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.
Monday, December 29, 2008
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.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
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
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
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
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?
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.
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
Monday, August 25, 2008
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.
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.
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
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.
Friday, August 1, 2008
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.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
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]gmail.com.
Love you readers!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Thursday, May 22, 2008
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
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.
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
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
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
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
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
As predicted it took me less than another day to finish 21. It did take me a bit longer to get to blogging. 'Tev.
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.
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
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 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.
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
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
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
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: http://deweydonationsystem.org/
Monday, March 3, 2008
Sunday, March 2, 2008
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.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
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
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.
--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.
--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.
--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….
--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.
--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.
--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.
--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.
--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
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.