Thursday, April 4, 2013

This Forrest Ain't Sweet Like Chocolate

I guess Forrest Gump was right-- you really never do know what you're going to get...

Tom Hanks seems like a pretty cool dude.  So, when I needed to choose a new book, I figured I'd go with a classic Tom Hanks character.  The film Forrest Gump was so fantastic, I couldn't even begin to imagine how great the book would be!

Well, it turns out that Tom Hanks's Forrest is a much kinder and better person than the author intended Forrest Gump to actually be.  The original Forrest swears like a trucker, he's vulgar, he's uncouth, and he's not necessarily a nice guy.  He is self-centered and kind of a pig. What a disappointment.

Winston Groom's concept was interesting enough.  The book is written the way Forrest would speak.  Words are misspelled, misused, and misunderstood.  Forrest wants to start a "srimp" company, for example.  It's clever and really brings you in to Forrest's life.  And, like in the movie, Forrest did play football and he did love Jenny Curran.  But, most of the book is very different from the film, and not in a good way.  Forrest still bumbles from place to place, but he now does so with a Chimpanzee named Sue.  He's arrested 3 or 4 times.  He becomes a professional wrestler.  He meets Nixon who freaks out when he thinks that Forrest is calling him a liar.

There were two things that bothered me about this book.  First, as I said, Forrest isn't a good guy.  It was rather hard to root for him to succeed because he's just not likable.  Because the book is Forrest's story, you  become immersed in the story right away.  But, rather than hoping Forrest will win Jenny's heart, I found myself saying "Jenny, you can do better!"  That's not what Forrest Gump is supposed to be about!  You're supposed to cheer on Forrest, to tell him "Run, Forrest, RUN!" Instead, I was cheering for the bully to give him a pounding.

The other thing that bothered me was the implausibility of the story.  Ok, I get it, the movie was fairly implausible.  But, somehow, it worked.  In the book, the facts just didn't add up.  Forrest is sent to space with Sue because he was arrested and NASA wants to experiment on him.  They crash land in a cannibal colony where they live for four years.  Forrest is later put on a movie set in Hollywood where he ends up accidentally ripping Raquel Welch's dress off and he, Raquel, and Sue end up on the LA Freeway together.  I mean, REALLY?  It's just too unrealistic and the events don't flow.  Somehow, I always felt the movie flowed.

So, what it comes down to is this: for once, I'm instructing you to Skip the Book, Watch the Movie Instead.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

SEW Good!

I haven't posted an entry to this blog in almost two years!  But, I recently received a comment that someone had found it on StumbleUpon and it made me decide to start it back up again.  Though I've not been writing about books, I've sure been reading them!

In the last two years, my favorite book has absolutely been The Time In Between, by Maria Duenas.  I've read this book twice in the past year, and given copies to my mother and husband.

It's such an interesting story and a fascinating read.  The story is that of a young woman, Sira, who grew up as a seamstress.  As her life takes on new twists and turns, she continues to sew for interesting people at a pivotal time in history.

Sounds pretty basic, right?  Oh, trust me, this story is the exact opposite of basic!  Even on my second reading, I found myself staying up late at night because I had to know what happened next (even though I already knew!)  Sira, a Madrid native, traverses the world of Morocco in the 1920s, she interacts with powerful people in the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War, and she immerses herself in a world of mystery as the Franco dictatorship takes control.  Her life is fascinating and exciting and I lived very much vicariously through her on every page.  (And, no, not JUST because I can hardly sew a button...)

It's hard for me to write this post because I love this story SO much that I want to talk about every bit of it.  I want to share with you how confused Sira and I were when she awoke in the hospital.  I want to describe the clicking of the typewriter keys I heard as she browsed in the store that would change her life.  I want to shake out the smoke from my clothes after Sira goes to visit the Commissioner in the police station.

Duenas is an exceptional writer and storyteller and I don't want to give away any of her story.  So, instead, I'll just beg you to read it yourself and then email me so we can discuss!  It is just SEW good!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What NOT to Read

When I got my Kindle, I immediately downloaded a bunch of books I'd been dying to read.  After a while, though, my "need to read" list ended; I've become adept at sifting through the list of titles and finding some real literary gems.  Unfortunately, not every book has been fantastic.  Some, in fact, were downright awful. Here's a list of what you should NOT read:

Just Kids, Patti Smith: I didn't know much about about Patti Smith or Robert Mapelthorpe, but I heard an interview with Smith on NPR and I thought their relationship sounded interesting.  He was a gay artist/photographer and she a straight poet/singer and they were together for years.  I thought it would be a unique look into New York in the 70s and 80s, as well as a peek into the lives of some well-known artists.
In reality, it was a dull book about dull people.  Smith never explained how she got into singing.
She just mentions in passing that, one day, she decided to start a band.  She never talks about
her feelings when she discovers that Mapelthorpe is sleeping with men for money while still dating
her.  She never goes through her process when she realizes that he's gay.  Instead, the book
glosses over everything important, like a diary you're afraid your parents might read.  I wanted an
intimate portrait and got nothing more than what I could have read on Wikipedia.  Don't waste
your time.

Broken, Daniel Clay: The only word I can think of to describe this book is Creepy.  This novel was billed as a story based on To Kill A Mockingbird.  Like many, Harper Lee's classic is one of my favorite books, so I was interesting in this British re-telling.  I wondered, what would the modern version of this story look like?  Would Scout's innocence be as refreshing, or would she seem naive in today's culture? Would the story have the same heart when retold by a man?  
What a disappointment.  Clay didn't base his story on To Kill a Mockingbird as much as he just 
stole character details from Lee. Instead of Scout, the main character is Skunk.  Jem is Jed.  Dill is 
Dillon.  To me, that's not creativity, that's just pure laziness.  The story opens with Skunk in a 
coma, and somehow her neighbor, whom they call Broken, is involved.  He's broken because he 
was severely beaten by another neighbor an becomes mentally ill.  In fact, he starves Dillon to 
death.  It was such an awful story, I couldn't finish the book.  It was just creepy.  Don't read this book!

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee: Coetzee has won the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature, so I thought I was in good hands with his novel.  I probably should've known the book would be weird when the cover bragged that the book is now a film starring John Malkovich.  Really, has he ever starred in any role that didn't require him to be a dirtbag?  
In this book, the protagonist is a twice-divorced professor in South Africa who is fired after having 
an affair with a student.  He leaves town to go live with his lesbian daughter on her farm in a 
dangerous part of the country.  What ensues, misery, rape, adultery, is not entertaining.  I          understand that not all novels are written to make us feel better about life.  I see the benefit of           educating us about the world's problems through well-told stories.  That said, I think there are           better mechanisms for the story than the one Coetzee used.  His characters aren't likable.  His           story doesn't follow an understandable pattern.  Rather than open my eyes to the injustices of the           world, Coetzee made me sympathize with the enemy.  Most disappointingly, the book ends on           such a middle note that, while I was thrilled it was over, I was left completely unsatisfied.  There was no real conclusion, except my own: this book was a waste of my time.   

I'll be the first to state that not every book is for every person (somehow, I can't see Fa enjoying Bossypants, for example.)  But, these books went a step beyond that.  These books held no redeeming value.  There was no substance to Smith's bland memoir, no class to Clay's knock-off novel, and no soul in Coetzee's sad story.  In our busy lives, reading is such a luxury; to be truly entertained, I recommend against these books.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Books for the Beach

It's rainy and mid-60s today in Boston.  Perfect weather to think about what to read on that beach vacation coming up!!  Here's a list of my top five recommendations for your next beach vacation!!

  • Bossypants, Tina Fey-- This isn't just another silly memoir.  This book gives us fabulous insight into a strong, caring, and incredibly funny woman.  I laughed out loud so many times that the dogs started barking at me!  :)

  • Heads You Lose, Lisa Lutz and David Hayward-- Lisa Lutz is one of my favorite authors (she wrote the Spellman Files) and here she collaborated with an ex-boyfriend to create a strange and unique experience for her readers.  She and Hayward alternated chapters in this comical murder mystery and they left in their notes to each other at the end of each chapter.  Truly an entertaining read!!

  • The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly-- This was a rather poorly written book, but I'm recommending it anyway.  The story is interesting and the character is developed enough to allow us to actually develop an opinion about him.  If you can get past sentences like "he looked down the hallway and she was standing at the end of the hallway,"  then I actually think you'll find it a pretty good read.

  • Slammerkin and The Sealed Letter, Emma Donoghue-- Donoghue wrote Room, which got a lot of attention earlier this year for it's unique premise.  But, long before she ripped the premise of that novel from the Jaycee Dugard case, Donoghue was using headlines as inspiration.  Both Slammerkin and The Sealed Letter are novels based on newspaper articles written in the 1860s in London.  Personally, I've never found that genre overly interesting (Jane Austen aside, of course) but Donoghue's books are really good!!  Unique, intense, gripping, and entertaining, I had a hard time putting either one down.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ooh, la la-- The Paris Wife

Paula McLain's novel, The Paris Wife, doesn't feel like a novel.  In fact, it feels more like a memoir, and, it almost is.    From the first page, we're invited into a world so full of details that it doesn't seem possible that McLain wasn't seated next to her characters on the beach in France.  Hers is an intimate and vivid portrayal of a family whose patriarch made my life a living hell for a month in high school.

I'm referring, of course, to Ernest Hemingway, whose novel The Old Man and the Sea was the bane of my existence for a month in 10th grade.  Thankfully, McLain's novel takes place decades before Hemingway ever began to think about that awful book. The Paris Wife isn't even Hemingway's story, it's his wife's.  Hadley Richardson was the second woman Hemingway ever loved and the first he married.  Unfortunately, she wasn't the last.  But, their relationship was so pure and beautiful that it remains relevant even today.  In researching whether the book had much basis in truth (which it does,) I came across a quote attributed to Hemingway.  He once said that he wished he'd died before he ever fell out of love with Hadley.  While that's sad on so many levels, to me it's also wonderfully romantic.  It suggests that theirs was a love that made him feel like he had lived his entire live in the short time they were together.  Theirs was a relationship that made him so happy that nothing else compared.  There's something heartbreaking and wonderful about that concept.

The book is written in Hadley's voice.  It is she who tells us about Hemingway's struggles to become a famous writer, about the demons he battled, and the life they led together.  They met and married shortly after World War 1, when the flapper age came to light.  They had no money, but they had each other, as cliche as that is.  And, they had the wonderfully artistic world of Paris.  They gallivanted around with Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and even Don Stewart, who later wrote my favorite movie, The Philadelphia Story.  They had no money, but they wintered in Austria and summered in Spain.  They visited art museums, spent their days in cafes and their evenings at concerts.  Makes me wish I had no money...

The Hemingways were an interesting and fun couple and the book teaches us a lot about Papa himself. If I had one complaint, it would be that I never really felt that I understood who Hadley was.  Though the book is her story, I never really understood what makes her special.  But, then, I wonder if that's what happens whenever we look at life through someone's eyes.  Perhaps we never have the ability to see what makes ourselves special, so it's impossible to really convey that in our own story.  Or, perhaps McLain didn't develop Hadley enough for my liking.  I'm not really sure which is the case.

What I do know is that Hadley and Hem got more out of life in their five years together than many people get in a lifetime.  Their relationship benefitted us all because, without Hadley, Hemingway would never have gotten the support he needed to begin his career.  And, Old Man and the Sea aside, we're all luckier for having read Hemingway.  That is an amor tres important.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Perfect Stories-- The Imperfectionists

I've never really been much of a fan of short story collections.  I usually find that the stories don't fit together well and, often, that the author slipped in a line or two to completely unrelated subject matters in order to create a collection.  (I'm talking to you Olive Kitteridge...)

Luckily, that was not the case with Tom Rachman's novel The Imperfectionists.  Rachman gives us an insight into many of the personalities who run a fictional English Language newspaper set in Rome.  We meet several reporters, the publisher, a few editors, and even the paper's accountant.  Each has a separate story focusing on his or her personal life.  And, yet, each story melds together so well because we're introduced to the various characters throughout the novel.  For example, the editor who seems so cold-hearted to one reporter is really dealing with a cheating spouse and has no energy to deal with his reporter's incompetence.  Or, the obituary writer is not as lackluster and useless as everyone seems to believe, he simply was uninspired by his tasks.

There is a message to the varied perspectives Rachman offers us, I believe.  The myriad cliches that are swirling through my mind are those about walking in another's shoes or not knowing what goes on behind closed doors.  But, I don't think it's accidental that this book takes place in a newsroom.  No, I think that Rachman wanted us to understand that there are two sides to every story.  That we must force ourselves to remain objective about other people and their situations until we know all the details.  The fact is, as a general rule, we all believe we're the front page story in everyone's life.  We are confident that our every mistake, our every word and our every action is scrutinized by others with as much intensity as we look our ourselves.  The truth is, most of us are lucky if we earn any typeface at all in another's newspaper.  We'd all do well to remember that everyone has their own front page story and their interactions with us are complicated by the headlines in their world.

It's hard for me to accept this view of the world, of course.  I like believing that K Mart was named for me (though I'd prefer Target was my store instead.  And, really, if we're making stores mine, let's go big.  How about Kottery Barn or Krada...?)  I like living in a world where every time a person gives me a dirty look it's because they're reacting to me.  The truth is, to paraphrase Paulie Bleeker (from Juno!!), they probably aren't giving me a dirty look, it's probably just the way their face is.

Rachman's stories remind us that the world is bigger than we are.  That's a pretty perfect message for this imperfect world...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The GodMOTHER- The Company She Keeps

The Company She Keeps-- Georgia Durante

Something about the mafia has always interested me.  I'm obviously not alone or The Godfather, Goodfellas or The Sopranos would never have become such massive hits.  But, as much as I may joke about my grandmother's connections to the Chicago mafia, I'd never actually want to be associated or friendly with anyone who was in the mob.

Georgia Durante obviously didn't have the same conviction.  From a young age, the former model was considered a staple in the Rochester Mafia scene.  If her story is to be believed, and I do believe her only because there are too many names in this book for her not to have written the absolute truth, then she's led a hell of a life.

We all make choices we sometimes regret, but Durante's created a life built upon regrets.  From Rochester, she moved to New York and California, all with her wife-beating, cheating, mafia-connected husband in tow.  She surrounded herself with bad people, acted as the get-away driver for various mob-related hits, and found herself in relationship after relationship with some really screwed up men.

In an effort to straighten out her life, Durante created a professional stunt-driving business and now does much of the stunt work we see in commercials and film.  Though not without obstacles, her business has become successful and she is reputed to be among the best female stunt-drivers in the world.

Durante's story is really interesting!  Many a time, I wanted to climb into the book, sit her down and say "listen, girlfriend, you don't need to go back to him." Or "He's LYING you idiot!!" But, it was fascinating to read about her choices from the perspective that age has given her.  Like The Sopranos gave us insight into the life of a mafia boss, so, too, does The Company She Keeps give us a window into the life of a beauty queen, a battered wife, and a successful businesswoman.  It's an interesting view and one worth peeping into.  Just don't let the cops know you're watching...