Friday Favorites: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I love Hamlet. It's one of my favorite stories from the bard. This book is a campy version of that classic and it's wonderful in a completely different way. The plot is the same, but it's told from the point-of-view of two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They are dim-witted, but well meaning. They stumble,
clueless, through the story always on the outskirts of the action. They are fools, but lovable ones.

This play was my first introduction to playwright Tom Stoppard. His quick wit and rapid-fire dialogue in this play are delightful. Part of my love for this book was probably born in the fact that I'd never read anything like it. I read it in high school and it was the first time I realized a play could be hilarious. I had read lots of Shakespeare and Miller and it took this book for me to understand that not every play is as tragic as the Crucible. I knew Shakespeare could be hilarious, but this humor was a bit more immediate.

I've frequently heard it compared to Waiting for Godot, which is on my TBR list, so I can't compare the two quite yet.

p.s. And bonus, what a fantastic cover!

In defense of bubblegum books

I read a pretty wide variety of books. Everything from classics to YA fiction to travel memoirs to brand new authors' books tend to make it onto my bookshelves. But sometimes my brain needs a slight break, something frivolous. If nothing else, reading an occasional bubblegum book increases my appreciation of other books. It makes me long for a character I can dig my teeth into and a plot where I don't know what will happen next.

My mom used to call these books "bubblegum books," because it may taste good for a second, but there's no real substance. They are also frequently referred to as "chick lit," though I really hate that term. It just sounds so damn perky.

But I think that even when you're reading a bubblegum book it should be a good one. There is a LOT of bad "chick lit" out there, but there is some good stuff too. There are some wonderfully funny characters and entertaining plots in every genre, including this one.

So here's a couple I've enjoyed over the years:

-Bridget Jones's Diary
-The first 3 Shopoholic books (it's all downhill after that)
-Maeve Binchy's books
-Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson's series
-The Nanny Diaries
-Jemima J and The Beach House by Jane Green
-The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series
-The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing and The Wonder Spot by Melissa Banks
-The Notebook
-The Sisterchick series by Robin Jones Gunn (I might like these because they are all about traveling in foreign countries)
-The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes

Bad ones to avoid (in my opinion)

-Anything by Candace Bushnell (I loved the show, hate her books)
-Babyville by Jane Green
-Just about everything by Nicholas Sparks (I really like Three Weeks with my Brother and some of his very early fiction, but that's where I draw the line. Reading his books is a bit like drinking maple syrup)

p.s. A good way to try out chick lit authors to see if there's one you can stomach is by reading collections, like "Girls Night In" or "Irish Girls About Town."

Thoughts on bubblegum reads? Any favorite guilty pleasures reads out there?

Book Reviews

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

August: Osage County
by Tracy Letts

This play dives deep into the inner workings of the Weston family and revels in their dysfunction. The family has serious issues, pills, alcohol, adultery, weed, etc., but it also has heart.

The story and writing reminded me of Tennessee Williams' work, southern families full of conflict and pain. It also has a dose of comedy and the ability to laugh at the absurdity of their arguments at times.

I think this is a play that won't appeal to everyone. At times it was hard for me to identify with the characters because they all seem to view themselves as victims. But over all I thought it was well written and didn't shy away from dark topics.

The Bean Trees
by Barbara Kingsolver

A young woman, Taylor, leaves home and on her way out west she's given a baby. The book deals with Native American culture, child abuse, illegal immigration, adoption and more.

I have heard about this book for years and I think that by the time I finally read it my expectations were too high. I never felt connected to Taylor and I had a really hard time accepting the premise. If someone gives me a baby and then leaves, I'm not going to keep the baby. How do you even know that was their baby to give away? I couldn't suspend my skepticism and embrace the plot. I did enjoy Kingsolver's style of writing, but I would definitely recommend The Poisonwood Bible over this.

Is anyone a fan of this series? Should I try the sequel, Pigs in Heaven, or is it more of the same?

The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro

The story is told from the point-of-view of a British butler, Stevens, and takes place in post-war England. Stevens served Lord Darlington's household for decades until Darlington died. He now remains in the Darlington house and serves its new owner, an American. The story slowly unfolds as Stevens travels through the countryside to visit Darlington's former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. As he travels, Stevens reflects on the events in the past few decades, including his relationship with Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington.

Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, the subtlety of this book overwhelmed me. Ishiguro writes so beautifully. He unveils his characters slowly, giving them time to settle into the reader's mind before providing more insight into their thoughts. It's a simple plot, but the realizations Stevens faces about how he has spent his life are profound. I found myself thinking about the characters frequently after I'd put the book down. It has a heartbreaking simplicity and reminded me that stories don't need to rely on complicated plots when the characters are so well drawn.

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes
by Roald Dahl

I love this collection of Dahl's retelling of fairy tales. The story of Goldie Locks is particularly great. I mean when you actually think about that story, what are we teaching kids by making her the heroine? Instead of the classic stories, Dahl gives each plot a twist that hits closer to home and skips the cheesy happy endings. They are delightful.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
by Edward Albee

I read this just after seeing the 1966 film. It deals with two couples, the middle-aged Martha and George, and the young Nick and Honey. The older couple's twisted marriage is based on vicious banter and constant mind games. The younger couple seems sweet at first, but after a short time and a lot of alcohol the cracks in their foundation begin to appear.

The play takes place in one evening at George and Martha's home. It's a fascinating look at dysfunctional relationships. You have moments of compassion for each of the characters, but in the end realize they are each in a hell of their own making. Their selfish choices and desperate attacks on each other's psyche make it hard to truly sympathize with any of them.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Books That Should Be Made Into Movies

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This weeks list, from Lost in Books, is 3 Books That Should Be Made Into Movies.

This is such a tough question, because you know if they make a movie of your favorite book they will probably do a horrible job. But here's my list anyway.

1) Ender's Game
I can't believe this hasn't been made into a movie yet. It's such a fantastic book and it seems like it wouldn't be impossible to adapt the plot to a screenplay.

2) The Hunger Games
I've heard there's already a movie in the works for this one and I hope it's true.

3) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
I believe there has already been a Swedish movie made of this, but since I can't get my hands on it, I'd love to see an English version.

Book Reviews: Nick Hornby

Monday, February 22, 2010

To begin, I am a fan of Nick Hornby. I've loved some of his books, like High Fidelity, while others haven't quite hit the mark, (I'm looking at you How To Be Good.)

I've really loved his nonfiction collections on music and books, but his slightly autobiographical book Fever Pitch rambled a bit too much for my taste. But even when I don't love the story, I still really enjoy his style of writing.

That being said, I recently read two of his newest books. They are wildly different, but somehow both sound like Hornby.

by: Nick Hornby

The first is Slam, which tells the story of a teenage skater boy who gets his girlfriend pregnant and has to come to terms with the consequences. He dreams about the future when his child is a toddler. Told from his point-of-view, the plot meanders as the teen flits between selfish and confused thoughts, like any teenage boy.

The book didn't scratch the surface of emotions for me. This could be because I'm not a boy, or a teen or experiencing anything close to their situation. But I have connected with books that deal with similar plots, so I don't think that's it. It seemed like the boy, Sam, never really gets beyond the first feeling of shock in this situation. He seems very disconnected from the situation, like he's watching it all happen on TV.

Juliet, Naked
by: Nick Hornby

Juliet is about a middle-aged couple, Duncan and Annie, who live together in a small English town. Duncan has been obsessed with a retired musician, Tucker Crowe, for decades. When he and Annie break up she ends up connecting with Tucker.

This book was a perfect Hornby novel to me. It deals with music and troubled adult relationships, which are, in my opinion, Hornby's two greatest strengths when it comes to subject matter.

He writes from the point-of-view of all three characters, making the story even richer. They deal with feelings of failure, hope, and thoughts that they've wasted their lives. The books just rang true somehow. Hornby has a way of saying things we all think in a way that makes them seem profound. Juliet, Naked has its flaws, but I would rank it as one of his best.

p.s. I love Juliet's cover. It took me a second to see the two faces.

Book Wallpaper

I LOVE this wallpaper ... in theory.

It's wallpaper that looks like stacks of books. Which is such a fun idea. But then I started thinking about it and in the end, if I have a little bit of extra wall space, I'm going to put a bookcase there, not pictures of books. And I wouldn't want to put that wallpaper up somewhere that it would get covered, because it's just too cool.

So as fun as the idea is, I think I would prefer stacks of books I can actually read.

Photo from Anthropologie

Friday Favorites: Anne of Green Gables

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I fell in love with this book when I was a kid; actually I fell for the whole series. It seemed like Anne (with an E) embodied everything wonderful about childhood. She was fanciful and earnest. I always identified with her stubborn nature and envied her belief in the good of most people. She made me long to find kindred spirits and to give romantic names to everything around me.

In the last few years I've been re-reading the entire series and I still love it, but for completely different reasons. I'm more cynical now and Anne's eternal optimism sometimes seems naive, but it's so beautiful and innocent. In the later books, like Anne's House of Dreams, Anne experience true tragedy and still manages to hang on to her hopeful nature.

As much as I love the character of Anne, there are so many other things about this series that set it apart. The story is full of characters to love, Matthew, Marilla, Gilbert, Diane and so many others. Montgomery's prose is perhaps the most brilliant part of the books. In someone else's hands Anne might have seemed silly and trite. But instead, Montgomery makes her a girl with such a deep and pondering heart that you can't help but root for her. Montgomery manages to say the simplest thing in a way that taps into the deepest part of your heart and makes you nod your head in agreement, because you have no words that could top hers.

If you've never read Anne of Green Gables you should pick it up immediately. If you have read it, but it's been awhile, re-read it. You'll find new gems in the stories that you never noticed before.

Anyone else a fan of the series? Any other series you loved as a kid?

Book Reviews

Happy Thursday. Here's a batch of reviews from my recent reads. There's a good mix of poetry, short stories, novels and plays. February has taught me that blizzards are very conducive environments for reading.

The Angel's Game
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

It's hard for me to review Zafon's work, because I love it so much. I see the flaws in this novel, it may be a bit too wordy and the plot becomes convoluted in the second half, but I still loved it.

His style of writing just drips with gorgeous descriptions and intimate characters, devious characters and tragic heroes. His gothic tales are so rich I am willing to forgive much that I would fault another author for. Like so many others, I didn't love this book as much as I loved "Shadow of the Wind," but I still loved it.

I was forewarned by other fans not to rush through it, as I was tempted to do. Zafon is an author that should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. His novels are so full of his passion for both Barcelona and reading that I found myself wishing I could wander the city's streets after I put the book down.

If you haven't read "Shadow of the Wind" I would absolutely recommend it. If you have read it and enjoyed it, I would recommend "The Angel's Game." I can't wait to read the next two books in this series.

Black Water
by Joyce Carol Oates
Oates Novella is a chilling fictionalization of the Chappaquiddick incident where senator Ted Kennedy drove into the water and the woman he was with drown while he escaped.

The main character, Kelly, flashes back and forth between her drive with the senator and her past during the story. Kelly is tragically insecure and lacks confidence and that's one of the factors that leads to her demise. The story is well written and truly disturbing when you think about what's actually happening and how it mirrors the real life event.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Roald Dahl

Another classic from Roald Dahl, "Mr. Fox" tells the story of a clever fox that steals from 3 horrible farmers to fee his family. I'm a sucker for anything from Dahl and I love this story, especially the supportive Mrs. Fox.

Glengarry Glen Ross
by David Mamet

This Pulitzer-Prize-winning play is about desperate real estate sales men who will go to any length to make a sale and earn a buck. I feel almost like this could have been a prequel to "Death of a Salesman." The dialogue is sharp and funny. It's a quick read, which I'm sure would be enhanced by seeing the film or seeing it on stage.

Carry On, Jeeves
P.G. Wodehouse

This book contains ten short stories about Bertie Wooster and his wise valet, Jeeves. I've read many of the books from this series, but had somehow missed this one. I loved seeing the first meeting between the two. The rest of the stories all have a similar theme, Bertie manages to get himself into a pickle, the brilliant Jeeves manages to get him out of it. But they are fun to read and Bertie's oblivious nature and Jeeves' patient condescension always make me laugh. You know what you'll get when you read Wodehouse's books on Jeeves and you're never disappointed.

Keats: Selected Poems
by John Keats

This selection includes some of his famous poems, like "Bright Star" and "Ode to a Nightingale." Keats beautiful words still resonate two centuries later. I could swim in a phrase like,

"And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep, In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d." from The Eve of St. Agnes.

His musings on death are all the more poignant because he died when he was only 25. I can't help wondering what he would have written if he'd lived longer.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
by Edgar Allan Poe

The mystery is short, but Poe's detective, Dupin, unravels the murder of a woman and her daughter in Paris by using his powers of observation. The story is undoubtedly the basis for the modern detective story. The character of Sherlock Holmes, which came decades after Dupin, is incredibly similar.

It's a good mystery, but definitely not one of my favorites from Poe. I tend to like his more macabre tales, which focus more on the darkness within his characters' hearts. But I did love reading a detective story that obviously inspired so many future books.

The Sandman, Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
by Neil Gaiman

I read this is one sitting. The story gripped me from beginning to end. Dream (a.k.a. Morpheus, Death's younger brother) is imprisoned for decades. When he finally escapes he must literally travel to hell and back to get what was stolen from him.

I'm a big Neil Gaiman fan and I loved the story. The illustrations are fascinating and detailed, but they are often too gory for my taste. When reading a book, your imagination will only take you as far as you'll let it. With a graphic novel it's all laid out before you.

I appreciate the art of the book and the plot, but I probably won't continue with the story. I am curious about what Gaiman had in store for the characters in future volumes, but the illustrations were just too much.

Paper Towns
by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen (aka Q) is a high school senior. He's been in love with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, since they were kids. One night she appears at his window and they embark on a crazy adventure. They next day he begins to realize she's more of a mystery than ever.

Q's two best friends, Radar and Ben, make interesting sidekicks. Radar is a wonderful character, mellow and reflective. Ben definitely plays the part of the fool, but I tired of him quickly.

One thing I love about Green's writing is the fact that he doesn't treat high schoolers like stupid children. He treats them like the young adults they are, but he also remembers the heightened emotions and drama that goes hand-in-hand with that age.

The meat of the story, and Green's true talent, lies in the discoveries the characters make about themselves and how they see the world. It's not really about a simple high school crush, it's about learning how to truly see people, which is beautiful.

I really loved the book and would recommend it and also Green's "Looking for Alaska."

Photo by moi (one of my reading nooks in an old apartment)

Adventures in Vocabulary

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do you ever have a word or phrase that may seem familiar, but you aren't completely sure what it means? Sometimes I feel like the literary world is hitting me over the head with a word, just to make sure I know it.

My computer screen saver is a vocabulary word-a-day. Yesterday's was Gordian Knot ...

"The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke."

I'd heard of this before, but couldn't have defined it. Then last night I was reading "August: Osage County" and they referenced "this Gordian Knot between us." It was such a great moment, because I had just learned what it meant and here it was being used in a book. It gave more depth to the moment in the plot because I knew exactly what the character meant.

It's the little things in life.

Photo from Musings In Monochrome

Book List: 3 Books That Make Me Long for Warmer Weather

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This weeks list, from Lost in Books, is 3 Books That Make Me Long for Warmer Weather.

1) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - set in sultry Savannah, this nonfiction books makes me long for hot Georgian days and nights.

2) On the Road - Kerouac's wanderings with his fellow Beat generation friends always make me want to take a cross-country road trip.

3) Seedfolks - This little novella is all about a small community rising above their differences to make something wonderful together. It always makes me want to get up to my elbows in dirt in a garden, which you can't do when there's 2 feet of snow on the ground.

John Green Reading

Monday, February 15, 2010

(Green signing books after the reading)

Last week I attended a reading given by author John Green. I've read two of his three novels, "Looking for Alaska" and "Paper Towns" and I've loved his writing style. He writes mainly for a late high school/college age audience, but his characters are easy to relate to and I wouldn't label his work as solely "Young Adult."

Green was hilarious. He bantered with the audience and answered dozens of questions. He had some really profound things to say, both about his own writing experience and about reading in general.

(Getting my book signed by the author)

One point he made really hit home for me. He talked about how TV shows and most movies won't ask too much of you. They give you the story and you don't have to think too much about it one way or the other (I would say LOST is an except to that rule). They play specific music to tell you how you're supposed to be feeling and you know they'll wrap up in an allotted amount of time.

A novel on the other hand asks so much of you. You bring all of your own experience to each book you read. Also, your imagination fills in the gaps that the book leaves open. There so much more room for interpretation. He said this is ultimately why books are in trouble, but also why they are so rewarding.

All in all, great author, I can't wait to read more from him.

p.s. Here's a tidbit he shared for anyone who has read "Paper Towns." Margo's last name, Spiegelman, means mirror maker in German. How wonderfully fitting!

Horrible iPhone photos by moi and the friend I was with.

Friday Favorites: The Shadow of the Wind

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind, by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon, is reminiscent of old gothic novels. The story is a heady mixture of mystery and romance, which unfolds in the winding streets of Barcelona.

Set in Barcelona in 1945, the book starts off as a coming-of-age tale, but quickly becomes more complicated than that. The story is told from the point-of-view of Daniel Sempere. His father takes him to a secret place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where Daniel finds a book by the author Julián Carax. The rest of the book is a twisted path of discovery as Daniel searches for more books by Carax.

I love Zafon's style of writing. His descriptions are beautiful and his love of reading emanates from every page. In some ways the book feels like a love letter to reading. If you're a fan of dark tales like "Rebecca" I would definitely recommend this book.

Valentine's Day Swap

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't you just love that thrill of finding a fun package in your mail. You may know what's inside or it may be a complete surprise, but either way, it's such a great feeling.

I participated in a Valentine's Day swap hosted by the always wonderful Amanda of First Milk. The package I received from Bird for Bread was ridiculously fantastic. It held a lovely card covered in little hearts.

Then there was a brown paper package all tied up with string. And folks, Julie's right, how could that not be one of your favorite things. The little rectangle held a vintage copy of short stories by Roald Dahl. There was actually squealing and after a second I realized it was coming from me. Dahl, one of my favorite authors in the world, and a vintage copy!!!

As if that glorious bounty wouldn't be more than enough to ensure the happiest of Valentine's Days, there were beautiful copper earrings from her etsy shop. There was also a little pin that has made its way on to one of my messenger bags.

It was sweet and fabulous and I was overwhelmed by the kindness and thoughtfulness of a complete stranger. I'm also in awe of the connections we're able to make through the internet.

So thank you thank you thank you to Amanda at First Milk for hosting and to Amanda at Bird for Bread for the best package I've received in a very long time.

Also, check out Bird for Bread's etsy shop for some really beautiful jewelry. I'm loving that Minerva Cuff. The girl's got some serious talent!

Photos by moi.

Book List: 3 Anti-Couple/Pro-Single Books (in lieu of the predictable Valentine's List)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

1) Revolutionary Road - If Nicolas Sparks' sappy novels make you wish you could find that "special someone," this book will do the opposite. It shows a couple that married young and over time the partners have grown to loathe their spouse and all the responsibility that goes with having a family.

2) Tara Road - To me this book was about discovering that love can hurt you, and ending up with "Mr. Right" is the worst thing that could happen to you.

3) The Great Gatsby or Anna Karenina - in both books falling in love leads to the rampant unhappiness of the lead characters and eventually to someone's demise. That's definitely enough to make me a bit wary of love.

Photos from around the internet, credit where it's due.

New York, I Love You

Last night I watched "New York, I Love You." I'd been dying to see it ever since I first heard about the project. 12 stories, different actors and directors for each one, all set in the title city. It was everything I hoped it would be.

It's not that I loved every story or every actor. It's somehow bigger than that. I love it because it shows the interconnectedness of our lives. It shows a few simple moments when two people's lives touch, unexpectedly, and good or bad, how it affects them. Other stories showed a simple snapshot of a relationship.

I watched Robin Wright Penn's heartbreaking rawness, an earnest Anton Yelchin and a broken Julie Christie. I loved watching a sweet, old couple shuffle down a busy street together just as much as I liked watching two New Yorkers share a cab or a cigarette break.

If you get a chance to see it, I'd definitely recommend both it and its wonderful predecessor "Paris Je Taime."

Photo from New York, I Love You.

January Monthly Summary

Friday, February 5, 2010

If you're anywhere near the midwest you're probably watching the snow pike up outside and discovering that all of your weekend plans have been cancelled because of the weather. That's ok though, it'll just give me more time to read.

I cannot believe it's already February. I read 19 books in January (that includes a few short children's books from Roald Dahl). Here's a summary of how I'm doing in my various challenge categories. Some of the books work in more than one category and since I'm doing so many challenges I've decided to allow it.

Color Challenge (2/9)
-"The White Tiger" by: Aravind Adiga - ★★★
-"The Color Purple" by: Alice Walker - ★★★★

Audio Book Challenge (6/20)
-"For One More Day" by: Mitch Albom- ★☆
-"G is for Gumshoe" by: Sue Grafton - ★★★
-"Great Expectations" by: Charles Dickens - ★★★★★
-"The Known World" by: Edward P. Jones - ★★★☆
-"The Wordy Shipmates" by: Sarah Vowell - ★★☆
-"The White Tiger" by: Aravind Adiga - ★★★

Gilmore Girls Challenge (2/10)
-"Great Expectations" by: Charles Dickens - ★★★★★
-"Driving Miss Daisy" by: Alfred Uhry - ★★★★

Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Plays (3/10)
-"Dinner with Friends" by: Donald Marguiles - ★★★
-"Glengarry Glen Ross" by: David Mamet - ★★★
-"Driving Miss Daisy" by: Alfred Uhry - ★★★★

Short Stories / Poetry Collections (1/10)
-"Carry On, Jeeves" by: P.G. Wodehouse- ★★★☆

Sequels (4/10)
-"G is for Gumshoe" by: Sue Grafton - ★★★

-"The Girl Who Played with Fire" by: Stieg Larsson - ★★★★☆
-"The Lost Symbol" by: Dan Brown - ★★☆
(Lineage of Grace #3) by: Francine Rivers - ★★★

Book Awards (Pulitzer, Booker, Orange) (2/10)
-"The White Tiger" by: Aravind Adiga - ★★★
-"The Known World" by: Edward P. Jones - ★★★☆

Random Book Challenge (2/10)
-"Strait is the Gate" by: Andre Gide - ★★★

Nonfiction (1/10)
-"The Wordy Shipmates" by: Sarah Vowell - ★★☆

-The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
-The Twits
-The Magic Finger
-Fantastic Mr. Fox
-For One More Day

Photo by moi.

Friday Favorites: Empire Falls

Empire Falls was my first introduction to the writing of Richard Russo. I've since read more of his work including some that weren't my favorite, Straight Man and That Old Cape Magic, and one that I loved, Bridge of Sighs. But none of those have hit me in quite the same way that Empire Falls did.

Empire Falls is a small, fictional town in Maine. One rich family has ruled the roost for decades, while the small businesses slowly decay. The story is told from Miles Roby's point-of-view. He's a simple man, who runs the town's diner. His wife is divorcing him; his father is constantly belittling him, while his relationship with his teenage daughter remains the one that sustains him.

At the time I didn't realize it was a Pulitzer-Prize winner. I didn't know they had already made it into a miniseries (featuring Paul Newman in his last live action role). It was just a book. Sometimes the simplicity of reading something with no expectations or preconceived notions allows you to evaluate it with more honesty. It allows you to let it impact you in whatever way it will, as opposed to assuming you'll love or hate it based on what you've already heard.

One of Russo's greatest talents is his ability to craft characters that are so complex and believable that you forget they aren't real people you know. They are all layered and their lives are so interconnected that it's hard to ever separate them. There are no true villains or heroes. They are all flawed. There are some you love more than others, but it's certainly not because they're perfect.

My simple summary of the plot does not do it justice. The book is wonderful not because of the plot, but because of the characters. And you can't summarize those.

Book Reviews

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Here's a few more reviews from the past week of so. I'm still plugging away on some of my challenges, including Pulitzer-Prize winners.

Driving Miss Daisy
by Alfred Uhry

This play spans a few decades and chronicles the budding friendship between an old cranky, Jewish woman, Daisy, and her driver, a black man named Hoke. Over the years their relationship changes from a business one to that of old friends. The dialogue is wonderful and though it is a short play, I quickly felt attached to the characters.

by Francine Rivers

Rivers does a good job portraying the fictionalized story of Ruth from the Bible. She bases it on the facts provided in the Bible and then provides her own story with the thoughts and feelings of Ruth, Boaz and Naomi. It does feel a bit more like a Bible study than a fictional book though and didn't shed any new thoughts on the story for me.

Who Moved My Cheese?
by Spencer Johnson

This little life parable didn't provide me with any earth-shattering epiphanies. It's a simple tale that's suppose to teach readers not to get so settled into their lives that they can't cope when change comes. Most of the points made are pretty self-explanitory in my mind.

The Known World
by Edward P. Jones

This Pulitzer-Prize winner is about black free people and slaves in the 19th century. It looks closely at the complicated relationships between free and enslaved people of that time period. Jones' writing is wonderful, but the stories jumps around a lot. It flits between dozens of characters' points of view and flies back and forth in time. I enjoyed it, but frequently had to stop to figure out where we it was at in the time line.

The Mezzanine
by Nicholson Baker

This gem of a book is an oddity of sorts. It seems short, but is filled with huge footnotes in a small font. It's about nothing, but it's about everything. Every time I would find myself starting to lose interest in the author's ramblings, he would say something that hit so close to home I was immediately caught back up in his seamless flow of thoughts.

The entire book follows the rambling thoughts of Howie, a worker in an office building. He talks about his lunch hour, the random acts we're inspired to do when alone in an elevator, and more. There's no plot to follow, just Howie's meandering commentary. Though the footnotes can be a bit trying and banal at times, the meat of the book is both original and hilarious.

Photo by moi.

A Year in Questions

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Here's my 2009 summary in answers to a few questions. How was your year?

1. What did you do in 2009 that you had never done before?
Bought my first house, got married, saw a play on Broadway, attended a birth, among other things.

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Yes, I completed all my reading challenges and wrote one letter a week to a friend, absolutely.

3. What countries did you visit?
Just the USA in 2009; in 2008 I fit in Hungary, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Slovenia. I needed a year off to save for the next big adventure: New Zealand in 2011!

4. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Time to relax and read.

5. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Oct. 17, 2009, it's now my wedding anniversary.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I managed to plan a wedding, read 136 books, hold down a full-time job, see 30 plays/musicals and find a house and buy it, somehow without losing my mind.

7. What was your biggest failure?
Letting other people's decisions and actions really get under my skin when there is nothing I can do about it.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nope, other than a brief bout with the flu on St. Patrick's Day. I'm a lucky girl.

9. What was the best thing you bought?
I'm going to go with... a house.

10. Where did most of your money go?
Buying a house (and all the little projects that go with moving into a new home) and our wedding reception (it was a great party though, worth every penny!)

11. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Our wedding day and setting up my very first library in our new home.

12. What songs will always remind you of 2009?
"M79" by Vampire Weekend 

13. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing and travelling.

14. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Complaining about anything. It accomplishes nothing.

15. How did you be spend Christmas and New Years Eve?
I spent Christmas with my new husband and family and I spent New Year's Eve with my best friends.

16. What was your favorite TV program?
LOST, the Office, and a few old favorites. Better Off Ted is probably my favorite new show from '09.

17. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No, dislike maybe, but not hate.

18. What was the best book you read?
Here are my favorites from the year...
The Brothers K, Catching Fire, Anna Karenina, Peace Like a River, Here is New York, The History of Love, Atlas Shrugged, The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Things They Carried and 84, Charing Cross Road

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I fell hard for Vampire Weekend, The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Neutral Milk Hotel, Florence and the Machine and Kings of Leon

20. What was your favorite film of this year?
I really loved Up and Away We Go. I also watched the Band of Brothers miniseries for the first time. It was amazing.

21. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I had a big dinner party with all of my closet friends and then went to New York City for the first time with 2 good friends that weekend; 25.

22. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Getting a raise.

23. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Jeans, t-shirts, comfy sweaters and sneakers. My "fashion concept" hasn't really changed much in the past decade.

24. What kept you sane?
My amazing friends and siblings.

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:
It's the people in your life that make it wonderful. Make sure they know how much you love and appreciate them.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Books I Read When I Need a Good Cry

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This week's book list topic is 3 Books I Read When I Need a Good Cry . Here's my list...

1) Tuesdays with Morrie- Albom's nonfiction book was a bestseller for a reason. People identify with the fear and uncomfortable feelings brought on by watching someone you love slowly die. This book showed one man's journey to dealing with the pain.

2) The Bridge to Terabithia- This book was one of my first introduction to death in literature and the story has always stayed with me.

3) The Notebook - My grandpa had Alzheimer's and watching him slowly fade while my grandma cared for him was so heartbreaking. This book always reminded me of their love.

Hop on over to Lost in Books to see more about the weekly lists.

Photos from around the internet, credit where it's due.

Wedding Centerpieces

Monday, February 1, 2010

One of the walls in my library has 35 small frames hanging on it. The frames were part of our centerpieces at our wedding. Each table had a stack of old books with one of the frames on top. The frames contain cards I made, stamped with leaves, with my favorite authors' names and a quote from them.

(Wedding Centerpieces)

The books came from library book sales and Goodwill and other places and more than 100 books ended up costing about $15. I donated the books I didn't want to keep back to Goodwill after the wedding. I found the frames on sale for $1 each and the ribbon was $3. I assembled them all myself. Total cost of the centerpieces was only about $55, and they represented our interests so much more than a random flower arrangement.

I wasn't sure what I would use the frames for after the wedding. I love what we ended up doing. It's a fun conversation starter and a sweet reminder of our wedding day. Plus, I obviously love these quotes.

(Library Wall)

Photos by moi, except the wedding centerpiece photo, which is by Burkett Photography