, ballsy, old school and so easy to read! Makes me want to watch the movies again. Thanks, Kristen, I needed one like this to cleanse my palate.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I've been a horrible blogger. I haven't posted since last September. I have no excuse for myself so I will ignore the guilt I feel for letting down my two readers and just move on.

Summer is right around the corner and so my reading and reviewing have returned. I know you are excited, dear reader. ( and I really mean reader, I have one, maybe two on a good day!)
The first book for the 2008 Book It Summer program, which after reading 5 books I will win a free personal pan pizza with my choice of toppings, is The Shadow of the Wind by some Spanish fellow, whose name I will look up on Amazon later today and replace here. Anyway, this book is better as just a jacket blurb. I just can't get into the story. I want to, I feel like I should be able to and yet here I am saying that the jacket blurb is more enticing than the book itself. I read about 30 pages yesterday, (I'm 150 pages into the 400+ page book) and I have to say that things are looking up for this book. More action and less longing, more talk and less maudlin teenage brooding. The basics of this book include a 1950's time period, Barcelona, Spain location, a book shop owner's lovestruck son, a fascinating place called the Cemetery for Books, and a severely damaged evil book burner who might be the devil. Sounds fascinating right? Well, I'll report back once I finish this sucker and let you know. Oh, and I have been reading plenty since last September I just felt that my opinion on those books was too intense to share. Ok, actually I was just too lazy and distracted to post in the last few months, but I'm back and more opinionated than ever. If possible.