Monday, December 14, 2009

Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court - Anna Leonowens

This story is the inspiration for the musical "The King and I" and its various film adaptations. I have to say, Rogers and Hammerstein have a better eye than me. The book was sort of... excruciating? Okay, more detail to follow, but the short version is: Rent the movie.

As is wont to happen in a memoir, the author has a certain perspective of herself that she tries to get across. Less concern is given to story-telling and more is given to the emotional impact of the author's own experiences. In this case, the book is some combination of a travel log, a history textbook and a memoir. The travel log was unexpected, and Leonowens dedicates long chapters to her trip to and from Siam. Given that there is no plot or character development in these portions, I found them quite dull. The description of the landscape and ruins has some great imagery, but without context it falls flat.

Leonowens, possibly as a teacher with an interest in history herself, includes long passages following the important events of Siam through several hundred years of rule, including some of the personal exploits of the King's ancestors. Mostly, this section is really dry, reminiscent of my middle school textbooks. Since this is all presented before the King or his court are introduced, my interest level was zero and I skimmed through this really quickly.

Finally, there was the memoir. Leonowens is somewhere between ethnocentric and xenophobic and a lot of the more personal stories she tells involve her being terrified and afraid for her life. She seems to be trying to garner some empathy for her difficult situation. She also emphasizes her deep love for her students, though she barely mentions her time in the classroom and only talks about two in particular (one a princess and the favorite of the King). In her interactions with the King she seems to view him as a petulant child in need of scolding and she has little respect for the traditions and culture of Siam. When she finally leaves she seems bitter and it is difficult to tell if she enjoyed any of her time in Siam. Whatever heroic, brave, tolerant picture she tried to paint of herself failed. I found her judgemental, superior, and certainly not a savvy traveler of the Orient or an early feminist.

Pass on this one.

Monday, November 23, 2009


My most recent read, Little Women was the first book I read on my fancy new Kindle. This magical book machine is my first plunge into reading books any way other than the old-fashioned way. I thought a review of the medium was called for.

Reading on Kindle - I have a second generation Kindle, and it is easy to read with it. The text is easy to see, the pages are easy to navigate and on the rare occasion that I am unfamiliar with a word it has a built in dictionary. I didn't miss the tactile feel of a book or dog-earing the pages, but that may have been the novelty. One interesting dynamic was missing my usual feeling of superiority when reading in public. Nothing makes me feel like a scholar like holding an 800-page tome next to someone flipping through People. Not that I don't read People, I just like to feel smart when I'm reading a big book.

Buying Literature with Kindle - I got Little Women for free. There is a rather large library of books that have been formatted for Kindle by volunteers and which are available for free. I've seen quite a few available for $0.99 as well. These don't have the fancy read-aloud feature and the format is a little squidgy sometimes, but for no money its nothing that can't be overcome. I've hesitated to spend more than $5 on Kindle books. I'm still getting over the whole concept of not having the book on the shelf. The actual technology is great though, I can browse on my Kindle (with free wireless access built in) and buy the book, which downloads in about a minute. Instant gratification feels good. Anything I buy automatically charges to the payment option I have set up on my Amazon account. Very convenient.

Kindle vs. Book - Other than my perceived drop in status, Kindle has some obvious advantages. I went on a trip and carried 4 books into the airport which took up less space than one paperback. I can add notes without feeling like I'm destroying literature. Kindle fits in my purse, but if I'm not in the mood for my current read, I can browse magazines or blogs while I'm in line at the bank. Options, baby. On the other hand, if I buy a great book on Kindle, I can't really lend it to a friend. The whole migration of literature between me and my co-author will fall apart.

Miscellany - I haven't found a way to buy a Kindle book for someone else on Amazon. What if I want to gift a book to someone? Or more likely, how do I put a book on my Christmas wishlist in Kindle format? Shopping for books is a little weird too - I'm used to judging books by their covers. No colors, no weight, just the blurb. It is hard to tell how long books are.

Final verdict - I think I'm going to grow to cherish my Kindle, but we're still getting to know one another. If I can get over the vanity of carrying around large books and buying shiny covers, it should all work out fine.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

Abby experiences nostalgia through literature. I don't remember what age I was when I read Little Women the first time, but the second reading gave me weird deja vu. I must have been pre-teen because the parts of the story that stuck with me then were parts that would barely register now.

Little Women is the story of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. The story follows the girls for about 13 years - opening with all the girls in their teens and closing with the girls as adults, married and with children.

The theme centers strongly around Christian values and especially the role of a woman in a good home. The story is set at the end of the Civil War and at the beginning the four March girls and their mother are running the household alone while their father contributes to the war effort. I think the book is forward-thinking in its way and in its time. The women are portrayed as strong, multi-dimensional, capable and diverse. Meg is mothering, Jo is the "boy" of the family, Beth the saintly homebody and Amy the ambitious, precocious artist. While Little Women certainly doesn't break down any walls with a feminist message, it does an excellent job of showing the depth, difficulties, and strength required of a woman in that traditional role. The women and men alike struggle with the mold they are expected to fit, and at times rebel and act against self-interest when they find that mold uncomfortable. The novel loses its revolutionary edge in the end where each character finds happiness in their own way in a very traditional life. Each girl reaching adulthood ends the book married to a respectable man and finds happiness and fulfillment in bearing children and being a good wife.

As an interesting point on growing up, I was very amused by the parts of the story that were the most familiar on the second read. I assume these were the bits that resonated the most strongly with younger me. In my days as a young reader, I was more into action, more sensationalist. At one point Amy falls through some ice on the river and nearly dies. This chapter I could have recited the plot at the opening. I think its been 15 years since I read this book, but I remembered exactly how this exciting scene played out. I also remembered the scene when Jo cuts off all of her hair and sells it, so I must have been vain in my youth. The book also deals with death, and reading the passages about the long illness of one character filled me again with dread and confusion.

What I did not see on my first read were the really obvious messages. The book was clearly written for the betterment of young women, and Mrs. March speaks to the faults and triumphs of her four girls as a lesson to the reader. Any girl could identify with one or more of the sisters and take that girl's lessons as her own. From a strictly stylistic standpoint, the character development is the opposite of subtle. After a break in time Alcott often describes the changes in character in detail, up front and relays the reactions of other characters in equally plain language. As a tool to teach young girls it is probably really effective, but for an adult reader it sort of took away the mystery when we're reunited with a character.

Anyway, I can recommend this book to readers young and old, its a good story and well-written. If I were handing it to my own daughter, I'd probably include a disclaimer that the book is a period piece. While I do believe that happiness is found in the love of one's friends and family, the book only acknowledges one type of family - man, wife, chilluns. Not exactly the message I'd want to send my daughter.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vanished Smile - R.A. Scotti

Another fabulous woman author. Vanished Smile is the story of the shocking theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. The portrait was eventually returned, undamaged two years later. The self-proclaimed thief brought it to Italy, ostensibly to return her to her homeland. The motivation for the theft is still somewhat of a mystery as the thief was generally regarded to be too stupid to pull it off and had no motive whatsoever.

The book is extremely readable, the characters are familiar and accessible and its hard not to let your imagination run wild. The story of the heist is somewhat of a Thomas Crowne affair, but the really interesting part is the motivation. After all, the Mona Lisa is the most recognizable painting in the world. Its value is essentially nothing, because it couldn't be sold on any recognized market. Scotti recounts a tale involving an expert forger, a charming con man and a few very stupid Americans.

Aside from profiling the various persons involved with the case-including the famous Inspector Clouseau, the guard on duty, the Louvre's head of security and the thief himself- Scotti writes a biography of Mona Lisa herself. From the contradicting theories about the model for the portrait to her journey to France, the various kings who loved her and neglected her, to the high-tech analysis she's received in the Information Age, the book treats the painting as a person with a long and fascinating history. She's a lover, that is for sure.

The robbery exposed huge holes in the Louvre's security, which appears to have been nonexistent. In addition to instigating a huge overhaul of the Louvre, the incident caused real tension in Europe at a time when tension was already high. The French assumed the robbery was the work of the Italians and the Italians blamed the French for the loss of a national treasure.
I recommend this book and intend to read more of her work in the future.

Sin in the Second City - Karen Abbott

Sin in the Second City: madams, ministers, playboys, and the battle for America's soul

Wordy title. This is another in my feminist experiment reading only books by women. The book is an accounting of the intersection of immigration, white slavery, politics, and the sex trades in Chicago between approximately 1895 and 1915. The book centers around the Everleigh sisters, two infamous madames with the most notorious brothel in the country, possibly in the world - The Everleigh Club. Other main characters include a zealous minister who for years held midnight services in front of the Club and the aldermen, mayors and prosecutors that served during the sisters' reign.

I found the book really interesting, the sisters are clearly modeled as heroines, early feminists defending sex workers. The Everleigh Club is pretty much the most luxurious brothel ever and fantastically profitable. Abbott clearly did an incredible amount of research, every detail is substantiated and conflicting accounts are often presented. There's also a surprising amount of dialog, taken from personal accounts, letters and news stories.

The Club operated during and after a population boom in Chicago, following the World's Fair. Most of the new residents were immigrants and young women in search of work were coming into the city alone. Stories of white slavery started a moral uprising in England and preachers in the States saw to it that the U.S. followed suit. Eventually, this led to the formation of the FBI, stronger laws against pimps and prostitutes and against kidnappers and white slavers. It also shines a light on the racism, classism and xenophobia of Americans at that time.

I think the most fascinating dynamic for me (other than the sisters' ostentatious and largely fictional life stories) was the virgin/whore perspective of reformers and lawmakers. A woman snatched from the train depot was an innocent daughter in need of protection until she was raped and forced into prostitution at which point the young woman was seen as a corrupter and temptress. These women, too ashamed to return to their families after being raped (or gang raped) were arrested and prosecuted with the same zeal as their kidnappers. Although sex workers today are not held with equal social standing as teachers or accountants or plumbers, we've clearly come a long way in the last hundred years. Not far enough, but far enough to (mostly) know the difference between a victim and a criminal.

All in all a great read for anyone interested in political corruption, vice, Chicago or stories of moral outrage. The style is narrative and the author does an excellent job showing her perspective without inserting herself into the story (I'm looking at you Ben Mezrich.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

- Miranda

I finished Juliet, Naked last night, and at the time I was really disappointed. Now that I've had some time to let the last chapter sink into my brain, it's not as bad as I had originally thought. It's no About A Boy, but it's a good read and the emotionally stunted main characters and music themes are signature Hornby.

The plot is a little convoluted, but essentially it's about three people who, through a series of ridiculous yet not totally unbelievable circumstances, realize they have sleepwalked through the last 15+ years of their lives. The main characters are: Tucker Crowe, a singer-songwriter from the early '80s with only one notable record to his name (Juliet) who hasn't been seen or heard from since halfway through the Juliet tour. Duncan is one of only a dozen or so people left in the world who not only has heard of Tucker Crowe, but actually considers him a musical genius. And Annie, Duncan's long suffering girlfriend. And by "long suffering" I mean that they've been dating for 15 years and have very little in common aside from hating the small seaside town in which they live.

One day Duncan recieves a copy of the first new Tucker Crowe album in 20+ years, a demo version of Juliet dubbed "Juliet, Naked." He listens to it and writes an embarassingly glowing review on his TC fansite basically saying that Naked is like the greatest thing ever and definitely better than the original Juliet. Annie listens to it (actually, she listens to it first, which pisses Duncan off royally) and writes her own review basically saying that the accoustic demos are nice and all, but the original Juliet is superior because the finished, polished product is always better than the rough draft. Tucker Crowe sends Annie an email thanking her for being the only reasonable person on the fansite (apparently he reads his own fansite. I totally would, too). Hijinks ensue.

One of my first complaints was the fact that Tucker's 6 year old son Jackson's dialog doesn't really read like an American 6yo speaking. I can't put my finger on which part is off, the American part or the 6yo part, but it's definitely not quite right. My other complaints are actually about the very last events in the book, and therefor obvious spoilers, so I'll just stop now.

Juliet, Naked was a decent read from a great contemporary author. I recommend it, but not too strongly. Solid B.

Next up: Under The Dome by Stephen King. I'm about 60 pages in and there's already been a lot of blood and gore and explosions. Basically, so far so good. :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Miranda's Reading...

... But Not Finishing.

I've found that working in the cataloging department at the library exposes me to hundreds of books that sound really good. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to read them all. I've started a few but I haven't finished many of them. Here are some of the books I've been kind of reading:

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Now, I've never heard anyone accuse Jodi Picoult of being a great writer. But her M.O. is tackling controversial moral arguments in her stories, and they seem very interesting. My Sister's Keeper is about a little girl who was born to be a genetic match for her older sister who has leukemia. Eventually older sister (can't remember their names and can't be bothered to look them up. One was Anna...) needs a kidney transplant and younger sister decides it's high time she was given the rights to her own body. So she decides to sue her family. Now, I'm all about women and young women having the right to decide what medical procedures are done to their bodies.... but... I just can't get behind this book. Maybe it's because I'm older than the characters in the book so I have more perspective, or maybe it's that I'm the older sister so my situation isn't the same, but I can't imagine letting my sister die for selfish reasons. I didn't finish the book, so I don't actually know how it ends. Maybe I'll pick it up again someday, but for now there are other books I'd rather read.

Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath. There's actually nothing wrong with this book. My only complaint is that the FBI characters are cartoonishly dim. I get that there's a rivalry between the detectives and the FBI but there's a more subtle way to go about this. It was actually really interesting, like an extended episode of Law & Order: SVU. The main character is Jacqueline Daniels (which some people think is too twee, but since I actually have a cousin named Jacqueline Daniels, it seems perfectly plausible. And unlike the Jack in the book, my cousin Jackie was born with the name, she didn't marry into it) and she's kind of awesome. She's a great female character, not stereotypical at all (which is great considering J.A. Konrath is a man), tough and funny. Even though the book describes her as a redhead, in my brain I picture her as Mary from In Plain Sight, only less annoying. So why did I stop reading it if I don't have any complaints? Well, it was taking me forever to read (I usually read just before bed, and the crimes are pretty gruesome), and I just got the next book on my list, and it takes precedent:

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I'm only two chapters in, but it's pretty good so far. I've liked almost everything else I've read by Hornby (A Long Way Down is another I started but never finished [possibly because I started reading in an airport and the title seemed inappropriate so I switched to another book I had with me) so I've got high hopes for this.

I think the last book I finished was Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was awesome. I want to read more of Anderson's books to see if they're as good as this one was. Wintergirls is the story of 19-year-old Lia after the death of her best friend Cassie. The whole book is told from Lia's perspective, and it has a stream-of-consciousness to it that is very poetic. Lia suffers from anorexia, and the way she deals with food and those trying to get her to eat is really compelling. A friend of mine once said that she prefers books that are about people, not events, and that's what Wintergirls is. There are very few "events" in the book, it's all about Lia and how she interprets the world around her. A wonderful book, pick it up in the Young Adult section of your local library/Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, Wharton was the first woman to receive that honor. I've read another of her books, Ethan Frome and I decidedly preferred The Age of Innocence.

Our protagonist, Mr. Newland Archer, is a well-to-do young man in Old New York. He's a respected member of society, about to become engaged to a lovely, nice girl from one of the best families in the city and he values the old New York propriety and tradition. Of course, that all goes straight to hell right from the get-go. The night he and May announce their engagement, Newland falls in love with May's cousin the Countess Olenska who is recently estranged from her Polish husband.

Wharton writes with one eye on the excruciating detail necessary to give the reader the true picture of the structured and suffocating New York society and the other on the complex characters who are each lovable in their conventional and unconventional strengths and weaknesses.

I find it interesting that the story is told from Newland's perspective, not that of his loyal and proper wife or his troubled love. Perhaps it is telling of the opportunities for philosophy and freedom that were the domain of men at that time. Anyway, despite his determination to buck convention and abandon the society that carefully raised him, Newland is after all a slave to propriety. He cannot even articulate his desires to anyone but the Countess, who remains largely an enigma in the story. Their meetings are infrequent, and though they are passionate and emotional the two are never physical. This is actually the one thing I recall from Ethan Frome, Frome is in love with someone other than his wife and the culminating act of betrayal in the novel is when the two hold either end of a handkerchief.

I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it. Wharton's tone conveys irony and disgust with the conventionalities of the society she was raised in and there is a subtle humor that is really enjoyable. Lastly, though the plot is far from complex, it kept me guessing and I found the ending to be quite a surprise. It was sad, part bittersweet part disappointment, but it doesn't pander.

Incidentally, I'll move the film to the top of my Netflix queue and do a follow-up on the movie interpretation. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. Generally I dislike the film version of books I enjoy, but the cast and Scorsese factor have me a bit excited.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Defeated Sigh

Well, that looks kind of terrible.

Now I need to reread The Time Traveler's Wife just so I can remind myself that it's really a fantastic, painful, romantic, heartbreaking book. I knew it would be rough to transition this story to the screen, but this trailer looks like they've taken all the depth and darkness out of the book and just left in the love story. Which mostly defeats the purpose of the book. The book was terrifically dark, and the strength of the story was showing how these two people were able to able to pull joy from a life and love that was ultimately doomed. And I really really hate that they show her pregnant in the trailer. Either they just gave away a huge plot development, or they cut out the part about Clare's miscarriages. Which was possibly the biggest struggle of their marriage, and therefor the most rewarding when they finally get little Alba.

Who has my copy? It's not on my bookshelf. Bessman?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Egg and I - Betty MacDonald

"A beloved literary treasure for more than half a century, Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I is a heartwarming and uproarious account of adventure and survival on an American frontier. "

Betty MacDonald's autobiographical novel does a few quick pages on childhood and launches headlong into a painstaking account of her first few years of marriage on a chicken ranch in Washington state. MacDonald fills the stories with humor, self-deprecating humor, panic, loneliness, achievement and some more humor. I laughed constantly through this book.

I also learned a bit. Apparently early 1900's farm life is centered heavily around growing, preserving and eating your own food. MacDonald revels in the fare available and discusses in excruciating detail nearly every aspect of the planting, tending, harvesting, preserving and preparing fruits and veggies, and the birthing, raising, butchering, preserving and preparing meat. And that's before she even gets into the chickens.

I highly recommend this book, its a quick read from a very clever female writer with an early feminist voice. Oh, and did I mention that the old Ma & Pa Kettle movies are based on MacDonald's neighbors in this book? Yep, they are.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Keeper by Sarah Langan

The Keeper is a pretty good horror novel. Sure the story's been done before (unspeakable evil destroys small Maine town), but Sarah Langan is a very talented writer. I actually started losing my shit when I thought bad things were about to happen to my favorite character (bad things did happen, but not what I thought). The characters and relationships are all handled very well, even the tertiary characters. Langan manages to bring depth to characters who only get maybe a few paragraphs. It's impressive, really, that by the end you feel like you know the people in Bedford, you're familiar with the different families. It's great because when you care so much about so many characters, it makes it really difficult to predict who is going to be killed off. In lesser novels you may only be really introduced to a few characters, and it's usually pretty easy to pick out which ones are being set up to die. Not so in The Keeper.

The story is actually pretty complicated to spell out here, but if you're interested AlabamaPink (RIP) did a wonderful review over at Pajiba. The Basics: Susan Marley, once a pretty, normal girl, has withered away, both physically and mentally. She wanders the town daily (and through the dreams of the townfolk), never speaking. People say she's a witch. Her former lover, Paul Martin, failed-husband, high school teacher, and town drunk, tries to help Susan and unwittingly sets in motion events that lead to horrifying evil being released upon Bedford. Susan's sister, Liz, is the protagonist of the story, but it's hard to say if she's the main character. Liz and her boyfriend Bobby (the son of Bedford's only doctor) have dreams of moving out of Bedford and never returning, but Susan has other plans for them.

Really there are so many secondary and tertiary characters that it's impossible to even begin to list. And I can't tell my favorite parts of the story without giving away some of the plot. It's not the best horror novel I've read (that title still belongs to King's 'Salem's Lot) but it's definitely worth a read.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spook - Review 2

Miranda read this last year. 

Her synopsis is good. I really enjoyed this book, it took me less than a week to read, although it was a week in which I spent a good amount of time in airports. 

I found Roach funny and refreshing. As an engineer (with a scientifically inquiring mind) I question somewhat her devotion to science. She skips over a lot of conversation with scientists with the excuse that its scientific jibberish (which it likely is to anyone without a graduate degree in physics or chemistry or neurobiology) but it does sort of hurt her scientific credibility. I would have enjoyed a little more science, but I'm probably a minority. Its a perfect science book for non-scientists. Its really a read for optimistic skeptics.

The facts and fictions are surprising and amusing and they made me want to subscribe to the American Journal of Paranormal Sciences. That seems to be a longstanding page-turner with some stories.

So I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the afterlife, in the bizarre corners of science, or in the history of humans search for the meaning of life. Really anyone could enjoy this book, and I fully intend to read Roach's other works as well.

Red Azalea - Anchee Min

A while ago I read Becoming Madame Mao by Min, which was a semi-fictional accounting of the life of Madame Mao. This is the nonfictional accounting of the life of Anchee Min during roughly the same time period. She grew up during the cultural revolution in China and her recounting of the time is really moving.

Min tells of her sort of typical childhood in Shanghai through a painfully personal lens. Unlike some biographies that are dryly factual trying not to over-value their own experiences or others that seem written to make the writer the victim, to justify their actions, Min tells her story with emotions bared, not qualifying or trying to make sense of the events. Perhaps the strange circumstances of time and place make it feel like a period piece. For me as a reader, it can only be a deeply personal account because I have no alternative telling against which to compare it.

Min's life is in fact atypical for a young woman of the cultural revolution. She spends years working on a communist 'model farm' as do thousands of youths, but is later brought back to the city to act in a film version of a new opera by Madame Mao. Instead of fame and status she's rebuffed and falls into a low position but befriends a man with a high position under Madame Mao and learns the true nature of Communist China's government.

Min begins as an enthusiastic communist, full of energy to dedicate to fulfilling all the propaganda promise of the new China, but as she rises she is pushed back by the ambition and pettiness of those around her. Her patriotic zest is further destroyed by love and friendship for which she forsakes her communist ideals and becomes a more complete person longing for acceptance and loyalty. 

The love story between Min and her friend Yan is particularly powerful, not just taboo as a relationship between two women, but creating a personal loyalty unacceptable on the farm. Later Min must suffer the relationship between Yan and a new boyfriend which nearly destroys Min and (I think) colors all of her self-destructive actions thereafter. 

The book is well-written and paints a really fascinating picture of a time and place that is difficult to know. Min is a natural protagonist and you feel for her throughout her struggle, even when you disagree with her actions. It is difficult to imagine being as friendless and alone as she is and still soldiering on. I highly recommend this book, I found it better than Becoming Madame Mao (particularly the style, which I found distracting in Becoming). 

And, yes. I love some books about China. It's my thing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

He's a Stud, She's a Slut by Jessica Valenti

- Miranda

I had originally intended to do a real review of this book, including references to specific passages, but Abby was in town this week and I handed the book off to her, so this is going to be yet another lame review from me. Today's subject: He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know by founder Jessica Valenti.

Parts of this book were wonderful. Unfortunately, while the 50 double standards makes for an interesting title, it hurts the book. Each chapter is only about 2 pages long, which is another problem. Many of the subjects in deserved to be delved into deeper than is possible in two pages. 

Even with the short chapters, it sometimes felt like Valenti was stretching to make her topics fit the 50 double standards. Many of them are very similar, and especially as I was reaching at the end it seemed like she was repeating herself.

Despite its flaws, it's a good book. The information in the book is very important and interesting, and Valenti is a good writer, as she's demonstrated on And the length of the chapters is nicely bite-size, so even if you only have a few minutes to read, you can polish off a whole chapter. I'm hoping to check out some of Valenti's other books in the future, and hopefully they'll be just as good/better than this one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stori Telling by Tori Spelling.

- Miranda

Why, yes. I do choose classy books. I'm suffering from a pretty terrible head cold right now, so I'll keep it short and simple. First of all, I love the title. I'm a sucker for a good pun. My feelings about Tori Spelling, author, are pretty much the same as my feelings about Tori Spelling, actress. She's servicable, charming, funny, and talented enough to get by. She has a reputation as a terrible actress that she doesn't totally deserve (she was in no way the worst actor to appear on 90210, trust me). She aslo has a reputation as a spoiled little rich girl, which she also doesn't totally deserve. Every single person on the planet wants to be "normal," and Tori explains that she really would have liked to have a normal childhood. But you can't complain about growing up wealthy... it's seen as society's ideal and nobody is going to give her sympathy. Tori recognizes that, and I can understand somewhat the position she's in. It's like... nobody wants to hear about the 24-year-old who can't find clothes in her size in grown-up styles because she's too thin. Nobody feels sory for you, but it doesn't make you feel any better about your situation. 

Overall I think the book is an easy breezy read for anyone who is a fan of 90210 or made-for-tv movies (Tori's bread-and-butter). I think it's a little scattered, she probably could have had two books, one with behind-the-scenes gossip and another with her family drama (you will love your mother so much after reading about Candy Spelling). 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cunt by Inga Muscio

cunt: a declaration of independence

Randa warned that our language rating would bump up to "R" if I wrote about this book. Bring it on.

So I found this little gem in the "Women's Studies" section of my local Barnes & Noble. I read it in less than 24 hrs (with an 8hr nap halfway through). I was hooked.

cunt is a sort of manifesto from Muscio on the meaning of being a woman and how to be a woman and a feminist and how those things depend on learning to love oneself--every little bit, even the ones with naughty sounding names. It's written in three sections, as follows.

The Word
A short prelude discussing the history of the word "cunt". It wasn't always one of the words you can't say on television. It used to be a positive word. It still ought. Its time to take it back. Own it.

The Anatomical Jewel
Everything you ever wanted to know about your anatomy. And some things you may not have wanted to know. And some things you didn't even know you could know. This section is the bulk of the book, it covers everything from the biology to the politics to spirituality, then moves on to the sociology of western men and women, the perception of sexually active women and the culture of rape in the US and the west. All quite smoothly and brilliantly.

How to reclaim women's rightful place in the world. Not Hillary at the top of the food chain, not legislated equal rights, but truly equal representation, equal respect. Everywhere. Period. And ways to be a vigilante about it and against violence.

Throughout the book Muscio threads some of her own story, her experiences and her family's, as well as including a lot of work from other writers. The whole book is really inspiring, moving. At one point I actually burst into tears, I sobbed for probably 5 minutes. Just as the title says, it feels like independence, freedom. Now as the glow wears off, I'm not sure I'm ready to jump into all the suggestions headfirst, but I want to try a bit. One thing Muscio suggests is spending a year in woman-world, abstaining from all media, art and literature produced by men. This would essentially mean shutting off the tv, skipping the movies, reading the news exclusively on women-run websites and reading only books and magazines by female authors.

I'm not ready to go that far (lets face it, I'm already invested in Heroes) but I think I am going to dedicate myself to female literature for the rest of the year. I'm counting cunt as number one and I purchased Spin Sisters by Myrna Blyth. I'll have to shelf about 6 books I recently purchased by male authors, but they'll be just as readible in 2010.

I strongly recommend this book to all women and men as well. If only as an eye-opener its a compelling read and a book that makes you think. After blowing through this in less than a day, I'm already considering re-reading it because there was so much to take in that I don't want to lose.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Rum Diary - Pt 2

I finished this. I missed my big 100th post opportunity. Sigh.

Okay, so review. I enjoyed this book. In the end there was no more solid plot than the beginning. It truly was like a Diary. Just a record of events, without rhyme or reason.

Like other Thomson, the protagonist is self-destructive, big on substance use. The situations are outrageous, the only woman in the story is treated horribly and has some serious issues.

It's an interesting look at the media as well, the behavior of the reporters is less-than-professional. It makes you wonder who throws together the things you read. And who chooses the stories. And how it all gets paid for.

I recommend The Rum Diary for lunch hour reading. It isn't heavy or long. It isn't exactly light-hearted or particularly funny, but it was a nice distraction from life. A quick transport to another place and time is always nice.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Welcome to UBC's 100th post. Half of which are probably posts about Atonement.

I just finished Good Omens, which was one of the books I got for Christmas. It was very good, and funny. However, I think I would have enjoyed it more had I just read straight through, instead of stopping and starting the way I did. I mean, there is no reason it should take me 2+ months to finish a 400 page book. I'm a little embarrased, but there were all these House and SVU marathons that required my attention.

Anyway, the gist of the book is that Armaggedon is upon us, but things aren't exactly going to plan. You see, eleven years ago there was a slight mix-up at a hospital, and the anti-christ was given to the wrong family. Oopsies! The cast of characters in the book is pretty vast, so I'll just mention that my favorite part of the book was the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War is a fiery redhead (with red eyes to match) who supplies weapons wherever they're needed; Famine sells "diets" to celebutards; Pollution (who took over when Pestilence retired) spends his time in oil-tankers and chemical plants; Death... well, Death doesn't do much except talk in all-caps and dominate trivia games. And they don't ride horses, they ride motorcycles. 

Good Omens made Pajiba's list of the Generation's Best Books, coming in at #4.

Up next: Stori Telling by Tori Spelling. For reals.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Rum Diary - Thompson

I started this book over the weekend, I'm nearly half-way through.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which I've read, seen the movie a dozen times--its an excellent representation). The Rum Diary is sort of similar in tone, though slower in pace. Fear and Loathing sort of lurches aimlessly through the drunken, drug-addled haze of nonsense. The Rum Diaries is more of a drunken meandering about Puerto Rico.

Both books have an interesting lack of plot. This one seems more focused on the situation of the other characters in the same bizarre environment as opposed to the influence of the environment on the anti-heroes of Fear and Loathing. Both are filled with purposefully purposeless nomads seeking some sort of elusive fulfillment. Happiness is certainly beyond them, but a vague peace may be attainable.

I love Thompson, I'll let you know how it all finishes out.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Welcome to the Monkey House - Vonnegut

I just finished this short story collection. It was great. Some random stuff some really good stuff.

"Welcome to the Monkey House" was fantastic. I've passed this book on already.

Next up, Hunter S. Thompson's the rum diary.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

From the NY Times Paper Cuts blog: "Like a DVD loaded with extras, the book includes the original text of the Regency classic juiced up with 'all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem.'"

Aparently the opening line is "It's a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possesion of brains must be in want of more brains."

I haven't read Pride and Prejudice, but I'm still not sure how I feel about this new "reworking" of the classic book. Thoughts?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Good Trash

I know we here are really bad at challenges, but I had to come here and post this:

Now, I read Flowers in the Attic and two of the sequels back in the day, and they are some of the best trashy novels ever. This totally makes me want to reread Flowers.