29 November 2010

Everything is Going to be Great

Earlier this year I read Click, which had a number of essays from young women about the moment they each realized their feminist ideas or what it is like to be a young feminist.  One of my favorite essays was from Rachel Shukert (fellow Midwesterner).  Well, one thing led to another and Rachel, who is awesome (!), offered me a copy of her new memoir Everything is Going to be Great.

See, see!!???!?! She signed it and there's a little flower drawing.  (As I said, totally cool and awesome surprise that I was going to have to add later when I unpacked the boxes.)

Everything is Going to be Great chronicles Rachel's opportunity to find herself and "see" Europe.  On arrival in Vienna as part of a performance group (it's an avant garde piece, and that's not an understatement), she finds that her passport hasn't been stamped allowing her to remain in the EU indefinitely.  So, after the play's run is finished she goes to stay with a friend in Amsterdam.  Because Europe will definitely be wonderful, and glamorous, and it will just make everything in her life fall into place.

And things spectacularly do not go according to plan.

Rachel and I are quite a bit alike in some ways - dark hair, dark eyes, parents who want you to be safe no matter what - but particularly in the way we can both invite the oddest things to happen.  Rachel undergoes some cringe-worthy situations: she starts dating an older Viennese man (and gets a surprise under the covers), she winds up at what turns out to be a very weird orgy while looking for an inexpensive dentist in Amsterdam, she works handing out fliers to convince people to attend low-brow comedy shows (including standing outside the Anne Frank house), she dates a guy in Amsterdam who, as it turns out, was stepping out on his girlfriend/fiancee (I've dated one of those losers).  Did I mention the play?  She has to wear a hat that looks like poop (as someone who does like theatre, I have to admit that the play made no sense to me).  Through all of this, Rachel maintains a wonderful sense of humor and optimism (even though it may not look like humor and optimism at the time).  She makes all of her side-steps and mistakes genuinely funny - there are hilarious asides, like the one where she invents a reason for why the Dutch really love Phil Collins.  There's even a cut-out "Rachel mask" so the reader, too, can have Rachel-like mis-adventures.

The book boils down to an all-too-human format: Rachel confronts her fears, her demons, her mistakes and learns from them so when her true European opportunity comes, she makes the most of the trip.  I was genuinely happy for her by the end of the book and that's not something that always happens for me when I read a memoir.  Everything is Going to be Great is an enjoyable, funny story about an aimless college graduate who finally realizes what she wants - and takes a roundabout way to get there (and I mean "aimless" in the nicest way possible).  Go.  Read.  Christmas is around the corner so you might think about adding this to a stocking or two.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the author.

28 November 2010

The Finkler Question

Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question was awarded the Man Booker Prize for 2010 (my money was on Emma Donoghue's Room, since that was the only shortlisted title I managed to read before the winner was announced).  I was going to read the winning book anyway but I got really interested when everyone said The Finkler Question was a "humourous" novel and it is rare when a humorous novel wins a major award.  I fired up the nook, downloaded, and started reading.

The Finkler Question is very comical at the beginning, if not funny "ha-ha" - the character of Julian Treslove is more like a caricature than a character.  He is morose (sort-of), a professional failure as an arts presenter at the BBC, tends to become hopelessly involved with women whose names begin with "J" and who leave him when they can't stand the moroseness anymore, and is obsessed with his friend, Sam Finkler, who is Jewish (also a pop culture philosopher and kind-of a jerk for most of the book).  In fact, Julian is so obsessed with Finkler and his Jewishness that he refers to anyone/anything that is Jewish as "Finklers"/"Finklerish", presumably because Sam Finkler is the first Jew he met.  Julian and Sam were roommates at school and one of their teachers was Libor Sevcik who has remained a good friend (incidentally, Libor is also Jewish).

The book opens with Julian getting mugged in front of a violin shop after having dinner with Libor and Sam, who are both recently widowed.  Julian then becomes obsessed with the idea that the mugger called him a "Jew" (it's unclear what the mugger actually said but, given Julian's obsession with Sam and "Finklers", there is a crazy sequence where Julian reasons through all the possibilities of what the mugger could have said, ending with "Jew"; everyone else thinks he's being irrational).  Many of Julian's scenes involve some moment of hilarity, usually with his line of reasoning, except that it seems socially awkward to laugh at them.  For instance, Julian thinks over his affair with Tyler, Sam's late wife, who, as a convert to Judaism, was more observant of religious practice than Sam; Julian thinks less about the fact that Tyler is a friend's wife, but more about the fact that she practices the Jewish faith.  Later, Julian quibbles over the act of circumcision with reasoning that seems farcical but, in reality, there are serious questions about the necessity of circumcision in the general population and whether it constitutes mutilation, diminishes sexual gratification, etc.  I wanted to laugh, because Julian sounded so silly, but it felt wrong to do so.

The Finkler Question surrounds the characters with politically-charged current events, particularly that of attitudes toward the state of Israel.  Sam joins a group of politically active Jews who oppose actions taken by the state of Israel; they eventually name themselves the ASHamed Jews, which is ridiculous-sounding (and then you realise that Sam only joined the group to keep his name out there as a pop culture philosopher).  A new museum of Jewish history in the UK is the target of anti-Semitic attitudes.  An old friend of Libor's asks for his help after her grandson is severely injured by a hate crime.  In between Julian's oddities there are serious issues to consider.

While I really enjoyed Jacobson's writing and the ideas he raised in the book, I felt the end was wanting.  It just petered out.  The strongest sections of the book occurred when Julian was wrestling with his obsession about Judaism and those who practice.  When the narrative moved away from that thread, the book wasn't nearly as interesting.  I really think this is because I, as the reader, and Julian are both in the same boat when it comes to the concept of Judaism: we are both outsiders looking in.  I know a little bit about Jewish religious observances but not a great deal about the whys and wheretofores of the religion.  While Julian and his goofy quibblings were funny, the larger questions of religion in The Finkler Question didn't strike me as laugh-out-loud.

19 November 2010


Vixen seemed like another run-of-the-mill, bland teen romance novel of the racier variety, with a 1920s Chicago society flapper setting overlaid, when I hit a glaring anachronism.

I'm not talking about why a Harvard graduate bothers with high school girls.

I'm talking about Lady Chatterley's Lover - a book not published until 1928 from a firm in Italy, then Knopf in a censored edition in the US in 1928. In one scene, Lorraine mentions her father's first edition of LCL but Vixen is set in 1922 (evidence: Gloria mentions the Volstead Act was passed in 1919 when she was 14, she is now 17 in the novel making the setting 1922). How does a book become valuable enough to collect 6 years before publication? Very, very glaring.

I have an advanced edition, so if this shows up in the final edition....in a book that already already strikes me as "unimpressive" it's an elementary mistake.  Consider, also, that this is a teen novel and it feels like an insult, like it's expected that a teen would recognize the title and overlook the anachronism through ignorance.

Definitely not a book I would recommend; too many "main" characters, too many secrets, too many backstories, not enough "meat".  Read F. Scott Fitzgerald instead.

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this novel as part of an advanced reading group.

17 November 2010

Read This Next (<--!!!!!!)

That's what I see next to every book on my shelf.  And in my NOOK. 

< --!!!!!!!  Read that book next!

And I have a lot of books.  It doesn't matter if I've read the book before.  I seem to want to read everything.  All at once (that's probably some sort of psychological condition right there; we can call it read-me-now syndrome).

Mediazombie talked me into reading Read This Next by making me read this part of the introduction:
In the pages of this book, you will learn about many other books, every one of which is cuningly designed to be read and give pleasure at the same time.  As you read them, your mind will be nourished and your spirit refreshed.  Your body will be flooded with endorphins and serotonin, causing your hair to become glossy and your skn clear and firm.  Friends will be impressed with the depth of your intellect.  Dates will fall in love with the glossiness of your hair. (We cannot rule out the possibility that dates will fall in love with the depth of your intellect, but don't hold your breath.) - p 13
Yup, I was hooked; I have great hair and I read tons so why not more reading for better hair? (joke)  I didn't really need another book to help me find more books to read - I tend to do a decent job all on my own - but I loved the authors' tone.  For example, when recommending The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek (a book I already have on my TBR thanks to Thursday Next):
[Svejk] sails cheerfully through the miseries of prison, asylums, and the front lines of World War I, while remaining the same incorrigible dog-stealing dunce of a genius he ever was.  The gallery of crooks, cowards, and villains who surround him are a pointedly unflattering mirror held up to the Czech society - or, really, to the silly, misbegotten human race. - p 216
Mittelmark and Newman give wittily biting summaries (like the above) and wonderfully good discussion questions for nearly 200 books.  Another approximately 300 books are mentioned as "read also" (I'm guessing on proportion, here) for 500 books "to read next."  Awesome.

The book has recommendations grouped losely by topic - love, memoir, politics, memoir, death, religion - and the recommendations are far reaching.  Classics, contemporary fiction, satire, both ends of the political spectrum, drama.  All are welcome.

This is a different kind of list so I hadn't read a large percentage of the books Mittelmark and Newman recommend - I just have to find the time to read several hundred new books!

14 November 2010

What I do when I'm not reading (or working)...

Reading has been hard as of late - whenever I sit down to read I fall alseep in about 2 seconds (the last several nights I've fallen asleep with the bedside lamp on, Pandora streaming through the Blu-Ray, my nook on my face, and the cats snuggled under my arm only to wake up when my alarm goes off and wonder what idiot left the TV and light on; I blame the cats for activating the "sleep" neuro-chemicals).  I do have two reviews to finish writing but I've been so busy with work and knitting I haven't had much time to write.

Speaking of knitting....

I finished the shawlette for my boss (shhhh.... she doesn't know that it's for her).  I have to get it blocked out - challenging because this is a curved piece so I don't have a straight edge to pin out first.  Edyie gave me some pointers so we'll see how it goes.

While I was in the yarn shop I was captured by yarn fumes.

Cashmere yarn fumes - they held me ransom until my debit card freed me.  Araucania Trauco Cashmere in a beautiful berry colorway.  It was on sale, not quite half off, and I can't wait to see what I can make from it.

Then I bought my Christmas present to myself because it also went on sale.  I've been salivating over D-SLR cameras for quite some time.  My little Canon point-and-shoot is nice to just take quick pictures/videos but it never quite satisfied for taking really nice shots; nothing came out looking quite like how I saw it.  I learned to take pictures using my Dad's 35mm camera with it's lenses and manual aperture/exposure settings so I wanted a more "professional" level camera.  I stopped in at Best Buy to see what early holiday deals they had and the Canon EOS Rebel XS/1000D I'd been looking at was ON SALE!  Merry Christmas!  I already tried it out on the shawlette and cashmere yarn, but I got the cats into the act....

and they weren't quite up to cooperating, choosing instead to come and "love" the camera lens (I felt like I was on Wild Kingdom with the animals ganging up on me).  They kept licking their noses when I clicked the shutter:

Dante finally let me take a nice profile picture of him. 

Isn't it nice?  No "lazar kitteh eyz" in sight.  All the pictures are wonderful and I just need to learn about all the bells and whistles on my new baby (I already figured out that if I fiddle with the "White Balance" I can take pictures that are blue - wicked!).  I plan on taking TONS of holiday pictures (this is also part of the plan, if I take the pictures then I don't have to be in any of them, hah).

09 November 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap!

Come one, come all, to the Book Blogger Holiday Swap!

It's like a great, big Secret Santa party - go to the Holiday Swap blog, fill in the Google Doc with the needed information, and wait for your giftee.  And then think about what fun things you'd like to surprise a fellow bookworm with for the holidays.....hee.

I love surprises!

07 November 2010

'Tis the Season: Already?


Exhibit #1:  Customer looking for a new book by Bruce Springsteen, of where there is none.  Customer huffs up to the desk some time later and slaps a book onto the counter, interrupting my conversation with another customer.  She wants to prove that I was lying.
Me: You asked me for Bruce Springsteen, ma'am, that book is by Rick Springfield.  If you had asked for Rick Springfield it would have made my job much easier.  If you'll excuse me, I am assisting this gentleman with his purchase.
Her:  Oh *little voice* sorry.
In a masterful twist, the customer had wanted to take the Rick Springfield book to the concert he was giving in Riverside so she could have it signed.  A friend of mine was at the meet-and-greet - Rick Springfield didn't sign a thing.  Karma's a bitch.

Exhibit #2:  Horrid child screaming in the aisle "I wanna PRINCESS BOOK!!!!!" 
Harried mother: "Santa doesn't bring presents for greedy children." 
Horrid child: "I don't care about Sanna, I wanna PRINCESS BOOK!!!!!" 
Hey lady, please take your child out; on the way, could I interest you in a lovely item called "Elf on the Shelf" - it will spy on your child and report to Santa, so we can make her neurotic as well as spoiled.

Exhibit #3:  Too many books that play some sort of Christmas song when you open them.  Add one child to start them all playing at the same time and watch the booksellers twitch.

And we still have students underfoot:
- a request for Owl Moon by Jane "Wollen" for a class project (how about Jane "YOLEN"?)
- I was asked for a "less hard" copy of A Wrinkle in Time....dude, CHILDREN IN GRADE SCHOOL are able to read that book, that's the target audience, you are IN COLLEGE (but I want to take that class if Madeline L'Engle is on the syllabus)

On the plus side, I got to spend an hour assisting a special ed teacher who works with disadvantaged teens; she bought lots of books and we had fun.

Surprises in my mailbox!

The mail carrier delivered two fun surprises this week.

On Friday a mostly-flat brown envelope arrived....

It's from Norton & Co (Twitter @NortonAnthology) - they sent some buttons out to those of us who tried to be the first to answer a trivia question.  I can't even remember what the prize for winning was and this is pretty darn cute.  I have it on my name tag at the store (and I do like footnotes).

On Saturday I had a large, puffy envelope from Minnesota - it was from Sharon (aka The Yarnista and @threeirishgirls) of Three Irish Girls!  Sharon makes beautiful custom, hand-dyed yarn in dazzling color combinations and I was recently lucky enough to win a skein of Sharon's McClellan Fingering (sock) yarn.  So pretty (Sharon surprised me by picking the colorway)! 


Sharon also included a Three Irish Girls tape measure (very handy), some very cute Susan Bates sock-shaped point protectors, and a lovely card.  Thank you, Sharon! 

Did I mention the name of the colorway?  Oh, I didn't?  Well, it's called "Brown Eyed Girl"...appropriate, yes?

Thanks again, Sharon, I love it!!!!