November 25, 2014
November 24, 2014
Starting my trip to Las Vegas on a warm and rainy Monday morning. Expected horrendous traffic, so gave myself lots of extra time. Thank goodness for the HOV lane - shaved at least 30 minutes off the trip in.
Love the art installation trend at airports.
These are parts of an underwater sculpture by Chris Williams at Logan Terminal B.
I've had this on my TBR for ages, and wanted to read it before seeing the movie adaptation.
Targeted at the young adult reader, this is an interesting story about what we gain and what we lose when we give up the messiness of what it means to be human. This is a dystopian novel of sorts - though without an apocalypse trigger. Everyone has assigned roles, everyone is the same, everyone knows what is expected of them, everyone is safe. Until they are not. Our glimpse into this community is through the eyes of 12 year old Jonas. At 12, all kids gets assigned their roles for life, but Jonas does not get assigned a role, he gets selected to be The Receiver. What this means, and the consequences of "sameness" changes his life.
This is a fast read, and being an adult reader, I found it rather predictable as I knew things that Jonas did not know as of yet. I quite liked the exploration of what we gain and what we lose in a color blind and amnesiac world. I plan to read the next book in the series to see where the author takes this story. Rating: 3 stars.
Book blurb: The high school prom is an American tradition, a rite of passage, and one of the most important rituals of youth in this country. The internationally recognized documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark took on the extraordinary challenge of working with the Polaroid 20x24 Land camera to produce this fascinating look at dozens of young people from a diverse range of backgrounds on this memorable night in their lives.
Having not grown up in the States, the only prom I attended was my college one, and I find that there is something precious, and fleeting, and captivating about high school proms. Maybe it is that these kids are on the cusp of the rest of their lives. Maybe it is because at that age, many wear their hopes and dreams and fears right out there for everyone to see. These 127 large-format, black and white photographs are a wonderful window into the souls of these kids at the very brink of adulthood.
Note: This book comes with a DVD of a film with the same title that the photographer's husband produced featuring interviews with the students. I have yet to watch it. Rating: 4 stars.
164. Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons, 1978-2006
This is a collection of the author's cartoons and covers her work from 1978 to 2006. That is a huge span of time, and while this is a good introduction to her body of work for someone like me who had not read her standalone cartoons, it suffers for the same reason that most collected works do. There are sublime pieces, really funny ones, and ones that were simply meh. Some of the things that go on in her head made me laugh out loud, but overall I did not love this collection. Still, 3 stars means I liked it, and think it is worth a read. Rating: 3 stars.
This graphic novel is targeted for a teen audience and is quite a fun read.
Katie is a 20-something talented chef with a successful restaurant. She has plans to open a bigger, better one, when suddenly things go awry. Who does not have moments that we wish we could do over again? Well, Katie is given a second chance. All she has to do is:
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
And viola! you get a do-over. A Mulligan. But as we all know, magic does not come without strings attached, and Katie gets addicted to do-overs. If she can make her life better, can she take it a step further and make it perfect? Do-over junkie Katie spirals out of control. Will she stop before it is too late? Rating: 3 stars.
November 22, 2014
November 20, 2014
November 19, 2014
November 17, 2014
From the book blurb: Barefoot Gen is the powerful, tragic, autobiographical story of the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath, seen through the eyes of the artist as a young boy growing up in Japan.
This is book one of a ten part series, and I am delighted that Project Gen has made English translations available.
Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of manga style comics, so have steered away from that whole section of graphic novels. Reading this book has changed my mind, and I plan to browse the manga shelves looking for other gems.
I first heard about this book while taking the Comic Books and Graphic Novels Coursera class, during an interview with a high school teacher. This is a book targeted for young adults, but would resonate with adult readers as well. I did not love the graphics (manga style as mentioned above), and knew very little of what life was like for the average family in Japan during World War 2.
The first volume in this series starts in April 1945, and covers the last months of the war. It is the story of one family - the joys, sadness, loss, tragedies, and heartbreak of life in wartime.
Loved it, and would highly recommend it. Rating: 5 stars.
This is a wordless picture book targeted for the 4-8 year old crowd, and while the art is wonderful, there is not enough of a story here. A little boy is stuck in his room with art supplies and a book on African animals. I love how his creative imagination took him on a safari, but there just wasn't enough to think about. My fave part was how he packed his backpack - art supplies, an umbrella, and half a dozen sandwiches. Kinda how I pack my bag too. Granted, this might be perfect for 4 year olds, and that I am not. Rating: 2 stars.
160. The Metamorphosis
One of the things I really like about The Fiction of Relationship Coursera class, is that it moves items on my TBR pile up to the top, and I am delighted to have finally read this famous story.
Everyone has heard of the key part of this story - a man wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a gigantic insect. What I did not realize is that Kafka is a funny, bizarre, and insightful writer. This short story is a wonderful meditation on one's duty to ones's family, and the universal feelings of inadequacy, guilt, isolation, and alienation we all feel from time to time. Having read a bit of Kafka's biography, it seems to me that this story is autobiographical in nature. Simply wonderful. Rating: 4 stars.
161. The Snow Queen
This is my book club selection this month, and I listened to the audiobook narrated by Claire Danes.
Here's the thing about Michael Cunningham, I want to like his work more that I actually do. This is the fourth book of his I've tried - really liked the first one (The Hours), but bailed on the second (Specimen Days), and cannot recall how I felt about the third (Land's End). Decided to shake off the Did Not Finish phobia, and was excited to sink my teeth into this one. And you know what? If this had not been for book club, it would have ended up on the DNF pile as well. Darn it.
This novel revolves around two brothers, and the people in their inner circle of partners, lovers, and friends. The brothers are close, and have no secrets from each other. Until they do. What was this story really about? Maybe the search for meaning via drugs and/or religion? I honestly do not know. There is some beautiful writing, and insight into human nature (hence the 2 and not 1 star rating), but ultimately I simply did not care about any of these people, their lives, or their issues. Rating: 2 stars.
November 13, 2014
November 12, 2014
November 10, 2014
From the book blurb: Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1856) is among Herman Melville's most important pieces, and has been considered a precursor to Existentialist and Absurdist literature.
I attempted to read Moby Dick years ago and got sidetracked by the word circumbambulate. What a word! And that was on the first page. Never got back to Moby, though I have been meaning to. Well, the Fiction of Relationship Coursera class has two stories by Melville on the syllabus, and this is one of them.
This old-timey story set in an office is rather absurd. Imagine hiring someone who after a time prefers not to do whatever is asked of him. What is one to do? It is a quick read and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Melville had a sense of humor. Who knew? Rating: 3 stars.
155. Benito Cereno
This short story/novella should have worked for me. Ships, scurvy, slaves, captains, and what I am coming to recognize as Melville's witty insights into human nature. But his writing is like going on a long blue water sail in bad weather, and unfortunately I get seasick. It could just be my mood at this moment when sailing season draws to a close in these parts. Might try again someday. Rating: 1 star.
156. Pride of Baghdad
Book blurb: In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives.
So, just to get it out of the way, you need to know that The Lion King (movie and Broadway production) makes my top ten list of everything awesome. And this graphic novel starts with a very Lion King like feel. Sure these lions are captive and not free, and Zill and Ali are no Mustafa and Simba, but I was taken along for the ride. It reads like a fable, with wonderfully evocative art, and asks philosophical questions about war and freedom. And as we all know, war is hell for everyone involved, especially for those that are "collateral damage". Rating: 3 stars.
157. The Shining
I'm a King fan, who somehow never got around to reading this classic. Yes, I've seen the movie, but seriously, this is the perfect book to read in October in New England, as the air gets crisp and autumn leaves shower you on long walks as you listen to this audiobook wonderfully narrated by Campbell Scott. REDRUM.
This is a really good psychological horror of a read, with well developed characters, good pacing, and a wonderful sense of place. I especially loved the story as told from Danny's point of view. Who cannot relate to how powerless a 5 year old child feels in an adult world? And this child has "the shining". I'll admit to only reading this book during daylight hours. King can spin a yarn like few others. REDRUM.
If you have yet to read it, or want a great audio for your next road trip, try this one out. And if you are a brave soul, read it after the sun sets. I dare you. REDRUM. Rating: 4 stars.
November 9, 2014
November 6, 2014
November 5, 2014
November 4, 2014
As you might recall, my word for this year is Cultivate. I am taking a more laid back approach to my word this year. Am picking a theme for each month, and then seeing where I end up.
My focus this month was to cultivate a sugarfree lifestyle
The options are overwhelming: paleo, vegan, south beach, atkins, no-carb, etc. And here is my truth: I have actually tried South Beach three or four times over the past several years, and each time I felt fantastic, the weight fell off, I fixed my symptoms of metabolic syndrome. And then over time, I fade back to not paying attention, and I find myself stalled out. And you know the biggest culprit? Sugar. There is lots of research that shows that sugar lights the same parts of our brains as heroin/cocaine does (look it up!), and I've heard Dr. Oz talk about how sugar is like having really sharp razor blades ripping us apart internally. But I have resisted knowing this. A life without sugar cannot be worth living! Besides, a little cannot be all that bad can it? Well, it turns out that sugar is not just in candy and desserts, but is in almost everything processed, and our bodies treat many carbs just like sugar.
And here is what I have finally admitted to myself: My name is Elizabeth, and I am a sugar junkie. And like all junkies, I cannot have just a little bit. Once I take a bite, I get back on the sugar roller coaster ride, and while it is thrilling for a while, my body and mind do not feel so good.
I have now been sugar free for a month. An entire month! Something that would have been inconceivable to me even a couple of months ago. I have learned how to make sweets/treats that do not spike my insulin. And you know what? I have never felt so good. My mind has never been so clear. The excess weight is falling off. And after the first several days of detoxing, my cravings have completely disappeared. This is so important to me that I have decided that it will be my focus for the rest of this year.
Are you sugarfree or thinking about it? How do you do it?
November 3, 2014
I'm not a fan of poetry, and am convinced that I must have had so awful a teacher that I have blocked the entire endeavor from my mind. Though it could just be me. Maybe poems have more meaning as one gets older. Whatever the real reason, I decided to rectify this gap in my education by taking the MODERN & CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN POETRY class offered by Coursera. And I am smitten.
I have read this poem by Whitman in parts and in its entirety several times. I have listened to a wonderful reading of it by James Earl Jones on an early morning walk. There are parts that I think I get, parts that I know I do not, and parts that simply take my breath away. This is one I can see going back to again and again. Rating: 4 stars.
151. Kill My Mother
From the book blurb: Kill My Mother centers on five formidable women from two unrelated families, linked fatefully and fatally by a has-been, hard-drinking private detective.
I found this a confusing graphic novel, partly because I simply could not tell the women apart. While I really liked the sketchy artwork, the story was too choppy for my tastes. Rating: 2 stars.
152. The Sparrow
I listened to the audiobook version narrated by David Colacci.
I am a person who wants there to be life out there. Among billions and billions of planets, we cannot be the only one with sentient life forms. And I love first contact stories - even the real ones that take place on Earth.
Sometime in the near future, Earth picks up alien music transmissions, and a team is put together to go investigate. This religious science fiction story is told as two narratives. There is the present day timeline where we get to meet the characters, get ready for the mission, and have first contact, and the future timeline in which a team of Jesuits try to understand how the mission went disastrously wrong by interviewing Father Emilio Sandoz the only surviving member of the team.
I've discovered that Jesuits and Aliens is a sweet spot genre for me. The writing is good, the characters are well developed, and the mystery and suspense created by the two timelines works well. There is rather much more theology than science in this story, but I quite liked the exploration of the inner human psyche as contrasted to the exploration of alien worlds. The team gathered for the mission are all immensely likable (however unlikely that such a team would actually be selected), and if you can gloss over parts that seem rather too conveniently contrived this is an enjoyable read. Rating: 4 stars.
Book blurb: A collection of twelve interconnected short stories. Crossing genres as it crosses the country, Local examines Megan McKeenan, a young woman who sets off from Portland, OR with nothing but a backpack and a bad case of wanderlust. Each emotional vignette is a self-contained story that represents one year in the life of this young vagabond as she struggles to find a place to call home, both physically and spiritually.
I'm not usually a fan of short stories, and though some of these stories were better than others, I really liked this graphic novel collection. The black and white art is fantastic, and wonderfully illustrates the mood and place of each story. What links these stories together is Megan - sometimes she is a really minor character - and each story represents one year in her life.
My only complaint about this collection is that it could have explored the themes of loss, travel, family, community, and identity on a deeper level, and that final story was a little too tidy in my opinion - talk about putting a bow on it! Still this is really good (but it could have been great, darn it). Rating: 4 stars.
November 2, 2014
October 30, 2014
First session of the day: Fiction with a Twist
Photo: The Joseph O'Neil, Lily King, Rupert Thomson and James Wood panel was a fab way to end a wonderful day.
October 29, 2014
October 28, 2014
October 27, 2014
My 9 year old nephew, Jonah, told me the other day that this is one of the best books he has ever read. How can one pass up that kind of recommendation?
Having never read any books by Roald Dahl, and knowing how much he is beloved by kids and adults alike, I decided to start reading my way through his works with this one. It is hard not to love little Matilda, and her love of books and knowledge. She is an exceptional girl from an unexceptional family, and if that were not enough, she has to face Miss Trunchbull when she starts school. Thanks goodness for Ms. Honey.
I can certainly see why my nephew loved this story of a young child who was able to get back at the adults who made her life miserable, and I quite enjoyed my time with Matilda, even though some of the melodrama seemed rather over the top. But then again, this is written for the middle grade reader, so the more drama the better I suppose. I listened to the audiobook which was wonderfully narrated by Kate Winslet. Rating: 3 stars.
147. Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals: A Mixed-Media Workshop with Carla Sonheim
I am not a fan of cutesy animals, but do like the whimsical quality of the author's art. This book has projects using various techniques and materials to help you to draw and paint animals that might have gone gone extinct due to natural selection processes. Rating: 2 stars.
148. How the World Was: A California Childhood
Book blurb: In 1994, French cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert befriended an American veteran named Alan Cope and began creating his new friend's graphic biography. Alan's War was the surprising and moving result: the story of Cope's experiences as an American GI in France during World War II.
Telling someone's biography in Comics form is an interesting choice, and this form captures a sense of emotion that would be harder to do in prose. The art is fantastic, and wonderfully atmospheric, but I was not really interesting in the biography of this person. The telling seemed like snippets of memory, place and time, and not a point to point narrative one would except with a biography, and was too fragmented for my tastes. However, this book is worth getting your hands on to simply gaze at the artwork. Rating: 2 stars.
149. An Age of License: A Travelogue
I keep travel journals while on on the road, and love travelogues of any kind. In this graphic memoir, the author records her experiences while on a European trip in 2011 that involves some business, lots of pleasure, delicious food and wine, and enough angst to make one's hair curl.
I guess this book would fall into the "New Adult" genre. The publisher touts it as the Eat, Pray, Love for the GIRLS generation, and I would agree with that, sans the Pray part. My complaint with this book is that it does not dive deep, but snorkels on the surface of the author's emotional life. I did love the watercolors and sketches, and I think this might really appeal to 20 somethings. Rating: 2 stars.
October 23, 2014
October 22, 2014
October 21, 2014
October 20, 2014
Jane Eyre is a name that I've known for as long as I can remember, and yet I do not recall ever reading this book, so I was glad to have it moved to the top of my To Be Read pile by The Fiction of Relationship class I'm taking with Coursera.
First published in 1847, this book has many themes that are still relevant in our times, and while some of the events seem a little contrived, there is much to admire about the author's talent and skill.
While Jane Eyre is no Elizabeth Bennet - but then who could be? - I quite enjoyed this bildungsroman. I loved how the story started - well, I felt bad for Jane - but her character built in those earlier years helps her in later ones. I assert again that girls become way less interesting once their hormones kick in, and yes Dear Reader I heartily endorse romantic ties, but I would suggest that while they are fun for the couple, it can be rather tedious for outside observers. As for Mr. Rochester, I did not like him one bit. Not one bit. Still it is said that love is blind, and based on events at Thornfield Hall that Jane seems not to bat an eye at, she was blind indeed!
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Classics are books that should be read to me. I imagine (rather nostalgically) sitting in a drawing room with my knitting, while someone standing by the single lit candle reads the book aloud to me. Yes Dear Reader, I know that I conveniently have left out the smoke in my eyes, the chilblains on my feet, and the fact that I would have died young in those times, but please allow me my conceit. This audiobook is superbly narrated by Juliet Stevenson, and I have decided that she should narrate all classic works I will listen to hereafter.
I was thoroughly engrossed in the story throughout and was often to be found walking and muttering aloud, "Run Jane. Run." I found it to be quite a fun feminist text, albeit there were attic issues. Still, a book I would recommend listening to if you have yet to read it. Rating: 4 stars.
Even though this is the first book I've read by the author, I am quite a fangirl of Chimmamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is wonderfully articulate on a variety of topics and I was delighted to discover that her writing skills do not disappoint.
I can not summarize the book better than the Guardian review (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013...) did, so I'll quote them here: It is ostensibly a love story – the tale of childhood sweethearts at school in Nigeria whose lives take different paths when they seek their fortunes in America and England – but it is also a brilliant dissection of modern attitudes to race, spanning three continents and touching on issues of identity, loss and loneliness.
Immigration stories are similar in many ways, but can be quite different in their particulars. An an immigrant from Africa to the US, I was alternately delighted and sobered to read how many of Ifemelu's first contact experiences were similar to mine; the author could have picked those stories out of my own journals!
I was not as enamored with the love story portion of this book, as I was with the exploration of race and skin color. The honest, unflinching manner in which the author explored these themes was quite refreshing. The plot is interspersed with blog posts, and while I enjoyed them, I did feel that many of the characters introduced in the book (that appear once and are never heard from again) were means to simply get in additional speechifying on specific topics, and that detracted from the flow of the story.
This was my book club selection for the month, and I think it was a great choice for all the discussion topics that it raised. Rating: 4 stars.
October 18, 2014
October 17, 2014
I have a new hero to add to my pantheon.
Bryan A. Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a private, non-profit organization headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, and is a professor at New York University School of Law.
You can watch his extended interview on the Daily Show here.
Have you heard of Live Cinema Season? Well, if you haven't you are in for a treat. It is the time of year when you can watch world class ballet, plays, and musicals at a theater near you.
Last night The Royal Ballet’s Manon was relayed live to cinemas across the world. Well, it was not exactly live for us in the Boston area, but this Kenneth MacMillan’s 40th-anniversary staging stars Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli. And it was simply fantastic. If you are at all interested in the arts, check out what is playing in theaters near you.
October 16, 2014
Released in 2014.
Plot line: This documentary follows people from the LGBT community in Russia after new legislation in 2013 prohibited so-called gay propaganda in the country. We meet various people who have been attacked for being gay, get to know how hard they struggle, and how they try to live with being gay without making it public.
This HBO documentary is tough to watch and really upsetting, but I think it is important to learn more about the issues discussed.
You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a documentary worth watching.