Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 58

"Since their mother's death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive and ambitious father. As the former Mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard Doyle cares about is his ability to keep his children, all his children, safe.
"Set over a period of 24 hours, Run takes us from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to a home for retired Catholic priests in downtown Boston. It shows us how worlds of privilege and poverty can coexist only blocks apart from one another, and how family can include people you've never even met. As in her best selling novel Bel Canto, Ann Patchett illustrates the humanity that connects disparate lives, weaving several stories into one surprising and endlessly moving narrative. Suspenseful and stunningly executed, Run is ultimately a novel about secrets, duty, responsibility, and the lengths we will go to protect our children."

Patchett is not at the top of her game with Run. That distinction belongs to her novel Bel Canto. If you haven't read it... what are you doing reading this? GO GET THE BOOK AND READ IT NOW. But that's not to say that Run isn't excellent. Because it is. It is rich, and sad, and funny, and readable. It's been a long time since I've read a book in only six hours, but that's just what I did with Run. It drew me in. I wanted to be done reading it so that I could know how it all turned out, but I didn't want it to be over, because I wanted to know everything about this family. And like so many of the wonderful books I've read this year, it was just heartbreaking. Why does so much bad stuff happen? Probably because it's fiction, and it wouldn't be so readable if it were mundane and generally happy. But it was just so sad. Sigh.

A truly great book.

Run - A

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 57

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser exposes the deep, dark truth about the fast food industry, from its humble beginnings in California to the global giant intent on taking over the universe that it is today. FFN offers up startling evidence on the meatpacking and slaughterhouse industries, on-the-job injuries, wages, marketing to children, government control (or lack thereof) of food, disease, and just why those fried taste so good (anwer: beef tallow!). With Food, Inc. and The Omnivore's Dilemma and the other "where's my food coming from?" stuff out there these days, Fast Food Nations stands as one of the first to really take a hard look at what we eat, and how, and why.

This book is pretty disturbing. It's not just the chapters on what the cattle are fed and how much E.coli can kill you that get me, though. What was most horrifying to me was learning that brand identification and loyalty can form before a child is two years old. Two years old! All those toddlers are asking for McDonald's by name. Also, Schlosser writes that 90% of all American children eat at McDonald's at least once a month. Scary.

Fast Food Nation - B+

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 56

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer... defies description. How's that for a reviewer's copout? Seriously, EII is like nothing I've ever read. It's fiction, yes, and multiple stories are told at once by multiple narrators, and some parts are set in the present and some set in the past. But it's more than the sum of its parts. The language is rich and complex, the characters are compelling and fully realized, the action is devastating and really real. It's a page turner, for about the last fifty pages, and the first 250ish pages just lead up to that - lots and lots of exposition, not such a bad thing when you realize what it was all building up to. My jaw dropped once or twice while I was reading those last 50 pages, just in horror at what was taking place and being revealed (illuminated, you might say).


But the book is a little pretentious. As brilliant as it, it knows it - at least, you get the feeling that Foer knows how good he is, how masterful at language and bending it to his will, shaping this work so that it's like nothing else out there. And that's OK, I guess, but I wanted to come away from EII thinking, Wow, that was incredible, and instead I came away thinking, Wow, that would have been incredible if it hadn't been just a little TOO "incredible."

Everything is Illuminated - A-

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Everyone Deserves a Lifetime

Several people asked me if I was going to write a recap of my experience walking in the Breast Cancer 3-Day. I've been putting it off, because it's going to be virtually impossible to sum up such an incredible event in a few words. But I can't let down my legion of adoring fans, so here goes:
Day One started bright and early... the day before. I like to think there was a Day Zero. I picked up Little Sister Meggie from the airport (and almost got hit by a bus in the process) and went straight to Target to purchase a fine selection of travel size toiletries. They're so wee! Meg and I had a delicious protein-and-carb filled dinner at the Melting Pot, then went home and finished packing. The 3-Day tries to limit the amount of stuff you bring with you: no bags over 35 pounds, including your sleeping bag (more about the sleeping bag later). Meggie and I worked out a deal: I'd carry the sleeping bags and a few other things in my gigantic duffel bag, and she'd carry the majority of the clothes and toiletries. I love it when a plan comes together.
Day One really started at 3:45 AM Friday, when Meg and I woke up, slammed down breakfast, and got in OUR LIMO! One of my training walk buddies set up a limo to drive us to opening ceremonies so that we could leave our cars very close to the closing ceremonies. This, too, was a brilliant plan - bravo, Spencer. We ate our second breakfast on the limo and arrived at opening in style. We met up with the rest of our team, the Bodacious Tatas, resplendent in our bright purple shirts, and braced ourselves for the onslaught of emotions that accompanies opening. Let me tell you, the 3-Day is not for the emotionally weak or unevolved. There are LOTS of tears. The opening ceremony is really beautiful, and it gets the walkers very pumped for the task at hand - 60 miles is no easy feat.
Day One continued through the mean streets of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, with a multitude of pit stops and a lovely lunch break at a big park. Meggie and I did all the right things in terms of stretching, hydrating and foot care - but I still ended up with two gigantic blisters on my heels (more on those blisters later, too). We arrived at camp on Day One after walking 19.9 miles, and only about two miles of Meggie complaining about needing to pee. The wonderful young men of the Romeo High School football team helped us carry our luggage and set up... our tents! That's right, tents - cute little pink tents, but tents they were. You walk 20 miles a day, then collapse to sleepo on the ground (hence the sleeping bags). But we came prepared with a tarp to help keep out ground water, so we were good.
What else happened on Day One? Well, kids, I competed in the 3-Day Rockstar competition. Yee-haw! When I walked in 2006, they had the first ever 3-Day Rockstar, but it wasn't a competition, it was basically a karaoke night, and I was too mentally and physically drained to even fathom singing. But not this year! I'd been PRACTICING! So I got on the stage, did my little shtick with host Janae, and sang my little heart out... and the crowd went wild! But there were six other very good entrants in the contest, so I thought my chances of making the top three and competing in the final the next day were limited.
So imagine my glee when I got this:

I was a finalist! YAY!!!

Day Two also dawned bright and early. Meggie and I checked in at the medical tent to work on those blisters (and for Meg to get her subluxed patellas wrapped) before we hit the route. I covered both heels with Second Skin (a gel pad with the consistency of a Jell-o Jiggler) and moleskin, and felt good about how the day would shape up. But alas, those effin' blisters got the better of me. Meggie and I walked very slowly all morning and arrived at lunch only half-an-hour before it closed. See, along the 3-Day route, pit stops and lunch only stay open for a certain length of time. If you don't make it to the stop before it closes, or if you're still there when it closes, you get "swept," 3-Day lingo for taking a van to the next stop or back to camp. I really, really didn't want to get swept this year, since in 2006 I had to shave off about 7 miles and head back to camp early on Day Two, but when I took off my shoes at lunch and saw that the blisters were visible through my socks (as in, pushing my socks out away from by body), I knew I needed to get medical attention. Like I said, we were really behind in our timing, so I gulped down my chicken caesar wrap and limped over to medical... ten minutes before they closed. They didn't turn me away right away, but at 11:55 and lunch closing in five minutes, it was suggested that I get swept to the next pit stop, only 1.8 miles away. I sucked it up and said OK, bid Meggie farewell, and flagged down a sweep van. I thought that I could just get the blisters lanced and be on my merry way, down less than two miles in total 3-Day mileage; but again, not the case. When the very nice nurse lanced just one of my blisters, she left me with these words: "If you can't walk on it without limping, don't walk." Limping to take pressure off my heel would very easily have resulted in hurting my back, knees and hips, putting my out of commission for the rest of the walk or the rest of the week. Right about that time, Meggie showed up at the pit stop, needing some attention to those knees, so we stayed at medical a little bit longer. I finally re-latched my fanny pack and tried to set off for the last 11 miles - and that first step I took was a limping step. I was done for the day. I don't think there's anything I could have done to prevent those blisters, and it won't do me any good to think about those socks I shouldn't have worn, or the Bodyglide I should have used more frequently on my feet... I got on the bus back to camp, accepted my "sagged and proud" pin with grace, and headed back to camp. Yes, I was feeling low, so I thought I'd stop at the 3-Day post office to see if anyone had sent me any mail. And, WOW. I didn't count, because that would be tacky, but I must have gotten close to twenty cards and letters, from as far away as Nashville and Sacramento and as nearby as the office across the hall. I think my dad and Nate's mom must have had an unofficial contest to see who could shower me with more cards. To tell the truth, I only scanned some of them, because I was CRYING. I love my people.
And I also love my dog. Check out what he left for me in my suitcase (no, it's not poop):
I went back to the medical tent to get the other, now bigger, blister lanced, and was so pleased to be seen by the Marquise de Sade. Seriously, this lady should not be allowed to work at the 3-Day again. OK, OK, I have to cut her a little slack. These doctors and nurses and sports trainers probably see people with REAL injuries all the time, and then volunteer to take care of people walking on this amazing journey and get stuck lancing blisters. I'm sure they LOOOVE that.

But she was a little mean, and very terse, and then she injected my blister holes (both of 'em, 'cause she re-lanced the first one) with zinc oxide. Again, benefit of the doubt: she's the professional, and the outcome was really positive, because the blisters didn't get infected and were almost totally better by Sunday. But it would have been nice if she had told me that it would HURT. Like, a LOT. I would be happy to never have her touch my feet again.
Day Two ended a lot like Day One: nice cool shower, hearty dinner, back on stage singing in the 3-Day Rockstar competition. I didn't say before that the prelim round had three judges - so now you know. The final round was judged by audience applause, so I tried to get all my teammates and training walk buddies riled up before I sang. I did get lots of applause - the most applause, in fact - but I think that the host was maybe trying to not hurt anyone's feelings, because it ended up a three-way tie. But seriously, I'm pretty sure I won. That's me all the way to the right, in the purple shirt, tearing it up.

I told you I couldn't do it in a few words, right? Everybody hangin' in there? Anyone need a snack? Stay with me.

Day Three began with a bus ride to Ann Arbor - good times. There was more walking, lunch in beautiful Burns Park, lots of pretty neighborhoods and rolling hills. Oh yeah, we also walked right by my place of employment. I'll pause to let you all pat me on the back for this sweet marquee message. But it was a scorcher, and people were dropping like flies. Meggie and I played lots of fun celebrity games while we walked, and managed to keep our spirits up for the first twelve miles (this was just a 15 mile day, since all the walkers needed to be at the closing ceremonies). We got a little loopy around mile 12, though:

Did I mention it was ungodly hot?

We made it to closing with about forty-five minutes to spare, plenty of time to take of our shoes and give each other little footrubs, which ended up being a little slice of heaven. We met up with the rest of our team and walked into closing together, proud, tired, emotionally raw, but holding our heads high at what we accomplished.

And that, my friends, is my story of the 3-Day.

The Breast Cancer 3-Day - A- (c'mon, I had to take points off for the blisters)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Project Runway Recap

It seems like FOREVER since Project Runway has been on TV. And maybe it has been a really long time. With the legal battle between Bravo and the Weinstein Co. waging for months, and the lead-up to the new season airing on Lifetime, I don't think there have been any re-runs on Bravo - and you could always count on at least one marathon a month. So it was with open arms and an open heart that I welcomed Project Runway back into my life last night.

The evening started with the All-Star Challenge - and kudos (would it be tacky to say bravo?) to whichever genius thought it up, because I'm sure it drew legions of loyal fans over to Lifetime. I'd watch little Daniel Vosovic every day of the week! But I think that Jeff Sebelia hit the nail on the head when he said that Mychael wasn't an all-star (I love you, Mychael, I'm not actually talking about you). I would think that "all-star" would mean top three. How did Sweet P sneak in there but there was no Laura Bennett? Maybe she was too busy having another baby... At any rate, it was a delightful two hours and I'm thrilled that Daniel won. He's always been one of my favorites. In fact, I think Season 2 was my most favorite. Daniel, Nick, Santino, Andrae (where's Andrae?), and Grace, my second-favorite PR model of all time. I'll send you a present if you can name my all-time favorite PR model.

After the all-star challenge, it was time to get down to it - season six begins! It's almost like they knew that there was going to be a long hiatus between season five and season 6, because they started with a red carpet challenge. Yee-haw! Season 6 isn't messing around (although I'm sure the conceptual stuff will come later). There were some beautiful gowns, and some total wack shit. I don't see this week's challenge winner winning the whole thing; at this point, it's hard to say who I think will come out on top, but my early favorites are Epperson, Carol Hannah and Ra'Mon.

I had concerns that PR on Lifetime would be too different from PR on Bravo. But really, it was the exact same show. Same set, same graphics (are those Heidi's legs walking across the screen before each commercial break?), same intense music before the contestant is auf'd. Only the commercials are different. I will miss seeing promos for Real Housewives or Top Chef, but I think I can manage.

As an aside, I think there's going to be a lot of TV in my life this fall. Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, Glee, Intervention, Grey's Anatomy... maybe I'll need to set a goal of watching 100 shows?

Project Runway - A-

Monday, August 10, 2009

What The...!?

Book 55 in my Cannonball Read challenge is Devil May Care by Sheri McInnis. Quick description: down-on-her-luck actress Sally meets a network executive, Jack, who changes her life. Before she was losing parts to a less-talented actress whom she resembled, with a sad part-time job, a tragic family background, and a lackluster boyfriend; with Jack, she's winning parts, dressing well, and having the time of her life. But her deep religious streak as well as a series of events too creepy to be coincidence convince her that this powerful man is the Devil. Not just a devil, but THE Devil. Is Sally crazy, or is Jack more than he seems?

So yeah, I read the book, and it was OK - fluffy, predictable, but still engaging. But here's the part I don't get: I read to page 248, then got very confused when the punctuation didn't match. Turns out the book was missing 32 pages, jumping from 248 to 281. Then, I read until 312, and it jumped back to 281. So pages 249-280 are missing, but pages 281-312 were printed twice. SO weird. I don't think I missed much - something about a nun - but I wonder how that happened. I also wonder if the friends who lent me the book ever read it...

Devil May Care - C+

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 54

Here's your overview:

"In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, an “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s written a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together they endure the agony of footbinding and reflect upon their arranged marriages, their loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace in their friendship, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their relationship suddenly threatens to tear apart."

Here's the deal: I love historical fiction, particularly HF that centers around women. You can see that from checking out some of the other books I've liked this year, and three of my top ten of all time are FFHF (that's female-friendly historical fiction). But SFatSF was just overdone. Maybe it's that I don't really care about China. Or maybe it's just that it wasn't as good as Memoirs of a Geisha - yes, that's Japan in the '30s and '40s, this is China in the 1820s, but there were certain similarities that I couldn't get past and the comparison to MoaG was inevitable. Or maybe it's that, after reading this book, I felt compelled to learn more about footbinding and just saw a picture so disturbing that I almost barfed, right here at the computer. Whatever the reason, SFatSF just didn't live up to its potential.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - B-

Cannonball Read - Book 53

The Widows' Adventures by Charles Dickinson (yes, that's his real name) is one of the best books you've never heard of. Here's a quick synopsis:
"Widows Ina and Helene, sisters from Chicago, set off on a drive to Los Angeles. There’s one problem: Only Helene can drive, and she’s blind. Beer-swigging Ina acts as her eyes. On back roads in the dead of night they travel across an America they never knew."
But there's a lot more to it than that. Strained familial relationships, violence, murder, adultery, lots of laughs, a few tears, lesbians, and a really compelling story. Helene and Ina are full, three-dimensional characters, and Dickinson's got a way with words - the language is very accessible, but has a few poetic moments thrown in. You can't help but like this one.

Dickinson's a newspaperman from Chicago, with a few books and short stories under his belt. He's also the dad of one of my co-workers. True story.

The Widows' Adventures - A-

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 52

David Sedaris is pretty much a genius. I didn't like this as much as liked Me Talk Pretty One Day, but I loved Me Talk Pretty One Day - it would be hard to beat. And Sedaris' material is starting to get a little stale - I get it: you live in Europe, you smoke, you travel the world giving lectures/reading, you have a boyfriend, you're socially awkward. But one reader's stale is another reader's refinement, and Sedaris has certainly honed his skills and is a captivating storyteller. Good times all around.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames - A-

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 51

Welcome to August. I am currently six books behind my goal - should have finished 58 by July 31, only finished 52. Please note that books read and books blogged aren't the same thing. I read faster than I type.

On to the review: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker falls somewhere between true crime and self-help. De Becker is a violence specialist (not like Nate is a violence specialist) whose firm protects famous and not-so-famous clients from stalkers and other violent types, and he had a wicked home life as a kid, so he's got expertise on both sides. His mission in writing this book was to inform the masses that real fear is good, and unnecessary fear is bad. Simple enough, right? De Becker says that too many people are fearful when they have no reason to be, but then deny their intuition when something to be really fearful of is present. He says that if we could just pay attention to our intuition, we could probably prevent most violent crimes - heed the warning signs, but don't see signs that aren't there. The example that resonated with me was the woman who clutches her keys in her hand as she walks down the street at night, broadcasting her fear, even when there's nothing around to cause fear. De Becker also says that unnecessary fear can mask true feelings of loss, like loss of identity - there was a great example of a woman who was afraid to leave her office building at night because she was always the last one working, but after digging a little deeper, De Becker determined that being the last one out of the building was a critical part of this woman's sense of self, and if she left any earlier which, theoretically, would mean leaving at a "safer" time, she'd be construed as a slacker - so she put herself in "danger" in order to save face with her colleagues. De Becker cited lots of real cases of stalking and violent behavior (including a shark attack story!), which were very compelling and re-told the information in a practical manner, so instead of just reading about what you should and you shouldn't do, you saw first-hand how doing the right or wrong thing impacted a real person.

This book was great, and I learned a lot, and it certainly opened my eyes to some inappropriate fear behaviors of my own. My only beef was that it was super repetitive - I don't think I needed 14 chapters on listening to my intuition, but maybe De Becker knows best, and knows that breaking people of denying their intuition requires hammering the idea into their heads.

The Gift of Fear - A-