Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner

Look, everyone, it's time for another rarity!  A blog post from me?  Yes!  But no, actually, a blog post from me where I review a non-fiction book.  I'm terrible about reading non-fiction.  I have great intentions.  I'm terribly interested in so many topics covered in non-fiction books.  I even acquire a decent amount of them.  When it comes to reading them, though, I tend to fall a little (er, a lot) short.  And when I do read them, they're usually memoirs or, at least, memoir-esque.

If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner is a charming amalgamation of memoir, humor, and (dare I say it?) self-help.  When a pitch for the book landed in my inbox, I was unfamiliar with Zach Anner, who got his start on a short-lived travel show on the OWN network and now has a significant internet following on YouTube.  Anner was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy - the "sexiest of the palsies."  Instead of letting his disability keep him down, Anner decided not to take life quite so seriously.  For him, being handicapped is no excuse for not getting out there, traveling the world, and living life with abandon.  Life might be full of disasters waiting to happen, but for this guy, that just makes more opportunities for a good laugh.

Anner's book is refreshingly open, honest, and vulnerable.  He doesn't gloss over the struggles of his disability to paint a "flowers and rainbows" pictures of his life.  Instead, in a book rich with gratitude for all the opportunities the technology age has provided for him, Anner shows readers that it's when things don't go quite to plan on his life's journey that he has had occasion to roll with the punches, find the humor in life, and show what he's really made of.

The chronology of If At Birth You Don't Succeed is a little wonky.  Instead of opting for the linear, Anner dips in and out of his memories, usually drawing a lesson out of them by the end of each chapter that can be the slightest bit preachy.  The chronology is a little hard to get used to, but in the end I was totally won over by this guy who was irrepressibly optimistic even at his lowest point and who is using the achievement of his life goals to make the world a little funnier and a little better place.  If At Birth You Don't Succeed is a book that will make you smile.  It's funny, uplifting, and also a sweet tribute to all the people whose love and care helped propel Zach on the path to his success.

(I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

For the Record by Charlotte Huang

I really need to stop downloading "read now" books from Net Galley.  Alas, it's one of my great hobbies to cruise the read now pages for potential hits, and that's how I came by For the Record.  Now, there's nothing wrong with For the Record, but, well, you get what you pay for.

When punk rock band Melbourne's lead singer jumps ship to live a normal life, if the band of prep school punks wants to stay together they have to find a new lead singer.  Enter our narrator, Chelsea.  A runner up on a "Who wants to be a pop star?" sort of reality show, Chelsea gets the chance of lifetime when she is asked to go on tour fronting a band that she used to simply be a fan of.  Eager to leave her hometown where a scrape with an ex-boyfriend has left her on the outs, Chelsea jumps at the chance.  Unfortunately, getting in with the band isn't as easy as being their lead singer, and as Chelsea tries to make a place for herself on tour, her relationship with a movie star who is every girl's dream and forays into ill-conceived advertising threaten to tear what remains of the band apart.

For the Record is, essentially, fan fiction for a fictional band.  Chelsea may be a little big and a lot insecure, but she is, for most of the book at least, the quintessential Mary Sue, arriving on the scene to save a band in crisis with her vocal stylings, happening to fall in love with movie superstar Lucas Rivers, and even using her very limited capital to bring her best friend on tour as the merch girl.   Obviously, there is a love triangle with a band mate, an "artistic" feud with another band mate, and a crop of unexpected betrayals all around. 

For me, this book was entirely brain candy.  It was predictable enough that I might not have finished it but for the fact that I needed a breather after finishing a dense, slow read of a book.  For the Record, despite its flaws, is a fun romp with a band on tour, full of drama and with a fast reading first person narration.  While it's unlikely to make my best reads of the year list, I can't deny that I got what I came for, a fun, quick-reading "brain break."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Will Make You Laugh

It's been a while since I've done a Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish, or really much blogging at all, I guess.  This week's a great chance to talk about some different books than the usual suspects because we're talking books that make us laugh.  I rarely laugh out loud reading a book but here are ten that got me giggling.

1. No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene - I loved Greene's memoir about raising her large family of both biological and internationally adopted children.  The only way to make a family this big work is with a good sense of humor, and Greene has plenty of laughs to spare.

2. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger - This book is Hilarious with a capital H.  Composed of letters between a misfit pain in the ass kid and the arrogant ballplayer that becomes his father figure, this book had me rolling.  It's full of laughs and heart.

3. Home to Woefield by Susan Juby - This one's a fun romp of a book about a former city dweller turned idealist farmer and her newfound odd ensemble of friends that help her restore a run down farm to its former glory.  Irrepressible Prudence trying to wrangle her staff of a kid who breeds chickens, a guy who lives his whole life on the internet, and the farm's grumpy old caretaker is definitely good for some laughs.

4. The Cactus Eaters by Dan White - In which hiking novice and downright funny guy Dan White decides to take on the daunting task of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Let's just say the books is way more successful than the hike.

5. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty - When Celia runs off to join the circus, she leaves her best friend Elizabeth behind.  Elizabeth's life is illuminated entirely in notes and letters but in the most entertaining way possible.

6. The Martian by Andy Weir - Mark Watney's sense of humor makes this very science-y novel about an astronaut stuck on Mars into an unexpectedly laughter filled novel.

7. Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream - For those among us who prefer a little dark humor, artist Clementine has decided to commit suicide, but first she has to tie up some loose ends and, you know, practice.  A dark topic maybe, but trying on coffins and practicing injections on chickens make for some twisted laughs.

8. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky - Dark humor at its finest again.  The mother in this tale is such a twisted narcissist that you might just find yourself laughing, if you aren't cringing too much.

9. Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion - The travel memoir of a woman who has way too many shoes and a penchant for staying in bed, but is persuaded to road trip the nation by her wily husband.  There's this converted motor home and this story about a tractor (I think?) and a cocktail for every chapter.  What's not to love (and laugh at)? 

10. Paperboy by Tony Macaulay - Paperboy is a hilarious coming of age memoir about a kid growing up in 1970s Belfast.  Macaulay takes the guitar lesson after "Pammy Wynette," attains paperboy seniority in a wretched ensemble of typically '70s clothing, and can be found kicking his favorite band in appreciation.  I laughed so much.

What books left you laughing?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Another Day in the Life

Good day, all, and welcome, to another boring day in the life of me!  Trish from Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting the second round of her Day in the Life event, where we get to chronicle and share our days with each other.  Much to my surprise, last time it was actually really fun to write about my day in all its boring glory and even more fun to read everyone else's so I was more than happy to play again.  I chronicled last Tuesday since it was a little more exciting than the average day, though I totally took most of the pictures on Friday, because I forgot on Tuesday and also I am a cheater.  Anyhow, here it goes...

6:30 AM - Alarm goes off interrupting a vaguely disturbing dream that may be indicative of my watching too many crime TV shows lately.  It's earlier than usual, and it's the week after the spring time change so it feels even earlier, but I've got to be to work early.  I stretch out my Frankenankle (That's the ankle they surgically put back together after I broke it last summer, if you were wondering.  I usually just call him Frank.) and its accompanying leg, and then head for the shower. 

 7:30 AM - Usually I like to read a few pages over a bowl of cereal, but alas, there is no time for that today.  Cereal stays tucked in its cupboard.  Joe Meno's Marvel and a Wonder remains nestled on the cluttered coffee table, all sad and neglected.

7:45 AM - I have a super short commute now.  Unfortunately, the commute from the parking lot in to the hospital where I work takes almost as long as the commute from my apartment....

8:00 AM - Say the briefest of hellos to my desk before before bidding it a fond farewell.  Normally, I would take time to be disappointed in how deeply unfun my office area looks, but today, I have important work to do, or so they tell me.

8:10 AM - Today is all about this thing.  Meet Remmy (name has been changed to protect the innocent).  He's a very tall (Dark? Handsome? Er...nope), computer operated storage closet of sorts for all the lab's supplies.  I've heard myths that some places achieve their Rem install in a mere three days.  At my place of employment, where we like to do things the hard way, it's more like a year and three days.  The vendor rep we work with is on site for the third time.  He's been working with us for so long that my employer should probably just start paying directly into his retirement account.  My project partner in crime and I are cautiously optimistic that our pilot might actually get off the ground this time.

11:00 AM - Haggle among six people the right size space for supply after supply after supply.  I silently lament that my two years in lab almost-IT has come down to efficiently reorganizing what has essentially become the lab's giant junk drawer.

12:10 PM - We break from our exciting morning of space allocation for lunch.  I drop a contact on the floor before we manage to head to the cafeteria.  Happily, one of our developers is there and helps me find it thus saving the day from utter ruin.  Someone would literally have to take me home.  I'm blind as a bat.  I give it a rinse and jam it back in my eye, stopping for only a moment to wonder how long it will take my eye to start necrosing.  That's a fancy lab term for "rotting." The floors around here aren't exactly sanitary. 

12:30 PM - With the addition of the Remteam, lunch is filled with startling revelations about air travel for the super tall, hunting in Maine, and the absence of peanut butter in Europe.  There are places without peanut butter.  I am deeply appalled.

1:30 PM - Return to dynamic storing. The word "dynamic" really makes it sound like it might be interesting.  Don't be fooled.

2:30 PM - Break from storing to switch our other storage units back to their original server.  Take a lap of the labs getting people to log out of the software and enduring light, mostly good-natured ridicule from lab staff.

3:20 PM - Server switch completed, validation successful.  Another problem solved?

5:00 PM - Yay, workday is over!  Normally I would retire to my apartment to sloth about watching The Voice and spend a lot of truly unedifying time scrolling through my Facebook feed.  Tonight - cautiously celebratory wing night with the Remteam!

 Waiting for the bus that will take me to my car (in the next county) which will take me for wings.

6:00 PM - Table is paved with wings and cheese fries.

6:30 PM - Stomachs are paved with wings and cheese fries.

7:30 PM - Home.  I'm single and live on my own, so good news, as long as I'm okay with living in semi-squalor and rewearing the same pants tomorrow as I did yesterday, there's still plenty of time for slothing about watching The Voice on Hulu while liking cute pictures of my friends' babies on Facebook.  Yay squalor!

9:30 PM - Finish watching The Voice.  I could do something productive, but it's more fun to consider taking a sweet European vacation with a friend I haven't seen in forever to a place that looks like this.  Actually, a place that is this...

10:30 PM - Time for bed.  One more day of stimulating dynamic storage awaits!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Today it's time to celebrate a few things that I rarely do!  One is blogging!  Look at me, blogging like a blogger.  My life has been throwing up one hurdle after another ever since last summer, so by the time I get home from work the only thing that my ruined brain will tolerate is the binge watching of Netflix with occasional breaks for reading books when I manage to feel guilty enough to turn off the TV.  The other thing I rarely do is go to a book group.  The book group is great, enlightening and engaging.  I, however, read terribly slowly especially when it comes to books I "should" be reading and books that are challenging.  Book group books are often both.  That and my practiced disinterest in most of the classics tends to keep me from being a regular attender.

My own failings aside, I read this month's book group read and attended the conversation last night.  This month's selection was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, a book that certainly benefited from discussion.

Gilead is Robinson's Pulitzer winning depiction of the Reverend John Ames, who, in his mid-70s, has been diagnosed with angina pectoris and expects that he will soon reach the end of his mortal life.  Ames, lifelong pastor of a congregationalist church in Gilead, Iowa, has a much younger wife and a young son.  Gilead takes the form of his writing to his adult son who will grow up without his father.  What emerges is a quiet reflection on life, faith, and forgiveness that reflects Ames' joy in a life lived and his hope for his son's future.

Admittedly, I struggled a bit with Gilead.  Had I not been striving to finish it to achieve my sporadic attendance at book group, I likely would have laid it aside.  The book, though profound in wisdom and beautifully written, is thoroughly a character study and suffers for the lack of a driving plot.  The tangential nature of the old man's thoughts migrates from topic to topic so that when I arrived at a break, it was easy to put down and not so easy to pick back up.

That said, there were several things I appreciated about Gilead.  For one, it is a positive portrayal of Christians in fiction without the cheesy bent of books actually labeled Christian fiction.  This is, unfortunately, startlingly rare.  Gilead is permeated with Ames' joy in the trappings of Christianity.  Instead of depicting a man caught up in his own righteousness, Gilead offers a portrait of a man who knows his own weakness and is ever struggling against it.  This isn't the judging, hypocritical Christian of stereotype but a realistic picture of both the pain and joy of earthly religion.

Secondly, I was very impressed with Robinson's reverend's thoughts on the Bible and on an assortment of Christian precepts.  In his writings, Ames considers the ten commandments, the nature of grace, the difficulty and necessity of forgiveness, and God's providence.  Ames is awed by the ordinary miracles of God's creation and feels the significance of preaching and blessing and baptizing God's chosen.  Robinson renders his reflection on his life and his hopes for his son's future with tenderness, wisdom, and poetry that make this book linger in the mind after the last page is turned.

Gilead is one of those books that has grown on me since finishing it, and after the book discussion I appreciate it still more.  Christians will like this book for its fresh perspective on the things of God and for the familiarity of a Christian life.  Non-Christians stand to appreciate a portrait of a "real deal" Christian that makes Christianity a bit more human and accessible without ever dumbing down its significance. 
"She has watched every moment of your life, almost, and she loves you as God does, to the marrow of your bones.  So that is the honoring of the child.  You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone.  Your existence is a delight to us."
 (No disclaimer required.  This one's from my very own personal library.)