Wednesday, May 28, 2008

So embarassing

You know how sometimes books have quotes on the back from other authors or reviews extolling the virtues of the book? Jeff told me last night that Modoc, my book about elephants? It has a quote on the back from Betty White. Betty. White. From the Golden Girls!!!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Truth and Beauty

I loved this book. This was my favorite kind of reading. I started the book on Saturday night and finished it in bed this morning. I couldn't put it down. I recommend reading at least one of Ann Patchett's books and Autobiography of a Face before reading this book, but you could do it in whatever order really. I just liked having some background information on both "characters" before picking this book up. Like I said in my post last week, this is the memoir of Ann's friendship with fellow author Lucy Grealy. You should be warned, this is not an uplifting book. But the writing is so beautiful and their friendship is so captivating that you forgive the fact that it's the literary equivalent of listening to REM's Everybody Hurts over and over.

I particularly related to Ann in the telling of the story. She often compares herself to the tortoise and Lucy the hare, or herself as an ant and Lucy as the grasshopper. I am most definitely, without a doubt the ant and the tortoise in most of my friendships. While Lucy was technically the addict, it also seemed like Ann was addicted to Lucy and their friendship, and I didn't find it hard to connect to that. While the book honored their intense friendship and showed how fiercely intelligent and sensitive Lucy was, it also painted her in a very ugly light. There seemed to be an anger coming from Ann, it was hard to tell if she was angry at Lucy for all her betrayals and bad behavior, or just angry at her for dying and leaving her alone. Both maybe.

Reading the book made me curious about what Lucy actually looked like, so I watched a couple tv interviews of her in the late 90's. It was interesting, but difficult to reconcile the difference between the Lucy on tv and the one in the book.

Anyways. This book is really, really good and if you haven't read it - you should.

I think I'll start The Alchemist tonight.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


I finished Modoc by Ralph Helfer today. I'm not going to lie, I was pretty pumped about this book, which may be why I was slightly disappointed by it. Here's the description directly off the back of the book -
Spanning seven decades and three continents, Modoc is one of the most amazing true animal stories ever told. Raised together in a small German circus town, a boy and an elephant formed a bond that would last their entire lives, and would be tested time and again: through a near-fatal shipwreck in the Indian Ocean, an apprenticeship with the legendary Mahout elephant trainers in the Indian teak forests, and their eventual rise to circus stardom in the 1940s New York City. Modoc is a captivating true story of loyalty, friendship, and high adventure, to be treasured by animal lovers everywhere.

Sounds good, right? Or am I just a big, elephant-loving dork? I was sold. And the story IS good, but the telling of it leaves a bit to be desired. Basically, it's corny. In hindsight, I should have been tipped off by the last sentence on the back description - "treasured by animal lovers everywhere"? Corny. But I think I was blinded by the adorable picture on the cover.

The author is an actual elephant trainer, so you can definitely tell that the corniness is genuine, but the excessive use of exclamation points was a little cringe-worthy. Also? There's a poem at the very end about Modoc the elephant written by the author and it's not so good. I also started to get a rash from all the rants about nature and the wisdom of nature and becoming one with the thinking of the elephants.

Exclamation points and nature rants aside - the story was definitely captivating. The fact that it was true made it much more entertaining and I liked the fact that you got to follow the story from Germany, to India to various locations in the US. And it's possible that I did cry for like one second at the end.

I think I'll start Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett tonight.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I am the mayor of Serioustown

So I had about an hour free this afternoon between meeting with the hotel and freaking out about things beyond my control. It's possible that during that time I visited my favorite place (see my first post). At this place, I might have swung by the table marked "buy two get one free". So I might have bought three new books:

Modoc - a true story about a boy and his circus elephant that spans 7 decades and 3 continents. It's described as a book about friendship and love. I am seriously quite pumped about this book and might have already started it. Why do I feel so connected to elephants?

Truth and Beauty - another true story about a friendship, this time between two humans (no elephant); Ann Pachet (who I think is an excellent writer - Bel Canto, Patron Saint of Liars, Magician's Assistant...) and Lucy Grealy, who wrote Autobiography of a Face, which I loved. My friend Maggie highly recommends this book and I've meant to read it for a long time.

The Alchemist - this book sounded familiar, but I'm 99% sure I haven't read it. It says that it "inspired a devoted following around the world". It's about a Spanish sheperd boy who travels to Egypt in search of treasure buried in the pyramids.

So much for buying a girly novel to read on the plane. Since when am I the mayor of Serioustown? So I guess one book is about circus elephants, but still!

The Great Gastby

I liked this book. While it was from the same era as The Sun Also Rises, and I think I remember reading that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway ran in the same circle, it contained so much more plot and more character than The Sun Also Rises. Everything about it was just more interesting, more articulate.

I suppose one reason I enjoyed it was because it's technically a romance, just an old school one without the happy ending. I thought it was really interesting the way the plot is largely a story about Daisy and Gatsby's romance, but that everything is told by a third character, Nick. I'm not sure, but this seemed like a strange way to tell a romance. It meant that during romantic and personal exchanges, Nick was always lurking around. At the same time, it colored the whole story in a different angle than if the narrator was Daisy or Gatsby. Nick is super honest and not very judgey (an attribute I'm not all too familiar with) and this is what allows him to tell the story in the way he does.

I'm not going to lie, I'm always made kind of uncomfortable when books have plot lines that involve people cheating on their partners. So the fact that most of the plot revolves largely around this theme, didn't let me love this book.

Something interesting I noticed that varies from most modern books I read is that the writing is much more subtle. By that I mean that they don't necessary tell you that someone is floating in the pool dead, you kind of have to work to figure that out. Here's the paragraph where you're supposed to gather this:

There was a faint, barely perceptible movement of the water as the fresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other. With little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water.

The book assumes a certain amount of intelligence that a lot of modern books don't, and I appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt. Anyways, I thought this was really beautifully written. Not really an absolute page-turner, it was definitely entertaining.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Airplane reading

Still working my way through The Great Gatsby. I read most of it on the plane today (in between bouts of head bobbing and drooling on myself while nodding off). I don't think I'm quite ready to review it, but I can say that I'm enjoying it. I just got to my hotel in DC and while I should probably go to bed, I'm still on west coast time. So instead, I ordered some chicken noodle soup from room service and am going to eat it with the cheese and crackers they sent me up a few minutes ago (one of the only perks of being a conference manager - free cheese and crackers). Of course they also sent me a bottle of wine, but I can't for the life of me open it so it looks like I'll be drinking tap water with my hands - I can't bring myself to even touch hotel glasses after that horrible news scandal where they showed hotel staff using windex and a toilet rag to wash out the hotel glasses that come in your room. SICK!! Then I will hopefully finish this book before falling asleep. The rest of the week will be a loss as far as reading goes, I'll be spending my time reading the conference agenda and rooming list at the hotel. Once this conference is over, you can bet that I will buy a trashy airport book to read on the flight home. I'm already looking forward to it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Sun Also Rises

Am I retarded? This book is hailed as being one of the best ever, but I thought it was LAME. Maybe I just didn't "get it".

There is practically zero character development for any of the book's characters. How am I supposed to develop an interest in the plot if I don't even know the people in the story? There are references to some of the characters having been in the war, but there aren't enough details to actually sympathize with them as veterans. There are vague references to Jake, the narrator, being injured during the war in a way that is ironic and a joke, but you kind of have to figure out on your own that maybe this means his genitals were wounded? The whole book I kept thinking, "Am I misinterpreting this? Could he really be saying that he injured his penis in the war?" Weird.

Also, what little I did learn of the characters, lead me to conclude that none of them were likeable. Brett Ashley is a slutty drunk who all the men in the book love and most of which sleep with. All the men are boring drunks. I suppose all the drinking and slutting about are reflective of the "lost generation" that Hemingway was famous for capturing? I feel like *I* was the one that was lost - one character, Robert Cohn has an ex wife and 3 kids in the US, but he's busy drinking and feeling sorry for himself in Paris, the main character has a wounded penis and spends the whole book helping the girl he loves hook up with all his friends, one is engaged to a slut and watches his trampy fiance sleep with all his friends and then they all go get "tight" (ie: shit faced) together. At first I excused some of the behavior based on the fact that they must be young, but towards the end of the book you learn that Brett (aka the trampy fiance) is 34 years old. Remind me again why I'm supposed to root for any of these people? That actually made the book sound way more interesting than it really was. Because this book was bor to the ing.

I have a feeling that this book could be analyzed for an entire semester at some pretentious college on the east coast. I suppose the 20 page long descriptions of bloody bull fights is representive of something and that the main character's wounded genitals is symbolic of the impotence that veterans felt post-war. I guess I just don't care. Did I mention that the book was boring?

Immediately after I finished The Sun Also Rises, I picked up The Great Gatsby. I don't think I've ever read it. I got about 20 pages in last night and already I like it much better. Although after I finish it, I will definitely be reading something from the young adult section of the bookstore to counter all the culture I've been getting this month.

Friday, May 9, 2008

My Latin Lover

So it turns out that Ernest Hemingway blows. This book is BORING. I'm still slogging through, but Jesus. I'm cheating on Ernest by also spending time perusing The Rough Guide - Guatemala which is WAY more interesting. Jeff and I just bought our tickets to Guatemala and Honduras! I wish I was already here -

Monday, May 5, 2008

Trying something new

I started The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway this weekend. Basically I ran out of reading material and foraged Jeff's book shelves. All his books either have titles like Smart Couple's Finish Rich, How to Build a Better Brand or Helvitica is My Favorite Font. Basically his book shelves are a major snooze alert. So when I found one tiny section of a bookshelf devoted to fiction, I was excited. Then I was disappointed because they were all snooty books. I remembered that Jeff once decided to read all the books off the "Top 100 Novels in History" list. I think he read like 5 of them and then quickly returned to his world of non-fiction and his trusty highlighter.

So I decided that maybe his snooty book collection was a good thing and I snatched The Sun Also Rises off the shelf. I just said I was bored with stupid main characters, so why not try something a little heavier? Plus, the book is like 1/4 inch thick, so how long can it take?

PS: I mentioned to Jeff that maybe *I* would read all the books off the Top 100 list and he scoffed! Like I wasn't capable! So rude. Just because sometimes I read books that come from the "teen reading section" at B&N doesn't mean I'm not CAPABLE of reading better books! Now I feel like I need to prove him wrong. I haven't told him of this urge yet, I want to see if I'm still up for the challenge after I finish The Sun Also Rises. No need to alert the presses if I'm just going to quit after one book.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Fly me to the Moon

Just finished Fly me to the Moon by Alyson Noel this morning. While entertaining, it does not warrant in depth analysis.

1. Book veers slightly from the standard chick lit story line by throwing in visits to Greece, Paris and Puerto Rico. This makes me feel slightly better about the fact that I'm basically reading garbage because somehow "travel" is involved and therefore makes the book (and me by association) more "cultured". Not really true, but still.
2. Main character has gay best friend and book contains just the right number of fag hag jokes. I am a sucker for this every time. Particularly if the gay friend is funny in a bitchy way. This one was.
3. It was entertaining, sometimes legitimately funny.
4. Hmmmm... that might be it.

1. I don't like the way the author spells her name. Alyson with a Y? Noel with an umlaut? Annoying.
2. Rants about the hard life of a flight attendant were a little too angry, it became apparent Alyson was a former flight attendant with steam to blow off. (this was confirmed by reading her bio on the back jacket)
3. Said rants made me feel like an asshole for always leaving my garbage in the seat after flying.
4. I think I might finally be bored with main characters who make stupid decisions and how you can tell within like one chapter who she's going to end up falling in love with, and then you have to read like 200 pages waiting for HER to figure it out. It's hard to like the main character when she's stupid.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Year of Magical Thinking

Reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion freaked me out a little. I think I've always been acutely aware of the potential horrors that lurk around every corner, but this book made it even worse. I mean, her husband dies while her only child is in a coma in the hospital? That doesn't happen. Oh wait, it's an autobiography. It DID happen.

When tragedy strikes, you always hear people say things like "we never thought it would happen to us" or "we always thought that these things happened to other people". I NEVER think that. I can pretty much always envision tragedy striking, in fact I do with alarming regularity. Every time Jeff is 20 minutes later than I expect, I picture him mugged and unconscious in some downtown alley or trapped inside his crushed car with the jaws of life pulling him out. Sometimes when he calls my cell and his name pops up on the screen, I wonder if it's actually the hospital who found my name in his cell phone and they're calling to tell me something has happened. When my cat isn't waiting on the front porch for me at 5:15 when I pull up from work, I typically imagine he's been attacked by the neighborhood raccoon. I regularly visit the blog; but there hasn't been a post in over a week. I am convinced that she has miscarried and am desperately sad for her. The facts are that Jeff is ALWAYS late for EVERYTHING, my cat is unreliable and Julie from alittlepregnant is probably on vacation.

Joan's book opens with the real life account of her husband John dying while sitting at the dinner table with her. The rest of the book details the year that follows his death. Despite the fact that the book freaked me out a little (very articulate), I really appreciated this book.

At first it felt like the book was missing emotion, it was describing grief too clinically for me. I'm used to reading chick lit books that would have the main character falling to her knees and sobbing when her husband dies. The widow would then pick up the pieces after some time and likely fall in love with someone new by the end of the novel. In fact, I feel like the book PS I Love You basically had that plot, didn't it? Joan's book shatters that image. (PS is it weird that I seem to be on a first name basis with Joan?) Her account is more about the minutae of grief -her inability to replace his voice on their answering machine, removing his name from their checks, not disturbing his stack of books in the living room. It made me realize that a marriage is not necessarily composed of big, sweeping moments, but the details. And this isn't necessarily BAD.

Sometimes her use of quotes from other books and magazines irritated me and seemed pretentious. The same goes for the ridiculous amount of times a famous name is dropped or she casually mentions staying at the Ritz or dining at Mortons. At the same time I had to remember that she is a writer. Her husband was a writer. They read a lot of books. They were famous and probably pretty rich. This is an autobiography. I also think that listing hotels, restaurants and names was consistent with the way she writes, which is very specifically. Everything she said was specific, so why shouldn't she also list full names and the exact hotel she stayed in when visiting Paris? It was almost like if she didn't, it wouldn't have really happened. Or like listing the specifics was the best she could do. She couldn't tell us what she was feeling, but she could tell us which friend she had dinner with and what she odered.

I was told this was a good book to read because it illustrated a "successful marriage". All the time while reading, I was piecing together her memories of John and their life together before he died. Hoping that when I sewed them all together it would show me the picture of a long term love relationship. I think it did. The picture just wasn't the one I was expecting. Aside from the occasional spontaneous trip to Paris or Hawaii, the picture of their marriage was made up of every day happenings- fights they had, conversations while driving, doctor's appointments, dinner parties. At the same time it affirmed my belief that there's a time limit on life and that you never know what the limit is. I might be misquoting, but I think she mentions something her husband said once, something about how they should be doing "more". And she understood it to mean that they should be doing more together. Not vacations or dinners out, but just that they should enjoy eachother more. It's corny, but when I read the book I couldn't help but wonder if I were put in her position, if Jeff collapsed over a bowl of Trader Joe's gnocchi tomorrow night, would I have regrets? I think that's what I meant when I said I appreciated this book; I appreciate her making me ask this question.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


One of my favorite places to go is Barnes and Noble. I know I should probably support local book stores, and I often do, but I'm not going to lie. I love Barnes and Noble. My favorite thing to do is walk through the entire fiction section and count how many books in each bookshelf segment I've read. I find this excercise soothing. I think most people find it annoying, so I mostly try to make this a solo activity.

Another thing I love to do is choose a big stack of books, find a chair, and read the first chapter of each book. Then I pick my favorite 3 to purchase. I think this is one of the reasons why I sometimes have a difficult time remembering what books I've read. That, and the fact that 80% of the books I read follow roughly the same plot - 30 something girl climbing career ladder meets dashing young man, falls in love after a frightful number of mishaps and near misses, then lives happily ever after. In my defense, there are usually some very important variations in this plot line. For example, sometimes the girls live in London and other times LA, sometimes they work in PR, while other times they are assistant dorm managers at made up Universities in New York (so I MAY have read the Heather Wells series - but it only took a day since the book was printed in size 22 font!), and when I really want to mix it up, sometimes the main character is a man.

Anyways. I plan to start logging the books I'm reading here. I'll tell you what I think of the books and if anyone actually reads this blog, you can share your opinions too. You can also recommend books you think I'd like. Lest you think I'm totally stupid and read nothing but crap, I feel I should point out that I did just finish The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and I hope to write about it here soon. Of course, I totally contradicted myself by immediately starting Fly me to the Moon by Alyson Noel, but if you can't love me anyways, then I don't really care.