Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Good Year

I just finished my 50th book of the year, which is huge for me, especially considering it's just the end of October. Usually, I'm lucky to finish 50 by the end of the year. To celebrate, I'm going to list the books I've read this year thus far. I'll probably add to this post as I finish books, so I'll have a nice comprehensive list of books read in 2007, but as of first writing, it's just those original fifty. The links are mostly to my BookCrossing journal entries (I'm yourotherleft over there, for the record). While, for the most part, I wasn't doing much in the way of comprehensive reviews, the entries usually share my thoughts on the books in general. If the link is to Amazon, that's because I had a rather slackerish mid-year period where I wasn't saying anything much about the books that I was reading because I was all busy living my life in Boston (and because my internet connection in my apartment there was virtually worthless). It's sure been a great year for reading so far!

1. Sing Down the Moon - Scott O'Dell
2. The Fifth of March - Ann Rinaldi
*3. Truth & Beauty - Ann Patchett
*4. The Reluctant God - Pamela Service
5. The Best Place to Be - Lesley Dormen
*6. Black & White - Dani Shapiro
7. Angelica - Arthur Phillips
8. Disobedience - Naomi Alderman
9. A Place Called Ugly - Avi
10. The Dream Giver - Bruce Wilkinson
11. The Law of Dreams - Peter Behrens
*12. Away - Jane Urquhart
13. Dovey Coe - Frances O'Roark Dowell
*14. There Is No Me Without You - Melissa Fay Greene
15. The Circus in Winter - Cathy Day
16. The Man of My Dreams - Curtis Sittenfeld
17. Briar Rose - Jane Yolen
18. The Rich Part of Life - Jim Kokoris
19. One Mississippi - Mark Childress
20. Razzle - Ellen Wittlinger
21. Kira Kira - Cynthia Kadohta
*22. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
23. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman - Brian Jacques
*24. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
25. The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings
*26. Shout Down the Moon - Lisa Tucker
27. Sloppy Firsts - Megan McCafferty
28. Seventh Son - Orson Scott Card
29. Echo - Francesca Lia Block
30. How To Be Lost - Amanda Eyre Ward
*31. The Other Side of You - Sally Vickers
32. Gingerbread - Rachel Cohn
*33. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
34. Ana's Story - Jenna Bush
35. The Disciplines of a Godly Woman - Barbara Hughes
36. The Rest of Her Life - Laura Moriarty
37. Song of the Magdalene - Donna Jo Napoli
38. Bound - Donna Jo Napoli
39. The Phantom Tollboth - Norton Juster
40. Women of the Silk - Gail Tsukiyama
41. When Madeline Was Young - Jane Hamilton
42. Life Expectancy - Dean Koontz
*43. Small Island - Andrea Levy
44. A Three Dog Life - Abigail Thomas
45. No Great Mischief - Alistair Macleod
*46. Hard Love - Ellen Wittlinger
47. From Ashes to Life - Lucille Eichengreen
48. Even the Stars Look Lonesome - Maya Angelou
49. The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke
*50. Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson
51. Sleep Toward Heaven - Amanda Eyre Ward
*52. A Northern Light - Jennifer Donnelly
53. The Spare Wife - Alex Witchel
54. The Wentworths - Katie Arnoldi
55. Willing - Scott Spencer
56. Boy Meets Girl - Meg Cabot
57. After You'd Gone - Maggie O'Farrell

Now a side note of reflection...

Having completed this project and thus reflected on my writings about the books I've read so far this year, I do proclaim that I will resist the urge to use the phrase "brings to life" or any form of the word "engage" in any and all future book reviews as my overuse of them thus far rather makes me ill. Every book's review or comment after about the 24th I approached with trepidation wondering whether I'd found the book "engaging" or whether "the author really brough the characters/situations/plots to life." I'm pretty sure I've dishonored at least two-thirds of these great books with my bizarrely redundant writing. Ugh! Should you catch me in the act of using these terms rigorously in my book reviews, kindly leave me a derisive comment or travel to north-eastern PA and give me a good kick in the head.

That being said, in the process of completing this project, I also noticed (with some glee) that of the 50 books I've read this year, I'd marked 13 as favorites on the list on my BookCrossing bookshelf. Hmmmm...wonder what you'll see in my blog tomorrow?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Booking Through Thur...Friday

Due to the fact that Snow Falling On Cedars, though shaping up to be an excellent book, is rather a long and involved read, I'll have no choice but to entertain my readership (*crickets chirp*) with a sequence of memes and introspection at random. Hey! Wait! Come back! I promise it'll be interesting! But as my cousin sagely recommends, "People should never make promises they can't promise!" Ah, the simple genius of it all. But anyway, on with the show!

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

Hmmm, this question appealed to me because I tossed a book aside early this week. Like a lot of people, I used to be the sort that was rather unable to give up on a book. Then I joined BookCrossing and that all changed. I have roughly a zillion books. Rather, the total, I believe is hovering in the 900 range. Books come in a good deal faster than they seem to go out. That and I've undergone a pretty major shift in my reading preferences. I used to be wild about mysteries and horror novels and even the occasional romance. Now, literary fiction is my bread and butter, but I like to keep the others on hand as well for those many moments when I just want to breeze through something quickly. However, I've become a lot more critical of them, so if they aren't calling out to me right away when I start reading them, I usually don't hesitate to let them go. There are so many books in the house that I'm excited about reading, so if books don't grab me in pretty quick they get thrown by the wayside. I try to give everything a fair chance and try to divine when my mood is what's keeping from like a certain book rather than the book itself so I can save it to try again later. That's a few that have remained unfinished...

Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali - I dug into this one earlier this week. It didn't even last long enough for me to put it up in my Books I'm Reading thing on the sidebar. I have to admit, I read Brick Lane by the same author, and despite all its critical acclaim and the fact that I've been to Brick Lane in London (which made me all the more excited about reading it)... I found it to be kind of boring, which was so unfortunate because I thought I was going to love it. I don't know why, but I thought the premise of Alentejo Blue sounded good, and maybe I'd enjoy her sophomore effort. Not so much. I tried twice...forced myself through about 30 pages, failed to get a sense of where it was going at all and upon reading a very unpleasant scene involving a dead cow and a truck decided I'd had just about enough. I have a really hard time with stuff that is just straight out gross and if I didn't love the book to start with, I'm so much more likely to put it down after something truly unpleasant.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles - Please don't write your books without using quotation marks when people speak. Unless your book is absolutely spectacular, I think it's a big stumbling block for readers...or maybe just for me...

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. This was a book I had to read in high school. I was always the kid who liked to read and would dutifully read all my summer reading (even if I didn't like what was chosen and was irritated at having to read something assigned during a portion of the year where I should have been allowed to read whatever I felt like...but that's another story). This is the only one I ever deliberately said, "I really can't stand this. I'm not going to finish it." and then consulted some Cliffs Notes to know the end for class. I was bored from the first page and couldn't understand the main character and his willingness/need to continually return to the ugly and self-serving Mildred (I think that was her name). He certainly was enslaved to her - as perhaps the title makes reference to - but I certainly had no interest in being enslaved to this.

The Stand by Stephen King - This falls into the category of books I didn't mean to abandon. I started reading it while on vacation, was really into it, then returned to school (or maybe I had to finish my summer reading, the cursed Of Human Bondage) and got distracted. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to get back to it I had forgotten so much of what happened I knew I would have to start it over in order to enjoy it at all. So back on the shelf it went. And there it remains.

Hmmm...well, that's all for today. Tune in tomorrow when it's possible that I'll discourse on my newfound verbosity (I'm sure you haven't noticed) and argue that it's okay to continue buying books regardless of the amount of books you already have, your total lack of funds, and the amount of friends and family members crushed by your collapsing book shelves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #2

This list is brought to you by my complete and utter lack of creativity. You're lucky, I almost posted a list of my rejected Thursday Thirteen ideas.

Thirteen Things in my room that are important to me

1. A picture of my best friend and I acting like fools on the London Eye. I went to visit her while she was studying abroad in our junior year of college. We spent a good portion of the time on the Eye thinking of what ridiculous thing we would do when it came time for the picture. We determined to put our hands up and act like we were on the downhill of a roller coaster. Behind us in the photo is a really dour, disappoving looking couple that makes the shot that much more priceless.

2. A picture of my cousin Isaac. He's eight. He still thinks I'm "cool." Gotta treasure these moments.

3. My cell phone. Okay. I know this sounds shallow, but before I started moving all over the country I got one of those Verizon Chocolate phones - a red one. Not only does it make me feel super has around 120 songs loaded onto it (which came in handy for riding the T in Boston), takes great pictures (it houses the Boston photo documentary - for all those pictures you want to take when you don't feel like carrying a camera around), and I spent about a zillion hours talking to my family on it during all my travels.

4. My computer. Well, this should be obvious. I blog. I BookCross. I keep in touch with lots of friends on Facebook. I apply for jobs (one of which I am greatly in need of). Yeah, I'm lost without this thing.

5. Books! This is another shocker, I'm sure. Seeing as the shelves are in other rooms, only three are in here right now. My last read (The Thief Lord), my current read (Snow Falling on Cedars), and a read I'm considering for after that (Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog). Wherever I go, books aren't far behind.

6. A Ziggy comic I cut out of the Sunday comics. Most of the frames picture Ziggy racing toward the future. The last shows a picture pointing back toward the present and says "If you spend all of your time racing ahead to the future, you're liable to discover you've left a great present behind." It's something I need to be reminded of constantly.

7. My CD collection. It's grown quite expansive, and I find that unless I'm reading I have a hard time sitting in my room without playing some music. It's got all sorts of stuff - rock, pop, country, worship music, Gaelic music, instrumental movie name it.

8. Feather Boa. I spent my four years of college in the same work study job in the Office of Annual Giving and really loved the people I was working for. They were very fun and easy going and hard working all at the same time. For a long time we had a pink and white feather boa of indeterminate origins hanging about the office. I once asked my boss if I could borrow the "office feather boa" for an event I was attending, which is kind of funny in and of itself. At the end of my time there, they gave it to me as a parting gift.

9. Stuffed Bear. Okay. Yes. I'm a "grown-up." I just moved back in with my parents. I still sleep with a stuffed bear. He's comfy. Wanna make something of it?

10. A Picture of my two favorite college roommates and I at a lacrosse game. They're still among my best friends, and I've never put so much effort into staying in touch. Our wacky lacrosse playing neighbors brought us all a little bit closer together sophomore year, and I don't know what I'd do without my two best friends now!

11. The Gettysburg Alumni calendar. I have little hope of ever loving my life as much as I did in college. Too bad I didn't realize quite how much I loved it then. *sigh*

12. Wood carvings of a toy soldier, a dog, and a bear. My grandfather carved them for me. He can't really carve anymore, but I still love these things that he made for me when he could.

13. The Memories Jar. This was a gift my grandmother brought back for me from a golfing trip she went on. I've stuck all sorts of tickets to events I've been to and all sort of assorted mementos into this jar down through the years. I love to pop it open every now and then and remember the events associated with the stuff in jar.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

The Thief Lord didn't really inspire me with a full-fledged review, so I'm borrowing Dewey's questiony thing to say something about it.

Title and author of book?

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Fiction or non-fiction? Genre?

Childrens/Young Adult Fiction

What led you to pick up this book?

I'd heard lots of good things about it, and someone took it out of the Teen VBB on BookObsessed, so I bumped it up Mount TBR.

Summarize the plot, but don’t give away the ending!

Prosper and Bo, two children left orphaned upon the death of their mother, flee their Aunt Esther, a self-serving rich lady seeking to adopt only Bo as more of dress-up doll than a child while packing off his older brother to boarding school. The two take refuge in Venice, a mystical city their mother had often told them stories about before her death. In Venice, the brothers meet up with a gang of street kids who are provided for by the elusive Thief Lord. As it turns out, the Thief Lord is both more and less than he appears which is revealed when the children are sent on a mysterious errand for the even more elusive Conte. Throughout their journeys they meet up with Victor, a kindly bumbling detective originally hired to return Prosper and Bo to their immature Aunt, as well as kindly photographer, Ida, both of whom come to their aid when the worst comes to pass.

What did you like most about the book?

I loved the Venice setting. Funke brings the city full of waterways and winged creatures and hidden places to life. The setting itself contributes mightily to the story and its mystical premise. I liked the gang of kids as well and could picture them in their movie theater hideout. The plot is engaging and moves along at just the right pace to keep you reading to find out what exciting event will happen next.

What did you like least?

There were a few things that bothered me. One was the almost total lack of character development. Here are bunch of kids either without parents or with home lives so rotten they decided to strike out on their own, yet there seems to be almost no history and no context for any of the characters. Several of the main characters seem to be "just there," and we don't get any sort of idea about what drives them or why they are so dissatisfied with their past (or current) lives.

The adult characters kind of bothered me, also. For example, Ida: she grew up in an orphanage, supports the orphanage monetarily, and seems to care deeply about these abandoned children and their need to have a place to belong, but it doesn't dawn on her to actually consider adopting a child until these kids arrive on her doorstep. Nor does she seem to have any qualms about setting two ten-year-olds loose to go live on their own in a warehouse. Weird.

Share a quote from the book:

Back in the narrow alleys he wasn't usually afraid, but it was different here in the wide-open square. Bo called it the Lion Square. He knew that it had a proper name really, but he called it that anyway. During the day every cobblestone here belonged to the pigeons and the tourists. But at night when the pigeons slept on the roofs and the people lay in their hotel beds, the square belonged to the horses and the winged lion that stood among the stars. Bo was certain of that. pg. 75


This is a good book...for someone a lot younger than me. I'm sure younger readers would be enchanted by this, but I found myself caught between taking it too seriously and too lightly. It's written like a book that wishes to be taken seriously - a book about homeless kids, rich kids unhappy in their circumstances, kids that want to be grown-ups so that they can be taken seriously. But it's also written in a sort of fairy tale sort of fashion with kids that seem old and adults who behave ridiculously which requires more suspension of disbelief to enjoy. I didn't know what kind of reader I was supposed to be to enjoy it, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have like to have enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend this to younger readers, though, who wouldn't need to struggle with my strange dilemma!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Some of us read, some of us just buy books....

Today was a lovely fall day, and I spent it shopping. There was a small library book sale this morning, and I can never seem to resist uh.... supporting the library. Who doesn't love to pick up wish list books at the paltry sum of 50 cents a piece? I got 10, and my mom got 5 or 6...two of which piqued my interest, which is always good since we tend to make our book collection almost entirely shared. After that we headed off to Muncy to partake in a tasty coffee drink at the Seattle's Best at Borders (where I - much to my credit - didn't buy any more books), to scout out some Life Is Good clothes on sale (which is almost as common as pigs flying or hell freezing over - so naturally this endeavor failed), and to swing by the consumerist fantasy (or is it nightmare?) that is Sam's Club to buy chicken in bulk. Adding to the excitement was a moment of terror wrought by my dad's locking the keys in the car. Luckily, with a shout of "Don't panic! It's no big deal!" I was able to save the day with the help of my cell phone and my AAA card. Definitely getting my money's worth out of that one.

And now, the important stuff. A brief rundown of my most recent book acquisition...

Strange Fits of Passion - Anita Shreve
Go Ask Alice - Anonymous
Until I Find You - John Irving
The True Story of Hansel and Gretel - Louise Murphy (a duplicate copy for my permanent collection. Yay!)
The Best of Friends - Sara James and Ginger Mauney
Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin
Second Glance - Jodi Picoult
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy Allison
A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray
The Mercy of Thin Air - Ronlyn Domingue
The Art of Mending - Elizabeth Berg

In other news, I'm pretty inspired by all the folks doing the 24 hour readathon and plan on stopping by and doing some unofficial cheerleading. I love to read, but 24 hours is quite the committment! Nonetheless, they're all making me think that I could be doing a great deal more of reading than I am - even if it's far shorter than 24 hours in a row. I have the attention span of a flea these days and seem to always be able to find an excuse to not read, which is a crying shame considering I do get such enjoyment out of it. So here's to reading! You can see what the readathon is all about and go visit the participants here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

From Ashes to Life by Lucille Eichengreen

I've long had a passion for books about the Holocaust. Don't ask me why. It may well have to do with The Devil's Arithmetic, which I read somewhere around the seventh grade. Ever since I actively seek out books about the Holocaust both fiction and non-fiction. Maybe because of the importantance of remembering, maybe because I want to see the triumph of the human will to live, maybe because of those moments that crop up when ordinary people - despite overwhelming odds and certain danger - step up and do the right thing for their fellow man. These moments make reading these books, however difficult it may be, always worth the least for me.

From Ashes to Life is a book I bought during college for a class on the Holocaust. At the last minute, the teacher decided to use a different book and gave us the option to return this one. Instead, (and I was probably in the great minority among my classmates), I kept it to read on my own time. And I'm glad I did.

Lucille Eichengreen was born Cecelia Landau in Hamburg, Germany. From Ashes to Life chronicles her Holocaust experience from the first moments of foreboding as antisemitism becomes more prevalent in Germany until after the war when she serves as a valuable witness against those who had committed such atrocities and then moves on to begin a new life in America. Eichengreen's story is told in spare, almost childlike prose that serves to avoid any destraction from the horror of the events described.

Eichengreen chronicles her experience in the Lodz ghetto, where she lost what was left of her family, and in various concentration camps including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. However, what sets this memoir apart from the others I have read is her elaboration on what happened after her liberation from Bergen-Belsen. Eichengreen's memoir goes on to tell us about her role in bringing 42 SS members to trial for war crimes and her experience testifying against them in court. Eichengreen's bravery in facing her opressors in court is astonishing, and she helps us to see both how necessary she believed it to be, how strange it was to have roles reversed, and how painful it was for her to take on this role.

Additionally, Eichengreen tells of her new life in America and of a visit paid to Hamburg long after the end of the war. I was disappointed, as she was, by the relative lack of regret or remembrance she found in Germany and Poland. It was also shocking to see how the Jews that remained continued to conform to a persistent, if not always obvious, view of themselves as lesser humans that continued to exist in Germany and in Poland. Eichengreen spotlights what seems to be a reluctance to learn from history that is frightening.

Eichengreen's Holocaust experience but more importantly her emergence from the Holocaust to a new life is difficult but necessary reading. Her post-war experience includes some unforgettable scenes, including meeting a former kapo in a New York store. From Ashes to Life is important reading for those who would learn about the Holocaust and who would strive to eliminate those attitudes that could keep history from repeating itself.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #1

Thirteen of the Best Books I've Read in the Last 4 Years

Because I've only really been keeping track for the last four years. In no particular order...

1. Wonder When You'll Miss Me by Amanda Davis - I love a good circus story, and the damaged narrator of this story was pitch perfect.

2. No Matter How Loud I Shout by Edward Humes - A view of the LA juvenile court system from just about every possible angle. It's an awesome piece of work that is occasionally heart-wrenching and frustrating but absolutely worth the read. Along similar lines is True Notebooks by Mark Salzman, another great book.

3. The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque - The relatively unknown cousin to All Quiet On the Western Front that follows the former soldiers after their return from the war.

4. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis - I'm of the crowd that sees the very strong Christian parallel in The Chronicles of Narnia. That being the case, the final scenes of this one brought me to tears.

5. Spilling Clarence by Anne Ursu - A novel about what happens to people when their memories are set free of their normal restraints.

6. Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman - A semi-mystical book about a family actually living in a glass house. It turns out, however, the family is far more fragile than the house.

7. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy - This is the best book I've ever read that nobody seems to have heard of. It's a very beautiful and haunting World War II/Holocaust story molded into the Hansel and Gretel story. I can't recommend it highly enough.

8. Black & White by Dani Shapiro - A story of a an artist and her daughter and what happens when the line between her art and her love for her daughter becomes blurred.

9. Small Island by Andrea Levy - It's so hard for an author to write from several different characters' points of view and make them distinct from each other. Levy nails it. Her four characters are perfectly drawn, and their intertwined stories are subtly written and all the more powerful for it.

10. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett - If I could write anywhere near as great as Ann Patchett, I could die happy. This memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy author of Autobiography of a Face is beautiful and recounts a true friendship at its best and worst.

11. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - This story of a mysterious world below London was so good that I took my best friend to Borders and made her buy it. Imaginative, suspenseful, not to mention a very quick read.

12. The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich - I love a book capable of making you feel like you got to know a whole community by the end. Instead of feeling overburdened by getting to know so many characters so deeply, you just want to spend more time with them.

13. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - Have I mentioned my weakness for circus stories? This one is great. It's got characters you won't forget - especially the animals! And maybe one of the less recognized elements of the story that sucked me right in was Jacob's narration when he is old and confined to a nursing home. Having spent some time working in a nursing home, I couldn't get over how spot on this character was.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Even the Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou

In a genius plan (involving my bookcrossing bookshelf and a several randomly chosen numbers) for picking what book to read next and possibly branch out and read something I probably wouldn't normally have picked, I ended up picking this one. This is obviously one of the books that my mom picked up during her stage of Oprah worship and definitely a departure from my "usual" reading, so I guess I was successful in my endeavor.

Even the Stars Look Lonesome is a book of short essays ranging in topic from African art to sexuality in old age. While several of the essays illuminate important life themes, many of the essays were irrelevant to me as a young white person. Angelou spends a good deal of time expounding on Africa, on slave history, on African-American culture, which is to be expected, of course, but left me cold.

Of twenty essays, I found only about three that I could relate to on a personal level, and Angelou deals with these topics wisely from her own experience. These were "A Song to Sensuality" where she tells us how as she ages she appreciates sensuality almost as much or more than sexuality, "Vacationing" in which she observes that even on vacation people can hardly resist working, and finally the title essay "Even the Stars Look Lonesome Sometimes" in which she tells us, essentially, that it is okay - even good - to be alone with ourselves sometimes.

Despite the seeming irrelevance of much of this book to me personally, the quality of Angelou's writing is undeniable. She has a beautifully poetic prose that absorbs readers and lends itself in some measure to being read aloud.

From "A Song to Sensuality" (pg. 36)...

I would have my ears filled with the world's music, the grunts of hewers of wood, the cackle of old folks sitting in the last sunlight and the whir of busy bees in the early morning. I want to hear the sharp sound of tap dancing and the mournful murmur of a spiritual half remembered and then half sung. I want the clashing of cymbals of a marching band and the whisper of a lover entreating a beloved. Let me hear anxious parents warning their obstreperous offspring and a pedantic pedagogue teaching a bored class the mysteries of thermodynamics. All sounds of life and living, death and dying are welcome to my ears.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We interrupt this reading for some life...

While I have finished From Ashes to Life by Lucille Eichengreen since the last time I posted, I'm not quite ready to cook up another review yet, so you'll have to put up with my exhaustive re-telling of my weekend's adventures.

First of all was the trip to Boston. I lived there for about 6 months this year, found that the best job I could get in the span of 6 months while spending every available moment on the effort was a full-time gig at the downtown Borders store, which was great fun but certainly not very lucrative (especially with that big cut of my paycheck going toward those shiny new books and CDs I had to see every day). This being the case, I was reluctant to pick up a lease on an apartment only to find that my lot might not be improved by better career prospects.

Murphy's Law dictates that if you have one remaining job prospect on which you pin your hopes prompting you to throw (nearly) all your worldly belongings into an overpriced storage unit, move home to enjoy a glorious rent free and employment free "vacation," while you give them two weeks to make up their mind about you (which will give you approximately 2 weeks to find a new home in a city 6 hours away and start over again in a place that is 6 hours from just about anybody you know)....they will get back to you at the end of the third week. At which point you will bellow, "Ah, to heck with Boston! I kind of loved you, but I'm finished getting jerked around by you."

This endeavor left me with a storage unit full of my worldly belongings, no job, but still no rent payment which I guess is still better? So this past weekend, I spent exorbitant amounts of money on renting a huge van, fueling it and renting a hotel room at the Hampton Inn for the privilege of driving 700 miles in ridiculous traffic in an awkwardly large vehicle and doing significant amounts of heavy lifting. At the end of it, the thing that I'm probably the most happy about is that my book collection is all together in one place again.

As if this monumental task weren't enough for one weekend, my mother and I also enjoyed the privilege of babysitting my eight-year-old cousin on Monday. I continue to exist in the weird bracket of life where I am more of a playmate for him than an authority figure which makes this kind of day rather exhausting. While brainstorming what on earth we would possibly do with him from 6 a.m. until say 4 in the afternoon on Monday, the genius plan to take him horseback riding came in from left field from my grandmother who had promised him just such an outing. This outing unfortunately didn't actually occur until after the alotted babysitting time thus extending the babysitting. Nevertheless, the four of us (who could, by the way, not possibly know less about riding horses) set off for Eagle Rock where we would experience horseback riding for the first time.

As it turns out, this was somewhat enjoyable and ridiculously funny. After signing wavers, being given helmets, being taught the most basic basics of riding a horse, I, in all my abject fear of being on top of horse was chosen to get on a horse first. Little did I know, this was actually a fortunate turn of events. So I'm up on Honey the horse parked out in the corner of the barn yard (or uh, whatever) waiting for my cousin, my mom, and my grandmother to get put on their horses. My horse is kind of medium sized, my cousin's is a bit smaller. All the time, we are being reassured that the horses are "so nice, wouldn't let anything happen to us, would follow along with minimal requirements for steering from us." Then, out of the barn comes this hulking creature - Zeus. Zeus is the horse my mom would be riding. Zeus along with being very tall, very wide, and very scary is not a "nice horse," he likes to bite and kick the other horses and munch on grass along the trail instead of following along placidly like the other horses. My mom riding Zeus made riding Honey seem like nothing, so I settled right in to my ride while mom struggled along with the hulking, unruly Zeus who true to his description had to be held back to keep him from bothering the horse in front of him and took every chance he got to stop and munch the grases much to my mother's chagrin. Now I can say that I've ridden a horse. I don't know if it's something I'll ever do on a regular basis, but I have to say it was a neat experience to have. My mom begs to differ.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

I have to admit, despite its being a Printz Honor book with a very interesting premise, I was afraid that this book was going to disappoint. For one, it starts out with a very similar set-up as another of Wittlinger's books that I had read recently, Razzle. Slightly boring "normal" guy falls in love with off-beat unusual girl, hurts her, and hates himself. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Wittlinger brings her two struggling zine-writing teens to life. John is a normal teenage guy. His emotions never come to the surface and when they seem to in his writing, he claims it wasn't his intention to seem emotional. Dealing with his parents' divorce and his father's desertion of him (on an emotional level) and his mother's desertion of him (on a physical level) have left him emotionally stunted and so indifferent about love that he can't rightly identify himself as straight or gay. The complete other side of the coin is Marisol, who identifies herself as a lesbian and seems completely comfortable in her own skin even before she graduates from high school. She's a straight shooter who abhors lying, even to one's own self. John, in an effort to escape his average every day reality, can't seem to stop lying.

When Wittlinger brings these two characters together, fireworks go off. Soon John is sure that he is capable of love but has found an unfortunate target for all of the love and emotion he has kept inside since his parents' divorce. On the other hand, Marisol, while never doubting her sexuality, allows her wall of somewhat phony self-confidence to be penetrated by the bumbling John. The two become each other's best friend and worst enemy capable of hurting each other in a way they never thought possible. Wittlinger's development of these two characters is flawless.

Readers get a believable view into the psyche of an "average" teenage boy and all the hurt that lies therein. A few of the final scenes of the book moved me nearly to tears. As a teen book, Hard Love accomplishes what few that I've read recently do. It captures real issues without condescension and without slamming readers over the head with so much shocking bad language and behavior that it seems totally unsuitable to younger readers. I'm not faint of heart, and I was always allowed to read whatever I wanted once I hit my teenage years, but even I have to admit that I have been a tad blown away by what passes for "young adult" fiction now. This book breaks the mold. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

All right, so here goes this reviewing books in my blog thing. I picked this up through a bookring (which I thought I had sworn off until the chance to read this book came up) through Bookcrossing (a great site to visit if you're interested in sharing your books and meeting a lot of other folks who love to read and share their books) and BookObsessed (another great site with a great community of book lovers, not to mention some great Yankee book swaps which I am heavily addicted to). But anyhow, on with the show.

MacLeod's novel chronicles the life of the MacDonald clan from the time they left Scotland to the present day on Cape Breton in Canada. His characters, though far removed from the Highlanders of old, feel a profound connection with all of their ancestors and with each other. A repeated theme is that of taking care of one's own blood which is demonstrated throughout the book, when Alexander, the narrator, and his sister are taken in and raised by his grandparents when his parents meet a tragic end. Again we see it when Alexander puts his education as an orthodontist on hold in order to join his older brothers and members of his clan sinking uranium mine shafts on the Canadian Shield. Again the theme appears when the same group of men offers refuge to a cousin from San Francisco who is seeking to dodge the Vietnam draft. Even though the brothers have never met him, they welcome him with open arms and no questions asked. This theme holds the book together and emphasizes the deep connection of the clann Chalum Ruadh from the distant past to the troubled present. One of the finest moments in the book occurs when Alexander's sister visits the Scottish Highlands and ends up meeting with a crowd of members of the clann whom she has never met, but all are moved to tears by the "reuniting" of this distant Canadian member with those who chose to remain in the Highlands.

Alice Munro praises No Great Mischief saying this, "You will find scenes from this majestic novel burned into your mind forever." A truer word was never spoken. While the novel as a whole is engaging, without MacLeod's talent for creating captivating scenes describing the past or the scenery or even events that would fail to capture our interest if it weren't for his descriptive flair, it would most likely fall flat. These are the moments that make this novel a very worthwile read.

It speaks for itself in descriptions of the scenery...

If we were there in the windy days of fall, and if the wind were off the sea, we would run down to the Calum Ruadh's Point and engage in contests to see who could remain standing in the wind's force the longest. If we faced the sea, the wind would blow our breath back within us as the spray from the water on the rocks rose and covered us and Calum Ruadh's gravestone with glistening drops, and we would have to avert our heads and gasp for air or throw ourselves on our stomachs and breathe with our mouths pressed against the flattened grass or the cranberry vines or the creeping tendrils of wet moss. If the wind were off the land, we would not be allowed to go, for fear that a sudden gust might lift and carry us over the point and dash us down to the shining boulders or out to fall into the wind-whipped sea, which was always brown and angry with agitation. pg. 73

And in imaginings of the Highlanders in their former glory...

"I see them sometimes coming home across the wildness of Rannoch Moor in the splendour of the autumn sun. I imagine them coming with their horses and their banners and their plaids tossed arrogantly over their shoulders. Coming with their broadswords, and their claymores and their bull-hide targes decorated with designs of brass. Singing the choruses of their rousing songs, while the sun gleams off the shining of their weapons and the black and the redness of their hair." pg. 89-90

The only complaint I have about this book is that only a few of the main characters have actual given names, the rest of them are referred to as "my second brother" or similar titles. It's a little bit confusing and occasionally discourages from the characterization. Other than that, this book is a can't miss. MacLeod brings these tightly-knit Scottish descendents and their environs to vivid life. Unforgettable!

Read other reviews at...

An Adventure in Reading
In Spring it is the Dawn

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Movies and Music and Designer Dogs, Oh my!

So, this is kind of a weekend in review post, I guess.

My parents just sold the video rental store that they used to own, and since then we haven't been too wild about watching movies. As it turns out, 11 or so years of watching every half decent and every piece of crap movie ever launched on to the market really burns you out on movies. So we had a bit of a movie drought. And enjoyed it. By the way, if you happen to be considering investing in an independent video store, let me save you a lot of trouble....don't. The time you put in and the money you lose (to Netflix and Blockbuster and Wal-Mart) sure aren't worth it. Ugh.

But when I saw that Reign Over Me and Evan Almighty were coming out, it was time to call a stop to the drought. Evan Almighty was all right....Bruce was better. I'm a Christian, so it's nice to have some humor that I can feel special because I "get it." But yeah, the end was kind of lame, and this was one of those movies where the preview kind of wrecks all the funniest moments because by the time you get to watching the movie, you've seen 'em all.

I saw Reign Over Me at the theater with a friend. At the time, I wasn't sure if I loved it, but it kept me thinking, and when I saw it was coming out on DVD, I had to see it again. And I think I love it. I love Adam Sandler doing serious stuff. I can't help myself. I'm a huge fan of Spanglish and 50 First Dates (which, while not totally serious, was more serious than your average Adam Sandler movie up to that point). Having seen it a second time, I'm pretty sure I love it. Sandler does a great job of bringing this super damaged character to life, and it's good to see that the plot follows it through. You can't fix something like this in a few days, and the movie doesn't attempt to do it. That's why it's a great story. One you can really envision happening in real life and one you feel like you can sympathize with and relate to even if nothing of this magnitude has ever happened to you or will ever happen to you.

The biggest disappointment of the night, however, was looking up the soundtrack on Amazon. Here I am thinking that the soundtrack of this movie is going to be great - Pearl Jam covering "Love, Reign O'er Me," a couple of excellent Bruce Springsteen tunes, and some other stuff I'd love to have all together on a CD. But what do I find when I look up the soundtrack? It's just the instrumental score. I'm all for instrumental scores and I have a few soundtracks of them that I love. But what a bummer to see that all these great tracks aren't a part of it. So now, not only can I not simply ask for a CD for Christmas, I also have to track down the songs and download them, because they're in my head now, and I'd much rather they were in my CD player!

In other randomness, I wish I was the guy who had the brilliant idea to breed a pug and beagle together to make a puggle. I mean, can you imagine? Here you are sucking $500 or more out of people for something that folks probably wouldn't have even adopted from the pound a couple of years ago. My aunt and uncle (who apparently have money to spare) bought one. It's a girl and they named it Pluto. Now disregarding the obvious problems with the confusion caused by the name which is the same as that of the Disney dog who is, indeed, male.... the last thing this family needs is a dog like this. The poor thing has no idea what to do with herself, she's crazily hyper and has about as much discipline and training as my aunt and uncle's kids. And, if you haven't gathered this by now, that's minimal. So spending time with this family, plus there psychotic dog is akin to keeping company with a traveling circus. And this dog, I think the pug side of the equation won out. It just looks like a really tall pug. It's not as cute as it is frickin' weird looking. And I fear that the whole puggle craze is going to be akin to the dalmatian craze. I worry that everybody who's "anybody" is going to run out and get one of these before they realize quite what they're getting into and that they're going to need to actually exercise and actively train this type of dog in order to enjoy a happy life with it, and when everybody realizes they're not the right type of dog for them, they're just going to end up a bunch of poor "mutts" waiting at the SPCA for someone to adopt them. And what a bummer that is....

But on a happy note, hey, I just wrote in my blog. Maybe it's not a lost cause after all!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

To Start With...

So I've been reading lots of blogs lately and wondering if maybe I should have one. I read a lot and I used to like to write a lot. I miss writing, so I guess I thought it would be fun to start writing a bit again in the guise of this blog. I'd like to do book reviews of what I'm reading, but more likely I'll lapse into complaining about the mundanity of my life and unloading the burdens of my mind. And my life has returned to being very mundane. But whenever it's been "interesting" I've been truly I'm getting back to the painfully ordinary. Maybe later, if anybody's reading this, you'll get to hear more about me, but this is all you get for now...and depending on the level of my committment to this endeavor, there could be more to come.......