Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 50

I read this book with my ears. I don't usually do books on tape (or mp3, as the case may be), but the hubs and I started this one on a long car trip a couple weeks ago and just finished it up last night. The reader, David Aaron Baker, was awesome, and the book itself was really compelling (more on that later), but most nights as we lay listening, I fell asleep, so I feel like I "read" about two-thirds of the book - the part we heard in the car - but skimmed the last third, the part we listened to before bed each night. It got to the point where I had to leave the lights and my glasses on, to at least preserve the illusion that I was reading.

About the book: Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociology doctoral student at the University of Chicago, wanted to investigate life in the projects among the black and poor. He intended to start his research with a standard questionnaire, but as he approached the Robert Taylor homes, he was sort of taken hostage by a gang, the Black Kings. J,T., the gang leader, told Sudhir that he'd never learn anything by asking questions from a questionnaire, that the only way he'd learn what it was like to be black and poor in the projects was to "hang out." So Sudhir did. For SEVEN YEARS. And the shit he saw was intense: drugs, hustling, drive-by shootings, crazy ladies screaming at convenience store clerks, and so, so much more. He lived it - but not entirely, because at the end of the day, he went back to his nice apartment near the university and took notes on his experience. Ultimately, J.T. let Sudhir be gang leader for a day (hence the title). And if you think that you could be a gang leader, because all they do is drive around in fancy cars and glad-hand other gang leaders, you would be sorely mistaken. Like I said, intense.

This was really, really good. I can't say if I would have loved it if I'd read it, but listening to it was great. David Aaron Baker did an excellent job, although for some reason they had Sudhir red the last chapter. It definitely broke up the continuity.

Gang Leader for a Day - B+

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 49

Here's what the book jacket has to say about Coffee and Kung Fu by Karen Brichoux:

Twenty-six-year-old Nicci Bradford doesn't exactly love her job fixing the grammar in company brochures, or living in Boston, or going on awkward fix-ups with men she barely knows. What she does love is Kung Fu movies...especially the ones starring Jackie Chan. Their timeless and inspired wisdom offers her a philosophy of life. The problem is she doesn't have much of a life to philosophize about. But Jackie Chan is also a pretty good action hero. And when opportunity-and risk-present themselves in unexpected ways, it's up to Nicci to follow her hero's example, focus on her goal, and strike...

See, here's the problem with this description: it basically tells you nothing about the book! There are lots of characters, and little sub-plots, and quite a bit of romance (including a couple racy scenes - hubba, hubba). Nicci is a complex character - well, as complex as a character in what's basically chick-lit can be - with a solid backstory, but you hardly get any of that in the book description. Which is unfortunate, because this is a pretty fun little book. It's got some poignant moments, and some grrrl power kick-ass moments, and overall it's a solid but quick read. I'm afraid that no one will know that, though, just based on this description.

So here's MY description: A sassy yet sad-sack heroine with a dead-end job and pathetic love life, Nicci seeks to discover her inner kung fu movie - enlightenment and fulfillment, not to mention a few ass-kicking moves. And when she meets Grinning Boy, it seems as if life could take a turn for the better. But even the kung fu train can jump the tracks, and Rob just might prove to be the antagonist to Nicci's hero. Can one little lady find love AND a fulfilling career, and never drop her chopsticks?

Or something like that.

Coffee and Kung Fu - B+

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 48

I do not like Bill Bryson.

OK, that's not fair. I just don't like too much Bill Bryson. I found A Walk in the Woods quite entertaining, and certain passages of I'm A Stranger Here Myself were enjoyable. But The Lost Continent was just too much. Bryson's a sassier Garrison Keillor - he's folksy and homespun, but he likes to use the f-word. And while I fully condone the f-word, I am starting to feel that I can't abide by folksy and homespun. It boils down to this: I didn't grow up in a kinder, gentler time in a kinder, gentler place. I am not searching for small town America. In fact, I kinda think that small town America is boring. And I don't like baseball (apple pie is delicious, though). So Bryson's books don't really speak to me. 297 pages of folksy, homespun, small town America were about 287 pages too much.

The Lost Continent - C

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 47

I was really, really looking forward to reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Not only did Pajiba rank it as the #3 book of our generation (or something like that, maybe #3 of all books ever read by Pajiba readers?), my librarian friend told me it was excellent, and a whole bunch of other people, too. So I thought I would love it - people whose opinions I value said it was really, really good.

And it was - but it didn't live up to the hype. I was expecting it to be SPECTACUALAR, and while it was very good, it wasn't amazingly wonderful. I liked the characters, I like the story, I liked the sci-fi aspect... but it just wasn't AWESOME.

I don't know what else to say.

The Time Traveler's Wife - B

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 46

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert has been recommended to me lots of times over the past few years, and for some reason I always bypassed it, but once my friend Shannon came through for me in the long-distance book swap and sent it my way. Thanks, Shannon - keep on sending them, and I won't have to renew my library card!

Eat, Pray Love is the story of Gilbert's travels through Italy, India and Indonesia in search of enlightenment, pleasure, balance and all sorts of metaphysical extraterrestrial stuff. And at times, the book was quite lovely. Gilbert has a great voice as a writer, and her descriptions of places, events, people and especially food were wonderful. But overall, I found it a little hard to swallow. I do not begrudge Gilbert the book advance that paid for her travels - she is clearly a talented writer, and good for her that her publisher paid her to travel around the world. Nor do I think that a spiritual journey with a goal of balance and enlightenment is a fruitless journey. I think we could all do with a more balanced life, more fun, more pleasure, more meditation, and a lightening of the spirit. But goodness gracious, do we have to read all about it? I got so bogged down in the details of Gilbert's time at the ashram in India, in her moments of epiphany on bathrooms floors... I liked it, I really did, but damn, Liz. Maybe some things should be kept to yourself - does the soul need to be laid so bare?

Eat, Pray, Love - B

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 45

This is probably not a book I would have chosen for myself, but my friend Shannon sent it to me (thanks, boo) in part of our ongoing cross-country book exchange... and who am I to not read something that turns up on my doorstep?

I spent the last fifteen minutes trying to sum up The Undomestic Goddess in one paragraph, but you know what? You already know exactly what this book is about. British Lawyer Girl falls apart but ultimately finds her way... with a hot gardener. Well, duh. What else could this book be about? And do you really want to know the intricacies of British Lawyer Girl faking her way through cooking and cleaning, or the way she rallies back in the end? No, you don't. Because you can filll in the gaps yourself. In fact, you probably could have written this book... or could still write it, right now, with that general framework: British lawyer girl, hot gardener, life falling apart, life coming back together. If you know enough to throw in some comedy, you've got it made.

Did you know that they call vacuuming "hoovering" in England? How awesome is that?

So Shannon, friend of the book exchange, keep on sending books... but no more Sophie Kinsella.

The Undomestic Goddess - C-

Friday, July 03, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 44

This one's courtesy of my sci-fi-lovin' husband. Anne McCaffrey is a sci-fi superstar, and Nate picked it up for me at the used bookstore before our big trip to California. And the overwhelming feeling I had while reading Crystal Singer was, I guess I've read a lot of fantasy that's I've been calling sci-fi, 'cause MAN, this book has a lot of "sci" in it. I didn't realize the science part of science-fiction could be so... scientific. I'm pretty sure I actually learned something while I was reading this, something about refraction or weather or speed. The sci was surprising - not unenjoyable, but I definitely prefer fantasy. If I have to fully suspend my reality, I don't want to think while I'm doing it.

But it was good!

Crystal Singer - B+