Saturday, August 27, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

I'm not a big fan of romances, so I probably had no business reading this book.  However, I thought the previews for this movie seemed somewhat interesting, and my cousin mentioned wanting to see the movie, so I decided to read the book first.  Really wish I hadn't, and more than that, I'm angry that I spent ten dollars to put this on my Kindle.  At least if I'd waited for the library, it would have been free.  But there was a long waiting list, and I wanted to read it before the movie came out.

I didn't like this book at all. 

The first half of the book, I could sort of relate to Emma.  She seemed like someone struggling to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, she wanted to be a writer, and decided to be a teacher.  She felt like she was doing well as a teacher.  But then, almost exactly halfway through the book, at the beginning of chapter 10, I lost all interest in this character.  She's described as being on the floor, putting her clothes back on after having sex with the married headmaster of her school.  I'm so tired of reading about all these pathetic single women who are so desperate that they must have sex with married men, and in this case, he was her boss.  Had I not paid for this book, I would have stopped reading at this point.

The format of book is that one day in each year in Emma & Dexter's lives is described. The reader is supposed to see how their friendship evolves over the years. But I didn't see anything special happening between them. I saw two people stumbling through life, messing up more often than getting it right, who eventually ended up together because they'd burned all their bridges and no one else would have them.

Dexter was an arrogant jerk and Emma was a bit of loser. After a failed marriage and career, and a battle with drug and alcohol addiction, Dexter turns to Emma because no one else wants anything to do with him.

Stop reading this now if you plan to read the book yourself because I'm about to give away the end, which I found to be something of a shocker. (Haven't seen the movie, but I suspect it ends in a similar way.)

After Emma and Dexter finally end up together, and have been together for a few years, their relationship is described as something I felt was very bland and stagnant. I think it's supposed to sound comfortable and cozy. But I read it thinking, that's horrible, I'd rather be single than have that. If I'm going to spend my life with someone, I want to be crazy about that person. And that might mean I'll be single forever, but that's a chance I'm willing to take. But a few paragraphs later, Emma gets hit while riding her bicycle and dies. I think I was supposed to cry or at least be upset, but instead I thought, she's much better off than being stuck in that dull relationship with Dexter.

I didn't like this book at all, I didn't find it romantic or at all passionate. It's what happens when two people decide to give up on life and settle for whatever is available.

Read: August 27, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun

I saw this book advertised on Amazon Kindle's facebook page.  A thriller, described as a great beach read, for only 2.99.

It is exactly as described, a great beach read, and well worth the $2.99.

A woman goes to Mexico on vacation with her husband and son and ends up getting kidnapped.   She soons discovers that nothing is as it seems.  Very fast paced story, lots of adventure, some violence, a bit of romance. 

And to keep it from being just the usual trashy romance/thriller, there's a nice bit of feminism tossed in there.  The main character had spent most of her life dependent on others, and then she begins to learn aobut the women in her family, and how strong they were and what they had to fight against and she realizes that she has the strength to do the same.  A little sappy, maybe, but I liked it.  Sometimes it takes a horrible experience to make a woman realize that she doesn't need a man to take care of her.

It's not great literature, isn't going to change the world, but it kept me entertained while I was outside working on my tan.  I liked it.

Read August 16, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

I first read about this book on Oprah's website, something about travel books.  I thought this sounded like something I would enjoy because I love to travel, and am always searching for travel books to learn about other people's experiences with travel.  This is the story of two young women, just out of college who decide to visit China in the mid-80s, when people are just being allowed to visit. 

The story intrigued me because when I was younger, my plan had been to travel the world as soon as I finished college.  That didn't happen.  I instead got a job right after college and was 28 the first time I left the country, much too old to  have any desire to do the backpacking/hostels, student budget sort of traveling.  I'm a grown-up, I only stay in nice hotels.  But I've always been curious about what I missed by not traveling when I was younger.  This book provides a glimpse into one of those adventures on which I missed out.

I couldn't put this book down.  The story is so interesting and very well written.

I admire the courage these two women had, even if they were terribly naive and had no idea as to what to expect when they arrived in China.  They were determined to discover the "real" China.  No Holiday Inns or Hiltons.  This was before the internet and the ever so valuable TripAdvisor.  They had only a Lonely Planet guide to provide recommendations.  Based on the descriptions of some of their lodging choices, it sounds absolutely miserable, and I was glad I was reading about it, and not experiencing it.  Gave me a whole new appreciation for my own travel choices - my style being, the more modern the better.  I enjoy learning about the history and seeing the locations and such, but when I'm in my hotel room, I want to be very much in the present.

As if navigating through a foreign land, with no real plan or understanding of the language wasn't difficult enough, the real problem, the author eventually discovered, was her companion's mental health.  They didn't know each other very well before they took this trip.  They were college friends -- you know how that works, you hang out together, you think you have lots in common because, well, you're at the same school, you take the same classes, you have the same brave, bold ideas about conquering the world, but once you enter the "real world" - set off the college campus, things change.  Claire begins to show the classic signs of schizophrenia, but Susie (the author) is in denial, thinking it's just mood swings, the discomforts of foreign travel and homesickness.  Then she can't deny it anymore.

What I liked most about this is the way the author presents her surroundings and the people she meets along the way.  For me, as someone who travels alone quite a bit, the kindness of strangers is what rang most true in this story.  My philosophy is that if you take the initiative to actually step out of your comfort zone and attempt to discover the world, the Universe will help you out along the way when you get in trouble.  (Of course, news stories will confirm this is not always true, sometimes awful things happen and there isn't anyone there to help you.)  But in my experience, I find that anytime I've been lost or confused, someone takes the time to point me in the right direction, and anytime I've been lonely or feeling abandoned, someone seems to appear and next thing I know I'm spending the evening with a new friend.  Someday I hope to write my own collection of travel stories, but until then, I will happily read stories like this.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This has been on my "to read" list for years, like, most of my life.  I've always felt like something of a poser among my friends for not having read it because it's the sort of book that they've all read, that one would think I would have read, but for some reason, hadn't.  I have a big, fancy, copy of the book, the Essential Hitchhiker's Guide, that include this book and all the sequels, and I keep waiting for the right time to read it.

A while back, I found a paperback copy of the book for $1.50.  I thought that would be easier to take with me when I traveled.  So this summer, when I went to Europe, I packed my paperback copy of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy so that I would have something to read when I didn't have my Kindle with me.

I loved the book.  It's silly and funny and interesting and yet, still very relevant.  For example, while I was on my trip, I was waiting for a concert to begin at a stadium.  It's the sort of event for which you arrive early to get a good spot and then sit around and wait and wait and wait for hours be allowed into the venue and then wait and wait and wait some more before the show starts.  Because it had been raining off and on during the trip, I didn't want to take my Kindle, so I had my Hitchhiker's Guide.  I happened to be reading the part about towels.  A towel is essential, you must have a towel with you - according to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I put down my book and looked around me, and what I noticed were towels.  The smart people had towels.  They were sitting on towels, using towels to wipe the sweat from their faces, using towels to clean their hands (because everyone seemed to bring enough food to last for weeks during these events).  Towels everywhere.  The people who didn't have a towel were asking to borrow other people's towels or wishing they had a towel. 

As those familiar with the book know, the answer to everything is 42.  Here's a little story about me, when I was a teenager, I only had one real crush on an actual boy (as opposed to a celebrity), and my one big, huge, ridiculous, unrequited crush was on a boy who wore the number 42 on his football jersey.  I always think of that when I think about the number 42.  Was it the answer to everything?  Not really, but it certainly seemed like it for a few years of my young life.   

My only issue with the book is that my $1.50 paperback completely fell apart when I was reading it outside.  At one point, there were pages flying all over the backyard. Glad I bought it on clearance -- and it was brand new, not something I bought at a used bookstore -- but not exactly high quality.  This version of the book did have quit a bit at the end about the making of the movie, which was somewhat interesting, as I'm a big fan of the movie.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

I picked this up on a trip to the library during which I had no idea what I wanted.  Sort of like entering a grocery store hungry, without a list.  I just wanted a book, something fiction, not too heavy, but still interesting.

I went straight to the new release section, looked through a few books, checked out about three of them.  This was the one I decided to read first because I thought, based on the book's blurb, that this was a story about independent women succeeding in a difficult world and all that.  I like stories about strong women, especially when those women are involved in art and/or writing, which these women were.

There are two story lines happening - one is a young family, with an infant, trying to figure out parenthood, this is happening in the present, the other story takes place in the past and is about a young woman named Lexie who leaves homes and goes to London to make it on her own.

I'm not big on the whole motherhood thing.  I believe women are capable of doing much more than just being mothers and because I have that belief, it was very difficult for me to like this book because it focuses so much on the idea of motherhood and how there is nothing more important in the world than caring for a baby.

I found the descriptions of the new parents to be rather horrifying, so much detail about spit-up and diaper changing.  Yuck.  And these were parents who sort of accidentally got pregnant, and that annoys me also.  I have no patience for people who think it's okay to haphazardly bring children into the world.

But what bothered me much more was the story of Lexie.  I get the impression that I'm supposed to think of her as vibrant and strong and willful.  But to me, she seemed like nothing more than a woman who gained almost all of her success by sleeping with important men.  I find women like that to be an insult to women who actually get ahead based on their hard work.  Lexie didn't know anything, didn't have any skills when she moved to London, so she hooked up with a married man who ran a magazine.  He hired her and trained her and it's supposed to be a great love story, but I don't think there's anything more pathetic than women who have affairs with married men.  Doesn't matter that his wife was evil and the daughter wasn't really his.  He was simply weak for remaining in the situation and Lexie was an idiot for going along with it.

Then he dies, and Lexie is on her own for a while, until she begins an affair with a successful newsman.  But she wants nothing more to do with him after she gets pregnant.  Again, I get the impression I'm supposed to view her behavior as being independent, but she just seems a bit childish and selfish.  I will never understand why women get involved with men and then have children fathered by men that they think are such jerks.  That makes the women seem as foolish as the men with which they are involved.  But we're led to believe that Lexie is an amazing mother, always dragging her child to work assignments with her - because, you know, that's good for children?

Point being, I didn't like this character, and being that she was the main character and eventually both story lines led directly to her and her greatness, I didn't like the book very much.

I thought the characters behaved unreasonably.  The young father in the current day storyline seemed like a bit of an idiot, when he finally finds out the truth about his past, I don't think he and his father acted fairly toward the woman who raised him.  I don't want to give away what happens, in case you want to read the book.  It's something of a surprise, though most readers probably figured it out before it's all revealed.

I didn't like this book much, I didn't like any of the characters in this book and sort of wished I hadn't bothered to read this book.  

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I read this because I kept seeing ads for the movie, and I always want to read the book before I watch the movie. 

I liked the book.  I thought it was a very interesting story and it had interesting characters.

However, a lot of people that I respect have had issues with the story.  Big, huge issues, claiming the story is horrible because it's told from the perspective of a white woman.  While I can see their point, I also think they may be getting a bit angrier than necessary.

Yes, the story is told from the perspective of a white woman, and that's made clear.  Also, at several points in the story, the women point out their discomfort at having a white woman "helping" them, they feel like it's their story, not hers.  More importantly though, I felt like the white woman telling the story goes through the process of acknowledging her privilege, and realizing that things are wrong and needed to change.  Skeeter knows that she's putting herself and these women telling their stories in danger.  While one can say a white woman shouldn't have been the one to tell the story, wouldn't it have been almost impossible during that time for a black woman to get a story published?  Maybe I'm wrong in assuming that.  Skeeter had the resources and the time to write the stories.  I don't think she ever acted as if she believed she was doing these women a favor because it was benefiting her as much as them.

I thought this was a nice story about a woman who, after attending college, returns home and realizes that things are not right in her community or her own home, for that matter. She has the choice of becoming just another Southern housewife, or becoming the person she needs to be, someone who wants to make a difference in the world. This is also about forming friendships between women of different ages and backgrounds and races. But mostly, this is the story about "The Help" - the women who cleaned the houses and raised the children of the white families. Most of them were in some pretty bad situations, and yet, they didn't have many other options with regard to finding work.

I liked that this story made people aware of a situation that a lot of people probably didn't know much about.  I find it difficult to complain about anything that makes people more aware of injustices and the need for civil rights.  At the same time, this was an entertaining story.  It doesn't set itself up to be a documentary, and certainly there may be some inaccuracies, but I didn't see anything harmful about the book or the movie, for that matter.

I'm the first to admit that my knowledge about the deep south is fairly limited so I did find this somewhat eye-opening.  I enjoyed the book and the movie, which I watched the week after I finished reading the book. I didn't love it, but I liked it quite a bit.