Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts I

+ I’ve been at this little project for about a month, and I’m pretty happy with how it’s progressing. Since starting Jen Can Read, I’ve canceled my cable (again), and when I run out of current episodes of my favorite shows on Hulu I find myself choosing to pick up a book rather than find a movie to watch. When I was younger, I used to spend hours devouring every type of fiction, from Wyatt Earp and Johnny Tremaine to The Baby-Sitter’s Club: Kid Sister. The idea of sitting in silence, completely focused on one story for hours and hours was not strange or daunting, but thrilling. I haven’t completely found my way back to that unbridled delight, but I have certainly learned to relish a 30 minute respite from the constant communication and noise that is so very prevalent in my life. So, while this project is aimed at a higher purpose, on a personal level I’m really enjoying it.

+ Gone Girl is still slow going for me, but after talking with a friend who has already read it, I have a renewed sense of purpose. I’d already guessed the twist about a quarter of the way through it, and my friend confirmed my suspicion. I know, SPOILERS! But in doing so, she helped me figure out how to read it – i.e. not the WHAT but the HOW. This will all make more sense once I write the review, I’m sure, so please bear with me. Regardless, I’m trying to finish the book this week.

Actually, most of the other books on my Currently Reading list, including American Gods, are paused for the moment until I finish Gone Girl. I have such a distaste for it at the moment, that I feel if I don’t finish it as quickly as possible, I won’t ever want to. Apparently this is blasphemy to the whole internet, the entire population of which thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and I am broken and crazy because I don’t. But that’s alright – to each his own.

+ I listened to NPR on the radio this morning on my way into work. They did a story on the declining sales of the Barnes & Noble Nook. Apparently the Chairman and chief stockholder, Leonard Riggio, is planning to buy the BN stores, but NOT the Nook. Here’s the article that better explains it. What this means, potentially, is that Microsoft and a company called Pearson can spend their money improving the Nook and making it more competitive in the iPad/Kindle market, while the Riggio can focus on the brick-and-mortar stores and make them more competitive with Amazon, killer of all things brick-and-mortar*.

So today during my lunch break, I decided to go buy a real paper-and-ink book from a real brick-and-mortar store. I realize it would have been far better to shop at an independent book store, but things be as they are and my office being smack dab in the middle of urban sprawl, I did not have that luxury. I bought Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution, a very brief 131 page – is novella the right word? – novella. I’d like to have a little more regular content up, so buying a few shorter books and supporting a real-life book store, massive (dying) conglomerate though it may be, seemed the right route to go. So, I have a teeny tiny book that I plan to read on my lunches this week, and hopefully I’ll have more than one review comin’ atcha soon.

*Like I can really judge. Let’s be honest, I own a Kindle Fire and buy eBooks from them on the reg, and at Christmastime, I use my AmEx points to buy ALLTHEPRESENTS on amazon.com.

Book Reviews

Review: Bossypants – February 2013

bossypantsFirst audio book of 2013 completed! Achievement unlocked.

This is a book that I was sorry to see go. I listened to it on my drive into work and on my way home every day for a week. I listened to it while I tried my very best to find motivation for a bike workout. And I listened to it with my boyfriend, the two of us lounging around, engaged in nothing but shared laughter. Tina Fey is a goddess.

Bossypants is a memoir. And a self-help book. And an extended recording of stand up. And a verbal history of SNL (circa 1997-2008). It is funny, irreverent  and heart-warming. Kind of. It’s kind of heart-warming. Mostly it’s just funny. As in laugh out loud hysterical funny. From the awkward teenage nostalgia, to tips on improv, to struggles with breast-feeding, this book has it all, and “it all” is comedy gold.

The book maneuvers through personal history, with anecdotes and familiar names (Alec Baldwin), and I knew to expect that. (“It’s kind of like a book version of SNL — lots of funny shorts. It’s what I think of when I think of Tina Fey.” Krista, Pajiba, Cannonball Read III.) But my favorite interludes, which were equal parts surprising and obvious, were her takes on women in comedy. Her struggles and frustrations were are certainly not exclusive to her industry, but her sense of humor and her intelligent writing eloquently pointed out a prevailing mentality that we baby-makers are faced with every day – “No one wants to watch a sketch with two women.” I won’t water down her brilliance with a recap of my own, but I really do hope that the men reading (or listening to) Bossypants learned something about the female voice, and how we are constantly muffled by ignorance and misogyny.

This is a must read. It’s easy, hilarious, intelligent, and all around pretty fantastic. 5 Stars

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Bossypants & Audio Books

I read an article recently that discussed how best to avoid stress during a long commute. After step 1 (accept your fate and go with it), the article suggested using the time to strengthen your mind. Some suggestions:

  • Download a podcast;
  • Learn a new language;
  • Listen to an audio book.

I had an aunt who suffered from MS and was legally blind for as long as I can remember. She was bed ridden since before I was born and did not much enjoy watching television all day, every day. She listened to audio books. Lots and lots of audio books. And I would crawl onto the bed with her, curl up in her arms and listen to them as well. Look, this woman was smart and funny and kind and loving and wonderful, but her taste in literature was incredibly dull. I think I may associate audio books with the unbelievably boring things she listened to in my youth.

And yet. Once I was all grown up, I did try to listen to an audio book of my choosing. One that was contemporary, with beautiful imagery and hilariously fun characters. I was on a long road trip with a friend, and I had been endlessly gushing about this incredible novel by an up-and-coming Brooklynite author named Jonathan Safran Foer. The book was Everything Is Illuminated, and it continues to be a favorite of mine (as long as I choose to forget that totally off key movie version starring Elijah Wood). We purchased the book to listen to on our 12 hour drive home. I can’t tell you why, but I hated the experience. Maybe the book was too complicated to keep track of, maybe I hated the narrator, or maybe I was just too distracted. Whatever the reason was, I decided that audio books were not for me.

I read tons of healthy living blogs every day, and there are several runners who preach the audio book gospel to help pass the time on a treadmill or a long run. Between these inspiring women (who in my opinion, are obviously never wrong), as well as a slew of friends on Facebook constantly “liking” Audible, I finally decided I needed to give this fuddy-duddy innovation another try. For my first book, I chose Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as narrated by Tina Fey.

And you know what? It’s been marvelous. I’ve listened to it on my commute for the last two days, and once while I was exercising on a recumbent bike. This audio book has actually started to make me look forward to traffic!

This is a shocking revelation, I know.

But I have a few questions now.

  1. Is listening to an audio book “cheating”? I don’t mean for the purposes of my blog, because I’m totally counting them and donating a dollar for every one I finish. I mean in the larger sense – is listening to an audio book the same as reading a traditional book or is it a step closer to seeing the movie version? I suppose on the one hand the reader is still using his imagination to fill in the world of the book, but on the other hand, he isn’t required to devote total concentration and become immersed as he would reading a traditional book.
  2. Is the content of the book different based on the format? In Bossypants, Tina Fey regularly makes jokes that are audio book specific, or that reference a bonus PDF that comes with the audio file. Is this common, and am I therefore missing out on other content that is traditional format specific?

I’m almost finished and a review is forthcoming. I’ve already got my next (March) audio book lined up, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), as narrated by Mindy Kaling. And some random guy.

I’d like to stick with more simple subject matters when listening to audio books: comedy, memoirs, beach reads, etc. Leave a comment with your favorite “brain candy” to help me pick my book for April!

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Gone Girl

I’m about 20% through Gone Girl, or so my Kindle tells me. This is a novel I have heard g.r.e.a.t. things about. Everyone I know who has read it loves it. It has amazing reviews. I know there has to be a brilliant payoff.

And yet.

I am not a fan of either character. The wife, Amy, is too…just so. A rich and cultured New Yorker with the exact right friends and the exact right relationship. She’s a tad too controlling, a tad too pretentious, and a tad too needy. And the husband, Nick – well he’s just not likable. The way he talks about his wife and his marriage, with the tiniest hint of sociopathy, it makes it very difficult to sympathize with him. And I know this is exactly the type of characterization that Gillian Flynn intended, and I know that 80% of the novel is yet to unfold and I’m sure that I’ll gain insight and fall in love with the story eventually. But how do you barrel through until you get to that point?

Obviously I’ll finish the book, of that I have no doubt. But I wish it were a tad easier for me to feel invested in the outcome.

Book Reviews

Review: The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Pötzsch – January 2013

the hangmans daughterGreat, great read. The book takes place in 1659 Bavaria, several years after the Thirty Year War and about 70 years after the last big push for a witch hunt. After a great vignette of a prologue, the novel opens with the murder of a boy. Witchcraft is suspected and the local midwife is arrested. Jakob Kuisl, the whipsmart town executioner with a heart of gold, believes the midwife is innocent, and thus the murder mystery unfolds as he tries to find the real murderer.

Like I said, this was a really fantastic read. Well written, great characters, fast paced, and mostly historically honest (though the author, a descendant of the real Kuisl line, admits he embellished in some areas for the sake of fiction). There are enough clues, potential villains, and red-herrings to keep you guessing at every turn. I highly recommend it. 4.5 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: The Witch’s Daughter, by Paula Brackston – January 2013

the witchs daughterFirstly, here’s the Amazon.com summary:

My name is Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith, and my age is three hundred and eighty-four years. If you will listen, I will tell you a tale of witches.  A tale of magic and love and loss.  A story of how simple ignorance breeds fear, and how deadly that fear can be.  Let me tell you what it means to be a witch.

In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage, Gideon instructs Bess, awakening formidable powers she didn’t know she had. She couldn’t have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he would be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life.

In present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life. She has spent the centuries in solitude, moving from place to place, surviving plagues, wars, and the heartbreak that comes with immortality. Her loneliness comes to an abrupt end when she is befriended by a teenage girl called Tegan. Against her better judgment, Elizabeth opens her heart to Tegan and begins teaching her the ways of the Hedge Witch. But will she be able to stand against Gideon—who will stop at nothing to reclaim her soul—in order to protect the girl who has become the daughter she never had?

This book was equal parts fun and frustrating. I downloaded it to my Kindle in the hopes that it would be an entertaining historical fiction with a slight mystical element to it – and part of it was. But the novel as a whole felt like it was written by two different authors.

The book spans 370 years, from the seventeenth century through modern(ish) day, stopping in the 1880s and WWI. These historical pieces were well written and fully fleshed out. They had mystery and intrigue, along with a well-defined tone and setting. The novel is weakest when it comes to present day Elizabeth. The tone shifts from historical thriller to a muddled New Age “Practical Magic” feel, and it’s quite jarring. I felt myself rushing through the modern segments to get back to the meatier period pieces.

But the tonal shifts weren’t my biggest concern with the book. What irked me the most was the pacing of the action. Each time period ended with a sort of magical battle that was heart-breakingly anti-climatic. I’m with Bess for 50-100 pages, feeling her pain and loneliness, hating the Warlock Gideon Masters right along with her, and the climax would resolve the situation in about 3 pages, sometimes killing characters, sometimes not, but never giving me a pause to register what’s happening or feel any sort of emotional release. The resolution occurs and time shifts immediately back to present day.

Overall this would be an alright beach-read for someone looking for a book more complex than The Devil Wears Prada, but the next great American novel this is not.  3 Stars