Wordless Wednesday: Redwoods in California

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Redwood Tree in California

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Fragile Things

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fragile Things
by Neil Gaiman

Short story collections tend to be pretty hit or miss for me. I adore Jhumpa Lahiri’s work, but have been disappointed by collections with numerous authors. To me, they often feel like scraps or half-baked ideas tossed together in no discernable order. But when they’re done right, each story works as a stand alone, but also flows well with the rest of the collection.

I’m a sucker for Gaiman’s work, because his stories have a way of getting under my skin, in a good way. I can’t say I loved Fragile Things, but I did love some of the individual stories it contains. Even when the story itself wasn’t memorable, some of his phrases or characters were, which is a testament to Gaiman’s skill as a storyteller.

There were some pieces I liked more than others. I didn’t care for “Keepsakes and Treasures,” but thought the Sherlock Holmes-inspired tale, “A Study in Emerald,” was wonderful. I loved “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch," which is cheerfully dark, an odd balance only Gaiman seems to be able to pull off.

Another good one was a, spooky story, which follows a boy who runs away from home and meets a ghost. It felt like a precursor for The Graveyard Book. Fragile Things also contains a poem that I love, “Instructions,” which has since been turned into an illustrated children’s book.

This collection is best known for two stories; one featuring Shadow, the main character from American Gods, and the other is about Susan from the Narnia books. To be honest, these sections were two of my least favorite in the book, neither really worked for me.

If you’re already a fan of Gaiman’s work, I’d recommend this collection. For those hoping to try something of his, don’t start here, instead try Stardust, The Graveyard Book or the marvelous audio version of Anansi Boys.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I’ve always been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes stories. They never fail to make me think and usually laugh. I’ve read collections, individual mysteries and I’ve even seen a play version that combines a couple tales. I was pretty sure I read this one in junior high, but I wasn’t positive, so I knew it was time to remedy that.

The Hound of the Baskerville is everything you want in Sherlock tale; great problem, clever quips, brilliant detective, etc. A wealthy family has been haunted by tales a vicious, unearthly hound for years. Legend has it one of their ancestors was killed by the beast. When the current head of the family loses his life in a similar way, Sherlock is called in on the case. He sends Dr. Watson, his faithful friend, to the moors to gather clues.

Like any good mystery, we’re given our suspects and clues bit by bit. There’s even a good red herring, diverting our suspicions. There’s nothing earth shattering about the plot, but it’s just the right pace for this little book.

The real treat with Doyle’s work is character of Sherlock himself. He is completely unique. I love his condescension, even when he’s trying to compliment Watson, it comes across as an insult. His brain just works on a completely different level and he’s not always aware of the necessary social niceties. Or rather, he’s aware of them, but they are unimportant in the big scheme of things, so he chooses to ignore them.

“That cold, incisive, ironical voice could belong to but one man in all the world. ‘Holmes!’ I cried.” – Watson (and that’s coming from the man’s best friend!)

“One of Sherlock’s defects – if, indeed, one may call it a defect – was that he was exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other person until the instant of their fulfillment.”

If you’ve loved this series for years or want to try your first foray into the world of the Baker Street detective, this book is an absolute must.

“There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you.” - Sherlock

I read this one for the Victorian Literature Challenge here.

A Home at the End of the World

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Home at the End of the World
by Michael Cunningham

A Home at the End of the World is Cunningham’s first novel. The characters are an interesting mix of oddballs and misfits who find solace in the eccentric life they build together. The book has a rotating narrative, moving mainly between Bobby, Jonathan and Claire. The two boys meet when they are young and form a friendship that proves pivotal in both of their lives.

Bobby’s world is filled with tragedies and he becomes attached to Jonathan’s family. As adults, the two boys reconnect in New York City where Jonathan lives with Claire, a bohemian older woman. Jonathan is gay, but the two have discussed raising a child together.

My favorite character in the story is Alice, Jonathan’s mother. In a couple small sections she tells the story from her point-of-view and I loved her voice. She a southern woman, stranded in a Midwestern suburb, trapped in the role of a homemaker. She’s watching her life pass her by, but isn’t sure how to go about changing it.

There’s no denying Cunningham’s skill as a writer. The sentences are rich and beautiful; his descriptions are lush without becoming flowery. My issue is with the characters and plot. We watch them grow, but not really change. They live a strange life that allows them to float through the years, never really maturing. I couldn’t connect with any of them and felt like they were all a bit too naïve or clueless to make it far in the real world.

I read The Hours when I was in college and absolutely loved it. Since then I haven’t been able to find another Cunningham book that I really enjoy. I couldn’t stand Specimen Days, and Land’s End was nothing special. After reading this one, I think I’m going to have to give up and assume that The Hours was a one-off for me and I’m just not a fan of the rest of his work. Skip this one and read The Hours, it’s wonderful.

“We become the stories we tell about ourselves.”

Wordless Wednesday: Lauterbrunnen Sign

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sign in the valley of Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Pride and Prejudice

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Almost ten years ago, I read this, my very Jane Austen novel, and I was completely in love with the book. In the ensuing years I gobbled up every other single book of Austen’s I could get my hands on.

Recently my book club decided to read Pride and Prejudice and I was shocked to learn that I was the only one in the group who had read anything by Austen. Keep in mind, I’m the youngest in the group by a solid 30 years. How had they missed the brilliance of one of my favorite authors?

Anyway, the book club’s decision prompted me to re-read my second favorite Austen novel (Persuasion is still my fav). It was such an incredibly rewarding experience. The first time I read it I mainly focused on the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy. Second time around I noticed everything else, and there’s so much!

**If you haven’t read the book, fair warning, the plot is pretty well known, but I do discuss things that might ruin it for you if you really don’t know how it ends.**

For one thing, Austen’s wit is unmatched. Austen is sometimes considered boring because there's not a lot of action, but she's so funny and you can't forget the characters she creates. The stuffy Lady Catherine, the pious Mr. Collins, the insufferable Miss Bingley, the utterly unlikeable Mr. Darcy, who of course becomes so lovable; they are all such divine creations.

Elizabeth, our heroine, can be stubborn and judgmental, but whatever her faults, her love of her sister Jane supersedes all else. I love that Jane’s happiness is more important to her than her own. It says a lot about her that she puts someone else’s welfare above all else. If there’s one thing that Austen could truly capture, it’s the love between two sisters.

“Elizabeth instantly reads her feelings, and at that moment of solicitude for Wickham, resentment against his enemies, and everything else gave way before the hope of Jane’s being in the fairest way for happiness.”

It’s easy to forget that turning down a marriage proposal was a huge deal during that time period, especially when you had no other prospects. Lizzy doesn’t just turn down one proposal, she turns down Darcy once and then Mr. Collins multiple times. And Collins isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. After Eliza turns him down four times in a row, he still thinks she’s being coy and says, “You are uniformly charming” and is convinced she will still accept him.

A wonderful example of Austen’s famous social commentary is the section which talks about the public opinion on Darcy and Wickham. First everyone loves Wickham, then they hate him, they hate Darcy and then they love him, but it’s rarely based on their actual experience with the individuals. They are swayed by the merest whisper of a scandal or controversy.

“…everybody was pleased to think how much they had always disliked Mr. Darcy before that had known anything of the matter.”

(1995 BBC miniseries)

One of Darcy’s main objections to Jane (as a possible wife for Bingley) is her family, which can be a bit embarrassing. I loved reading the section that chronicles Elizabeth and Darcy's dinner at Lady Catherine’s house. The pompous old woman (Darcy's aunt) is blatantly insulting Lizzy and he is mortified. It’s a great reminder that everyone has family members that they aren’t always proud of, but you can’t judge someone because of that.

“Mr. Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunt’s ill breeding, and made no answer.”

Charlotte’s role in the novel completely changed for me this time. When I first read it I was only 18 and I couldn’t believe she settled for Mr. Collins. Now I’m 27, the same age she is in the book, and I understand her decision so much better. She was making a huge sacrifice. She had no prospects, she was getting "old" and she knew she would just be a burden to her family. I still wouldn’t have done it, but now I really get it. It was a different time and she knew this might be her only shot at having her own household. Her decision also underlines how unusual Lizzy’s decision to turn down Collins was.

Another interesting element is Mr and Mrs. Bennet's relationship. Although she is a fluttering idiot and at first glance, he's hilarious and likable, I found myself really frustrated with him by the end of the book. He completely ignores Lizzy’s warning about Lydia’s behavior. He doesn’t take it seriously and doesn’t realize his mistake until it’s too late. He didn't think ahead and plan for his daughters' futures, thus putting them in a horrible position. He also treats his wife with utter disdain. Even though she incredibly annoying, he should at least show her some affection or respect because she's the mother of his children.

(2005 movie)

Lizzy’s views of married life are rooted in her own parent’s unhappy marriage. It’s the only real example of how a husband and wife interact that she's witnessed for her whole life. She’s particularly horrified by Charlotte’s marriage because she sees it as the joining of two people who are so different in intelligence and temperament, just like her parents, and she’s worried it will lead to unhappiness for her friend. That’s why it was so important for her to end up with someone who was her intellectual equal; she needed a partner she could respect.

“Elizabeth, however, had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behavior as a husband. She had always seen it with pain; but respecting his abilities, and grateful for his affectionate treatment of herself, she endeavored to forget what she could not overlook, and to banish from her thoughts that continual breach of conjugal obligation and decorum which, in exposing his wife to the contempt of her own children, was so highly reprehensible.”

The problem with watching too many movie and miniseries versions of P&P is that I sometimes forget what is and isn’t in the book. It always bothered me that in the movie versions, Elizabeth and Wickham seem so buddy-buddy in the scene where they chat at the end, but I’d forgotten that in the book she’s still seething inside. She just acts nice so she can get out of the conversation.

“…she had walked fast to get rid of him; and unwilling for her sister’s sake to provoke him.” P. 264

I’d also forgotten that there’s a whole section where Lizzy has fallen in love with Darcy (after learning what he did for Lydia, etc.) and she thinks there’s no way he still likes her. They’re at a party together and she follows Mr. Darcy around the room with her eyes, and then gets mad at herself for being so silly. I love that we get to see her a bit vulnerable and girlish. She’s fallen for him and so her defenses are down.

I love how the end of the book gives a summary of what happened to everyone in the following years. Jane and Bingley move closer to the newly-married Darcys. Lydia tries to weasel favors out of the Darcys, but gets turned down (ha). Kitty is improved by Jane and Lizzy’s new positions in society and is kept from Lydia’s company. Lizzy and Darcy’s sister get along so well, and Elizabeth maintains her spunk and ever shocks her new sister-in-law with how she talks to her husband, just brilliant.

(1940 movie)

A few things I had forgotten about P&P:

1) Elizabeth goes by Lizzy and Eliza too, I love that.

2) Kitty’s real name is Catherine

3) Mr. Collins is described as “tall, heavy-looking” and is only 25. Because of the movies I had begun to picture him as short.

4) The book says about Mrs. Bennet, “Eliza was the least dear to her of all her children,” – ouch, even if you don’t get along well with your mother, that’s still pretty harsh.

“There are few people whom I really love, and fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.” – Elizabeth

Photos of Pride and Prejudice movies from here, here and here.

Steinbeck Tour: Sweet Thursday

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sweet Thursday
by John Steinbeck

Sweet Thursday is the sequel to Cannery Row, one of my favorite of Steinbeck’s books. I’ve read the epic masterpieces, like East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read the shorter morality tales, like Of Mice and Men and The Pearl. Yet after all of those brilliant works, my favorites remain his road trip memoir, Travels with Charley, and Cannery Row. I may get more depth and inner turmoil from his other works, but these are the ones I relate, the ones I want to return to.

Sweet Thursday quickly made its way to that top bracket as I read it. Steinbeck takes us back to Cannery Row and all of our favorite characters. We return shortly after the end of World War II and learn that Doc has been away, serving his country and Mack has been holding down the fort. The grocer, Lee Chong, is long gone and there are some new characters in the town.

Steinbeck gives us some of my favorite literary characters in this book. Doc, Mack and the others won a place in our hearts in Cannery Row, but the new additions are just as wonderful. There’s a selfish con artist named Old Jingleballicks and a Mexican man who runs the grocery store named Joseph and Mary (often referred to as J and M). Suzy, a young woman looking for guidance, provides a unique spark to the story. Her transformation throughout the book is one of the most rewarding I’ve read, because you can’t help but root for her.


I loved that Steinbeck didn’t throw Doc and Suzy together immediately. It felt so right that Suzy had a chance to get her life together before ending up with him. She needed to find her own balance and believe in herself before committing to another person. Once she had a room of her own, she finally had pride in herself and once she had that, she had something to offer someone else.


Of course, you can’t forget Hazel, one of Steinbeck’s greatest creations. He’s naïve and sweet, and devoted to his friends. When he’s in trouble or being taken advantage of, his friends step up and we see the best in everyone around him as they protect their friend. Hazel becomes a key player in this novel. He’s put to the test as he tries to work out the best way to help Doc, the man he admires so much.

One of my favorite chapters is called “One Night of Love,” which chronicles Suzy and Doc’s first date. The two couldn’t be more different, but there’s an unexpected sweetness that we witness when they both let their guards down. That private moment is beautiful.

Sweet Thursday was everything I hoped it would be. It’s touching, funny and profound in an unexplainably simple way. It makes you wish you lived on Cannery Row and could share a beer with Doc and his friends. It reminds you of the goodness the lies within every person and the fact that sometimes you just need the right situation to bring it out.

“I love true things,” said Doc. “Even when they hurt. Isn’t it better to know the truth about oneself?”

“S-l-o-w-ness it gave meaning to everything. It made everything royal.”

“No one knows how greatness comes to a man. It may lie in his blackness, sleeping, or it may lance into him like those driven fiery particles from outer space. These things, however, are known about greatness: need gives it life and puts it in action; it never comes without pain; it leaves a man changed, chastened, and exalted at the same time – he can never return to simplicity.”

I read this as part of the Steinbeck Classic Circuit Tour.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See

Two women, one rich and one poor, are bound together for life when they become laotongs, a committed lifelong friendship unlike anything we have in the western world. Despite marriages, deaths, motherhood, sickness, changes in wealth, etc. Lily and Snow Flower’s lives are forever intertwined.

Set in 19th century China, the story unfolds in a society that is so far removed from our own, it’s difficult to relate or understand what they’re going through. We’re taught from a young age to pursue the things we love. We have an undeniable freedom in America that many women will never know. Even if we feel pressure from society to live our lives a certain way (aka the Midwestern ideal of settling down and having babies) we still get to decide if that’s what we want to do. Because of this, it was hard for me to connect with women who have no options. They blindly follow the choices their families make for them, because there is no other option. This makes me incredibly grateful for the life I have.

The book is rich with cultural details. I loved learning more about Chinese traditions, even if I don’t agree with them. I felt like I was completely immersed in another world. What I lacked in connection with the characters, I made up for in fascination with another time and place.

(An example of foot binding)

One element including in this story is the ancient practice of foot binding. It’s beyond disturbing to realize what they did to young girls’ feet to make them “beautiful.” I did some research on it after finishing the book and was appalled to see how debilitating the practice really was. Girls died from it and yet it was still considered an honor.


The thing that made me like, but not love this one was the rift between Lily and Snow Flower. I just didn’t understand how it came about. I know Lily didn’t approve of a lot of things in Snow Flowers life (her husband, his work, their relationship, etc.), but to break off the friendship and humiliate her laotong in public just seemed so cruel to me. Her pride never allowed her to take back her words until it was too late. I admired Lily’s strength when disease was destroying their village, but I couldn’t respect her after what she did to her friend.


I’m really looking forward to reading more from this author. This wasn’t a book I’d revisit, but I really liked the style of writing and the historical elements. It’s good for me to read books set outside of western culture. Sometimes I find myself in a rut, reading only European or American titles and mixing in one like this is a bracing reminder of the diversity our world holds.

For another view visit Giraffe Days.

Photo from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Baltimore Aquarium

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jellyfish in the Baltimore Aquarium

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Twitter... aka I finally joined the rest of the blogging world

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ok guys, after a few friendly suggestions and months of resisting, I've finally caved and joined twitter. If you'd like to follow me I've added a little button to your left that will allow you to do just that. Bear with me while I get used to the world of tweeting.

The Brooklyn Follies

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Brooklyn Follies
by Paul Auster

I started this book on a flight to New York City. I read it on the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan and sitting in Prospect Park while drinking coffee. I couldn’t have picked a better book to accompany me on my trip. From the first pages I realized it was set in the same neighborhood that I was staying in in Brooklyn. Much of it happens in a bookstore on Seventh Avenue and I had the chance to visit a bookstore on that very street. I tell you this because reading it in Brooklyn undoubtedly affected how I perceived the story.

Nathan Glass moves to Brooklyn after a health scare and a nasty divorce. He runs into his nephew Tom in a small bookstore run by an eccentric man named Harry. The three men find themselves caught in some sort of adult male limbo, each ending up somewhere he didn’t want to be. Their lives don’t kick start back into action until Tom’s 9-year-old niece Lucy appears, refusing to say a word.

I adored this story. I loved the beauty of the writing and the realistic characters. Some bad things happen, but that's life. As I read, I felt like I was in their world for awhile, walking down the streets in Brooklyn and perusing the shelves in Harry's shop. It was just a pleasure to read about these deeply flawed people and to part of their lives for a short while. They didn't all get a happy ending, but there were so many wonderful things that happened along the way.

(Park Slope in Brooklyn)

There’s a thin line between being so realistic in a novel that it’s depressing and awful to read and being realistic, but still exuding a feeling of hope and letting the readers see the joy in your characters’ lives. Auster is firmly in the second camp. He’s able to introduce us to Harry, Tom, Nathan and Lucy and make us love them even though we think some of their decisions are stupid. We all screw up and this book celebrates second chances, without shoving sunshine down your throat.

On top of all that goodness, there’s a deep literary love rooted in every page of the book. They are all readers and their discussions are often idealistic and fascinating. I found myself writing down so many quotes I wanted to mention that I ran out of room on my bookmark. Here are a few...

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure please of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.”

“Post-past?” “The now. And also the later. But no more dwelling on the then.”

“You can’t change the weather Tom.” Meaning that some things simply were what they were, and we had no choice but to accept them.”

“Asking forgiveness from someone is a complicated affair, a delicate balancing act between stiff-necked pride and tearful remorse, and unless you can truly open up to the other person, every apology sounds hollow and false.”

*Photo by moi.

Absalom, Absalom

Friday, August 12, 2011

Absalom, Absalom!
by William Faulkner

My only experience with Faulkner to date was The Sound and the Fury. While I found it a fascinating read, you can’t deny that it’s incredibly muddled. There are multiple points of view, one of which is a mentally handicapped person, which makes for a confusing flow to say the least. So I’ve been a bit hesitant to try anything else from the famous southern author.

This book tells the tragic story of Thomas Sutpen, a proud man determined to create an epic legacy. He builds a huge plantation, Sutpen’s Hundred, convinced that its success, along with having male children, will ensure his goal of becoming a “great” man. To reach this end he becomes blinded to the needs of those around him, blatantly disregarding the fate of others in his obsessive quest (I give a more detailed summary in the spoiler section). The book’s name comes from the Biblical tale of King David’s son Absalom, who tried to destroy his father’s empire. Like the old testament story, Faulkner’s book focuses on a patriarch’s sins which eventually bring pain and suffering to his children.


See if you can follow me here…
Thomas Sutpen marries a woman, Eulalia, in Haiti. He later finds out she’s part Negro and so he divorces her; leaving both his wife and their son, Charles Bon. He then travels to Mississippi where buys 100 acres of land and marries a woman named Ellen. He has two children, Judith and Henry, with her and believes he has the perfect male heir to continue his line.

Years later, Henry goes to the University of Mississippi where he befriends, Charles Bon, without knowing that he is his half-brother. Henry takes Charles home to meet his family and Judith falls in love with him. Henry encourages the romance because he is a bit infatuated with both Charles and Judith and their union would allow him to live out his feelings vicariously. Charles realizes that Thomas is his father and thinks that Thomas will announce himself to Charles and welcome him into his home. This never happens and Charles decides to move forward with his plans to marry Judith.

Henry finds out, much to his horror, that Charles is his and Judith’s half-brother and begs Charles to leave her alone. When he refuses, Henry kills Charles to stop the marriage and then he runs away from home. Thomas’ empire is destroyed by the tragedy and he turns to the only women left around him in a desperate attempt to have another son. He fails and his callous disregard for those women leads to his murder.


Faulkner really makes you work for it. The narrative is hard to follow because the story is told by multiple characters, all of whom are relating the story to other people. The timeline bounces around because there are flashbacks and contradicting details and different points of view. It meanders about while trying to find its footing, but the rambling is very intentional. You’re supposed to get a bit lost as you get sucked into the story. Part of the reason it’s interesting is that you don’t know exactly what’s true. A large portion of the story is told by Quentin Compson (a character from The Sound and the Fury) to his Harvard roommate Shreve, decades after the events have taken place. Another part is told by Rosa, Thomas’ sister-in-law who has her own agenda and reasons for hating Sutpen.

Absalom, Absalom is a bit like watching a train wreck. You know it’s all going to end badly, but you can’t look away. Faulkner’s writing is beautiful, but again, it’s not a clear narrative because you’re never sure whether what you’re hearing is fact or someone’s opinion or just rumors. The scope of the story is epic. It touches on a dozen complex topics, including slavery, southern prejudice, devotion to land, incest, the downfall of the South, material wealth vs. familial love, etc. all the while mapping out a complicated tragedy of Greek proportions.

So far I haven’t loved reading Faulkner. I’ve been captivated by his work and it makes me feel like I’m wandering through decrepit old southern mansion as I read it, but I don’t feel passionate about it. This book kind of defies my rating system, because I didn’t love reading it, but it really challenged me and I thought about it long after I finished it. I like it when books do that to me.

I’d like to try another one of his next year and see how that goes. I’m thinking maybe As I Lay Dying of Light in August. Do you guys have any strong feelings about which Faulkner books I should try? The next one might decide whether I pursue him further or not.

"Jesus, the South is fine, isn't it. It's better than the theatre, isn't it. It's better than Ben Hur, isn't it"

Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's almost Book Blogger Appreciation Week and I seriously appreciate you guys, my fellow bloggers. I've already finished all of my nominations, but if you'd like to participate make sure you do it this week! Nominations are due by August 13.

BBAW will be held from September 12-16 and includes guest posts, giveaways, podcasts, and of course, the awards. I hope you guys participate.

For more information about Book Blogger Appreciation Week or to register, visit their blog here.

Wordless Wednesday: Clouds from Above

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

View of the clouds from a plane.
I love the shadows.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
by Kelly O’Connor McNees

This book explores the fictional romantic life of Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. I’ve read a few books in this vein and some are better than others. We, as readers, tend to be fascinated with the private lives of authors, especially when they’re shrouded in mystery.

This book has a bad case of Darcyitis in my opinion. What, you’re a strong-willed female who’s met a man who is insufferable? How awful! Hark, he’s not what he seemed at first and you might be falling for him? Totally unexpected!

Let me be clear, I didn’t dislike this book; I actually enjoyed most of it. I think my main problem with it was that I felt like I’ve read many similar books. I also grew up loving Little Women and this didn’t add to that love, it kind of detracted from it.

I loved Louisa’s strong will in the book, but not her stubborn pride and rude attitude. She refuses to listen when someone wants to explain themselves, she’s sometimes a real jerk to her sisters, and she thinks she’s better than everyone else because she’s a writer.


We’re supposed to be invested in the love story, but to me it made Louisa appear wishy-washy, which contradicted her otherwise strong personality. She wanted the man, but then she didn’t, but then she did, but not if that meant she had to marry him and give up her freedom. It’s hard to care about the relationship when it wasn’t her priority. I don’t think it’s bad, AT ALL, that it wasn’t her priority, I just didn’t want to read about the romance part. I get that man or writing is a hard decision, but I’d rather read about her time as a single woman writing in Boston and making a name for herself.

Also, I could be mistaken, but I couldn’t find a single thing online that indicates Louisa’s older sister Anna had a beau that died, only that she met and married someone, just like Meg did in Little Women. If that’s the case, then it seems McNees just took Jane Austen’s sister’s story, killing off the author’s sister’s man before they have a chance to marry.


In the end, I think I would have enjoyed this more if it was a historical fiction book that had nothing to do with Alcott. Actually I would have enjoyed reading a real biography of the author more than anything. I think her life was fascinating, but I didn’t like having to guess what was fact and what was fiction. I will say that this has made me re-read Little Women, but I can’t connect the Louisa in this with the one who wrote that sweet story.

“Anticipation bent her like an archer’s bow.”

French Milk

Friday, August 5, 2011

French Milk
by Lucy Knisley

I loved this sweet graphic novel about a twenty-something’s 6 week trip to Paris with her mother. The nonfiction piece is written as her personal journal, but sets itself apart from other travel memoirs because it consists of drawing and comics of their day-to-day life there.

Lucy and her mother wander the streets of Paris, visiting markets and museums, but never in a hurry. I loved reading about their meals and the weather, but I’m sure not everyone would find it enthralling. The book reminded me so much of my own time in Paris and in other European cities. I think that the majority of the appeal of this book, for me, was the nostalgia it brought about for that time in my life. I have a feeling I wouldn’t have loved it if I’d never been to Paris or if I’d read it 30 years after my trip. It was close enough to my own experience to ring with familiarity.

The other draw of the book is Lucy herself. She’s sweet, but honest in her portrayal of herself. She felt like my friend, someone I’ve always known. She was sassy, but also struggling with becoming an adult. She realized that even on vacation, your problems don’t disappear. I remember the feeling of nearing the end of college and knowing everything was going to change. You’re applying for jobs and you’re terrified you won’t find anything, but at the same time you’re terrified they will hire you and you’ll have to enter the “real world.” She captures those feelings of anxiety perfectly.

If you don’t love reading about another’s person’s travels, don’t like France or don’t like food, skip this one. But for everyone else out there, this is a lovely look at one young woman’s time in Paris and it’s a great graphic novel to try if you’re new to the genre.

*Photos from book

The End of Borders

Thursday, August 4, 2011

(My pretty new copy of Cannery Row)

As everyone already knows, Borders is officially closing. Book bloggers have been talking about how bummed out they are and I've been seeing posts about book buying at their sales every where I look. So I decided to check it out... it did not go well.

In recent years Borders has stopped being a bookstore in my mind and has become a stationary or journal shop where you can also buy coffee. It seemed like every time I went into one, the books were becoming fewer and fewer and the other products were taking over.

I decided to ignore this fact and check out the much lauded "sale." I drove about 45 minutes, in bad traffic, to be greeted by giant 40% sale signs. I'll admit, I was a bit giddy with anticipation. I am the last person to get excited by the closing of a bookstore, but a book sale is another things entirely.

Unfortunately the sale itself consisted of about five items that were 40% off (mainly 2011 calendars) and a bunch of books that were 10% off. And folks, 10 % off of a $30 book does not put it in my price range. If I'm going to buy a book for full price, it's not going to be from a Borders or Barnes and Noble, it's going to be from some independent bookshop that I love to hang out in. Preferably one that lets cats roam the aisles.

Anyway, I just wanted to add my two cents into the whole Borders issue. Yes, I hate to see any bookstore close, but at the same time, I felt like Borders stopped catering to readers a long time ago. I would encourage all of you to support whatever bookstores you love, big or small, but don't be fooled by the "liquidation sale" that probably won't be an actual sale worth going to for another three months.

p.s. To make myself feel better about the failed Borders trip, I stopped into a Half Priced Books on my way home. That trip ended successfully and I walked away with a 1945 edition of Steinbeck's Cannery Row for $7! It's one of my favorite classics and it even has an awesome dust jacket asking people to buy war bonds.

*Photos by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Moon Bridge in San Fran

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Japanese Tea Gardens in San Fran

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Sedaris Reviews

Monday, August 1, 2011

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
by David Sedaris

This short story collection is the first bit of fiction I’ve ever read from Sedaris. Most of his books chronicle his personal experiences, growing up, living in NYC or in Paris and his interactions with his family. I’ve always found those hilarious. This book goes in a completely different direction and tells fables of animals set in human environments.

Sedaris imbues the animals with human characteristics. They are selfish, petty, suspicious etc. and put in situations that bring out the worst in them, Secret Santa gift exchanges, pet ownership, a pot-bellied pig who is self-conscious about his weight, etc. The satire manages to feel fresh and odd at the same time. The dark sense of humor that Sedaris is loved for is in full-force, but in a much stranger setting. It’s almost as if this concept was better in theory than when put into action.

One funny story, The Faithful Setter, chronicles a dog’s marriage and his moral debate of whether it’s cheating when his owner takes him to breed with other females. Again, weird, but it’s oddly amusing to hear a dog describe his wife’s nature and bad “breeding.”

I think my favorite story may have been, The Vigilant Rabbit, which is about a mall cop kind of rabbit, who guards the forest and takes his job way too seriously.

It includes the following…

“State your name and your business.”
“I’m unicorn,” said the unicorn. “And I come to bring joy to all the forest creatures.”
“Not with that horn you don’t.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, lose the weapon.”

I can’t say I liked this book more than some of his other memoirs, but it was still entertaining. I definitely prefer his personal memoirs, but this one is worth checking out if you’re already a fan.

Simple Times
Crafts for Poor People
by Amy Sedaris

This tongue-in-cheek guide to crafting is not for everyone. It jokingly gives tips and instructions on how to make various things, but never takes itself seriously, not should it. I loved the Ten Commandments of Crafting, which included, “Thou shalt not fill envelopes with glitter and confetti and send them through the mail.”

There’s one section that discusses “crafting for the hard-of-hearing.” Amy Sedaris literally yells this entire section on the audiobook, which is funny for about.02 seconds, and then it’s just awful. The country music and “woodchuck” parts are incredibly annoying on audio as well.

The chapter on “the craft of making love” was unexpected and unnecessary. I get why they thought it was funny, but it wasn’t really. It just took the book in a completely different direction, which wasn’t funny so much as it was odd.

Though there are some chuckle worthy bits, the overall impression is not a good one. Skip this one and read her other book, “I Like You,” especially if you can get your hands on an audio version.

"More than 8 out of 10 households have at least 4 out of 5 family members engaging in 2 out of 3 crafts 78% of the time. A staggering 98% of this group are homosexual men."