Saturday, March 29, 2014

Development on Paper

After I read this article about books that I should read  before the movie comes out, I moved This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper to the top of my list.  So far I've seen two of these movies, which is a lot for me, since I'm not much of a movie goer.  I can report that the movie, Winter's Tale is no where near as good as the book, but the Divergent movie is great, and follows the book pretty closely.  From reading the article, I knew that Jason Bateman would be starring in TIWILY, but what I didn't expect was that TIWILY would be a paper version of his TV show, Arrested Development.

In TIWILY, a family that has grown apart is coming back together to sit shiva for the father.  The family consists of the mom, Hillary, who can't resist showing off her surgically enhanced breasts, and is known for her best selling book about child rearing.  Then there's Paul, the oldest brother, who was a star athlete until he was injured, and stayed home from college to work in the family's sporting goods store.  Next is Wendy, the only sister, who is a somewhat indifferent mother to her children, and who is married to a man who is married to his blackberry. IMDb says that she will be played by Tina Fey.  The baby of the family is Phillip, who has been bailed out of trouble one time too many, and who brings his therapist/fiance home to meet the family.  Finally, there is Judd, the protagonist and the Jason Bateman character, who has recently walked in on his wife having sex with his boss.

The story is mostly told by Judd, who speaks with a hipster accent.  If I turned down the corner on every page where Judd said something in a clever way, just about every page would be bent.  The family has a snappy banter between them, using sarcasm to convey their repressed feelings, but also coming to each other's defense just when you expect them to let each other down. 

The relationships in this story run deep, with what happened 20 years ago being just as important as what is taking place in the present.  There is a whole lot of cheating going on, but most of the time it is the woman doing the instigating, rather than playing the victim.  There's also a lot of testosterone surging through the book with disputes settled through fist fights, even though a couple of the characters' lives were forever changed as a result of fights in the past.  This family is clearly as dysfunctional as that in Arrested Development, so playing Judd shouldn't be much of a stretch for Bateman.  While certainly not life changing, this was a fun and quick read.  I'm looking forward to seeing this family again on the big screen. 

This is one more down for the Rewind Challenge.

Next up:  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid

Still Listening to:  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Keep the Secret

Tatiana de Rosnay knows a thing or two about secrets.  In her first book, Sarah's Key, Sarah locks her brother in a closet just when French police appear to take the family away, eventually leading them to a concentration camp.  Sarah has to make a quick choice.  Should she tell the police about her brother, or keep him safely locked away?  In the closet, he has no water, no food and no light, but also no Nazis.  I'm not giving anything away by telling you that Sarah decides to keep the secret, and hope that the family will quickly return to the apartment or that a neighbor will find her brother and save him.  Now that's a secret.

In her next novel, A Secret Kept, I am sure that there must be a secret, because the title tells me that, but after a third of the book, no one has mentioned it.  My hunch is that the main characters' mother, who supposedly died when they were children, is really still alive.  But the thing is, there is nothing about these characters that makes me care.  I'm supposed to believe that the staff in a resort town recognizes these people when they revisit after 30+ years?  Even though they were children when they were last there and are now in their 40s? 

What sealed the deal for me though was this line, delivered by a woman who had just slept with the main male character about 10 minutes after meeting him:  "I handle dead people all day long.  With the same hands that were stroking your dick a few moments ago."  Yes, she's a mortician, but still, no, no, no.  I'm done.  I've got too many books waiting for me to read them to waste time on this one. 

On the bright side, since I listened to this book on CDs that I checked out from the library, it counts for the Rewind, the Audiobook, and the I Love Library Books challenges.

Next up on CD:  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Still Reading:  This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Leads to Nowhere

I was so excited to read Night Film by Marisha Pessl!  Her earlier book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is one of my Favorites.  I went in expecting so much, and Pessl pulled out all of the stops to try to deliver.  Unfortunately, it felt like she delivered quantity at the cost of quality.

Night Film begins when an investigative reporter, Scott McGrath, is running at a NYC reservoir and he sees a woman who might or might not be following him.  Soon, a famous director's daughter, Ashley, is dead, and McGrath believes that she was the woman at the reservoir.  Because he had ruined his career by trying to expose the director as a criminal, McGrath felt that he had to solve the mystery of Ashely's death.

The director, Cordova, is known for his violent films in which the fear and injuries seem a little too real.  His films were banned after copycats began killing people in the ways shown in the movies.  A cult of followers developed, with illegal showings of the films popping up around the world. 

McGrath can't let go of the mystery of Ashley's, death.  While investigating, he meets two people who had also had contact with Ashley shortly before she died, Nora and Hopper.  Together the three of them pursue all possible leads, including black magic, a sex club, an antique shop, and lots of strange characters.

Night Film is full of gimmicks which Pessl must have thought were necessary to the story.  There are photos of newspaper clippings, emails, and photos of the characters and scenes.  Some of the online reviews have indicated that these are difficult to read on an e-reader, and I can't imagine how they would translate to an audio version.  There are also small pictures that appear on some of these pages.  If one goes to the app store and gets the Night Film Decoder, the pictures can be scanned to reveal more detail, such as movie posters, interviews and more stories.  Pessl also feels the need to italicize words in most paragraphs of the book, which got annoying.

There was an opportunity for a great ending that I think Pessl missed.  It felt like she was working so hard at coming up with a conclusion that no one could guess that she missed the chance for a satisfying ending that at least tied a few loose ends together.  After 500 pages of McGrath being unsure of who to believe, he talks to a character who should have been inherently unreliable, and accepts what she says as the truth.  In the end, one is left asking questions.  Why would Cordova bother, and what did McGrath gain?

This is one more down for the I Love Library Books Challenge.

Next Up:  This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Still Listening To:  A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

Friday, March 21, 2014

Flood Insurance

In The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, a group of people who call themselves "God's Gardeners" are preparing for a waterless flood that they believe will afflict humanity.  They are not sure what form that flood will take, but they prepare by learning about plants and wildlife and creating store houses of supplies.  TYOTF is the second book in the series that began with Oryx and Crake, and many of the Oryx characters make appearances.  We catch glimpses of Jimmy as a boy, but more closely follow the stories of his girlfriend from high school, Ren, and her fellow Gardeners. 

The Gardeners are sort of a cult, and sort of a progressive religion.  They worship saints such as Saint Stephen King, and Saint Diane Fossey.  On the whole they strive to be good people who are preparing for the inevitable in a thoughtless and selfish world.  However, the people controlling the Gardeners just might be working to make the waterless flood come sooner rather than later through eco-terrorism.  Darwin would be appalled when the flood actually strikes.  It is not the strong that survive, but the lucky and the secluded. 

TYOTF is a more linear book than Oryx and Crake.  Oryx went back and forth between the present and Jimmy's memories, with the reader trying to figure out what was happening when.  In TYOTF, the story progresses through years of the Gardner calendar, starting in about year 4, and ending in year 25.  Because the stories cover the same time period from different perspectives, one could really read either book first.  It would be interesting to talk to someone who read TYOTF first, to see how their impressions of the characters differ from those of a person who read the books in their proper order.  TYOTF actually ends about four hours after Oryx, which is good because Oryx ended with a cliff hanger.  For the last 1/4 of TYOTF I kept wanting to tell Jimmy to stop and not jump off that cliff.  Those extra four hours resolved the issue that was left open in Oryx, but left the characters with another dangerous challenge to face in the final book of the series, Maddaddam.

My dad listened to TYOTF  on audio book, and insisted that I had to listen to it instead of read it.  He was totally right.  There are at least 10 Gardner hymns in the story, which I would have skimmed at most if I was reading.  In the audio version, the hymns are set to music, with guitars, percussion and back-up singers.  None of the hymns are destined to be Top 40 hits, but it showed the Atwood put a lot of thought and care into the audio version by including the songs in this way.

The Year of the Flood was a New York Times Notable Book for 2009.  I am counting this one for my Audiobook and I Love Library Book challenges.

Next Up on CD:  A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

Still Reading:  Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Typical Book Group Report - 18

The Typical Book Group met last night to discuss Where'd you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  There were 11 of us there, which was our best turn out in a long time.   Probably because it was such a good book.

We talked a lot about how smart Bernadette was as an architect, and about how her life shriveled after the 20 Mile House was sold.  We also found that there was lots of blame to spread around, covering everyone except Bernadette's daughter, Bee.

One thing that someone suggested and I hadn't thought about is that maybe Semple was setting us up for a sequel.  By leaving Soo-Lin pregnant, and Van, Bernadette's brother in law, in town for no apparent purpose, maybe she is preparing the stage for something else, rather than leaving strings of storyline untied.

Like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn which we discussed last year, we all loved most of the book, but had issues with the ending.  Some parts felt contrived, and there were things that we would have done differently, but it was a fun book to read.

Next month we'll discuss The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.

Still Reading:  Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Still Listening to:  Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Alchemy Test

For years, I had heard about The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, but I really didn't know what to expect from the book.  The first surprise was its size.  My copy is only 167 pages, and that is with the words spaced out and wide margins.  The second surprise was how profound a story it is.

Santiago, a shepherd boy in Spain, has a recurring dream about the pyramids in Egypt.  He soon finds himself sitting next to a stranger claiming to be a king, who advises him that he needs to follow his dream, and pursue his Personal Legend.  Capital P, capital L.  A person's Personal Legend is the thing that he or she is really meant to do, and the universe will conspire to help that person achieve the goal.  There will be omens that must be followed.  If the omens are ignored for too long, the universe will stop talking to the dreamer, and ultimately, the Personal Legend will be lost.

Like most dreamers, Santiago has lots of reasons not to listen to the omens.  First and foremost, it is hard.  It is easier to find a job, get good at that job, and stay at that job forever, than to leave a profitable job in pursuit of a goal one may not reach.  Also, there is love.  Falling in love might lead the dreamer to believe that his Personal Legend isn't worth it if following it means losing his soul mate.  Soon after meeting the woman who he loves, Santiago meets the Alchemist.  The Alchemist tells him  "You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend.  If he abandons that pursuit, it's because it wasn't true love."

The Alchemist has elements of the Muslim faith, Judaism, and Christianity.  It is clearly a story of faith, without claiming that one religion is superior to the others.  Additionally, in the story, Santiago is not following God's word, but is following the voice of the universe. 

The Alchemist is a book that everyone should read.  Whether they love it or hate it, I don't care.  I just think it should touch everyone's life.  The Alchemist is on my son's 11th grade summer reading list, along with several other titles.  The kids get to select which books they read, but they have to read a certain number.  I'm excited that probably 90% of the 11th graders from my son's school will read it, simply because it is shorter than any other choices. 

If The Alchemist is not on reading lists in your area, it would make a great graduation or even wedding gift.  Although it doesn't rhyme or have illustrations like Oh! The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss, the message is the similar, and it will look a little more dignified on a dorm room book shelf.

My one criticism is that The Alchemist could be read to be sexist.  There aren't any meaningful female characters other than the gypsy at the beginning.  The Alchemist says that Santiago's love, Fatima's, Personal Legend is to find him.  It's demeaning to Fatima that her greatest goal should be to find a husband.  I choose to believe that a woman could fit into Santiago's role just as easily as a man could fit into Fatima's, and that the lessons should be read to apply to all.

I listened to The Alchemist on CD.  It was read by Jeremy Irons, who had a great voice for the story.  I also checked the CDs out of my library, so I am counting this for 3 challenges - The Rewind Challenge, The Audiobook Challenge, and The I Love Audiobooks Challenge.

Next Up on CD:  I'm already two discs into Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.

Still Reading:  Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Another Hole in my Head

Once again, I have possibly taken things too far.  Yep.  I signed up for another book group.  A few years back, I joined a second book group, but that was short lived.  I mean, if people don't show up to discuss Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, do I really want to associate with these people?  That group died, but my first book group, The Typical Book Group continued.  Now my neighborhood has started a book group.  I missed the first meeting last month, when they discussed The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer but I was there tonight to talk about The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

This group was all business!  There were 9 of us there, and the meeting started at 7:00.  By 7:20, we were seated with snacks and ready to discuss.  One (!) of us had a glass of wine.  We talked theme, we talked symbolism, we talked meaning.  We were home by 9:00.

All of us unexpectedly loved the book.  We agreed that none of us would have read the book if Kim hadn't picked it, judging by the title alone.

We said a lot about how involved Victoria was with food.  How did Grant know food was the way to her heart?  Did Victoria think that she needed to keep feeding her baby because of all the times that she, herself had been hungry?  We were very disappointed in Elizabeth.  We were all surprised when she let Victoria down at a point, but at times we were disappointed in Victoria too.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to handle a second book group long term, but I'm all set for next month.  We are reading Me Before You  by Jojo Moyes, which I have already read, so all I have to do is show up.  That I can manage.

Still Reading:  Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Just Finished Listening To:  The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  I'll be blogging about this one tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Going Along for the Ride

At one time about a year ago, my sister, my sister in law, and my sister's boyfriend's sister were all reading Where'd You Go Bernadette  by Maria Semple.  From what I heard, they all liked it, even though they are in 3 different states, and live completely different lives.  From that point, I knew that sooner or later I would be reading it too.  So this month I was excited when it was the pick for The Typical Book Group.

Where'd You Go Bernadette starts off as a series of emails between Bernadette, a stay at home mom in Seattle, and her virtual personal assistant, Manjula.  Soon, some memos from her daughter's school are mixed in, along with catty emails between some of the other moms about Bernadette.  The communications continue to escalate, painting a picture of Bernadette's life in Seattle, and her life pre-parenthood. 

Bernadette's husband is distracted while he's working on a big project for Microsoft.  Her daughter, Bee, is an overachiever, who has managed to talk her parents into a trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades.  Bernadette begins to feel some anxiety about the trip, and also about the state of her life in general.   Once again the situation escalates, and is soon spinning out of control. 

I loved the first 4/5 of Bernadette.  I tore through the pages, and couldn't wait to sneak away and read more.  Bernadette herself was such an interesting character, with her lost architectural career and her strange interactions with the other parents, who she calls "gnats".   The last 1/5 of the story was told in a more traditional narrative form instead of emails, messages and letters, and it slowed down, while staying interesting.  Bernadette would be a great book for a vacation read, but be sure to bring a back up book too.  If  you somehow found yourself with 3 or 4 uninterrupted hours, you could probably read Bernadette in one sitting.  Given that it was such an easy read, it feels mean to be critical, but I have a few issues with the story that I will mention on my Spoilers Page.  I'll also talk more about it later this month when we meet to discuss it.

I checked this one out of the Library, so it's one more book done for the I Love Library Books Challenge.

Next Up:  Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Still Listening to:  The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Speaking the Language

In The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Victoria is an orphan who was given up by her parents as an infant.  She floated between foster families until she was finally deemed to be unadoptable as a preteen.  When she was 10, Victoria was living with a woman named Elizabeth, who owned a vineyard.  Elizabeth had family problems of her own.  Her sister lived next door to her, on a flower farm, but they hadn't spoken in years.  Elizabeth and her sister were separated at a young age, but they learned the language of flowers so that they could write to each other, and their mother wouldn't know what they were saying even if she intercepted their notes.

In the Victorian era, people communicated through flowers, with specific flowers or colors of flowers representing specific words.  The yellow rose plays an important role in The Language of Flowers.  That flower is first said to mean "infidelity", but then later to possibly mean "jealousy".  Obviously, those meanings are very different, so it is important that the people communicating are using the same flower dictionary as a reference.  Elizabeth teaches Victoria the language of flowers.  Once Victoria becomes an adult and ages out of the foster and group home system, her knowledge of flowers allows her to find work as the assistant to a florist, Renata. 

Victoria is quickly in demand, as her bouquets are believed to bring out the qualities in the recipient that the giver is hoping to see.  Soon she is surprised when someone at the wholesale flower market begins to send her messages in the language that she believed only she could speak.

When I started listening to this book, I couldn't help but think back to White Oleander by Janet Fitch.  I mean, we had a foster child and flowers having secret powers that make them essential to the story.  The Language of Flowers is a completely different story, however, and is focused much less on Victoria's foster care nightmares than on her relationship failures.  Again and again Victoria has been let down, and has let down the people around her.  Though she knows how to fix her customers' relationships, she has no idea what to do with her own.

I loved listening to this story in audio form.  It was read by Tara Sands, and I can't imagine Victoria with any other voice.  While I was happy listening to the book, I got a little jealous when my friend, Kim, mentioned that the paper form of the book includes a flower glossary at the back.  As crazy as it sounds, I really want a flower dictionary after reading this book.  Not that I give people a lot of flowers, but I'd sort of like to know what messages I am sending with the perennials I've planted outside of my house.  Have I cursed us?  Should I plant something else to insure good health and eternal happiness?  There is a companion book to The Language of Flowers called A Victorian Flower Dictionary by Mandy Kirkby, with a forward by Diffenbaugh, that I'd like to own. 

Since I listened to this book in audio form, and checked it out of the library, I am counting this one for both the Audiobook and the I Love Library Book Challenges.

In Other News:   I turned 44 yesterday!  Yep, I did.  Recently I stumbled onto this obituary that got me thinking.  Remember?  I'm an estate planning attorney.  I read more obituaries than the average person!  Anyhow, I really liked this one.  In case you don't feel like clicking on the link above, it is an obituary of Toshiko d'Elia, who you, like me, have probably never heard of.  D'Elia is described as a "Gritty Runner" in the headline of the obituary.  The interesting thing is that she took up marathon running when she was 44, and was so good at it that she is remembered for it 40 years later.  Now I've talked before about Julia Child, and how awesome it is that her career as we know it began when she was in her 40s.  But an athlete?  To begin that late?  Amazing, and inspirational.  I'll just have to think of something besides running that I can start.

Next Up on CD:  The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Still Reading:  Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  I'm tearing through this one.  You'll be hearing more about it soon!
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