Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 22

I am officially behind. I should have read 25 books by the end of March in order to be on track for 100 by the end of the year. I'm only a little concerned. I plan to do lots of read on my next mini-vacay, coming up in two weeks.

To the matter at hand: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. Chabon is the author of one of the books on my top-ten-of-all-time list (which, by the way, I intend on writing about one of these days), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. And as every good pageant queen knows, you shouldn't judge one contestant in comparison to another - each should be judged solely on the criteria set forth and how she rates, not on how she rates next to someone else. But as every good pageant queen also knows, this is next to impossible. Try as they might, judges inevitably compare one girl to another; it might be subconscious, but it happens.

So. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It was quite good. Chabon is a hell of a writer. There was a moment that made me stop reading, say "Wow," then re-read the phrase two more times, because it was that beautiful. Taken independently, this could easily get an A. But I couldn't help comparing it to Kavalier and Clay. It didn't grab me as hard; at times I found the characters unbelievable in their hipness - it was sort of like Juno in that way. Actually, now that I stop and think about it, I never really rooted for most of the characters. And while there were some beautifully written moments, there weren't as many as in Kavalier and Clay. I shouldn't compare the two, but I did, and M of P came up short... but only a little.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh - A-

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 21

Chang and Eng was a nice change from What a Girl Wants... because it was good.
Historical fiction - showing itself once again to be a favorite of mine. I like that the conversations are made up, that certain occurences in the novel are created by the author, but there is an undercurrent of fact throughout. And who doesn't love sideshow freaks? Of course, there was more to Chang and Eng than just the five-inch band that tied them together - Eng was the smart, silent one, Chang the ham who played to the crowd. Definitely a quick read, it held my interest, left me wanting more... all the good stuff.

Chang and Eng - A-

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 20

I like books, OK? I like to read. I think all books are wonderful, simply because they're books. I started this challenge knowing that a book would be hard-pressed to get an F. And if you look back at the rest of the books I've read so far, you'll see that the lowest grade I've given so far was a C- (read more about that less-than-average book here. It just pains me to think of giving a book, probably what has given me more pleasure in my life than any other thing, a failing grade.

With that...

THIS BOOK WAS TERRIBLE. Once I got about 40 pages in, I thought, OK. I can quit reading it now and not be much more behind in the challenge than I already am. But then I thought, And deny myself the opportunity to give a bad grade? Never! When I bought WAGW at the used bookstore downtown, I knew it wasn't going to be amazing. Four very different friends, meeting once a week for breakfast, one always in crisis... sound familiar? But a cheap knock-off, for sure, and I was OK with that going into it. Like I said, I wasn't viewing this as the next great literary masterpiece. But OH MY GOD, was it bad. For one thing, the characters never seemed to come together. You never had a "Carrie's the glue, but Samantha and Charlotte really love each other independently of Carrie, too" moment. It seemed like two of the four characters were always at odds and didn't really like each other all that much. Another thing was, Hayley, the "Carrie" of the group, didn't have too many redeeming qualities. She was vapid, totally self-absorbed, stupid with men, and pretty boring, actually. I never cared about her. Or the other girls, for that matter. I would say this book was a total waste of time, except for this:

What A Girl Wants - F

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 19

Finally. This one was a doozy. It doesn't help that I'm incredibly busy and only have about 20-30 minutes a day to read, but Suite Francaise was more intricate and meaty than most of the books I've read lately. It's two novellas about the German occupation of France in World War II, beginning with "Storm in June" and Parisians fleeing the city, and "Dolce" with German troops occuping a small village and the surrounding farms.
But the best part of the book is the story behind the story: Irene Nemirovsky wrote it in 1942, which is just about the same time that the novel is set. All signs point to that being pretty remarkable - to write, as one New York Times critic penned, such "exquisitely shaped and balanced fiction" while the events were taking place around her was no mean feat. It's not a diary - far from it. It's a gorgeous, lush, completely fictional story, and I really liked it.
And then there's the other story: Nemirovsky was killed at Auschwitz later in 1942, and the book wasn't published until 2004 - Nemirovsky's daughter had the manuscript, but thought it was a personal diary and didn't read it, "fearing it would simply renew old pains" (thanks NY Times critic). So it's pretty incredible that it got published at all.
So - glowing review? Not quite. I got bogged down a few times, and after "Storm in June" ended, I sort of just wanted it to be over. I think it was really good, but I didn't love it. I just liked it.

Suite Francaise - B+

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Favorite Words

I got to use one of my favorite words yesterday, and I was so excited about it that I had to share it with you:


I love the word "peleton." I love the way it sounds, I love that there's a word for this thing that could just be described by so many other words (pack and field come to mind), and I love that knowing this word makes me feel smart and cool. I love that it always makes me think of my brother, who is notorious for using a 25-cent word when a 5-cent word would do (he was quoted in the newspaper as saying "You see these bums and vagabonds in the street and it's appalling." When he was 10). And I love that it's a word that doesn't come up very often, so that when it does, I feel EXTRA smart and cool. Thanks, peleton.

What are your favorite words?

peleton - A

Friday, March 13, 2009


I am so happy.

George's (and Julianna's and Eriq's) return - A+

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Let The Countdown Begin

Tonight is the first night of the top 13 on American Idol... which means that, in less than four months, So You Think You Can Dance will be back on! YAY!!! I LOVE this show. It rules my life in the summer. I tolerate other reality shows (not you, Project Runway, you're in a class by yourself... come back to us!) but I adore SYTYCD. Have you watched it? If you have, we can stay friends. If you haven't... well, you really should, because otherwise we'll have nothing to talk about from June to September.

Here are a few videos to get you started:

Katee and Will's pas de deux. I can't abide David Archuleta, but this a beautiful piece by two of last season's best dancers.

Sabra and Neil's jazz piece from season 3. Out of control. Their paso doble that night was ridiculously good, but there's no good video of it. If you find one, let me know.

Sara and Jesus, also from season 3. So good. So very very good.

Hok's hands. Jaimie's feet. Sigh.

There's more where that came from - I can't wait for season five!

So You Think You Can Dance - A+

Monday, March 09, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 18

Nate claims to have read Ender's Game when he was five. I think he's exaggerating - he probably read it when he was seven. But don't go thinking that this is a children's book. It's about children, yes, and was probably written with children in mind, but it totally transcends age groups and acts more as a commentary on war and education than on "kids."
Here's a little synopsis, courtesy of the back of the book:

Once again, Earth is under attack. Alien 'buggers' are poised for a final assault. The survival of the human species depends on a military genius who can defeat the buggers.
But who?
Ender Wiggin. Brilliant. Ruthless. Cunning. A tactical and strategic master. And a child.
Recruited for military training by the world goverment, Ender's childhood ends the moment he enters his new home: Battle School. Among the elite recruits Ender proves himself to be a genius among geniuses. In simulated war games he excels. But is the pressure and loneliness taking its toll on Ender? Simulations are one thing. How will Ender perform in real combat conditions? After all, Battle School is just a game.

And there you have it. To be honest, I didn't like how predictable Ender's Game was. I totally saw the ending coming. But, it was a long road to get there, and I enjoyed every step along the way.

Ender's Game - A-

Saturday, March 07, 2009


In honor of the upcoming arrival of NaiveNiece-or-Nephew, and to commemorate a little incident that took place yesterday, I'd like to share with you an anecdote from my tween years. When my buddies and I first began shaving our legs, around 6th grade or so, we use to share "war stories" on awful nicks and cuts. And I've never forgotten what my friend Katie told me: her mom said that the only pain in the world worse than a shaving mistake was...?


Really? Um, I think maybe you don't know how to shave your legs, lady.

shaving mistakes - C+

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cannonball Read, Book 17

I just finished Lucy by Ellen Feldman, and it cements something I've thought for years: presidents are NAUGHTY! We have this image of a fine, upstanding citizen, smart, serious, not funny... or else you think that Bill Clinton had the market cornered on being cool. Not so. Franklin Roosevelt was a cad. He wore a straw boater, drove a convertible (of course, they might all have been convertibles in the teens) AND he had an affair. Not sure if he played the saxophone, though.
This book also confirms that I like woman-driven historical fiction. Two of my most faves are The Eight and The Red Tent, and while I don't think that Lucy will complete the triumverate, it was a solid read that made me want to do research on the real story. And, it left out some things that might be obvious, historically speaking, which I thought was kind of cool - it made me feel like I was in the know.

Lucy - B+

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 16

I thought I hadn't read Heat before, but I had, about two years ago, and just once, so it counts. Heat is the story of a writer-guy who spends a year cooking in Mario Batali's kitchen, followed by a long stint in Italy learning how to make pasta, then how to be a butcher (both pig and cow). It's a book about food, for people who like food - and I like food, so I liked the book... but not as much as I liked Kitchen Confidential. I would say this was the thinking man's Kitchen Confidential, but I don't want to be the thinking man. Food shouldn't be so cerebral - or wordy. I would have liked more swear words.

Heat - B