Beginnings

Welcome friends! I have started this entry in the global technosphere because I have been in love with books since the age of 2. Among the busy business of being a new teacher, this is my outlet for sharing thoughts on a love of reading a wide variety of books. My inspiration can be summed up with a yearbook quote from a teacher written when I was 8: "To the only girl at recess I see reading a book. Good for you!"
My blog title is quoted from a classmate who asked me this once. Believe it or not, I've also heard it as a teacher :D

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday

A weekly meme hosted by The Broke & the Bookish.

This week's theme is Favourite Fictional Couples in Books.

This is a great topic!  Enjoy the choices, some a wee bit unconventional to spice things up :oD  Please be aware spoilers may ensue, and not all couples may be romantic ones!

In no particular order of preference...


#10- Henry & Claire- The Time Traveler's Wife
Despite the awkward breaks in their relationship, they stay loyal to each other as they await a reunion.



#9- Anne & Gilbert- Anne of Green Gables
I shamelessly borrowed this one from another list.  From an antagonistic relationship as children to civil teenagers to friendly young adults to love-struck grown-ups....awww...



#8- Morag & Jules- The Diviners
A true love match, though neither admits it, from their squabbling childhood to a transitional relationship after her doomed marriage and the conception of daughter Pique.



 #7- Muriel & Macon- The Accidental Tourist
A quirky relationship between an outgoing dog trainer and a cautious travel writer.  You root for it to happen all the way through.


#6- Jo & Laurie- Little Women
We all know it doesn't turn out as we wanted (Laurie and..AMY?!?) but you see the sparks between them and hope that maybe in some magical twist of fate, the novel will end differently...




#5- Nick & Nora- The Thin Man
Their chemistry and equal senses of humour make this a comic mystery ahead of its time.









#4- Bridget & Mark- Bridget Jones' Diary
Who else could fall in love but the two saddest, Xmas-themed sweater wearers at the annual turkey curry buffet dinner?








#3- Clarice & Hannibal- The Silence of the Lambs
I warned you I'd take a wild turn at this meme!  Getting past the ick factor of this relationship (far from romantic), they did turn out to make a great team.







#2- Johnny & Sarah- The Dead Zone
A romantic relationship ruined by a comatose accident that gives Johnny a sixth sense.  You still feel him longing for them to reconnect, but he does one better and sacrifices his life for everyone else's.







#1- Holden & Phoebe- The Catcher in the Rye
The best brother-sister relationship in a novel. I loved how Holden tried desperately to protect Phoebe from becoming worse off than himself.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Hours- Michael Cunningham

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 1998
Length: 226 pages
ISBN: 9780312305062
Genre: Literary Fiction

Start Date: Spring 2009
Finished Date: Spring 2009

Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: The movie was amazing and I was interested in comparing it to the novel.

Summary: Told from three distinct perspectives and time periods, Clarissa in the present day is planning a party for her author friend dying of AIDS, Laura, a pregnant 1950s housewife feels stressed by her life choices; and Virginia Woolf is penning Mrs. Dalloway and contemplating herself in the midst of mental instability.

Review:

I’ve never before or since read such a full novel written in just over 200 pages. Each sentence has purpose, foresight, and a rich depth of language that sets a textured tone flowing consistently, even miraculously, over three characters separated by time and place, yet connected via their interest in and the effect that Mrs. Dalloway has on them.

Despite the potential for depressing subject matter (some may argue it is ever present), the interconnectedness of the central women characters strengthens and accounts for it. Clarissa, a Dalloway namesake, sorts out her conflicted feelings for her dying friend Richard and her partner Sally, with whom she has a daughter. Laura, married to a white bread husband who means well but whom she does not love with an impressionable young son reassesses her life choices. And there is Virginia Woolf, companionate to husband Leonard but sexually divided and self-aware of her declining mental health and need for finality that she comes to via Mrs. Dalloway.

How Cunningham brings three distinct stories to light through a common literary connection is remarkable. Then he goes further by making a startling connection between Clarissa and Laura that will make their struggles clearer and more consequential as the novel ends on a sad note but a necessary one.

I am by no means the type of reader that reads depressing novels regularly. I would not categorize The Hours that way (Mrs. Dalloway may be another story). It’s not even the type of novel that creates depressing characters or disturbing experiences in order to inspire readers to persevere and tackle the tough stuff head on. The Hours is poetic, thoughtful, and dense without being preachy. It paints themes of alienation, femininity, and grievance like a porcelain vase—there is an apparent frailty that resists breaking through a solid but tipping base existing in not just one but three characters. The structure and language of the novel is just exquisite.

Rank: (A+)- A must-read

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Carrie- Stephen King

Purchased:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 1974
Length: 253 pages
ISBN: 0671039725
Genre: Horror/Suspense

Start Date: Sometime in 2007
Finished Date: Sometime in 2007

Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: Stephen King fan all the way!

Summary: A teenage girl with telekinetic powers seeks normalcy among her terrorizing classmates, ignorant teachers, and her religious extremist mother.

Review:

First of all, let me advise you not to read this book under certain conditions, such as a small space, at nighttime, home alone, or anywhere you cannot seek comfort and normalcy immediately! I read the ending with shaky hands on a bus coming home and even without a mirror, I felt pale. It was a long ride home!

This wasn’t the first King novel I had read, but it was an amazing debut with crackling horror and an insightful look at emotional bullying of high school girls. Hidden under a blanket of events escalating to a monstrous climax that no other novel I’ve read can compete with is a shocking, high-energy revenge tale.

Carrie is ostracized from everyone around her, from teachers who give an air of false sympathy when deep down they are helpless or simply careless, to girl classmates who act haughty, ignorant, or purposely nasty, and slack-jawed boy classmates, some of whom harbour a secret desire to know her. Carrie returns home to her emotionally and sometimes physically abusive mother who demonizes her daughter from the time of her conception in the name of religious zealotry. When Carrie realizes that she has no one left to rely on and is betrayed and humiliated in a cruel prank, she exerts her revenge in a twisted, otherworldly fashion that brings out the bloody best of King.

He has expanded on themes of horror, suspense, and fantasy since Carrie, but has never created another character quite like her, whom we can both sympathize and fear. The 1976 movie starring Sissy Spacek in the title role is excellent in its own right, but can’t compare to the novel’s enormity. It jumpstarted Stephen King’s to the equivalent of jamming your finger in an electric outlet.

Rank: (A+)- A must-read!

My Autobiography- Charles Chaplin

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 1964
Length: 477 pages
ISBN: 9780141011479
Genre: Autobiography

Start date: Winter 2009
Finished date: Winter 2009

Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: I love Charlie Chaplin’s work as a comedian and a director. My favourite movie of his is definitely City Lights. I wanted to learn more about him in his own words before reading other biographies on him.

Summary: In “Victorian biographical style” (according to critic and biographer David Robinson in his introduction), the Tramp himself reflects on his childhood in British workhouses, his early work for Mack Sennett, his later struggles with political scandal, and the process of creating an iconic character in the role of actor, writer, composer, and director.

Review:


The most admirable quality of Charlie Chaplin is his non-admittance of genius. He was humble and loving towards those who inspired his craft, which even he could not fathom the impact of, and broke down many personal barriers to become not only a film star and a respected director but a renowned cultural icon.

Chaplin’s autobiography is primarily focused on his childhood and social life from his upbringing in the British workhouses, to his stifled relationship with his mother who gravitated deeper into mental illness and was institutionalized, to his brother and hero Sydney. There is very little revealed about his personal relationships, despite being married 4 times and fighting a wrongful but terribly scandalous paternity suit. He shows a pride for his two oldest sons and lovingly recalls working with third wife Paulette Goddard on Modern Times. But understandably, Chaplin writes most about the love of his life, Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, who despite a 36-year age difference, was his significant other half (just a quick aside: I borrowed that beautiful line from an anniversary announcement in my city’s newspaper; isn’t it great?).

Chaplin’s impressive body of work is acknowledged individually and with surprising equality regardless of success—he favours no film above another, though does admit distress over some artistic choices. Chaplin’s craft is multi-faceted: writing, acting, directing, composing, and editing. He had conflicting feelings of the work: a deep desire to bring forth his very best work and a disappointment at the blockades being formed against him, especially during the McCarthy era of the HUAC blacklisting that extradited Chaplin to Europe for the last 25 years of his life. He resided in Switzerland, returning only once to the U.S. in 1972 to accept a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, a beautifully emotional ceremony that can be viewed on YouTube.

On a critical note, Chaplin does convolute the book with numerous social gatherings that could have been spared and is quite modest about his creative process, but what is revealed is done charmingly and impressively.

The 1992 biopic Chaplin was more inspired, though more starry-eyed than his book and included some fictional aspects (such as Anthony Hopkins’ writer character) but acknowledges more of Chaplin’s relationships with stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and the filmmaking process, including the conception of the Tramp (highly speculative but quite magical). The film stars Robert Downey Jr., who metamorphoses into the Tramp. He is simply incredible, and I am so glad that he has reigned in his personal demons to remind the world of what a truly great actor he is.

I think you learn most about Chaplin from his movies, not to say that his autobiography is unrevealing, but suffice to say that it will only appeal to his biggest fans.  I will later try reading some other biographies on him to compare.

Rank: (B)- Very Good, Recommend

Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Blog Hop!

Happy Friday!


Book Blog Hop is hosted by Jennifer @ Crazy-For-Books.  This week's question is from Elizabeth @ Silver's Reviews:

When you write reviews, do you write them as you are reading or wait until you have read the entire book? 

I must wait until I've read the entire book before posting a review that ranks from A-C, but sometimes there are books I don't finish and will post a D rating with how far I got before giving up.  My reasons for this range, but I make it clear that I did not finish the book in the post.  I save on-the-go thoughts about books I'm reading for weekday memes, such as It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  Sometimes this does mean I can't review my latest reads for a while as I'm ploughing through them, but I make up for it with reviews of books previously read.

I also want to link to an article I read from the blog Literature & America called Why Adults Read Children's Literature.  It's an insightful piece for teachers and children's lit reader!

Have a great weekend :o)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Different Seasons- Stephen King

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 1982
Length: 508 pages (with Afterword)
ISBN: 0451167538
Genre: Short Stories/Novellas

Start Date:  Sometime in 2005-6
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2005-6

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  Why not?  I'm a huge Stephen King reader.

Summary:  A collection of 4 novellas (no more than 200 pages each), offering the macabre in four acts: a Count of Monte Cristo-esque prison tale; a cold, murderousm, scheming plot; a coming of age and death lesson; and a mysteriously horrifying tall tale.

Review:

This is the only book of short stories or novellas that I’ve read by King. Other similar collections of his are Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, Four Past Midnight, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Six Stories, Everything’s Eventual, and Just After Sunset. The spooky 2001: A Space Odyssey star baby knockoff on the cover is an odd choice, somewhat relevant to the last of four stories in the collection but nonetheless strange.  The newest edition shows the railroad tracks of the 2nd story, which is a much more poignant choice of cover.


Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption should sound familiar as it was adapted into an amazing movie that remains my all-time favourite and can rarely be competed against any other I’ve seen. The story is about an innocent man's treacherous, yet oddly life-affirming, time at a scandal-ridden, maximum security prison where he redeems himself as the prison librarian, go-to accountant, and GED tutor before making his incredible escape (that's not a spoiler by the way--if I told you how, that would be a devastating spoiler!)  The movie, as King admits, expands and improves on the less than hundred page short story, yet retains much of its narration by veteran inmate Red, played by the velvety voiced Morgan Freeman and much of the plot, eliminating some forgettable side bits that were left on the movie’s cutting room floor. I also have the privilege of owning an autographed copy of screenwriter/director Frank Darabont’s adapted final draft script of The Shawshank Redemption that is incredibly close to the final cut of the movie.

Apt Pupil is the longest story of the collection but also the weakest. A teenage boy blackmails his elderly German neighbour, whom he suspects is a notorious Nazi soldier who ran a death camp during WWII and is a war crimes fugitive. He soon uses the old man to garner information about his past, becoming addicted to the stories, and even having him pose as a relative to get out of trouble at school with a skeptical guidance counselor who soon catches on to the real story. The main characters are cold-blooded, kill-to-thrill types who make the novel very difficult to swallow, especially with the absence of a “good guy.” It wasn’t a bad story, per se, but it was one of King’s most disturbing, and the plot was stuck in a dull trance of scheme, blackmail, murder, rinse & repeat.  The story was adapted into a movie that didn't come off much better.

The Body, which was adapted into the coming-of-age flick (with a better title) Stand By Me, about a group of four young friends, one of whom destined to be a great writer, the others a tragic mess, who trek through the railway & backwoods of their hometown to find truth in the rumor of a dead body, discovering their own demons along the way. The movie is much lighter on character development than the novella makes them out to be, but other than that, they are very true to each other. King makes an autobiographical sketch out of Gordie, the budding writer, whose parents continue to ignore him after the untimely death of his favoured older brother. The ensemble of friends (gullible, innocent Vern; hard-nosed, loyal Chris; and crazed, tragic Teddy) make the story character-rich, full of fun, often hilarious, insights, and, in one day, begins a sunset on their childhood.

The Breathing Method has never become a movie, which is far from likely and nearly impossible without tacking on additional subplots that will probably render the original moot. It simply works best on paper. It begins with a man entering a mysterious secret society with access to otherwise unseen, unheard things, where a doctor tells the tale of treating and possibly falling in love with a young, widowed pregnant woman. His treatments and methods are modern today but were unconventional then, as is her being pregnant and unmarried. However, it is the delivery of her baby and their separate destinies that is sure to blow you away. This is (in my opinion) the most warped tale of the book, and a memorable story that could very well have been expanded into a novel.

Overall, Different Seasons is, as promised by the title, varied in scope and subject matter.  It would be King’s masterpiece novel, even though it’s a collection of 4 separate stories with no discernible connection to each other.  But what the heck—it still is a masterpiece.

Rank: (A+)- A must-read (even if you're typically averse to King)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Planet Simpson- Chris Turner

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 2004
Length: 449 pages
ISBN: 0679313184
Genre: Nonfiction, Pop Culture

Start Date: Sometime in 2004
Finished Date: Sometime in 2004-5

Where Found: Campus bookstore
Why Read: I’m a Simpsons fangirl :oD  See also my review of My Life as a 10-Year Old Boy by Nancy Cartwright, voice of Bart.

Summary: A cultural history of The Simpsons with episode-referenced, character-focused critiques of cultural representation, merchandising commercialism, celebrity pop culture, technology, and philosophy of TV’s funniest show ever (you know it’s true).

Review:

I was compelled to respond to an Amazon review of this book titled “Fanboys Should Not Be Authors.”  Au contraire. When it comes to pop culture, specifically cultural critiques & histories of movies, music, or TV shows, who would have more enthusiasm for these topics than a fan?  Don’t let the fact that Chris Turner is obviously a long-devoted worshipper of the show, because I am too. It’s an impressive book. As for my review…that’s up to you :oD

Planet Simpson is a comprehensive history of the show starting with its precursors (claiming influences include Lenny Bruce, Second City, and SNL), its antecedents (including Ren & Stimpy, Beavis & Butthead, South Park, and Family Guy), and its roots as a bit sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show before its mammoth influence as a half-hour cartoon-sitcom that saved Fox’s Sunday night timeslot.

While the historical preamble of Chapter 1 can drag after a while, the following chapters ooze cultural relevance with a character focus: Homer as average Joe American, Bart as anarchist, Lisa as intellectual, Mr. Burns as industrial elitist, Marge as maternal naïveté, Apu as immigrant outsider, and Comic Book Guy as the ultra fan, followed by topical chapters on celebrity guests, philosophy, and ending with the show's reception & future. Topics revolve around characters and cultural reception of episodes with quoted lines and hilarious gags (every time I read one, I laughed remembering the episode) that sell The Simpsons as the pop cultural vacuum of North America.

Turner sprinkles his engaging, journalistic prose with sidenotes that further explain episodes referenced or neat tidbits that even the most ardent Simpsons fan may take as newly discovered gold. Chapters may be somewhat overlong, but as soon as one ended, I couldn’t wait to start the next as his scope widens with each one.  I recommend one chapter per sitting as he writes as fervently as the Energizer Bunny.

Respect or pity his knowledge of The Simpsons that has to make a great book, cultural studies course, or party conversation (but remains otherwise useless), Turner makes good on his years of TV-watching and line-dropping to create a deep, loving but critical tome on one of the most influential TV shows in cultural history. Along with a plethora of other books on The Simpsons and [insert related topic, such as Philosophy, Religion, etc. here], Turner’s book stands out as exhausting a multitude of topics, much as his beloved Simpsons have done over a span of 20+ years.

Supplement this read with a visit to The Simpsons Archive, the most minutely detailed web site on the show.  It's the most involved fanbase since the Trekkies. 

Rank: (A)- A must-read for Simpsons fans; a could-read for everyone else

Great Link in Lieu of Wordless Wednesday

I'm running out of photos for Wordless Wednesday!  I know...there's no excuse like a bad excuse :oP


Great post by Alyce @ At Home With Books today. Author Erica Jong (best known for her debut novel Fear of Flying) compiled the list (2 of her novels made the cut!?!).  You can also expect to find Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Edith Wharton, E. Annie Proulx, and surprisingly not Alice Munro or Audrey Niffenegger (though she may be considered 21st century).

I've only read 6 of the titles listed (boo!), but many are on the TBR list, and there are even some authors I hadn't heard of before.  Nice to know that there is such a variety of work by diverse women authors!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Life As a 10-Year Old Boy- Nancy Cartwright

Purchase:  Amazon

Published: 2000
Length: 271 pages
ISBN: 0786866969
Genre: Memoir

Start Date: Sometime in 2001-2
Finished Date: Sometime in 2001-2

Where From: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: I’m a Simpsons fangirl :oD Nearly any conversation can be subtitled, “This reminds of that episode of The Simpsons when…” This was the first of several major books written on The Simpsons & I wanted to learn about the show from an inside perspective.

Summary: An anecdotal look back at the first 10 or so years of The Simpsons through the eyes of Bart Simpson and his alter ego, voice actor Nancy Cartwright.

Review:

Any Simpsons fan will like this book. Even a casual viewer will find it enjoyable. If you can’t stand the show…why are you reading this review? Ay Carumba! Just kidding :oD  But, I wouldn’t bother if you’re averse to the long-running satirical cartoon series, as the majority of the book is about voice actor Nancy Cartwright’s long career as the voice of devilish imp and pop cultural icon Bart Simpson.

A nice, short autobiography of Cartwright’s childhood in Ohio, early forays in voice-over work on local radio, her mentorship with Daws Butler (the voice of Yogi Bear among others), and a variety of small roles, both live action and voice over before getting to the crux of her career: The Simpsons. Starting with bit sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show and leading into their independent stint as Fox’s Sunday night cartoon-sitcom, Cartwright paints an insider’s picture of the show’s development.

Stories of interacting with celebrity voice-over guests will charm the pants off you. My favourites are an unwillingness to correct Kirk Douglas’ script reading, an unexpected twist of fate in a shy moment with Meryl Streep, and a hilarious two-word rehearsal read by Elizabeth Taylor, who gives Maggie a naughty first word! Cartwright also puts to rest any rumours that doubt the true identities of Sam Etic (yes, it really was Dustin Hoffman) and John Jay Smith (yes, it really was late The King of Pop). An appendix lists major guest stars and recurring roles from the show that will get you back into rerun fever or at least rent the prime seasons on DVD (I love #s 2-10).

I was very moved by her memories of hearing the devastating news of Phil Hartman’s murder, whose regular roles as Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz were neither replaced nor explained away, but simply never seen again as no one but Hartman could give them life. Cartwright also touches on friendships with Homer, Marge, and Lisa (a.k.a. Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, and Yeardley Smith), the Emmy awards experience, and the cultural impact of the show.

A sweet end gesture comes in the form of a flipbook-style cartoon in the bottom right corner from page 161 to the end. Even if you’re not keen on buying the book, find a copy & flip through it. It’s very heartwarming :o)

Overall, I was more impressed with Chris Turner’s Planet Simpson, which goes into more detail about individual episodes and the show’s cultural impact, but you cannot beat the inside scoop from Bart herself :oD

Rank: (A)- Very Good, Recommend

Marley & Me- John Grogan

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 2005
Length: 289 pages
ISBN: 9780060817084
Genre: Humour, Pets

Start Date: Sometime in 2007
Finished Date: Sometime in 2007

Where From: My grandma gave it to me after reading it (was originally a Xmas 2006 gift)
Why Read: I love dogs and the story of an owner’s relationship with his dog appealed to me. Also, it got great reviews.

Summary: A young married couple adopt a golden retriever puppy and see the best in him over the years of his life despite his stubborn & hilariously disastrous personality.

Review:

This is a story that will touch the hearts of dog lovers everywhere and, even if you don’t have much affinity for dogs, will appreciate the growing relationship between a pet and his owner. I have always wanted a dog, but never had one for most of the reasons that make John and Jenny reconsider their choice to adopt Marley: the shredded furniture, the constant replacing of the screen door that he barges through with his thick skull, puddles on the carpet, the mountainous cow pies in the backyard, and the hopeless attempts at passing behaviour training school.

What convinces me that one day I will have a dog of my own are the beach runs where the dog walks you, the cuddles on the couch, the sniffing of the newborn baby in her crib, and how the family grows with Marley in their heart. John & Jenny adjust to Marley, then to raising their children, and then to the possibility of living without Marley.

The ending is inevitable, but I cried through the last several pages. Like Old Yeller, you simply can’t help but love a dog until death and afterwards all his loveable charms outweigh the faults that you thought would break dreams of a happy, clean home apart.

Marley & Me is a love story about a family developed in spite of Marley and growing in love because of Marley. Like a movie you return to again and again, you will laugh, cry, smile, grimace, and feel joy in this story about a family and their dog.

Haven't seen the movie version, but I think Marley's antics are funnier read, though I thought the trailer showing Marley half in and half out of the car window walking on the road was priceless :oD

Rank: (A+)- A must-read! Now!

The Devil Wears Prada- Lauren Weisberger

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 2003
Length: 432 pages
ISBN: 0307275558
Genre: Chick Lit

Start Date: Sometime in 2007-8
Finished Date: Sometime in 2007-8 (boy, do I have a good memory or what? :D)

Where Purchased: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: Loved the movie & wanted to see how it compared.

Summary: A bright young journalist fresh out of college and without work earns a highly competitive internship as assistant to Miranda Priestley, head editor of the fashion magazine bible Runway, who soon becomes overwhelmed by exhaustive demands, undersized haute couture, and survival tactics that turn into a kind of Stockholm syndrome.

Review:

*SEMI-SPOILER FOLLOWS*
I have never felt more sorry for someone that made a choice to stick out the job from hell in order to say that she survived it. Instead of screaming at Andrea to just quit, I want her to get the best of Miranda and she does one better—she makes just enough of an impression to leave Miranda speechless and is able to come away with enough confidence to make a transition into the field of her dreams (yes, I realize my last choice of words turns out to be a movie).

Thinly veiled as representative of her experience at Vogue as assistant to editor Anna Wintour, Weisberger is critical of the fashion scene and its vapid, self-centred wasteland, yet after working there a few months, becomes taken with its glamour, enough to take advantage of an opportunity that she didn’t remotely consider months earlier. Characters at the magazine are either on edge or just as icy as Miranda. The head assistant Emily is completely devoted to her job and ridiculing the “unfashionable” Andrea, but things change when Emily is detained from attending fashion week in Paris, and soon has been demoted a rung on the assistant ladder, becoming what Andrea was and Andrea turning into Miranda's "new Emily."

The movie version improves on the novel—no one but Meryl Streep could play the ice queen and she nailed it!  Unnecessary subplots are edited out, such as best friend Lily’s personal problems that Andrea is forced to put on the back burner, which is not at all consistent with Andrea’s character, at least not to the point that she would be that insensitive. Descriptions of fashion ensembles provide the best language of the novel. The rest of Weisberger’s prose is just okay, sometimes bordering on tacky, and judging by the reception of her next major follow-ups Chasing Harry Winston and Last Night at Charteau Marmont, hasn’t quite earned respectability as a writer. I wonder if she would make a better screenwriter as Devil Wears Prada translates very well to film and CHW has been picked up for filming rights.

Rank: (B)- Very Good, Recommend

Teaser Tuesday


Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB @ Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:

•Grab your current read
•Open to a random page
•Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
•BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
•Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Love the paperback cover!
Different from the hardcover version.
Better, I think.
Last night, I started Under the Dome by Stephen King and got up to page 44.  It's definitely hard to put down, but I was getting a headache and was forced to stop, otherwise I would've pulled an all-nighter!  I've heard all good things about this book and different amounts of time spent getting to the finish line--one blogger is on Week 20-something; a fellow book shopper yesterday told me she finished it in 5 days?!? 

"All behind him.  And ahead of him?  Why, the gates of America.  Goodbye smalltown Maine, hello Big Sky" (page 11).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Buying Trip

This was a background my friend used in her wedding slideshow.
Tried to find a photo of "early autumn" :o)
Courtesy of 3D Digital Wallpapers

Today was beautiful in so many ways.  It's early in the school year, so I haven't worked very much yet (only a 1/2 day so far & have another this Friday), and that has given me free time that I am filling with reading, blogging, watching movies, and sneaking in some Nintendo-playing (yes, I'm still a kid at heart!).  After breakfast, I read the morning paper and a column caught my eye that literally "dared" me to say yes to opportunity.  After reading some Mailbox Monday blog posts and looking out the window at the gorgeous weather, it was clear that I needed to get outside and

After lunch today, I bussed out about 15-20 minutes to a "half-price" bookstore that is fairly new, but I hadn't noticed (!) before.  I wasn't sure what to expect--is it a used bookstore or an overstock warehouse?  It was double the size I guessed (the building is 2-in-1, seemingly invisible from the outside) and turns out they were brand new books at half-price.  Woo hoo!  Not as much selection and not as well organized as the Book Depot (random stacks on tables labeled "Fiction"), but not a wasted trip by far.

I got these for around $5-8 each.

The 64 Sonnets- John Keats- One of my favourite poets.  I lack poetry on my bookshelf!

The God Delusion- Richard Dawkins- Heard about this & have never read anything on religion.  Caused quite a stir and I'd like to read why.

Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte- I saw a bunch of Collins classics stacked together and chose this & the next one.  Have always wanted to read JE.

Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens- To replace my mangled old copy

Girls Like Us- Sheila Weller- A biographical look at women of the 1960s and 1970s with a focus on 3 major musical acts of the time:  Carole King, Joni Mitchell & Carly Simon


Good in Bed- Jennifer Weiner- $10 at the general store.  I liked In Her Shoes (loved the movie more) and heard this was good as well.


I originally went out book shopping with a list of 4 books in mind.  Having not found any of them earlier, I stopped in Coles and got 3/4 from my list:

Under the Dome- Stephen King- I'm a King junkie as you can guess from earlier posts and I've heard from even the mildest of King fans that this is his latest hurrah.  At over 1000 pages, I'm sure this will take time to finish but I'm excited about it!

Freedom- Jonathan Franzen- Not thrilled to pay for a hardcover copy, but I'm anxious to try it.  No, not because it's Oprah's latest book club choice, but because I've heard it's a masterpiece and I want to believe that Franzen can write better characters than The Corrections, which I tried desperately to like but just couldn't relate to, even though I thought his writing style was quite good

Her Fearful Symmetry- Audrey Niffenegger- Like most readers, I was astounded by The Time Traveler's Wife and, even though not everyone thought HFS was the greatest follow-up, consider that writing something better than what many called "the perfect novel" (think also of Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird), how can you not take risks in writing a follow-up novel?  I have high hopes that I will enjoy this, maybe not as much as TTW, but least enough to like it.  That's what I always hope for in reading anything!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- Stieg Larsson- Yes, I broke down and got it.  I was originally going to get Sh*t My Father Says by Justin Halperin, but decided to give this a try instead.  If it's as good a suspense yarn as I hear it is, it'll be worth the switch, and I'll try the next two titles in the series.

So, to wrap up, here's a lovely stack of today's purchases:

Just bee-you-teeful :oD

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


A Monday meme hosted by Sheila @ One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Total books read this week (finished):  1
Total read this week (any/all):  2



Finished & posted review for Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda.



I'm about 32 pages into Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen and am finding it very prim and proper.  Not sure whether to be charmed by the fluffiness of planning balls and the business of finding husbands for the five Bennet daughters, or bored by the fact that this seems to be all that the book is about.  Also, is it just me or does the book come across as satirical?  It seems funny to me that Austen can take all this so seriously as to render it vitally important...how did you like my attempt at writing in Austenese?  :oD

I'm going to plow through P&P, return bit by bit to My Life by Bill Clinton, and possibly start Atonement by Ian McEwan.  I'm also not going to resist temptation to step into a newly found used bookstore in the shopping district.  Wish me luck to not leave with any less than 20 books :oD

What are your reading plans this week?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed & Other Things I've Learned- Alan Alda

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 2005 ISBN: 9780812974409
Length: 235 pages
Genre: Memoir

Start Date: Sept. 6, 2010
Finished Date: Sept. 18, 2010 (I should have finished it earlier but Pride & Prejudice cut in)

Where From: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: On a memoir-reading kick, I picked this up, having seen many Alan Alda movies and, after skimming it, realizing that his writing style is just as good as his acting style.

Summary: An unconventional memoir by respected and versatile actor Alan Alda about unusual, quirky experiences revolving around his family that formed his early unschooled education as an actor and have affected him thus far.

Review:

As the title suggests, this is a far from conventional literary memoir where Alan Alda translates good form from acting to writing, keeping the nostalgia readers will expect intact but giving the stories purpose rather than just to entertain or inform. Alda is a skilled writer and his life experiences are a melting pot for his development as an actor. He is humble, promoting the opposite of self-serving celebrity autobiographies of late—rarely does he use the words “I” or “me.” His on-screen persona as intelligent, witty, and somewhat nervous is transparent on the written page as his value as a veteran actor of stage, film, and TV is magnified by his skill as a writer.

The book is divided into 3 acts, a clever adoption of George Abbott’s take on playwriting that he cites as:

Act I- Get your hero up a tree
Act II- Throw rocks at him
Act III- Get him down again

His father, Robert Alda, was an actor of radio, burlesque, and (sparingly) film, who has an uncanny resemblance to Alda, and provided a venue for jokes and subtle influences for the younger Alda, who recalls judging his dad as not being a “serious” enough actor. He had a habit of directing his father when he read lines with him and even gave the older Alda a copy of Hamlet to study from, but ended up using it to better his own self-taught acting, learning the craft through ordinary means of osmosis. His mother, who had bouts of mental illness recognized as schizophrenia but never diagnosed, are recalled with several instances of paranoia and accusations of being spied on. Lighter moments, such as his first sweet encounter with wife Arlene, lighten what could have been an overwhelmingly dark memoir.

One thing I was hoping for that didn’t come through was more of his experiences in films, especially under Woody Allen’s direction. Alda refers more to his early stage work, M*A*S*H, and briefly Paper Lion, but perhaps this is brought up more in his follow-up memoir, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, which I will try down the road. If you enjoy Alda as an actor, I recommend reading this, but general readers may not be too intrigued.  So, I'll give this an A as I really liked the book, but I will just recommend rather than "highly" recommend it.

Rank: (A)- Very Good, Recommend

Me- Katharine Hepburn

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 1991
ISBN: 9780345410092
Length: 413 pages
Genre: Autobiography

Start date: Spring 2010
Finished date: Spring 2010

Where From: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: I adore Katharine Hepburn, heard that her autobiography is a classic, wanted to learn more about her, and to see what kind of writer she is.

Summary: Classical screen legend Katharine Hepburn writes her life story in a conversational style akin to her on-screen persona that shines through in a series of chronological commentaries on her movies, her romances, and her mostly charmed life.

Review:

First of all, if you know Katharine Hepburn from the screen, you will recognize her on the page, and if you enjoy her movies, there is no doubt you will eat this up. She writes as she speaks: charming, sharp-witted, and fast-paced with lots of hyphens and clipped sentences as if in conversation with her readers.

Photos are nicely arranged throughout the book instead of all together in the book’s centre like the nostalgia of a personal scrapbook. At age 13, she looks as elegant as she did for her over 50-year career on stage and screen, depicted in gracious, loving detail without shying from self-criticism for her label as “box office poison” during the 1930s after winning the first of 4 Oscars for only her 3rd movie, Morning Glory. She writes admirably of her parents, a doctor and a suffragette, with sadness at the suicide of her beloved brother, and proudly of her childhood in Connecticut where she lived out her retirement.

She speaks fondly of her husband “Luddy” Smith, who was more of a best friend than a spouse, her friendship with Laura Harding, which began a rumour that Hepburn was bisexual, her affair that wasn’t with Howard Hughes, her long working relationship with director George Cukor, and, of course, her 24-year romance with Spencer Tracy and their 9 films made together. Every well-known film of her career is addressed with grace and humility, including classic favourites Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen (of which she wrote a separate memoir, The Making of The African Queen), The Lion in Winter, and her final hurrah, On Golden Pond, which paired Hepburn for the first & last time with Henry Fonda.

The book concludes with Hepburn’s near-retirement, a live-in friendship with long-time companion/assistant Phyllis, a puzzling, overlong chapter called “Willie Rose and his Maserati,” which you can afford to skip over (I could not understand why it wasn’t edited out as it doesn’t have much of a point or a presence in her life story), a cute fan interaction story “Brief Encounter,” and ends with a love letter to “Spence.”

Me suggests an overstrung ego that isn’t there. Hepburn is content writing gently and lovingly as if in conversation with herself, posing & answering her own questions. It’s a delightful read that I recommend even if you know very little about her. You may get to know her without having seen her movies, which she makes possible with her lovely writing style.

I am interested in reading other well-known biographies of her, which I haven’t attempted yet.  If you have read any of the following, please send me a comment:

Kate Remembered- A. Scott Berg
Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn- Charles Higham
Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn- William J. Mann

Rank: (A+)- A must-read!

Lessons in Becoming Myself- Ellen Burstyn

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 2006
ISBN: 1594489297
Length: 445 pages
Genre: Autobiography

Start date: Summer 2009
Finished date: Summer 2009

Where From: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: I love biographies, heard good things about it, and happened to see it in the Biography section during a memoir kick I was on.

Summary: Actress Ellen Burstyn recounts her early life growing up in Detroit, her start in modeling, training under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, and memorable experiences filming movies, such as The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Requiem For a Dream, but also dealing with a bullying mother, trying to care for her schizophrenic husband, and finding a spiritual centre in Sufism.

Review:

Ellen Burstyn is the kind of actress you would love to sit down and chat with over a hot cup of tea as she has a warm, personable quality that translates from screen to page beautifully. She addresses many challenges in her life with dignity and develops a sense of self through a respectable spiritualism that took nearly half her life to realize.

Burstyn recounts nearly every film she has made, including her favourite performances in the lesser-seen The King of Marvin Gardens and Resurrection with fond memories of costars such as Cloris Leachman, Alan Alda, and Diane Ladd. The most striking events, however, are off-screen, including a tumultuous relationship with her unimpressed mother, violent interactions with her mentally ill husband, and her devoted use of Stanislavski sense memory techniques that connects an emotional life to her most revered characters, such as Lois Farrow in The Last Picture Show, Alice Hyatt in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Sara Goldfarb in Requiem For a Dream.

Autobiographies have an easy tendency to be self-serving and often depict one-sided conflicts with a bitter defensiveness, but Burstyn, for the most part, avoids this with a calm, meaningful candor that allows herself to be heard without shouting over the voices of others. Her ability to offer rich storytelling with a simple chronological structure, a strong memory, and generous attention to detail makes the story not independent to herself, but shared with the subjects of her dedication: “To all my teachers.”

Rank: (A)- Highly recommend

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday Fuhgettaboutit

Sorry it's a day late, but I've been meaning to post this...

Friday Fuhgettaboutit is a meme of my own creation on occasional Fridays to discuss a book I've given up on in the past or present.



She's Come Undone- Wally Lamb

I know this is some people's favourite book and for this, I apologize.  I tried to like this.  I really did.  I had heard good things about the book and it was an Oprah’s book club choice, so I took a chance on it.  I heard that Wally Lamb’s work can be like a love/hate relationship.  I read up to the end of Part 1 (of 3) and while I found a couple of choice scenes amazing, it took me a while to get used to the style and wasn’t all that impressed to be honest.  There is so much buildup to the predictable end of Part I that I thought everything else was just an excuse to get to this turning point.  The theme is typical of Oprah’s book club selections.  I think Tori Morrison writes equally challenging but stronger stories of marginalized women.

I'd like to know if anyone felt the same (just I don't feel alone in this!), or if you did stick with it and/or like it, is it worth plowing through?  I still have a copy tucked away somewhere and remember enough of Part I to not have to reread it...It's something I debate every once in a while and I'd like to know what you think.

Rate:  (D)- Did Not Finish, Don't Recommend (at the moment)

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Map of the World- Jane Hamilton

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published: 1994
ISBN: 0385473117
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction

Start date: Sometime in 2003-4
Finished date: Sometime in 2003-4

Where From: Used bookstore
Why Read: I saw the movie (I’m a big fan of Sigourney Weaver & her performance in this is one of her best ever) and I wanted to see where all the places these characters went originated from.

Summary: After Alice and Howard Goodwin move to a Midwestern farm with their two children, they struggle to keep afloat after the accidental death of a neighbour’s child and a prior incident comes to bear in light of it, creating potentially disastrous consequences for Alice as a number of jumbled untruths and lingering guilt surrounding these sudden lapses of judgment.

Review:

I completely agree with the People magazine review quoted on the first page of the book: “The pages are turned with trembling hands.” I felt myself drawn into the story as if it were a mystery page-turner, and like a scary movie where you clap a hand over your eyes but peek through the fingers because you can’t help wanting to know what happens next. Imagine this experience with a book that’s not a horror flick or a mystery thriller and you’ve got A Map of the World.

I felt for Alice as her nerves thin out from her oldest daughter throwing nasty tantrums, her youngest daughter having her heart, her husband, Howard, being devoted to his dream of farming, her need for support from friends she doesn’t have, and a mother-in-law who only appears to remind Alice how dissimilar and unrelated they are to one another. The only link she has to their new farming community is Theresa, a sweet-natured, calmer mom of two girls whose friendship with Alice is just beginning to grow when a tragic accident occurs to Theresa’s child under Alice’s watch. Not only is their friendship hanging in the balance but when an earlier incident involving Alice’s conduct as a school nurse is brought to bear that has been embellished considerably and leads to criminal charges. Since Howard cannot afford her bail, she is jailed and he is left to care for their two children until the trial decides the fate of her family, the last thing she has left to hang onto.

The novel is divided by two narrators, offering separately experienced and distinctly written perspectives: Alice, Howard, and then back to Alice again. Alice is by far the most interesting, tautly written perspective. Howard is a quiet, sympathetic character and you feel for how he deals with the overlapping situations head-on with very little restraint, all for the sake of their two children, but nothing can compare with Alice’s wrenching guilt and incredible strength in forming a stability she has always grappled to have and can finally attain by going through two of the worst experiences you can imagine at the same time.

The most difficult situations often make the most emotionally charged books and this is not entirely an exception, but more about the strength of overcoming the worst things a person is dealt.  Think of it as more "this too shall pass" than "woe is me."

Rank: (A)- Highly recommend