Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Year of Pleasures

For Christmas my sister in law and her husband gave me a big box of novels. Last week I dug around in there and picked out The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg, which I finished last night. If memory serves, Berg is rather prolific and has written tons of books that I always pick up at the bookstore and then put down after seeing that they all seem to feature women in their 50s.

But this time the book was free, had a nice cover and for whatever reason, the story appealed. The Year of Pleasures tells the story of Betta Nolan, who is in her mid 50’s and who’s husband recently died from cancer. They lived in Boston together and led a rather insular life with no real friends. After his death, she follows through on a promise she made her dying husband and sells their house, drives West and moves to a small town to start over. She ends up in a small town outside Chicago, reconnects with some old college friends and also makes new friends in the town. I felt like the title was a bit of a misnomer, since the book is essentially the story of her grieving with a little bit about pleasures.

I enjoyed the book. The writing was solid but the plot left a tiny bit to be desired for me. The theme of her grieving was well done, but the character development for all the supporting characters and their story lines felt a little unfinished to me. She does a good job introducing all these new characters (Betta’s old friends, an adorable 10 year old neighbor, a 20 year old guy and his Brazilian roommate…) and I was interested in their stories. Then all of a sudden it felt like the book was over without wrapping up any of it. Also? It bugged me a little that she had no friends. Rather than irritation, I should probably feel sympathy, but I don’t really. I feel like there are those couples out there that don’t make an effort to maintain outside friendships and I have a really difficult time relating to these people. That said, I’d probably read another of Elizabeth Berg’s books. Can anyone recommend one I’d maybe like?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Like I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t been reading as much lately. That said, I was too tempted by The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to not read it. It might have taken me longer than usual, but I did it! I started it while on a business trip with my Mom (long story) but then put it down when I got back home. I picked it up again over the long weekend when Jeff and I ferried our asses over to our Orcas Island hide-out (also known as his parent’s cabin).

I think I first read about this book on Raych’s blog and was intrigued. Then it appeared on the EW New Classics List. Then my sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. Obviously, I HAD to read it. And it was pretty amazing really. Very different from the stuff I’ve been reading lately. The whole book is centered around the Dominican culture, with the plot twisting in and out of New Jersey and The Dominican Republic.

Oscar Wao is a giant Dominican dork. Which is apparently a bit of an oxymoron because Dominican men are all supposed to be major players and have mad game. Oscar however is obese and loves, loves, loves anime and everything medieval and mystical. He lives in New Jersey with his angry Mother and lovely sister Lola and wonders if he’ll die a virgin. The story bobs and weaves (sometimes a little too much for my liking) so that you end up getting to hear about his Mother’s childhood in the DR, his grandparent’s destruction by the evil dictator Trujillo, his sister, and Oscar’s college roommate, Yunjior.

Truthfully the author had me hooked on page two when he used the phrase Fuckface. I know that’s a little inappropriate and maybe weird that I loved it so much. But fuckface is a funny thing to say! And he was using the word in a *footnote* which is ironic because footnotes are supposed to be all official and serious. The book is totally fresh and different and really brilliant. The stuff about Oscar’s interest in Elvish, Tolkien, role playing games and basically anything dorky was hilarious. Learning about Dominican history is heartbreaking and interesting and Oscar’s story in particular is captivating. Definitely not uplifting, but captivating (remember it IS his “brief” life). My only complaint about the book is that the narration was confusing sometimes. I couldn’t really tell who was narrating half the time. Was it Yunjior, Lola, objective third person? It felt like it skipped around constantly, but maybe this is more a symptom of my recent affliction with reading A.D.D.?

Monday, January 12, 2009


I’ve been awfully negligent about posting lately. I feel bad, but I think I’m going through a little bit of a reading drought. Maybe it’s the post-holiday coma I’ve been in, I'm sure it has to do with being on a business trip for the last 4 days, and maybe it’s also the promise of all my favorite TV shows coming back any day now, but reading’s been put on the back burner for now. That said, I still have a review that I owe you for Eventide, which I read over the holidays. So here goes:

For those of you who aren’t a giant Kent Haruf fan like I am, Eventide is a semi-sequel to Plainsong. I read Plainsong last year and I would rank it in my top 5 of 2008 (read my review here). I actually tried to read Eventide in October on my trip to New York. Some of you may remember that I accidentally left it at my friends’ house in Brooklyn after reading only a chapter or two. I think they meant to mail it back to me, but given that they have a 1 year-old, and jobs and all that, I’m pretty sure I need to forgive them. So when my friend Darrah (who originally loaned me Plainsong) gave me Eventide for Christmas this year, I was super excited. I couldn’t really remember how much I’d read on my trip to New York, so I started from the beginning.

Eventide picks up the story of the McPheron brothers who were my favorite characters in Plainsong. The McPheron’s are basically two crusty bachelor ranchers who took in a young pregnant girl in trouble during Plainsong. In this book, the girl is leaving for college with her daughter and the brothers have to figure out how to live alone again. There are also a few new story lines added to Eventide and some characters that were followed in the first book are dropped in this one. Per usual, Haruf has a heartwarming and honest way of writing that totally sucked me in. I balled like a baby at times and smiled to myself numerous times. It’s a great book that I think men and women would like equally. I wish Kent Haruf was my Grandpa.

Since finishing Eventide, I’ve dabbled in a few books but nothing is sticking. Instead of soldiering trough and reading books when I’m not in the mood, I’m going to take it easy. When I feel like reading, I’ll read. When I don’t, I won’t. If you notice less frequent posting here in the next few weeks, but you still need something to read during your lunch break, you’re welcome to cruise my non-book blog (link is in the sidebar) where I will likely post updates about my horrible taste in television.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Marley and Me

It’s possible that I’m being overly sensitive and maybe it’s totally cool to read Marley and Me. But I’m pretty sure not. And the few of you who were thinking it was maybe okay for me to have read this book, you will change your mind when I tell you that I read the short, fat airport-version with a big picture of Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson on the cover. Anyways, now’s the part where I explain WHY I chose to read this book. The reason is that it was snowing. Lots. And I was stuck with nothing to read. One day I got real desperate and decided to buy a book at Safeway. So there I was, totally book-deprived, standing in the “book aisle” of my grocery store and faced with an entire shelf FULL of nothing but Joanna Lindsey romance novels and 3 copies of Marley and Me. So really, given the alternative, I’m pretty sure I did okay.

Now that I’ve spent an entire paragraph justifying having read the book, I will spend about 3 sentences “reviewing” it. The book is sweet, but very simple in plot and style. It’s a true story about a nice couple who buy a poorly behaved puppy. Then the puppy gets old and it dies and it’s sad. The end. Oh, and there are pictures. Not childlike illustrations but like real pictures of the real Marley and the author.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Update and Apologies

Jeff and I went up to Vancouver BC for the New Year to visit our friends Chris and Beth. We had a fantastic time tromping in the snow, getting the driving tour, watching old school movies and trying Sukiyaki for the first time - which for any of you fellow uncultured souls is basically a restaurant with a giant Asian crock pot on each table. You order a bunch of raw meat, noodles and vegetables and dump them in the pot with some sauce then you all eat directly out of the pot. Really fun and different, but as Beth pointed out, perhaps not the best meal for a germaphobe. Luckily, Jeff and I have been known to share a toothbrush on occasion and much to my friend Heidi's dismay I ALWAYS take a free sample when it's offered, even if someone else's dirty hands may have also been rummaging through the sample bowl. Apologies for the less frequent posts lately Unfortunately, I've been feeling a little under the weather since our return from Canada. I've read two books in the last week and cannot seem to motivate myself to review them. I'm hoping for a rush of energy and motivation later today, so stay tuned for reviews of Marley and Me (along with an explanation/excuse as to why I read this book) and Eventide.