Monday, June 30, 2008
Tim is a former rock ‘n’ roller druggie who has found God and gotten clean. He’s a member of the most conservative church in town, as well as the coach of Ruth’s daughter’s soccer team. When he leads a prayer after a game, Ruth flies off the handle and demands that it never happens again.
The book follows the two characters separately and in situations together. It’s quite interesting because each person is right in his or her own way. I strongly believe teenagers should learn about safe sex, and teaching only abstinence is doing a disservice to the students in the long run. However, I can see why some parents would be upset with such candid conversations about certain aspects of sex. I also don’t think it’s right to subject a whole soccer team to prayer, especially when it’s a community-run team. However, if certain girls want to take a knee to pray, is that so bad? Others can sit out. Though yes, it may seem exclusive to those who don’t want to pray.
I think this is what Perrotta was trying to accomplish with this story. The world is gray, and everyone needs to have a little more understanding. You shouldn’t succumb to the pressures (schools feeling forced to switch to abstinence-only teaching; having your child be a part of prayer if you don’t want her to be), but find a medium (encourage your teacher to keep the anecdotes to a minimum and stick to the true facts; don’t force children to pray who don’t want to, respect the parent’s wishes).
The book has several characters who really come to life: Ruth’s gay best friends, Tim’s over-the-top pastor or his much younger, conservative, somewhat boring wife. I think this is one of Perrotta’s strong suits – creating characters who are a lot of fun to read about. I’ve never read his books before, but I may want to try Little Children (which was a 2006 Oscar-nominated movie with Kate Winslet.).
I really enjoyed this book. It’s nothing too groundbreaking, but it’s also not too formulaic either. Some reviewers state they hated the way it ended. I personally liked it a lot. It spoke more to real life. I think my only criticism of the story is that there’s not enough Ruth. I like her as a mother and a person with strong convictions. I wanted to learn more about her feelings. But overall, it was a very entertaining story. I read it in three days.
Favorite Perrotta quote: "Keep writing. Don't be discouraged by rejection. When things don't go well, it helps to think of yourself as a genius and the rest of the world as a bunch of idiots."
Fun Fact: Perrotta became big after his book Election was made into a cult movie classic with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. Great movie. He'd written several other books, but never really became known until Election came out in 1999.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I loved reading about Elizabeth and Jessica in Sweet Valley Twins. The first book was about them going to seventh grade and realizing they were very different from each other. I totally related to Elizabeth, who was smart and a good student. I had friends who were a Jessica though, more interested in being popular (remember the popular girls club she wanted to and did join, The Unicorns? Kills me!). I think the books were a little over the top, but they did cover issues that junior high brings. I never got into Sweet Valley High though.
I never baby-sat when I was younger – I was one of the youngest in the neighborhood – but I still loved reading about the girls who did. I think Claudia and Stacey were my favorite characters. The books dealt with diversity (Claudia was Hawaiian, wasn’t she?) and illness (Stacey had diabetes), plus all the other things (like boys, moving, fighting) that junior high girls deal with. Both series had “Super Editions,” those few books that were like three books in one – usually when the class or the group went on trips or something. I loved those!
I also read a lot of the Mandie books, by Lois Gladys Leppard. Mandie was a teenaged orphan who went to live with her wealthy uncle after her parents passed away. The books took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Each book had a mystery to it – like Mandie and the Secret Tunnel, Mandie and the Ghost Bandits. I loved these, too. Now looking back on them, because they’re dated, I can see some stereotypes were made when it came to Native Americans and blacks. However, I never noticed those things as a kid, and it didn’t alter my perceptions, I don’t think. Have you ever looked back on books you used to read and question them?
I also read Anne of Green Gables, and all the subsequent books that followed. (Anne with an ‘e’!) Those were good, too. I liked the movies that would sometimes air on PBS, too. I think we even watched them in school? How did the boys stand it?
So, go retro for me. Did you read these books too? What other “series” books bring you back to your pre-teen days? What did boys read at that age?
(P.S. It was hard for me to find a cover of Sweet Valley Twins or The BSC. Publishers update the covers of the older books so they look nothing like how I remember them. Or else they don't have an image available. I understand why, but it's also kind of sad.)
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
What do you think? Something missing? Any you disagree with?
1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006) [I haven't read this, but the hubby has. He really enjoyed it. It's not happy-go-lucky, though.]
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991) [Loved these graphic novels. So touching and a very interesting way to tell a holocaust story.]
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000) [If you have any desire to be a writer, this is an absolute must read. I mean it.]
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984) [Gives me flashbacks to a weird Pop Culture media class I took in college.]
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004) [When I read this book, it was only because I picked it up at the bargain table at B&N. I thought it was really, really strange and had a hard time finishing it. A classic? Who knew? Not me.]
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) [A very interesting, true account of (the struggle of) living on minimum wage. Makes me mad when our state doesn't pass a law to raise it.]
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997) [I wrote four posts about this intriguing story. You'll find them in my January and February 2008 archives.]
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003) [Great story.]
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006) [Check this out Jonniker!]
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991) [I've read bits and pieces of this in women's studies classes and enjoyed each bit.]
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006) [Again, another the hubby read and I didn't. He said it was probably too scary for my taste. But as someone who likes to read horror stuff, he liked it a lot. So did Stephen King.]
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001) [Another one the hubby read and enjoyed.]
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Sedaris read that to rid yourself of a habit, it helps to shake up your routine. So, in the extreme sense of the phrase, he and Hugh went to Japan for three months. (In the end, he writes that quitting smoking cost him $20,000.) I enjoyed his stories about Japan. He took language classes and, in true Sedaris form, sucked at them. (I laughed so hard when he said his favorite fellow student was the young girl who was dumber than he was. When she surpassed him in skills, he hated her.) It was interesting to hear how polite the Japanese are to each other. They don't litter, vandalize, lock their bikes, etc. One mom even put a towel under her child's feet when he wanted to stand on the train seat to see out the window, and the cleaned his fingerprints off the glass before exiting the train. Seriously? In comparison, we're a bunch of rude, loud, obnoxious, littering vandals. We could learn a little something from the Japanese, and I don't doubt several other cultures as well.
I enjoyed the book very much. It wasn't as laugh-out-loud funny as Me Talk Pretty One Day, however there were plenty of times the other passengers on the bus heard me laugh.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
1. Sedaris is getting older. I think he's around 50 now. And in his experiences and his writing, you can tell. He's more afraid to talk to people (he quit learning French, so really can't talk to people). He doesn't drive. He doesn't cook. He sits around at home a lot. He takes little walks. He relies on boyfriend Hugh to manage their money, fix things around the house, nearly everything. He wears ratty old clothes because he's too afraid he'll wreck new things. While it all seems a little pathetic - you're 50, not 85 - it's all the more hilarious when he writes about it.
2. I love when in his mind he makes assumptions about strangers he meets - usually on a plane, because living in France means he has to take long flights a couple times a year to America. He thinks they're assholes and they prove him wrong, or he thinks they're nice and need his pity and they end up being complete jerks. Totally relateable.
3. His stories about when he and his siblings were kids are so funny. By his actions and expressions, you can tell he was a little gay boy. I wonder if his family knew then, too, or just thought he was little more flamboyant than the other boys? His dad cracks me up. He seems to have no sympathy for stupid kid stuff and you can tell Sedaris and his sister, Amy, definitely got their humor and wit from him. But even though he can be harsh sometimes, you can tell he's proud of his crazy kids.
I have just a few stories left.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Eat, Pray, Vomit
Oh, , how you frustrate me. Forgive me for saying so, as this book came so highly recommended by so many people I truly love, but I haven't wanted to punch someone as much as I want to punch Elizabeth Gilbert in a really, truly long time. "One woman's journey," my ass. The premise, if by now you aren't familiar with it -- and if you aren't, might I add that I'm envious of your oblivion, and may I urge you to stop reading this now to protect your innocence? -- is Liz Gilbert's three-country tour through Italy, India and Indonesia to find herself after what she deems as a "painful" divorce. The divorce, by the way, was her choice, and yet she spends an inordinate amount of time making us feel sorry for her, as though she was VICTIMIZED by this man who loved her and wanted to stay married to her, OH BOO HOO. They're called consequences, sister. Learn to live with them.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. Ultimately, the issue that I had with this book was that I didn't like her -- I didn't like her at ALL -- and without having a sense of compassion for who she is, and what she learns on this journey, I think enjoying the book is a near impossibility. And yet ... by the end I was less vitriolic in my hate for her than I was in the beginning, but I think that can be chalked up to the fact that by Indonesia, she's introduced several characters for us to become emotionally invested in -- real people who are not as self-pitying and self-centered as she is.
But oh, Italy and India. I hated you so. And frankly, I hated her. Her attitude, her smugness, immature behavior all amounted to a person who really needs to be kicked in the ass -- hard -- by a good dose of reality. Put it this way: how much pity would you have for one of your friends who left her husband in a fit of immaturity and got a YEAR -- fully paid -- to do nothing but eat her way through Italy (and really, that's all she does there), do yoga in an Indian ashram and find a way to balance the two (VOMIT) in Indonesia?
I imagine not very much, no? Wouldn't you take her aside and say listen, bitch, quit your complaining, because some of us do this shit EVERY DAY and oh by the way, we also have to WORK and tend to our RESPONSIBILITIES. So GROW UP?
No? Just me then?
I was, and remain, truly mystified by the legion of reviewers who called her self-deprecating and likable, for frankly, any self-deprecation was done in a way that we were meant to find charming and lovable, because wasn't she so HUMBLE and SELF-AWARE? How darling! Oh, Liz!
Ha ha NO. I didn't find her likable at all, and I'll admit, I really wanted to. And I'll admit, I was a bit soured by the concept of running off and "finding yourself" at 34, which seemed ... well, it seemed self-indulgent, and her selfish reaction to everything she saw kind of cemented that idea for me.
In addition, while I understand that non-fiction is largely written and commissioned on spec, I do feel very strongly that the pre-determined publishing agreement took a great deal away from the authenticity of the project. While I admire her business acumen in securing one prior to her travels, on the other hand, how much more would you have admired her if she did it on her own, out of an actual desire to do so, rather than a mercenary, selfish motivation? Doesn't it seem a bit contrived to find yourself because you got a publishing agreement to do so? I'm CERTAIN I could find myself -- even though I have not yet gotten lost -- if someone gave me a year to travel around the world. In fact, I DARE a publisher to come find me and make me an offer.
To put it mildly, I won't be seeing the film. The concept of Liz Gilbert played by Julia Roberts is ... well, let's say it's a bit too much for my gag reflex to bear.
Do you agree or disagree? Let us know.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Sedaris got his "big break" when he recorded his reading of SantaLand Diaries for Ira Glass' Chicago radio morning show several years back (Sedaris is still a frequent contributor to This American Life). This is one of the funniest stories I've ever heard/read. Sedaris does a lot of what I call immersion writing - throwing himself into possibly humorous situations and seeing what comes of it. For SantaLand Diaries, he worked as an elf at Macy's. This is probably his most famous work, yet in his mind, it's one of his least favorites. However, I listened to a podcast with him recently and he seems to dislike many of his stories once they've been published - he's ready to move on. (I also love his stories about being a house painter, a mover and a cleaner - though I can't remember what books those fall in. Me Talk Pretty One Day is about living in Paris, and not speaking the language. Sedaris and his partner Hugh live abroad a majority of the time.)
Sedaris is self-deprecating, humble being. His life situations are very entertaining to read about, yet he personally doesn't understand what the fuss is all about. He keeps a diary, something he writes in every day and indexes every season so he can use it as a reference later. He goes on 30-city lecture tours twice a year, trying out new material. He'll read stories and gauge the audience reaction - rewriting later that night if need be, or trashing something that bombed. He's not a comedian, but his process seems similar.
His latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, is what I'm reading now. I just started, so thoughts to come later. However, Sedaris stops in the Twin Cities this weekend. I can't make these engagements, but maybe when he returns in the fall. His lectures are always packed, so arriving early is important.
Today, Friday June 13: University of Minnesota bookstore, 7 p.m.
Saturday June 14: Borders in Roseville, 1 p.m.
October 19: State Theater, 7 p.m.
Who else loves Sedaris? Do you have a favorite essay of his?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The book follows Pi, a young Indian boy, whose ship sinks on the way to Canada. Son of zookeeper, Pi is left on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a zebra, hyena, orangutan and a giant Bengal tiger. Soon, because of the obvious food chain, Pi is left alone with the tiger. A majority of the story follows the survival of the two, surviving the elements and surviving each other. Reading about some of Pi's survival techniques were interesting. Being of a zookeeping family, Pi also had much knowledge about animals, and those passages were interesting, too.
In the end though, I found the book too drawn out. Part I barely intertwined with Part II or III. All the set up of Part I seemed to mean nothing for the rest of the story. The author spends much of Part I exploring Pi's religious beliefs. As Part II is about his survival in the middle of the ocean, I was expecting more reflection on Pi's feelings about God. Part II was too long and Part III was, in all honesty, kind of lame. I found the ending predictable, but I don't want to go into it in case it would spoil the book for someone. In the beginning, the author claims the story "will make you believe in God." He didn't deliver on that promise. (Not that a novel would necessarily have that impact on someone, but I don't even find it believable that it might.)
I know there are plenty of people out there who probably disagree with me about the book, and I'm open to hearing why people like the book. Or, if you feel the same as me, let me know that, too.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
After nearly 28 years of living with my gut, I should know it's usually right. There was a reason why I hadn't read the book yet. So far, I've found it to be just OK. It's getting a little more engaging, but I'm still feeling mediocre about it. This frustrates me, especially when I have the impression that everyone else loves it. Am I missing something? The hubby could tell I was a little disconcerted when I wasn't super enthused to read last night. When I love a book I'm reading, I can't wait to get back to it. This one - eh.
Being frustrated, I perused Amazon reviews. More than 1,800 people have reviewed this book on Amazon. Nearly 1,000 gave it 5 stars, however more than 400 gave it 3 stars or less. I read a few reviews from each category, and while the 5-star givers made me feel like I was missing something great, the 3-star givers spoke to my feelings so far.
Now, several reviews said it was a tough book to get in to, but at the end is the pay off. So, I'm going to keep reading it - like I said, it's getting a bit more engaging - and we'll see how I feel in the end.
So, my question to you: Have you ever gone against popular opinion when reading a book? Either you hated a book everyone loves, or loved a story everyone hates? If you have insights to Life of Pi, feel free to post them here, or wait until I've delved deeper and write my next post.
Monday, June 2, 2008
There's a great story in our local paper about Blume. She talks about her writing, her three marriages, her father, her children, her fight against censorship and her philosophy of life. She's 70 years old, living in Key West most of the year, owning a local cinema with her husband and taking tap dance lessons (there's video of this if you're interested - lady can dance!). One of my favorite quotes from the article, Blume says, "When I started to write, I vowed I would never write books that kids would do book reports on. I wanted them reading me on window seats, under the covers with flashlights."
That's exactly what I did. I read them before bed, on the boat during the summer, in the car on long trips. She spoke to me as a young girl, as a new teenager. She knew what it was like to be (and demonstrated through her characters) teased by a brother, fighting with your best friends, confused by your body. She's truly a classic. Her books will never go out of style.
What about you? Are you a Judy Blume fan? Do you have a favorite book she's written? Were there other authors who spoke to you during your adolescent years?
[More notes: Judy Blume also makes a stop at our local Fitzgerald Theater next week, June 12, to talk about her new series of The Pain and the Great One books. You can also listen to a great interview with Blume on B&N's Meet the Writers. Her Web site is a kick, too, with her blog, her advice for writers and an archive of titles.]