Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review: Shadow Dance

I can't quite figure out what it is about Julie Garwood that makes her historical novels so damn good and her contemporaries so awful. Really, it's kind of hard to believe that the same author writes both books. Often I've wondered if she has a ghost writer, especially after Murder List, which I thought was terrible. (A better question would be why I continue to not just read, but buy her books). The only thing that I can figure out is that her simplistic writing style comes across as charming in the historical arena but incomplete and asinine in the modern-day setting.

All her contemporaries (with the slight exception of Killjoy have been about members of the Buchanan family. This one is about a Buchanan daughter, Jordan (who was a character is Slow Burn) and a friend and colleague of the family, Noah Clayborne (who has showed up in many of the previous books). Fans of Garwood will recognize that the Buchanan's are descendants of the Buchanan clan that was featured in the historicals The Secret and, one of my all-time favorites, Ransom. And Noah is, of course, a descendant of the Clayborne brothers from For the Roses, One Pink Rose, One White Rose, One Red Rose, and Come the Spring.

The plot of this book is pretty stupid. Jordan goes to a small town in Texas to pick up some files for her friend's sister and somehow gets tangled up in a murder mystery. When she gets in trouble she calls her brother, an FBI agent, who's partner happens to be Noah. Her brother has to leave to get back to his pregnant wife, but he has Noah stay and help Jordan. And of course, romantic sparks fly.

First off, the mystery was boring. There was no reason for me to care about it. But what really bothers me about Garwood's contemporary writing is that she throws in a bunch of stuff that turns out to be irrelevant. For instance, the files Jordan went to fetch were notes from a history professor regarding Buchanan ancestors. I kept expecting for something relevant to come out of the notes, but it never did! I get the feeling that Garwood is leaving that for another book, but that's really unsatisfying for the readers of this book. I find that she does that a lot, puts in a lot of details about things that don't matter at all. That's part of why I am so dissatisfied with her contemporaries. That being said, Shadow Dance was infinitely better than Murder List, and I think it might have been better than Slow Burn, too.

Garwood's newest book is another historical, Shadow Music, and I was really excited about that. But from the reviews I'm seeing it's not a great book and is a disappointing return to historicals. Which makes me sad.

Lindsey's Grade: C-/D+

Book Review: The Lady Chosen

I'd say this Stephanie Laurens book ranks about average with the rest of her books. It's not her best, but not her worst, either. I have to admit that there was significantly less smut in this book than most of her works. This is the first book in The Bastion Club series, so I almost wonder if she was, when she first started the series, determined to have fewer sex scenes, but then as the series went on her old habits got the best of her! Hehe.

My complaints would be that the "mystery" in this book was pretty weak, and that there wasn't any real conflict between the hero and heroine. That being said, I think that Laurens had some good characterization with Leonora, the heroine. Leonora kind of became more self-aware as the book went on, and that made some good sense. So, the book wasn't a loss.

Lindsey's Grade: C+

P.S., If anyone cases, A Fine Passion and To Distraction are my favorites (thus far) from The Bastion Club series.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Review: The Devil's Web

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. It is the third in a series about three siblings, the first two being The Gilded Web and Web of Love, respectively. When I first read The Gilded Web over a year ago, it was not the hero and heroine of that book that caught my attention, but rather the subplot of James and Madeline, the hero and heroine in this book. When I saw this book of the shelves I snatched it up immediately.

Quick synopsis: James's younger sister is married to Madeline's oldest brother. When those two got together in The Gilded Web there was a lot of tension between James and Madeline. James was a somewhat tortured hero who grew up in a very strict religious household that burdened him with a whole lotta guilt. Madeline, on the other hand, grew up in a warm, loving family, and is a very vivacious young woman who at times is very immature. They share a passionate encounter, but the next day James departs for Canada and doesn't return to England for another four years. Neither James nor Madeline has forgotten the other in that time.

I really enjoy Mary Balogh's books. She is a terrific romantic writer who, usually, really gets her character. I felt like the she really nailed the character of Madeline, Madeline made complete sense to me. Madeline wants nothing more than to be in love, get married, and become a mother, but she just can't seem to meet any men that make her willing to take that step. At twenty-six she feels like a spinster, fears that she will never find someone who is right for her, and is afraid that she is a burden to her two brother who are both happily married with children. But standing in the way of her happiness is this consuming obsession she has for James--despite the fact that they quarrel whenever they are around each other and make each other miserable.

I could accept that Madeline loved James despite the horrid way he treated her because, well, sometimes you can't help who you have feelings for. And Madeline tried to make a go of their relationship.

James, however, did not make any sense to me. He was absolutely horrid to Madeline, despite the fact that he supposedly was madly in love with her. Balogh's reasons for having James hold himself back and be so dreadful just didn't make any sense to me, and the resolution of their agonizingly long conflict (it lasts nearly the entire book and culminates to the point where it seems all hope is lost) seemed too easy considering the history between them.

So I was delighted with Madeline's character, but confused with James's. Overall, I would recommend this book because it did tug on my heartstrings, which is always nice, an emotional attachment. But I wouldn't recommend reading it unless you've already read The Gilded Web and preferably Web of Love, too, because the character of Madeline is really a work in progress over all three of these books.

Lindsey's Grade: B

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book Review: A Force of Nature—The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford

Man, after reading this book I feel like I owe Ernest Rutherford a personal apology for not fully realizing how frickin' awesome he was! I have long proclaimed Niels Bohr to be my favorite scientist—mainly because his model of the hydrogen model and the energy levels is so brilliant it blows my mind—but Niels owed a lot of what he did to Rutherford. Heck, nearly every physicist and certainly every chemist today owes pretty much everything to that man. I eat up scientific history on quantum theory and the development of the atomic bomb (i.e., modern physics) like it's candy, it just fascinates me. (Case in point, the photograph I took of J. J. Thomson's Nobel Prize medal):


But when you read comprehensive histories like Diana Preston's excellent Before the Fallout, the individual genius and contributions of each scientist can get overlooked by the significance of their discoveries.

That's why this book focusing just on Rutherford is so great, because it really reinforces what a stunning scientific life he led. More than once the author compares him to Einstein, and I think it's an apt comparison. Rutherford was to experimental physics as to what Einstein was to theoretical physics. What's more, Rutherford's discoveries changed the nature of physics studies themselves (away from the experimental laboratory "tabletop" to the theoretical "blackboard"). This guy not only realized what was going on with radiation, came up with the concepts of half-lives, and named alpha and beta rays (for which he won a Nobel Prize), he also formulated the planetary model of the atom, discovered protons, and supervised the first splitting of the atom! Holy crap, that's a great resume!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Book Reviews

So the stress of finals and my abject misery over being rejected for a job effectively ended my classics fetish and sent me scurrying back to my comfort books—romance novels. As you will see I have read a great amount of Stephanie Laurens, mainly because I happen to really like her writing style. It took some getting used to, but her fluid, verbose style now makes other romance writers seem amateurish.

Stephanie Laurens: On A Wild Night


Not bad. I liked the hero.

Stephanie Laurens: The Perfect Lover


I seem to remember that I liked the set-up of the mystery in this book because it reminded me somewhat of the game Clue.

Stephanie Laurens: A Gentleman's Honor


Mmm, not my favorite of the Bastion Club series. The hero was a little too blah for my tastes.

Lisa Kleypas: Prince of Dreams


I really like Lisa Kleypas but I think this must have been one of her earliest books, because it seemed cliched and simplistic to me. Also, it got dangerously close to involving time travel, which I will go to my grave renouncing as having no place in literature, barring H. G. Wells.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Now that I've seen the movie AND read the book; I give a D to both.
P.S. Neither one ends well.

Books into movies?

What is with all these books being made into movies!? Does every best-selling book nowadays get made into movies no matter how bad they would be? Case in point; "Love in the time of Cholera". Boring book; torturous movie (although I'll never see it). Nuff said.

"Atonement": Amazing book; movie will likely be very good too with the actors that are in it being some of my favs; but I suspect that it will end a little differently than the book.

"No Country for Old Men": Haven't read it yet; but bought it yesterday. I have heard great things about both the book and the movie!

"Middlesex": Please, please, please! DO NOT make this into a movie! The book was very good, I thought. The movie would be just painful.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Need a good laugh when it comes to books? Try this post over at Burt Reynold's Mustache!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Adam Bede by George Eliot

As the two of us are going through a somewhat classics phase I found this review from Powell's appropriate.



A review of Adam Bede by George Eliot
by Anonymous

[Ed. Note. This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, October 1859.]

As Nature will have it, Great Unknowns are out of the question in any other branch of the world's business than the writing of books. If, through sponsorial neglect or cruelty, the name of our butcher or baker or candlestick-maker happens to be John, with the further and congenial addition of Smith, JOHN SMITH it is on sign-board, pass-book, and at the top, and sometimes at the bottom, of the monthly bills, in living and familiar characters. But in the matter of authorship, the world is yet far short of the Scriptural standard; in a variety of instances it has found itself unable to know men by their works; and, in deference to this short-sightedness of their fellows, merchants and lawyers and doctors have their cards, and clergymen, at least once in every twelvemonth, make the personal circuit of their congregations, so that no sheep shall wander into darkness through ignorance of the shepherd. We believe that no pursuit should be marked by greater frankness and fairness than the literary. It is a question, at least, of kindness; and it is not kind to set good people on an uneasy edge of curiosity; it is not kind to bring down upon the care-bowed heads of editors storms of communications, couched in terms of angry disputation; it is not kind to establish a perennial root of bitterness, to give an unhealthy flavor to the literary waters of unborn generations, as "Junius" did, and Scott would have done, had he been able.

Adam Bede is remarkable, not less for the unaffected Saxon style which upholds the graceful fabric of the narrative, and for the naturalness of its scenes and characters, so that the reader at once feels happy and at home among them, than for the general perception of those universal springs of action which control all society, the patient unfolding of those traits of humanity with which commonplace writers get out of temper and rudely dispense. The place and the people are of the simplest, and the language is of the simplest; and what happens from day to day, and from year to year, in the period of the action, might happen in any little village where the sun shines.

We do not know where to look, in the whole range of contemporary fictitious literature, for pictures in which the sober and the brilliant tones of Nature blend with more exquisite harmony than in those which are set in every chapter of Adam Bede . Still life -- the harvest-field, the polished kitchens, the dairies with a concentrated cool smell of all that is nourishing and sweet, the green, the porches that have vines about them and are pleasant late in the afternoon, and deep woods thrilling with birds -- all these were never more vividly, and yet tenderly depicted. The characters are drawn with a free and impartial hand, and one of them is a creation for immortality. Mrs. Poyser is a woman with an incorrigible tongue, set firmly in opposition to the mandates of a heart the overflows of whose sympathy and love keep the circle of her influence in a state of continual irrigation. Her epigrams are aromatic, and she is strong in simile, but never ventures beyond her own depth into that of her author.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Book Review: Narrow Road to the Interior

Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho


About a year ago I went searching for a book on Basho, considered Japan's greatest haiku poet. I came to know of Basho's haiku through one of my now favorite movies, My Neighbors the Yamadas. The movie incorporates several of Basho's haiku in a manner that showcases many of the simplicities of daily life.

It took me awhile but I finally came across this book which was translated by Sam Hamill, a great poet in his own right. The book is so small that it feels like I'm reading a post-it note pad more than an actual book. It is considered the masterpiece of Basho's career and one of the most revered classics of Asian literature. It is merely a travel diary of his journey through the villages and mountain temples of the northern interior of Japan. It is beautiful, but not what I expected nor wanted. I couldn't relate or imagine life in the late 1600s and thus had difficulties reading the diary portion. The descriptions of the temples and traditions made me miss the temple I walked by everyday while in Tokyo. And there were aspects of the writing that made me realize how much I truly admire Japanese culture. The haiku were at times more geographical and nature oriented than those I remember from the film. And so I was left wanting more and wondering if the movie gave me a distorted image of Basho's work. Not all was lost however. The prose and imagery have a calming effect that brought many evenings of relaxation and was how I chose to finish the short book. Deep breaths in a literary form. Just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Kim's Grade: A

Friday, November 30, 2007

Book Review: Blood Brothers

First, let me say that I don't know what it is about the weeks leading up to final exams that makes me read a ton of books, but there is definitely a pattern of such behavior in my history. I guess it is my way of avoiding what needs to be done without feeling completely lazy, I don't know. But I spent the better part of yesterday finishing Wuthering Heights and then reading this book in its entirety. Good times.

Second, there has been a slight estrangement between Ms. Nora Roberts and myself when it comes to her trilogies. She likes magic and supernatural stuff and I don't. But there was something about this trilogy that appealed to me. The basically story line revolves around three friends who were all born on the same day, July 7, 1977. On their tenth birthday, they go out into the woods for a campout and made a blood oath to be "brothers" for life, and in the process unknowingly awaken a demon that has been slumbering for centuries.

I know, I know, it sounds stupid. But what makes it better than your average magic story she writes about is that, after the demon was released, for seven days every seven years the town people go crazy and do weird stuff that they don't remember. And twenty-one years later things start escalating because now it is the third time this has happened. (Seven times three is twenty-one, there are three boys, etc. You get the picture.) I won't give too much away but I will say that this is all tied to something that happened involving the town founders in the seventeenth-century.

Despite the ridiculousness, I found myself enjoying this book quite a bit. The heroes of this trilogy are typical Roberts heroes—i.e., amazing catches, paragons of men. The heroines are shaping up to be interesting, too. All in all it was just a fun little read. There were numerous quips from the characters that made me chuckle out loud, so that was fun.

Book Review: Wuthering Heights

So, I have just finished reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and I have just one question:

WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!?!

Seriously, why was I made to read Jane Eyre in high school when that author’s sister had written this masterpiece? Why do Darcy and Elizabeth of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice get so much credit for being one of the great romantic couples in literature? ”You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”? What is that? Is that contained, polite admission of love supposed to move me? Darcy and Elizabeth’s love had nothing on Heathcliff and Catherine’s wild, consuming, and uncontrollable passion!

Catherine on Heathcliff:
“What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and heremained, I should still continue to be; and all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger; I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

Heathcliff on Catherine:
“Two words would comprehend my future—death and hell; existence, after losing her, would be hell. Yet I was a fool to fancy for a moment that she valued Edgar Linton’s attachment more than mine. If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day. And Catherine has a heart as deep as I have; the sea could be as readily contained in the horse trough, as her whole affection be monopolized by him.”

Heathcliff and Catherine together:
“You teach me how cruel you’ve been—cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry, and wring out my kisses and tears; they’ll blight you—they’ll damn you. You loved me—then what right had you to leave me? What right—answer me—for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you—oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?”
“Let me alone. Let me alone,” sobbed Catherine. “If I’ve done wrong, I’m dying for it. It is enough! You left me too—but I won’t upbraid you! I forgive you. Forgive me!”
“It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands,” he answered. “Kiss me again, and don’t let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love
my murderer—but yours! How can I?”

Swoon! How can you top that? Has any author ever topped that?

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece—it’s pure literary perfection. A part of me laments that I never read it before now, but then another part of me is glad that I didn’t. I’m not sure I would have appreciated it the way it deserves to be appreciated before now. I am in the middle of an obsession with reading right now, and this book deserves to be read in such a mood. There are so many things that I love about this book that I don’t even know where to begin.

First, the story is completely engrossing, and Brontë holds nothing back from the reader. We see all the violence and wretchedness that occurs in startling fashion, but are also treated to the most passionate love I’ve ever read about.

Second, the characterizations are fantastic. Every person in this story has their own personality, their own demons, their own motivations, and they all play vital roles in the story.

Third, the way that the story is told is excellent. There is less than a year between the events on the first page and the events on the last page, but decades are told in between. I think that starting the novel the way Brontë did was pure genius. I was totally enraptured the entire time I was reading.

Finally, this book is alive. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. The words leap off the page.

There is a fantastic introduction by Alice Hoffman in the version I have, and I agree with everything she says. We should hate Heathcliff, but we can’t. As Hoffman says, “He has become antisocial, selfish, jealous—a man willing to destroy himself in order to destroy others. And yet we understand the humanity of this ‘fierce, pitiless, wolfish man’ precisely because we know his emotional history.”

I don’t know what else to say about this book, other than it is quite possibly the best book I have ever read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book Review: The Awakening

So I've decided that I will read more classics, and as I was at the bookstore the other day trying to decide what my next read should be, I stumbled across The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I immediately thought that it would be a good book to follow Lady Chatterley's Lover, because without knowing more I thought that they would be interesting to compare and contrast given that they are both about self-realization of women in a sense, and also because one was written by a man and one was written by a woman.

Turns out, though, that the two books are not as comparable as I thought. For one thing, Edna's awakening in The Awakening is of a different sort than Connie's was in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Edna seems dissatisfied with everything in her life, with her identity as a person, while Connie is primarily sexually frustrated. Sure, that affects many aspects of Connie's life, but she is also just a completely different character. I'm not sure that I can write my thoughts down in a coherent fashion, so here they are in babble form:

—Edna came across as very unlikable to me. There was a part of me that was unsympathetic to her "plight" because she seemed unaware that, despite how unhappy she was with her life, she failed utterly to realize how blessed she was in the freedoms that she did have, i.e., she had a home, clothes, food, and didn't have to work to support herself. As a result she was able to go around and socialize and dally with her painting hobby. Connie, on the other hand, was a very likable woman. I felt that she was a cheerful woman that was wasting away in her marriage to a paralyzed, pompous man. Another contrast was that Connie seemed very aware of her position in society and her privileges.

—But to be fair to Edna, Connie was not defined by her role as a wife and mother. Clifford, Connie's husband, treated her more of an equal than Edna's husband did. He was pompous and annoying, yes, but he respected her as a person and appreciated her mind (when it was useful to him, at least). Edna was suffocating in every area of her life and had to make a change.

All in all I think that The Awakening is a very good book. Everything that is written is there for a reason and nothing is superfluous. The book flows nicely and is so coherent as to be utterly believable. Still, though, Edna is hard to sympathize with. I found myself forced to remember more than once that a woman's place in society was considerably different when this book was written than it is today. I think the only thing that protects Edna from my scorn is knowing that she probably didn't have much conscious choice in the way her life turned out. Women in her era got married and had children without really thinking about whether that was something that they wanted. Edna herself realized that:

She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them. The year before they had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her.

However, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Edna's situation is rather common in today's age, too.

The Bookseller of Kabul Revisited

Yesterday I awoke to a book piece about The Bookseller of Kabul. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading Asne Seierstad's work in the future. I think she is a brilliant writer, however the bookseller himself disagrees.
According to him, The Bookseller of Kabul has ruined his life and he wrote his own book to set the matter straight. I found the piece interesting and disturbing. There is a part of me that remains skeptical of what he says. I like how Asne sums it up as leaving "the truth" to the readers, because in the end all that really matters is how readers choose to read a book. Here is the NPR excerpt:

"Bookseller Shah Mohammed Rais is well known in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. For more than three decades, he's sold books, posters and maps to Afghans and foreigners living there. He's nurtured his business through war, censorship and even a Taliban book burning.

But in the West, the bookseller gained fame in another way. A tell-all book called The Bookseller of Kabul paints him as a not-so-nice patriarch with two wives. He claims the book has ruined his life and forced his family to scatter across three continents. Rais decided to get even by writing his own book.

At his rickety shop at one of Kabul's busiest intersections, Rais says he's got just about everything you might want to read, old and new. Not just in Dari or Pashto, but in English, German, French and Russian.

Rais, 53, says he even carries Western favorites, including the Harry Potter series translated into Farsi. He got those books in neighboring Iran.

It was a trip to the Iranian capital, Tehran, at age 15 that sparked his love of books. A smile spreads across his weathered face as he recalls the moment.

"I never ... dreamed to see [so] many bookstores in a town, in a different city," he says. His first purchase was Othello. Shakespeare's tragedy, mixing different ethnicities and "different colors," captivated him.

"I found it very interesting and suddenly I purchased many other books and I started to read books," he says.

And to sell them. He says he returned to Kabul with three boxes of books. That trip led to many more — back to Iran, to Pakistan and later, to Europe and South America. His business grew.

He insists it's about more than profit. He calls it a moral obligation. It's why he says he bought a large bus to use as a bookmobile on visits to far-flung cities across Afghanistan.

"Because you know the soul of the society, the soul of the city, the soul of [Afghanistan], is books. In any country," Rais says. "Without books it's impossible to reconstruct Afghanistan."

There are few books he shies away from. He says he was jailed by the communists because he carried books penned by mujahedeen fighters during the Soviet invasion.

During the Taliban era, a postcard featuring the faces of Afghan men that he created led to his store being raided and his books being burned. But he persuaded the regime to let him reopen.

In 2002, Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad asked if she could live with Rais and his family to write a book. The bookseller agreed. He says he couldn't refuse a guest, even though his tiny home was crammed with 20 people at the time.

For five months he openly shared his life with Seierstad. But Rais says he was unprepared for her interpretation of what she saw. In the book, Seierstad paints an unflattering portrait of a controlling patriarch with two wives and the oppression of female relatives, among other things.

His oldest son, Iraj Mohammed Rais, says Seierstad is "like a typical Westerner, you know, no offense. She'll do anything for fame and money. That's it. This is not the West where you can just live with friends and all that. This is about the life of people."

He and his father say they fear being attacked by Afghans offended by the portrayal of Afghan family life in The Bookseller of Kabul. The elder Rais sent his first wife and several of their children to live in Canada. The second wife and several more children sought asylum — ironically, in Norway.

The bookseller says he is pursuing legal action in Norway, although Seierstad says no lawsuit has been filed. Rais turned down Seierstad's offer of $100,000 to set up a foundation in his name to benefit Afghans. He says he'll settle for nothing short of a public apology to him and his family and a declaration that the book is a lie.

But Seierstad stands by what she wrote.

So Rais tried a different tact. He wrote his own book and used his own money to publish it. The English version of Once Upon a Time There Was a Bookseller in Kabul came out this year.

Seierstad says she read it in Norwegian.

"There are things in his book that I could say, 'No, no that's not right, that's not true,' but I just leave it to that. I wrote my book. He will have to live with my book. He wrote his book. I will have to live with his book. This is the very best way to solve literary conflicts. Write books and then it's up to the reader."

But Rais says he won't give up until he feels his honor has been restored."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: Lady Chatterley's Lover

I started reading this book because I wanted to read more of the "classics," because as much as I enjoy contemporary fiction, there is a certain amount of snobbery in the book-loving world that makes you feel like you'll never be "well read" if you don't read the classics. But after reading this book, I'm kind of wondering if this qualifies as a classic.

While reading Lady Chatterley's Lover, I found myself getting the same impression I got when I read The Feminine Mystique. The book was interesting, particularly from a historical perspective, but I couldn't help but think that it was lacking relevance. It seems as if this book has the well-known reputation that it has because it was one of the first books of its kind of use graphic and explicit descriptions of sex. And from what I understand it was the subject of obscenity litigation involving publishers in the United States and the United Kingdom, which of course increased its fame.

But in the age of modern romance novels, that sexuality is not uncommon or remarkable in publishing. In fact, I personally felt as if there wasn't a whole lot to Lady Chatterley's Lover once that sex was stripped away. Frankly put, this is a book about sexuality and Lawrence relies heavily on descriptions of sexual encounters between the two main characters to tell the story.

Which leads me to my other complaint. There was something about a male author writing what is supposed to be this great liberation of a female character's sexuality that didn't sit well with me. More than once I felt that Lawrence was slightly patronizing, and I definitely felt that he, as a man, was ill-equipped to speak to the sex lives of women. Perhaps this isn't his fault, because from my understanding much of the hub-bub about this book took place after his death, so maybe he never intended for this book to be any kind of authority on female sexuality. Who knows. But I felt like there was a marked difference between this book and the work of modern female romance novelists. The approach to the relationship was 90% sexual, with little time spent explaining why there was attraction between the characters to begin with. I suppose that is where I became unsatisfied with writing, with his male perspective, because I personally think that the female perspective is different and Connie's viewpoint would have been more accurately captured by a female writer.

What's more, Connie came across as very childish to me (hence my impression that Lawrence was patronizing). And the way that Mellors spoke to Connie is not my idea of romantic in the very least. I was left utterly convinced about the love that was supposedly between these two, at least, regarding his feelings for her. All I can say, I guess, is that I'm not a fan of Lawrence's writing (very depressing and full of anger, in a lot of ways). However, while I wasn't a fan of this book, I do appreciate it for its historical significant. The social interactions described in the book were enlightening, and it reminded me that we are kidding ourselves when we want to believe that the past generations were not as "liberal" in sexual matters as we are now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Book Review: Atonement


I'm not particularly eager to describe the plot of this book, partially because it's too detailed to sum up quickly. So I will just repeat the synopsis from the publisher (Anchor Books) that appears on the back of the book:

On a summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment's flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony's incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

The first three pages of the paperback edition I purchased are made up entirely of critical praise for this book. It's described as "resplendent," "extraordinary," "astonishing," "magnificent," and "a masterpiece."

I'm going to agree.

Here are a few of the reviews that resonated the most with me:
In the seriousness of it's intentions and the dazzle of its language, Atonement made me starry-eyed all over again on behalf of literature's humanizing qualities.
—Daphne Merkin, Los Angeles Times

Magnificent. . . . Memorable. . . . Suspenseful. . . . McEwan forces his readers to turn the pages with greater dread and anticipation than perhaps does any other 'literary' writer working in English today.
—Claire Mussed, The Atlantic Monthly

Atonement can't be laid down once it's been picked up. McEwan writes like an angel and plots like a demon. . . . He can write rings around most others writing in English today.
—The Weekly Standard

This book exemplifies everything that I love about novels. The writing is so exquisite, particularly in the first half, that it makes me despair about anything I have ever written. Not only are his insights so remarkable that more than once I found myself thinking, "Yes! Exactly! That's how I always feel, too!" but the way that he phrases them are pure perfection.

But the writing style aside, this is one of those books that stays with you when you put it down. Fiction will always be my favorite genre because no other genre is able to invoke such powerful emotions. I think of fiction writing like a chemical reaction is a way. The author is able to craft a story that combines characters, events, emotions, and these are the reactants that are thrown into the vessel. They stay there together, not reacting and existing separately. But then the author gives us the catalyst—it could be a fact that was withheld, or an event, or maybe just insight or character realization. But suddenly that catalyst transforms those reactants that had just been sitting there into the products of emotion and wonder. Suddenly there is something new to be seen from what had been there before, all because of that catalyst that the author gave us. It's this ability to manipulate the reactants and catalysts of a particular story that gives fiction writing its power. McEwan has done this in Atonement. That catalyst is given on the last three pages of Atonement, and it left me breathless.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini


For awhile I read New York Times bestsellers just to see what all the hype was about. However I never had the chance to read this one until I found it at a thrift store. Hey, I like books but not enough to pay 15 smacks for a book everyone else has claimed to be phenomenal.
After seeing a movie preview I grabbed the book and began reading. There is just something to reading a book before seeing the movie that I enjoy more. I would classify The Kite Runner as an engrossing story of love, loss, regret and forgiveness within families. Hosseini does a good job at getting readers to empathize with the characters. I say "good" because I've read authors who've done this thousands of times better than him, but I suppose this is his first work. Although I thought it would be predictable I was wrong, thus making the story even more enjoyable. I enjoyed the tidbits of Afghani culture and history. I enjoyed the pace of things. I enjoyed this book.

Kim's Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gag-worthy Passage of the Week

Charley's people sat by the fire with Axe and his wife and ate the meal off wood trays with cane-stalk implements. Charley had a pattern to eating a squirrel. He kept it on its skewer and worked back to the front, eating the little hams first, each by each, and then he went at the body meat, eating it off the ribs as if it lay in rows like corn kernels. When he finally got to the head, he broke it off and put it in his mouth and worked it around for quite some time like he was gumming tobacco. And then when he was done, he reached in a finger and pulled out a bare little skull and showed it cupped in his palm like it was a fine achievement, his own creation worthy of favorable comment.

-Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

How's THAT for imagery? Thanks, Chuck, thanks. For just about making me barf up my lunch.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nancy Pearl's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Picks

Out of This World: Great Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Nancy Pearl

As usual, I heard this on NPR: Morning Edition and thought I would post it. It was a great story to wake up to. Nancy Pearl is always worth paying attention to. Her Book Lust books are fabulous. She also has mini-reviews of each of her recommendations on the story link above. Here she is:

"I am not overly fond of the word genre. Sometimes, of course, it is simply used to describe a type of book that makes use of certain conventions. However, for many people, the word has a pejorative taint — they see genre fiction as being somehow "less" than non-genre writing.

When these people find that they really like a particular work of genre fiction, they're inclined to use phrases like "transcends the genre." Though I am not a particularly violent person, hearing this always makes me want to throttle the speaker. Genre labeling not only ghettoizes particular books, but it narrows the world of literature for readers, rather than expanding it.

And speaking of genre, although I don't consider myself at all a science fiction/fantasy fanatic, I must say that selecting the books for this topic was harder than any of the others that I've done. There is simply so much excellent stuff out there — both new and old — that I know people would enjoy, that the list could have been at least four times as long. As it is, I know I've omitted some wonderful novels, like Ursula Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea, Dahlgren by Samuel Delany, George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, Robert Heinlein's novels for young teens, like Between Planets and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, Clifford Simak's Way Station, Dan Simmons' Hyperion and sequels, and on and on and on."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Slash it


Yes, its true the guitarist from Guns N Roses has a book out!! It is actually on the bestseller list at Amazon.com RIGHT NOW!! OMG!

I'm still shocked that this book would have an eager fan base. I actually spit up my coffee reading the book cover. All I could think of was a cheesy radio announcer reading the following with hints of Every Rose has its Thorn playing in the background. Brace yourself people!

"From one of the greatest rock guitarists of our era comes a memoir that redefines sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll

He was born in England but reared in L.A., surrounded by the leading artists of the day amidst the vibrant hotbed of music and culture that was the early seventies. Slash spent his adolescence on the streets of Hollywood, discovering drugs, drinking, rock music, and girls, all while achieving notable status as a BMX rider. But everything changed in his world the day he first held the beat-up one-string guitar his grandmother had discarded in a closet.

The instrument became his voice and it triggered a lifelong passion that made everything else irrelevant. As soon as he could string chords and a solo together, Slash wanted to be in a band and sought out friends with similar interests. His closest friend, Steven Adler, proved to be a conspirator for the long haul. As hairmetal bands exploded onto the L.A. scene and topped the charts, Slash sought his niche and a band that suited his raw and gritty sensibility.

He found salvation in the form of four young men of equal mind: Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler, and Duff McKagan. Together they became Guns N' Roses, one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time. Dirty, volatile, and as authentic as the streets that weaned them, they fought their way to the top with groundbreaking albums such as the iconic Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion I and II.

Here, for the first time ever, Slash tells the tale that has yet to be told from the inside: how the band came together, how they wrote the music that defined an era, how they survived insane, never-ending tours, how they survived themselves, and, ultimately, how it all fell apart. This is a window onto the world of the notoriously private guitarist and a seat on the roller-coaster ride that was one of history's greatest rock 'n' roll machines, always on the edge of self-destruction, even at the pinnacle of its success. This is a candid recollection and reflection of Slash's friendships past and present, from easygoing Izzy to ever-steady Duff to wild-child Steven and complicated Axl.

It is also an intensely personal account of struggle and triumph: as Guns N' Roses journeyed to the top, Slash battled his demons, escaping the overwhelming reality with women, heroin, coke, crack, vodka, and whatever else came along.

He survived it all: lawsuits, rehab, riots, notoriety, debauchery, and destruction, and ultimately found his creative evolution. From Slash's Snakepit to his current band, the massively successful Velvet Revolver, Slash found an even keel by sticking to his guns.

Slash is everything the man, the myth, the legend, inspires: it's funny, honest, inspiring, jaw-dropping . . . and, in a word, excessive."



Excessive people! EXCESSIVE!



Whatever.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mom

My mom's birthday was over the weekend. She always made sure I had books as a child. Maybe it was because we didn't have television. Or the fact that I was her oldest and used it as a tool to keep me occupied. It doesn't matter. But she did give me Anne of Green Gables and The Little House on the Prairie, and all the books in between. She even made sure my Book It! pizza certificates were used even though we had to travel thirty miles to use them. When my parents divorced she made sure I had every Babysitters Club book available and trips to the library were frequent. Books were how I escaped their unpleasant divorce and are how I cope with cold and rainy Saturday afternoons. Thanks Mom, for giving me books. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Update

I recently plugged all the book links back into the blog. I also found some new ones like Nonfiction Readers Anonymous and Pop Culture Book Reviews. They both are pretty good and consistent with postings. The Ornery Librarian also has short sweet book reviews with sarcasm plenty! Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Today I will get to see all kinds of costumes at school--like vampire princess. When did they start doing that? When she grows up this costume will most likely become slutty vampire princess, but for now she gets two in one. My other favorite costume this year is Hannah Montana---I didn't realize stars were popular costumes for children. I think I'll stick with Minnie Mouse.

There is a great review of Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts over at Powell's. This book recently received the Best New Horror label.

The Booktrust teenage prize went to a horror story this year. Lindsey has often wondered where all this vampire mania has come from since it seems to be everywhere.

NPR informed me that Tales from the Crypt is once again back in comic form. As if the HBO show wasn't bad enough.

There is a new book out for pet lovers. Dog Trick or Cat Treat: Pets Dress up for Halloween has close to 60 of the finest pet costume pictures out there. My dog Hayek isn't telling me about his costume but Keynes is going as Borat. For a dog, he does a wonderful impersonation of him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Book Review: Letters to a Young Lawyer

Letters to a Young Lawyer by Alan Dershowitz


This is the second book in this mentoring series that I've read and it was much easier to stay involved than Letters to a Young Mathematician. While searching for a book photo I came across a review claiming this to be Dershowitz's memoir. Its not and I think he would laugh at the notion that someone felt it was.

While I am not a lawyer, I do live with one. I greatly enjoyed the thoughts that were aroused by the letters and the conversations that Mike and I had. I would say that this book is more an introduction to criminal justice theory and advice to those going into criminal law than a mentoring series encompassing all law. What I also enjoyed was that many of the letters were universal--don't lie, don't cheat, be a good person, etc. Its pretty easy to agree with what he is saying when its about being a good person.

I don't think you can read anything by Dershowitz without having it be political. I was able to walk away learning tidbits of news, political relationships and gossip that I found interesting enough to consider reading anything by him again.

Kim's Grade: B Short and simple

Monday, October 29, 2007

Notes

Spending the week sick is no fun. However you do get to listen to radio programs that you normally wouldn't listen to. I have to admit that I enjoy listening to Car Talk. Maybe its because they simplify mechanics to the point where I get it. Hmm... Well, anyway, they recommend books every week and this week's was noteworthy. Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes seems like a book I would pick up, look at the price tag, then put back down wishing I could buy. Lets face it, there are a lot of books out there I would read if I found them at a thrift store.

Here are some of the book's jokes:

Aristotle, Plato and Descartes are on a plane. The flight attendant comes by to take their drink orders. She asks Aristotle if he'd like a beverage. Aristotle says, "I'll have a ginger ale."

"And how about you, Mr. Plato?"

Plato says "Diet Coke, please."

She says, "and Mr. Descartes, anything to drink for you?"

Descartes says, "I think not," and disappears.


A man is praying to God. "Lord," he prays, "is it true that to you, a million years is but a second?"

"Yes," the Lord says, "that is true."

"Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?"

"A million dollars to me is but a penny."

"Ah, then, Lord," says the man. "May I have a penny?"

"Sure," says the Lord. "Just a second."


A guy comes into a bar and orders three beers and then proceeds to sip from one, then another, then another, until all three are gone. The bartender says, "You know the beers would stay a lot colder, if you ordered them one at a time."

"Yeah, I know," the guy says, "but I have two brothers who are living abroad, and we all agreed to drink this way, in memory of the old days when we were together. So these two beers are for my brothers, and the third is for me."

The bartender is touched. The guy becomes a regular. Then he comes in one day and orders just two beers. The bar falls silent. The bartender says, "Please accept my condolences, pal."

"Oh no, everyone's fine," the guy says. "My doctor just made me give up drinking!"


An angel appears to the head of a Philosophy Department and says, "I'll grant you whichever of three blessings you choose. Wisdom, beauty, or ten million dollars."

Immediately, the professor chooses wisdom. There is a flash of lightning, the professor is transformed, but then he just sits there, staring down at the table.

One of his colleagues whispers, "You have great wisdom. Say something!" The professor says, "I should have taken the money!"


The first and second jokes aren't THAT bad!

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Mighty Heart: Book vs Movie

In April I wrote a short book review of A Mighty Heart. Most of us would agree that books are better than their movie versions and after watching A Mighty Heart I would definitely agree.

I would not recommend this movie to anyone.

The main reason why is that the movie doesn't focus on Mariane but rather the entire story. I suppose by doing so the movie is a little clearer about the confusion that was occurring. I found myself pausing the movie several times and explaining to Mike the emotional state Mariane was in, the fact that she thought her depression, frustration and fear was going to kill her unborn child, and of her constant battle to remain hopeful that Daniel was alive. I feel that comprises more of a mighty heart than what the movie portrayed.

By the time Mariane, who is played by Angelina Jolie, breaks down in the movie I had a difficult time sympathizing because I didn't feel the emotions were there. As for the book, I remembered crying throughout the entire memoir.

Overall the message of her memoir is stronger than whatever can be taken away from the film. I think this is often the case for books that are made into movies. Will there ever come a time when books aren't made into movies? Probably not, but I wish I was given more notice sometimes. Kite Runner is now on my must read soon list due to it coming to theaters this winter. It seems like it was yesterday that the book came out...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Martini in the Morning

I love Steve Martin! And now that his new children's book is out I am on a mission to test positive, pop one out and read them The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z. To listen to the quick radio interview go here. If too lazy to click read on...


From Morning Edition, 10/25/2007:

In writing a new children's alphabet book, Steve Martin may have been trying to make up for something missing in his childhood.

"I don't think I actually had any children's books as a kid," the actor and writer says, half-jokingly. No Go, Dog. Go! for him.

But Martin did read The Prince and the Pauper. "I was very proud of that because it was very thick," he tells Steve Inskeep.

Martin's new book, drawn by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, is called The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z.

"I just had this idea to write these crazy, rhyming couplets and then asked Roz to illustrate them as faithfully as possible," Martin says.

Chast says that when they went through the alphabet, "it was fun to kind of pick out interesting words that went along with each letter." So, when they considered the letter U, for example, ukuleles came to mind.

And yes, there is an educational element amid all the fun, Martin says.

"I tried to put in words ... that sound like the letter but aren't the letter and also use different expressions of the letter," Martin says.

Like the couplet for the letter Q:

Quincy the kumquat queried the queen
Cleverly, quietly, without being seen.

Powell's Book Review of the Day

The nice thing about my favorite book store in the whole world, Powell's, is that they send me a book review every day! This was a recent one. I look forward to reading this book if only to examine the feminism(s) within it. I am happy that Faludi discusses Jessica Lynch because I still believe her story plays a large role in how the current war was initially framed for us. At the time it was a subject I considered writing a thesis on had I chosen a different graduate school. A nice thing about Faludi is that she is easy to follow.

The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America
by Susan Faludi

After the Aftermath
A Review by Art Winslow

Did the ghastly plume of smoke and detritus from the World Trade Center towers obscure anything beyond lower Manhattan in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001? Susan Faludi, in The Terror Dream, asserts that it did, and while prevailing winds at the time trailed it east over Brooklyn, Faludi wafts it north toward colonial New England and west toward the historical frontier, and tracks its media-saturated shadow forward from that day through the past handful of years.

How does a culture react to trauma is the question, and Faludi's answer is that ours engaged in mythmaking on a scale that matches the monumentalism of the towers themselves. She does not mention Joseph Campbell and his The Hero With a Thousand Faces, or Robert Bly and his Iron John, or Carl Jung and his theories, but hers is a work of cultural interpretation on the order of theirs. Quite possibly, the author would shudder at comparison with such company, for Faludi focuses largely on gender issues writ into societal themes (a post-attack rejection of female equality is one of the flux points she examines) and her feminist views are in no significant way aligned with the above in content. But in approach, in the shared belief that stories and archetypes can both morph and retain an essence, that they can be self-perpetuating, that they are widespread and serve a purpose, that they can skew perception, cloud it, that they are in fact both the emperor's new and old clothes -- in that they share much.

"The entire edifice of American security had failed to provide a shield," Faludi observes in the introduction to The Terror Dream, and in "the all the disparate nightmares of men and women after 9/11, what accompanied the sundering of our myth of indomitability was not just rage but shock at that revelation, and, with the shock, fear, ignominy, shame." The media spit out mantras like "Everything has changed" and spoke of "the death of irony," an environment in which a "cacophony of chanted verities induced a kind of cultural hypnosis."

The mystery, suggests Faludi, is that the United States, "the last remaining superpower, a nation attacked precisely because of its imperial preeminence, responded by fixating on its weakness and ineffectuality." To state what is a sweeping and nuanced argument by her loosely and reductively here, it is that after 9/11 we have been re-enacting a 1950s Western, John Wayne-style, "cocooning ourselves in the celluloid chrysalis of the baby boom's childhood" while trying to evade the terrifying knowledge of our own vulnerability.

"We dreamed ourselves into a penny-dreadful plot that had little to do with the actual world in which we must live" is Faludi's assessment. "The suddenness of the attacks and the finality of the towers' collapse and the planes' obliteration left us with little in the way of ongoing chronicle or ennobling narrative. So a narrative was created and populated with pasteboard protagonists whose exploits would exist almost entirely in the realm of American archetype and American fantasy." Concomitantly, "no official moral leadership emerged to challenge Americans to think constructively about our place in the world, to redefine civic commitment and public responsibility."

These are strong words, and Faludi is a hard-nosed writer -- polemicist, some would say; is that still a pejorative? -- and much of what she proposes may seem at first glance to be unlikely, or perhaps overstated. However, the journalistic documentation she provides to back up her assertions, particularly when she deals with the post-9/11 world, has such cumulative effect in its impressive precision and breadth that one is forced to accept many of her claims. One significant question that remains unanswered is, How extensively does media sloganeering, complete with its distortions (which she amply chronicles), represent wider social thought? How many among us knew, for example, that the effacement of women in public life and roles (Hillary Clinton excepted) was to be part of the 9/11 fallout? It is somewhat surprising to see this singled out as a phenomenon, but here Faludi offers extensive examples from press reporting and real-world statistics as proof. Of the 88 opinion pieces that appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times in the week following 9/11, five were by women; on the televised Sunday news talk shows, including "Face the Nation," "Meet the Press," "This Week" and others, appearances by American women shrank by nearly 40 percent in the seven weeks following the attacks.

Who recognized that the "passivism" that infected public life was a disease, "and American women were its Typhoid Marys, American men its victims"? Or stopped to consider that modern fears of terrorism so closely paralleled anxieties of the frontier experience, where unpredictable raiding, massacres (on both sides) and hostage-taking occurred, which the armed forces or individually armed colonials and then pioneers were unable to fend off? Rather than facing a new type of war, in other words, "our foundational drama as a society" was exposure to parallel circumstances:

[M]urderous homeland incursions by dark-skinned non-Christian combatants under the flag of no recognized nation, complying with no accepted Western rules of engagement and subscribing to an alien culture at odds with modernity, who attacked white America on its "own" soil and against civilian targets. September 11 was aimed at our cultural solar plexus precisely because it was an "unthinkable" occurrence for a nation that once could think of little else. In was not, in fact, an inconceivable event; it was the characteristic and formative American ordeal, the primal injury of which we could not speak....Our ancestors had already fought a war on terror, a very long war, and we have lived with its scars ever since.

The Terror Dream is no Looming Tower or 9/11 Commission Report, nor does it aspire to be. Faludi uses a close read of press coverage and themes of newspaper and magazine "trend" stories in the years following 2001 to trace relations between them and the historical myth she seeks to elucidate, which is basically one of rescue. We are led through capsule discussions of many historical "captive narratives," dating back to the later 1600s, but are drawn jarringly up to date with the confounding circumstances and false claims surrounding the "rescue" of Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital, and the uses to which she was put. As Faludi notes in another context, of the K-9 rescue teams sent to the World Trade Center site, "What was a rescuer without someone to rescue?"

Some of what Faludi reports has been covered extensively elsewhere -- not just the details that emerged in the repeated news cycles devoted to Jessica Lynch, but the extreme valorization of firefighters working at "the pile" (ground zero), for example, given that 343 of their colleagues had died in the disaster. When considered alongside reports that city officials 2 1/2 years later were fighting inquiries into problems with the fire department's radios, which by multiple reports did not work and left an evacuation order unheard, and that a 2004 study by Cornell University found more than half the firefighters complaining of inadequate or non-existent training for terrorist attacks, and 61 percent reporting problems with the communications system in critical situations, such things are amplified in their poignancy. And that is not to mention (which Faludi does) the National Institute of Standards and Technology study of the disaster, which pointed out the technology failure but was kept from public view by the mayor's office for 3 1/2 years and released only under court order.

Much of Faludi's book engages in an effective debunking of reporting -- and this by the country's biggest newspapers and magazines -- that is anecdotally based but will not stand up when poked by a fact she has found. As such, it is media criticism in the best sense, however one regards her extended historical interpretation of American mythos.

The invention of the "security mom" -- "sticking close to the hearth and stocking their pantries with canned goods and anthrax antidotes" -- who replaced the "soccer mom," is one such example, posited among others by Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Elizabeth in 2004 on CNN, and in USA Today by columnist Michelle Malkin, which became a catchphrase that supersized itself into "mainstream media gospel." Yet Time magazine's lead pollster admitted, "We honestly could not find much empirical evidence to support it," and pollsters for the Washington Post and ABC News had similar experiences: "Married women with children didn't seem to be expressing national security concerns that distinguished them from other voters." Faludi's explanation is that "the security mom was a character crucial to that larger American myth of invulnerability."

And so it goes, instance after instance, from life-affirming "patriotic pregnancy" to what the Washington Post called "Crisis Couture" -- "heavy on girlish peasant blouses, wispy baby-doll dresses and lace Victorian garb conveying, in the words of one fashion scribe, 'virginal innocence.' "

The shock of the 9/11 attacks startled us, momentarily, into a perception of our vulnerability. "It was too disturbing to bear and we soon turned away," Faludi asserts, in a reflexive reaction "weirdly disconnected from the very real emergency at hand." The leitmotif of protecting a retrograde idea of domesticity is strong here, versus coming to some accommodation with insecurity. "Why in this country is all the attention paid to just one young girl?" Diane Sawyer wondered during a Primetime special on Jessica Lynch. Faludi's answer is, "In the restoration drama of American might, the supporting actress was the essential dramatis persona."

Art Winslow is a frequent contributor to the Tribune.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

blog link

This post made me think if there were any opening lines I would contribute. Check it out! If only for the laughs!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Harry News

By now you may have heard that Dumbledore is gay. It was a piece of news that made me smile and then later frown. I'm happy that Rowling created such a strong, wise, and lovable homosexual character because it challenges the way some of us see sexuality within our culture. Yet while the sexuality of Dumbledore isn't of concern in any of the books I can't help but wonder if this outing will add fuel to the fire of those who are trying to rid libraries and schools of all things Potter. And if this is something that will be discussed in book news for the next couple of weeks. I'm already over it.

Thrift Store Book Finds

Last night during an attempt to have a "date" we left "date-mode" and crashed a Deseret Industries we had never been to before. After scoring some sweatshirts for the dog I was able to find some interesting books:

A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
Looks promising and who wouldn't be interested in the woman who brought us Ramona? Plus she worked not too far from where I grew up in Eastern Washington. Her descriptions of growing up in the Pacific Northwest will interest me alone.

More Joy of Mathematics: Exploring Mathematics All Around You by Theoni Pappas
Brief explorations into everyday math, for the geek in me.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
While in Mexico with the Magician a woman working with us criticized me for never reading any Sedaris. I've always remembered this and yesterday I finally gave in. He is supposed to be funny, lets hope so...

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on being a Woman by Nora Ephron
The title alone makes me giggle. And since I will be getting old someday it may be worth reading. It also reminds me of Lindsey, although I can't tell you why.

And last but not least, in fact the best purchase I made yesterday, the one I can't wait to read and then sarcastically give to a certain someone:

How to be a Perfect Wife and Other Myths by Afton Day
Lets just say its Mormon and most likely full of ideas Kim greatly disagrees with but wants to read just so she'll be in the know. I can't remember a time when I was this excited to associate myself with the W-word!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Letters to a Young Mathematician

Letters to a Young Mathematician by Ian Stewart

I was initially drawn to this book's cover. Its beautiful. Not only does it portray "smooth," it at the same time shows delicate detail.

This book is a part of a semi-fictional mentoring series for those within various realms. As someone who enjoys math I decided to read it. I found it fascinating and boring, simultaneously. As a whole, it wasn't able to hold my attention longer than ten minutes. The mathematical concepts and theory combined with research and teaching were very interesting, however the portions mentoring this young woman were dry. I think this was because I couldn't relate as I am not an academic. I'm also not that nerdy!

The idea of this mentoring series interests me and I'm currently on to another in the series, Letters to a Young Lawyer, which will be reviewed soon.


Kim's Grade: B Good for anyone in hard sciences, thinking about a career in academia, or who is pursuing a Ph.D

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to Be Cool in the Third Grade

How to Be Cool in the Third Grade by Betsy Duffey, Illustrated by Janet Wilson

My friend Julie gave me this book to read. She promised she wasn't trying to tell me anything about my coolness but I secretly disagree.

It is a very cute book with many laugh-out-loud moments. Robbie decides that if he is going to be cool the first step is change his name to Rob. This is just one of several silly goals that Robbie is convinced will help him be the coolest third grader ever!

Kim's Grade: A Smiles galore, I promise.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Book Podcasts

There are some great podcasts out there on books. One of my favorites, NPR: Books, covers book news and reviews from various NPR programs and is available free through iTunes. Every now and then I'm able to listen to Terry Gross's interviews of Fresh Air and so far this week she has two great book/author interviews. They are both well worth working the ears!

Monday it was: Author Alice Sebold has produced difficult books before: Her novel The Lovely Bones, soon to be filmed by director Peter Jackson, centers on a 14-year-old looking down from heaven after her own rape and murder.

Sebold's 1999 memoir Lucky began with an account of the author's own rape, which occurred when she was a freshman at Syracuse University. The title comes from a comment made by a policeman, who told her she was lucky not to have been killed and dismembered like another woman attacked in the same vicinity; the unflinchingly candid book detailed Sebold's battles with the aftermath of the trauma, including an addiction to heroin. Now comes Sebold's latest fiction, The Almost Moon: Its narrative involves a middle-aged woman who murders her ailing elderly mother. She tells Terry Gross that while she reads fiction to escape the "hideous realities" of ordinary life, she explores those same realities in her own fiction partly to better understand them. "I don't think ignorance is a way that you gain distance on something," Sebold says. "I think understanding is the way to gain perspective — and therefore can live among those hideous realities. You can live with them."


Tuesday's blurb: "As host of the NPR news quiz Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, Peter Sagal spends a lot of time reading the newspaper. Lately, though, he's also spent many an hour going to strip joints, a swingers club, a porn-movie set and casinos — among other dens of what some call iniquity. All research, of course, for his new project, The Book of Vice. He wanted to get a perspective on the indulgences of others, and report back to the rest of us."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Talk to the Hand

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss

This book recently found me in Chicago's airport during a weather delay and I was happy it did. It was worn and misplaced on the shelf, to the degree that I questioned whether it was for sale or someone just left it by mistake.

After a vacation in Disneyworld and some general misunderstandings I NEEDED her kind words to remind me that I am not crazy, people are just rude. I came across several examples of parents putting their non-handicapped children in wheelchairs or electric scooters to take advantage of getting on a ride without the five minute wait (off-peak season). I had one woman yell at me when I pointed out that it was rude to stop a line so that twelve other people behind us could join the four in front of us. I had to stop myself from confronting two parents after realizing that they had put their daughters in wheelchairs the night before and cut in line, and then seeing their girls run around effortlessly the next day. What are you teaching your children? I've been criticized for stating my opinion, not being sensitive enough, and for asking people to stop dry-humping in public and I'm sick of it.

Well, Lynne Truss agrees and she believes that society 1) is rude, 2) unwilling to admit they are rude or admit their behavior is rude, and 3) unwilling to confront rude behavior thus making those who do bitches or assholes. And it all makes sense!

I've been recently criticized for sharing my opinions with the intent of resolving a family issue (i.e. number 3 above). The result was having my feelings disregarded because it was rude of me to express an issue I have. Their solution is to forget about it and not talk about it. Well, that is a poor attempt at solving a problem. I once had a roommate like this too. We had a disagreement and her solution was to stop talking to me and move out. Again, avoiding communication and in my mind displaying somewhat rude or inconsiderate behavior but our society chastises those who point this out. She was allowed to be inconsiderate, even allowed to wrongly victimize herself however I was a bitch to point this out. People are allowed to talk loudly on their cellphones everywhere however I am rude if I ask them to take their conversation elsewhere. I can't tell you how many times I've had people ignore me when trying to talk with them. I've been told to eff-off after asking a couple to stop dry-humping each other in a public park with lots of children around to which Truss calls this the private becoming the public. I completely agree with this and can think of several examples. Where one used to wear their pjs and slippers at home they are now seen everywhere. Cell phone conversations are everywhere in public too. If I'm waiting to be checked out at a store I also have to wait for the customer in front of me to finish their conversation before they can pay. I've been interrupted by other people answering their cell phones during conversations with me, been cut-off and had to avoid several car accidents due to people talking on their cell phones while driving and they don't care. I can tell you all about the person sitting next to me in (insert any public place) because of the conversation they're having. But why should I care? This is America, we can do whatever we want.

Here is just one snip it:

"The question is: why do we have such a horror of directness? Why do we place value on not saying what we mean? Why do we think it's funny? Why do we think the word "irony" gives us magical permission to confuse less devious foreigners about whether we're serious or not? Given that it is now commonplace to be told to Eff Off by eight-year-olds, are we just finally paying the price for confusing directness with rudeness for so long?"

I'm not rude, I'm just more direct than others in society where we turn our heads at violence, abuse, and rude behavior. I have manners and I try to respect other's space in public. I open doors, I say please and thank you. I even know how to say excuse me in six different languages. Its a thought provoking book and it was just what I needed. It was nice to see that Truss knows my intentions aren't bad, in fact they are simple acts of politeness meant to improve a variety of situations and sometimes friendships. It was nice to see that someone understands.


Kim's Grade: A Fun and fast to read.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Guest Book Review: The Iron Dream


We have a guest review today! Salieri!

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad

Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream is essentially a reprint of
Adolf Hitler's 1954 Hugo-winning science fiction novel Lord of the
Swastika,
with an appendix of scholarly commentary about the work.

The story is fairly straightforward. A nuclear war destroyed most of
civilization several thousand years ago, and much of the earth remains
an irradiated, mutated wasteland. Humanity has been reduced to several
feeble-minded subspecies, controlled by the evil Dominators, who use
their psychic powers to enslave mutants from their headquarters in the
eastern land of Zind. The last hope for the purity of the human
bloodline is the High Republic of Heldon. But Heldon was humiliated in
a recent war and struggles to stay afloat, with Dominators sneaking in
to establish control.

Feric Jaggar, a tall, muscular blond of pure human stock, grew up in
exile. Upon arriving in Heldon for the first time, he sees the lurking
threat of mutation and Domination. He is one of the few whose will is
strong enough to triumph against the mind-control of the Dominators.
Jaggar organizes a rag-tag group of bandits into a private army - the
Knights of the Swastika - and takes control of Heldon. (The swastika is
a kind of bent cross logo that was the emblem of ancient Heldon.) He
leads the people of Heldon in a great struggle to free humanity from
eternal slavery.

This book plays mostly to Hitler's talents as a writer. His greatest
strength was his ability to depict vivid moments of conflict. Jaggar's
speeches at the Sons of the Swastika's torchlit rallies and the
frequent battles between the forces of humanity and the forces of evil
are described in memorable detail. I imagine that events like this
would be captivating in real life, though I'm not sure if the
impassioned rhetoric of Jaggar would really whip up such frenzied
public support as it did in the book.

On the other hand, you can really tell that this was a book that got
away from its author. Hitler was dying of venereal disease as he wrote
the book, and the pacing becomes frantic. 250 pages just isn't enough
room for Hitler to tell the story he wanted to tell: Jaggar's return
from exile, his rise to power in Heldon, his campaign against the
Dominators and mutants within the state, his final solution to the
mutant problem, and the epic showdown with Zind. Indeed, the entire
war against the enormous nation of Zind and its vast slave army boils
down to two or three battles. Hitler seemed to think that motorized
warfare would result in quick, decisive wars, but I would think that a
real-life Zind army would just retreat and count on the Heldons to run
out of supplies, then take advantage of Zind's seemingly endless
manpower and counterattack. Furthermore, technology seems to develop
overnight. As the book begins, Jaggar rides into Heldon in a
steam-powered vehicle, but it isn't long before the men of Heldon are
zooming around in jet-powered bombers.

One more thing to note: Hitler had a reputation as a ladies' man, and
was said to be quite the player at sci-fi conventions. Nevertheless,
this book is really, really gay. Hitler seems to have had some sort of
military fetish. He describes the shiny black leather uniforms of his
Swastika Squadron in loving detail, and Jaggar's preferred weapon is a
swastika-topped club. I can't be the only one who wondered about
Jaggar's real relationship with his handsome young "personal
assistant," Ludolf Best.

All in all, Hitler's ambition outstripped his abilities. I wouldn't
call Lord of the Swastika a classic by any means. Still, it has
moments of grandeur, and it's still an enjoyable piece of pulp
literature. Hitler's story can be very appealing if you turn off your
brain and let your emotions - or, as Hitler would put it, your will -
carry you away.

Salieri's Grade: C+

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Book Review: Citizen Girl

Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Fast and easy read. "Girl" has problems finding her dream job, a job with meaning and after getting fired she begins a depressing employment search that brings her joy after all. Both authors are feminists as feminism is an important aspect of this book. I have to admit that reading bits of feminism tossed in among a funny storyline made me feel as if I was reading something half-way intelligent! Those choosing to pick up this read will also find an interesting writing style, one that adds to humor and thought alike.

The same authors wrote The Nanny Diaries which I just realized I have somewhere...


Kim's Grade: B+