Saturday, August 30, 2008

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

I wanted to read this book because it was a NY Times Best Book of the Year and I've enjoyed several on the list. After all, who could resist a book that Margaret Atwood described as "Not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning but essential reading for our times.?" Well, apparently Jackie could because she put it down after reading 100 pages.

Briefly, this is a story of a Turkish poet in exile who returns to Turkey and goes to a back-water town near the Iranian border to write about Islamic girls who are committing suicide but also because he might be able to hit on a beautiful woman he briefly met in college who is now divorced. Sounds like a page turner.

Well, the poet is a shallow, self-center child of a man at 47. What an idiot. This is the kind of book Becky talks about where the dialogue makes you want to curl up on the couch and overdose on something (booze, pills, "Friends" reruns). After 250 pages of this inane dialogue I thought of quiting the book but decided the story might come together in a brilliant conclusion. After all, John Updike said "...A major work...with suspense at every dimpled vortex (whatever the heck that means)...Pamuk [is Turkey's] most likely candidate for the Nobel Prize." John must have gotten a different edition than the one I read. I now feel like the little boy on Christmas morning who sees a giant pile of horse manure in the yard and starts digging to the bottom because he's sure there's a pony in there somewhere. Take it from me, after 426 pages, there is no pony.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

If there's anyone who might enjoy this, out of those who read this blog (family-wise), it'd be Amanda. Though I'm not sure exactly how you'd feel about it because I got the same feeling reading this as I did reading Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and - dare I say it - Augusten Burroughs Running With Scissors. I dare to say it fits somewhere in the middle, which may be a turnoff to Amanda altogether. But it made me laugh in the same way those books did, and had the same overall tone.
This book almost won the Pulitzer prize when it came out and I've seen it over the years but have put off picking it up until now. It's definitely a book I can see a young 20-early 30-something guy relating to quite well. But being an (early) 30-something gal, there were definitely bits I could relate to as well (like when he tried out for the San Francisco season of The Real World...I never did so, but all of the references made complete sense to me, as they would most people of my generation).
Anyway, it's a literary autobiography about this guy who moves to San Francisco from Chicago after the death of his parents to start a hipster paper, raising his younger brother and dealing with being a young guy trying to support his family. He has to deal with his other siblings who are more or less in the picture when it's convenient, all while trying to figure out who he is.
Sometimes the writing style got on my nerves with it's stream of consciousness feeling, and going back and forth between the past and present took a second to get used to. But for the most part it helped the book flow and move quite well, and there were definitely some laugh out loud moments.
Do I think it's one of the best books I've ever read? No. But typically when I read books that have been up for or have won the Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award, etc., I feel as if it's praise for something maybe not quite worthy. Or maybe I just don't get it.
But that's not to say I didn't enjoy the book, I actually really enjoyed it. But it was a book about a guy who dealt with some really heavy family stuff pretty early in life and had to grow up (though whether he actually did grow up for a while there is still up in the air) earlier than most. It's a "coming of age" piece that I think has really resonated with a lot of people for no other reason, perhaps, than because he was able to put on paper what others can only partially conceptualize. It was good. A quick(ish) read and a book I think will find itself worked into literary and pop culture references for years to come. Worthy of the Pulitzer Prize? Probably not. Worthy of your time? Yep.

Stori Telling

Most everyone who reads this review (hell, everyone) will undoubtedly lose most of whatever respect they had for me. But I don't care. That's right, people - I bought AND read Stori Telling by Tori Spelling. Soak it up. Breath it in. You're related to me.
Why did I pick up this book, you ask? A few reasons. One, it's summertime and dammit, I wanted something to read at the beach. Forget the fact that I read this on a sunny, hot Hoboken day laying on my leather couch for 7 hours until I finished it. Forget all of that. Forget the fact that I called several Barnes and Nobles (and, admittedly, a few Border's) to see if anyone had a copy. Sure, maybe it should've made me a bit embarrassed that this book was sold out everywhere (meaning that "the masses" were picking it up, and that usually isn't good). But I was shameless. I called everywhere saying "Do you have Stori Telling by Tori Spelling?" trying to sound as intelligent and worldly as I am while also really hoping they would put it on hold for me.
Second? I was curious. Maybe it stemmed from getting sucked into a marathon of her reality show on the Oxygen network "Tori and Dean." Maybe it is because I grew up watching her on 90210. Maybe it was because I always kinda thought she was an idiot and spoiled and entitled and annoying, and then when I watched that stupid marathon thought "Wait, she's kinda funny." Who cares. I bought it, and that's that.
So. The review? Well, none of you will read it, I'm sure, and that's just fine. I proudly have it displayed right up there with "The Bell Jar" and "Anna Karinina" and "Memoirs of a Geisha." Well, maybe not proudly, but it's there. And I am going to stick by this purchase because it was funny. And light. And a quick read. And it didn't make me curl up into the fetal position and contemplate the best ways to take your life. And I'm a firm believer that not every book has to change my life. Sure, it'd help if I learned something from it, but does it count that I learned that Tori Spelling only had one nose job as opposed to the several it's always reported she has gotten? Yeah, didn't think so.
Sure, it's fluffy and ridiculous and I'm sure you all have your opinions of Tori Spelling and her life so I won't bother trying to explain any of it away. I stand by it. I own it. It's a toss up between what was fluffier this summer, Stori Telling or Valley of the Dolls. But both have lots of pink on the cover, so that counts for something, right? Ok, you may proceed to mock me now.

Monday, August 25, 2008

No Ordinary Time

Okay, I know...another biography. I admit I'm hooked. I actually started reading this book about 10 years ago but it just didn't grab me. So, after all this time I decided to give it another try and I'm glad I did. It was well worth the investment of time and effort (all 635 pages). Doris Kearns Goodwin (Team of Rivals) is a clear and concise writer and, in this case has written a compelling and informative story, subtitled, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.
As a child growing up in post- WWII America, the nation was still basking in the afterglow of the FDR presidency. It was a time of great national pride and growing prosperity after winning "the war". Although FDR had died in 1945 during his fourth term in office (can you imagine if we had GWB around that long?!!), his legacy was (and is) legion. Eleanor Roosevelt also remained a popular and much admired public figure, often appearing on television (a new media source in the 50s) to make public service announcements. After reading this book I have a much greater understanding of what it must have been like to have lived during "the war" and some of this nations darkest hours. I also gained a deeper appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices made by both Franklin and Eleanor during this critical and historic time. Franklin, an eternal optimist and Eleanor, a poster-child for civil rights and social justice, formed an unlikely, yet powerful partnership.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about America's role in WWII. In summary, Doris Kearns Goodwin writes, "the Roosevelt years had witnessed the most profound social revolution in the country since the Civil War- nothing less than the creation of modern America.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Apparently, Mom was not that impressed by this book, but I really enjoyed it. I read "Omnivore's Dilema" last year and found it compelling, so I was excited about this one. This book is more concise and doesn't go into as much detail as his first book, but that was okay with me. I enjoyed his down-to-earth eating recommendation: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That sums it up right there, but he explains each of those statements further and gives some guidance about how to choose the food you eat.
Every time I read one of these books (about food, health, or the environment), I get more and more frustrated with the way I eat and always want to improve myself and my habits. You would think it easy to eat food, not too much, mostly plants...but Pollan explains why so much of Western food culture conspires against people trying to do just that.
I found this book inspiring and hopeful and would recommend it to anyone who is curious about why the Western diet is slowly (or quickly) killing most people who adopt it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime by Mark Haddon

This book was wonderful! I was a little worried when the protagonist found a murdered dog on his neighbor's front lawn on the first page. I've been a little skittish ever since "The Road." But he didn't eat the dog or anything and instead decided to find out who killed the dog and write a murder mystery about it. Oh, and the main character is a young autistic boy with a fascination for numbers and "doing maths." You will fall in love with his way of looking at the world.
I thought Haddon did an amazing job of really helping me think like this little boy. I started looking at my own world differently. When I read the dust jacket I found out he used to work with autistic children it made a lot of sense. He really understood his character on a deep level and let him tell the story in his own words. Really, I don't want to give anything away by going deeper into the plot, but I think all of you would enjoy this one...a lot. One of my favorite books in a long time (along with "The Book of Lost Things.") Very unique, true-to-life, and entertaining. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

This is a great book. In brief, it's the story of Trond Sander, a Norwegian who has moved to the countryside and is caught up in reflections of critical events of his life at fifteen. The narrative keeps jumping between 1948 in a cabin with his father and the turn of the millenium, also in a cabin, but alone and facing the end of his life. It seems a simple enough story, but it becomes increasingly layered without being too dense or confusing. All it's depictions of friendship, family love, and discovery as the world becomes larger ring true. I liked the characters and cared what happened to them. I may read it a second time just because it is such a pleasant read but also because the events of his life at fifteen call out for retrospective. When I finished the final paragraph, the main point of the story (and a philosophy for life) jumped out and caught in my throat. I know this is a book I'll think about a lot over time. I recommend it to everyone.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Helping Me Help Myself by Beth Lisick

As promised, a FUNNY book. "Helping Me Help Myself" was perfect! I don't know if we were seperated at birth or something, but Lisick seems to be some sort of soul sister. Basically, Lisick, a determined skeptic of self-reflection and gurus, decided it might be a kick to try out different "self-help" theories throughout the year and see if she might get something out of it. Embarassingly, I've read most of the authors/gurus she wrote about: Julia Cameron ("The Artist's Way" - to help her creativity,) Deepak Chopra (to help her find her spirit,) and, of course, Richard Simmons! It was a riot!

Of course, my favorite chapter might have been when she tried to take some advice from a parenting book to get her 4-year old to behave. Reading about her trying to get him dressed in the morning brought tears to my eyes because I could relate on such a deep level. And like any great comic writer, she had me laughing at every awkward, painful experience. Seriously, I was afraid of waking some kids up in the nap room because I was having such a hard time stifling my laughter.

That being said, can I send a shout out for some recommendations of cheerful/funny books I can read? Dad's latest "Stealing Horses" might fit the bill, I'm not sure. But basically, I have had to put down two books recently that were just miserably depressing. Alice Sebold's (of "The Lovely Bones") "The Almost Moon" and Jeannette Walls "The Glass Castle" were both painful in their own way. I got about 3/5 of the way through both of them before stopping. Sebold's was about a woman who murdered her dementia-stricken mother and I just didn't care that much about the main character. Plus, I couldn't relate at all...seriously. Did you hear that mom, couldn't relate at all. Her mom was pretty messed up and was basically never there for her daughter emotionally. And "The Glass Castle" was similar in the sense that it's a memoir about Walls growing up with her emotionally disturbed parents as they dragged she and her siblings across the country. The parents in both books were so horrible, I just didn't feel like reading any more. I understand that some parents are horrible but it's just not entertaining to read about such miserableness. At least, not right now. Not after "The Road." So any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

If I could only resist when someone said I really shouldn't do something, last Sunday and Monday would have been fine. I would have watched a little TV, maybe a movie, and cared for my ill daughter. But no. Becky had to say "You know a book you would really find interesting, but no, you really shouldn't read it. Amanda, you shouldn't. Never mind." Um, no. I can't never mind. And she handed over the name of it: The Road. She had given me a brief rundown: father and son on the road during some sort of nuclear winter...very bleak, depressing, yadda yadda yadda. I thought "Hey, I'm peak oil girl. I'm down with depressing. Gotta' embrace it, if you're gonna' face it, right?" Wrong. I shouldn't have read this book.

And mom, you DEFINITELY shouldn't read this book. You might not even want to read this review.
In short, this book IS about a man and his young son traveling along a bleak road headed towards the ocean. And when I say bleak, I mean everything's dead. Everything. No animals, dead trees, vegetation turned to ash. Oh, and did I mention the cannibals? Because, I suppose technically, some people are alive...and them's good eatin', right? I swear, I read half this book curled up in the fetal position.

With that being said, this was also an amazing story. I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer hopelessness of it all. Nathan was a little confused about why I kept muttering "I'd just kill myself...I really would..." until I explained it to him, at which point he got back to his Facebook poker game. The idea that almost all life has been wiped off the face of the planet and these two people are trying to hold on to the little shred of hope that life might go on, was inspiring. But I'd still kill myself. Like, way before the cannibals showed up.

I can definitely understand why McCarthy won the Pulitzer for this one. It is well written, engaging, and absorbing. You don't struggle with it, in a literary way. You just travel the road with these two people and see the world through their eyes. And you are transformed. Granted, you may be transformed into someone rocking in the fetal position trying to figure out how to most mercifully kill yourself and loved ones without a gun available, but it'll change you! I wouldn't wish this book on anyone looking for a good night's sleep. But, if you're curious, Dad might be able to take it (and take something away from it, too.) Enjoy!