Saturday, November 27, 2010

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

I very much enjoyed this story of a woman's memorable summer in New York City, working at Tiffany.

The year is 1945, the country is at war and her family is horrified over the idea of her going off to the big city to have fun.  The impression is given that up until this point in her life, Marjorie has always been very sensible.  She attends college in Iowa, close to home.  She practices the cello and when her mother had surgery, she took a semester off to help around the house.  She never would have considered going to New York City, until she learns that some of her sorority sisters have gone to the City and easily found jobs and her roommate convinces her that they should do the same thing. 

The save up glass bottles to try to earn enough money for their train ticket, convinced that once they get to the City, they'll quickly find jobs and make lots of money.  They're going to go lots of Broadways shows and shop at fancy department stores and go to the beach.

Finding a job isn't as easy as they were led to believe.  Their first few days are spent standing in long lines with other young women in the employment offices, filling out applications and often being told there are no more openings.  Then they see Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue.  Tiffany doesn't even have an employment office.  But they talk their way into a job as pages on the sales floor.  They're only making twenty dollars a week, and know they can't afford to live off that, but they can't turn down a job at Tiffany!

They don't let their meager salary keep them from enjoying the city, hoping for a glimpse of Wallis Simpson, and marveling over the laughter of Judy Garland, and trembling at the sight of a gangster who needs his watch repaired.  They date midshipmen and celebrate the end of the war in Times Square. 

I loved the innocence of the story, a glimpse of a different New York City, a time when people carried themselves with a bit more dignity.  It's a time when men and women went on dates and got to know each other rather than today when everyone is simply expected to "hook up" and "put out" moments after making eye contact.  It's the kind of New York I yearn for every time I wander around the city.  I enjoyed seeing New York City through the eyes of someone living in the City for the first time -- that first sighting of the Empire State Building, the shops on Fifth Avenue, dinner at the Stork Club. There were several amusing moments when she tried to order a drink or dessert, always wanting to sound as if she belonged and not like a wide-eyed girl from Iowa. 

I've been told that I'm an old soul.  I love Sinatra and black and white movie and stories about a time that I can only imagine.  Also, I love New York City, so this book was perfect for me.  It's a quick read and provided a nice, enjoyable escape from the holiday blahs. 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I don't care about your band by Julie Klausner

I was talking about books to some students the other day and the conversation went a bit like this:

"I'm reading this book called, I don't care about your band," I said.  "It's well, a little graphic, so I can't tell you the details, but it's about this woman's dating experiences.  It's funny, but it's really gross.  Like, really, really gross.  Some of the things that happen in it.... yuck.  When I started the book, I almost decided to not continue past the second chapter, I was just thinking, this woman is a slut.  But I kept reading and parts are hilarious.  This woman, though, she's just stupid."

My kids were laughing.  "She's just stupid," mimicked one of the boys.

"She is.  I can't even tell you the things that happen.  Makes me so glad I don't date and never have," I said. My students don't believe me when I say things like this, but it's true.

And that sort of sums up my feelings about his book.  I don't date now, didn't really date in my twenties.  There was one brief sort of almost-relationship experience, but in hindsight, I've realized it existed more in my head than in actuality.  I was sad when it ended, but eventually I was glad that it never really, um, came to fruition, if you, well, know what I mean.

I suspect there may be something wrong with me for not having any real interest in dating and all that accompanies dating.  But as it is, at the advanced age of 35, I don't really feel like I'm missed out on much.  When I read a book like this, I am overwhelmingly grateful that I missed out on such experiences.

In the beginning she claims to have had a great, loving relationship with her parents, but if that was the case, why go on such a desperate search for "love"? Or whatever the heck she was searching for. She mentions often that she's in need of a husband and a father for her future children, but wow, did she honestly for even a moment consider any of those men to be candidates for a role in her future? She doesn't seem to be going about it in a way that I would consider to be productive. But then again, I don't know about this stuff. I've never had any interest in seeking out a future husband or life-partner or whatever term is used these days.

The author is giving blow jobs by ninth grade.  Maybe this is normal and maybe I'm just that sheltered.  If so, thank goodness.  Some things do not belong in my mouth.

Despite my shock at her ninth grade experiences, I kept reading, and several times I found myself laughing aloud.  As horrible and grotesque as many of the stories are, they are also hilarious.  Most, or rather, all of the stories are more about sex than dating.  She doesn't talk much about dating.  She tends to meet guys and then get undressed as soon as possible.  Ugly guys, fat guys, boring, unemployed, drug using guys, she's not particular.  She does them all: Men with dirty apartments and bedbugs, men with criminal records and/or indie records, men who smell bad and treat her even worse.  One impression I got from this book is that the author possessed no self respect, none at all.  Why oh why would anyone put herself in these situations?  You have to hate yourself to do some of the things she did.

While I believe the author and I are the same age, and I've been in situations similar to hers, known people like the ones she mentions, I couldn't relate to the way she interacted with these people.  For instance, as indicated by the title, she talks about dating musicians and how a person who dates a musician has to go to every show. I will admit to having some involvement with musicians, it happens to everyone at some point, even to people like me who work hard to avoid "dating", but also, I never had a problem telling these men that I just couldn't attend every gig, sometimes I had other plans, sometimes, there was a really good movie on TV that I wanted to stay home and watch. Most of the guys respected the fact that I had a life separate from them.  Those who didn't, well, they moved on, which was best for all involved.  That's the difference between the author and I.  I've never had a problem telling a guy no.  At least, not since I was like 21.  I'm a quick learner, one bad experience and I'm done.  Works out well, really, it does.
By the end of the book, I found that I really liked the author, despite thinking she's not very smart, takes way too many risks with regard to her body and is completely lacking in self-respect.  I especially felt that I bonded with her when she started in on her dislike of Brooklyn.  I can bond with just about anyone over a dislike of Brooklyn.  Though I have to say that her rant about how bothered she is that men are attracted to Cameron Diaz in Something About Mary and Pam on the Office made me think she and I wouldn't get along all that well.  She sounds like one of those women that likes to get really made up because she thinks that's what men like and she's angry at the idea that they don't like that.  Being that I've never done the whole "dating, seeking out men" thing, I've never given all that much thought to what men like with regard to how I dress.  Maybe that's my loss, but after reading this book, I have to say I'm grateful for having missed out on all these experiences. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book because it's funny.  It took a few chapters before my impression of the book moved from disgusting to hilarious, but now that I'm done reading it, I've recommended it to several friends.  In the end, the author claims to have learned from these experiences.  She chalks them up as her "twenties".  I think back on my twenties, which ended five years ago and all I remember is working late at a job I hated and so that I could pay the bills that accompany adulthood, so I guess I kind of appreciated living out the author's experiences from a distance, without suffering the consequences.

-- Random bit here:  Near the end of the book there is a line in quotes, and I wondered if it was in quotes because it came from a song or movie or something, but whatever it was, I really liked it.  Does anyone know what this is referencing, or is it just something the author wrote:  "going to bed early at least a couple of nights a month to make the loneliness stop screaming for the night."  Something about that line really hit home for me, even though I very much chose to be alone.  Sometimes, well, sometimes, you know...

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

This summer, I watched a few episode of a new show on TNT called Rizzoli and Aisles.  I liked it, didn't love it, but it held my interest.  I like crime dramas, especially those with strong female characters.  The show is based on a series of books, so I decided to try the books because I love reading crime fiction.

This is the first book in the series. 

The book is okay.  It's well-written, held my interest.  The book kept me company during an especially bad recent bout of insomnia.  (Though one of my students wisely pointed out that that maybe the book was the cause of my insomnia when I told him what the book was about.)

The story is about Rizzoli, a female detective, who has a tough time working with a lot of insecure men.  She ends up on a big case -- a serial killer who slices up women and removes their wombs before he slices their throats.  Turns out the case is connected to another round of serial killings, in which everyone believed the killer had been murdered.  I found of interest the research that went into tracing back the connections between the two acts, or rather, two series of acts.

But I didn't like the portrayal of Rizzoli.  She seemed a bit unlikable.  I also didn't like that is always seemed like the men were swooping in to save her, as well as the other women.  In the end, she did redeem herself, but there was a lot of the book in which it was her mentor who was a bit too much of a hero.  Granted this was the first book in the series and I'm sure the dynamics between the characters changes as the novels progress.

But also, I didn't like the main victim in the story.  I grew tired of reading about her being so very beautiful and vulnerable.  (I notice that Rizzoli feels the same about this character, so maybe it was a way to make the reader relate to Rizzoli?  If so, it worked.)  And it's the same male character who saves Rizzoli who then acts as the victim's protector. 

My biggest issue though was the portrayal of the murderer.  Throughout the story, we're allowed into his thought process, and this bothered me.  I have issues with the idea that these monsters have any sort of rational thought.  I'm not saying the author was trying to justify what he did, because she wasn't.  But at the same time, I have no desire to "see" into the minds of criminals.  Also, much emphasis was placed on the idea that the men involved had perfectly normal lives.  Everyone loved them, they came from great, loving families, nice, polite boys who did well in school.  While I realize that we always hear the stories about how, "no one had a clue" in regard to captured murderers, I often believe this is a case of people simply not paying attention.  I have a very difficult time believing that people from wonderful, financially well-off, loving homes can turn into such gruesome monsters.  Not saying it can't happen, because I'm sure it does.  But in a story like this, I need a little something to provide a better explanation for the horror.  The only deviance hinted at is a bit of homosexual tendencies, which, as you may imagine bothered me.  Because they're gay, they chop up women?  No, I don't think so.  Again, the author didn't directly say that, but near the end, it seems to be implied, and that angered me.

For a while, near the middle of this book, I thought maybe I had found myself a new author, another series to explore, but by the time it ended, I'd had enough.  At the moment, I don't feel compelled to read any more books in this series.