Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Funny Girl

Funny GirlFunny Girl by Nick Hornby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not as hilarious as other Hornby books I’ve read but still a fun romp. It takes a jab at those who deem popular (art, books, comedy) as somehow inferior to the highbrow. Hornby, one of the funniest authors I’ve come across, seems to point out that pop culture is not only art (inspired at that) but that it is valuable because it reflects and shapes “real life”. Those characters that were scoffed at for being conventional and sell-outs seemed happier than those who tried to be avant garde. Cute, fun book.

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The Book of Joy

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing WorldThe Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t uncover any new mystery to joy in this book; rather, it reminded me of things I already knew but are inclined to forget, like forgetting yourself and focusing on others. From gratitude to humility they really do sum up the principles of joy. Abrams does a good job, too, of including the Dalai Lama’s and Tutu’s life stories. These are good reminders of truths told in a way that people from various belief systems would be open to. (One caveat...no mention of those suffering from clinical depression).

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Summerland

SummerlandSummerland by Michael Chabon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Chabon is a favorite author of mine, but while I liked parts of this book quite a lot, I just didn’t love it. The beginning felt a bit too convoluted and contrived. Once the plot is set up, however, and the “rules” to this alternate reality are established, the story takes off. It is wildly imaginative and even somewhat surprising. There is a motley of characters (enough for a baseball team!) and Chabon does a rather skillful job of fleshing these sidekicks out. The lands and people they meet are also strange and wonderful. Everything is so strange and wonderful in fact that it can feel a bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, the ending! Why are endings so hard?! It was confusing, contrived, and unfulfilling. I suggest you read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay instead.

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This belief, like all our most fervent beliefs, was largely a matter of will.

Believing in fairies was a kind of discipline, and enforced habit of looking and listening that invested the world around me with rich and strange possibility.  Children, like scientists--and, at our best moments, like writers--know that the deepest mysteries are encountered when we are paying the closest attention.

Fairies, the remnant of a departed grandeur, a fallen race, a regretted creation, help to explain the way the world that has been left to us so often feels hostile to our presence.

Coyote wants everything, but he wants in carelessly, and in no particular order.

No matter how richly furnished you made it, with all the noise and variety of Something, Nothing always found a way in, seeped through the cracks and patches.

Mr. Feld was right; life was like baseball, filled with loss and error, with bad hops and wild pitches, a game in which even champions los almost as often as they won, and even the best hitters were put out seventy percent of the time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Someone

SomeoneSomeone by Alice McDermott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know what it is that makes me LOVE books that are just really well-told stories of everyday life. Indeed, this book boils down to various ordinary routines that make up Marie's life. Sometimes those routines are changed up just a bit and become the thing that defines us. An innocent swear word at the routine family gathering becomes the basis of the family nickname of pagan. Collecting a friend from her house where she is baking for her pregnant mother becomes the impetus of Marie's reticence to learn how to bake. There is nothing earth-shattering here. Yet the beautiful way that McDermott describes these moments makes the ordinary feel sublime. They feel authentic because we can see pieces of our own lives drawn in them; there is no need for suspension of belief or complicated plot twists. Throughout these works there are often motifs the author uses to underscore their observations or points and I enjoy discovering them. Although there may be several, McDermott uses light and shadows to emphasize the mood and to hint at the everyday revelations that we only see in retrospect and that what we see is not always how things are.

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"Never good to forget to remember," she said, "Always better to remember you forgot."

"Well, I don't want to learn," I said. "Once you learn to do it, you'll be expected to do it."

I sat on the edge of the bed.  I wanted to take my glasses off, fling them across the room.  To tear the new hat from my heat and fling it, too.  Put my hands to my scalp and peel off the homely face.  Unbutton the dress, unbuckle the belt, remove the frail slip.  I wanted to reach behind my neck and unhook the flesh from the bone, open it along the zipper of my spine, step out of my skin and fling it at the floor.  Back shoulder stomach and breast.  Trample it.  Raise a fist to God for how He had shaped me in that first darkness: unlovely and unloved.

The air was a wall.  The heat was a reminder of what I had glimpsed when my father was dying, but had, without plan or even intention, managed to forget: That the ordinary days were a veil, a wswath of thin clothes that distorted the eye.  Brushed aside, in moments such as these, all that was brittle and terrible and unchanging was made clear.  My father would not return to earth, my eyes would not heal, I would never step out of my skin or marry Walter Hartnett  in the pretty church.

Because the devil uses dirty words, Mrs. Fagin added, instructing me, her tiny finger held in the air, to make us believe that we're only the sum and substance of ugly things.

The ordinary, rushing world going on, closing up over happiness as readily as it moved to heal sorrow. 

I shrugged, aware of, grateful for, the grace of this ordinary conversation.

...But it was also, I came to believe, the very lifelessness of the bodies that made them all somehow indistinguishable and anonymous.

...when there's a sudden death, everybody thinks about all the days before, the days that were a vigil, after all, a vigil everyone was living through but nobody knew it."

Of course, churches should have been the touchstone places of our lives, a pair of Catholics such as we were.  But in truth it was the tiled corridors of these old urban hospitals that marked the real occasions of our life together.

Girl Waits with Gun

Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters, #1)Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Knowing this was based on real events, I had much more patience with the fact that the "Girl Waits" part of the title is more descriptive than "with Gun". I so wanted Constance to throw down a couple of times. Still Constance is no shrieking violet. And neither are her sisters, who live alone on a farm when single ladies just didn't do that. I loved Constance, Norma, and Fleurette. They each had their quirks but nothing to make them caricatures. They were strong women that refused to give in to pressure, physical or societal. Can't wait to read more about them int the Kopp sisters series.

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Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little psychological thriller puts on the slow burn. I guessed at the twist right away but Watson slowly, methodically disabused me of my suspicions only to turn it around and "get me" in the end. A shorter, tighter story might have made a more powerful impact, but I enjoyed the ride nonetheless.

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It's not life, it's just an existence, jumping from one moment to the next with no idea of the past, and no plan for the future.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Everyone told me how great this book was so I may have come into it with too high expectations. I feel like it was actually two books, one about the world's fair and one about the murders, and they were only sightly connected by time and place. Quite frankly, I hoped for a little more detail on both accounts and felt like the two tales competed with each other. However, both stories were interesting.

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