Monday, August 31, 2009

Book 100: Firestarter

Firestarter by Stephen King

I used to read a lot of Stephen King in high school and college - while some of his novels would occasionally go off the deep end, I could also count on being entertained by them. Obviously, some were much better than others. Especially if I'd been reading a lot of dry nonfiction or classics, I would always see his books as a relaxing break.

I've read most of his novels at this point, except for some of the very early ones. I read Carrie earlier this year, and some of the ideas are rather similar to Firestarter. It's actually kind of interesting to compare some of his earlier work to later novels. My dad is not a huge Stephen King fan but he liked The Dead Zone and The Stand and therefore, is actually the person that introduced me to Stephen King. It seems like in his early work, King starts out with a much smaller idea that is just a little bit out there, but still very believable. I know sometimes when I've read his later work, I'll enjoy it quite a bit, and then there will be a twist or a turn that just seems like a bit too much. For example, I vaguely remember Rose Madder - it begins as a novel about a woman escaping her abusive husband and starting her life over, and ends with her running from him in some magical picture. The husband also turns into a bull, possibly.

By comparison, Firestarter is rather tame. King takes the question he asked in Carrie, "What if people really had telekinetic abilities?" and approaches it from a slightly different angle. In this one, there are more powers than simply telekinesis - Charlie's father has the ability to mentally persuade as well as occasional intuitive hunches, her mother had the occasional moments of telekinesis, and Charlie can start fires with her mind. Unlike Carrie, Charlie is loved as a child, so the novel isn't about what could go wrong when a teenager that has been picked on her whole life suddenly has powers. Instead, the question is what would happen if the government knew about these abilities? In fact, Charlie's parents only have theirs as a result of rather unethical experiment funded by the Shop, a mysterious government agency.

When the government agents are discussing Charlie's powers, they wonder how much more powerful she might be once she hits puberty. Of course, this was also when Carrie's powers started really showing themselves. It's interesting how some of King's most famous characters are young girls with extraordinary abilities. I might not be remembering everything here, but it seems like in most of his other novels, he tends to focus more on young boys when he uses children than girls (I almost forgot about The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, but I've never read it). For example, The Dark Tower obviously has Jake, The Shining had a young boy, etc.

Overall, I liked it - he had improved upon the parts of his writing style that I disliked in Carrie, but didn't have any crazy plot twists. Maybe not the great novel I'd wanted to end with but at least it didn't make me want to rip my hair out and kill all the main characters (except for the ones that are villains, of course).

Book 99: The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I hadn't been planning on reading this until after the Cannonball Read was over, but the book I'd originally started reading was boring me - after three days I was only 150 pages in, and the characters were irritating the hell out of me, so I decided to cut my losses and pick up this novel of a little over 200 pages. I was trying to make it to 100, dammit (also, it didn't help that the last weekend of the challenge I had to drive all over Bavaria and visit people - I had literally no reading time at all).

I guess noir isn't really my genre. The overall plot twists and development were interesting and all and could have made for a very good novel, but honestly, I just didn't like the way Chandler portrayed his characters that much. I of course knew that the genre can be a little sexist, with the femme fatales and all, but I still wasn't expecting this. I guess I figured the femme fatales wold be a lot more fun, instead of having a different tough dame tossed in every few pages.

Philip Marlowe is hired by an aging millionaire to look into a man that is trying to blackmail him and his daughter. He also mentions that his son-in-law is missing. While investigating the blackmail, Marlowe quickly becomes involved in a murder investigation. All this actually clears itself and explains itself very quickly, and Marlowe closes the case to everyone's satisfaction. However, Marlowe just can't let go - the missing son-in-law angle interests him and he keeps digging around.

In addition to the sexism, there was also some homophobia in the novel - I guess I shouldn't expect much else from a novel written in the '30s. I might have been in too much of a hurry to finish this one, but it just didn't quite get me. However, Dennis Lehane's Sacred has been described as a modern updating of The Big Sleep, so I'm definitely excited to see what Lehane did with this plotline.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Book 98: Edinburgh

I ordered this based on a recommendation from a book blog (can't remember which one).  It took me a little while to adjust to the style since especially in the beginning, the narrator has a tendency to talk around things.  The first two sections are narrated by Fee, a man that was part of an all boys choir as a child and was sexually molested along with a large number of other boys in the choir.  He was in love with one of the boys, who ended up killing himself sometime after the choir leader was imprisoned for his actions.  This part of the novel follows Fee through the time of the abuse, and his college years during which he is still dealing with a lot of the issues.  He blames himself for what happened, partially because he feels like he should have warned Peter.  He has quite a bit of self-loathing at this point.
The third section switches to Warden's perspective.  I felt like his voice was much clearer and more linearly written, and also preferred this section.  At this point, we see Fee from Warden's perspective since Fee is at his school as the temporary swim coach and art teacher.  The reader also knows very early that Warden is a nickname, and the boy is actually the son of the man that molested Fee.  The final section is once again told from Fee's perspective and he talks about his life between college and getting to the school, and then moves on to his perspective of things.  Fee has somehow moved on from his past, and at first, I was happy with how his life had turned out after everything.  Except then he started doing things to screw everything up, which pissed me off.
I admit part of the reason I was excited about this novel was the title - Edinburgh.  For some reason, I assumed it might be set in Edinburgh or that parts of the novel would occur since when I read the back cover, it did say that Fee was half Korean, half American and the choir was states-side.  Unfortunately, the novel was mainly set in Maine.  No Scotland.  The title comes from a part time job that Fee takes for a man who is writing book about Edinburgh during the plague.  Part of that book involves a piece on tunnels, and the idea of tunnels appeals to Fee (okay, it was a little deeper than that, and he built himself his own tunnel, but I managed to accidentally leave my copy of the book on the plane).
A few places have talked about how beautiful the writing in this novel is - while I enjoy beautifully written pieces and passages, I also sometimes get bored or irritated with things that are too descriptive or spiritual seeming.  In this case, the writing didn't really do that much for me, but it's been a major selling point for others, so perhaps it would appeal more to others than it did to me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book 97: First Darling of the Morning

First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood by Thrity Umrigar

I actually really enjoyed this memoir by Umrigar. When I first started reading Allende's memoir Paula, in the beginning, I felt like I was rereading one of her novels. With Umrigar, it is easy to see how certain people may have influenced her portrayals and her writing, but it didn't feel like her novels were simply fictionalizations of her life.

In fact, given some of her family history, I was actually surprised about how it hasn't influenced her novels more - her mother and her seemed to have a very difficult relationship unlike the easy ones Umrigar had with her father and her spinster aunt Mehroo (actually, after reading for a while, I could definitely see how her father was partially reflected in one of her characters in Bombay Times). Despite this, her novels don't tend to focus on mother-daughter relationships too much, and when they do, they do not villify the mothers. Occasionally, there might be a difficult mother in law in the picture. Obviously her large extended family and her neighborhood have also influenced her writing and the locale she chooses for her novels.

Umrigar grew up in a middle class family that occasionally struggled to make a go of their business. Her father and his two siblings were always incredibly close, and lived together so that Umrigar basically had two father figures in her life, and three mothers, though the focus is mainly on Mehroo, her aunt. She loved to read as a child, and was somewhat of a dreamer. She was also a bit of a performer. She went through the usual rebellious stage as well as a political stage in college, and eventually decided to leave for the States to get away from the tension in her family since she didn't have the option of moving out in India since it was still old-fashioned in some ways (this part always reminded me slightly of a character in Bombay Times - actually a character's daughter since she never makes an actual appearance in the novel).

She addresses some of the issues about class and poverty that have influenced her novels, and also talks about how very Western her education was. When challenged to write a story about Indians rather than white blue eyed children in a class, she can't even come up with names for her characters. She read all kinds of Western authors but didn't really know too many Indian ones. She describes discovering and reading Midnight's Children shortly before leaving for the States and how it opened her eyes to a whole new side of her own city.

Umrigar has a good sense of pacing and character development. This book was a nice way to get to know her and her background a little bit more, and while her other novels may have suggested much of this, it was still nice to see the first hand, nonfictional account.

Book 96: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown

This was another recommendation over at Pandagon. This book could easily be described as chick lit - it's light, it's about three different women (a mother and two daughters, though the daughters are far enough spaced to be in completely different places in their lives and basically two separate generations), and it's about them trying to change certain situations in their lives. However, the term chick lit is incredibly generic and seems to pretty much apply to any fiction with young female protagonists - within the genre, there are some authors that take serious issues and deal with them in a rather realistic but funny way, thus taking some of the bite out of it, while others write basic fluff. Actually, that kind of reminds me of women's literature class I had in college - the professor argued that in earlier decades, women often used humor to vent some of their frustrations and anger with the world, citing novels such Life Among the Savages, while in later works women tended to internalize their anger against themselves, leading to several memoirs about anorexia and cutting. Perhaps, chick lit is a sign of improvement in that case.

Anyway, while it is a fun and light read, All We Ever Wanted doesn't take the traditional chick lit ending - not everyone gets their dream job and ends up with the right guy. The three women have faced certain things about themselves, and the novel is hopeful but there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done. The women are also more complicated then the stereotypes they embody and could so easily be treated as.

The novel starts on the day that Janice's husband Paul's company goes public. After years of living the good life in California, they are about to hit the really good life that all their neighbors enjoy. That evening, her husband sends her a letter, telling her their marriage is over and he's leaving her for her best friend. Her oldest daughter, Margaret, meanwhile, is in LA, and on the verge of bankruptcy - she is in debt, her magazine is failing, and she just lost the one potential investor she had. Her boyfriend broke up with her a few months ago, although no one in her family knows. When she hears about her mom's problems, she decides to go home to "help out" when in fact it's an opportunity to hide from creditors, avoid eviction and continue to enjoy life with gas and electricity. Lizzie, the youngest daughter and the miracle baby, is fourteen, and a freshmen in high school. After being chubby much of her life, dieting and swim team have helped her lose weight. After the weight loss, she started getting male attention which she wasn't used to, and misunderstood their interest in sex as interest in her - basically, as the book puts it, "she's become the school slut."

The three women all try different approaches to their problems, none of which involve confiding in each other or talking to each other - they basically live as three strangers in the house, not wanting to start fights or ruin anyone's expectations. Lizzie finds religion, Margaret sleeps and drinks her days away, and Janice uses crystal meth to help her keep it all together until even her dealer is trying to tell her she might have a problem.

I really enjoyed this book - it was a fun read but actually developed three dimensional characters that weren't just fluff. There was some hilarious scenes. One of the problems with some chick lit tends to be how unrealistic it is - "oh, the poor twenty something that can't afford her rent or Prada bag as a publicist" etc. Obviously, these women's lives are a little beyond anything I can relate to but it was still portrayed in a way that was rather relatable.

Book 95: Caramelo

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

I've stumbled across The House on Mango Street a few times while browsing through Amazon, but never actually ordered it. Still, I was kind of interested in the author, so after seeing Sophia's review of the novel Caramelo, I decided to read it.

As she said, it is a slow read at times. I think part of it may have just been that I was a little busy when I started reading this anyway so it felt like I wasn't making much progress until I finally just brought it on the plane with me on my way to Budapest. The first section serves as an introduction to Celaya's extended family with their trip to Mexico for the summer. This was the first and only time that her family traveled down to Mexico as a caravan though they all visited annually and after all the fights, it definitely did not become a family tradition. Lala and her cousins are all afraid of her grandmother, who has a very distinct preference for her oldest son, Lala's father. This means she isn't always that nice to her other children, and she has problems with her daughter-in-law, who took away her son, and even is jealous of her grandchildren.

The second section describes Soledad, her grandmother, and all the hardships she endured in her life. Her first son, Inocencio, was the first stable and permanent love she had, so it is perhaps understandable how her life became so focused on him - her mother died, her father shipped her off to relatives, her husband cheated on her - a series of losses and disappointments.

After this, we move into Inocencio's life, and that of his children. Inocencio and his brothers all ended up in Chicago in business together, but the dream of owning property drives him to Texas, where four of his children have to make some adjustments (the other three were old enough to refuse to go).

Overall, it was a slow novel but a very well drawn picture of a family. I especially enjoyed the parts in the grandmother's sections in which the grandmother and granddaughter are talking to each other, the grandmother telling her she is adding too much to the story or leaving too much out (she kept begging for a love scene between herself and her husband but Lala brushed her off, choosing to go the more tragic route of unrequited love). Some of the parts are very reminiscent of other coming of age stories - the crazy, wild friends, but it all worked well together, and I enjoyed the twists and turns.

Book 94: Wonder Boys

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and was disappointed with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I remembered enjoying the film Wonderboys so I figured if I was going to give Chabon another try, that was probably the novel to go with.

The physical description of the main character and narrator sounds nothing like Michael Douglas, although I remember liking his role in the film. Same with Hannah and Katie Holmes. Overall, I liked the book - I couldn't believe how much pot Grady smoked, though.

Grady is an author, working at a college in New England. He has been working on his new novel for seven years, and is nowhere near finishing it, despite being at over 2000 pages. His third marriage is ending, he is having an affair with the chancellor who is also the head of the English department's wife, and she has just told him that she is pregnant. Instead of dealing with all these issues, Grady starts hanging out with an odd and slightly depressed student, which leads to a few dead pets (never leave an animal anywhere near Grady would be the lesson in this one) and really bad road trip moments.

It's actually funny, although Grady is just ridiculous at times - at 41, he has somehow avoided growing up. It really starts sinking in how much of a disappointment he has become as he deals with his editor and best friend, his third wife, his girlfriend and his admiring students, such as James and Hannah, who become slightly disillusioned with him.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunday Music Video

Bush - Glycerine

I'd almost forgotten how much I used to like these guys until I heard them on shuffle at the gym. That's one nice thing about having an ipod with more than 2 gigs (I still have the first generation nano in my car).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book 93: The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

I admit, the only reason I picked this up is because I was so excited to be in a bookstore stocked full of books in English for the first time in months but knew that I had to watch myself because the pound is a lot more expensive than the dollar. As a result, I stuck to books that were in the buy two, get one free section, or marked half off like this one. Also since I was traveling with Ryanair, I was only allowed one carry on, which included my purse, so there was no way to get all the books back if I'd let myself go wild.

The title character is Clare, a young woman who has just moved to Hong Kong with her new husband, Martin. She is from a rural and unexciting background and quickly finds herself overwhelmed and amazed by the society surrounding her in Hong Kong. She starts teaching the piano to a young Chinese girl, Locket Chen. The Chens have a man named Will Truesdale employed as their driver, though he keeps odd hours. Will has been in the area since 1941 (it is now 1952). The first part of the novel flashes back between Clare's perspective in 1952 and Will's in 1941. Needless to say, the two start to have an affair but Will has become a rather mysterious and introverted person. When he first arrived, he quickly became involved with Trudy Liang, a cousin of Melody Chen (Locket's mother).

The novel really didn't pick up for me until the second part, which discusses Will's experiences in the camp established by the Japanese for foreign citizens. Since the novel is portrayed from Will's perspective, I feel like he occasionally does Trudy an injustice in her portrayal, especially in the beginning when she just seemed like a floating party girl. By the end, I found her much more likable, but it took me a while to warm up to her, or even really see much of a personality there beyond glamorous, rich and spoiled - and yet, he was completely in love with her.

Trudy, of course, is no longer around, and the question is what happened to her. The third part deals with Will's motivations for taking the jobs he has and staying around Hong Kong. Without Trudy, he has become an empty shell of a man with only one goal in mind, and once that has been accomplished, it is questionable what else he has left to live for. All the English characters seem just a bit xenophobic or racist at various points, either based on ignorance or an inability and unwillingness to learn about the culture of the country they are living in.

Overall, it was a slow start but the middle section was rather strong, and addressed something of which I had no previous knowledge. Still, the overall plot isn't exactly too original - the man that loses his love and becomes an empty shell, full of regret and wishing for revenge; the young, innocent new wife who married out of convenience, never hoping for more, suddenly thrust into new surroundings, and trying to find herself . . .

Book 92: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

This book was so much fun. However, that does not do Brooks credit. While he writes about zombies, he also takes a look at globalization, third world vs. first world countries, and takes all these types of things into consideration in a well-thought out novel about zombies. I loved how Israel was the first country to take the threat seriously because, as one of their spies states, it was made up of "a group of people who live in constant fear of extinction" (32). In the United States, on the other hand, the reaction was to buy a bunch of fake vaccines on the market and pretend that it could never happen to them.

Eventually all the countries end up with areas of survivors, usually because the government made the tough decision to decide who was worth saving and where to cut their losses. The novel is an oral history, so there is never any doubt that some kind of humanity has survived, and somehow won the war. The novel is divided up into showing the beginnings of the zombie plague, the first reactions, the expanding zombie hordes and the human losses, until finally the humans can build enough stability in their small remaining territories to start stricking back.

Not only does the Zombie War have a horrendous affect on humanity, but I kept thinking about how badly it must have messed up the rest of nature -escaping humans hunting the forrests empty (and it didn't seem like the zombies really cared too much whether they were eating humans or any flesh in general). It seems like usually when this kind of apocalyptic stuff occurs, at least nature has an upper hand.

Basically, it was very entertaining but Brooks did not take the easy way out with simply portraying a bunch of flesh-eating monsters. He also explored politics and many other current issues to predict how the spread would occur and how different people and countries would possibly react.

Book 91: Darkness, Take My Hand

Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

This novel is the second of the Kenzie/Gennaro series and the follow up to A Drink Before the War. While I enjoyed the first of the series, I thought the end just went way too over the top with neighborhoods becoming war zones in a gang war, and too many things blowing up - there was no way they could have come through some of those gunfights without being arrested.

In Darkness, Take My Hand, Lehane keeps the action much tighter, and as a result, more believable to me. The novel starts simple enough: a woman hires the team because she believes she has been threatened by the mob, and wants to protect her son. It quickly turns out that the mob is not a threat and in fact there is something much deeper involved, linking back to the '70s, and a secret from the past.

Patrick Kenzie, the narrator, had a complicated relationship with his father - actually, that might be putting it nicely. They really didn't get along. This came up quite a few times in the first novel, and continues to be an issue here. In fact, it turns out that his father is tied to this case, and is one of the reasons that Patrick is even involved. A serial killer is on the loose, and his crimes are very reminiscent of a spree of murders from the '70s. It isn't too difficult to determine the identity of the copy cat since the original killer is still in prison and rather idolized, but finding him is another story. And of course, the truth is not quite as simple as that.

This novel also explores other issues from the past, especially the relationship between Patrick, Angela and Angela's abusive husband Phil, whom she is divorcing in this novel. Patrick who was portrayed as a bit of a womanizer with a failed marriage under his belt is seeing a doctor with a daughter, and naturally his job starts affecting his personal life. I was surprised by a few of the revelations concerning their past but it would explain why things are so complicated between them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Music Video

Oasis - Wonderwall

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book 90: The 25th Hour

The 25th Hour by David Benioff

I saw The 25th Hour years ago when it originally came out in theaters, and it just didn't quite work for me. As a result, I never would have picked up the book (I had no idea it was based on a novel) if it hadn't been for the fact that I recently read City of Thieves by the same author and adored it.

I think part of it might have been my age (I was about 18/19 when the movie came out). From what I remember, the film is an incredibly loyal adaptation but it probably helps when the author writes the screen play. Sometimes though, incredibly loyal isn't always good - what works on the page doesn't work on the screen. I think more of the problem may have been miscasting. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a good actor, I'll give him that; however, he isn't one of those actors with a baby face or one that looks much more youthful than he actually is. The character Jakob, who he portrays in the film, has a bit of a crush on one of his students. Not exactly moral or ethical but Jakob is supposed to be 26,27, and the student is 17ish. In the novel, therefore, it isn't quite as uncomfortable as when you see a 35 year old Hoffman mooning over Anna Paquin. Which actually goes beyond uncomfortable into creepy.

For anyone who hasn't seen the film or read the novel, the basic story is that Monty, a drug dealer, is going to prison for seven years the next day. He and his two best friends from high school as well as his girlfriend have one last night planned. He also has to tie up some loose ends with his old business associates. Slattery comes from the same background as Monty and now works as a stock broker with ridiculous amounts of money; Jakob is a teacher at the same private school they all went to high school (Slattery and Monty were the financial aid kids but now it is Jakob who makes the least money). Slattery, Jakob and Naturelle all have to figure out how to deal with Monty's departure and there is a lot of awkwardness and discomfort in dealing with Monty on his last night - act like nothing is wrong and have fun, or talk about? All the people in the novel seem more bond by their past than anything they currently have in common, and except for Jakob, they are less than optimistic about the future.

I definitely kept picturing Edward Norton, Dennis and Rosario Dawson while reading this book, and I want to see the movie again now since I want to see how time has changed my perspective. I enjoyed the story much more this time around, although occasionally I like knowing what's going to happen so maybe that's why.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book 89: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

This book was pretty much exactly what I expected and wanted when I bought it: a light, fun, easy read. I'd never heard of this book before I'd heard of the movie, and being me, I naturally wanted to read the book before I saw the film. I'd read a few reviews which said that in the movie Julie comes off as rather boring compared to Julia, and also that she is whiny and ego-centric. I'd also heard that this doesn't quite do justice to the book version of Julie. Is she a little self-centered? Yes - but most bloggers that write books tend to be self centered or at least portray themselves as such, usually making fun of themselves and going for the humor at their own expense. The whole point is that these people are basically average who just happen to get a book deal due to luck and some entertaining writing (obviously, it takes a little more, but you get what I'm saying).

Julie sounds like fun. Her husband sounds absolutely amazing. The fact that she's a Buffy fan, of course, makes up for several flaws she might have. Julia isn't a huge character in the book (Julie writes a few short, page long scenes of what her life may have been like, but unlike the movie, it isn't a split between the two women - it's Julie's story), and while Julie seems to have the perfect husband, some of the things she writes also show that she maybe doesn't quite appreciate him and that they have occasional rough patches. Of course, I googled her afterwards because I was curious about how her marriage ended up given some of her comments in the book . . . It's hard for me to say much else given that. However, I enjoyed the book, and will definitely check out her next book Cleaved when it is published and released in paperback. If I remember her by that point in time - I said it was fun, not necessarily classic lit or anything Earth shattering that's going to leave a huge and lasting impression here.

Book 88: Foundation and Earth

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

Only a few days ago, I was bitching about the fact that T.C. Boyle's treatment of his characters really affected my ability to enjoy and get through the novel The Women - they didn't appeal to me, and as a result, the book wasn't really getting me all too interested. I read Foundation and Earth shortly afterwards, and I wasn't really that into the main characters in this one, either. However, the plot was so interesting that I kept on reading and more or less devoured the book (and considered cancelling on a night out just so I'd be able to finish it - I'm not quite that nerdy yet, though).

I guess the main thing is that despite the character flaws, the novel still has an interesting enough premise and a forward moving plot to keep the reader engaged (if on the other hand, you're writing a character-driven novel, well, it helps to have characters that are worth a damn). Foundation and Earth picks up right where Foundation's Edge left off. Trevize is not sure why he made the decision he did, and feels like Earth might be the key to figuring out what inspired him. His friend Pelorat who seemed only recently content to stay on Gaia forever decides to join him, and fulfill a life long dream of discovering the planet of origin. Bliss tags along a representative of Gaia, and Pelorat's new lover.

I guess the thing I didn't really like about the characters that much is that Trevize was just a little too full of himself at times, and I got a little tired of Bliss's debates about Gaia vs. the Isolates (I don't want to get too far into it without also giving away the end of the last novel). Bliss just really didn't do it for me. I also felt like Pelorat was given the short end of the stick as the dowdering old professor, and perhaps one of the reasons I got annoyed with Trevize is that he seemed to act like a know it all in comparison to the older man, who happily took it and bowed to Trevize's "oh so superior" knowledge.

As I said, I loved the search for Earth, the analyzing and shifting through old mythology and legend - have I mentioned that I like Battlestar Galactica? And Firefly (which may not have a search for Earth but definitely has terraforming!). The travelers find more vague clues as they go, and finally find another group of planets that were originally settled by Earth, though not so successfully. They find grids to three of them, and search for more clues to Earth on each of them, all of which only show humanity's failures. They also pick up a random traveler, who I really didn't like, and I especially didn't like Bliss's relationship with the person, feeling like it made her even more annoying.

However, as I said, the plot was definitely interesting. Apparently this is the novel that really ties the Robot and the Foundation series together, and after I read the two Foundation prequels, I'll definitely be starting the Robot mysteries. Well, it might depend on what's at the PX tomorrow as well. One thing that I found rather dissatisfying about the end was that Trevize finally gets the answer he's been looking for but it wasn't exactly built on anything previously, and Earth really had nothing to do with his answer. In fact, it kind of opens up more questions, and the book definitely didn't feel like a final conclusion.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Book 87: Love is a Mix Tape

Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

I read about this at Pandagon, ordered it and promptly forgot what it was about. Of course the first chapter already tells the reader that Sheffield is writing about the woman he loved and lost, Renee, his wife who died after five years of marriage, so the grief does not come as a surprise.

Naturally, when seeing the words mix tape, the first movie I think of is High Fidelity. However, Sheffield doesn't try to come up with rules and lists in this book (though each chapter begins with a mix tape mix he or Renee made at one point); he's using his love of music to talk about his wife and his loss. Music was their common bond, and as a result, he has hundreds of mix tapes lying around the house that he and Renee made. I didn't get many of the references or even know most of the bands he talked about - a few years can make quite a difference in the music scene, and I've never really been enough of a music lover to explore the indie scene - I pretty much just listen to mainstream radio.

Overall, it was a sweet book. Sheffield had some amusing anecdotes that kept the book from getting too heavy or sad since it wasn't just about his wife's death. Amanda at Pandagon at some interesting things to say about it as well, and I don't want to simply copy or plagiarize her, so I'd definitely recommend going to the link above for more in depth analysis.

Sunday Music Video

Twist and Shout from Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Is it a bad time to admit that I've never seen Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club in their entirety? Or that when I was little I used to hate watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off? I was such a stickler for the rules, I always got anxious during the movie because I just felt like he was going to get caught. By the time I was a teenager, I was able to just enjoy the story, but when I was younger, I never wanted to watch it when my dad put it in the VCR.

Book 86: The Women

The Women by T.C. Boyle

I was rather disappointed with this novel. T.C. Boyle has already once ficitionalized a famous person's life in The Inner Circle, and in The Women, he focuses on Frank Lloyd Wright and three of the women he was involved with. The narrator is one of his apprentices, an architect from Japan, and tells in the story of Olgivanna Milanoff, Maude Miriam Noel and Mamah Borthwick, his last two wives and his infamous mistress in reverse chronological order.

The biggest issue with the novel is that Boyle doesn't portray any of the characters that sympathetically, with the exception of Kitty Tobin, Wright's first wife who has only a minor role. Miriam, who is present in the majority of the novel, is an obnoxious drama queen with no redeeming qualities and at no point did I come close to understanding her relationship with Wright or why they would even be attracted to each other. Wright also does not come off as an appealing character, and while he certainly had his flaws, surely, Boyle must have been able to find some positives about the man if he was willing to devote an entire novel to him.

It was hard for me to get through due to the treatment of Miriam who played such a major role without being appealing in the least. Even Olgivanna wasn't that interesting to me. The novel was strongest during the passages from the fictional narrator with which each part started before going into Wright's history with the perspective woman from that section of the novel. He was much more interesting and life-like than any of the women Boyle portrays. The last hundred pages focusing on Wright and Mamah Borthwick also weren't too bad but even here he portrays her as a bit of a self-righteous idiot who gives away her books and feels she giving people a blessing in the process. While I am not arguing that Borthwick was not influenced by the Swedish author Ellen Keyes, Boyle portrayed that very negatively and made Borthwick look like a fawning teenager/ someone who was just trying to justify her actions.

I feel like Loving Frank gave a much more balanced portrayal of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick - it showed their flaws without making them entirely unsympathetic, and made it understandable that these two people would have fallen for each other. It's smaller in scope and doesn't discuss the other two women that The Women focuses on, but it's definitely a better novel than this one.