I haven’t posted in a while, and it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I’ve been busy, and June is only going to get busier. In the meantime, I’m still reading here and there, and thought I’d share a few things…
#1. “The Dark Tower,” by Stephen King. I read it, and I liked it. I’m not head over heels in love with it and desperately compelled to continue reading the other books, but I’m curious to see where King takes this series – and if he can manage to finish it in a cool way (my main complaint with him is his utter failure to end things well)
#2. The Portable Walt Whitman. I took this charming 1960s paperback volume with me on a recent camping trip to Michigan and read a little of it. Admittedly, being that I was camping I found it hard to read anything, so Whitman and I didn’t last long. The volume is a lovely collection of his works, though, and it’ll live on my shelf probably forever as I feel the need to keep him around for those times I need “Song of Myself.” Being not a poetry fan, this is a big compliment to Mr. Whitman.
#3. Lonely Planet’s “New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania” guidebook. The husband and the child and I are heading off on a road trip in just a few days to explore this region, and so this book has been taking up most of my reading time. I always appreciate the detail and humor of the Lonely Planet guides, and this one is no exception. Obviously, NYC gets a huge amount of play in the book, but the rest of the state of New York is spotlighted very well too. There’s loads of information that I’m learning, and this one’ll be in my suitcase when we take off on our vacation shortly.
So there you have it! Happy Reading, friends!
I might be a BookNerd, but I’ll confess right here and now that while I recognize “The Great Gatsby” as a deserved and beloved American classic, a portrait of the jazz age and a stellar work by it’s legendary author, I don’t love the book. I know Jay and Nick and Daisy and Jordan and what happens to them, but I’ve read it and I don’t honestly feel any desire to re-read it. (In truth, I find the real-life story of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, to be far more interesting.)
That said, I really like Baz Luhrmann as a filmmaker. His “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” are both stunning examples of what can be done in the cinematic format. I’m even forgiving him that terrible “Australia” movie that was like fourteen movies in one and dragged on and on and on. No one’s perfect all the time. (Though I will say that the only movie I’ve ever loved Nicole Kidman in was “Australia” – She was wonderful.)
So, on Mother’s Day, I saw Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.”
And I really liked it.
If you’re expecting a line-by-line film adaptation of the book, you’ll probably wind up hating the movie. A bunch of things have changed – there’s a framing device added to explain how Nick tells the story, and the role of Jordan is significantly altered. Whatever. It’s a movie, and a movie of a book that some would even consider un-filmable, as much doesn’t happen and many character’s motivations are completely insular and hidden from the reader.
Movie-wise, “The Great Gatsby” is the glittery and opulent story of champagne and pretty, rich, unhappy people. It’s decorated with a great soundtrack that blends music from the actual era of the time with modern sounds courtesy of the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce, Lana Del Ray, Florence + The Machine. I’m going to buy the soundtrack ASAP. Baz Luhrmann keeps things dancing along like the party at Gatsby’s estate. There are some nice touches for the fans of the book and folks with knowledge of Fitzgerald’s life, too. And the casting is pretty darn perfect. It takes an epic movie star to play Jay Gatsby, and Leonardo DiCaprio shows up and kills it. He’s the best thing about the movie. Joel Edgerton is also flawless as unlikable Tom Buchanan. Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire are both quite servicable, if slightly bland, as Daisy and Nick. The role of Jordan Baker is played by a stunning newcomer named Elizabeth Debicki, who reminded me of Emily Blunt, and who does great things with her scenes.
Take the book and movie separately, and you’ll be fine. Both are the visions of their creator – Fitzgerald and Luhrmann – and both are worth your time.
PS – I’m probably going to have to watch the Robert Redford film version now, aren’t I?
I’m going to keep this short and simply say that, as someone with serious wanderlust, I enjoyed reading this book tremendously. Bryson is wonderfully candid about his adventures walking the lengthy and legendary Appalachian Trail, and the colorful characters and places he encounters along the way. It’s a fast read, and even if it loses some steam in the last chunk – when Bryson goes off the trail and starts just doing day hikes – it’s a wonderful read and I’m going to be keeping it around for years to come.
It made me want to get some good shoes and go walking.
PS – There’s a wonderful National Geographic documentary about the Appalachian Trail that makes for excellent bonus material.
Again, there are books I’m reading now (as a mother) that resonate differently with me than they would have pre-having my son. William Haywood Henderson’s “Augusta Locke” is one such novel. It’s the story of Augusta “Gussie” Locke, who leaves her family behind as a teenager and makes her way through Wyoming for the rest of her life, trying to get work, meeting people, sometimes dressing as a man, having a daughter of her own, and trying to find a place in the world while still remaining a wanderer.
Now, I don’t love this book. I probably won’t keep it on my shelf, because I know I’ll never re-read it. That said, it’s a well-written book, with prose that perfectly conveys it’s rural western setting and quickly defines characters. There were certain sections of it – such as a sequence where Gussie’s daughter earns the over-attention/obsession of a woman who lost her own son years ago – that are breathtaking, and terrifying to read as a Mom myself. Gussie is a perfectly imperfect heroine, and no one in the book is entirely likable – just like real life, right?
More than once, it brought to mind “The Grapes of Wrath,” which I totally mean as a compliment. Take that as you will – if you liked Steinbeck’s epic classic, “Augusta Locke” might be one you should read.
Sloane Crosley’s “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” reminds me of a couple of my recent reads – Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” and Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.” Granted, Ms. Crosley is not a TV star/Comedy writer, but like Ms. Kaling and Ms. Fey she writes with vibrant and hilarious honesty about her life experiences, and holds nothing back.
From her parents extreme phobia of open flames to a gathering of friends where Crosley makes a disastrous chocolate tart and discovers that someone has done their business on her bathroom floor (not even joking!!) every word is pure, candid, gold. Moving Day disasters, Volunteering efforts gone terribly wrong, and being a Jewish girl who attends a Christian summer camp are also special treats as they’re recalled in the voice of someone not afraid to show the less than perfect parts of herself.
Sloane Crosley rocks.
I laughed out loud.
I’m going to pass this book on to a friend who I think could use a good laugh right about now. Conveniently, I’ll be able to drop it off when I return the copy of Mindy Kaling’s book – which he loaned to me in the first place.
World Book Night America 2013 is next Tuesday. 25,000 volunteers will be heading out into 6,000 US towns and cities to hand out copies of wonderful books to people who are traditionally non-readers.
Both my husband and I participated last year, and we’re doing it again. Last year, we both picked “A Prayer for Owen Meany” to hand out, and had a great time perusing Lakeview and surprising people with free books.
This year, we chose different selections. He chose Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s “Good Omens,” and I chose Sandra Cisernos’ “The House on Mango Street.” While we’re excited to head out into the world next week, I’m actually still hoping I can give my books to a local women and children’s shelter – TBD!
Spread the love of reading. Change some lives. Meet some people.
World Book Night is awesome.
For those of us who suffer from serious cases of Wanderlust, “A Pig in Provence” should be required reading. Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir of her time as a Goat Cheese Artisan in Provence, and the experiences surrounding that time, is completely enthralling and completely makes you want to kick back with a glass of wine and imagine yourself in her shoes.
Much of the book consists of recollecting time spent with Provence locals, gathering to create and enjoy enormous and day-long meals. There’s discussion of Bouillabaisse, a traditional fish stew that has people coming to near blows over the correct methods of it’s preparation. The family scenes are also charming – as Brennan’s young daughter comes to experience the full spectrum of farm life – and all the life and death and beauty and nasty it entails.
Brennan is also a cookbook writer, so there’s a few recipes scattered throughout the book as well. I sort of desperately want to make her recipe for a Tomato Tart, but the Leg of Lamb and Vegetable Soup recipes are also mouth-watering and tempting.
I’m keeping this book forever. It’s like taking a beautifully organized quick little trip to France.
If you’ve ever felt like casting off your worldly responsibilities and going on a pilgrimage in these hectic and modern times, I’d suggest you grab yourself a copy of Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ “A Sense of Direction” right now. This marvelous memoir/travelogue puts you on the path of three of the world’s greatest pilgrimages, with a narrator whose voice is honest and candid and downright funny at times.
Lewis-Kraus was drifting. He bounced from San Francisco to Berlin, dealing with family drama (namely, his gay rabbi father’s new lifestyle) and swept up with the excess and ego of his artsy hipster friends.
So he and a friend decided to go on a pilgrimage – to the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Then he decided to do one solo – the Buddhist temples of Shikoku, Japan. And then, for his third and final act, he invited the family – to Ukraine and the tomb of a Hasadic legend.
This isn’t an old-fashioned story. These guys update their Facebook statuses and write down everything that happens, as many of us would do in this digital day and age.
Along the way, Lewis-Kraus learns a hundred lessons, many of which are small. Sometimes the company of an annoying stranger is better than walking hundreds of miles all alone, but sometimes being alone is wonderful. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone has quirks. Make sure you have great walking shoes if you’re going to cross hundreds of miles. He also learns lessons about changing your life, keeping secrets, and the importance of those you love.
“A Sense of Direction” is a wonderful book, and one that I encourage those with a case of wanderlust to get a hold of immediately.
“Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment” by Sandra Steingraber
In her epic book, “Living Downstream,” biologist and poet Sandra Steingraber picks up where Rachel Carson’s landmark book on environmental change caused by humans, “Silent Spring,” left off and further making the case that the things we greedily shove into our environment can have, and have had, negative effects on human life.
Steingraber has battled cancer since her twenties, and so have other members of her (adoptive) family from rural Illinois. Obviously, this wasn’t genetic, so this got her wondering, and so she’s delved into the higher rates of cancer in industrial areas, and areas where the most chemicals and other toxins are created and released – and the spike in this correlation since World War Two. (Many chemicals were developed for warfare during WW2, then were repurposed as pesticides afterward. All the data shows the surge in cancers and other diseases in humans and animals after that time. Charming, huh?)
Steingraber writes of her own personal battles with cancer, as well as the battles of many MANY others, beautifully. She points out hard truths and asks tough questions.
“As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I am grateful that my father did not die in a typhus epidemic in Naples. But as a survivor of cancer, as a native of Tazewell County, and as a member of the most poisoned generation to come of adult age, I am sorry that cooler heads did not prevail in the calm prosperity of peacetime, when careful consideration and a longer view on public health were once again permissible and necessary. I am sorry that no one asked, ‘Is this the industrial path we want to continue along? Is this the most reasonable way to rid our dogs of fleas and our trees of gypsy moths? Is this the safest material for a baby’s pacifier or for a tub of margarine?’ Or that those who did ask such questions were not heard.”
“Living Downstream” is a hard book to read, despite the fact that it’s well written, compelling and actually quite lovely. It’s a book that will make you think twice about going outside, and will definitely open your eyes to the dangers in the world around us — and how, despite scientific evidence, the companies and governments with the money are going to do whatever they want unless someone stops them…
I’m not really a Sci-Fi kinda girl, but I wound up with a copy of M.M. Buckner’s “The Gravity Pilot” while at a convention. It was handed to me by someone at a booth sponsored by The Sci-Fi Project, who try and get Sci-Fi into the hands of people who don’t typically read this genre. Basically, they hand out free books. So I took the book, and it sat on my shelf, and now that I’m reading through all the books I’ve never read, I picked it up.
Dude, this is a good book.
Less “Sci-Fi” than a superbly written story about people who happen to work in high-tech environments in a futuristic version of Earth, “The Gravity Pilot” tells the story of brilliant skydiver Orr, who signs a sponsorship deal to make the first skydive from the stratosphere. At the same time as this amazing fortune falls into his hands, his girlfriend leaves him and moves away to start a new life and a new job. Basically, while Orr tries to focus on his new celebrity and training, his new boss schemes to make Orr a huge star and tries to make him fall in love with her. Also, she tries to keep him away from the news that his beloved girlfriend has fallen into a seedy underground world of internet addiction. A mysterious reporter enters the story, tells Orr the news, and the action begins.
It’s an exciting read, and a fast one. I liked it — and I didn’t expect to!