Monday, December 27, 2010

Juliet, Naked; Or Breaking Up with Nick Hornby

Oh Nick, I think it’s time we part ways. I really, really do. We’ve had some amazing times - High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch – and during those times, I never thought this day would come. But Nick, you’ve disappointed me too many times in a row now. And I’m puzzled. What happened? What happened to the great “maleness” you gave your characters – those funny, self-deprecating, quirky yet redeeming men that graced the pages of my favorites of yours? Sure, we all evolve and I understand you had to try something new, like speaking from a female voice (How to be Good) or the voice of a child (Slam), but when those things didn’t work for you (and honestly, they so didn’t work for you), why didn’t you go back to what did?

I talked you up, man. I would rave about you. I wrote papers in college analyzing your complex characters. Those first books are ones I keep on my shelves – they’ve moved with me from dorm room to first apartment to condo to townhouse. They've never been thought of as bait for Half-Priced Books. That’s how much they mean to me. Yet, with each following book you’ve written, part of my love for you dies. Your stories aren’t funny anymore. They’re actually either puzzling or quite boring, in fact. And why should I continue to love someone who bores me?

This last book, Juliet, Naked, was the nail in the coffin, I’m afraid. I did finish it, for the most part because it was quick and something to do on the bus, but I was never attached to any of the characters. Not the jerk/creepy music fanatic, not the lonely middle-aged woman, not the washed up, lazy rock star. Nothing stuck with me, and really I didn’t see the point in the story at all. And that lackluster ending? If I had liked the book, it would’ve been a complete disappointment. But then, its lackluster-ness might have just been on par with the rest of the story. If so, you get props for consistency, I suppose.

So, Nick, I’ve been disappointed one too many times. I’m going to have to say goodbye. I’m too busy to waste my time on you anymore. I would say: it’s not you, it’s me. But that would be a lie. It’s you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Got a Kindle. Am I Sellout?

For the past month, the hubby has been talking to me about the Kindle. “Don’t you think you’d like one of those?” Books are cheaper, it’s easier to carry, yadda yadda yadda. I always said no. I like my books. I like seeing the covers. I like turning the pages. Mostly, I like the community of sharing books with friends like Willikat and CMS and my mom and mother-in-law. Plus, as a devoted reader (and a magazine editor), I want to support the publishing industry as much as I possibly can.

[Note: However, when my hubby, the music lover, couldn’t quite get on board with iTunes right away and kept purchasing CDs to show his support, I was on him about all the space they take up (!) and how much easier and cheaper iTunes was. Same argument, different genre. A tad hypocritical?]

Well, I got a Kindle for my birthday. It was a very generous gift from my MIL; she was super excited to buy it for me, and even though Jon told her I didn’t want one, when she asked a second time, he told her to go for it. I was very surprised by the gift. As we were on the way to our birthday dinner, Jon asked me if I really liked it. I told him I thought it was cool, it’s convenient, the books are cheaper…but it will take me awhile not to feel like a sellout. The publishing industry is my world; am I betraying it by reading books like this? Even my boss, who does everything via iPad, has yet to purchase a real electronic book.

However, it is very easy to read on. I don’t have books on there yet, but I’ve been reading the user’s manual and the e-paper is pretty cool. Plus, the books are like 50 percent cheaper, which in tough economic times, that means a lot. And, as a friend pointed out, I don’t have to read all books this way.

I’m going to keep it, because it was a lovely gift from someone who cares about me a lot. And I don’t remember the last time I received (or treated myself to) something this extravagant. (I use the free cell phone from our plan and a hand-me-down iPod; I don’t have my own computer.) And it’s not like I won’t use it. I’ll just use it while having an internal struggle and a bit of book-lover's guilt. All the while still reading physical books, too, and sharing those with my friends.

So, am I a sellout? I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts on the Kindle.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Books I Read in 2010

Well, 2010 was much slower in the reading department for me, which kind of sucks when you have a book blog that you like to keep up with. But, for three months out of the year I didn’t pick up one book, let alone a magazine. Newborns tend to have that affect on you. I had no idea what was going on in the world. Things still pop up in random conversations and I’m like, “What? When did that happen?” Oh, it happened in April, May or June… That’s why I don’t remember. And then, after you become a parent, things like reading on a snowstormy Saturday goes out the window too. I remember when I read Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn over 24-hour periods the weekends they came out. Yeah, never doing that again, until perhaps age 50. Anyway, when the only time I have to read is on the bus and the occasional lunch hour, it’s slow going. However, each December I’ve compiled a roundup of my favorite books of the year, so here it goes:

The Help. One of my first books of 2010 and I’m so glad I read it. This book was touching, educational, funny, sad, joyful, vengeful and moving all at once. I fell in love with Skeeter and Aibileen, and I grew more and more embarrassed of our past. I laughed, I cried. Two things that always guarantee I’ll like and remember a book. I’m very interested in the movie, too.

Millennium Trilogy. Yep, I was one of the millions who got sucked into Lisbeth Salander’s three-book adventure. While the books could be quite detail-driven and it was easy to get lost in side stories that were overwhelmed with information and Swedish-sounding surnames, there was enough action and female kick-ass-ery in these books to keep me flipping the pages. Plus, being a journalist, I very much enjoyed the evolution of Millennium magazine. They were tough, conscious-driven editors – we don’t have enough of those these days. But, in the end it was all about Lisbeth and she’s definitely a character for the ages.

Where Men Win Glory. Once again Krakauer taught me a bunch of things I didn’t know. He did it with Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air and once again with this book. I learned so much more about the wars we’re fighting, basic training, friendly fire, the (despicable) marketing of war, and a man who was truly unique. Pat Tillman was a thoughtful, generous, caring person whose life ended much too early. The book made me mad and sad and depressed about our current situation, but it also made me a bit hopeful that perhaps there are more men like Pat Tillman out there. God knows we need them.

So, what were your favorite books you read in 2010?

End of the Year, 2009
A Look Back 2008
Top Books 2007

Thursday, December 9, 2010

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

I just finished SuperFreakonomics. I really enjoyed Freakonomics, the first book, but since I read it so long ago, I couldn’t remember why (a curse of a mega-reader; don’t you hate that?). Superfreak (as I’ll call it for short) reminded me why. I’m not a data head, but these two guys – an author and an economist – present data in the most interesting, most digestible way. And about the most interesting topics. Who knew I could read a chapter on prostitution and leave it thinking, ‘Hmmm, I can see why that profession works for some people. Good hours. Good wages. You’re your own boss.’ Or, as a mother, these two actually got me thinking about the necessity of car seats. CAR SEATS. Yes, they claim (with data!) that after age 2, regular seatbelts work just as well, if not better. Also: An entire chapter on why this whole global warming thing is kind of bunk, or if it’s not bunk, then about how we’re handling it in the completely wrong way.

When a book shocks you, makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you shake your head in disbelief, and it’s about real stuff… Well, I loved it. I was dog-earring practically every other page because either what they said was smart, awesome or hilarious and I wanted to go back and read it again.

Some interesting tidbits:

+ When families in India got cable TV, suddenly the women stood up for themselves and wouldn’t put up with as much crap from their husbands.

+ The feminist revolution has harshly impacted school children. As more and more women went to college and went into higher paying fields, they stopped becoming teachers. Teachers test scores went down, as did their salaries, which keep more women from becoming teachers. A vicious cycle.

+ Due to police resources being flooded into terrorism-fighting efforts after 9-11, perhaps less were watching Wall Street?

+ In most cases, chemotherapy is ineffective. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars per patient to extend life by as little as two months. Cancer patients make up 20 percent of Medicare cases but use up 40 percent of its drug budget.

+ Iran (I know, we don’t like Iran) pays people if they decide to donate a kidney; and they have no wait list for organs. Demand met. Here, we feel paying for organs (but not sperm or eggs) is immoral yet 50,000 people in the past 20 years have died while on the organ donation list. Does this show that money is a great motivator, more so than “the goodness of our hearts”? Um, yes.

+ Global warming scientists with the craziest, yet perhaps most workable, ideas, change their skew more toward what’s considered “acceptable.” If they didn’t, they wouldn’t get funding. That’s why we never hear about some of the crazy, yet cheap and workable, global warming fixes the authors list in this book. If these scientists said what they really wanted to try, they would never get the money to do it.

+ Solar panels, which are black, send 88 percent of their heat back into the atmosphere – contributing to global warming. Shut up.

+ Airplane contrails help prevent warming. When planes were grounded for just 3 days after 9-11, the ground temp increased by 2 degrees.

I don’t think the book is necessarily meant to change minds, but it does get you thinking. There’s no one answer. The popular answer is not always the right one. Things that are bad can sometimes turn out to be good for you. We should really listen to everyone’s ideas because you never know who’s got the next fix, for cheap. Real life scenarios spelled out simply and economically – it’s good.