Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch
Happy Thanksgiving! Today is my very, very favorite holiday! Food, family, relaxation, and reflection. It simply doesn't get better. I hope you are enjoying the day as much as I plan to.

I have had this book On Reserve for what feels like forever. Pretty much ever since it got all that buzz and won a little award called the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. No big deal.

By the time it got a shout out on The Good Wife, one of my favorite shows, I knew it was time to finally give it a go. That month long break from grad school I just finished, proved the perfect time to tackle this nearly 800-page tome. 

So what were my thoughts about this lauded novel? 

Well, I have some mixed feelings. There were parts I absolutely loved. The whole first part, in fact, was marvelous. It was captivating and intense and a bit magical, in the most heartbreaking way possible. 

Theo Decker, a thirteen year old boy, loses his mother in a terrorist attack on a NYC art museum. In the chaos following the attack, he takes a famous painting, The Goldfinch by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius. By the time he realizes what he comes to his senses and realize what he did in his injured haze, Theo is engulfed in a world of Child Services and uncertainty. It seems to scary to admit his mistake. So, he holds on to the priceless work of art, now assumed destroyed by the explosion in the museum. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Movie Monday: The Hours

The Hours
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

It's not often that  I watch a film adaptation so directly after finishing a novel. However, The Hours proved an exception. Thanks to instant streaming via Netflix and the irresistible cast, Kevin and I curled up to watch this one only two days after I completed the book.

And what a cast. The big names on the poster are just the surface. I don't mean to brush over Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman. They are two of my absolute favorite actors and positively brilliant - in this and everything they are in. Kidman won the Oscar for this role, after all! But, they are supplemented by an extraordinary supporting cast, including Claire Danes (or, in Kevin's words, "Hey! It's that crazy lady from the spy show!") and Allison Janney (forever CJ Cregg in my heart).

The movie stayed fairly true to the book, with a few small-ish changes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I understand the criticism of some that little actually happens. It reflects the book - a day in the life of three different women. The days are meant to be fairly ordinary, that's part of the importance, in my mind. It shows the struggle each of these women live with on a daily basis, their inner turmoil and emotional storms.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dealing with Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede

Dealing with Dragons
I feel as though I am giving you all a sneak peek into my childhood today. This was one of my absolutely favorite books as a kid. I believe I got it for Christmas (from my awesome Aunt Iris) the year of second or third grade. I distinctly remember reading it in fourth grade (more on that in a minute), but I am fairly certain that time was a rereading. So, that puts me at somewhere between eight and ten when I received it. Perfect age, although I was categorized as an advanced reader at that point. 

Ok, back to that fourth grade story. I'm telling you - I loved this book. Still do. I read it over and over and over. Yet, I am a very firm believer that books should be treated like friends. I've always been careful not to do too much spine bending or page folding. I would never ever dog ear a book to mark my place. Bookmarks all the way. When Kevin set a wet towel on our copy of Insurgent on the way home from the pool a few summers ago, I about had a heart attack. I might be a bit overeager in this particular area of my life. I just like things to be well taken care of. 

All that to say, I get nervous about lending books out. So, when my fourth grade teacher, a woman with whom I already had a tumultuous relationship, asked if she could borrow the book to read it aloud to the class, I was torn. Ultimately, I said yes. To my dismay, she ended up reading the book aloud to the class during the time some other students and I went to a special enriched learning class. I didn't even get to hear her read one of my favorite books to the rest of the kids AND she returned it completely bent up and wrinkled. She obviously was the type of reader who, to my horror, bent the first part of the book back over the spine when she held it. Tragedy.

This story is a bit ridiculous, I realize. I had a lot of other reasons for disliking that woman, so it seems pretty likely that I've latched onto this story as one of the more tangible ones. If you're out there, fourth grade teacher, I want you to know that I fully blame you for the wretched state this beloved book is now in. How am I supposed to teach my kids about keeping books nice when one of the ones I can't wait to read them is practically destroyed?

*Steps off soap box*

Ahem, I'm ready to talk about the actual book now. Just needed to get that off my chest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Hours - Michael Cunningham

The Hours
During the summer, some of our friends came to stay with us. The husband, who is well qualified to be making such comments, saw the copy of The Hours I bought at a second hand store a few years back and asked if I had read it. When I said, no, I've been meaning to get to it for ages, he admonished me to bump it to the front of the line.

Then, we moved. And life was a bit crazy there for a few minutes. But, finally, once I got all my books unpacked and was feeling more settled, I knew it was time for this Pulitzer Prize winner. How I resisted a book that not only won such a prestigious award but also had two of my favorite actresses on the cover (Streep & Kidman) for so long, I will never know. 

Michael Cunningham's novel explores a day in the life of three women: Virginia Woolf, who is beginning work on her famous novel Mrs. Dalloway; Laura Brown, a post-WWII housewife feeling trapped by her suburban life; and Clarissa Vaughn, a turn-of-the-century lesbian who is throwing a party for an AIDS-striken, award-winning poet friend. 

At first glance, these stories have nothing to do with each other. However, Cunningham weaves them together in perhaps the most masterful work of connecting separate stories I have ever seen. So many authors who attempt this feat end up either with stories that are really almost entirely disconnected, hanging only by one thin thread of relativity, or they overemphasize their connections to the point of infantilizing the reader's ability to recognize reciprocity among characters. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gorgeous - Paul Rudnick

I really do not know where to start with this book. My feelings about it are so conflicted.

The side of me that is reading the 100 Best Novels list and loves deep character exploration knows this book is crap. It's shallow and pure almost pure fluff.

The side of me that picked up a childhood favorite about princesses and dragons yesterday and that devours celebrity news and that deep down still dreams like a six year old girl completely loved it. 

One of the best ways for me to categorize this book for you is to point out that the quote on the cover praising the book is from Meg Cabot. She wrote The Princess Diaries series. You know, the one that spawned the movie sensation starring Anne Hathaway back when we were all impressionable pre-teens. Or, was it just a sensation at my house? My sister and her best friend saw that movie in theatres 11 times. 11. That is not a joke. Anyway, all that to say, when I saw Meg Cabot praising Gorgeous, it made sense to me. She and Paul Rudnick are authors have contributed to the same genre: ugly girls who have something miraculous happen to them, making them beautiful, but ultimately realize inner beauty is best.

We've all seen one hundred movies with this basic plotline. Ugly girl gets makeover, achieves popularity and accomplishments she never could have as ugly duckling, meets man, goes through some trial, realizes she was good enough before the makeover, man loves her for who she is, regardless of appearance. It's pretty standard.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Monday: The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Thus far, The Magnificent Ambersons is one of my favorite books that I have discovered through the Modern Library list. The Pulitzer winner captures the story of the Amberson family downfall, centered around the spoiled heir George Amberson Minafer. 

I did a post about the original Orson Welles adaptation about this time last year. Actually, in a weird and unintentional turn of events, I reviewed that movie one year again tomorrow. Total coincidence and probably of no interest to anyone except me. Haha.  

This TV movie adaptation from 2002 was based on the original screenplay Welles had wanted to use but was cut down by the studio. All of my complaints with the original were assuaged by this rendition. The story is told pretty much in full and captures the essence of the book much better.

From the very first scene, the casting is impeccable. Each part lead seems perfectly cast with semi-recognizable faces. Best of all, Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays George. He captures the attitude of the lead character so well. Of course, the same can be said for all of the leads. Their acting, along with this script, explores the relationships so much more effectively than Welles' original work. In this movie, the subtleties and complexities of each relationship were much more evident. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Eating - Jason Epstein

"I am a serviceable cook. Friends like what I serve them and come back for more. This gives me pleasure."

This line from Jason Epstein's memoir, Eating, hit precisely on the type of cook I consider myself to be. Yes, I love the creativity the kitchen offers and the way cooking relives my stress. But, if my end result is unsatisfactory to its consumers, I'm disappointed with myself. 

Kind of like how if, at the end of a book, I find myself not satiated by its content, I'm dissatisfied. Case in point: this one.

You know how I usually completely gush over food memoirs. I adore the things. Quality writing plus quality food - perhaps even recipes! - I'm nearly always hooked from the first chapter. This one, not so much.

There's nothing wrong with Epstein's writing. As witnessed by the quote below, it's lovely. His introduction is particularly nice, as he describes what it is that drew him into the combined world of publishing and food in the first place, what led him to write the book. 
"Cooking is like poetry, where one's unique voice is everything: words and their placement are essential ingredients, too, but the poet's own voice makes them sing, which is why when you paraphrase a poem you end up with nothing but words."
So, what then, led to my distaste for this book?

Monday, November 3, 2014

October 2014 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

October News

So, I'm partway into this month off from grad school and I can't seem to find that copious free time of which I was dreaming. There never is as much as you hope, is there? Work continues to be so busy and now there's talk of me staying on remotely a bit longer. I keep reminding myself that I'll reach a point and all of these things (work, grad school, etc.) will be done and I'll have all that time I want. Maybe that's true, and maybe we'll have bought a house by then and I'll be mired in one hundred other projects. Or, hopefully, I'll get another teaching job quickly after graduation and I won't have that much time to myself anyway. Who knows.

In spite of it all, I still managed to keep a steady reading pace this month. I'm a little slow moving right now on the 100 Best Novels list, but that's one of those things I tell myself I'll devote more time to once I don't have a job.