Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fun in the Sun

My dear friend and colleague gave me a very generous gift card (that I tried to graciously refuse on the grounds that it was far to generous and I had done nothing to deserve such generosity, but she was extremely insistent that I take it, so I acquiesced!) and so, of course, I did what anybody would do: I bought a shit-ton of books. But, because I shopped on Better World Books (an awesome used book site that never charges shipping and donates part of the proceeds to literacy charities) when they were having a sale, I managed to get all 15 of these beauties for a grand total of$45.99. That is $3.06 a book. Woot-woot! I now have reading material for at least a month! And, since I used the remaining value of the gift card to buy some vitamins and organic food on VitaCost, I'll have plenty of energy to write you plenty of new reviews! Woot-woot-woot!

Men, Women and Children

I love the profane. I love being shocked.
And a good first sentence makes me giddy.
Enter Men, Women & Children by Chad Kultgen.
Here is what I opened to today on the subway:
"Don Truby thought about Kelly Ripa's anus."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bees are Better

I'm about a hundred pages in to The Time Traveler's Wife and I gotta say, it's pretty terrible. This is why I never read the BIG book of the season, the one all the ladies-who-lunch propel to greatness. Those books are usually pretty terrible. Sure, there are some exceptions, like Olive Kittredge, or Little Bee. Though, truth be told, Little Bee was simply a compelling story, not an exceptionally well written book.

Anyway, I think I'm done with The Time Traveler's Wife. I mean, I wasn't enjoying it and then I found a few typos and some sentences that made no sense and that just pushed me over the edge. Things like this: "Dad was resplendent in dark blue pants and a white short sleeved shirt, providing a quiet background for Mom's flamboyance." Resplendent? Really? And in the same sentence you say his resplendence is a quiet background. Nope. Not buying this.

And what about this strangely punctuated paragraph? "This room is full of birds. Birds in simulated flight, birds perched eternally on branches, bird heads, bird skins. I open one of the hundreds of drawers; it contains a dozen glass tubes, each holding a tiny gold and black bird with its name wrapped around a foot."

Why the short declarative sentences then the random list of descriptive phrases disguised as a sentence and then the two clauses joined by a semicolon? I'd like to be so engrossed in the story that I don't get distracted by the strange punctuation. The punctuation and structure should serve the story. Like a well laid out buffet or silently passed hors devours, I should notice the arrangement but only in as much as it contributes to my overall appreciation. I don't want to spend all my time analyzing the presentation of the food when I could actually be enjoying my food. You feel me?

And, writing style aside, the story creeps me out. Particularly the sexual tension between the old man and the young girl. And the fact that he knows so much that she can't know and the inherent power disparity in such a relationship and yet they are supposed to be in love. Yuck.

Maybe it gets better, but I don't really care. If there weren't so many other amazing books in the world I may have stuck with it, but since I received two new titles from Harper Perennial in my mailbox I tossed TTTW to the curb and instead read The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus, which is a damn good book. It provides tons of information and manages to have interesting characters and a compelling narrative arc. I never knew I cared about bees, but now I do. I care and I know that I care. And I now want to go on a honey tasting tour of America. (And while I'm on that honey tour I'm going to read the other book that arrived in my mailbox, Men, Women & Children by Chad Kultgen!)

Hannah Nordhaus is not necessarily an objective reporter of facts; she becomes a character in the story and presents her material with a strong, clear and concerned voice. She is obviously fond of John Miller, the beekeeper at the center of this narrative, but does not seem blind to his flaws. I never felt like I was being preached too, though it is clear that Nordhaus, like anyone who actually pays attention to where our food is coming from, is troubled by the state of American agriculture.

For obvious reasons, this is my favorite passage in the book.

"But the attention to beekeepers has also wrought some long overdue recognition- of the hard work required to keep bees alive these days; of the superhuman sacrifices required to make their living; of the quixotic delight beekeepers take in pursuing a difficult professional path. Perhaps that's why I was drawn to Miller. Though I had long been exceedingly fond of honey, I had no particular affection for bees. Beekeepers, though, are a different story. They are heroic characters, tragic characters, anomalous characters. They do the hard thing. I could appreciate that. I had alit on a profession that's even less commonsensical, even more economically obtuse, even lonelier than being a writer. Beekeepers deserve a little recognition for that."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer Reading List

Lately I have been on a non-fiction kick. I discovered Mary Roach and promptly fell in love with her brilliant wit and quirky content. Bonk was laugh out loud funny and Stiff was amusingly cringeworthy. I also read and fell in love with Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This summer I hope to continue this love affair with quality non-fiction with these three titles:

Thunderstruck by Eric Larsen
In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Priscilla Gilman had the greatest expectations for the birth of her first child. Growing up in New York City amongst writers, artists, and actors, Gilman experienced childhood as a whirlwind of imagination, creativity, and spontaneity. As a Wordsworth scholar, she celebrated and embraced the poet's romantic view of children—and eagerly anticipated her son's birth, certain that he, too, would come "trailing clouds of glory." But her romantic vision would not be fulfilled in the ways she dreamed. Though Benjamin was an extraordinary child, the signs of his precocity—dazzling displays of memory and intelligence—were also manifestations of a developmental disorder that would require intensive therapies and special schooling, and would dramatically alter the course Priscilla had imagined for her family.

SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin

Less than half a year after sniper school, he was fighting for his life. The mission: capture or kill Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. From rooftops, helicopters and alleys, Wasdin hunted Aidid and killed his men whenever possible. But everything went quickly to hell when his small band of soldiers found themselves fighting for their lives, cut off from help, and desperately trying to rescue downed comrades during a routine mission. The Battle of Mogadishu, as it become known, left 18 American soldiers dead and 73 wounded. Howard Wasdin had both of his legs nearly blown off while engaging the enemy. His dramatic combat tales combined with inside details of becoming one of the world’s deadliest snipers make this one of the most explosive military memoirs in years.

Any other books you think I might like?