Thursday, February 28, 2013

Audiobook Review: Half Empty and Don't Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff

So you may have noticed that my posts were all up and down for the past week or so.  I started feeling bad last Friday and it's been up and down and finally this morning I sucked it up and went to the doctor and I have bronchitis.  Nothing world-ending, but super uncomfortable and the reason I haven't been as bloggy lately as I usually am.  On to the books...

These are two audiobooks by David Rakoff that are similar enough to each other to go ahead and review jointly.  Both are collections of essays concerning popular culture, current events, society, and Rakoff's own personal life, in the style of David Sedaris.  He's sarcastic and caustic and has no qualms about naming names and ruffling feathers.  His major attacks go toward all things superficial and excessive, particularly those that are quintessentially American.

Hilarious.  His sense of humor is very much like mine.  I like his use of dry wit and sarcasm and I greatly appreciate that is more frequently than not the butt of his own jokes.  Self-deprecation is important to me in humor, especially when your humor is meant to attack the excesses of popular culture.  Jokes regarding the over-indulgence and consumer-driven society made by anyone who is currently reaping the benefits of that excess (myself included) must have some sense of self-deprecation or they come across as insincere or uninformed.

Entetainment Value
Again, I identify with Rakoff's sense of humor and found myself laughing throughout.  My one problem with Rakoff is that I feel like he occasionally crosses the lines of taste.  He's unapologetic about his dislike for the Republican party and his particular hatred of George Bush (these books were both written during the end of the Bush administration/early days of the Obama administration).

I want to be clear that I'm ok with hearing my political opinions skewered.  And I didn't find all of his jokes about conservatives to be tasteless or even entirely off the mark.  But I also found some remarks to be too much for me, even in non-political references.  For instance, the author uses a particularly offensive word for women in his descriptions of both the first lady and just a random woman on the street.  It almost undermines the joke to me.  Describe why you think they live up to that word, make the joke based on their actions or insensitive comments, but don't just use one pejorative word for female anatomy to make your remark funny.  I think Rakoff is smarter than that and it bothered me to see him use that word.

Rakoff narrates his own books and I found his voice easy to listen to.  Hearing him tell his own jokes with his own inflection added to how funny I found them to be.  Again, the use of nasty words to describe women was somewhat  unsettling to hear in audio.

I think they're certainly worth listening to and I'd be interested in reading more of his essays in the future.  If you like Sedaris, I really think you'll like Rakoff as well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: When "Spiritual But Not Religious" Is Not Enough by Lillian Daniel

When I saw this book available on NetGalley, I was very intrigued by the title.  It's something that people tend to say a lot, but hard to pin down as a specific world-view.  Daniel is a progressive liberal minister who pastors a UCC church and she unpacks the meaning of this phrase in one of the essays included in this book, along with other thoughts on faith and culture.

I was really impressed with the author's writing.  I think she tackles sensitive topics in a clear, level-headed way that doesn't alienate those on either end of the spectrum.  At the same time, she doesn't come across as intimidated by the need to meet expectations or limited in her willingness to challenge popular opinion. Some essays were weaker than others, but I think that's the norm for any collection.  I would certainly compare her writing style and depth of insight with authors like Donald Miller or Rob Bell.

Entertainment Value
Again, as with any collection of spiritually-minded essays, some appealed to me more than others.  I particularly enjoyed the title essay, "An Honest Prayer", "We and They", "Sing Sing", and "Please Stop Boring Me".  Theologically I'm not always on the same page as the author, but I didn't feel that that kept me from understanding or gaining insight from her essays.  In fact, what I appreciated most about her essays were the recognition of multiple points of view within the Christian faith and her move to embrace religion and doctrine, instead of following the fad of rejecting anything "organized".  At the same time, she is honest and willing to examine the failings of the church as a whole.

I highly recommend giving this one a try.  I thoroughly enjoyed the read and came away with some applications for my own life and a wealth of new ideas to consider.

A few quotes relating to the title essay and the importance of organized religion, as well as answer themes that I see as very timely for religion today and in my own life:

"There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself.  What is interesting is doing this work in a community, where other people might call you on stuff or, heaven forbid, disagree with you.  Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition you did not invent all for yourself."

"You can be open-minded and still know what you think.  You can be accepting of other people's ideas and still articulate your own."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: The Shadow Wars by Rod Rees

Ok, Reader Friends.  I feel like I'm always learning new things about the blog world and the book world, and the Demi-Monde series has certainly taught me things. Mainly, I learned not to join a tour for the second book in the series because you think you will like the series.  I had already received the Demi-Monde and it is SO my kind of book and I'd been looking for a reason to read it, so I figured joining the tour for the second book, The Shadow Wars, would be a great way to force myself to jump in.  

Here's the problem: I hated it.  And I HATE it when I don't like books that I'm part of a tour for.  I love the TLC ladies and I hate feeling like I've let them down on a tour.  I also think my dislike might not have been so strong if I hadn't made myself read both of these back to back.  Had it just been one, I would have been more like "meh, this isn't for me."  But having to consume approximately 1000 pages consecutively of a story I wasn't into with characters I didn't like, in a voice that grated made me irrationally angry.  

All of that to say, I'm going to do my best to temper this review with the knowledge that I made a mistake in choosing the second book before reading the first and that had it just been one book I probably wouldn't dislike it this much.

This is the cover for the first book in the series before the book was repackaged.  It's very steampunk, which is what drew me in.  The basic premise is that in the future the US military created a virtual reality simulation of our world using major cities and randomly inserted the personalities of major criminal figures (Mengele, Heydrich, Robespierre, and Torquemada to name a few) as well as overpopulating the world.  The program insures that there will be constant political strife and war amongst the four major populations groups, as they are led by evil masterminds and programmed to have wide variations in political, religious, and sexual ideology.  The government will then use this Demi-Monde to train new troops.

In the first book, the President's daughter is lured into the Demi-Monde and kidnapped.  The army finds a young jazz singer named Ella who is reluctantly recruited to go into the Demi-Monde (which the government has already lost control of) and retrieve the President's daughter.  In the second book, our main characters are still trapped in the Demi-Monde and are faced with an even greater evil than the computer-generated villains of the first novel.  That should cover the basics.


My main problem with the writing was that there was WAY too much going on.  During the first book, we have this whole totally unsubtle Judeo-Christian theme.  The computer system is called ABBA and everyone in the Demi-Monde considers ABBA to be their god.  When Ella is able to save a population of Eastern Europeans known as the nuJus (ugh, so offensive!) to a "promised land" of safety, she is dubbed the "Lady ImManual" based on the IM Manual she uses to break the code.  At first I thought we were in for a skewering of organized religion, but that never really happened.  So I figured the reason for all the religious references would be made clear in book two.

Except that never happened.  Book two seems to go in this completely unrelated direction of supernaturalism.  Where as the first book was focused on a future version of the world we live in and dealt more with technology and had the steampunk feel that I appreciate, the second book goes off into the supernatural, introducing vampire-like creatures and all kinds of mythological gods and goddesses and it all just made no sense in any way. 

Finally, I have to mention the many, many, many holes in logic.  Like, why would the United States of the future choose to create a world to train its soldiers in which modern technology doesn't exist?  That just seems dumb to me.  Even in combat situations in third world countries, many rebel groups have semi-automatic weapons.  Wouldn't we rather train our soldiers in a world where those things exist?  

And the whole "if you die in the Matrix Demi-Monde, you die in the real world" thing also made no sense.  So we're going to train our soldiers by putting them into a life-threatening situation in virtual reality?  If they can die in the game while they train to fight, why not just put them in the actual combat situation where they might also kill an actual enemy instead of a computer simulation of an enemy?  

Honestly, I don't think I'm nit-picking here.  If you're going to write speculative fiction, you can't just put down anything you feel like without regard for logic.  Yes, you're writing a make-believe world, but your world still has to make sense.

Entertainment Value

I think I could have overlooked the mistakes in writing and at least somewhat enjoyed the book if it weren't for the use of alternate spellings/homonyms for no real reason.  For example: soldiers in the future version of our world are called Neo Fights.  Like neophyte, but spelled differently, get it?  A few others, just off the top of my head: HerEticalism (female-dominated religion/government), Suffer-O-Gettes (violent women who want to make-men-suffer-o-gettes), UnFunDaMentalism, HimPerialism, and on and on and on.  

At the best it's just annoying, at the worst it's flat out offensive.  Women who like other women?  LessBiens (because they're Less Bien/Good).  Also, everyone with dark skin lives in a place called Noirville where they hate women and live like savages.  I can't make this up.  By the second book, I was twitching at every senseless homonym and offensive stereotype.  I know that a huge part of the plot revolved around racial and gender-based conflicts between people groups, but I felt like the words chosen to represent these groups were kind of gross, for lack of a better word.  

Again, it comes down to an issue of logic.  Would it make sense for a Heydrich or Mengele to come up with a racist or sexist term to define a people group?  Yes.  Does it make sense that the US government of the future came up with racist and sexist terms to describe the fictional world they created?  No.  It needs to make sense.  And when it doesn't make sense in terms of the world we need to accept as real, it comes across as the writer's bias instead of the character's bias.  

It's a do not recommend on all fronts.  

A major thank you to TLC for setting up the tour and, as always, check out the official tour site to see the reviews of others and get a balanced perspective from other readers who may have enjoyed the books more than I did.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

I'm going to guess that, given the Pulitzer Prize this won last year, I don't need to go too in-depth in my description.  Katherine Boo is a journalist who spent three years chronicling the lives of several families in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the story that came from those years of research and experiences as Boo immersed herself into life in Annawadi.

I feel like it would be ridiculous of me to try to critique the writing in this book.  So I'm going to have a rare moment of humility and let the Pulitzer speak for itself.  It is well-deserved.

Entertainment Value
I feel like the combination of books like this one with the Christian non-fiction I'm currently reading (Seven by Jen Hatmaker) are really giving me a new perspective on poverty and social injustice on a local and global scale.  I am so beyond blessed by the standards of basically everyone else in the world.  I am in the 1%.  It's hard to read this kind of book and realize that this is happening in the same world I live in today.  This isn't something that happened years ago or in a fictional world - this is how a large portion of the world's population lives today.

The book is heartbreaking, so be prepared.  It's not a comfortable read, but it is an important read.  I highly recommend it.  Books like this are so important and I appreciate the way Boo tells the story without moralizing.  To me, that made my own complicity in the social injustices stand out even more.  Had Boo spent the book preaching, I would have been turned off.  Instead she allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.  It's exactly the standard I look for in journalism and what I think is compelling about good journalism - its ability to inspire without a soapbox.

Read it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sony Reader Fancypants Trip to LA

I mentioned a while ago on here that I was blessed to be a part of Sony Reader's VIP Book Club group.  Each of us received a Sony Reader, a copy of each book for the first four months of the program, and a trip to LA, where we met Michael Connelly author of February's book club selection The Black Box.  Above you can see a picture of the whole group (aside: WHY DID I WEAR HORIZONTAL STRIPES?????)

I should go ahead and mention now that I am horrible at taking pictures of fun times.  I'm way too busy experiencing said fun times to get my camera or phone out and photograph them.  So this post will sadly not be picture heavy.

I was super nervous about the trip.  I am not ashamed to say that I am travel-phobic and that I am a small town girl.  I don't like crowds and big cities and airports and fancy stuff.  I like jeans and my dogs and not wearing pants for entire weekends.  Also, Luke wasn't able to travel with me, so I had to do the whole thing totally alone.  No one there to put my carry on in the rack for me or explain the ticket or tip the driver.  But, Reader Friends, I did it.  I got on that plane and I carried my own luggage, and I met people.  Go me!

Friday I spent all day on various planes and in airports and arrived in plenty of time for our welcome reception and dinner.  I got to meet the other readers and bloggers and was relieved to discover that many of them were also totally overwhelmed by the existence of LA and the super posh hotel we were staying in (the SLS in Beverly Hills if you were wondering).  We did a murder mystery theater thing during dinner and my team won (yay The Various!).  Also, dinner was super fancy and delicious.  I'm 90% sure we had Cornish hen.  Also fingerling potatoes and some kind of sprout salad that I actually really liked.

Saturday I woke up at a decent time and got breakfast at Toast with my Nestie friends Jen and Joyce.  Then I had lunch with the other Sony VIPs (another delicious meal - pasta and some kind of flank steak, I think?  Guess who isn't a foodie?  Hint: it's me - I mentioned being small town, right?).  Then we had our discussion with Michael Connelly.  I'm not a huge bestselling-thriller-cop-mystery reader, but I really enjoyed the discussion with Connelly.  He seemed to be really focused on what his readers and what will appeal to him.  As a reader, I always appreciate that.

That was the end of our Sony responsibilities, so I took a short nap and then headed out to dinner with the West Coast Nesties.  We went to a place in West Hollywood (man, I feel fancy saying that) called Cleo's.  It was dimly lit and club music was playing and it was VERY cool.  Which is why I'm SO glad that I dressed like a Mema.  See the old lady in the middle?  That's me.  I made some poor wardrobe choices this weekend but WHATEV.  I rode on a plane ALONE and MET PEOPLE.  Focus instead on my beautiful friends, Jen, Joyce, Jessica, and Tameka.  Also, I learned that I love Mediterranean food.  We had brussels sprouts (which I shockingly loved), flatbread, beef kabobs, lamb sliders, and some amazing desserts.

Then on Sunday morning, before my miserable trek back to precious Ringgold, I went to a Turkish diner with some new blogger friends.  I had scrambled eggs with fresh feta and this delicious Turkish coffee-ice-chocolate blended drink that spoiled Starbucks for me forever - or at least until I got to the airport a few hours later.

And there you have it, Reader Friends.  My fancypants trip to LA.  I had all kinds of firsts: my first check in at an airport alone, my first time in CA, my first stay in a luxury hotel (EVERYTHING was mirrored - conclusion: rich, beautiful people like to look at themselves), my first trip in a taxi, my first trip where I was met at an airport by a driver holding a sign with my name on it, my first time meeting bloggers who aren't Nesties, and my first time meeting Jen and Joyce and Jessica.  It was an incredible trip and I was so thankful to be part of it.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: No Mark Upon Her

I've started to write and deleted my book summary several times now, so I'm throwing in the towel on original plot summary.  I leave in the morning for LA and I'm in a state of panic that is so profound that thinking creatively is almost impossible.  Thankfully, my critiquing skills are still on track.  Here's what the publisher has to say about the plot:

When a K9 search-and-rescue team discovers a woman’s body tangled up with debris in the river, Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid finds himself heading an investigation fraught with complications. The victim, Rebecca Meredith, was a talented but difficult woman with many admirers—and just as many enemies. An Olympic contender on the verge of a controversial comeback, she was also a high-ranking detective with the Met—a fact that raises a host of political and ethical issues in an already sensitive case.
To further complicate the situation, a separate investigation, led by Detective Inspector Gemma James, Kincaid’s wife, soon reveals a disturbing—and possibly related—series of crimes, widening the field of suspects. But when someone tries to kill the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca’s body, the case becomes even more complex and dangerous, involving powerful interests with tentacles that reach deep into the heart of the Met itself.
Surrounded by enemies with friendly faces, pressured to find answers quickly while protecting the Yard at all costs, his career and reputation on the line, Kincaid must race to catch the killer before more innocent lives are lost—including his own.
The writing was fine - nothing exceptionally amazing or terrible.  Standard mystery fare.  I loved the setting and I actually enjoyed the rowing theme throughout, which is unusual because I'm not typically into the whole sports atmosphere.  However, I think the author did a really good job of combining the setting and the details about the sport with the plotting.  
Entertainment value
Unfortunately, this was also kind of a "meh" for me as far as entertainment goes.  I wasn't bored.  I didn't dislike it.  But I also didn't love it or find myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading.  I thought I'd like the search and rescue dogs aspect of it more, but I just couldn't get into that part of the story.  It was also much more cozy mystery than a thriller, which is what I expected based on the cover.  
And, finally, this is a series book.  There's no indication anywhere on the cover or in the publisher's information or anywhere else that this is a series book, but it is.  It can certainly be read as a stand-alone. There wasn't anything taken away from the story because it's a series, but I knew.  It took me a few chapter to realize it and then I had to do some investigating to figure it out, because it's marketed as "a novel" not "a name of series novel" or "book x in name of series".  For a lot of people it wouldn't have mattered at all, but I have a THING about series books.  I HAVE to read them in order, even if they are fine as stand-alones.  So realizing that totally threw me off.  But like I said, it IS fine as a stand-alone, I just felt off through it because I wanted to know the characters' back stories.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick

I wasn't sold when Lisa from TLC pitched this one to me using words like "gritty" and "harsh."  She wasn't too sure it would appeal to me either.  But then she mentioned Southern Gothic, which is a HUGE love of mine, and also happened to name drop the setting - Waycross, GA.  My mom's family is from Waycross and my Mema and Aunt Barbara still live there.  I've spent holidays there for my whole life.  I HAD to read it when I heard that parts take place in Waycross.

Basically, it's a Southern Gothic novella that follows a ne'er do well good old boy, Billy, who beats his girlfriend and flees town (Waycross) in his daddy's old Cadillac.  When he stops to pick up a mysterious hitchhiker, he is forced to examine his life and how all roads eventually lead home (Waycross again).  Bonus shoutout to Homerville, where I have had my own creepy experiences late at night (long story short - late night, deserted town, telling ghost stories with my siblings while road tripping to Mema's, man appears out of NOWHERE and we all scream and freak out - not neatly as interesting as Helmick's story, but HOMERVILLE!  Another person has heard of this place!)

I was at times impressed and at times wished for more from the writing.  I reviewed a PDF and so I'm thinking some of the issues I had with the writing (inconsistent verb tenses mainly) could have been a pre-release issue as opposed to an issue with the final copy.  My other main issue with the writing is that it's described as a "morality tale."  And I could not for the life of me tell you what the moral of the story is.  I mean other than "don't be a woman-beating jerk".  Which I think most people already have figured out before reading the book.  Billy is a bad man and he deserves the bad things that happen to him.  So I'm not really sure how it's a morality tale, other than when you do bad things, lots of times bad things happen to you in return.

Entertainment Value
I was totally into the story.  As far as entertainment value is concerned, I was hooked.  I read it quickly and easily and I think the length is perfect for the story Helmick is telling.  I wouldn't add or take away any of it.  I loved the whole "devil went down to Georgia"/"mysterious hitchhiker - OR IS SHE" thing the story had going.  It's a very familiar story, but I think that Helmick put his own spin on it.  It certainly feels Southern and certainly has the gothic elements I was looking for.

It is, however, certainly gritty.  More gritty than my typical read, but not so gritty that I couldn't handle reading it.  The language is more explicit than I prefer, but fitting for the story.  And I loved that Helmick included several "Southernisms" that I recognized (What's your name? Puddin' Tane...)  There are also assault descriptions, including an attempted sexual assault, but nothing more graphic than you'd read in your typical thriller.

If Southern Gothic is your thing, or if you're a fan of grit, or if you're a fan of that somewhat supernatural Southern setting, I think this one is worth trying out.  It's not a long or difficult read, so the time commitment isn't huge, and I found the story to be incredibly entertaining.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The New Bookcases

I wrote a week or two ago about my new bookcases attacking me and causing general chaos and a bruise that I still have.  Remember?
It looked something like this.  

And put this hole in my bed.

So Luke ordered wall brackets and last week we put them back up, securely attached to the wall this time.  I thought I'd share a few pictures of my new pretties.

I'm not really sure what to do with the small spaces along the top and bottom (other than stick books in them).  I may do some fabric-covered books in colors that match my room to stack on the top shelves.  I've also thought about trying the whole books-without-covers-tied-with-twine.  I know a lot of people get all up in arms over "destroying" books, but I'm not one of them.  If it looks pretty and it's not a valuable or rare book, why not tear it up?  Anyway, that's another story for another day...  If you've got any great decorating advice for those spaces, I'd love to hear them.

I haven't really done any organizing of the shelves other than the middle two shelves, which are all galleys or review copies from publishers.  Those are organized in the order I received them, and I've left a small amount of space for any incoming books.  I think at some point in the future I'll do a full bookshelf tour, if only for my own entertainment.

For now, I no longer have books stacked on the floor.  I still have an entire shelf of my closet that holds nothing but books, but this was a huge step towards getting all my books shelved.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

When I put this book on my hold list at the library, I didn't know anything about Cheryl Strayed or her advice column, Dear Sugar, featured on The Rumpus.  I honestly still haven't ever even been to the website for The Rumpus to see more of her advice columns, although I really meant to after reading the book.  I'll have to add it to my blog feed at some point because Strayed really impressed me with her advice.  She is simultaneously loving and patient, but also straight-shooting and blunt.  Everyone's life could be improved by some piece of advice given throughout the book.

I think Strayed is certainly talented.  As I mentioned above, her advice is put forward in a gentle, loving tone, but she also addresses issues head on and doesn't coddle readers.  She can be painfully honest, but does it in a way that is devoid of judgment.  One of the worst qualities in an advice columnist is a lack of self-awareness and humility, and Strayed does an amazing job of incorporating her own mistakes in a way that shows she is down to earth and doesn't have lofty ideas of her own success.

Entertainment Value
Whether or not you agree with all of Sugar's advice, there is something for everyone in this book.  I appreciate that Strayed shows a huge amount of respect for various belief systems.  For example, even though I have a much more traditional view of human sexual mores than Strayed does, I felt like I could still relate to the ideas behind her advice, even when I didn't agree with the actual advice, if that makes sense.  Or, at least, I felt like she would be ok with my belief systems as well.

I loved it.  I highly recommend reading it, even if you don't agree with everything Strayed stands for.  And, as I was typing this, I added Dear Sugar to Google Reader. :)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Audiobook Review: Ali in Wonderland by Ali Wentworth

Ali Wentworth is kind of one of those people who is famous for being around famous people.  I hate to say it that way because she is funny and she does have her own credentials, but the main things she is known for is being rich, being the daughter of Washington political big wigs, and being married to George Stephanopoulos.  Oh, and she was on In Living Color, which was before my time, but which is a legitimate credential.  This is a collection of essays about her and her life, and it's vaguely memoir-ish, but not chronological and not about anything really specific, so more just random funny stories of things that have happened to her.

Nothing great, nothing awful. I think she's largely funny and entertaining and when you're reading a celebrity memoir that's pretty much what you're looking for, right?

Entertainment Value
This is where things get somewhat dicey for me and I have to take away my full-fledged endorsement of the book.  I've talked in the past about not being easily annoyed by authors who mention being privileged (see my reviews for Joan Didions books).  Look, if you've got money and you're writing about your life, you can't help but write about having money.  Authors shouldn't have to pretend to be poor and if they're lucky enough to be incredibly well-connected and incredibly talented and incredibly wealthy, well, I'm not going to hold it against them, especially in a memoir.

However, I think if the author is going to try to use those aspects of life to achieve a humorous affect, the author needs to have a certain amount of self-awareness.   Like "haha, I'm rich and spoiled and I know I sound ridiculous talking about my family money pools".  If there isn't some kind of self-awareness of how fortunate you are, you just come across sounding spoiled.

A lot of these essays are just plain funny and don't cross into spoiled rotten territory.  I'd say the majority are a pleasurable and entertaining read.  But there are just a few where Wentworth talks about some things most people would consider amazing blessings in a way that makes her sound annoying.  In one essay she describes how annoying it is to take yearly vacations to tropical all inclusive resorts with her family.  Without a trace of irony.  Yeah.  It just kind of rubs the wrong way.  She can't help her privilege, but I think she'd be funnier if she showed a little more self-awareness.

The author narrates the audiobook and her voice is cute and perky and fun to listen to when she's not saying something obnoxious about the difficulties faced by the upper class.  Seriously, I'm not bitter at all that I don't get yearly trips to all-inclusives in exotic locales.  Really.  Not at all.

It's a fine diversion.  It's the equivalent of sitting down to watch a sitcom because you have half an hour till bedtime and you can't think of anything else to do.  In terms of quality reading, I could have spent my time better.  In terms of something to listen to in the car on the way to work, it was better than Top 40 radio.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: This I Believe: Life Lessons

 This is just one in a series of essays published by NPR from people across all walks of life describing their belief systems.  This edition focuses on life lessons.  Each author describes a life lesson they feel has been most significant for them in approximately 2 to 5 pages.  They're short and easy to read and, frequently, profound and motivating.

My personal favorite revolved around the idea of repurposing instead of purchasing.  As I've been cleaning and organizing my home, I've been working hard to employ this.  Instead of rushing out to the store to buy storage and organization items (which is SO tempting and would be SO much fun), I'm trying hard to use things I already own that could function just as well.

Obviously, the writing style and skill varies by author.  Some of the authors are authors and some are scientists and some are housewives - you get the idea.  I think the skill in writing was less important in this book than it was the ability to convey the life lesson in an inspiring way.  For me, the book succeeded pretty much across the board.

Entertainment Value
This makes for a perfect bedside table (or back of the toilet) book.  It can be read in bits and pieces and it doesn't require a lot of time to complete an essay - they are all very short.  At the same time, I think it makes for a fine book to sit down and read all at once as well - that's how I read it.

I recommend giving it a try.  It's pretty cool to read about what other people consider their most important life lessons and, as with the repurposing essay, I think there's something for everyone to glean some insight from.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Let's Discuss: Technology In Adult Fiction

I really ought to be able to come up with a better post title than this, but I just can't seem to.  So, anyway, I feel like this is something that has really jumped out to me recently in adult fiction, particularly thriller/mystery type books.  And I'm wondering if it's just me or if it annoys other people as well.

I'm currently listening to Long Gone by Alafair Burke and so far there have been explanations of what a pre-paid cell phone is and why a teenager whose parents won't buy them a cell phone might purchase one; what a Facebook page is and how "tagging" someone in a photo works; and Google Maps/GPS and how a person might use to find a location.

As much as I'm enjoying the book, I find that these explanations totally take me out of the story.  All I can think is "Are there really American readers out there who don't know what Facebook is or have no idea why a police officer might use GPS?"  I've noticed the same thing in other adult novels, but not really in YA as much (for obvious reasons).  It really makes the book feel dated to me - I automatically assume it was published several years ago, although many, including long gone, are very recently published.

I can understand why books intended for adults may need to explain technology in more depth than books for young adults, and I think in many cases it's appropriate (Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy for example).  But I'm wondering where the line is?  At what point will authors no longer feel it necessary to explain what a Facebook Wall is?

Do you think we've reached that point?  What technology descriptions do you think are necessary for adult fiction and what do you think authors should assume the general public will understand?

Monday, February 4, 2013

What I Read In January

I had this really great idea last year that it would be cool to stack up the books I read in a month and then post that picture with my monthly roundup post.  And then I was like, "well, I should probably just wait till the new year to start because that would be more logical."  And now it's January and I'm ready to post my roundup and I'm at work and haven't taken the picture.  So maybe next year I'll actually follow through on that.  I HAVE followed through on the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home plan and I will tell you all about it after I list the books I read.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Best American Non-Required Reading 2002
Darkness Visible by William Styron
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Ali in Wonderland by Ali Wentworth
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer
Half Empty by David Rakoff
Don't Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Total books read: 12
Total pages read: 3197
Amount saved: $145.85

So, I mentioned at the beginning of the year I'd be following the schedule found at Home Storage Solutions called 52 Weeks to an Organized Home.  I started off about a week behind, but I've caught up pretty quickly and I am SO pleased with my progress.  I really wanted to simplify and get rid of "stuff" this year and this has given me the push I needed.

The first four weeks revolve around the kitchen - specifically determining what functions you want your kitchen to serve and getting rid of everything that doesn't support those functions.  I am happy to report that I got rid of boxes of unused kitchen implements AND that my kitchen is now more clean and organized than it has ever been, including when we first moved in.  I am slowly working on caulking my cabinets, but the organization and cleaning portion is complete.  I can easily find and access everything I need and I have storage space to spare.  It's a miracle.

Looking forward, February will be a slower month for me.  Several of the weekly tasks won't apply to my life.  I don't coupon and I don't really have any written recipes and my cookbooks are already organized, so those weeks won't require much.  Hopefully I can use them to finish caulking my kitchen and work ahead on some of the more difficult weeks (organizing the garage?).

How were your Januaries?  Anything exciting happen?  Any great books read?