Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sundays at Tiffanys by James Patterson

A sad little girl has an imaginary friend named Michael. Years later, as an adult -- who is still tormented by her overbearing mother -- Michael returns to her life. They fall in love and live happily ever after.

But no explanation is ever provided as to how this is possible. Why is Michael suddenly real and no longer imaginary? Am I expecting too much to want to know this?

I was drawn to this book because -- well, how can I put this without sounding a little off? -- I'm a big believer in imaginary friends. I exist almost entirely within my head. I gave up on real, human relationships long ago. I couldn't handle the disappointment. I became attached too easily and broken too completely. As a child, I created a group of people to befriend me because I didn't have the social skills to make real friends. As an adult, while I'm sane enough to realize imaginary friends are indeed imaginary and not real, I keep them alive by writing about them. I never give much thought to my real world surrounding, I'm too busy focusing on my fictional people. I tell myself someday I'll put the story together, call it a novel and turn it into my livelihood, but honestly, I think I just keep the characters going because without them, I'd be alone, completely and totally alone.

I can write this because the few people I know who read this already know that I'm, well, how did I describe it earlier? ... a bit off.

Anyway, point being, I had hoped this book would further explore the idea of people depending on imaginary friends. I needed an explanation. I'd assumed that the story would be about someone who met a person who embodied everything she's once yearned for in an imaginary friend. But none of that happened. The imaginary friend had no explanation and he agreed that he was very much imaginary.

Very disappointing book.

The Next Thing on my List by Jill Smolinski

I enjoyed this book quite a bit.

I read about this book while reading a story about people making lists. I'm a big list maker. Books to read this summer, things to do before I turn 30 (that one passed a few years ago), places to visit, languages to learn, you get the idea.

This book is about a woman, June, drifting through her life. She's content enough, but doing only what she needs to do to get by. She meets a woman, Marissa, at a Weight Watchers meeting, they're in a car wreck and the woman dies. Later, a list is found in the car, "things to do before I turn 25" that belonged to the Marissa. June is well past 25, but she's struck by the list and the idea of Marissa having these goals, and not ever having the chance to fulfill them. It's been a few months since I've read the book, but if I recall correctly, while visiting the cemetery she runs into Marissa's brother and in an attempt to strike up a conversation with him and she tells him that she's decided to finish the list for Marissa.

What becomes apparent is that June has never had a list or a set of goals. As I said, she's drifted through life, letting life happen to her. For the first time ever, she's got a purpose and this changes her.

What I thoroughly enjoyed about the book was the manner in which it was written. June seemed like such a real character. In so many ways, unfortunately, I could relate to her -- settling in a boring job, living alone, drifting. I'm around her age, and constantly faced with the same realization that I stopped living my life years ago, just threw in the towel and decided I'd observe from the side. Throughout the book, she name drops bits of pop culture that reminds me that she's one of my contemporaries. Her surprise of Marissa's love for Trent Reznor, without providing a description of Trent Reznor ... women of a certain age and mindset know exactly what was meant, no elaboration needed, those older and younger, well, this book isn't really meant for them, is it?

Near the end of the book, I thought the storyline got a little bizarre. One item on the list was to change someone's life. She takes on a troubled teenager, and then possibly too caught up in the idea of goals and changing the world gets too involved with the teen, almost destroys her own life in her zeal to save this girl. It all works out in the end, but it seems a little too simple and neat.

In the end though, you feel that June has begun living with a purpose, and that's what matters. She'll never go back to drifting again. She's involved and present, no longer a neutral observer. And that's a whole lot more than I've been able to accomplish in my 32 years of life.

Overall though, I enjoyed the book and would readily recommend it to anyone in need of light, yet inspiring, read.

For One More Day by Mitch Alborn

This book was supposed to be a selection for our book club. Not something I would have normally read.

The person who suggested the book really liked it.

Didn't do much for me. As I said later when we discussed the book, it left me underwhelmed.

I read it a few months ago, and now that I'm writing this, I remember very little about the book, it had that kind of non-impact.

The story is all about this guy who is on the verge of ending his life. As he's dying he's thinking of the ways his mother supported him and the ways he didn't support his mother. He was a young boy who wanted love from his dad. He was being raised by his mom though, his dad having left, or his mom having left his dad. (His dad was having an affair, had an entirely other family off in another town, I don't remember now if the mother discovered this and ended the marriage or if the father chose the other family over her.)

The mother had a rough life, being single in a time when being divorced was quite scandalous.

But for the most part, the son didn't behave any differently than any other young boy would behave. He loved baseball; he loved his father. He was too young to understand the sacrifices his mother made. As he got older he should have known better, one stupid moment in particular that stands out was the father dragging his son away from the mother's birthday party to participate in a game for old-timers. The son is a grown man by now and at that point should have had the good sense to tell his dad, "Nope, sorry, I'm busy today."

I guess the idea of the book is that the man's life is in shambles because he didn't love his mother enough. As he lays dying, he revisits his mother and he realizes she loved him unconditionally. This changes his life. He survives and changes his life, because a part of abandoned daughter's life and all is well.

It's all a little too simple and silly for me. The nice thing about the book is that it is quite short, so I didn't feel like I lost much time in reading it, but I didn't think I gained much from it either.

Strapless by Deborah Davis

When I saw John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Madame X for the first time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I didn't anything about the painting's history. I just thought the picture was beautiful. The placement at the museum ensures that she's seen from a distance.

After I left the museum, I wanted to know more about this painting.

That's when I learned about the scandal this painting caused. This painting created such an uproar, it ruined Singer Sargent's career for a while.

There are a few books written on the subject. I found this one at the library and enjoyed it quite a bit.

It's a nonfiction book, but written in such a way that it reads as easily as a novel. It tells the story of how Singer Sargent wanted to paint Virginie Gautreau, an American living in Paris. She's described as the "it" girl at the moment. He believed painting her would be advantageous to his career. But everything backfired on both of them.

The picture, because one strap of the dress was depicted as falling off her shoulder, was deemed too scandalous. The pale skin and haughty look on the subject's face were considered offensive. According to the critics, she looked as if she were ready for or had just had sex.

The book reveals quite a bit about the artist, as well as the subject and the effects of the scandal.

I thought the book provided an entertaining way to gather some art history. I'd recommend to anyone who wanted to know more about this painting.