Borography

Someone once chuckled while telling me they could not picture me watching a documentary. I took offense to this comment. I’ve seen Disney’s “African Cats”. I’ve seen “March of the Penguins”. Or was it “Happy Feet”? Does “Never Say Never” count? I’ve even eaten a Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal while watching “Super Size Me”.  Beat that. But it wasn’t until I started to read my first Biography novel that I might just have to swallow my pride, along with those non-decomposing frites, and agree with that hurtful joker. I’ve always been secretly fascinated by powerful women of long ago so when I saw Stacy Schiff’s “Cleopatra” on the Must Read shelf, I thought “Well who am I to disobey a Librarian.” Except that who I am is someone who does not find reading fun when every second sentence you’re flipping between the inside cover to that sand colored, hand-drawn map of countries and regions that don’t exist anymore, and the back cover genealogical chart to jog your memory of whether it was her aunt Berenice, her sister Berenice, or her daughter Berenice who killed her own husband/brother/father. Ex. Haus. Ting.

Ms. Schiff saw a need to uncover the truth about this Queen of the Nile as there’s not a lot known about her and because of this she gets a bad rep from Shakespeare and Shaw’s colorful imaginations turned historical feats of literature.  This intriguing young girl managed to man handle (if you know what I’m saying) two of the most prominent and feared Romans of her day; Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. With this kind of name-dropping you would think fact would be as entertaining as fiction. Not so. Give me the Elizabeth Taylor version any day. Or a re-make with J-Lo as Cle-o. (Don’t even try to tell me you didn’t think of her when I mentioned Mark Antony.)

This blog post is short lived, not unlike my patience with this book. I don’t make a habit of not finishing books I’ve started but the fact is, at this rate, you, my faithful readers, could build a pyramid in the time it would take me to read this cover to cover (quite literally) and then write basically what I’ve said above stretched across another 2-3 paragraphs. There may have even been a map. See? Ex. Haus. Ting.

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So nice I almost read it twice

It used to be a source of amusement for me that my parents could go to the video store, return home with their pick, pop it in the VCR, and 5 minutes into viewing realize they had already seen this exact movie only months before. It’s only because karma is a huge bitch that this same phenomena is now happening to me with books.

I read the jacket on the inside cover of “A Reliable Wife” and was instantly taken with the plot. Not to mention my obsession with novels that have the word “wife” in the title. (If you’ve been reading my previous blogs you already know this tidbit about me and if not, catch up, you’re missing some good shit.) So I said to myself, “I mustn’t delay in securing my spot in line for this literary masterpiece, post haste”. Yes, that is how I talk to myself in my head. Especially when I’m in a library. After waiting months for my turn on the dance floor with Robert Goolrick’s fiction I promptly realized I was taking my own sloppy seconds for a spin. And I knew it the second I laid eyes on the main character’s name. How is it that I can remember a single character name over a New York Times #1 Best Seller title? Maybe author’s should just name their books after the main character and save me this problem in the future. I mean, who can forget that they’ve previously read Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, or The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar?

I have to admit I didn’t re-read the book once I realized the duplication. But I do remember loving it. Sure, now my remember-er is working. I remember liking how Mr. Goolrick doesn’t come right out and tell you what’s going on but through the feelings and conversations between the two main characters he paints a vivid picture. Since I did dive right in to the beginning of the book I can attest that it starts with a splash.  Lonely Mr. Ralph Truitt has placed an ad for a simple, honest wife to take care of him and his household as they both age, but gets duped by the woman who responds as she is anything but. The seductive, and slightly evil, Catherine Land has plans to poison poor Ralphy and make off a wealthy widow. And then there’s like 275 more pages! As each twist and turn of truth shows itself in the novel you flip flop over who you sympathize with, until you feel like you’re the one who’s been poisoned. This book has everything you could ask for;  passion, obsession, madness and murder.  Everything you could possibly want in a wife.

I believe it says something about this reader that even though I may be suffering from old timers disease (an early onset I assure you) at least I can still rely on my same great taste in books.

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Groundhog Day Revisited

I’m one of those people who never wants to see a movie until I’ve read the book first.  Such was the case when “One Day” hit theatres.  They had me at Jim Sturgess. My crush on Jims began with him singing in “Across the Universe” and is what fueled me in selecting this novel for my book club monthly pick. (No, I don’t mean because he was on the cover.) There were actually times I pictured him singing his sarcastic, cocky comments through Beatles lyrics (watch the movie), and even though that may not have been what Mr. David Nicholls intended, I personally felt it made the book better.  Usually I hate already knowing what the big screen version of the characters look and sound like because I like to let my mind wander as I’m reading and piece together eyes, mouths, and hair until  I’ve personified the hell out of the description and come up with my perfect cast.  But in this case, I didn’t mind.  I love both Anne Hatheway and, as I’ve already mentioned and no doubt will again, Jimbo, and thought the film’s casting director deserved a pat on the butt.  (Did I say butt? My apologies, still thinking about Jimmy. ) The movie stars selected fit my imagined version of their book counterparts to a ‘T’. “Twilight” Directors, take heed.

Since it was my choice, I really only have myself to blame for reading yet another chick lit book. Me and the Sturg. And it seems I’m in a bit of a chick lit funk. A chunk, if you will. I’ve always been a fan of this type of read but lately I’ve been craving more from the words on the page. I mean, I haven’t had to ask Josh what a word means in over 3 novels now. I’ve been wanting some drama besides the stereotypical “he loves me, he loves me not” drama. Then, all of a sudden, I’m hit with it.  Like a mack truck. Unexpected. Everything was finally working out for this couple, the novel was winding down, I was downloading an illegal copy of the movie with hopes of a nude scene, and this author went and delivered me a punch to the throat. I know it’s what I said I wanted, but what girl ever really wants what she says she does?! Come on!

The situations in this novel all take place on the same fateful day each year over a span of 20 years. They follow the repeated screw-ups of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew a la a spin on “Groundhog Day”, but with a way hotter, British, Bill Murray.  They don’t repeat the same day over and over but the same failed relationships, careers, breathalyzers, and all the while (minus a few sketchy and frankly, less entertaining, years) they have each other to fall back on. Duh. Anyone can see where this is headed, right? Especially someone currently in a chunk. What takes us 20 pages to realize, takes them 20 years. But the anticipation is half the fun and the supporting cast of never-ending not-so-significant others weaves a tale that leaves us hungry to find out what happens in the next year/chapter.

When my fellow secret book club members and I met this month to discuss my amazing ability to select a novel (after our token hour of  workplace/family/friend gossip over cheese, chocolate and wine… no, you still can’t join) we also watched my illegally downloaded copy of the Hollywood movie. (PS. There is nudity! Full backal?… posterior?..you get to see his butt! Hallelujah!) Because it was unanimous that we all liked the book, we were relieved that the movie was so closely scripted from it. Scenes were delivered exactly how we pictured the conversations taking place and a huge kudos to them for aptly portraying the hairstyles, techy gadgets, and clothes through the different years, bringing up deeply harbored memories of our 80’s childhoods. It just all went by in a bit of a blur with 20+ years crammed into 107 minutes. If I hadn’t just finished the novel 36 hours before watching the movie I think I would have been a bit lost. But not as lost as the book club member currently on my shit list for not finishing the last 50 pages. Unfortunately I can’t single her out by name because that goes against the core rules of SBC. Know what’s another core rule? Reading the book.

Regardless, I recommend both.  But start with the book. The book’s always better. No offense, James, I still love you.

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Too many cooks spoil the book

When I think of the word “commencement”, I think of a beginning; a start to something fresh and new and maybe even grand. So you can imagine my surprise  confusion  chagrin utter disappointment when it took about 230 pages of my time for this book to even start.  I chose “Commencement” by J. Courtney Sullivan on a recommendation from a fellow readaholic who I will now be removing from my Christmas gift giving list.  I was told it would be a fun and easy read about college girlfriends transitioning to real life and overcoming the  jobs and distance and boys between them.  I guess that is another definition of commencement, but I’m still holding the “horrible title chooser” moniker over J. Courtney on this one.  Oh, and don’t worry, there will be a dig at her name further into this post.

I especially enjoy reading books with a heroine.  A female I can relate to.  And a great author is someone who can make any old reader connect with any old heroine, whether she’s staying at home raising a family of 4 or slaying medieval dragons in a breastplate.  (I’ve just given someone somewhere an amazing idea to write a book where the heroine performs both of these feats.  Guaranteed best seller.  Go forth and write. I may even post about you someday. You’re welcome.)  This novel had 4 heroines and every chapter was told by a different one of them.  Death by format, perhaps?  Regardless, when I start a new book I’m scouring those first few paragraphs to see who it is I’m going to have an intimate relationship with for as long as it takes me to finish its pages.  That one, not necessarily, but more often than not, main character, who, by page 57, you’re skimming through her conversations with friends because you already know how the sentence ends.  By page 134 you’re celebrating when she finally tells her boss where to shove it, and all through pages 255-282, sobbing with her as she is dumped by Mr. I Wanted It To Be Right.  I don’t have enough girly emotions to equally distribute my sentiments between four!  Nor did I find I particularly related to any one of these girls.  What do I have in common with a perfectionist with mommy issues, a southern belle turned lesbian, a feminist extremist who alternates between dreadlocks and a shaved head, and a sarcastic, non-practicing Catholic school girl with a drinking problem who aspires to be a novelist?  OK, so that last one isn’t too far off, but she probably had the least screen time of any of them so my point still stands.

The author has definitely spent a lot of time in the company of females and I don’t dare venture a guess on who out of this clique of girls she has drawn on her own experiences to create.  (She does call herself J. Courtney Sullivan after all.  It couldn’t be more obvious unless it was hyphenated.)  I just don’t think she has spent a lot of time in college.  Where on earth did she go to school that this eclectic bunch of misfits would ever form a cohesive girl band?  College is basically high school but with way more booze.  I also don’t think she spent a lot of time flushing out her story line for the novel and instead focused intently on getting down and dirty with character development.  Well, the reason for developing the character is so that we know who it is out there doing stuff.  Lady, you forgot the doing.  She did touch on a lot of women’s issues taking place all over the world that most people turn a blind eye to, but more importantly those that happen in our backyard.  And they were told through varying points of view by women living at complete different ends on the spectrum of feminism.  There is definitely a place for such serious topics but I don’t believe it to be bound by a Tiffany blue cover.  Or maybe that was the blue icing on the cake for the author to drive home a point and I’m not deep enough to get it.  Nah.

It’s time to put an end to my one week stand with “Commencement”, and in true dramatic chick lit fashion, the only way to get over one relationship is to begin, or commence, a new one.  Bring on my next victim!

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Shhhhh

Ever read a lot of heavy books in a row and need to give your brain a break with some chick lit or teen vampire drama? Who am I kidding? I love that stuff all the time, but I just finished “Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later” and realized why it was titled “confidential”.  Because a 30 year old woman should not be sharing the fact that she missed those blonde Wakefield twins and their boy troubles so much she waited on pins and needles for 3 months to get the book from the library.  Goddamn those slow teenage readers.  Besides the fact that I felt like I needed to hide the cover in a book jacket every time I took it out on the bus, I devoured this chick lit teenage drama like it was someone’s personal diary with a treasure map inside the cover.

However fast I read it, which is indicated by the near non-existent time lapse between blog entries, it was a train wreck. Jessica with Todd? Elizabeth having one night stands in little black dresses? I know Ms. Pascal has always stressed how identical the twins are, but mixing them up in your own novel is just embarrassing.  These are your own invented children, lady. I waited 3 months (OK, actually more like 15 years) to rekindle with these long lost high school amigos only to have everything I knew and loved about them turned inside out?!  How dare she. I get that she’s the author. I get that there are umpteen series featuring the same characters involved with the same people and struggling through the same scenarios and blah blah blah. I get that you want to challenge yourself as an author. But what you don’t seem to get is that picking up any Sweet Valley book should be like coming home after a long time away and being greeted with open arms by those you know and love, not like pulling up in your driveway to your mom parking her motorbike, your dad baking a pie, and your dog reading him the recipe. Confused? Yeah, I was too reading this.

Secretly, I was looking for a little comfort.  I was looking to be brought back circa 1995 to see what boy Jessica was leading on now (That’s so like Jessica) or how many humanitarian awards Elizabeth had racked up (That’s our Elizabeth) but no. Just no. This was no trip down memory lane. In fact, most of the book didn’t take place on any lane in Sweet Valley, but in NYC.  The best part of the book was the Epilogue where we were updated on the whereabouts and happenings of all the past Sweet Valley characters. (Lila is still on my unwritten list of baby names and I may or may not still crush on Bruce Patman)  I know ten years is a long time and people can change, but Enid a gynecologist bitch, and Winston a millionaire, albeit detested, playboy? Get real. No one with those names would ever be popular enough to be hated so fiercely. Except Francine. I hate Francine for making my beloved imaginary friends grow up and face grown up real people problems. So much for taking a break with an easy read. This was hard on me.

Want another secret? I belong to a Book Club.  A Secret Book Club. Cleverly titled SBC.  (No, you can’t join, you need to be asked. And it involves strict pre-requisites. And an initiation process. Read: hazing. ) And this has to stay between me and you because the first rule of Secret Book Club is you don’t talk about Secret Book Club. So’s the second rule. But I think I’m pretty safe as there’s only 3 of us members and if they “survivored” me it would no longer be a club, but a date. And that’s just weird. Not to mention a waste of all those business cards we ordered. Back to my original point.  I belong to a Book Club that meets once a month so once a month I will feature the Coles Notes version of our meeting. Keep it confidential.

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Had me at Hadley

Recently people have been telling me I should get into writing, and not just my family who loved my previous attempt at a blog and homemade greeting cards. People also say I read books like it’s my job. I personally think getting paid for reading books would be amazing, but am content right now to read books to escape from my job.  About the only thing I enjoy more than reading is talking about what I’ve just read. I enjoy critiquing books and either recommending them to fellow readers or banishing them to the paper shredder.  Don’t get me started on Bridges of Madison County. (Did you know there’s a sequel?! Gross.)  I have a lot of opinions. So my boyfriend scored major points when flippantly suggesting I write a blog about “all the freaking books I read”. (After mulling over the idea I went to tell him he’s a genius and found him eating an entire bag of beef jerky for supper while spelling out an emoticon on his phone cause he can’t figure out how to create a smiley face with punctuation.)

So it’s only fitting I begin my foray into writing about books with the book I just finished about writer Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, affectionately known as Hadley.  It was titled, “The Paris Wife”, and family, please don’t read anything in to this, but I will read any book with “Wife” in the title.  I don’t know what the fascination is.  Perhaps not being married myself I want to gain some insight, but constantly siding with the scorned wife probably isn’t getting me there any faster. The book also has a romantic aura about it to this self proclaimed book aficionado just by virtue of mentioning some of the greats like James Joyce, F Scott, and Gertrude Stein.  It takes you back to post-war Paris (read in a French accent) and who doesn’t love a great love affair?  It’s the stuff us gals dream about.  Guy loves girl, guy does something stupid to hurt girl, guy wins girl back with over-dramatic gesture of love … but wait, fighter and lover Ernest “Hem” doesn’t try to cover up his indiscretions and eventually leaves Hadley for another love. And then another. Gasp! And no, I don’t need to say “spoiler alert” when it’s a true story. Hadley is wronged as a wife on a number of occasions but all it takes from Hem is the use of a pet name or sob story about his war injuries and you’re right back in love with this quirky couple.  With a love this great it’s so easy to forgive and forget  … until it isn’t and it all comes crashing down.  Ms. McLain definitely has you riding the proverbial emotional roller coaster along with Hadley from page one to the back cover when you realize you’ve been crying for about 20 pages. My tear stains on the pages of your novel are this blogger’s equivalent of any prize winning award on the front cover. Two swollen, red eyes up.

So I’ve decided to take on more than I can handle and not only read a few books a month but write my thoughts about them too, for anyone who cares.  Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll turn into an Ernest Hemingway myself. But without the adultery and penchant for bar brawls.

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