Thursday, July 31, 2008

East of Eden

Genius. This book is genius! It's solid classic material minus the boring that normally comes with classics. It has an epic quality to it and it's not for the lazy, but it is totally worth the extra effort. I was leery in the beginning as I have a rocky relationship with books that fall into the classics category, but this book did not disappoint.

I don't often go in for the "slice of life" type books, I like a solid plot, but the story of the Hamilton and Trask families totally sucked me in. It tells the story of these two families so effectively that you almost feel you know them. I loved Samuel and Lee and Adam, and Cathy actually gave me the willies just reading about her. Every time I saw that a chapter was going to be about her, I got the sort of creeped out excited you get about a haunted house. The sorrow in the stories is so profound and the themes of good and evil are carried out in a way that feels a bit like reading philosophy, but not like when you took Philosophy 101 in college and had to read "Critical Thinking, 8th edition" and fell asleep at your study carrel in the library only to wake yourself up by moaning in that weird way that sometimes happens.

My only complaint about the book was just that I thought John Steinbeck inserting himself into the book as an actual character was a little weird. It could have been done in a more Alfred Hitchocky sort of way, which would have been cool, but instead he was sort of the narrator, but only once every 50 chapters or so. It was kind of weird. Not distracting or even bad weird, but weird all the same.

Okay, back to the praise. It was crafty how Steinbeck would introduce new characters throughout the book. Sometimes, like in the case of Joe, you don't meet until you're 500 pages in, or Abra who you don't meet until 300 pages or so, but I was instantly invested in their stories. His writing style is hard to pin point; it can be so simplistic in a way, but deceptively so. Every once in a while I would get lazy in my reading and realize that I must have missed something without even noticing. There were quite a few times I had to go back and read a paragraph or sometimes a whole page again, just to see what tiny little thing I missed that rendered the paragraph on the next page confusing. Sometimes it was in the way that a sentence was phrased that conveyed a hidden meaning that if you read too quickly, was missed entirely. Or maybe I'm just a sloppy reader. Either way, I loved it. Please go read it. It's a time commitment (602 pages) but you should do it anyways. You can thank me later.

This is not a Review

I'm supposed to read this book for a management class at work. It's 306 pages long.
Kill me now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


What started as an innocent photo shoot ended with a well read, but slightly pissed off cat. Sorry Maurice.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The New Classics Challenge

So I've decided to join my first reading "challenge". Challenges are a big part of the book blogging culture and at any given time there are a multitude of them going on. They are organized or hosted by different bloggers and anyone can sign up to participate. The one I've chosen to participate in is being hosted by Joanna on her blog Lost In a Good Story and it's called "The New Classics Challenge".

The challenge is centered around the recently circulated Entertainment Weekly's list of new classics, which is a list of what they call the best reads from 1983 to 2008. Here is what I need to do to participate:
1) Copy the Entertainment Weekly list and bold the titles that I have already read and post the list on my blog.
2) Choose at least 6 other books from the list, read and review them between 1 August 2008 and 31 January 2009.
3) Post links to my reviews on Joanna's blog.
4) In January 2009, cast my vote for which one of the 100 books on the list is my favorite (and write a post on why). The winning book will be sent to a lucky winner chosen by the scientific method favored here in the blogosphere, i.e. names in a hat. Other contests are very probable too.)

My thinking is as follows:
1) 5 months is a fair amount of time to read 6 books, so I'm not over committing myself.
2) This seems like a good way to "test the waters" and decide whether I like participating in these types of things.
3) I like lists.
4) Some of these books have been on my "to do list" for some time.

Here is the EW List with the books I've read in bold:
1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006)
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)
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)
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)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)

30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
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)
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)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
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)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
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)
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)
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)

Only 21! This is another reason to add to my list - to improve my shoddy score. I know this is a bit Debbie Downer of me, but just a few gripes about the list before I start - I felt annoyed by the fact that I'd read other books by authors on this list, but not the specific book listed. For example, I've read every one of Nick Hornby's books EXCEPT High Fidelity. Ditto Zadie Smith, and almost with Margaret Atwood and Annie Proulx. Oh well... I'll just have to settle for 21. Also, and I'll stop after this one last gripe - but did they seriously not put The Time Traveler's Wife on this list? Really? Okay, now I'm really done.

The 6 I'm planning on reading by January are:
1. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997) - I've been interested in reading this for a while. I have a weird fascination with Mount Everest that I believe stemmed from that show on the Discovery Channel "Everest: Beyond the Limit" which I would watch for hours, way past my bedtime, through my fingers, like a train wreck I couldn't tear my eyes away from.

2. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986) - Comes highly recommended by many book bloggers and friends, PLUS it was one of the books I got at my recent book swap so I won’t even have to buy it!

3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007) - After reading Raychel's review, I'm really interested in reading this.

4. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989) – A friend of mine says it’s one of her favorites, so I’m adding it to the list.

5. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002) - I've almost bought this a few times but for some reason haven't read it yet.

6. I'll let you YOU choose the sixth book for me. Leave your suggestion in the comments and I'll go with the most interesting or compelling suggestion. (Hot tip - don't choose #38. I won't read it no matter how nicely you ask.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Love the One You're With

I'm back from my ocean adventures! Did you miss me? I might put a picture or two up of our weekend boat trip, but I must first wait for Jeff to upload and resize the photos. In the meantime, here is a review.

It's been a while since I read a guilty pleasure book, so Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin was a bit overdue. While I gobbled this book up in one day, that's not to say that I loved it. I've read all of Giffin's other books (Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and Baby Proof) so I was looking forward to this book.

What I liked:

Her writing is so easy to zoom through. I like the first person style of writing and the way she sucks you into the drama the main character, Ellen is experiencing. You actually get nervous about whether she's going to get out of her sticky situation or not. I guess the word I'm looking for is engaging. The writing style definitely engages the reader. She also does a good job of not villainizing any particular character. Just when you think someone is becoming hatable, she reels it in and makes them more likable, more real. Sometimes chick lit resorts to very simplified "good" and "bad" characters and Giffin doesn't take this easy way out.

What I didn't like:

The plot is about a woman tempted to cheat on her husband. I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again - this always makes me very uncomfortable. I basically squirmed through the entire book silently yelling, "Don't do it Ellen!!!" It also made it hard to really like the main character. Particularly because at the end (warning - spoiler) it seems like she totally would have slept with the other guy if her sister hadn't yelled at her and told her not to. I'm not saying that she doesn't make a compelling case for cheating, you can definitely see why given the circumstances in the book that she's tempted, but eeeararugh (this is the sound effect of me squirming). You'd think that my visceral reaction to the subject of cheating would imply that someone at some point has cheated on me, but actually that's not the case. Maybe it comes back to my Mom. I remember watching the morning news with my Dad once when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was all over the place. My Dad listened to the news update about how Hilary was going to stand by her man and my Dad shook his head and kind of laughed under his breath and said, "If I ever cheated on your Mom, she'd cut my nuts off. I can't believe he's getting away with this!!" This was said not with a tone of awe or jealousy, but total confusion. Thanks Mom, for underscoring at an early age that cheating is wrong and bad and bad and wrong. Now I can't even read a girly chick lit book without feeling uncomfortable!

After finishing this book, I started East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I'm only about half way through, so look for a review later this week.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Boats and Books

Jeff and I are off shortly to spend the weekend on the water. We're headed out in Jeff's parents' boat (with Jeff's parents). I have no idea where exactly we're headed except in the general direction of West. Since I expect to spend my time doing nothing but reading, eating, and sleeping I should have a review or two to write upon my return on Sunday. I'm almost finished with Love The One You're With, the latest book by Emily Giffin and I'm also bringing East of Eden by John Steinbeck with me (rough transition, but I think I'm up for it). Here's hoping for a Dramamine-free weekend!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Then We Came to the End

I am a terrible singer. I'm actually a good actor and a passable dancer but I am a terrible singer. One of my worst fears is and always has been singing in public. When I was 11 I auditioned for a local acting troupe by performing a monologue about anti-diarrhea medicine and then wowed them with my most recent Nutcracker routine. A month or so later, I found myself attending regular rehearsals with said troupe. Only things were not going exactly as I'd envisioned. I was the only one under 40 included in the troupe, and the director was a large woman with a five o'clock shadow who burped under her breath approximately every 3 minutes and then blew it in your face. And that wasn't the worst of it.

The performance we were rehearsing for? It was a musical review. And I was to be the comic relief by singing a solo of "On the Good Ship Lolly Pop" (it should be noted that by the age of 11 I looked approximately 21 years old and was technically a tenor bordering on baritone). A few weeks before opening night when it became clear to me that I was not only living this nightmare every week in rehearsals, but I would actually have to PERFORM this song in a PUBLIC PLACE, I cracked. My Mom picked me up from rehearsal and I cried the whole way home. When we got home I cried some more. I begged my Mom to get me out of it. I remember my Mother rubbing my shoulders and speaking to me in a soothing tone. "Jill, I know you don't want to do it, but this is part of growing up. You made a commitment to this group and you need to follow it through. You have to finish what you started."

This is a true story. And maybe why I have a really, really hard time quitting a book midway through. 2 days ago, I actually decided to quit Then We Came to the End about 160 pages in. I even wrote a draft review for it. But then I remembered my Mother's voice saying "You have to finish what you started" and I picked the book back up and I finished it. If you're interested, here's the review I wrote after only reading 160 pages:

Soooo... I've only read about 160 pages of this book, but I think I might be done. This book by Joshua Ferris is a national best seller that tells the story of what most of us do 40 hours a week - work. From the back of the book-

"No one knows us in quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in the department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts..."

So basically it depicts this one Chicago ad agency and the antics of their office group. Don't get me wrong, this is a good enough book, there are definitely parts where I exclaimed things like, "Oh my God, serial numbers on office furniture IS stupid!" But I still just can't seem to bring myself to finish it. Here's the thing:

1. It's written in the collective. THE COLLECTIVE. As in we did this and we did that. I found this weird and distracting. Plus, it means you don't get to know a main character.
2. I work in an office. At my office, people sit beside me in meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Do I need to read about it when I'm at home after I've just spent 9 hours living it in real life? Not so much.
3. It's sort of a concept novel. The concept is funny. Many of us work in offices, and office hijinks are funny. And it's weird that we spend so much of our time with people that typically have nothing to do with the rest of our lives. But once you get the concept, do you really need to read 385 pages about it?
4. The prose lacks the hilarity that this kind of story requires to be engaging. I mean, it's funny, but it needed more Augusten Boroughs or David Sedaris style dry wit to keep me interested. I only laughed out loud once in 150 pages. Here it is, the one part that made me laugh out loud:

"A fun thing to do to let off steam after layoffs began was to go into someone's office and send an e-mail from their computer addressed to the entire agency. It might say something simple like 'My name is Shaw-NEE! You are captured, Ha! I Poopie I poopie I poopie.' Poeple came in in the morning and read that and the reactions were so varied.

Jim Jackers read it and immediately sent out an e-mail that read, "Obviously someone came into my office last night and composed an e-mail in my name and sent it out to everyone. I apologize for any inconvenience or offense, although it wasn't my fault, and I would appreciate from whoever did this a public apology. I have read that email five times now and I still don't even understand it."

Okay, now you don't have to read the book. I just told you the one funny part.

After finishing the entire book, I have a few more thoughts, but most of what I said above stands. The collective (or first person plural) was still annoying and felt forced. But midway through the book, it shifts with no warning to third person, focusing on one particular character. Immediately, I started enjoying the book more, but then it switched back again. Why did he do that?! Even after reading an interview online about why, I still don't get it. It just felt weird and inconsistent.

It should be noted that the second half of this book was kind of like the second act of a musical - much more entertaining than the first act. The plot starts to veer from the "concept novel" idea that I complained about above and gets better. But not enough that I'd highly recommend the book. I'd rather watch a rerun of The Office.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Swap!

So tonight I had some friends over for a book swap party. For this party, I baked the chocolate chip cookies featured on Orangette's blog here. They didn't turn out as pretty as hers, but they were tasty all the same.

Because I enjoy cooking (and being the hostess with the mostess) I also made a lemon yogurt cake with raspberries (also from Orangette's blog) and bruschetta. Note to readers - please ignore the unsightly cat door in the background.

After cookies were consumed, the book swapping began.

Jeff was very concerned about the women duking it out over a coveted book. I tried to reassure him that this was not a particularly aggressive crowd, and if necessary, rochambeau (correct spelling compliments of Dan) would be employed. Bless his heart, he still brought out post its and pens in the hopes of encouraging some order to the process. This is how the post-its were actually used:

Not really what Jeff had in mind, but helpful nonetheless. Needless to say this book is still sitting on my dining room table. Thanks Maggie.

Little readers were also welcome at this party. This one is a speedy little devil. Look at how fast he is!

People did seem interested in Not My Pony, but alas, he insisted on bringing it home with him. Any who. I was actually pretty impressed by how many good books people brought.

In the end, I think we all walked away with some new reading material; so I'd deem the party a success. We may have even pawned off our old buffet that was recently exiled to the front porch and has been awaiting its fate on Craig's List. At one point, the books were ignored and the entire party filed out to the front porch to assess the buffet's value. Consensus? Twenty dollars.

In the end, here are the books I walked away with:
Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
While I Was Gone by Sue Miller
Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston
Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

Thanks to everyone who came over! Hopefully even more of you can make it to the next one.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Special Topics In Calamity Physics

Wow. I don't even know where to start. This book was unlike anything else I've read in a long time. It was sort of Cruel Intentions meets The Gilmore Girls, meets Heathers, with a pinch or two of conspiracy theory thrown in at the end. Doesn't sound like a stew you'd like to read? That's what I would have said too, but this book is GOOD.

I actually finished it on Friday night and had planned to write about it yesterday, but some bozo at a construction site a few miles from our house downed a power line that left the entire neighborhood without power until around 2am last night. Genius. FYI - Being without power seems kind of fun and romantic at first, but not when your plans were to blog, mow the lawn with your electric lawn mower, do the dishes, start a load of laundry and paint your bedroom in the evening. Instead, plans were revised. I loaded the dishwasher, worried about our food going bad, fretted that our neighbor's Koi were going to die without the pond pumps working (we're Koi-sitting while they're on vacay), and spent the evening painting in the dark with a flashlight (calm down, it was just primer).

ANYWAYS. This book by Marisha Pessl is about a girl named Blue vanMeer and her Dad. They move all over the country every 3 months or so (he's a genius professor that hops Universities) until her senior year in high school, when they stay put for the entire year. Blue attends a prestigious school and starts running with a very Heathers meets Cruel Intentions like crowd. They have Sunday supper gatherings where they talk about intellectual things while their teacher slash friend, Hannah Schneider cooks gourmet meals for them. Things get a little creepy and weird and eventually the story turns into a mystery with conspiracy theory solutions. There, I don't think that gave too much away.

When I started this book, I spent the first 25 pages or so distracted by the overly sharp, witty banter between Blue and her father. I've never actually followed The Gilmore Girls, but it's hard to flip channels without catching some of it every once in a while. I'm sure it's a good show, but every time I watch it, I find myself shouting at the TV, "People don't talk like that in real life!". It's so ridiculously smart and snappy that I always assumed it took a whole bevy of writers to script it. But Pessl does it all by herself. The writing is in such a different style from just about anything I've read, it's hard not to be blown away every once in a while. So after fighting the style for about 25 pages, I finally just fell into step with it and stopped noticing it. Then I started loving it.

The story is SO captivating and the characters are fantastic. Every once in a while the whole Dad-worship thing got on my nerves. I'm sure it was intentional, but the plot would detour back to her Dad for pages at a time, when all I wanted to know was what happened next. The daddy-detours were sometimes relevant, but many times just felt like overkill and I skipped more than a few to just "get on with it". Aside from this, I really loved this book. I tore through the last 100 pages and was then really disappointed that it was over. It's the kind of novel where you want to immediately talk to someone else who's read the book and see what they thought about various parts of the story. Has anyone out there actually read it?

Well, I'm off to see if the Koi made it through the night or not. Wish me luck. The directions our neighbors gave us include a bullet point that says, "Dead Fish - these guys are heavy and you will need a garden rake or shovel to pull it out of the pond." Gross.

Friday, July 18, 2008


As I navigate my way through the land of book bloggers, I'll be updating my blog list in the right nav bar. If interested, keep an eye on it as it grows.

77 Degrees and Sunny

For those of you who don't live in the Pacific Northwest and are either hiding out in your air conditioned hovel or roasting it up in your sweat box of a dwelling - take this!

For once in the history of mankind, Seattle is experiencing better weather than just about any other place in the US. I actually snickered, "suckerrrs" this morning while eating my cereal and watching the country's weather report. NOW who's laughing?!
For the indefinite future, you will find me and Maurice snuggled up on our backyard loungers soaking up the 74-79 degree temperatures (did I mention that there's no humidity?), book in hand.
PS - Yes, I am wearing pants in this picture, they are just khaki shorts and I am just very pale. See above reference to living in Seattle.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book bloggers

You may not have noticed, so I thought I'd point out that I've updated my blog list in the right nav column. I just recently discovered that there's a veritable buffet of "book bloggers" out there. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me, seeing as there's a blog network for just about everything. But my initial searches for fellow book bloggers came up with the weirdest most random selection of sites, including (but not limited to) one site that came up in technorati written in a foreign language with pictures of people in an arid climate, hanging from nooses and wearing blindfolds. I suppose it could have been the cover of a non fiction book about terrorism, but I didn't wait around to find out. I totally freaked out and backed out of that site faster than the time I accidentally went to a porn site at work while googling "Britney Spears" (I worked at a radio station, so get off my back okay?).

Anyways, this time I stumbled upon a legit group of bloggers that review books. Just like me! Except at first glance, it looks like it might be sort of an exclusive group. They throw around acronyms like Ralf Helfer uses exclamation points, host "challenges" and have "giveaways" but the protocol for participation is a little hazy for the newbie. I added links to my two favs so far- - she takes wit and sass to a new level AND she reviewed Modoc (which I also reviewed in May) and I fully agree with her review. (Book Addiction)- we seem to have a fair amount in common as far as what we read.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fiction or Non Fiction?

Is there a fundamental difference between people who primarily read fiction versus those who stick mostly to non fiction? If it isn't already obvious, about 99% of what I read is fiction. Sure I dabble in non fiction, but it's really the exception that proves the rule. I can't explain why, but I'm usually really turned off by non fiction. There have been a few notable exceptions (I liked Devil in the White City and I've read a few biographies that didn't suck), but for the most part, my eyes glaze over the second I try to read anything that leans in the direction of self improvement, religion, philosophy or business.

In contrast, my husband reads about 99% non fiction. Now I know that those who enjoy non fiction may argue, "Non fiction is a really broad generalization Jill, it's not all Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus!" I'm sure there are many genres within the category of non fiction, but I can't say that definitively, because I'm not really sure I've ever set foot in the non fiction section of the bookstore. I'm sure my husband, who reads mostly business books wouldn't appreciate being clumped into the same category as people who read philosophy and religious books and I gather the feeling's mutual. Perhaps I'm being careless. I certainly don't like being grouped together with people who read fiction about hobbits and space ships (even if I *did* like the Ender's Game series - shhhhhh that's a secret). But bare with me, because I think my generalizations are required for my theory.

Are there people who read about 50% fiction and 50% non fiction? If so, I don't think I know any of them. It seems like 2 separate camps. I'm not saying they can't fraternize (or even marry) but it is interesting isn't it? What is it about people that makes them more interested in one genre over the other?

My theory: The people in these two camps view the purpose of reading differently. I suppose my theory is nothing but one big generalization, but I think people who prefer fiction read to escape, while people who like non fiction read to educate themselves. I realize in this hypothesis, I come out in a less than flattering light (or at least a less educated light), but I think I might be on to something. For Jeff, reading seems like a "means to an end". He reads a book about building his resume so he can build his resume. He reads a book about investing so he can be a better investor. My reading is the means AND the end. I read a book to escape, to experience a story and relax.

I can't help but wonder - are the non fiction readers the "thinkers" and the fiction readers the "doers" in this world? Sometimes it seems like non fiction readers are the type to get so caught up in the process of educating/improving themselves that action becomes secondary. Whereas those of us reading fiction rarely take the time to stop and think before just doing something. Do fiction readers leap before they look and non fiction readers spend so much time looking that they rarely in fact leap? Perhaps this is why we need each other. I need Jeff to tell me that I can't actually hang a 25 pound mirror on a wall without first locating the stud and using the right kind of nail. But without me, the mirror would probably stay leaning up against the wall on the floor for another 6 months.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Never Fear

For those of you worried about my lack of reading material - fear not. I am in the midst of Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. And you can wipe that scowl off your face right now, because this book is not really about science. Here is the back description:

"Calamity Physics: The resulting explosion of energy, light, heartbreak, and wonder as Blue van Meer enters a small, elite school in a sleepy mountain town. Blue's highly unusual past draws her to a charismatic group of friends at St. Gallway (see page2, "wild, wayward youths," Everyman Parenting) and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. A sudden drowning, a series of inexplicable events, and finally the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries. And Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instinct and a cultural lexicon to guide her."

I am witholding my opinions until I've finished the book. I'll let you know soon.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cue - pull rug from under Jill

I just got back from a weekend in Eastern Washington and I am so pissed! I literally just arrived home moments ago and was so happy to be back in temperatures under 95 degrees and the added bonus to my return home? My book from arrived while I was away! I tore into the package and there was my new book, Midnight in Manhattan AND it had the cool version of the cover. I flipped it over to read the back only to discover that.... wait for it.... Midnight in Manhattan IS THE SAME BOOK AS Ask Me Anything!!!!

I'd like to ask a question Francesca Delbanco. Why did you write one book and title it two different things? And as long as you're comfortable with me asking you anything, I'd also like to ask why you ruined my life?!

Alright, that may have taken it a bit far, but seriously. I'm so disappointed. All this build up and it was the same book as the one I already read last year? So, so lame.

In my defense, I don't think the description for Midnight in Manhattan was on or I would have noticed this before actually ordering the book. And even if the description *was* available, why would I think to check if it was the same book? It has a different title, a different year in which it was published, it's listed on the website as a different book, it has a different cover... need I go on? I loved Ask me Anything, so I just assumed I would love her other book too, I didn't need to read the cover. The moral of this story is - read book descriptions before buying the book.
And don't trust Francesca Delbanco.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Toe Tapping

A package from Amazon arrived last night and I got really excited. Of course it had to be the book I ordered last week - Midnight in Manhattan! Except it wasn't. I ripped it open and found a wrapped present inside. Still no alarm bells went off. I thought, "Hmmm, gift wrapped, that's weird. It must be because I used a gift card to purchase my book." But right as I started to tear at a corner of the wrapping paper, I noticed it had a little card with it. Inside the card was a note that read "Jeff, I'm not sure if you have this book already, but I thought of you when I saw it and thought the title would intrigue you. Love, Mom" Or something like that. There was a big sticker over the name on the address, so I just assumed it was for me. When will my book ever come!??

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Myth of You and Me

At my office we have a bookshelf in the kitchen where people leave books that they don't mind sharing. It's sort of a rotating selection. Usually, I bring my own book to work and read it during lunch, but a few weeks ago I forgot my book and decided to grab something off the shared shelf, just for that one day. As a general rule, I an NOT a big fan of reading more than one book at a time; it feels like cheating. The book I grabbed that day was The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart. I only read like 10 pages, but I could tell it was good. Then I quickly abandoned it to return to my current book, which I think was The Inheritance of Loss. But when I finished The Samurai's Garden on Monday and my purchase still hadn't arrived, I found myself bookless. I decided to pick The Myth of You and Me up again. And it was SO good. I loved this book.

The story is told in first person by Cameron, a 29 year old research assistant to a 92 year old historian. She has no friends and has lived with her boss for 3 years.

Here is the first chapter (don't worry, it's only a page long):

"What if you had never met me?" Sonia says. "What would your life be like?"
Sonia has been my best friend for only a few months, but already life without her is difficult to imagine. All I can muster is an image of myself alone in a room. "Boring," I say, and Sonia laughs.
We are lying on her four-poster bed, staring up at the pink canopy, our feet propped on the wall above her headboard. We are fourteen. When I turn my head to look at Sonia, her hair brushes against the side of my face.
"If you hadn't been standing in the right place in the parking lot," she says, "we might never have spoken."
"We have three classes together," I say.
"If you hadn't come in the gym that day, we might never have become friends."
"Maybe we were destined to be friends," I say. "Maybe we would've been assigned a group project."
She waves her hand in the air above us, dismissing this. "Every decision we make," she says, "affects the rest of our lives."
"Yeah, yeah," I say, because I've heard this from her a million times
"For example," she says, "what if you had to choose between being my best friend forever and having the boy of your dreams?"
"I can't have both?"
"Why not?"
"That's the game."
"Maybe you'd marry his brother and live next door."
She shakes her head, and the movement shakes the mattress. "You have to choose," she says.
Eight years from now I will abandon Sonia. I'll drive away from a gas station in West Texas, my eyes on the rearview mirror, where I'll see her running after my car, a shocked, desperate expression on her face. Here in Sonia's bedroom it's all still there before us, every decision between that moment and this.
Sonia rolls over onto her elbows so she can look me in the face. "Choose," she demands. "Choose."

You can't tell me that you don't want to read the next chapter! It would be a lie. I'm not spoiling any more than the back jacket description does when I tell you the plot. Basically, her eccentric boss dies and leaves her one last task - to deliver a mystery package to Sonia, her long lost best friend who she hasn't spoken to in 8 years.

Here are the things I loved about this book:
1. I like reading books where the main character is my age. I know every generation probably feels this way, but the late twenties/early thirties seems like a momentous time. Like *this* is finally when we all grow up, when we have to make the big decisions.
2. It so accurately captures childhood friendships. I had 3 best friends from ages 10-14. Every time I would become inseparable with one, she would move. But parts of each of those friendships could be seen in the relationship between Cameron and Sonia in the book.
3. It also accurately captures the end of a friendship and the ongoing feelings of loss associated with that.
4. For some reason I really liked the fact that Cameron was 6'2". This is practically a foot taller than me, and so I couldn't relate at all, but I still loved it. The subtle way it wove it's way into the main character's development was interesting. I think many people feel like there was something about them growing up that set them apart and made them feel like an outsider. For me, it was the fact that my voice sounded like Kathleen Turner's at the age of 6, but to have that quality so physically obvious was an interesting choice.
5. This book is chalk full of unrequited love and even some real romance and it reminded me that realism is perhaps better than the corny romances depicted in some of the crap chick lit that I sometimes read.

There are more reasons, but I don't want to spoil the book. Go buy it and read it yourself. Then tell me what *you* think. Except not if you hate it. Because I get pissed when people hate books that I really liked. I'm a bit of a book dictator.

Next I plan to start Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. This book comes highly recommended by my friend Heidi who loaned it to me and it was voted one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times. That said, the one paragraph description on the back is kind of confusing. Hopefully the book isn't too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I Stand Corrected

I said something about being excited for the new Ann Patchett book on Monday night when I was hanging out with some friends and they said, "Oh! She has a new book already?" to which I replied, "What do you mean already?"

I guess Run came out *last July* not this July. I still want to read it, so it can stay on my To Do List (see my post last week), but I felt I needed to correct myself nonetheless.

On a side note, I started The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart this week. So far so good. What book are you currently reading? Is it good?

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Samurai's Garden

I finished The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama today. I don't think I ever posted the description, so in case you're interested, here it is:

"On the eve of the Second World War, a young Chinese man is sent to his family's summer home in Japan to recover from tuberculosis. He will rest, swim in the salubrious sea, and paint in the brilliant shoreside light. It will be quiet and solitary.

But he meets four local residents - a beautiful Japanese girl and three older people. What then ensues is a tale that readers will find at once classical yet utterly unique. Young Stephen has his own adventure, but it is the unfolding story of Matsu, Sachi and Kenzo that seizes your attention and will stay with you forever."

While this book was good, I think I should have trusted my first instinct and waited to read it. I just wasn't quite in the right mood for it. I think after the last few books I've read, it might have been smarter to break up the sequence with something a little lighter. Instead, it felt a little too much the same. I didn't love the diary style writing of the book, it seemed unecessary. The sequence of dates associated with each "entry" didn't really add anything to the story. I definitely think her story telling is superb, but if push comes to shove I think I'd choose Amy Tan (author of The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetters Daughter, The Hundred Secret Senses... there are many others but these are the only ones I've read) the next time I want a novel with a main character that's Chinese with a story that explores Asian culture. That said, I did get sucked into the story of Sachi and Matsu and her style of writing is very polished and beautiful. I think I was just more in the mood for something with a little wit.

My recent purchase, Midnight in Manhattan by Francesca Delbanco should be arriving any day now and might be just what I need. I'm hoping that it's out of print because it revealed the secrets of the universe and had to be contained and not because it sucked and no one bought it. I really liked her other book Ask Me Anything, so I have high hopes. I'm not going to lie though, the cover design I saw online is serving as just the tinniest of red flags. But maybe I'm just super sensitive to "red flags" after missing the ones associated with Modoc (quote by Betty White on the back cover, and you may remember this gem: "treasured by animal lovers everywhere" in the description). We shall see. As I just noticed online, it appears that Midnight in Manhattan as two different cover designs. Neither are bad, but one is definitely more in line with my expectations. Perhaps I will view the cover design as an omen. If I get the slightly more classy cover, then the book will be good. If I get the illustrated cover, anything goes. I'll let you know which one it is when it arrives.

Friday, July 4, 2008

To Do List

Here is a list of books that I keep meaning to read but never get around to:

1. The Brothers K - not to be confused with The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, this book is by David James Duncan. My friend Jessie gave me this book a long time ago and said it was her favorite book. Since then many people have told me that it's really good. The problem is - the first 100 pages or so are all about baseball. This is a problem because I hate baseball. So after about 75 pages of reading about dudes loving baseball, I quit the book. But people keep telling me to try again and to just skim the baseball stuff and that it will be worth it. So I've decided I need to try again.

2. The World Without End - this is the sequel to The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, which I just finished. I'm worried I'll forget that I want to read this if I don't add it to the list.

3. Run - this is the new Ann Patchett book that will be released July 29th. The whole book takes place over the course of 24 hours and is described as "Suspenseful and stunningly executed, ...ultimately a novel about secrets, duty, responsibility, and the lengths we will go to protect our children."

4. Upside Down Inside Out - I thought I'd read all of Monica McInerney's novels, but it turns out I haven't! She's Australian and her books are perfect vacation reading. I'm thinking I might buy this for our Guatemala trip in August. This will be perfect because we're travelling with our friends Todd and Erin and Erin happens to like Monica McInerney too. This way, maybe we can swap books midway through the trip.

5. This Charming Man - Marian Keyes has a new book! Who knew? Not me. But now I do and I'm very excited. I predict this will take me all of 1 day to read.

6. The Beastiary - this is fairly new book by Nicholas Christopher. At one point, his book A Trip to the Stars was my favorite book. But then I recommended it to a few other people and they didn't really like it. This made me doubt whether it was really that good to begin with. That was 8 years ago, but I think his new book might still be worth a try. It sounds a little "mystical" which I know my friends Maggie and Heidi will not like, but it might be worth the risk.

7. Midnight in Manhattan - A year ago I randomly bought this book called Ask Me Anything by Francesca Delbanco at Half Price Books and ended up really liking it. My expectations were pretty low, I'd bought it in a hurry, but it turned out to be cutting and smart and observant. After I finished it I looked to see if she'd written any other books at Barnes and Noble. The guy at the info table told me that she had another book called Midnight in Manhattan but that it was coming up in their system as "unorderable". He said he'd never seen that status before and that it meant that it was out of print and my best bet was to find it at a used book store. For a day or so I felt spurned, like the world was set against me reading a book that sounded kind of good. I think I may have looked at Half Price Books once but it wasn't there. Then I promptly forgot about it. Well guess what?! Turns out I'm retarded and it was available used on for $3.10 all along! And I just happen to have a $10 gift certificate to that I got for participating in some random phone survey a month or so ago. Long story longer, I just ordered it online and should have it in the next week. I hope it's not a big let down.

Am I missing anything?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Namesake

As predicted, I loved The Namesake. I plowed through it, starting it Tuesday night and finishing it today over lunch. It was so sad, but so beautiful. For those not familiar with the book, here is the description off the back jacket:

"Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in the new world -- conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours and wrenching love affairs."

I particularly liked the way the book explored relationships. Some of the relationship nuances are specific to the emmigrant experience, but many of them seemed universal to me; the guilt that adult children feel about their relationships with their parents, the death of a parent, finding and losing love. For some reason, I had it in my head that the author, Jhumpa Lahiri was a young prodigy and I kept being amazed at the way someone her age understood the depth of emotion involved in things like the end of a marriage or the death of a spouse. Why did I think she was so young? I feel certain that someone told me she was only like 22 when her book of short stories came out in 2002, but then I looked her up online and she's in her 40s. Instead of feeling disappointed, I actually felt reassured by this discovery. I find that the older I get, the less impressed and more annoyed and depressed I am by prodigies. I have officially passed the age of being a prodigy at *anything*. As a result, when a 19 year old gets a novel published I'm forced to remember what I was doing when I was 19. After I wrote that I actually just sat staring at the computer for like 10 minutes trying to remember even *one* productive thing I did when I was 19. Or even one funny thing I did when I was 19. Mostly I just remember eating a lot of Stove Top Stuffing and sleeping in.
Anyways, I really recommend this book if you haven't already read it. I was planning to start The Samurai's Garden next, but something about it feels like the wrong choice. I want to read it, but I think I might need to insert something else first. I have a feeling a visit to the bookstore is in my near future.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Pillars of the Earth

And the award for longest book ever goes to....drum roll.... The Pillars of the Earth! Actually, that's not quite true. I'm pretty sure I've read 2 books that were longer, or at least *felt* longer. Number one was The Emancipator's Wife by Barbara Hambly, which was a book about Abraham Lincoln's crazy wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. I just checked and that book was apparently only 624 pages, but boy did it feel longer (word to the wise - this book starts out great but do not be fooled because it actually sucks). The second one was Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George. According to Amazon, that book only had 880 pages. So I guess I was right, this really is the longest book ever. The Pillars of the Earth had a whopping 973 pages! And each page is as big as a sheet of 8.5x11 paper. I'm serious.

In better news, it was WAY more interesting than the two runners up. The story and characters were very captivating and it felt more like watching a movie in my head than reading a book. I was right about the plot being vaguely Dan Brownish, but more like a slow-motion, medieval Dan Brown kind of plot. The story is told over the course of 45 years so it couldn't exactly be described as a "thriller", but it did have scandal in the church, romance, and near disasters were definitely averted by the quick thinking main characters. Sadly though, there were no albinos in this story.

While reading, I thought a few different times that the story would make a good movie. But then I had kind of an interesting revelation - I enjoy reading medieval books, but I hate medieval movies. If they actually did make a movie out of this book, I probably wouldn't go. I didn't even see The Other Boleyn Girl when it came to the theatres, even though I loved the book and harbor a secret obsession with Natalie Portman. And this is not because I'm one of those book snobs that goes to movies and then says "The book was soooo much better". Because I don't, I swear! Well, maybe I did for The DaVinci Code, but that was because the book really was sooo much better and I think even Tom Hanks would agree with me on that. Sorry Tom. Weirdly though, as soon as I pictured this book as a movie, I immediately had a flash of Mel Gibson in Braveheart ala 1995 and almost barfed a little bit. And I'm 99% sure that my near barfing was not a result of Mel Gibson being creepy and gross in real life. I just really don't like medieval movies. Then I realized that I feel the same about Sci Fi books. Sometimes I kind of like them. But if you so much as linger for an extra 30 seconds on Star Trek while flipping channels and I will kick the remote out of your hand faster than Ralph Macchio.

Hmmm... I feel that perhaps I have veered off course with my review.

This book was kind of the opposite of the last book I read, The Inheritance of Loss. That book was all about the prose, and The Pillars of the Earth was all about the story. I felt pissed at the evil character of William (why wouldn't he just die?!) and wondered about the other characters when I wasn't reading the book (would Aliena ever get her marriage annulled and marry Jack the master builder?!). Unlike most super long books, I never felt like the book was dragging and I didn't have to talk myself into finishing it at all. I also liked the architectural aspect of the book. It was interesting to read about the construction of churches during this period. Whenever I've seen ancient churches in Europe, I've always marveled at the construction and it's crazy to think about the patience required to build a cathedral that takes 15 years.

I heard that there's a sequel that came out recently called The World Without End. I don't plan to rush out and buy it tomorrow, but I'm definitely keeping it on the back burner. Instead, I plan to start The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri tonight.