Monthly Archives: April 2011
During a trip home to Australia to visit her family, her mother tried desperately to feed her, and her brother broke down in tears and told her she was going to die. In de Rossi’s mind, she was doing her job – as an actress/model, she should fit into any dress, no matter how small the size the designers handed her.
“Unbearable Lightness” is de Rossi’s completely honest memoir of her lifetime spent battling anorexia. In the book, plucky and ambitious Australian-born Amanda Rogers becomes Portia de Rossi, star of the hit TV show “Ally McBeal.” In order to accomplish this goal, become successful, and maintain her success, she becomes fixated on food in a super unhealthy way. de Rossi’s quest for perfection drives to her unbelievable lengths – for example, eating 1/2 a packet of oatmeal for an entire day. At one point, she chews several sticks of 5 calorie gum on a quest for a quick sugar kick, and then, obsessed with burning off the calories the gum has brought into her system, winds up not only leaving her car door wide open in the parking lot of her building, but also forgetting that her tiny dog is locked outside in the cold.
The sad part is, other than her family and friends, everyone surrounding her in the showbiz world just kept telling her how great and thin she looked. Says something pathetic and sad about our media’s fascination with looks, doesn’t it?
All of this is recalled in alarming detail – down to the calorie, in many cases. This is a lady telling her true story.
In an epilogue, de Rossi admits that while she’s better than she used to be, she’s still not – and will likely never be – completely cured. As someone in the public eye, the cameras will always be on her and her self-esteem issues will always be there. At least for the time being, though, she’s in a happy relationship (and continuing to work on great projects like the beloved “Arrested Development”) and working on it.
The road to recovery is a long one. “Unbearable Lightness” is an unflinching look at a terrible illness and how one successful woman struggled with it. Hopefully, this book can help others dealing with the same kind of issues. Eating disorders are prevalent in this society, and if de Rossi’s being open can help a couple people, it’s a blessing.
Isn’t it adorable?
You wouldn’t think that “Artichoke Tales” would be a family saga about a civil war. Right?
Well, you’d be wrong. Much like I was.
Author/Artist Megan Kelso beautifully tells a dark story through beautiful and whimsical drawings.
For starters, her characters have artichoke heads. The reason why is never explained. However, I was reminded of something I once heard – that you can get away with things more often when things are cute or funny. It’s why shows like “South Park” can get away with saying the things they say. I mean, it’s animation. Whats the harm?
Artichoke heads or not, “Artichoke Tales” is a great read. The story focuses on three generations of women of the Quicksand family – Grandmother Charlotte, Mother Ramona and granddaughter Brigitte’s are all in the same business of running an apothecary where they turn plants and other natural elements into medicines. The women’s stories come in and out as their world lives through a civil war not unlike the U.S. Civil War (though presided over by a Queen) and they grow up and fall in love and learn about themselves. War leaves scars, and these last for generations sometimes.
If I had a squabble with the book, it’s that since the characters are only line drawings, sometimes they’re hard to tell apart – especially when we’re in flashbacks to when all three women are young, and the resemblance is very close. Fortunately, there’s a family tree with pictures in the front cover of the book which serves as a helpful reference.
More like an epic saga than what a graphic novel is commonly assumed to be, this book is well worth a read and worth all the acclaim it’s received.
Burden, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, grew up in a ridiculously rich manner. Her society-clad Grandparents are cold people who care more about dinner parties than people, and her Mother is a sort of gorgeous monster who cares more about tanning than her kids. (Her Mother also frequently forgets to wear clothes when Wendy’s friends are around.) Burden and her siblings are essentially raised by household staff. Obsessed with Charles Addams (perhaps/probably as result of her father’s suicide), Burden tries to turn herself into Wednesday Addams, talking and thinking non-stop about death and autopsies, and threatening at one point to cook her Hamster on the stove.
As she grows up, it grows weirder all around her. If I say more, it’ll spoil the sheer craziness of it all. So I won’t.
Burden writes about her life with absolutely no sentimentality, but with a wicked sense of humor. I’m sure the way she grew up had to leave scars, but instead of burying herself in her past, she’s exposing it – warts and all – and the effect is astounding. Fiction writers would probably give appendages for a story like this, but in Burden’s hands it’s not glossed-over or glorified. It’s just her life, dude.
This is a book you have to read. It’s bizarre, and honest, and most of all – true. Which may be the most bizarre thing of all.
How’s that for a recommendation?
Nice guy Richard Mayhew finds himself sucked into London’s literal underworld when he rescues a woman bleeding on the sidewalk. Next thing he knows, he’s being pursued by two evil dudes, and following the bleeding woman (Door) and her companions (a sleazy Marquis and a ferocious female bodyguard) though the tubes and trails of London Below as they hunt for the secret behind Door’s murdered family. Along the way, they encounter floating markets, people who speak to rats, an angel, and a group of underworld friars. There are also doors you can’t see, and darkness that envelopes people so they never re-appear. Oh, and there’s also a beast that must be destroyed.
Neil Gaiman crafts stories like no other writer, and “Neverwhere” is among his masterworks – though with a body of work that contains “Coraline,” “The Sandman,” “Good Omens,” and “American Gods,” who’s to say what the masterpiece really is? “Neverwhere” can be read either as just a great fantasy story, or as a social commentary on “the people who fall through the cracks” of society – namely, the homeless. Richard is a good enough person to look down and see the bleeding Door on the ground, where his fiancee steps right over her without even noticing. The residents of London Below literally live below the city, camping in abandoned tube stations and invading places (like Big Ben) for their annual market. They go unseen and unheard by the residents of London Above when they do venture into the upper world.
The action is swift, the characters are so vivid they almost leap from the pages, and the story has enough twists and turns to out-mystery any episode of “Law and Order.”
“Neverwhere” is the Spring 2011 “One Book, One Chicago” selection for a reason – everyone should read it.
One of my favorite Chicago things is the free, weekly, Chicago Reader. This weekly paper serves as basically a complete guide to whats happening around town, as well as usually offering well-written (if sometimes a little eye-rolling in their pretension) articles about important things happening in the Windy City.
The Reader’s Spring 2011 Books Issue came out last week, and as expected it’s got plenty of items of interest for Book Nerds. The issue kicks off with five Chicago novelists writing about books that have inspired them, and then proceeds into a dissection of six new books coming out over the next few months and local events happening focused on the book. Several I’m already looking forward to are included – such as Wendy McClure’s “The Wilder Life,” which I believe is already out. (The review of “County: Life, Death, and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital” by David A. Ansell makes me want to read it immediately, too.)
The book theme continues lightly through the paper’s sections – Food & Drink spotlights five books about food that might appeal to local foodies, while Movies showcases a book about the Reader’s first staff film critic, Dave Kehr. (Music and Theatre don’t offer up anything particularly book-y, but I maintain that theatre is literature and music is poetry, so…)
Chicago Bookies, the paper should still be available on street corners and cafes for a few more days if you want to grab a copy. Alternately, the Reader is great at having their content available online, so it can be looked up there as well.
Just giving a plug to a paper I support and an issue I look forward to.
Lady Susan is a recent widow trying desperately to gain a husband for both herself and her daughter, Frederica. Strikingly attractive, Lady Susan is downright mean to her young daughter, calling her “stupid” and a barrage of other names. For Frederica’s part, she’s a sweet and pretty enough girl who forms an attachment to a young man named Reginald De Courcy, who happens to be the very man Lady Susan has set her sights on. Of course, this leads to complications and lies.
Told entirely through letters between Lady Susan and her acquaintences, “Lady Susan” absolutely shows the beginnings of Jane Austen’s unique gift and way of looking at her regency-era life of manners and parlours. It’s not a great work, but it’s full of humor and potential.
For serious fans of Ms. Austen who are interested in everything their hero ever wrote, this is definitely one to check out. For Austen newbies, I’d suggest you look elsewhere – perhaps at the eternally classic “Pride and Prejudice.” There’s a reason certain books are recognized widely and others aren’t.
On a side note, the Melville House Publishing group has put out a series called “The Art of the Novella,” which attempts to preserve and shine light on shorter, often forgotten works such as “Lady Jane.” Among the other authors who have works preserved in this series are Arthur Conan Doyle, Leo Tolstoy, and Kate Chopin. I’m all for book preservation, so I applaud Melville House loudly.
All in all, leave “Lady Susan” for the Austen nerds. Just my two cents.
Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel, “Their Eyes were Watching God” is now regarded as a masterwork, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best English-Language novels from 1923-2005.
It wasn’t always so admired by the world. Noted African-American writer Richard Wright (among others) slammed the book upon it’s release, and so “Their Eyes..” remained a semi-underground/cult book for a number of years.
In the 70s, Alice Walker (of “The Color Purple” fame) brought it back to the limelight with an article she wrote for Ms. Magazine, and the Zora Neale Hurston renaissance had begun.
“Their Eyes..” is an astonishing book. Following the story of light-skinned African-American woman Janie Crawford, it crosses decades and focuses light not on the plight of the African-American people she encounters as much as just the people. This isn’t an overly political novel, but it’s a really well-crafted one. It’s a story of a woman who knows marriage is supposed to involve love, and refusing to fit in the loveless boxes the world seems to demand she squeeze into.
Jane, in her forties, looks back on her life so far. Originally married to an older man she didn’t care for – Logan Killicks – she leaves him after beginning a relationship with another man, Jody Starks. Together, Janie and Jody move to another town and Jody starts a store and becomes mayor. Janie spends years as a trophy wife for Jody, until he dies. Suddenly financially set, Janie begins a relationship with a gambler named Tea Cake, and the two move once again. Finally, Janie is in real love with a man. In a tragic part of the novel, a hurricane hits the town they live in, and Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog. Against a doctors advice, Janie keeps him at home to care for him. One night, Tea Cake goes crazy and tries to bite Janie, and she shoots him in self-defense. Acquited at the murder trial, she returns back to her original hometown – and becomes the subject of gossip.
It’s not a happy ending, but it’s a realistic one.
Everything about this book shines. Janie is understandable and likable, and her husbands are never painted one-dimensionally. The dialogue reads like poetry, and by the tragic end of Tea Cake the reader is so caught up that it feels almost like you’re there at the moment of the shooting.
“Their Eyes..” was made into a film, produced by Oprah and starring Halle Berry as Janie. I haven’t seen it, but I’m curious now, and will have to check it out.
In Renee Lott’s graphic novel, “Festering Romance,” this theory is turned on it’s head. Moody college student Janet literally lives with a ghost. Paul, the ghost, is a friend from her childhood who drowned one day while the two were swimming in a storm. Now, Janet lives in an apartment that she shares with Colombo-loving Paul, the best undead friend a girl could have.
Enter Derek. A pushy friend of Janet and Derek’s sets them up on a blind date, and though they clash, there’s an attraction. Things go semi-well until Janet visits Derek’s apartment and discovers he has a ghost of his own – named Carol. Surprised, Janet leaves without mentioning her own ghost. So, of course when Derek discovers Paul, he flips out. Janet and Derek stop speaking, go on about their lives unhappily, and each have to come to terms with letting go of their ghosts in order to move on with their lives.
Renee Lotts has a really cool visual style, which perfectly captures the moodiness of leading lady Janet in it’s boldness and simplicity. I liked looking at this novel more than I did reading it, as the emo hero and heroine not being able to get themselves together and grow up story quickly grew to grate on my nerves. (At some point, someone needs to give.) Janet and Derek are stubborn, immature people, and it isn’t until the last couple pages that you begin to think they might actually have a chance. Juxtaposed against them, ghost-dude Paul is the only likable character in the story (Derek’s ghost, Carol, is a pill too) – and you begin to think the story could have been more interesting if the Paul was the alive one. A sweet kid with moody ghosts hanging around? There’s comedy in that, I’m sure.
That said, this is the debut graphic novel from Renee Lotts, and there’s definitely potential there.
If this talented artist had a better story to wrap her artistic sensibilities around, she might be unstoppable.
I picked up Jacqueline Susann’s “Once Is Not Enough,” thinking it was going to be great, but would likely pale in comparison to her mega-blockbuster (and one of my all-time favorite books) “Valley of the Dolls.”
I was partially right.
“Valley of the Dolls” is a better book – but “Once Is Not Enough” certainly raises the stakes. This book has lesbians, show business, movie stars, playboys, drugs, a twisted doctor, orgies, a heroine with a serious Daddy complex, and the mass rape of nuns.
Yes, you read that last part correctly. Mass rape of nuns.
How to even sum this book up – January Wayne is the appallingly gorgeous daughter of one-time Hollywood mogul Mike Wayne. Mike’s fallen on a string of bad luck, so he’s married an insanely rich societywoman named Dee. Dee has a handsome bachelor nephew named David who everyone thinks January would be great with – but January is obsessed with her father to the point where no other man holds her interest. David, however, is secretly involved with an aging screen star named Karla. Ready for a twist only the insane Ms. Susann could pull off? Dee is involved with Karla too! January begins working for a magazine, and winds up interviewing a famous writer named Tom Colt. Tom is her father’s age, and reminds January of Mike so much that she falls in love with him, but he’s married and holds her at arms length. Twists and turns and people intertwining lead to January turning to drugs. (Not “dolls” this time around, though the term does get used. Here, they’re “vitamin shots.”)
For those who know their “Valley of the Dolls,” I hope it will delight you to hear that January’s big climactic scene takes place while she’s strung out on drugs and rolling around on a beach. No joke.
This book is salacious and scandalous and all the things I expected it to be. It was also hella fun to read, so there.
“Valley of the Dolls” remains one of the best pure literary delights I know of, and “Once is Not Enough” comes close to it’s level of sheer camp. If forced to name one reason this book doesn’t beat my beloved VOTD, I’d say it’s the characters. January (clearly intended to be this books version of Anne from VOTD) is rather vapid and boring, and the interesting stuff seems to happen all around her without her ever becoming overly interesting herself. Though many of the secondary characters are interesting, there’s no Neely O’Hara, Jennifer North, Helen Lawson, or Miriam Polar to keep the drama ramped up.
Sometimes I like my novels full of backstage stories and melodrama, and (for my money, no one does it better than Jacqueline Susann.)
P.S. – “Once is Not Enough” was totally made into a movie. Which I now have to see. The end.
“All Charlotte had to do was not make a noise. It occurred to her that this had always been the case. At the parsonage, at Cowan Bridge, at Roe Head, at Stonegappe, at the Pensionnat Heger: hush. Hush. It occurred to her that perhaps the time had come to make a noise.”
Since I can remember, I’ve been a Bronte nerd. Even more than my Jane Austen nerdiness is my appreciation and adoration of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte. It began when I first read “Jane Eyre,” and has lasted through years and my readings of most of the sisters other works.
Of course Jude Morgan’s “Charlotte & Emily” caught my eye. And of course I read it in a flash, staying up late to complete the book because I simply couldn’t put it down.
Rather than doing another biography of the trio, Morgan chose to take the events of their lives and novelize them. This method works effectively, as the facts of the sisters lives are pretty well-known to those who would likely find a novel like this interesting. For those who aren’t familiar with them, this could be an excellent gateway.
Kicking off with the death of their mother, “Charlotte & Emily” follows the five Bronte sisters and one brother as they become three sisters and a brother (the two eldest sisters died young), go through schooling, take jobs as teachers and governesses. The Bronte brother, Branwell, is also showcased as he drifts from city to job to another. Finally, the trio of sisters reach their ultimate triumph as writers of works that set literary circles buzzing.
If you’re aware of the lives of the sisters, you know that none of them lived to old age and only Charlotte ever got married. The book ends after the sisters have become acclaimed writers, and right after Charlotte (the last surviving Bronte) has gotten married. It’s a high point to close on.
Morgan packs a lot into these pages – the lives of four main characters crossing years and countries. The writing is great and the characters (as they’re developed in fiction form) are interesting. Charlotte is obviously our main hero, but Emily’s moodiness and unique spirit are riveting reading. She may have only written one novel – but hey, it was “Wuthering Heights.” Show some respect.
FYI – Though the title is “Charlotte and Emily,” Anne gets more than her fair share of play here. I’m not sure why it’s not called “Charlotte and Emily and Anne,” but what do I know?