Friday, November 28, 2008

Everything is Illuminated

Most people don't know this about me, but I have a pattern of behavior associated with finishing a book. I'm rarely conscious of it at the time, but immediately after I finish a book (and before I start a new one), I become incredibly annoying. My husband pointed this out to me a year or two ago and since then it's become a bit of a running joke in our house. Any time I'm annoying, Jeff will ask, "Did you by chance just finish a book?" At first, I was terribly offended by the question, but now I find it's almost a relief to know why I'm being so annoying. I've deduced that after reading a book, I go through some sort of weird withdrawal that results in needy behavior.

A few minutes ago, I finished brushing my teeth and got into bed where Jeff was already tucked in with a giant binder in his lap called Win Without Pitching. Though I love my husband deeply and dearly, he is, at his core, a massive dork and loves reading things called Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable (for serious, I just leaned over to look at a stack of books on his office floor and that was the one on top). Anyways, after brushing my teeth I ran, leaped into the air and dove head first into the bed, causing Jeff to highlight the wrong line in his reading material and the cat to make a pissed noise and leave the room. I then said something incredibly annoying like, "Do you love me?" And the second before he tore himself away from his stimulating reading to answer me I realized he was about to ask me if I'd just finished a book. And the thing is, I had! I just finished Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Jeff then suggested that maybe it would be helpful for me to post about it before going to bed (read: Please leave me alone with my nerd-alert binder and inflict your annoying on blogger instead of me). So this is what I'm doing.

I actually intended to buy Jonathan Safran Foer's other book - Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud (or is it Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?) but Half Price Books didn't have it. They did, however have this book (his first) and it sounded good, so I bought it. And I must say it was pretty amazing. From the back of the book, here is the description:

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man - also named Jonathan Safran Foer - sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.
Sooo sad, smart, and also really quite funny at times (as Dolly Parton said in Steel Magnolias - laughter through tears is my favorite emotion). Jonathan has such a strong voice as a writer. Sometimes when I read books I think to myself, "Self, maybe you could write a book." But when I read this book, I thought, "Dude, you might be able to write a book, but in comparison to this book, yours' will be one that sits on the back of people's toilets as bathroom reading." There might have been a moment or two where things seem just a teensy bit pretentious, and I will confess to feeling very frustrated by the fact that we never get the answers to the questions Jonathan travelled to the Ukraine to answer, but then I would get to a chapter written by Alexander and all would be forgiven. The way he used bad English to say beautiful things was relentlessly awe inspiring. And I loved the passages from the Book of Recurrent Dreams, it was like reading the best kind of poetry.

It's late and I need to get to bed. I'm not sure this was the most informative review, but at least it kept me from annoying my husband, right?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quick Update

This is just a quick update to let you know that I really appreciated your book recommendations last week. I brought them all to Half Priced Books yesterday afternoon and they only had 2 or 3 of them in stock. I ended up buying Everything is Illuminated by the same author as Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud, which Raych recommended. A coworker was already planning to loan me ECaIL next week, so I will read it soon, but Everything is Illuminated sounded good too so I picked it up.

On a side note, it recently dawned on me that I still have 2 books to read for the New Classics Challenge. I'm running out of time, so I better get my shit together and pick them out. I think a friend was going to loan me On Beauty by Zadie Smith, and I believe my plan was to also read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I need to get my hands on a copy of that soon. That said, I did hear a pretty persuasive argument over dinner last night to read The Road by McCarthy which is also on the challenge list. Thoughts?

World Without End

World Without End is the sequel to Pillars of the Earth, which I read last June and reviewed here. Pillars of the Earth followed the townspeople of Kingsbridge, England in the 1100's. World Without End picks up in the same town with a new cast of characters in the 1300's. In every way possible, this book is the same as the first one. It has medieval romance, royal scandal, cathedral building and gothic architecture, and it is very, very long. I believe in my review of Pillars of the Earth I awarded it the title of longest-book-ever. Well, it will now have to release that title and hand it over to its sequel because this book is 1014 pages long.

I finished this book yesterday afternoon while wearing my cloak and sipping a goblet of Meade. It's rare that I let my medieval side win out, but this book was worth it. It's not the best book ever, but it's very entertaining in a mildly educational way. The book appears to be well researched, and I found the story line following the nuns and monks in the town to be highly entertaining. In general I think Ken Follet paints a very thorough and seemingly accurate picture of life in the 1300s. The book explores the difficulties of being a woman during these times, the struggles the Catholic church faced, war and the politics surrounding battle, and the plague that ravaged Europe in the mid 1300s.

Probably because the book is so long, Ken Follet is able to really take a story lower than you think possible. By page 500 or so, you're thinking, "Dude, this book is a DOWNER, is it ever going to get better for these people?" But then you realize that the book isn't even half over yet, and he still has plenty of time for things to improve. At times, the simplicity of the "bad guys" and the goodness of the "good guys" gets tiresome, but after my second goblet of Meade, I forgave this.

Basically, if you liked Pillars of Earth, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll like World Without End.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wish me luck

Well, the night isn't over yet, but it certainly doesn't look like I'll be finishing World Without End tonight. But not because I'm not enjoying it! The book is great, but since I'm only at page 620 and there are over 1000 pages total (and because maybe I'm watching Center Stage for the second time this weekend on the Oxygen Channel) I'm gonna say it's not happening.

I have to get up painfully early tomorrow for the conference I'm running for work this week. It only happens twice a year, but I'll be working an average of 15 hours a day tomorrow through Thursday. Wish me luck that everything goes well (and maybe that I'll be so busy running around that I lose the 5 pounds I've gained in the last month stuffing my face with Halloween candy and chocolate chip cookies out of the freezer). I'll be back to post on the 21st!

PS: After I finish this book, I'm officially out of reading material. Can you leave recommendations of what I should read next in the comments?

Thursday, November 13, 2008


If you are observant, you may have noticed the more infrequent posting I’ve been doing recently. In the real, non-blogging world, work is CRAZY while I get ready for a giant conference I’ll be running next week. I normally get a good 20 pages in during my lunch break every day but lunch breaks are soooo three weeks ago and as a result, my reading has been making tortoise-like progress of late.

The situation probably isn’t being helped by the fact that I am slowly chugging my way through World Without End, which is the sequel to Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet that I reviewed here and this hefty tome is over 1000 pages long! Unless a miracle happens and I breeze through World Without End in the next two days, a review is going to have to wait until after my conference is over on the 20th. Starting Sunday I’ll be sleeping just 4 miles from my house at the Grand Hyatt so as to be on call and will likely be reading nothing more interesting than the conference agenda and hotel rooming list. In better news, it will all be over just in time for me to wait in line with a hoard of gothy 15 year olds wearing cloaks to see Twilight.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Belong to Me

I actually finished this book Friday night, but have been struggling with reviewing it all weekend. I really liked this book, but the words to review it just aren't coming. Maybe I'll start with a plot summary and it will get me rolling?

This book is a follow up to Love Walked In, which I read ages ago and also really liked, but don't remember much of. The good thing is that that was okay. The story of Belong to Me didn't require me to remember anything except the most basic of facts from the first book and really, they could each stand alone if you didn't want to read them in order (although they're both good books, so why not read both?!).

The book follows Cornelia and her husband Teo as they move to the suburbs. Her stepford-wife-style-neighbor, Piper also has her own story and there's a third story line that follows a 13 year old boy genius, Dev and his single mother as they move from California to the same suburb where Teo, Cornelia and Piper live (run on sentence much?). Eventually the story lines weave together and everyone in the story ends up connecting with everyone else and while it's maybe a tiny bit convenient, it's not too contrived.

The plot is interesting and I liked the twists it took, but for me, this book is more about the writing. I loved the author's writing. The story can get a little syrupy every once in a while, particularly when it focuses on the main character of Cornelia, but the writing was so beautiful that I forgave it.

I particularly loved Piper's story line, which initially seemed like it was going to be my least favorite. Piper is a perfect suburban house wife with two perfect children and basically a perfect life, until her best friend is diagnosed with cancer. I loved the way she describes Piper's grief and even though I finished the book on Friday, I'm still thinking about how eloquent certain passages from Piper's chapters were.

If you're looking for a book that bares a vague resemblance to chick lit, but that's a few shades more serious and many shades more articulate, I highly recommend Belong to Me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mystery Book

So I finished the unpublished novel for a friend of a friend that I mentioned in my last post. It was quite lengthy and it feels wrong to not be able to review it here, but I’ll just have to wait in the hopes that it gets published and I can tell you about it then.

I started Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos last night, so I’ll let you know once that’s done. I liked her other book, Love Walked In, but remember very little of it now. This appears to be a quasi-sequel, so hopefully it doesn’t require me to remember tooo much.