Friday, December 18, 2015

The Force is Strong in My Family

I was six when I went to see The Empire Strikes Back. It is the first movie I ever remember seeing in a theater. I remember being terrified of Darth Vader. When the camera focuses on those weird walls that look like they are made of teeth and as they open up, his bald head is revealed as his helmet is being lowered down and back into position? That is the stuff of nightmares! I remember clinging to my sister in fear, but loving every minute of it. I had the original Star Wars poster on my wall and probably had the sheets and comforter to go with them.

I was ten when the first VCR came out. We were still living in the old house and I remember my sister coming home with a video rental card. I don’t know when Star Wars was available for purchase, or how much they cost, but we had them early. My dad didn’t watch sports. He has never in his life turned on ESPN or a sporting event (excluding the Olympics.) I didn’t know football was played on Thanksgiving until after I went to college. What he watched was Star Wars. He was a cop, so when he came off shift, he liked to wind down by watching TV. We never had cable growing up (in fact, my parents still don’t), so he liked to pop in a movie. That movie was always, always a Star Wars. Each one had a little number written in tape on the side of the box because he could never remember the names of the movies or the order in which they were filmed. He would just say, “put on the first one,” or, “I want to watch number three.” Together, my father and I have watched those movies hundreds of times. My mother would quietly sit and do needlepoint while ignoring the TV entirely. In fact, she once asked me, long after this question was one of those pop culture references that even babies are born knowing, “Was that big black guy Luke’s father?”

I was twenty-five when The Phantom Menace was released. I will never forget that frisson of excitement when the Lucasfilm logo came up on the screen, all neon green and black. A group of people I knew through an ex-boyfriend were going to sleep out in shifts in the movie parking lot to get tickets. I volunteered to stay out all night long because I wanted to fully enjoy the experience. However, I didn’t want to do it alone. So I called a boy I liked, and asked him to stay out all night with me. Someone had stolen electricity from the building and had rigged their TV/VCR to play the original series. (Remember, this was only 1999, doing that was high tech!) There were lightsaber battles. Come morning, the theater employees walked around with free water and popcorn to feed everyone. But that boy and I snuggled under blankets, watched the crowd, and had a great night together.

I was 27 when I married that boy. We played John Williams at our wedding and when he texts me, Chewbacca roars. Every. Single Time.

My son was five the first time he watched Star Wars: A New Hope. We had to turn it off midway through because I thought he was going to give himself a heart attack. The child didn’t just sit on the edge of his seat, he was literally standing on the edge of the couch, lunging, parrying, thrusting along with the action. While his sister was able to remain on her chair, she too, was totally enthralled. They fell in love at first sight and have never once looked back. She has been Princess Leia twice (once with the buns, once in the Endor costume. I draw the line at the gold bikini.) He has been an Ewok, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Boba Fett. His room is a Star Wars merchandisers dream. He cannot go through a day without making the “pew pew, pew pew” noises that indicate he is having a lightsaber battle in his head. He lives, breathes, and dreams Star Wars.

I was 40 when we took the kids to the opening of the Lego exhibit at the Franklin Institute, which was celebrated with a day of Star Wars characters and events. The first time Darth Vader walked by, my daughter cried. To see the character in the flesh (as it were), very tall, very broad, very inhuman is actually rather terrifying. Boba Fett, who is roundly adored in my house, was so foreboding in person that the kids wouldn’t go near him. The many Stormtroopers all milling about were freaky as you don’t realize how authoritarian they really are until they all walk in formation down a hall. Luckily, one of the Stormtroopers saw how distressed my daughter was becoming, came over, knelt down so he was on her level, turned off his voice changer, and explained that he was just a guy who loved Star Wars and loved interacting with kids. I had no idea there was an entire volunteer organization of cosplayers who go to events, hospitals, and such – but this guy told us all about it. He calmed my daughter down, got her to laugh, and got her into the spirit of the event. I never got his name, rank, or serial number, but I will forever be indebted to that kid in a costume who helped her overcome her fear.

This weekend, we will all sit together to watch The Force Awakens. I bought tickets before the commercial advertising that they were on sale had finished airing. I will take my dad, the man who first introduced me to it, my husband, the boy who stayed up all night with me all those years ago, and the children who we made in our own geeky image. Three generations of fans will sit together, in reclining seats, with 3D glasses, and enjoy what I can fervently hope is a good movie. May the force be with you. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Transgender Twilight

We all know that I cannot stand the Twilight series or the 50 Shades series. When new books in both series were released, I obviously wanted to read them so I can make fun of them. Of course I wasn’t going to pay for that privilege though. I haven’t paid for any of the other books, why would I pay for these? Well, you all think you have the best friends, but I clearly do because one of them sent me the newest Twilight book called Life And Death: Twilight Reimagined. The author performed a gender swap. Bella is now Beau and Edward is now Edythe. Based on the terrible names alone, I was practically frothing at the bit to see how bad this was going to get.

Is it a good book? Nope. But is it better than the original. Absolutely. Though that’s still damning it with faint praise which, let’s be real, it all it deserves. All of the genders have been swapped except for the protagonist’s parents. Apparently, letting a man get full custody in the ‘80s was too absurd for the author to allow – in a book about vampires. I’m not even being snarky here – the author herself confirms this in the prologue! Why the AARP-aged vamps continue to go to high school when home school, college, or none of the above is an option is still not touched upon. I have heard multiple celebrities say that whatever age they become famous is the mental age they stay at forever, so I guess the same goes for vampires? It’s the only reason I can think of for why an 80-year old would want to hang out with a teenager.

The gender swap turns out to be interesting. Beau is much less a damsel in distress and much more a guy who makes choices. He doesn’t hem and haw and cry and bitch and moan about them either. He just makes them. He has actual conversation with Edythe (just typing that ridiculous spelling makes me giggle), seems to have an actual personality, and is pretty much a fully-fleshed out character. Plus, he never cries! I hate to admit it, but he’s actually likable! Edythe, on the other hand, is the typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She exists more as a plot devise than a person.

The rest of the gender swap is silly and the names are flat-out painful. They don’t serve a purpose, they don’t add to the story and in fact, they take away from it significantly because the change is so in your face (and the names are so very stupid) that it keeps pulling you out of the story. Jessamine sounds like a sugar substitute, not a vampire.

Let’s get to the nuts and bolts though, shall we? It takes 199 pages for a teenage boy to notice Edythe’s breasts. He never once mentions getting a hard on or being horny. He loves her in the purest way possible and it is ridiculous. Although he actually asks her about sex and they discuss it, it is very roundabout and he seems perfectly happy just getting to hold her hand. However, the scenes of them discussing how slowly they have to go physically are interesting because it stops being about him controlling her (as in the original) but more of the two of them understanding that they don’t want to hurt each other. It is more a mutual (if unrealistic) decision, than a command.

If you are a fan of the originals, I say read it. The author does make some interesting changes. I wonder, though, if this reimagining came out first, if the series would have been such a big deal, or if it would have been slightly popular, but not necessarily a phenomenom.









So, the book ends very differently.

Beau dies. And it is glorious. God, I hated how Edward was such a wet blanket about turning Bella into a vampire. Sure, his life is miserable, but he’s a sparkly vegetarian vampire who has never had sex and has been going to high school on a repeat loop for almost 100 years. That would suck for anyone! I also hated how Alice and her visions were handled as she was able to see whatever served the plot best. She flat out tells Edward that Bella will be a vamp someday, and he’s still like, but not today! Today I will just allow her to suffer these incredibly injuries, continue to piss and moan about our lack of life together, and then eventually dump her – all because I love her so much. Then we as readers have to suffer through three more books that make less and less sense until she finally, finally, finally becomes a damn vampire.

In this version, it is much clearer. The bad vamp bites Beau, the Cullen family rush in to save him, they realize he has been bitten and Arche/Alice makes it very clear – either Beau dies as a human or he dies and becomes a vampire. Edythe bites him. Yes, he still transitions easily, but has to deal with the fact that he will never see his parents and friends again. His funeral is devastating to his family and friends – as it should be. Bella cheated. She never lost anything. She got to live happily ever after with both parents. This version makes more sense. Plus, it completely rules out the ridiculous vampire/human baby, all the nonsense about imprinting, most of the werewolf stuff, and pretty much the next three books entirely. It is a much tighter, much more fitting ending. As I heartily approve of anything that stops more books in this series from being published, I am all in favor of this new ending. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

This Isn't Grey, this is Black and White

WARNING: This is not for the squeamish. Vulgar language will be used, repeatedly. Sexual scenarios will be discussed, in detail.

Grey – E.L James

I actually didn’t think it was possible for Christian Grey to come off as even more of a dick than he did in 50 Shades of Grey and its subsequent sequels. As in many things, I was so very wrong.
Take everything wrong with Christian in the first three books and distill that into one condensed version. He is a megalomaniac stalker who truly and honestly believes that disagreeing with him in any way is a punishable offense. Tell him you aren’t hungry when he wants you to be? Then YOU don’t understand that he absolutely needs you to eat, regardless of whether you want to eat, and not eating means you aren’t taking his feelings into account, so obviously, YOU are the asshole.

He truly, honestly, completely believes that taking all control is a good thing for YOU! I mean, he is taking on all the hard work of making decisions, and thinking, and stuff. All YOU have to do is look pretty and cry or come on cue. How hard is that?

At the end of the book, when Ana asks him to really beat her so that she understands how far the BSDM lifestyle goes, he enjoys the hell out of it. He clearly and repeatedly states that this is the best moment of his life.

“I drop the belt, savoring my sweet euphoric release. I’m punch-drunk, breathless, and finally   replete.”

Jesus, Mary and the oft-forgotten Joseph – is this shit for real? There are really women in the world who think this is romance? It isn’t. This is torture porn. This is a tragedy. If you take his behavior out of the bedroom and place it in a kitchen, for example, and he beats her (for her own good) because she added too much oregano to the sauce, then it is clearly domestic abuse. From his own point of view, in his own words, he enjoys inflicting pain on her. Not just control. Pain.  He thinks her sobbing her heart out is “beautiful” and actually says, “This is what happens when you defy me, baby.” Um no. Not now and not ever will a man raise his hand to “punish me.” I will never deserve it. No woman ever does.

From Ana’s point of view in the other books, he is merely a little boy who has lost his way and needs to be saved by her love. That is so much psychological bullshit that it even hurts to type. From his point of view, it is all much clearer. He is a villain. He really is the monster she pretends he isn’t.

This book makes it very, very clear  that she isn’t a person, she is a possession. He says over and over that he “owns her.” He is insanely jealous; making sure everyone from the valet to her father knows that the two of them are together. He is also incredibly insecure so that every joke, every sentence is analyzed to ensure that she isn’t leaving him, isn’t arguing with him, and isn’t in any way offensive to him. It’s odious. It’s insulting.  It’s repugnant. He flat out tells her that he doesn’t want to talk to her, he just wants to fuck her and she’s like, sure, sounds great. Really? Maybe for a one-night stand, but for a long-term relationship? Not so much.  

If I haven’t yet made it clear what I think about this book, let me provide one last example. Christian hates Ana’s car. Even though she has been driving it for years and it works perfectly, he has decided that she will simply no longer drive it. He takes it, sells it, and gives her a car he prefers. It doesn’t matter what she was driving or what he wants her to drive. That is beside the point. The point is that this is all done behind her back, with absolutely no input from her. When, at the end of the book, she breaks up with him, she returns his car and asks for the money he received from the sale of hers – and his response is to be furious! “It’s always about fucking money.” As if! No, asshole. You stole her car and pocketed the cash! You OWE her that money. That money is hers (and she wouldn’t even be in that position if you hadn’t stolen her goddamn car in the first place.)

Grey is single-handedly the best guide to what a woman should never suffer through in a relationship. Ladies, if the man you love hits you, follows you, steals from you, tells you how to dress, how to think, and even when to eat, then please, run as far from him as you can, possibly while dialing 911. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Final Countdown

If you read one book a week, starting at the age of 5, and live to be 80, you will have read a grand total of 3,900 books, a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the books currently in print.
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History – Lewis Buzbee

I was asked to do a final summary of the list and while I wasn’t really planning on it, I now think that a retrospective is a good idea. I started the list in December and ten months later, I have read almost all of the 60 books. I did devote some time to trying to read the remaining three, plus I still did read a few others here and there. Not a bad total overall. I’ve got a ways to go to hit that (almost) 4000 book mark and I pretty sure I am going to need another job to afford the addition I’ll need to my home library to store all of those books, but it will be worth it.

I did this the most honest way I could – I simply looked at the list to see which stayed with me and which books I wanted to throw at people.

I will say that a particular gentleman really hit it out of the park with book choices. Sure, he gave me seven, so the law of averages says that he would do better than someone who only gave me one, but still, I am quite eager to read the ones that didn’t make the list. I also look forward to our next breakfast to discuss them all.

So, in no particular order, I present my top five. (Also, I didn’t include books I had previously read because that seemed like cheating. However, in the interest of fairness, I will say that The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver remains one of my top ten books of all time.)

House of Sand and Fog – Andre Dubos III
I keep hoping to run into someone who has read this so I can really go to town on the characters, all of whom have stayed with me. Who was right? Who was wrong? When did they go off the path? Would they have ever seen the other person’s point of view? Was there ever going to be acceptance? (Should I watch the movie?) Unfortunately, after reading excerpts from his other books, I don’t think they are quite my jam, but this one more than makes up for it.

I am Ozzy – Ozzy Osbourne
Dear Lord, this is just a palate cleanser of a book. Instead of just navel gazing and staring adoringly back at his own life, Ozzy really just lets it all rip in a glorious display of destruction and damnation. It was an utter delight and I still crack up every time I think of the line “and then we hung the midget.”

Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
There was a great section in this book when Clare and Henry get married and because he is a time traveler, hijinx ensue. She realizes, at one point, that while she has gotten married, the Henry who stood with her at the altar is not the present-day Henry to whom she expected to be wed. “And the realization: we’re married. Well, I’m married, anyway.” It is such a great character moment because it shows the humor, the pathos, the strangeness of their life, and her ability to just roll with it. I have found myself over the past few months, coming back to that line over and over again. “Well, I’m married, anyway.” She loves him, he loves her, and while their life is definitely complicated, they make it easier by just handling it and moving forward. This truly is one of the most epic love stories I have ever read and one I never wanted to stop reading. (So, should I watch the movie?)

Into Thin Air – Jon Krakaour
I still don’t understand why people push themselves to the extreme, why they walk so close to death that they can hear the sound of her wings, and why we are so shocked when things go dangerously awry in such dangerous circumstances. Yet, so many of the people in the book wanted something so simple – they just wanted to touch the top of the sky. But as Icarus learned the hard way, trying to get so close to the sun has consequences. I do think hubris played a major part in the deaths of those climbers and I think this books shows very clearly how little mistakes can add up to big ones and that there really is a moment in one’s life where you have to make a choice. But this was really well written and didn’t make any of the answers clear cut. People died, yes, and it was a tragedy, absolutely, but damn, it was a hell of a story. (The author has shit canned the movie pretty thoroughly. Should I go see it?)

What is the What – Dave Eggers
Every time I read about the refugee crisis I think about toasters. As the story unfolds, Achak is being robbed of all of his worldly position in an apartment in Atlanta. Throughout the robbery and the subsequent trip to the hospital, he tells us the story about his horrific walk through Sudan to the refugee camps where he lived. He has already been robbed of his homeland, his family, everything that you could possibly lose – he has lost – and yet, here he is, watching people steal his toaster. It is ridiculous. He ate a meal a day in the camps. He was happy to have bread, let alone worry about whether it was properly toasted. The juxtaposition of the stories really showed how ridiculous our modern lives are and how cluttered with technological nonsense. These refugees have nothing. Nothing. And yet we all have toasters. It’s a weird thing to wrap my head around.

Also in no particular order are the books I wish I could use as weapons to bludgeon the authors to death. Luckily that list is much shorter because you guys don’t actively hate me.

Me Before You – JoJo Moyes
A good friend wrote a three-page rant about this book that to this day, has remained one of funniest critiques I have ever read about the hot, rich, older guy with the young, pretty, ingénue and how the entire premise is not only a load of shit, but legitimately toxic for both people. (Because I am evil, I’m pretty sure I am buying this very same friend the sequel for Christmas.)

Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult
This book was insulting. It offended me. It was so flat out stupid, so embarrassing, such a fuck-you to readers that I think even M. Night Shayamalan would think the so-called twist was ridiculous. This book is Exhibit A to my thesis statement: why ALL authors, regardless of number of books sold, still need to be edited as if they were first-time authors. (Exhibit B is Stephen King, but he needs a museum to house all of those works.)

That’s it my friends. The end of an era. But fear not, I still have Grey and Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined to cover. I also owe a few blogs to my SIL, who has given me more than enough material for them, and as always, when the mood strikes, I will write. But til then, I’ve got another 60 books on my to-be-read shelf, free reign at the local library, and a fair amount of BN gifts cards yet to be spent. I’ve got lots and lots of reading to do!

Friday, October 9, 2015

60 is the New 40

This is it guys. This was the last book on the list. Next week, the wrap up. 

#60 – Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Recommended by: PR

                 It was love at first sight.

I don’t think I am smart enough to get this book entirely. It is a very long joke on the ridiculousness of the military and of the concept of a Catch-22 situation, in which the only way to get out of duty was to prove you were insane, but since only a sane man would try it, it was an impossible scenario. The book goes on to differentiate several similar situations in which, basically, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The military bears the brunt of the satire and, I’m sorry, but the joke went on way too long. I liken it to watching one of those interminable SNL sketches that would have been funny if they were three minutes, but at ten, have lost all pretense of humor. My father-in-law recommended this one and I thought it was fitting to end the list with an American classic and this definitely feels like something I should have read in school, mostly because it feels like homework. It was just too much, over and over again. If this book were half the length, it would have been enjoyable. As it stands though, I just wanted to get through it. Once again, I found myself doing a bit of research on a book to see if the satire was supposed to extend to the characterization of women in the book, all of whom were whores, or “easy”, or shrews, and who are routinely raped, beaten, and berated by the men. Yeah, I didn’t find that really funny. I’m glad I read it as I feel like I probably should have already, but I didn’t really enjoy the experience. Sorry Dad.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Philly Phail

For a good long time now, we have known that the Pope was coming to Philadelphia. Over the last few months, we have been told to expect hordes of people, to stock up on food, to expect to sit in traffic for hours, to treat this visit like an epic snowstorm, or like ten Super Bowls that are happening concurrently. Every news article showed all the roads that were blocked off, the handful of ways that you could actually enter and exit the city, and explained, in great detail, exactly how exhausting walking over the local Ben Franklin bridge would be to all who attempted to do so. We have been told to expect technology to shut down due to overload. I personally spent the entire week posting random thoughts on Facebook, such as discussing the wisdom of sending tourists to the most dangerous city in the United States to use as a giant parking lot because surely, all the criminals would respect the out-of-state license plates. Right?

If I stand on my roof, I can see Philly. On a good night, I can be there in 15 minutes. Yet for months I have been told first, that I should consider walking, and second, that it would take upward of NINE hours to do so.

My partner-in-crime Bubbles and I decided to go see the Pope at 1 pm.  I hadn’t yet showered, dressed, or actually discussed with my husband that I was going to do so. (In case you were wondering, he was less than pleased.) Yet by 2:30 pm , we were standing in Center City taking selfies.  

Philly created a fear cage and called it the Papal Zone and shame on them for scaring away millions of pilgrims. We were told to expect to park at least a mile away from the train station. We were in the first row. The tickets that were supposed to be sold out in the pre-sale months ago were so undersold that volunteers actually worked the ticket machine FOR me to get me one. The Ben Franklin bridge, where the massive zombie hordes were expected to cross over from Camden to Philly was epically, dismally, ridiculously empty. The city of Philadelphia itself was no more crowded than the recent wine tasting event in my hometown* and, I rather think that my local streets were much more difficult to navigate as there were still plenty of cars around and Philly was a no-drive zone. (*Astute observation courtesy of Bubbles.) While it did take a while to go through the second security stop near City Hall, that was more due to comic understaffing and a total lack of communication than anything else. There were only ten stations and no one was told that fruit wasn’t allowed or that all electronics had to be turned on and tested. Once inside the hallowed “safe zone”, there were free water bottles courtesy of WaWa (which on top of the free Slushies we had already enjoyed from 7-11 meant that we were well hydrated) and lots of jumbo TV screens on which to watch the Papal proceedings. Because I’m lazy, we pretty much crossed the street and decided that was close enough. Why walk 20 blocks in one direction only to walk back later?

What we didn’t realize is that the circle around City Hall would be totally enclosed and we would be locked in without a bathroom, food, or exit for the next three hours.

I’m sure there was plenty of police activity closer to the big man himself. There were lots and lots of cops with really big guns at the train station and I can prove it because Bubbles took a picture with one. There were snipers, because I took a picture of them on the adjacent buildings. There were eight members of the National Guard protecting a completely empty corner that seemed to have zero target potential, but they were kind enough to give us accurate directions. There were dozens upon dozens of police from many states and many types of law enforcement manning the barricades set up along Market Street, leading people to camp out along Market Street, even though the Pope was never going to actually drive down Market Street. But on the block that is City Hall? Not a one. We were standing in the shadow of one of the most well-known buildings in Philadelphia and the only uniform we saw was a guy in a Scotland Yard shirt who seemed baffled as to why people kept coming up to talk to him. (Sure, there were probably plainclothes cops everywhere, but I didn't see an earpiece, a bulge, or body armor on anyone and we had plenty of time to look.) 

Did I see the Pope? Hell yes. It took a few hours and Bubble and I had to suffer through sore feet, hunger, and Jim Gaffigan. (Side note to whomever booked Jim Gaffigan for this event. You are fired.) We didn’t get the pleasure of watching Marky Mark (apparently, Philly doesn’t have any famous Catholics, so we had to borrow one from Boston), but we did get to watch almost everything else. When the giant TVs switched to live shots of the crowd and we could actually see the blue and red police escort lights start to bounce off the buildings – well, let me tell you first hand, it was a truly unbelievable feeling. I recognize that he is only a man and a humble one at that, but according to my faith, he is the big kahuna and to be that close, even for a Cafeteria Catholic like myself, was really quite breathtaking – even if he was just chilling in the back of a souped up Jeep Wrangler.

Getting out of Philly was just as easy as getting in – except this time, every single t-shirt vendor, button seller, and flag waver seemed to have shut up shop – along with every other storefront in Philly. It was actually sad that within a short two-block walk from the procession, there was hardly anyone out and about. The few establishments that were open were all fast-food franchises and even they were empty. I can’t even imagine the potential lost revenue. Even though there was only one train station open (out of the usual four) it was less crowded than a Saturday in December, when the trains are usually packed with families going into the city to see the lights. The bridge was still empty of all but a few hardy souls and the requisite Humvee of men in uniform.

I know this was only day one of a two-day event and I have heard that tomorrow is expected to be more crowded as the Pope will actually be doing mass instead of a wave, but I sincerely doubt there will be a huge pick up in traffic. I will be hosting a Faith and Football party, where I will be serving Holy Ghost cupcakes, Blood of Christ punch, and Body of Christ ‘nilla Wafers, so I’m obviously going straight to Hell which will preclude me from going back to Philly. But I urge those of you who have been told over and over again to stay far, far away to possibly reconsider. I can’t promise that your day will be as easy as mine. That it won’t rain. That something awful won’t happen. That you will get close to the Pope. I can, however, remind you that this is a once in a lifetime event. 

Do you want to say you were there? Or just that you watched it on TV?  

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Never Worry, Now That is a Lie

After this, I’ve only got one more book left kids. JUST ONE MORE!

#59 – Scar Tissue – Anthony Kiedis
Recommended by: BD

What I know about this musician before I read this book could fit in two sentences. He is the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He had a small cameo in Point Break. The end. Of course I loved their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik and I knew several people who had the famous Cocks in Socks poster on their walls in college. I probably played that album more than was healthy, but not anywhere close to the rotation of their contemporaries in music at that time – Pearl Jam.
Keidis is a weird dude. Very hippie-dippy when it comes to peace, love, and rock n roll, but also a raging heroin addict. He talks about the (many) women in his life with reverence and genuine respect, but they all sound like they were batshit crazy and that the relationships were unhealthy cycles of agony and ecstasy. 

If you are into his music, then I think this is a great book because it really explains how the Chili Peppers came to create their sound, their process for writing and recording music, and what they get out of playing it live. His insider gossip is also relatively high end. I mean, this is a kid who used Sonny Bono’s address to attend high school in a good district! He was once babysat by Cher! It was also great in terms of how he talked about his addiction. He is really honest and open about it all. It is linear, but he really only focuses on his own personal life. Flea is a constant thread through the book, but their relationship isn’t really discussed in great depth. It was navel gazing with a really great soundtrack.

Would I recommend this to someone who wasn’t into sex, drugs, and rock and roll. No. But I have to admit that I Under the Bridge has been stuck in my head for the last week and I haven’t really minded.

#60 – What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty
Recommended by:  MK

My initial reaction was that this was going to be a relatively light read, but once again, I was surprised. There is a nice heft to this book, a richness that I really didn’t expect but I fully enjoyed. Alice hits her head one day at the gym and forgets ten years of her life. When she comes to, everything is not what she expected it would be and she spends a week trying to figure out her new life as well as what happened in her old one. It is well documented that I fear nothing more than missing out on life. Death is one thing, but the Rip Van Winkle effect is something altogether more horrifying. To wake up and realize that the pregnancy you were so looking forward to enjoying has turned into a surly 10-year old, without the intervening years of love and adoration to make that child bearable? Or to realize that you husband is a stranger who hates you? That is my nightmare. This is a perfect book club choice because there is so much to discuss. I spent a good portion of the book trying to figure out how the author was going to resolve it and I have to say, I’m not sure I’m satisfied, but I don’t think any other choice would have been better.

However, I could have done without the minor character subplots that were conducted entirely via written letter. The main plot more than held up and didn’t contain a single letter, so surely the author could have come up with a better delivery system than the clunky expositional letter? 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Two Strikes

I love to read. I once got the worst sunburn of my entire life trying to finish the last 100 pages in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. It had been an overcast, cool morning in July when I started reading and a blazingly hot, bright sunny afternoon when I finished. Six months afterward, I still had the lines on my shoulders from that sunburn (immortalized forever in my wedding photos) and almost 15 years later, there is a permanent scar. That is how badly I burned. Yet I never once noticed the sound of my flesh sizzling because I was so engrossed in the story.

This week, I tried to read a collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski and I felt like every page took a million years to read. I felt like once I had read the first story, the rest were all too similar. I also felt like this target audience for this book was so clearly not me it might as well have had an circle with a line through a pair of pants on the back cover. I tried. I really did. I adore the guy who assigned me this book. He was always cool without trying to be and has over time recommended some really interesting things in terms of TV, movies, books, and music. But I just couldn’t with Bukowski. It was all just too raw and risqué and down and dirty for me. 

For the record, that is two solid strikeouts in a row in terms of the list. I'm fairly ashamed of myself, but I learned a very long time ago that there are too many good books in the world to suffer through bad one. That doesn't mean these were bad books - obviously at least one person loved them enough to recommend them to me, but art truly is in the eye of the beholder and in both cases, I was not beholden. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

We Were On a Break

So I was on vacation last week and it was glorious. Very limited wi-fi meant I pretty much popped onto Facebook, posted a picture, and popped off again. A quick read of my USA Today app and one e-mail check per day and I was done. During my vacation, I managed to read a bit. I would have read more, but it turns out that while ignoring your own children is perfectly acceptable, ignoring your niece and nephew (and subsequently your BIL and SIL) is frowned upon. The few times my SIL and I actually tried to read, some damn kid always interrupted. The nerve!

Anyway, I am also off-list as the moment. I’ve got a few books to go but I am busy hunting them down and besides, I was on vacation! I wanted to live free and pick my own reading material. Here’s what I read:

Fly Away Home – Jennifer Weiner

                Breakfast in five-star hotels was always the same.

Surprisingly, I owned this one but had not read it. It wasn’t even on the right shelf. Nor was it stamped. (Of course I have a personalized stamp for every book once it is read. I’m a nerd. Have we met?) A friend strenuously recommended it and the discussion she and I will have will be private. The one I have with you will be much more succinct – I liked it, but didn’t love it. I felt like the entire book was one giant first act, half of a second act, and then no third act at all. I also felt like a pivotal and important scene that would have changed the entire book was blatantly ignored, and considering the author is a proud feminist, it was a scene I really wanted her to sink her teeth into, not pass over in a blip. Bummer for me when the damn writers don’t write what I want! However, it’s a good light read and if you are a fan of her oeuvre, then go ahead and pick it up. If not, skip this one and start with Good in Bed or Little Earthquakes, the two books of hers that I love the most. (I have noticed that her books are very personal to each reader, more so than with other authors, so you might want to read the synopsis first to see which one sings to you.)

The Martian- Andy Weir

                I’m pretty much fucked.

Get thee to a bookstore immediately and buy this book. Please. Those of you who are technically minded will absolutely adore this book about a man stuck on Mars who must figure out how to survive using nothing but his brains and the stuff he has on hand. It is an epic case of McGuyvering with a truly fantastic narrator. He’s smart, funny, whimsical, and basically everything I expect Matt Damon would be in person if we ever met. Oh, wait, did I mention they are making a movie of this very book starring Matt Damon. Now, I dare you to read this book and not hear his voice. Honestly though – this is a fantastic book. While it is science fiction, the author tried really hard to make the science real. If you have an engineer in your life, or a botanist, or any space geek, this is the perfect gift book. Trust me. And if you failed chemistry, never made it to physics, and have a black thumb (cough cough), then you will still love this book because the writing is so sharp. Don’t you dare even think of seeing this movie without reading the book first!

Desperate Networks – Bill Carter

As the 2004-2005 television season hit its first benchmark, the close of the November sweeps rating period, Bob Wright, the NBC chairman, sitting at his desk in his big office on the fifty-second floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, found himself troubled.

I picked this up at a used book sale. I have a soft spot for books about television and movies and this author has written two excellent books about the battle for late night TV. I like to see what is in the sausage, so to speak, when it comes to how a movie or television show is made. I am always shocked how little actual creativity is called for and how much “art” is made by committee. This book was about how NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox battled for ratings and viewers over the course of the time between when Friends ended and Lost began. There are a bajillion names and everyone is always leaving one company for another and it is light on gossip and heavy on process, but it was still interesting. The snark, when it does appear, is worthwhile. (The section making fun of the Friends cast for deigning to work for a million per episode was great.) I imagine any true insiders already know all of this and the book is a decade old, but it was still a solid read.

And now, my friends, it is time. I have put it off long enough. I have bargained my way out of reading more of it. But this was the only book the library had in stock and it is time to pay the piper. Heaven help me. I am about to read Cormac Bloody McCarthy. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Left Turn to Albuquerque

I’ve known the person who picked this book since high school. I can still remember the exact moment I met her because she walked toward me as if we were already friends – and we still are. We went to prom together. We danced at each other’s weddings. She is one of those friends whom if I saw her tomorrow, we could sit and chat as if it had been only ten days since we had seen each other instead of ten years. Which is why it pains me to say that, judging by her choice, she has horrible taste in books (sorry D!).

#59 – Wizard’s First Rule – Terry Goodkind
Recommended by: DR

                It was an odd-looking vine.

I was ambling along, mindlessly enjoying another fantasy adventure where a guy has to go on a quest to a land he doesn’t know, that contains magic, with a woman he doesn’t know (and subsequently falls in love with), and there are wizards, and good guys, and bad guys, and magic boxes and so on and all was well and good until, um, holy shit, did the good guy just murder a child? A CHILD? Sure, she was a spoiled brat who was going to grow up to be a masochistic murderer, but still, the good guy, the guy we are supposed to be rooting for, just flattened a little girl with one punch, severing her tongue, breaking all her teeth, and effectively killing her.


This is the exact moment the entire book went off the rails. The next few chapters dive into ritualistic torture, sexual torture, and flat out mental deprivation without batting an eye. The entire book up to this point is a standard quest in a middling fantasy story and suddenly, we are in American Psycho. Did the editor die? Fall asleep, drop his bookmark, wake up, and miss a few chapters? I was willing to ignore the dumb ass name of the main bad guy, the weird references to Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit, and the fact that the entire book was one long, drawn out first act that jumped suddenly, and without warning, directly into the end of the third. I’ll even ignore the fact that everyone cried all the time and spent more time giving monologues than actually doing anything significant. But I cannot avoid narrative dissonance. One section of the book was so blatantly unlike the other that I feel like I might have been punk’d. Did someone cut and paste the torture porn part of their book into mine? I’ll never know, but if you think I will read any more books in this series, you are out of your mind. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Life Me Up and Take me to the Garden

I haven't seen the lovely woman who suggested this book since I was in high school and I wouldn't be surprised if I never see her again. Through the beauty of Facebook, however, we have become reacquainted and I was beyond pleased that she decided to offer me a recommendation. This is a light read as it is a children's book (my daughter was thrilled I was reading it and highly recommended it), but it is a good one. 

#58 – The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Recommended by: AC

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.

This book is about a pair of children who discover a secret garden and it rejuvenates them completely. I read this for the first time when I was a child and was entranced by the idea of the garden. I found the children to be amusing, and I really rooted for them to fool all the adults and enjoy their garden. As an adult, I was actually horrified at the flat-out child abuse and negligence, let alone medical malpractice of the highest multitude! The kids are fed regularly, but beyond that, they are utterly ignored. It is criminal. The boy spends his entire life believing he is crippled when he isn’t. The girl is taught nothing because no one cares enough about her to bother. Yes, sure, the garden sounds lovely and the kids mental, physical, and emotional growth is quite nice, but maybe if someone had ever taken more than a moment of time with these kids, they wouldn’t have been such beasts to begin with.

(A side note – I actually love the musical that came out of this book. Looking it up for this blog, I was shocked to discover that the actor who originated Dickon is the very same actor who went on to create Hedwig. That’s quite a career path!) 

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Marital Disagreement

#57 - Guardians of the West – David Eddings
Recommended by: My Husband
               It was a late spring.

I have said quite often that my husband and I don’t share the same taste in books. Obviously, when it came his turn to choose a book for the list, he had a vast range to choose from as I’ve read almost nothing that he has read and vice versa.

The one he picked is dog-eared, with no back cover, and has been well-used. While it is the first book in a series, it the second series in which these characters are used. As a reader, this was similar to watching the “previously on” that occurs before a season finale, then jumping right into season two as if that three-minute recap of events, characters, and plot twists was all you needed to catch up with everything. It isn’t and it wasn’t.

As in all typical fantasy novels, characters had multiple names, all of the names have too many consonants and vowels in strange places, and no one is ever just named Ted. Everyone has a title that has multiple parts, there are always people in disguise, and while there are distinct rules of magic, they don’t always seem to apply in every situation. In short, I had no fucking clue what was going on in this book. I didn’t know what happened previously in the first five books, didn’t care what was happening in the one I was reading, and couldn’t care less what happened next because the plot device it all hinged upon was dumb and collectively ignored everything that had gone before hand.
Plus, the blatant misogyny about killed me. There is a character that is constantly referred to as the greatest sorceress on this world. What does she choose to do with her time? Play wife! No lie, she puts all of her powers aside to live in domestic bliss with a blacksmith. Who doesn’t prefer to make soap by hand when you could topple governments with a wave of the very same hand? All one queen does is cry. When another queen uses military terms, she is asked to stop because it is too distressing to men’s ears and when her plans are used, it is grudgingly at best. I know fantasy, especially old school stuff tends not to be very forward thinking in terms of gender roles but this was ridiculous.
A bigger problem wasn’t even that I was dropped into the middle of the story, but that deus ex machina was used so egregiously. It is by far, my least favorite plot device (a bitch to spell and impossible to pronounce.) Just once, in my literary travels, have I seen it used to good effect and that was when the author rather wittily made it an actual hand of an actual god. That, I can get behind. This sucked. 

But after learning why my husband picked it, I can’t really fault him. It was the first fantasy novel he read at the tender age of 12. It made an indelible impression on him and led him down the path to a lifetime of fantasy and sci-fi. I get that. I have lots of books that I read as a child that I don’t know if they are good or bad just because they are so much a part of me that I can’t readily distinguish between the two. So while I didn’t exactly pull my punches when it came to reviewing his book, I do understand why he chose it and I feel honored to be a part of such an important memory. I’m still not reading the rest of the series though. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Beans and Birthdays

I have rarely been able to discuss the books with the people who chose them, so this week I was delighted to share breakfast with the guy who tried to abuse my poor math skills and get eight books onto the list. We negotiated down to three, with one to be read at a later date. His taste hews to non-fiction, but beyond that, it was very eclectic. Let's see what is of interest to one of my husband's oldest friends. 

#53 – Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
Recommended by: KS

In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,00 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.

The text on the front cover of the book sums it up succinctly. What you think about the book will be based on what you think of the McCandless. Is he a saint or a savant? The book explains what led him to the fateful trip to Alaska, what could have caused his death, and throws in a few other stories of people who died under similar circumstances to give you a broader view. The author also interjects himself in to the story, a year before he did so much more spectacularly in Into Thin Air.

It is an interesting book. I remember, years ago, talking to a friend about surfer culture and how surfers spend time making money, then time just riding the waves, and I remember snarking that, “their parents must be so proud of them.” Age and experience have taught me that maybe taking time to do what you love is something to be proud of, and as long as you are supporting yourself, and not hurting others, to each his own. Therein lies the rub. His death hurt a lot of people. Should he still have taken his journey? It’s so hard to say. I think this book will stay with me for a very long time because it didn’t provide an easy answer to one of life’s most fundamental questions – Does making oneself happy override the happiness of others? I urge those of you who have not read it to do so and try to come up with your own answer.

#54 – Founding Brothers – Joseph Ellis
Recommended by: KS

No event in American history, which was so improbable at the time has seemed so inevitable in retrospect as the American Revolution.

The book then shows us why, using several moments in time that changed America. This sounds like an awesome read in theory, not so much in practice. This book was dry as toast. It wasn’t boring; it was just devoid of any emotion other than rabid interest. Imagine being stuck in a room with a gaggle of history nerds while they discussed the minutia of a dinner party that happened two hundred years ago and was filled with people who all seemed completely interchangeable. That is what reading this book was like. People did not have conversations; they had ongoing dialogue or intense discourse. The preface alone nearly killed me. The author never used one word when he could use fourteen. His use of grammar was excellent as I’ve never seen commas used to such great effect in extending a sentence so that it had the weight and heft of a full paragraph. I thought the history of Lincoln would be the most unwieldy of the books on the list, but this one was by far much harder to digest. It was just so wordy. (Coming from a blogger, I understand the irony of that statement.) I admit that there was some (gasp!) skimming involved. I just couldn’t really dive into this book without drowning in a sea of vocabulary on topics that the author rendered so colorless. A chapter on the infamous duel between Hamilton and Burr was as thrilling as the goblin wars as told by Professor Binns. I think the author got in his own way quite a bit by over-explaining, over-analyzing, and just overwriting to the point of lunacy. If this part of history is your thing, then by all means, dive in. For the rest of us, here there be dragons.

#55 – What is the What – Dave Eggers
Recommended by: KS

                I have no reason not to answer the door so I answer the door.

Thus begins what I can only refer to as the Story of Job as lived by a Sudanese Lost Boy. The prologue makes it very clear that Dave Eggers is not the author. This is a true life account; an only barely fictionalized, horrifying, unbelievable, yet utterly realistic account of what Valentino Dominic Achak Deng lived through. It is occasionally funny in ways that are both sad and ridiculous, but it is never anything less than memorable.

There is a section in the book where Achak visits Nairobi for the first time and this visit happens to coincide with the death of Princess Diana. As people mourn in the street and his hosts are visibly traumatized, Achak, not understanding the customs of death outside of Sudan, wonders if this is how everyone is mourned when they pass. Only much later does he realize that it was her fame that made anyone care, but that when an anonymous man is killed, or thousands of men, women, and children are slaughtered in what can only be termed genocide, that people are oddly unaffected. Considering how the entire Internet seems to have lost its damn mind over Cecil the Lion this week, I think his observation still stands.

This is another book that I think should be required reading. Yes, it is violent. Yes, it is heartbreaking. But it is necessary for people to understand what they stories they see on the news don’t end when they change the channel. Those stories continue, but no one seems to care about them anymore. Achak talks about refugee camps being built in the most desolate, unwanted, unlivable places and then being stuck in them not for month, but for years. Years! Think about your worst night of camping, take away all of your camping supplies, and multiple the length of time past the point of all logic and reason – that is what his life was like – and that was after he survived so many other traumatic events that I am not even sure how he was still able to think or speak, let alone tell such a clear story in such a cohesive manner. The worst part is that I just checked out his website and everything he talked about in the books is still happening! It isn’t ancient history, or even the recent past. This is now. Read this book. Please. I dare you not to look at the world differently afterward. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Humble Pie

#51 – The Help –Kathryn Stockton
Recommended by: AS

Remember a few weeks ago, how I talked about books like they were food? Some books are a five course meal, others are dessert, while some are dessert with secret veggies baked inside? This book is a granola bar that has healthy packaging but is filled with sugar.

Here is my problem with this book in a nutshell – the entire story of the oppression of working class blacks was told from the point of view of a rich white girl. It is fantasy, not fiction. We can all pat ourselves on the back that we would never act like that toward someone of a different race, but last week, greater than 50 years after this book was set, we JUST got rid of the Confederate flag, a symbol of black oppression if there ever was one. So, don’t go breaking your arm or anything. There is still a long way to go.

Was the book well-written? Yes? Was it fun to read and did it keep my attention? Yes. Has everyone in the world read this book or seen the movie? Yes, though I admit I actually haven’t seen the movie because if I did that, I’d have to add on another month to this project. Look, it is a cute book and all, but it isn’t half of what is has been made out to be. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Freedom to Despair

Fun fact, I once won a first-edition, signed copy of a Jennifer Wiener book by posting a picture of her books trying to guillotine one of his books. Odd, right? I also posted a blog about winning the contest on Twitter because it gave me a much needed dose of self-worth after a really shitty day. 

#48 – Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
Recommended by: SR

The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally – he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now – but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times.

I am not a fan of Franzen. I hated The Corrections. Sadly, I am not a much bigger fan of Freedom. I think it has the same two problems as his first book – all the characters are low-grade assholes that are impossible to care about in any meaningful way and nothing really happens. I can get behind a good villain or a really complex character that is neither good nor bad. In fact, I think that is what makes Gone Girl such a good book because if you take two minutes to think about the plot, it falls apart entirely. But you are willing to overlook the basic stupidity of the plot and the ludicrous ending because the characters are so fascinating. In this book, the characters are exactly the type of people you wouldn’t want to get stuck talking to at a cocktail party. They just exist in a vacuum of self-absorption and poor decision making. As a reader, we have to be told that characters are interesting because the author can never prove it on the page. I’m glad I read it because I can continue my active dislike for his novels with a perfect record, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone else suffer through it.

#50 – Despair – Vlaidmir Nabokov
Recommended by: LR

If I were not perfectly sure of my power to write and of my marvelous ability to express ideas with the utmost grace and vividness . . . So, more or less, I had thought of beginning my tale.

I didn’t get it. I can’t even pretend that I did. In fact, I can honestly state that if I didn’t go online and read the Wikipedia synopsis, I’d have literally no idea what happened in this book. I know this is a classic of literature, and Russian literature in particular, but I’d be damned if I had to explain why. It might as well have been written in Russian for all I understood of the characters, their motivation, and the plot. I can only be thankful that this was a very brief book and that my feeling of complete stupidity was short-lived. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Post-Birthday World

#49 - The Post-Birthday World – Lionel Shriver
Recommended by: SR

What began as coincidence had crystalized into tradition: on the sixth of July, they would have dinner with Ramsey Acton on his birthday.

Thus begins one of my favorite books of all time. I have recommended this book over and over again. I’ve made two different book clubs read it. I put a copy out in my Little Free library on the very first day it was open for business. I cannot emphasize how much I think every woman should read this book.

However, I’d be remiss in saying that half of the people who read it hated it.

Books are food for the soul. Some are light and airy, like lemon meringue pie. Others only seem shallow, but wind up being dense and thick, like brownies cooked with spinach or bread made with zucchini. Some are appetizers, others desserts. Many books are a meaty, loaded down with carbs and gravy, dates and details, so that when you finally finish, your brain is thick and sluggish.

The Post-Birthday World is a five-course meal. The first chapter is the amuse bouche – it sets the ground work for the entire story. Irina is in love with Lawrence, her fine, upstanding, somewhat boring partner of ten years. One night, she finds herself at dinner with Ramsey Acton, the rakish, dashing, snooker player. At the end of the night she has to make a choice – does she kiss him or not?
The rest of the book proceeds in alternating chapters. In one set, she kisses him. In the other set, she doesn’t. What is fantastic is how small decisions reap large changes and how perception is so different than reality. Choice is a common subject in my house and I’m always telling the kids to make good choices. But, really, what is a good choice? Which choice of Irina’s was the “right” one?

The first time I read this book, I thought one way. On this, my second reading, I feel completely different. I could talk about this book for hours and I will admit that I have thought about it frequently over the years. To me, this is a perfect book. The alternating chapters are like enjoying a tasting menu at a five-star restaurant. Each one is perfectly balanced against the one before it and the one next to it, but each could stand easily on its own. There is however, no sweet ending. This book eschews the traditional dessert course and goes for the cheese plate with multiple textures and smells.

The language is lush. The author is a master of simile and metaphor. You don’t skip sentences in this book; you allow them to wash over you word by word. There are no misspent words here, careless commas, or unnecessary asides. Every word has a purpose. It is really just a fantastic rendering of what could be and what was. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Supersize It

The problem with most sequels is that you already got everything you wanted out of the first movie. The perfect movie always leaves you wanting more – but the sequels tend to give you way too much. In the case of Magic Mike, the first movie sucked so badly that the sequel could only get better, and ladies, believe me when I say this, Magic Mike XXL was EXACTLY the stripper movie we all wanted.

This is what I said I wanted in the first movie:
I didn't go into a stripper movie expecting much. In fact, I was pretty clear that I wasn't interested in the "talky bits." I wanted hot, naked men dancing for my amusement without the hassle of a two-drink minimum and a handful of dollar bills that I am supposed to stick into dirty, sweaty, spangled thongs. I wanted a movie made for women - sweet romance with a hot lead, swoon-worthy secondary characters for comic relief, and at least one really good sex scene.

Check. Check. And while there wasn’t a sex scene, I am pretty damn sure that the finale was much, much dirtier than 50 Shades. Much.

The second movie had it all. I’ve been to my fair share of stripper shows (don’t ask), and I was always amazed at how ridiculous the men looked. There is nothing remotely sexy about spangled thongs. In, most women prefer nothing more than a man in pair of tight jeans hanging low off a set of tanned abs. Nothing is hotter than a man who can make us laugh, or a man who can sing, or a man who knows how to wear a tux. Check. Check. And Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, double check.

This movie was fun. It was a good time. I was once again accompanied by a wonderful set of women and we laughed, not at the movie, but WITH the movie. There was spontaneous applause, not once, but often. (Yes, I totally clapped like a child presented with candy when Matt Bomer busted out Bryan Adam’s “Heaven.”) The audience was involved, entertained, and delighted with what was on screen. Yes, it was a dumb stripper movie, but it was a perfect dumb stripper movie in that it didn’t try to be anything else. Did the men strip? You betcha! But in between, there wasn’t a lot of dead space. Each character had a chance to shine a bit, to be more than a cardboard cut-out with a six-pack, and to dance like no one was watching. Trust me, we were watching. Oh hell yes, we were watching.

While I may never be able to listen to the Backstreet Boys with the same level of innocence, I will also never see Michael Strahan the same way. And I’m pretty sure that Joe Manganiello just bumped himself straight up to the top of my list. Good lord. He wore a tux and made a really, really well-timed vampire joke? Hey baby, I think I want to marry you.  

Last time, I told the friend who was unable to attend that I’d buy the popcorn for the next movie because I wasn’t going back to see the first one. This time, I am ready, willing, and able to go back to see it with any one of you who did not make opening night. And ladies, let’s be clear – leave the men and the kids at home. This is one is for the girls.

(Closing note: I can only hope and pray that one day, if I am a very good girl and God is kind, that I too will have a book club meeting like the one in the movie. You are all invited. Promise.) 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Odds Have it

This is a long one. I managed to fly through a couple of books, but this post is unusual in that I spend most of it recommending other, better versions of the topics at hand. 

#42 – After Camelot – J. Randy Taraborrelli
Recommended by: MK
          It was a gray, dreary, and unremarkable Saturday afternoon in Hyannis Port.

I never really cared about Camelot. My parents were of the Kennedy generation and I never once heard them mention that family, good or bad. As such, I didn’t have much of an interest in them or their lives. I knew the basics, I mean, I am American, but I couldn’t have drawn a family tree or named more than a few of them off the top of my head. So an entire book about them post-JFK and RFK was not high on my reading list.

Unfortunately, after reading it, I don’t think it should be high on yours either. My first problem was the author wrote a book about the Kennedy family pre-1968 and seemed to think that if you read this one, you must have read that one. I didn’t. Which means the assassination of JFK and the murder of RFK are just breezed past. It was an terrible editorial misstep that informed the entire rest of the book because you cannot base an entire family history on how they overcome grief, how they based their lives on service, and how they always, always, always were in the shadow of those great men without actually talking about those great men and how they died! A chapter on each of them, with their terrible deaths included, would have gone a long way toward filling the emotional center of the book, which I found sorely missing.

My other problem with the book was the “Oh, woe is them!” feeling. Yes, many people in the family died of cancer. When your family is as big as the Kennedy clan, and when cancer is so prevalent, statistically, I think they were about average. Yes, many of them died in small plane crashes – which, by the way, they flew in constantly. Again, statistically, when you fly in a small airplane 10 times more often than average, your death in a plane crash will increase. It is still sad. It is still terrible. There was no Kennedy curse. There was only the law of averages. 

The central theme of the book seemed to be that everyone was always grieving, trying to just survive, bonding as a family, and trying to be of service. There was no dirt. It does not appear that anyone very close to the family actually sat down to be interviewed for this book, including any Kennedy. The author pulled all of his punches. He didn’t disclose anything that wasn’t already public knowledge. It was all very polite, which also, unfortunately, made it all rather boring.

If you really want to know what being in the Kennedy clan was like, I highly suggest you read Carole Radziwell’s memoir, What Remains. It is about the death of her beloved husband and while I normally avoid cancer books, like, well cancer, this is quite honestly one of the best books, let alone memoirs, I have ever read. It’s beautiful and fascinating and interesting and really gives you a sense of what losing a loved one is like. It also gives incredible insight into the Kennedy family because Carol and her husband were best friends with John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Caroline Bessette Kennedy. It is dishy, but not in an invasive way and it presents everyone in real lighting, not in the most flattering one.   

#44 Wifey – Judy Blume
Recommended by: BD
           Sandy sat up in bed and looked at the clock.

As a child, I read every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on – and my child has done the same. As a tween, she taught me all sorts of things. I learned about masturbation in Deenie, about sex in Forever, and about grief in Tiger Eyes. In fact, I loved the last book so much I wore tiger eye jewelry for years. I haven’t let my kid near those books yet, but when the time comes, I can only hope she learns that sort of stuff in a compassionate, understanding way – but probably not from Judy.

Look, some books age well. Others don’t. I’m sure Super Fudge is still relevant, but in this day and age, Wifey reads like a down market episode of Mad Men. A frustrated housewife in the early 70s has a few affairs during one summer when her kids are away at camp as she tries to figure out how she wound in a loveless marriage with a man who expects the same weekly meals, the same weekly sex, and values beauty before substance. Yawn. Maybe it was the stilted language, or maybe it the paper thin characterizations, but this book left me cold. Every man was made of straw. Every woman was a harpy.

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? Passing it requires two female characters sharing a scene (in a movie, but I think it is equally relevant in a book), talking about anything other than a man. The book failed that test. Miserably. Even worse, I don’t think anyone in the book every talked to anyone else openly and honestly. It was just so depressing. But worst of all, it was really dated. This book is not a classic. It is of a very specific time and place and that place is, unfortunately, the 70s. No one wants to go back to the 70s, least of all with the writer of Freckle Juice. There are literally dozens of books about this same exact type of life, written by much better authors. I'd start with Jennifer Weiner and work your way outward from there. 

#46 – High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
Recommended by: BD
      My desert island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:

This was a re-read and I liked it exactly the same amount the second as I did the first time. It’s a very cute, very British book. The guy is sort of a wanker, the whole vintage record shop (this was set during the time of vinyl and mix tapes) is all rather twee, and honestly, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about him or his girlfriend or their problems. Sure, it was generally amusing, but if you want to read a book about a wanker who finds a way to screw up his life through apathy, then read About a Boy by the same author.  Or if you want to read a book with endless musical references, mix tapes, and lost love, then I recommend Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffeld. Both books are superior to this one.  

#47 – Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban
Recommended by: BD

Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.

This is the best of the Potter books in terms of smart, tight storytelling, clear characters, and a great plot. If you haven’t read Harry Potter yet, well, what on earth is wrong with you? And if you tell me you have only seen the movies, I will cease being your friend. These aren’t children’s books. They just happen to be books that children enjoy. Rowling is a master of setting up far-reaching events. A throwaway line about a vanishing cabinet in the second book becomes a major plot point in the sixth book. A casual mention of a sporting event in the third becomes a major set piece for the fourth. Characters make choices you can believe because they aren’t made in a vacuum. These books may be about magic, but in the end, Rowling always shows you how the rabbit got into the hat. My daughter is addicted to them. She has destroyed all of my first printings. She plays Harry Potter trivia games like it is her job and if she ever finds out about the Harry Potter theme parks, she will be out hawking lemonade at every major, minor, and rookie event at the local high school to earn the money to go. I actively encourage her addition. I mean hell, it’s better than Twilight, right? If you haven’t dived into the Harry Potter universe yet, I highly recommend that you get right on it. If you prefer audio books, the Jim Dale versions are superb.  Hogwarts is waiting! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Unsolved Mysteries

Do you know how some people are just effortlessly cool? Always really into odd, esoteric stuff, can always seem to find the most random, yet perfect quotes and references, and is always ready with a suggestion of something you have never, ever once heard of and yet, immediately must read/watch/buy? He had an odd predilection in high school to practically inhale full bags of Stella D’Oro breakfast treats and a love of Bob Ross that could not be explained (and yet made cool somehow), the person who recommended this book is that guy. I haven’t seen him in oh, about twenty years, but when he e-mails me with a suggestion for something, I always, always pay attention. You should do so now.  

#41 – My Dark Places – James Ellroy
Recommended by: JS

                Some kids found her.

This book was so hard boiled you could have dyed it for Easter. There are few adjectives or adverbs. The language is brutally simplistic and the sentence structure is that of a Dick and Jane book, if you like your primary reading to be about murder. The paragraphs are short. The sentences are shorter. There was almost no dialogue. The language, like the subject matter, is intense and vulgar. This is a dark book about dark people who did dark things.

I sort of loved it.

I haven’t read Ellroy’s well-known fiction such as LA Confidential or The Black Dahlia so I never would have picked up his autobiography. However, I think it is safe to say that this isn’t your typical navel-gazing. When he was ten, his mother was murdered. By his teens, he was on his own entirely, and by his 20s, he was a homeless drug addict. He spent all his time concocting stories in his head. Eventually, he cleaned up his act and turned the stories into books. The stories were his salvation. The stories were his best self, his only way out. In his 40s, he focused on trying to solve his mother’s murder.

It’s a hell of a book. Did I mention it was dark? Every sentence is blunt and hits you in the gut. There is no flowery language to soften the blows. The topic is hard so the language is hard. Yet the insights into character, while brief, were excellent. The location is described with few words, but all of them are well placed. You know where you are, you know who you are with, and you know why they are acting in such a way – all with the fewest descriptive phrases possible. It’s quite an achievement. This book reads like fiction, so if you like your books pulpy, full of crime, seedy streets, and the scum of the earth, then this book has your name all over it. (That last sentence is even more bizarre if you read it in a Levar Burton-Reading Rainbow voice.)