Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Ken? WHY?

Why did you have to write the longest book in the whole world? And why did you have to make it full of so much medieval goodness that I wouldn't be able to stop? Answer me?!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eskimo Kisses

I'm back from Alaska! Sadly, I am nowhere near finished with The Pillars of the Earth. I was too busy making out with bears to read.Ahhh... isn't he cute?
Oh, but wait! Don't get too close, he might try to eat your face off!
Oh god noooooooooooooo!!
This photoshoot would have been way better if my Aunt had let me touch the bear. Apparently she put a big deposit down on the bear because some bride once had a little too much Alaskan Amber and tried to ride it. They caught it on the security cameras.
But back to reading. I will confess that I love the book so far, but JESUS it's long. I'm about 550 pages in, but considering there are over 900 pages in the book, I've still got a long way to go.
Lessons learned while in Alaska:
1. Don't bring a really big heavy book on vacation. It's cumbersome to cart around to the coffee shops and other places that you might want to read.
2. I still love medieval literature.
3. A bear at a wedding is funny.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Inheritance of Loss

Before I go into more detail, I will first summarize this book in two words: Eloquent and Depressing. With an emphasis on depressing.

Okay, now for my more detailed thoughts on this book, of which I have many. So get ready.

It wasn't exactly a page turner, in fact there were definitely times when I felt like I was slogging through it. I talked to someone at work today who said they tried and just couldn't quite finish it and she knew of someone else who had the same problem. I think part of this is because there are so many references to the seemingly trillions of regions and countries, former countries, and former regions in the surrounding areas. And it seemed like each region had like 3 different names for its people and then like 3 new names based on their religion and it all just got very confusing and served to highlight my complete ignorance of that area of the world.

Also, without spoiling it, I'll just say that I did not like the ending. I hate it when the ending of a book sucks! It's such a disappointment.

All of that said, the virtues of the book aren't really in the characters or even the plot specifics. The beauty of the book is in its prose and the way it tells the story of India (and Indians). It almost seemed like the author viewed the characters not as individuals with their own stories to tell, but rather as tools to tell the bigger story of India, colonialism, and really, the rest of the world. The characters felt more representative than specific.

I thought the language was really beautiful. So much so that I actually had to borrow Jeff's nerdy highlighter and use it a few times. There were a few passages that were so eloquent that I wanted to go back and reread them. Here is just part of a paragraph where a main character witnesses a riot in the 1980's:
"How can the ordinary be changed? Were these men entirely committed to the importance of the procession or was there a disconnected quality to what they did? Were they taking their cues from old protest stories or from the hope of telling a new story? Did their hearts rise and fall to something true? Once they shouted, marched, was the feeling authentic? Did they see themselves from a perspective beyond this moment, these unleashed Bruce Lee fans in their American T-shirts made-in-China-coming-in-via-Kathmandu?"

And another about a young Indian guy named Biju trying to make it in New York (and failing):
"Biju walked back to the Ghandi Cafe, thinking he was emptying out. Year by year, his life wasn't amounting to anything at all: in a space that should have included family, friends, he was the only one displacing the air. And yet, another part of him had expanded: his self-consciousness, his self-pity -- oh the tediousness of it. Clumsy in America, a giant-sized midget, a bigfat-sized helping of small... Shouldn't he return to a life where he might slice his own importance, to where he might relinquish this overrated control over his own destiny and perhaps be subtracted from its determination altogether? He might even experience that greatest luxury of not noticing himself at all."

So there you have it. I hated it and I loved it.

I started The Pillars of the Earth tonight right after finishing The Inheritance of Loss. I leave for Alaska tomorrow night so I probably won't be posting until Wednesday of next week, at which time I will hopefully have a "review" ready for The Pillars of the Earth.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Put Down your Drawbridge!

A coworker loaned me 3 books today so it looks as though my vacation reading might be decided for me. She loaned me The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

I'm tempted to try The Pillars of the Earth first since it's mammoth and there would be very little risk of me finishing it and running out of reading material while on vacation. I read Jhumpa Lahiri's short stories (Interpreter of Maladies) and loved them, so I'm excited about The Namesake. I normally hate short stories, so the fact that I loved hers' says quite a lot. I remember she managed to cram in so much character development and drama into such a small number of pages that I couldn't wait for her to write a novel. I read Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama a long time ago and remember liking it. But I don't know anything about Ken Follett.

A little known fact about me is that I secretly love books with medieval themes. The Pillars of the Earth is described on the book jacket as, "A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England." I've taken quite a long hiatus from historical/medieval fiction (in part due to my shame surrounding said love for medieval literature), so this book might be right up my moat. The plot sounds vaguely Dan-Brownish, but whatever. If I'm completely honest with myself I have to admit that I kind of liked The Da Vinci Code. And it's possible that I may have also read Angels and Demons. Whatever. Stop looking at me like that!

I'm a little over halfway through with The Inheritance of Loss. The jury's still out on whether I love it or not. I'll let you know soon.

PS - I've decided to start listing book titles in purple font. Does this help readability or not?

Friday, June 13, 2008


I finished Bookends by Jane Green last night. I'm not going to lie, I really liked this book. In my opinion, it is by far her best book, at least of the ones that I've read so far.

It had all the solid qualities of a good chick lit book - main character in her early 30s, working single professional, dating and romance, and of course the witty, gay best friend. Better yet though, there was more to it than just the basic formula. The characters all seemed like actual people and the story was well written. I genuinely liked (and related to) the main character and her relationships with her friends. It also touches on many of the things that we go through in our late twenties/early thirties - career changes, having kids, realizing it's been 10 years since college, reuniting with old friends and the guilt surrounding having lost touch with them in the first place. I'm not sure the book warrants a more in depth analysis than this, but I would definitely recommend it if you're looking for a break from some more serious reading.

On a side note, I think I really am on to something with the whole gay best friend in chick-lit thing. I should probably go back to grad school and write my thesis on "The Role of the Queeny Best Friend in Modern Fiction Targeted at Females ages 25-35". Do we all have an inner fag hag dying to come out? These are the types of serious questions I will address in my thesis.

So I plan to start The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai during lunch today. The back of the book describes it like this:
In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge's cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai's brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world.

Sounds good, right? I'll let you know what I think. In the meantime, I think I may take Amy up on her comment suggestion and buy Into the Wild or Thunderstruck (or both!) for my upcoming Alaska trip.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I officially have *2* legit comments on my blog! I'm basically famous.

Slowest Reader Ever

I was right. I was way too excited in LA to read much. I read about 4 pages while on the beach in Malibu before a seagull shat on me. Then I think I read about 2 pages on the plane ride home before falling asleep with my head on the pull down table (my chatty single neighbor did WAKE ME UP to offer to let me rest my head on his shoulder while I slept, but I declined - creeeeepy). I'm still reading Bookends by Jane Green, and hope to be done in the next couple of days.

Jeff and I leave for Juneau, Alaska next week for my cousin's wedding which is on the 21st. We'll be there for 5 nights. I'm getting the distinct impression that I'll have more time in Alaska to read than I did in LA (less excitement = more time to read), so my plan is to tackle The Inheritance of Loss on that trip. I might even have time for a second book. Any recommendations? Please post any recommendations in the comments section!

Friday, June 6, 2008


I leave in 3 hours for LA! My bags are packed but I'm starting to think I'll be too excited to read any of my books!! Goodbye rainy 45 degree weather! Hello sunshine and movie stars!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Stuck in Downward Dog

This book turned out to be kind of lame. And I don't mean lame in the standard, chick-lit type of way either. The book was mostly about Mara (the main character) figuring out who she was. Her boyfriend dumps her in the first chapter and we never hear anything else about him really, she has a crappy job, a bitchy sister, and her friends suck - with the obvious exception of her one gay friend, which was really the only way I knew for sure that this WAS a chick-lit book. That and the embarrassing book cover. Because aside from the witty banter and gay best friend, this book lacked all the things I love about a guilty pleasure read. Like romance! She didn't go on a single date for the entire book. She didn't even have a crush on anyone. I could almost forgive the lack of romance for the really funny commentary on yoga, but not quite. In particular I did really enjoy her foray into hot yoga as it mirrored my own miserable experience the first (and only) time I went to Bikram Yoga and I loved it when she spent half the book justifying wearing yoga capris to dinner parties and work. Those funny moments aside though, this book was a disappointment. I know it should be cool that she found herself without needing a man, but I get enough of that in real life. In real life, I'm very independent and I have friends and acquaintances dealing with how to find themselves without needing a man, but I read trashy girl books to *escape* real life. I want to read about a girl who's been in love with her best friend for years and have it slowly revealed over the course of 150-180 pages that HE loves HER too. Maybe neither of them have been able to see it, but through a series of unrealistic events they figure it out. Then I want them to make out and live happily ever after. Or at least have it implied by page 250 where it's all wrapped up in a nice box with a pretty bow. How much money do I need to pay Marian Keyes to write another Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married?!

Anyways, I started Bookends by Jane Green last night and the words cheeky and bugger have already been used, so things are looking up. And I leave for sunny California tomorrow! Hopefully when I get back on Tuesday, I'll have finished Bookends by then. But I make no promises - I might be too busy hanging out with Lauren and Audrina from The Hills to get much reading in.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

In defense of chick-lit

I swung by Half Price Books on Roosevelt last night. Visiting Half Price Books when I normally shop at Barnes and Noble is a bit like stepping into TJ Max after spending your life shopping at Nordstroms. No pretty displays, no "recommended reads" or "new in fiction" section. While the place is no B&N, I have to admit that I felt rather cost-savvy as I walked out of there with 3 books for under $16 (total, not per book).

The first book I bought is just what I need after reading The Alchemist - classic chick lit. It's called Stuck in Downward Dog and it's by Chantel Simmons. In my last post, I said I was hoping for a book about a 30-something woman living in England and working in PR. I couldn't quite hit that nail on the head. Instead this book stars Mara who is 28, living in Toronto and working as a receptionist at a plastic surgery clinic. I started it last night and should be finished soon. Check back for a "review" later this week.

I also picked up a Jane Green book - Bookends. I've already read 4 of her other books (Jemmima J, Babyville, Mr. Maybe, The Other Woman) and while they cannot be called high brow literature, I love them all the same. I think this one will be perfect reading for my upcoming LA trip.

My addiction to chick lit can be kind of embarrassing, but at the same time I feel the need to defend it. Life isn't always as romantic and happily-ever-after as I'd like, so sometimes it's fun to read about lives that *are*. Because chick-lit is a reading staple for me, it always feels a bit like coming home when I pick up a book by someone like Jane Green, Marian Keyes, Elizabeth Young, or Sophie Kinsella. I find the familiar plot-lines and characters in these books very comforting. Particularly if they are wittily written, which many are. Jane Green's books always contain just the right amount of British slang - bum instead of butt, wobbly bits instead of cellulite, chap, bloke, and I really love it when people say bloody or bugger off. Interestingly, I just googled Jane Green looking for her book list and it turns out she has her own blog! In case you're interested, here it is:

I also picked up The Inheritance of Loss, which sounded very familiar, but I'm sure I haven't read it. It's a bit more serious, so I think I'll start that that up after my trip, when I'm feeling like I need a break from chick-lit.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Alchemist

This book was about a sheperd in Spain who goes to Egypt to find a treasure that he dreamed about. I have to confess, I didn't love the book. I think there are a few reasons why, but I'm not sure which one to list first. A minor reason is probably that there seemed to be a lot of hype surrounding this book. Whenever this is the case, I get leary. I think this book may have been a big deal about 10 years ago or so, as I read something about how Bill Clinton was spotted reading it and that Julia Roberts *loved* it. It sold like a bazillion copies world wide. I was reading it at lunch last week, sitting by myself at a cafe and some guy saw me and said "That book is amazing!" as he walked by.

I think it might boil down to the fact that I wasn't in the right mood for this book. I have a feeling it hits home for a lot of people who are lonely, seeking direction, or hunting for buried treasure. But for me? Eh. It felt a lot like reading a Native American story or an old timey fable. Neither of which do I normally go out of my way to read. You never learn anyone's name in the book. Characters are known simply as "the Englishman" or "the sheperd" or "the alchemist". At one point the shepard has conversations with the sun and wind. And the wind and sun have a lot to say. He sees signs in the way the ravens fly. He talks a lot of about omens, and Personal Legends, and the soul of the world. The whole subtext felt vaguely religious to me, and it seemed as if I should be taking great lessons from the story.

In a nutshell, here are the lessons I feel he was trying to teach: Follow your dreams, listen to your heart, value love, what you are looking for may be right under your nose but in order to find it you may first need to travel to Egypt, turn yourself into the wind after a heated discussion with the sun, and learn that everything you need to know lives within a grain of sand. I don't know. Am I the only one feeling a little dirty-hippied out? Maybe if I liked reading books like the Tao of Pooh or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance this book would have appealed to me more. Instead, it just reminded me that it's time I got back to my roots and read a trashy, girly novel, preferably starring a British, 30-something woman that works in PR.

I leave for LA this Friday for a 4 day weekend - any recommendations for a good vacation read? I'm hoping to hit up Half Price Books tonight on my way home from work.