Saturday, December 7, 2013

Oops and Goals for 2014

I have a lot of excuses for not reading the past several months, I'm just not sure that they're good ones!

For one, we got cable in March after going without for two years.  If my options are reading or watching reality TV, I confess that reality TV often wins out.  It's a shameful confession but at least I'm being honest!  I've also been in a reading funk meaning that I've picked up lots of books but not a lot have held my attention.  For instance, I loved The Casual Vacancy and subsequently, I was thrilled to read The Cuckoo's Calling.  It just hasn't hooked me.  I'm a third of the way in and I can't find the motivation to keep on going. Lastly, what can I say?  Work and life have gotten in the way.  Sometimes when you come home from work all you want to do is tune out.  The TV really helps me to forget the stresses of the work day whereas reading can feel like a job because I have to be present.

I don't have the same lofty goals that I had last year for this coming year.  I'm just going to try and read what I want to read and not worry about the numbers.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 19, 2013

This is Where I Leave You - Review

I loved This is Where I Leave You.  It was the perfect book to get me out of my reading slump.

It was everything from smart to funny to sad to over-the-top but most of all, really entertaining and interesting.  The characters were so well-developed and relatable, despite or because of their many unlikeable but very human qualities.

Judd Foxman, the story's protagonist/narrator, introduces the reader to his crazy, dysfunctional family over the course of seven days as they sit shiva after his father's death.  While simultaneously mourning the loss of his father, he's also grieving the loss of his marriage.  His wife, Jen, has been carrying on an affair with his boss for a year and has just revealed to him that she's carrying his (Judd's) child.  Complicated much?

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was that even though a lot of family issues were addressed and even resolved, no loose ends were tied up in unrealistic ways. Even the status of Judd and Jen's marriage is left up in the air, which makes sense.

Something that Judd's brother, Paul, says to him really resonated with me.  I'll quote it here:

"...I've been pissed at you for a long time and that didn't do either of us any good.  I wasted a lot of time being angry, time I can't get back.  And now I see you, so angry about what happened to your marriage, and I just want to tell you, at some point it doesn't matter who was right and who was wrong.  At some point, being angry is just another bad habit, like smoking, and you keep poisoning yourself without thinking about it." (Tropper, 2009, p. 333).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Worst Hard Time - Review

The topic matter - the Dust Bowl - is fascinating.  The author's style of writing, however, is not optimal.  

The more I read, the more frustrated I became with what I found to be structurally deficient sentences.  I also read the book like a soap opera.  In other words, one aspect of the plot was stretched into thirty pages when it could've been expressed in three.

Unfortunately, this made for an unenjoyable read.  I confess that I skimmed the end of the book because I couldn't bring myself to read another wall of words.  That being said, I did enjoy the personal anecdotes interspersed amongst the dense facts.

I dog-eared a particular quote, which I think sums up the tragedy of the Dust Bowl:

"Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people barbaric or civilized," Bennett (Hugh) said in a speech at the start of the dust storms.  What was happening, he said, was "sinister," a symptom of "our stupendous ignorance."  (Egan, 2006, p. 125)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Monster of Florence - Review

What a riveting read!  All I've got to say is, don't ever get in trouble in Italy because innocent or guilty, there might not be any justice for you.

I'm not usually into crime dramas but I stumbled upon this and I'm glad I did.  It's a fascinating look into a string of killings that took place mostly in the 1980s in the Tuscan countryside.  It's a real case that remains unsolved to this day.

As interesting as the actual investigative work of the two writers is, I found that I was even more intrigued by their critiques of the Italian judicial system.  Scarier than the killings and the intimate mutilations of the victims was delving into the incompetence of the police, prosecutors, judges, etc.  I literally rolled my eyes dozens of times.  It's incredulous that a system of justice can function on hearsay, mythology, and pure imagination.  The corruption, the egos, the complete disregard for the truth is absurd and disturbing.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Casual Vacancy - Review

I've heard so many mixed reviews of this book that I was anxious to read it and make my own determination.

I loved it.  LOVED it.  It's not the kind of book that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In fact, it focuses on the darker parts of humanity and society.  That being said, it's masterfully written and the characters are expertly developed.  J.K. Rowling has a real gift.

I never read the Harry Potter books.  I had many friends who were obsessed with the series but I just couldn't get into it.  I tend to think that people who are true-blue fans of HP are the ones who are most critical of The Casual Vacancy.  It's akin to people rejecting a widely admired child star who later pursues edgy and adult roles.

The Casual Vacancy has rape, incest, drug-use, abuse, profanity and any other mildly or not so mildly offensive things you can conjure.  But I feel like it has a very important message.  And the message is this: as a member of a community, you have a responsibility to it and its other members.  As a collective, you must take care of one another regardless of your individual differences.

The Casual Vacancy is a case study of one very small English town but it's a representation of every town in the world.  It's where people live alongside one another and look the other way when they see someone in desperate need.  It's where people stick their noses in the air and turn away because it's not their problem.  It's where people want to cut off those less fortunate because their problems might contaminate the seemingly problem-free.

No one in the The Casual Vacancy was particularly attractive.  J.K. Rowling seemed to focus more on her characters' flaws than virtues.  But everyone was unabashedly and unapologetically human and that made for a juicy read.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Review

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a lovely, heart-warming/wrenching read.

Harold Fry embarks on a trek to save a former colleague.  Queenie Hennessy has terminal cancer but that doesn't stop Harold from walking 600+ miles to bolster her.  It's also very much about Harold and his wife, Maureen, bridging their divide, even as he moves farther away with every step he takes.

This book is powerful in so many ways.  It's really a commentary about life, the people we meet, regret, etc.  I dog-eared a specific passage that really touched me and I think, sums up the human condition:

"He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too.  The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.  Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human." (Joyce, 2012, p. 158)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Review

I can't remember the last time I read something SO delightful, entertaining, and fun!  I loved this book!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a book partially written and compiled by Bee, Bernadette's precocious daughter.  Most of the story is told through a series of letters, faxes, e-mails, articles, and other documents pertinent to everyday life.  What a creative way for the author to convey a story and add layers to her characters.

Bernadette is a creative genius who is burdened by the crushing weight of an incident that occurred 15-20 years earlier.  She's turned into a sarcastic and bitter woman who manages to go through the motions of life but only if she can verbally cut down those worthy of her ridicule - everyone.  She constantly bemoans life in Seattle, the way people drive, the way people dress, the over-involved and obnoxious moms at her daughter's private school, etc. She sounds insufferable but she's hilarious and frankly, I couldn't help but relate to everything she said and did!

It's true that not everyone she "victimizes" is deserving of their punishment but most of them are.  How are the parents at her daughter's school any better than Bernadette if they feel justified in guilt-tripping and bullying her into volunteering, fundraising, and chaperoning because that's the "normal" thing to do?  Being normal is overrated.

Despite these "flaws" Bernadette is a highly engaged and loving mother to Bee.  In her words, Bee is her greatest creation.  While 100% committed to her role as a mother, Bernadette has neglected her marriage.  Her husband, Elgie, equally to blame, continues to spend more and more time devoted to his endeavors at Microsoft to avoid Bernadette's rants about anyone and anything.

Bernadette is a little lost but I get her and I'm glad she finds her way back while still maintaining that biting sense of humor.