Monday, December 29, 2008

Currently Reading

I don't have a new review to post, because I haven't finished a book in the last month. Longer than that, probably. I got this new social life thing and it's really cutting into my reading time. But, here is a summary of what I have been reading, but not finishing:

1- Snow Falling on Cedars. I'm pretty sure I mentioned this before. I think I'm just going to take it back to the library, I'm not going to finish it right now. I'll get it again someday, but I'm too distracted by Jane Austen and the 3 awesome books I got for Christmas.

2- Northanger Abbey. My first Austen, and I'm loving it. I started reading it last week when our power was out (couldn't find Cedars in the dark) and I was really enjoying it. But then Christmas rolled around and now I'm distracted by...

3- Good Omens. So far, very good. The story is, basically: What if, in The Omen, Damien was accidentally given to the wrong family? Hijinks ensue. I also have The Keeper and Wicked lined up (this is actually the first year I've recieved books off my amazon wishlist... we should keep this up).

So there. You have a taste of what's to come. Please Please Please, somebody else post about what they've been reading. I feel like I'm talking to myself up in herr.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Somebody has to post...

It's been a while since anyone has posted, as I'm sure you've noticed. I'm currently reading Snow Falling on Cedars, but I've misplaced it which sucks because a) it's a library book, b) I'm going on a road trip this weekend, so I'll have lots of reading time, and c) it's really good!

Anyway, while we all work on reading whatever it is we're reading, here's a fun Seriously Random List from Pajiba!:

My personal favorite literary fad isn't listed (I mean, of course not, I'm not obnoxious!), but it is mentioned in the comments: The Babysitter's Club. In the comments there is a lot of discussion about which BSC character you were, and I'm trying to remember which character I was like. I'm pretty sure I was a Mary Ann (because she was shy) and Jessie (because she was a dancer). I wanted to be Claudia because she was all artsy and had her own phone. So, which Babysitter were you?

Monday, October 13, 2008

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Despite a perfectly creepy title, Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle isn't really very creepy. The book follows the three surviving members of the Blackwood family, all of whom are varying levels of crazy. Uncle Julian is the eldest surviving Blackwood, he spends most of his days trying to remember every last detail from the day the rest of the Blackwoods died (arsenic in the sugar bowl). Weakened from the poison, he is confined to a wheelchair and is often confused. Sometimes he thinks Constance is his late wife, Dorothy, and sometimes he thinks Merricat is dead. Constance is a very quiet girl who never goes too far away from the house (never past her gardens). Since she didn't have any of the sugar, she was accused of killing her family members, but was later aquitted at trial. She avoids leaving Blackwood Estate because she knows the town still thinks she's guilty. Merricat (Mary Katherine) is the narrator, and is the youngest Blackwood, 18, and she is the only member of her family that goes into town. People in the town stare and whisper, and young boys tease. Merricat is clearly a little crazy, and seems to not have matured passed the age of 12.

The book is subtle, a lot happens but it's not really a plot driven book. It's really mostly a character study of these three people, the lives they lead after a terrible tragedy. It's not really a mystery, it's fairly obvious who the murderer was, but it's a decent read. And, at 214 pages, it's a nice quick read. But, if you want to read something by Shirley Jackson, I recommend The Haunting of Hill House, a much better and creepier book.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spook by Mary Roach

-- Miranda --

I know. I really should be reading the Non-Required book. But I get the feeling I'm not the only one not sticking to the schedule, so I don't really feel all that bad about it.

Anyway, I'm just going to do a quick write-up here. Abby, this is the book I meant to leave with you, but that I left in the hotel room.

Spook: Science tackles the Afterlife is about author Mary Roach's quest to find scientific evidence that the afterlife exists. The most important thing to understand is this: She's not looking to debunk anything, she's trying to prove there is an afterlife. See, she really wants to believe, but she's burdened with a scientist's mind. Faith isn't enough, she wants proof.

Mary's travels take her all over the world. She looks at claims of reincarnation in India and a school for mediums in England. Most of it is very interesting, although the middle section lagged a bit.

Really the best part of the book is Mary's sense of humor. I bought this book for a quarter while out garage sale shopping with my mother and grandmother, and I was reading it in the car when I came across this passage on page 17: "He agreed to tell me the story, but he would not reveal his name. 'I'm better as your Deep Throat,' he said, forever linking in my head the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with porn movies, a link they really and truly don't need." I literally laughed out loud, and then felt really uncomfortable when my grandmother asked me what was so funny. The book is filled with very witty quips and brilliant footnotes. Yes, I'm praising the book's footnotes.

It's a very good book, but the feedback I've read online gives me the impression that it's the weakest of Roach's three books (Stiff, about cadavers and Bonk, about sex). I'm actually glad that I started with Spook, because if what I've read is right, it's only going to get better from here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Selling the General - Jennifer Egan

-- Abby --
I really enjoyed this story. A down-on-her-luck publicist is hired by a mass murdering dictator to improve his international image. She ends up in the jungle with her precotious 9-year-old daughter and a washed up actress where things go horribly wrong.

The back story on the publicist involves a very tragic party where dozens of A-list celebs were horribly burnt with hot oil. The eye-opening moment for me is when the actress reveals that she (and many others) later burnt themselves to try to emulate the status the burns symbolized. This is horrifying, but really believable. I can easily imagine some sort of terrible accident at an Oscar party and Kathy Griffin and all the girls on E! cutting themselves and claiming they were there.

Anyway, though the actress is very nearly killed, and the publicist wrought with guilt, a few photos leaked to the press are enough to get the paparazzi swarming the jungle and the campaign ends up working.

I've now decided that a few photos of Osama Bin Laden snuggling Lindsay Lohan would be enough for the tabloids to root him out. Why send the military when you can send some journalists with questionable ethics?

So the story is pretty well-written, the interaction between the mother and daughter is sort of heartbreaking and cute at the same time. The flashbacks are well-placed to develop the characters and explain their motives. Finally, as with anything that rings true, every person in the story is motivated entirely by some combination of greed and ego. I love that.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

What’s Your Dangerous Idea?


I love ideas being characterized as dangerous. It’s interesting to see how different scientists approach this rather broad question. I’d love to see in the comments some of the dangerous ideas the UBC can come up with.

We Have No Souls
All I could think about while reading was that even if it were proven that humans have no souls, most of us would just keep going on with our lives as is. I don’t think there’d be massive numbers of people throwing their religion, morality and basic sense of self down the tubes because of this idea.

The Evolution of Evil
This idea is hard to write/think about because I think he hits strikingly close to truth. I especially sat up when I read, “The danger comes from people who refuse to recognize that there are dark sides of human nature that cannot be wished away by attributing them to the modern ills of culture, poverty, pathology or exposure to media violence” (pp 111).

More Anonymity is Good
I flat out don’t think this is a dangerous idea. I think the author makes a wrong assumption: either you’re anonymous or you’re not. I don’t think this is the case. In many realms, many people prefer to be anonymous (ie: posting on websites, dark bars, etc) and in others they don’t (ie: work, school, relationships, etc). It’s not an all-or-nothing game. There are costs and benefits to being anonymous that we all have to personally weigh. The thing about anonymity is that it’s like your virginity; once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. So, maybe we should protect our anonymity a little more?

Science will Never Silence God
Ironically, the more dangerous idea is that scientists will prove there is a god. This guy’s “dangerous idea,” is that we’ll maintain the status quo. I don’t know how dangerous that is. However, imagine the big pile of dog poop a lot of us would be in if we proved there is a god…

The Near-Term Inevitability of Radical Life Extension and Expansion
I found this to be very Malthian. I don’t worry about things like one type of technology advancing “too far.”

Where Goods Cross Frontiers, Armies Won’t
I find it funny that this idea is the opposite of dangerous… unless you’re a government official.

The Idea that Ideas Can be Dangerous
I liked this because I think the marketplace for ideas is powerful enough to take care of the dumb ideas...eventually. In the interim, ideas can be dangerous on a personal scale. Think about all the humans who have been persecuted because of ideas. From the extreme example of The Holocaust to the mundane example of blonds being stupid, ideas can be very dangerous because they turn into beliefs.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bridge to Terabithia

-- By Miranda

Let me start by explaining precisely why I was reading Bridge to Terabithia when I could have been reading something a) that was written for someone my own age and b) that I haven't already read. First I'll tackle the second point, because that's how I roll. I can't remember when I first read Bridge to Terabithia, but I would say guessing I was about 8 wouldn't be that far off. So it's easily been fifteen years since I read the book, and while I remembered the major plot points, there really wasn't a whole lot I remembered about the book itself. So the fact that I've already read it is, as Joey Tribiani would say, a moo point. As for the first point: when I got home from work yesterday at 5 I had been awake for 14 hours, running on only 3.5 hours of sleep. I was tired, but I knew it was too late in the day to take a nap and stay on an appropriate sleep schedule. So I decided to grab a book off my shelf that I wanted to read and would hold my interest but wouldn't be terribly involved reading.

I'm going to be discussing some spoilers in the next paragraphs, in Orange.

I remembered from the first time I read the book that the ending was sad, but I don't remember crying as hard as I did rereading the book last night. Maybe I was an emotionally stunted 8 year old, or maybe my femotions (that's a combination of "female" and "emotions" if you're unfamiliar with the term) were conspiring against me, but I cried harder last night than I have ever cried at the end of a book. I may have been more sobby than I was the first time I watched My Dog Skip, which is really saying something.

One thing I know I didn't pick up on the first time I read it is how well-written it is. It's targeted at children, but aside from the length (it's only 128 pages, with fairly large print) and the fact that the main characters are 10 years old, there's really nothing childlike about it. The book deals with family, friendship, fears, and death in a way that doesn't talk down to the intended young audience. Reading it now and knowing how it would end, I was able to pick up on the foreshadowing in the earlier chapters: Leslie's essay on scuba diving as her favorite hobby and Jess's fear of water all become significant when Leslie drowns in the creek on her way to Terabithia, the make-believe kingdom where Leslie and Jess are Queen and King. Jess's reaction to his only friend's death is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read. His anger, confusion, and mourning all feel completely genuine.

I've seen this book on lists of the most frequently banned books, and I can't even begin to fathom why. Because it deals with difficult situations honestly? To paraphrase my friend Katie, is it so wrong to expose children to the bad things that happen in the world? Bridge to Terabithia is a fantastic book that doesn't talk down to the children but also won't fly over their heads. I hesitate to use the phrase, but it's a damn-near perfect book.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ghost Children - D. Winston Brown

- - Abby - -
This is a story sort of centered around black anger in the personal experience of one young man. I can't say that as an upper-middle class white girl I really relate to it, but its an interesting read. While disturbed a little by the content, the unfamiliar emotions, the writing is good and the story is circumspective and revealing. It definitely shows violence as an outcome of societal conditions (forget blaming it on video games and action flicks). I think it also shows growth, the ability of people, one-by-one, to mature past that stage in life, and perhaps eventually an entire generation can get past it.

It actually reminded me of an interesting article I read recently about the relevance of Jesse Jackson in a Barack Obama world. Basically, its hard to buy Jackson's angry "the man will always try to keep a brother down" rap when The Man is, in fact, a brother. If I can find the article again I will link it.

American - Joshua Clark

- - Abby - -
This is a 1st-hand account of a few hours of the chaos as Katrina approached and New Orleans was flooded. I haven't read many Katrina accounts, but I found it jarring. How easily a societal structure can be swept away, how quickly we turn to violence. The story was well-written, I found it very tactile, the darkness, the filth were all very present in the reading.

I think my one complaint (with either the story or the book) is the lack of background. I don't know if this is an excerpt from a longer accounting (no details given) or not, but the characters were really undeveloped. I like to get to know people a little better. If it is an excerpt, I'd have wanted a paragraph of intro, if not, the author could've thrown in a sentence or two to explain at least the relationships between the members of the group.

Rock the Junta - Scott Carrier

- - Abby - -
I liked this article, I'm having a fling with journalistic accounts. For one thing, its impossible not to love a story about rock. and. roll. Also, I learned a little because I know next to nothing about Myanmar. What struck me was a similarity between the.... apathy? I guess, of the people of Myanmar and those I met in Hong Kong. Though the Hong Kong-ers have more freedom to criticize the government, at the end of the day they had very little interest in becoming part of the process. They didn't vote, they didn't even understand their election system. And these were the college students.

Anyway, I liked the end when Carrier points out that the Burmese people should rise up. It's not that America should ignore the plight of these people, it just a matter of taking control of your own destiny, taking those first steps, showing your commitment to the cause.

Also I love that Metallica is so universal. They are everywhere.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Happy Death - Alison Bechdel

- - Abby - -
This particular work is a graphic novel (novel? Is it still if it is a short story?). I quite enjoyed the medium, I don't really read graphic novels but this was pretty cool. The story itself was interesting and insightful, a good mix of tragedy, comedy and confusion. I like short stories that give a lot background and development without trudging through every detail of a person's life. It keeps the reader focused on the central conflict (in this case the author's unresolved feelings over the death of her father), but gives a well-rounded view of the characters as well (for instance, Alison is a lesbian and went away to college).

I think the art added quite a bit to the story as well. The humor and sarcasm and irony were all enhanced by the visuals. Piecing together the direct narration and asides added depth to the tale. The settings, both location and time were varied and shown mostly in the photos, allowing the verbage to move the story along and reveal the author's thoughts.

Based on this, I actually think I'd like reading some other non-superhero-related graphic novels. Good story.

- - Miranda - -
I really liked this. If you're expecting something more.... more than that from me, well, I'm sorry to disappoint. I read this in a waiting room a week ago, so it's not super fresh in my mind, and I've been running on 4 hours of sleep and caffeine for about 19 hours now, so I'm not in the mood to be all analytical.
I will say that I've read a little something by this author before, it was in the 1000th issue of Entertainment Weekly, I believe, and I think I enjoyed that also. I'm thinking one of these days I may try Persepolis. I've heard good things.
Soon I'll update on my recent reading habits. Which, by the way, have nothing to do with Non-Required reading.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Middle-American Gothic - Jonathon Ames

- - Abby - -

I had the weirdest de ja vu while reading this article. I have either read it before or read something similar (possibly by Klosterman…) I have a few complaints:

1. How did I not know about GothicFest? It was near Chicago! People I know should have been there!
2. How did the author not go home with a crazy bloodsucking goth chick? Even if he struck out 14 times, there was definitely an evil young thing there for him, or he could have lied and said there was.
3. I’m surprised he wasn’t converted. GothicFest sounded fun. He could have become a weekend goth.

Beyond that, I just thought the article could have used a little closure, it was short, and I didn’t really catch a strong theme or opinion that tied it together. Especially since in the beginning he talks about how he is, in some ways, a counter-culture freak.

I was also amused by his comment about the Midwest breeding serial killers. Its funny because its true, and also because his last name is Ames (Ames being the Iowa city my mother grew up in and where my parents met.) So while I didn't love the article, it was an amusing read.

- - MiRanda - -
(Sorry it took me so long to post, I'm a lazy ass that spent the whole day watching Spaced in bed)
The article, originally featured in Spin magazine, is a good magazine article. It's well written and amusing, but in the end, it's just a good magazine article.
My problem with it, and maybe this is what the writer was going for, is that he can't quite decide if gothic fest is something to be mocked. The tone of the article switches between varying degrees of mockery and sympathy. The article is at it's most sympathetic when Ames tells about meeting Marc, a goth kid with an abusive, disapproving father. It's at its most mocking when Ames meets Rain:
"Excuse me, could I interview you?" I ask.
"Sure," he says, "They call me Rain."
"Who's they?"
"The people at my college[...]."
"Are you still in college?"
"No, I'm thirty."
Ames meets many more people throughout his day at the festival, all of them self-proclaimed "nonconformists." Perhaps my real problem with the article is the fact that my real opinion of the goth scene, at least as it existed in my high school, is a bunch of whiny kids who strive for individuality by dressing and acting exactly alike. Oh, the irony.
In the end, I really thought Ames was going to go for some sort of "I've misjudged this whole group all along" shtick. As he's leaving, he sees a man with spikes on his head and asks the man if the spikes are screwed into his head. the man replies by pulling a bottle of glue out of his pocket and saying "I'm not dumb, you know." But then Ames says something about calling all the kids outside to do a blood sacrifice, and I realize that Ames still hasn't made up his mind between understanding and mocking.
And I think that's what keeps it from becoming a great article.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

American Nonrequired Schedule

The dates listed will be post dates. I think one person will be responsible for putting up the first post by, say, 2pm on the post date, and everyone else can add their entries subsequently. That person could rotate or it could be me, or whatever.

Note, the stories are mostly in order, but I grouped together shorter ones that will be two to a week.

Fri. Aug 1 - Middle-American Gothic

Wed. Aug 6 - A Happy Death

Sun. Aug 10 - Ghost Children

Sun. Aug 17 - Rock the Junta

Sun. Aug 24 - American

Sun. Aug 31 - What Is Your Dangerous Idea?

Sun. Sept 7 - Selling the General

Sun. Sept 14 - Loteria

Sun. Sept 21 - How to Tell Stories to Children

Sun. Sept 28 - Adina, Astrid, Chipewee, Jasmine

Wed. Oct 1 - Where I Slept

Sun. Oct 5 - All Aboard the Bloated Boat

Sun. Oct 12 - Love and Honor and Pity...

Sun. Oct 19 - Darfur Diaries

Sun. Oct 26 - The Big Suck

Wed. Oct 29 - Stuyvesant High School

Sun. Nov 2 - Literature Unnatured

Sun. Nov 9 - So Long, Anyway

Sun. Nov 16 - Humpies

Okay so there it is. Anybody that wants to be added as author just email me (abigayle.bessman[at]

Love you readers!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 -- Dave Eggers


Alright, it's time to stir things up. As the creator and maintainer of this blog, I used all executive power to choose this book, and what I'm referring to as "Stage 2" of the UBC.

I'd like to have a more interactive, involved section of the blog. I still like the independent selection of books and reviews (and they are helping me choose my new reading material), but I want everyone on the same page of something. Hence "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007". This is a collection of essays, poems and short stories which I think will fit our needs nicely. The length should make pieces easy to read in one sitting, and since there is no continuing plot, busy kids like us don't have to sweat if we miss one. Finally, the extreme mix of authors, formats, fiction, non-fiction, investigative news, poetry and nonsense should provide a little something for everyone. I've read the introduction (by Sufjan Stevens) and it tickled me.

As for discussion format, I propose having a separate entry for each work, and multiple contributors to each entry. I'm putting up an Example Entry. I'll go ahead and kick this off doing two entries on the first two pieces August 1st. Thus, anyone who wants to try this out should get their hands on a copy of the book by then. I picked up my copy (in paperback) at B&N for $15.

A schedule and more detail are on their way, try and feel the excitement :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

- Miranda.

Oh, bother.

This was not a good book. I had high hopes for it, but... no. Spoilers in blue.

The basic storyline is this: Genna Meade, a moderately wealthy daughter of a radical political activist, is in her freshman year at Schuyler University. Her roommate is Minette Swift, a black minister's daughter from D.C. Hijinks ensue. Hijinks that eventually lead to Minette's death.

I'm not really sure what to spoilerfy here, because I'm not going to recommend this book. I'll just put the rest of the plot in blue, but by no means am I telling you to skip ahead.

Genna Meade is weird. She's incredibly needy, but it's so strange. She desperately tries to be friends with Minette, even though Minette seemingly has no interest in her. It's not like Genna doesn't have any other friends, she mentions on more than one occassion that other girls in the dorm like her. She's also bizarrely protective of Minette, for reasons I don't quite comprehend. Genna's parents are bat-shit crazy and her brother ran away to live with relatives when Genna was 11, which I guess could explain why she so desperately tries to create some sort of familial relationship with Minette. Her mother is an alcoholic nutcase. Her father is a radical anarchist who may have connections to criminal enterprises.

Minette Swift is weird. Everybody, except Genna, hates her. Steadily throughout the book she is subjected to more and more acts of racisim, from racist pictures being left under the door, books stolen and vandalized, even the word "NIG" being scrawled in black marker across their dorm door. I know this all sounds terrible, and I felt sorry for her, until it became clear that she was doing it all herself. I'm not sure why, but I think it may have been to get attention, to get a private room, and to get extensions on papers. Once she gets a private room in another campus builing, Minette dies from a fire resulting from all the freakin' candles she left burning.

This book is so confusing. I don't like any of the characters, the plot doesn't really make that much sense, and Oates' sentence structure is awkward. It really feels like she started the book without knowing how it would finish. From the blurb I thought it was going to be about Minette's murder at the hands of the people who were harrassing her and the way Genna and the college deal with the aftermath. My version sounds kind of interesting, right? Like a murder mystery with some racial/political aspects. But no.

I'm willing to give Oates another shot. She's written 119 books, I'm just going to assume that I picked one from the shitty end of the bell curve. Sigh. I give it a D+.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Making Plans

--by Abby

Having settled into my new job, new apartment, new hometown, new home state and new time zone, I'm ready for a project.

I know we've discussed the difference between a book club (where all the members read the same book then come together to discuss it) and an online forum for book discussion (this blog) and the shortcomings of each. For starters, by my count our bloggers now span at least 4 states, not really conducive to scheduling a meeting. But on the other hand, without common purpose we are lacking a real glue to hold the thing together.

So I'm opening the floor up to suggestions. I like the idea of everyone reading the same book at the same time, but I don't know if we should split up the entries, or each do our own, or do a chat or something. The real appeal of online is that everyone can go at their own pace, just check in on certain bits when they get to them.

Let me know what you think, and if anyone has suggestions on material, I'd take those too. I thought maybe a collection of essays or short stories might be a nice baby step, so if you miss one, its not so tragic.

Bring on the creativity.

Middlesex - Book 1

--by Abby

Chapter by chapter seems really difficult for this book (many chapters, too compelling to stop to blog). As an alternative I'm going to do an entry for each book within the novel.

Book 1
One can't help but notice the emblem on the cover of Middlesex that reads: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. It shows. The writing is fantastic. The narrative style is unique and interesting and really sucks you into the story by mixing the past and present and giving away what seems like too much information, but eventually you realize it isn't a mystery novel. You know how it ends. The thing that keeps you hooked is trying to understand how it comes to such an end. The psychology of the characters is fascinating.

(Spoilers in green)

The book opens with Cal (formerly Calliope) blatantly stating his mixed sex and mingling science, personal anguish and nostalgic, wistful tidbits about the family history. As a person completely defined by his genetics (in a more segregating way than most of us) Cal has studied his family and found all the coincidence, the parallels, the moments of fate that led to his birth as a girl.

The first momentous family story occurs as Cal is in the womb with his grandmother divining his sex with a spoon over his mother's belly. The story reverses back to Cal's highly scientific conception then rewinds back much further to the story of his grandmother as a young woman in the old country.

I am so impressed with the story of Desdemona and her little brother Lefty. From the first, you feel the oncoming incest, but you expect some horrible event, some violence, some mortifying guilty mistake. Instead I found myself falling for their confusing love story, a brother and sister in love, in denial. They are so innocent and young and alone in the world that you really can't judge or hate their forbidden romance, and so instead I was happy for them.

Later, when Desdemona and Lefty are living as man and wife, there is this dread that their children will betray them, punish them for not knowing better. But the children are fine (and then I realize that the kids have to be at least mostly healthy, because I know that their son is Cal's father. Silly me.) Anyway I mourn the loss of intimacy between the couple as Desdemona is consumed with guilt and Lefty with jealousy for his wife's attention.

New fears arise when Desdemona is forced to take a job and unwittingly becomes a silk-stress for the young church of the Nation of Islam (complete with fully functioning militant wing, even as the first Detroit church is in its infancy). And that is pretty much where the first book leaves off, though its interspersed with stories from Cal's adult life that inspire memories of his family's history.

I think one of things that really makes the story believable is the true history of the exodus of Greeks, the early Detroit auto manufacturers, the impact of the Depression. I find I'm picking up quite a bit of history in this story and I like it. I'm really excited to read more. Probably will finish over the long weekend.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Middlesex Handoff


After much silence, I've finally begun Middlesex. I think I'll revise and reissue Miranda's previous posts, adding my thoughts in a different color or something. If I get ambitious, I'll add some summary posts.

I gave up on the Faulkner book, it was way too painful.

To make an effort to acheive my 25 books a year goal, I've made a little calendar for myself, laying out the book plan. I'm thinking about posting it here, but the sidebar is already quite full. I might just put up a link to it instead, or add it as a blog entry and I can repost it whenever I make changes.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares

-- Miranda

Yeah, this is the third book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I'm not ashamed to admit that I read the first two books and enjoyed them greatly. I read them before the movie came out... I know I was still at Juco, so this was probably three to four years ago. So it's been a while.

This book is sort of the same as the others, it tells the story of four friends' summer vacation. In the first two books, Lena, Tibby, Bridget and Carmen are all separated for the summer and the pants are a way to keep them all connected. But in this book, Bridget is the only one away and the other three are all at home. It's the summer before they leave for college, and Bridget is coaching at a soccer camp in PA, Lena is taking Art classes, Carmen is babysitting Lena's Grandma and preparing for the birth of her half-brother, and Tibby is... well, she kinda starts dating her friend and her little sister falls out of a tree, but I can't remember what else she does for the summer. The summer before college is an interesting time, because for the first time the girls aren't going to be together again when Fall rolls back around.

One problem that this book faces that the others didn't is that they aren't separated. The whole purpose of the pants in the first books are that they make the girls feel a connection to each other even though they are all far away. The girls deal with the sort of problems that make them wish their friends were there (first love, first hearbreak, a parent remarrying, self-discovery and the death of a friend (all in the first book!!)), and having the pants was a way to make them feel the bonds of their closeknit friendship. The pants gave the girls strength and courage, the same way a pep talk from your closest friend would. The pants would be mailed to each girl in a set pattern where they would keep them for a week and then pass them on to the next girl, usually with a letter. It was a very interesting and effective storytelling device.

In this book, not only are they not separated, but the pants are almost an afterthough. Since three of the four girls are in the same town, the pants don't really serve the same purpose as they did in the previous books. Bridget is the only one who really needs to have the feeling that her friends are with her, but the only time I can remember her wearing the pants is at the game where the team she coached wins a tournament against the other teams at camp. She mentions when she's gettting ready that she puts the pants on, but she doesn't mention if they at all affect the way she feels. I can't even remember when the other girls have the pants. I think Tibby is wearing them when Carmen's brother is born. Lena... maybe when she decides to go to art school? Carmen... I have no idea. I get that the whole pant thing is really cheesy, but it's kind of the cheese that holds everything together.

All in all, it's an OK book. It's targeted at teen girls, so it's not really aiming to be a pulitzer nominee. But I remember the first two books being much better than this one. I give it a grade of C. It was this close to being a C+, and could have even earned a B or higher if Ann Brashares had stuck with the themes of separation and magical pants.
Next up: Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates and Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood

Finishing "Escape"

-- Miranda

Remember how I posted a little chapter-by-chapter thing for the first part of Escape? That was nice and all, but I'm finished with the book now and I don't feel like back tracking to tell you what happened, chapter-by-chapter. Also, the chapters are pretty short, so it would take forever to go through them all.

Basically the book tells the story of Carolyn Jessop's entire life, from being born into the FLDS to becoming the fourth wife of a fifty-year-old man (Carolyn was 18) to her escape from the cult with her eight children and the legal battle she waged. Carolyn, I believe, is the first woman to ever escape the FLDS with all of her children and win custody over the children. Carolyn's husband was a very powerful man in the FLDS, and no one believed that she stood a chance.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Carolyn's explanations about how Warren Jeffs came to take over the FLDS. It's interesting to see things from her perspective: She sees him as a power-hungry maniac who manipulates facts to gain complete control over the cult. It's also interesting that, as she mentions periodically throughout the book, she didn't loose her faith in the religion until towards the end. Despite the fact that she always hated her husband and that he was physically and severely emotionally abusive, she for years believed that their marriage was ordained by the prophet.

Going into it I knew I was going to be reading some bat-shit craziness about the cult. It was some of the smaller details that were really the most affecting. Showing affection for your children is frowned upon. When the other children began making fun of her oldest child whenever she hugged or kissed him, she stopped. When she left the cult she had to relearn to show affection for her eight children. Another thing I hadn't really anticipated was the way sex was used in the marriage. It's hard to understand without reading the book and getting a handle on the sexual politics within a plural marriage, but a wife who does not sleep with her husband has less power than the other wives. Even though she hated her husband, Carolyn kept sleeping with him. She did this mostly to protect her children. While she was on her husband's good side, the other wives and children wouldn't harm her kids. It's really fucked up.

Anyway, I think it's a good story and it's competently written. Four out of Five stars. Solid B.

((Also, it comes to my attention that Katherine Heigl is going to star in and produce the film version of this book. I'm thinking it's not a good idea. I'm a little wary of KH since she dumped on the writers of her show. Sure Grey's was a bit of a slump this season, but did she have to be such a bitch about it. Then again, according to the rumor mill, she's a bitch in general.

If you asked me, the best idea for this book would be to break it down into a 2 part miniseries, probably Lifetime. The first part would be about her abusive marriage, the second about her escape and legal battle. One of the sub-genres of Lifetime is the "Mother takes Law into own hands after Child is wronged" and this sort of fits the profile. There's just so much to tell in the story, I'm not sure a Katherine Heigl movie could do it justice.))

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Light in August


Sorry I've neglected the blog- I moved to a different time zone, started a new job, and took my laptop to Circuit City for repairs 4 weeks ago and haven't seen it since. Things have been difficult.

At the moment I'm reading The Light in August by Faulkner as a favor to my sister. Its a big favor. There's a lot of racism, judgement and inane conversation. The presentation is confusing, he likes to jump back and forth in time (like to a character's childhood) without warning or the courtesy of throwing the kid's name in. So often you're reading about some kid then finding out way later it is actually a character you know.

Anyway, if it gets better I'll do a thorough entry. I also finished I Walked the Line a few weeks ago and will post on it soon. It was pretty fantastic. Next on my list is Middlesex.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Escape by Carolyn Jessop

-- by Miranda

Remember a few weeks ago when every news show was talking about that crazy polygamist cult and the authorities took away all the children on accusations of child abuse? If you don't remember this, you obviously don't watch CNN or read People Magazine. Get some culture, yo.

Anyway, this book is the memoir of Carolyn Jessop, a woman who escaped the cult with her 8 children. I'm a few chapters in and so far it's pretty fascinating.

(On a related note, I was watching Without A Trace last night and part of the episode involved the missing girl joining and then escaping from a cult. Anybody else see that episode? It was pretty good.)

Here's a chapter by chapter summary of what I've read so far:


Pretty standard fare here, various thank yous to people who helped her escape and write the book. My favorite line in the acknowledgements section is "The FLDS is constructed on a scaffolding of lies."

Preface: The Choice was Freedom or Fear

The preface is a brief description of how Carolyn and her children escaped the FLDS compound on April 21, 2003. It's actually a fairly detailed account, I wonder if she'll go into it even further later on in the book.

Ch 1: Early Childhood

As the chapter heading suggests, this chapter covers the early years of Carolyn's childhood. Her family had a brief happy time while living in Salt Lake City, before moving to the polygamist camp. Carolyn and her siblings were beaten almost every day by their mother, which is not unusual for this "religion." Carolyn's Grandmother spews FLDS propaganda that the children eat up as if she were telling them normal bed-time stories.

Ch 2: Child's Play

Apparently the most funnest game for the children in the compoud was "Apocalypse." It's a very complicated version of hide-and-go-seek, and the losers burn in hell. Or something. The children behave like children, and get beaten some more. The kids have a strange system to manipulate the adults into not beating them so hard. It involves a lot of screaming.

Ch 3: School Days

Carolyn's experiences at school are unusual. They are taught "facts" like the fact that dinosaurs never existed. The principal beats the crap out of his mentally challenged son, in front of everyone. In fact, the principal smacks around an entire classroom of young children and only gets a warning from the school board. Did I mention that the school is run by the FLDS? You probably figured that. Carolyn also becomes so frightened of her bus driver that she walks to and from school, about a mile each way.

Ch 4: New Wife, New Mother

Carolyn's cousin (her mother's niece), Rosie, becomes her father's second wife. Her father really likes Rosie, which eases some of the tension in the house, but Carolyn's mother's jealousy keeps things mighty unpleasant. Rosie has a nursing degree, making her one of the few women in the cult with a college education and a real job. Carolyn, who is eager to learn, looks up to Rosie because she sees the ways her education has given her freedoms. There's also some sort of divide in the cult, and people with opposing viewpoints refuse to speak or to let their families associate with one another. It's very strange. By now Carolyn has reached high school, but she has to take correspondence courses because the high school is run by FLDS members on the opposite side of the divide.

Ch 5: Linda's Flight to Freedom

Carolyn's older sister Linda escapes from the community with her friend Claudel. Carolyn sees how this shames her family and vows that she will never disgrace her father or her family by fleeing.

I'm still only halfway through chapter 5. I'll write more when I get more time to read.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1993 for something you're too stupid to understand

Yes, I was eight. Go ahead, just try and disprove me.

What does this have to do with books, you might ask? Well, I learned something very interesting from a review of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. Apparently, in the footnotes of Chapter 13, you'll find the following nugget of information:

“Nominations for a Nobel Prize, I found out when I contacted the Nobel Foundation to try to verify Shafik’s, remain secret for fifty years. You make the claim, and nobody can prove otherwise until after you’re dead. Add one to your résumé today!”

Brilliance. I may have to check out this book, along with the author's previous works: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Who doesn't love a little humor in their science?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

True Stories of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Dude. People are sick. It's kind of awesome. And very, very disturbing.

I Walked the Line by Vivian Cash

--by Abby

In the midst of family vacation I've started this book. It's the story of Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian. The description reads:

Before there was June, there was Vivian, the 17-year-old girl from San Antonio, Tex., who met Cash in the summer of 1951 as he was headed overseas in the army. Three years of ardent letter writing sustained them—indeed, a good part of this book consists of Johnny's aching letters from 1951 to 1954, revealing his attempts to keep himself away from drinking and loose women, while begging her to wait for him and pray together. Finally wedded, the couple set out for Memphis, where Cash worked as a door-to-door salesman. After Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two began to travel, Vivian, pregnant from year to year, moved with him constantly, sewed his performance clothes and scribbled lyrics for I Walk the Line as he drove in the car. By 1961, as Vivian Cash tells it, when Johnny was drinking and popping pills heavily, June Carter joined Johnny's tour and tenaciously pursued him. Johnny and Vivian divorced in 1966. Vivian, who died in 2005, has told her story candidly to TV producer Sharpsteen, disclosing myriad tender details and an affecting ability to forgive.

The book is (thusfar) just Johnny's love letters. They are very sweet, and very young, and very frequent. I'm about about halfway through and its 2 years of Johnny's almost daily letters. None of Vivian's writing is included, but the introduction is her explaining why she wrote the book and getting Johnny's approval to do so.

I'm hoping to finish in by the end of the week. After that I think I'm on to some Miranda Recommendations.


--by Abby

I finally, finally, finished Persuasion. I know it took an eternity, but I had to finish a project, finals and graduate in the interim.

I enjoyed Persuasion, but less than some other Austen Favorites. The language is much more difficult than S&S or P&P, and the humor is more subtle than Northanger Abbey. As per usual, the tension and heartbreak has the focus and the climax and conclusion require about 2 pages. The climax was particularly exciting, but I was left longing for a little more detail on the joys and happily ever after.

I guess my final opinion is this is a great book for Austen lovers, but if you didn't love love her other works, you'll probably hate this one. I'm still glad I read it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Finishing Middlesex

ep-ic -adjective
1. noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style: Homer's Iliad is an epic poem.
2. resembling or suggesting such poetry: an epic novel on the founding of the country.
3. heroic; majestic; impressively great: the epic events of the war.
4. of unusually great size or extent: a crime wave of epic proportions.

Maybe I should have gone chapter-by-chapter with this one, because now that I'm trying to decide where to start, the book just seems so big. It's a coming-of-age story; it's historical fiction about Greek immigrants, the Depression, the Detroit Race Riots; it's a story of incest, guilt, and family; it's a story about the awkwardness of adolecence; it's a story about what it means to be a girl, a boy, neither, and both. It's a wonderful story that spans three generations of the Stephanides family, and the decisions they make that shape their lives and the lives of their decendants.

I'll put my spoilers in GREEN, if you want to skip past.

First, let me begin with my MS Paint version of the Stephanides Family Tree. I didn't feel like going back into the book to try and figure out the older generations' names, so I just left them blank. I also know that Desdemona and Lefty were Third Cousins along with being brother and sister, but I didn't want to use the brain power to try and figure out how to depict that. You get the idea just from looking at my drawing that the family tree is a little... circular. A brother and sister marry, and their son marries his second cousin. Is it any suprise that their child has a rare genetic disorder: Calliope Stephanides is a 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodite. While at first appearing to be female, Callie is genetically male. The condition goes undiagnosed and unnoticed until Callie reaches her early teen years, when she fails to develop as the other girls have, and she falls in love with another girl at her school. Eventually Callie learns the truth about herself, and changes from Callie to Cal.

Truly Middlesex is a remarkable book. Cal is a unique narrator, not just considering his unique genetics. I would highly recommend the book to anyone, it's a fascinating story. I could go on and on about it, but since no one else here has read it yet, I would only be writing it for myself.

I think the highest praise I can give Middlesex is that it instills in me a form of envy. This is the kind of book I wish I could write. Epic, Smart, Beautiful, and Moving.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pulse Check

It's been more than two weeks since anyone posted. I'm alive. I still haven't finished Persuasion. My commitment seems to be waning during the end of the semester. I promise my full attention after my finals have all been submitted. That should be sometime around Tuesday the 29th. Sorry.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Persuasion Fires Up

--by Abby

I've just started in on Chapter 12 and finally, finally things are getting a bit exciting. Spoilers below in pink.

Just when I thought poor Anne's life couldn't get more depressing (she just is always around Captain Wentworth) she crosses paths with two new promising gentleman. Captain Benwick seems a nice enough man, well-suited to Anne with his kindness, similar interests, and need of companionship. Her heart-break is clearly being reflected as a more recent iteration in him. Plus, Anne seems to like his friends and she and Louisa could be lifelong companions in this circle if they each marry a Captain.

On the other hand is Anne's mysterious encounters with her cousin (and heir to her family's fortune) Mr. Elliot. What I really like about Elliot is his history with the family. He's estranged from her father and her awful older sister, Elizabeth, once wanted to marry him. It seems totally logical that he should end up with Anne. After all, their other sister, Mary, married Charles Musgrove who previously pursued Anne. Their whole world is a series of interlocking love triangles. I may actually need to draw a diagram.

So I like Benwick, and think Anne would be happy with him. But I'd rather she ended up with Elliot to spite her father and sister. I'm a fan of spite. End spoilers.

Favorite quote thusfar:
...nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Persuasion by Jane Austen

--by Abby

Having only finished Northanger Abbey a week or so ago, jumping into Persuasion may not have been a good idea. However, after excessive amounts of engineering, my little heart cried out for Austen, my bathtub and a bottle of Shiraz. Like Sandra Dee, to my heart I must be true.

Back story: I picked up Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (along with I Walked the Line, by Vivian Cash) at a used/new bookstore in Pendleton, SC about two months ago. None were used. Persuasion set me back $2.50 plus tax. Point being, the edition pictured here is hella cheap.

I am now 68 pgs into the 188 page volume. Time enough to blog a bit. My initial impression of this book wasn't good. I'm pretty sure it's because of my recent reading (and loving) of Northanger Abbey. The styles are really different. I mean, it's still Austen, but Persuasion was written more than ten years later and has a much more formal feel. It certainly isn't as funny, but the personal anguish is deeper and more respected. In short, Persuasion criticizes most of the characters (as in -Abbey) but not it's heroine. Anne's emotions are taken very seriously and given much weight.

Now that I'm into Persuasion I am enjoying it. Synopsis thusfar (spoiler-free really, most of this is on the back cover): Elizabeth, Anne and Mary are sisters, their mother is dead. Elizabeth is the incarnation of her father (the baronet), vain, beautiful, and proud. Mary (the only married sister) is also excessively proud and uses Anne as a personal servant. Elizabeth rather ignores Anne and has no use for her at all. Anne is neither fair, nor proud. Years ago she was engaged to a charismatic naval officer, but their neighbor and family friend Lady Russell put an end to it (she thought a navy man below Anne's rank).

As the story begins the family has fallen upon financial difficulties, and has decided to move from their home at Kellynch to a smaller place at Bath. The Kellynch house is to be rented to an Admiral Croft, who happens to be the brother-in-law of Anne's ex. Drama ensues as her jilted lover begins a relationship with one of her neighbors.

Mostly, I'm engaged by the uncertainty of this story. I want to believe that Anne will end up with her old flame, and it seems like an Austen-y thing to do, but at this point I don't see how it will happen. Ah, the tangled web!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Finishing 21

--by Abby

As predicted it took me less than another day to finish 21. It did take me a bit longer to get to blogging. 'Tev.

***Spoil Zone***
The finish wasn't really as strong as I was hoping. Everything fell apart really quickly at the end, which was sort of to be expected, but it just lacked emotion. It was sort of "Well, we had some laughs. Oh, well."

I did like that as the reader, I could really tell that the jig was up, but not all the characters were ready to let it go. On the other hand, it could have been written better, to really suck you into the drama and fear and suspense, and I think the writer failed there.

I know it was based on a real story, but I was hoping for a little more violence. There was really just that one scene where Martinez gets roughed up in Vegas, but Kevin never sees any of that. I'm hoping for more in the movie version.

I also wanted a little more about their shadowy ring-leader--his past, his involvement in their crash-and-burn. I guess a lot of people were reluctant to contribute to the book.
***End Spoiler***

At the end of the book, there is an essay by "Kevin Lewis" on how to win at blackjack in Vegas, which is sort of cool, but was boring for me, a non-gambler. Plus just reading the book basically tells you pretty much everything included. Finally (in my printing), the epilogue is an interview with Lewis, years after the book was originally released. He talks about people's response to the book and his family. It was okay. It didn't add a lot, but it wasn't totally worthless.

This was the author, Ben Mezrich's, first attempt at nonfiction. I'd be curious to read some of his fiction books and see if they are all as self-involved as this one. It's interesting because he seems to be really trying to give Kevin Lewis all the glory, he's just completely incapable of removing himself from the story. In that I'm sure his fiction would be much better, because he'd just personify himself in his characters. I sort of wonder if Lewis liked the way the novel turned out. In his interview he seems pleased with the fame, the notoriety, but he's pretty much a badass, so why wouldn't he? Still, if it was me, I'd probably be a little disappointed in the overall quality of the writing.

Final verdict: Awesome story, so-so writing, definitely worth the read.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

21: Bringing Down the House

--by Abby

I swear I really tried to start chapter-by-chapter on Love in the Time of Cholera, but opening scene is about some guy who just killed himself and it was too depressing to read on vacation. So instead we have this:

21: Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich
There is a movie opening Friday starring Kevin Spacey. If you are wondering if I'll finish the book in time to catch in in theaters, the answer is yes. I read 127 of the 264 pages yesterday.

Because it is a face-paced, easy-to-read, thriller? Because I have too much time on my hands? Because it is hard to put down? Yes, yes and yes.

The story is fascinating. It's the true story of 6 M.I.T. students who made millions in Vegas playing blackjack. The main character, Kevin Lewis, wanted the book written and told the story to Mezrich. He also gave him access to a lot of the people involved. The parts about Kevin are written in 3rd person, omniscient and you get the feeling that Kevin's voice is quite strong throughout. That plot line progresses chronologically, and without too much foreshadowing outside what Kevin himself was thinking at the time.

A second plot line is woven in, this one the story of the author's experiences doing interviews and gathering information for the story. It's less chronological and (obviously) all takes place long after Kevin's history. This part is written in 1st person. The Kevin bits are awesome. The Mezrich bits are kind of terrible. He seems like an egomaniac. I really can't understand why he'd think that his experiences interviewing card-counters are even close to as interesting or important as the thoughts of the counters themselves. While it is fun to get a flash-forward to the real characters and see what their post-Vegas lives are like, I really could care less about the author's nervousness at a shotting range, or his insecurity talking to Vegas heavyweights.

Despite that last little rant, the story itself is amazing, and the book is really fast-paced and the tone and use of language match the excitement of the events really well. I recommend it highly. I'll post again in like 6 hours when I finish it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Northanger Abbey

--by Abby

Northanger Abbey is the first novel finished by Jane Austen. I read it in about 24 hours in Florida. It's quite short (particularly compared to the expansive Emma) and extremely amusing. I think I enjoyed it equally to Pride and Prejudice and more than Sense and Sensibility.

Like her other novels, it's a love story wrought with the intrigues of England and is critical of the society of the time. Unlike her others it lacks subtlety. It is fantastically sarcastic. The overuse of positive, flattering adjectives borders on cruel. Most of the characters are atrocious, empty-headed, superficial assholes—disguised as very good friends. They are just horrible. On the other side, there are three 'heroes' if you will, who are nearly beyond reprimand, flawless.

The novel (as her first attempt) isn't entirely without fault. The flowery language which mocks the speech patterns of the time is sort of hard to read in parts. Not only is the dialogue in this pattern, but the author uses it herself and addresses the reader directly. There is also some imbalance between the plot and the tangents of social commentary, particularly regarding horror novels and the importance of dress, art, music and theater.

Nonetheless, the heroine, Catherine, is quite likable (despite her excessive kindness and goodwill) and her ignorance is endearing. If the book was longer than 211 pages I think I'd find her tiresome, but it doesn't so she's perfect.

Basically, I highly recommend this book. It has a distinctly different voice from other Austen novels and is much more humorous and blatant in its judgment of English society and women in general.

Finishing My FBI

--by Abby

I know the posts on this are few and far between. I will now attempt to make up for that by a topical summary. (For the record, I'm posting from a lovely condo in Clearwater, Florida while Kerry watches baseball. Life is goooood.)

Ch. 1 Khobar Towers

Before this reading I didn't know much about the terrorist attack on Khobar Towers that killed 19 American soldiers. Probably because it happened when I was 12 and I wasn't really up on foreign affairs at that point in my life. Another contributing factor in my ignorance was the way it was handled by the Clinton administration. This chapter is very telling about the political climate in DC under Prez Bill and the U.S.'s general policy on terror before 9/11. While the facts surrounding the lengthy investigation were interesting, I was more moved by the legal and personal nuances. Based on this, I would consider reading other accounts of events during the Clinton administration or about the inner workings of Washington, including Bill's auto- My Life. I own it and have read some of it, but his style is sort of broad and wandering and it lasts like 800 pgs.

Ch. 2 "Only If I Yell 'Duck!'"

I enjoy the naming conventions on the chapters. This chapter covers Freeh's appointment as FBI Director including his first meeting with Pres. Clinton and his decision-making process. It's really a long chapter about how the appointment happened and the prelude to the disintegration of his relationship with the president. It seems in large part due to the falsely positive start. It seemed at first that things would be great, that the position was defined the same way for both men, but that turned out to be untrue. This is a less interesting chapter in that it deals only with Freeh's personal decisions and hopes and disappointments, though it does lay the groundwork for a lot of the future conflict.

Ch. 3 "You're Not Really College Material"

Haha, New Jersey sucks as does Catholic School. This chapter is all about Freeh's family history and growing up in Jersey. It's as charming as any story of an immigrant family in the big city. Freeh's mom is a quality character.

Ch. 4 "The FBI? You're Crazy!"

From undergrad to joining the FBI as an agent, this is a particularly amusing chapter. It talks about Freeh's days as a sort of sheltered college kid in one aspect, while covering his history on the docks in a union run by the mob. Fun for the whole family. There are also some funny anecdotes about being a rookie in the New York/New Jersey FBI and his first few assignments as such.

Ch. 5 "The Kid's Got Nothing to Do with It"

This starts getting into the good stuff, it talks a lot about how the FBI broke the Cosa Nostra as a combined effort at home and in Sicily. There are a lot of funny stories (what isn't funny about the mafia?) and its really interesting how the powers that be changed the standard attack protocol to make a real difference under extremely dangerous conditions. This bit of work really made Freeh's career in a lot of ways.

He talks about leaving the FBI to be an attorney in the Southern District of New York in this chapter and that landed him an awesome job prosecuting the Donnie Brasco case (a la the movie "Donnie Brasco" starring Johnny Depp.) The whole thing is so fascinating it's no wonder it was made into a movie. I long to reread The Godfather.

Ch. 6 "That's Moody's Bomb"

So the whole mob thing got Freeh assigned to a serial bomber case in the south that eventually led to the arrest of Walter Moody. The case itself is interesting, but more than that is the confusion in a case like this. The bombs were sent to different states, different jurisdictions, judges were targeted, it was a mess. It all worked out, but even Freeh seems to feel there is a bit of luck in tearing apart the bureaucracy so that people can do their jobs.

It was during the whole Moody debacle that Freeh was appointed a U.S. District judge. The second half of the chapter talks about the challenges of that, one of which is the government salary. It also talks about a pivotal moment when a witness for the prosecution, a federal agent lied on the stand and how that impacted the case. That tailspins into a lot of stories jumping forward on the topic of ethics. Somehow Elie Wiesel gets involved.

Ch. 7 "If Anything Happens, You Drive. I'll Shoot."

Finally, Freeh is director of the FBI. We hear about the transition and the differences between him and his predecessor. The whole Washington machine is sort of unbelievable, like the FBI not getting enough funding for bullets so that agents had to cut their training time to save bullets. Its all outrageous. There is a lot more about the turf wars and the antiquated laws and policies that just don't move with changing technology that make it difficult for the FBI to operate. As it turns out, FBI agents on TV have a lot more freedom and resources than in real life. Probably there was at one time more sophisticated technology on the set than in FBI headquarters.

Freeh talks some more about his home life and the difficulties of the job, but he really doesn't complain. I have a lot of respect for that. Awesometown.

Ch. 8 "…and the Guy's Bob Hanssen"

Ooooh a Russian spy in the FBI. How fantastic!

The chapter kicks off with the Oklahoma City Bombing and the pursuit and capture of Timothy McVeigh. All very compelling and stuff present in my memory.

Next he talks about mistakes made at the FBI, lost evidence and facts wielding to public pressure and political correctness and the like. Next, the bomb at the Atlanta Olympics, more fun with explosions. Not to let the theme go we next get a detailed dossier on the Unabomber.

Finally, finally we get to the spy bit which is not quite as glamorous as I'd hoped, but it is a true story and the basis for the movie Breach starring Ryan Phillippe and Chris Cooper.

Ch. 9 Bill and Me

All about the many investigations of then-president Bill Clinton. Hillary's involvement in some of that nonsense kind of makes me want a little more information on some of these illegal activities. There were lots of problems, mistakes made by Clinton and Freeh both. What is interesting is the excess on Clinton's side, his inability to turn back once he got going the wrong direction. Still, there isn't anything dull about the Clinton circus.

Ch. 10 9/11

There is a lot of hindsight and sadness here. The actual attack took place after Freeh left the FBI, but all the warnings and missed prevention were on his watch and you can tell he took it very hard. He makes a lot of (not accusations but) charges that spread the blame all over Washington. It's hard to say (based on this account) if anything could have been done to stop it. I mean, obviously it could have been stopped, but the political climate, the public attitude, was such that no body was going to pull all the strings that would have gotten the FBI, CIA or NSA in a place to stop it. Technology and funding were a big factor, as well as Congress' attitude about terrorism and security vs. public opinion.

Freeh adds an epilogue but it is more on this same theme about the differences in the post-9/11 world. His afterword is all about his private sector job after he left the FBI and is pretty boring.

Anyway, I loved this book and highly recommend it as some compelling, interesting, relevant non-fiction.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Memory Keeper: The Movie


The Memory Keeper's Daughter has been adapted into a Lifetime Movie. Yeah, that sounds about right. It premiers April 12, if anyone's interested. You can check out Lifetime's page about the movie here, but be warned that their photo page for the flick didn't like my browser at all and would only let me look at the first picture of Dermot Mulroney.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Middlesex, and then some

-by Miranda

I wasn't going to post about Middlesex until I finished the book, but it's been dull as ditchwater around these parts this last week or so, so I decided to post up. In case you were wondering, I was going to wait until I finished the book to post because I like being able to look at the book as a whole rather than disecting it bit by bit. I'm not going to completely eschew chapter-by-chapter posts (I've got a book in mind that I'll be posting by chapter) but for now I'm going to go with a more traditional book reviewy style, giving my opinion and trying to avoid spoilers. I'll still clearly mark when I'm about to spoiler it up, but, like I did with Memory Keeper, I'll try not to give away too much of the plot in my write up.

Anyway- Now that I'm done with business, let me get down to... business.

I'm just about halfway through Middlesex, and I can't wait to send this book off to Abigayle. It's so so good. The writing itself is beautiful, and the story is very complicated and compelling. How wonderful to find a book with both of these Cs, so often I read boring books with complicated plots, or simple books that I just don't give a damn about. Middlesex is told as sort of a memoir, with the narrator Cal breaking in every once in a while to give updates on his current life. Of course, it's not really a memoir until halfway through, because for the first half of the book, Cal hasn't been born yet. But in order to understand Cal (formerly Calliope), you really do need to understand his family's history. And fascinating history it is. I plan on drawing up a family tree to go along with my next entry, which I'll post after I finish.

That's all I'll talk about for now, tune in sometime this week or early next for my complete entry on Middlesex.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Finishing The Memory Keeper's Daughter

-- By Miranda

Sometimes people do the wrong things for what they believe are the right reasons. In Atonement, Briony believed that Robbie was a sex fiend, so she used her imagination to fill in the blanks after Lola was attacked. In Gone Baby Gone, every single character does the wrong thing in an attempt to put everything right. In The Memory Keeper's Daughter, David Henry gives away his daughter, born with Down syndrom, because he thinks this will spare his wife pain. Nobody is right, but nobody is really entirely wrong. It's this morally ambiguous theme that I find very interesting in stories, whether they be novels or films.

But Memory Keeper doesn't really rate up there with Atonement and Gone Baby Gone (which I just saw this weekend, that's why it's fresh in my mind [also, you should rent it, it's good]). The choice the doctor makes in the book is so clearly wrong, whereas in GBG, there really isn't a right answer (I'm being intentionally vague where the movie is concerned, I don't want to give anything away). He gives his daughter away to the nurse, to save his wife pain. He had a sister with a heart condition that died young, and people with Down syndrome often have heart problems. So, his reasoning is somewhat understandable. But he tells his wife that their daughter died, as though that wouldn't be painful. At least he just didn't give her away because she was mentally handicapped, I don't think I could have read the whole story. The character would have been completely different, more evil instead of just confused. Also, the repercussions of the secret are deep and do effect everyone in the story, but perhaps not as catastrophically as the lie in Atonement. But perhaps my views are a little biased, because Atonement is my favorite book I've read so far this year. Maybe if I had read Memory Keeper first I would have liked it better.

The ending I felt was a little anticlimactic. Maybe that's because it had a somewhat happy ending, which really isn't what I thought would happen based on the premis of the novel. Of course, as Abby pointed out in the comments for my first entry about Memory Keeper, the description did say something about the "redemptive power of love," so I knew I was looking at a happyish ending. I guess I could go on for a while, but I won't.

The reviewers on Amazon have given this book 3 stars out of five. That sounds about right.

Now, on to Middlesex!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sharing the Love

Hey Ladies--

If you're looking for a way to spread the love of reading, the Dewey Donation System is in the midst of their annual book drive. I just donated 4 books to the Children's Institute in LA.

Visit the website:

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

-- by Miranda

This is another book I got from the library. Actually, it's a book my mom got from the library, but I decided that I'll read it also before I take it back. I'm only two chapters in, but so far, so good. From what I've read so far and from the summary I'm guessing that the whole book is going to be about how one night, one event, changes the lives of numerous people. That makes me a little worried about how much I'll enjoy this book, because we all know I loved Atonement, and I don't really think another book could do the whole one-life-changing-event thing nearly as well. We'll see.

Here's the back-of-the-book summary:

"This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own. Compulsively readable and deeply moving, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a brilliantly crafted story of parallel lives, familial secrets, and the redemptive power of love."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My FBI: Anti-terrorism is anti-chronological

--by Abby

I'm really enjoying My FBI, I'm about a third of the way through. The first chapter was all about the bombing of the Khobar Towers, and did not reflect well on the Clinton Administration. I hate to hear bad things about Bill (he's my homeboy) but I was never really up on foreign policy in the '90s. Anyway, the Khobar Towers debacle sort of pushed right through the end of Freeh's stint as Director of the FBI, and therefore, is chronologically the end of the saga.

The second chapter has so far covered his entire childhood and jumped right up to Bill Clinton convincing Freeh to take the job. This chapter was kinder to Mr. Clinton. Apparently, it is impossible not to like the man on first impression. Also, Freeh thinks he's the single best politician of his generation. I'm not sure yet if that's a compliment.

Sidenote: the chapters are really long. So I'm still in the 2nd chapter.

Yeah, so its out of order, but it's really interesting, compelling reading. Rarely have I been able to read about any event with so much circumspection. Not only do you see the event--all the facts plus the details provided by hindsight-- but you also get the microcosm of internal politics and personal motives and the macroscopic impact of decisions made by people in power.

I'm now thoroughly convinced that I do not belong in government, nor any position where so much is at stake. Waaaay too much pressure. Freeh seems to deal with it well. I'm liking the man. Even though he's from Jersey.

Atonement: The Movie

-- by Miranda

Last night Mom and I went and saw Atonement. I'll go ahead and give you my mom's opinion first. She thought the movie was better than the book, but then, she didn't really like the book much. She thought it was a good movie.

I loved the book, and I loved the movie. I don't know if you could say that it was better than the book. Movies are rarely better than the book. But I think reading the book and seeing the movie compliment each other.

**Warning: from here out there are spoilers.**

Reading the book you obviously get more backround information on all the characters. In the movie, Cecelia and Briony's father is only mentioned twice, in a throwaway line when Leon returns home and when Cee and Robbie are talking about his schooling. They could have very well left out these lines and the father would have been forgotten all together. He really has very little impact on the story anyway. Their mother has a smaller role in the movie than she does in the book, but I didn't really expect the movie to focus on Emily Tallis's migraines. Oh, and if you were curious, apparently the British pronounce it "Mee- graines."

Now, I think the casting was great. Saoirse Ronan was great as young Briony, but I think more credit should be given to Juno Temple who plays Lola. It's not an easy role to play, but she does well with it.

The end of the movie is different from the book, in that instead of a birthday party, Briony is being interviewed about the release of her 21st novel, Atonement. It makes me wonder if in the movie universe, Paul and Lola have already died, leaving Briony free and clear to release her libelous book. Maybe that's just my wishful thinking, I hated seeing those two so happy and carefree at the end of the book. I still feel that they are the true villans. Briony may have lied, but they just stood by and watched an innocent man go to prison. Briony at least had the decency to feel guilty about her accusations.

Some things about the movie that I felt were better than the book: The movie makes it clear that Robbie's war buddy knew Robbie was dying. Looking back, I think "Of course! How could he not know the man was dying?" And I'll just say that the scene depicting Cecilia's death was much more emotional for me than it was in the book. I was in tears in the theater.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the movie. I told myself that I wasn't going to be buying anymore dvds, but I'm going to break that promise to myself and buy it when it comes out in a few weeks.
Lastly, Cecilia's green dress was just as gorgeous as depicted in the book. Fantastic.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood

-- by Miranda

I just want to start by saying that my mom is awesome.

That being said, this book is the memoir of Julie Gregory who grew up being taken to innumerable doctors by her mother in the never ending search to find what was wrong with her. In actuality, nothing is fundamentally wrong with Julie, but her mother is making her sick. It's a bizzare form of child abuse. I'm about halfway through the book now, and Julie is just starting to realize that maybe there isn't anything wrong with her. This comes at about the same time Julie's mother is trying to convince the cardiologist to do open-heart surgery on her daughter. Julie is 13 years old.

As a side note, I first heard of munchausen by proxy on an episode of Law & Order where a mother was killing her infants and making it look like crib death to garner the sympathy from friends and neighbors. People are crazy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Having finished Atonement, I'm taking a little break from English romance wrought with drama.

Yesterday I read the introduction to My FBI by Louis Freeh. He became director of the FBI in 1993 and ran the Bureau for almost 8 years. The book covers his attacks on the mafia (including the Donnie Brasco incident), his investigations of Bill Clinton (in the Lewinsky years) and the pre-September 11th war on terror.

Basically, it looks awesome. I lovelove biography and this guy is really smart, and apparently very well-liked and respected in Washington--certainly a rarity. Before taking over the FBI he was an agent and a federal judge.

I'm not going to do the chapter-by-chapter (probably) but I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Atonement Clip

-- by Miranda

In my comment on Ab's last entry about Atonement I mentioned Saoirse Ronan's Oscar clip. Well, I just happened to find it on YouTube. It's actually a bit longer in the begining than what they used on the Oscars, but it's the same part.

There are actually a ton of clips from Atonement on YouTube, but I only watched this one and one depicting the play practice.

Atonement - 1999

--by Abby (London, 1999)

Brilliant! In the jump to modern day we find old-lady Briony celebrating her 77th birthday. And she's losing her mind (glorious!)

So some truth comes out (truth? The whole book is fiction. There is no Briony. Whatever.) So the 'truth' is the anticlimactic death of Robbie before he ever makes it back to England and then Cecilia is taken out by a bomb dropped on a hospital some time later. That's fantastic. Much better than the happily ever after.

I now enthusiastically recommend this book.

The Lola and Marshall bits are disgusting. How wretched that they should appear happy together. Paul particularly should have suffered a bit.

I actually am now very curious to see how they handle this nonsense in the movie version. Do they just kill Robbie off, straight up? Or do they let him life in the fairy tale ending? The whole lying author thing seems difficult to convey in film. I will find out immediately. Or, like eventually.

Okay, I'm really pleased with this book, but am writing this after 7 consecutive entries and at midnight so no pearls of wisdom will be added at this time. Just that I love a book that ends with everyone dying. No loose ends, no sequels.

Atonement - Ch. 24

--by Abby (ending pg. 405)

Ah! Action! The war has hit London. Briony's hospital is overrun with the wounded and dying. Bones sticking through the skin, crude stitches, exposed intestines and brains. Disgusting!! I love it. What isn't better with a little blood on it?

The end of the chapter is a long letter of rejection for one of Briony's stories. It's her tale of the infamous day at the fountain. No forward progress is the critique. I can identify. Interestingly, the editors seem to think she's a man (since they ask if she's a doctor, not a nurse) and one of them apparently knows Cecilia from Girton.

Everything important in this story comes down to one day. Briony made an actual friend, encountered the horrors of war, learned to be a nurse, and was kindly rejected as a writer. The fact that she enjoyed her nursing and wants to be good at it makes me like her more. I hope she keeps that up, as opposed to abandoning it to be a brilliant writer. That would be lame.

Atonement – Ch. 25

--by Abby (ending pg. 422)

This chapter is Lola's wedding. Briony, not able to formulate a good reason against it, just sat in the back and watched Lola marry her unprosecuted rapist. All previous talk of Briony abandoning her fantasy-filled imagination is a pack of lies. She actually travelled miles on foot in order to be at the wedding and be seen but not speak. Her purpose was for Lola to wonder why she came. She's an odd girl.

I'm not sure what this all means for Robbie. I mean, if Briony recants, do they still try to prosecute Paul Marshall? Will Briony be too scared of her family to tell the truth still? Not much book left to find out….

Atonement – Ch. 26

--by Abby (ending at the end of Part III)

So we end this twisted and tragic tale.

I'm sad that we readers were not privy to Cecilia and Robbie's reunion. The short glimpse of their life together through Briony's eyes was hardly satisfying. After the long middle bit inside Robbie's head, I would have liked to see him regaining his sanity, bit by bit or in a rush when his feet hit Britain's shores or when he was finally in Cecilia's arms.

I did like Cee and Robbie's realization that they were wrong about young Hardman all these years. It seems it should soften their anger towards Briony, since the lie wasn't so extreme. The ending, with Briony's sign-off was a little melodramatic, but it does explain the bizarre and inconsistent style. How very Briony.

Based on three parts and some 400 pages, I think I'd recommend this book, but the first chapters were certainly more engaging than the second and third parts. The latter make the early chapters centered on Emily Tallis and Lola seem superfluous. I can see doing some delving into Lola's psyche so that readers can understand her silence in the accusations, but still. Why did I do all the reading about Emily Tallis' magic ability to track her family from her darkened bed? Hmmmmmm.

So there's another "chapter" coming set in 1999. One more entry coming.

Atonement - Ch. 22

--by Abby (ends pg. 362)

Briony has grown. It seems a large factor in her decision to go to medical school was to earn her independence. She's remained very introverted and is kind of alienating her family.

Since discovering 'Genre' it looks like she's off the deep end writing stories without characters or plot. Insanity. And she is not pleased that Cecilia hasn't written her back. Clearly she doesn't realize that depends on letters back and forth from France.

Atonement – Ch. 23

--by Abby (ending pg. 368)

Interesting news from Mr. Tallis—Lola and Paul Marshall are getting married. Not quite the scandal I expected, but still, I knew he was into her. Briony thinks she facilitated this union, but she hasn't seen Lola in like 5 years so I'm not really sure what that means.

The news has sent Briony into a shame spiral, which is fun. I hope she gets self-destructive and takes a lover. That would be fun.

Atonement - Ch. 20

--by Abby (the end of Part II)

Well Part II is over. It lasted nearly two days and drove Robbie Turner completely mad. I'm with Miranda in her sentiments that war sucks and this drags on. Nothing actually happened. Technically, Robbie didn't even make it home, though when last we left him the boats were coming. They didn't even find Mace.

Better luck in Part III.

Atonement - Ch. 21

--by Abby (Chapter 21 starts at the beginning of Part III and ends on page 356.)

Glorious. Back to Briony, now a nurse-in-training. Anything is a welcome change of pace from Robbie. Plus Briony has a pretty miserable little life, so that's nice. This chapter is wrought with premonitions of horror and attack on England. Other than that it just tells us that Briony barely has any friends and they all live in fear of the Sister.

I'm a little upset that no mention was made about Briony's feelings about the Robbie-didn't-rape-anyone situation. I'd like to know.

The word "strictures" was used. That amuses me.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Final Thougts on I Am America (And So Can You!)

-- by Miranda

Yeah, I probably could have thrown this at the end of my last post about IAA (ASCY!), but who knows if anyone is actually reading all the posts. But anyway, my final thoughts.

In the beginning I was worried that the style of writing would get old, but it never did. It was very funny and even subtle in some places ('The Stephen T. Colbert Award For The Literary Excelence'? Hee).

Bottom line: If you like The Colbert Report, you'll like the book.