Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No Place Like Home - Brooke Berman

No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments by Brooke Berman/Harmony Books/2010/pgs251/ Memoir/Women Coming of Age/New York/Theater-Art Life

In this engaging chronology spanning twenty years, from college to hard-won success, Berman, the award-winning playwright tells her story of searching for home. The once-aspiring performing artist explores the world through vastly different New York neighborhoods, a series of part-time jobs, an enviable stint at Julliard, and slowly increasing acclamation.

She recognizes an undeniable wish in herself to separate from her mother, a wish complicated by the bonds of family and shared history. Even after surviving being raped in her early twenties, and insisting on independence to the point of being homeless and penniless, she is consumed for years in a yo-yo like love affair with Rodney, the wonderless wanderer.

Her writing moves fluidly as she schleps from studio to loft to the occasional luxury apartment. Angst and the unknown become her constant companions, draining energy from her while creating guidance for the reader into Berman's emotional well-being.

The chapters are divided between each dwelling, taking the reader all over New York neighborhoods, boroughs and into the New England states. The overarching message shines through, home is much more than an address and there is no place like home.

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran - Rob Sheffield

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield/Dutton-Penguin Group/2010 /pgs 269/ Memoir/Humor-Music/Pop Culture/Coming of Age

Duran Duran apparently was one of the It bands in the eighties, leading the trends in tight jeans and make-up, redefining gender rules and perhaps the meaning of unisex. They sang about sex and exuded it with every appearance, making girls fall madly in love with every movement. Enter Rob Sheffield, a self-observed awkward geek and adamant Duran Duran fanatic. Talking to Girls chronicles Sheffield's teenage years up to young adult, complete with amusing and hilarious anecdotes sound-tracked to hits of the eighties.

As a confused teenager stranded in the suburbs, mowing lawns, and playing video games, Sheffield spent his time and money pondering women, love, music and himself. Although armed with knowledge from numerous sisters, Rob found most of his answers to life's questions blaring through his ice cream truck radio, gleaning advice from Bowie, Bobby Brown, Madonna, The Replacements and the like. Fans of the eighties will rejoice over Sheffield's sentimental commemoration to its music and pop culture however everyone can relate to the small moments of life and the lingering impressions they leave on us. Sheffield uses every song to mark a moment that impacts his life forever.

Sheffield writes with humor and narrative prose, detailing the internal quest for answers that come across as witty, pensive randomness. The book is a very quick read that kept me smiling until the end. Sheffield has a knack for not only capturing the essence of a song but also the artistic intent behind it, creating a feeling to relate to the song, attaching it to moments in time which we all do. This was a perfect read and I cannot wait to read his previous title, Love is a Mix Tape which I'm sure will be reviewed soon.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How to Trash Talk Like Scout

Just thought this was witty and celebratory of one of my favorite books' 50th year anniversary.

Definitely trying to work "big wet hen" and "morphodite" into my insult vocab, pretty sure "whore-lady" may have been uttered once or twice.

It's Complicated

I thought this was an interesting list and definitely needs some adding on to. Totally agree with a commenter's suggestion of Great Gatsby's Nick and Daisy.

Seeing if I can add more to the I dare say Bella and Edward of Twilight, however their true obstacle is relatively fixable so perhaps not.

Comments? Suggestions?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There- Lewis Carroll

I thought I would review both of Carroll's Alice tales together since they were both short reads that blend seamlessly together. Wonderland is world of enchanting, strange, temperamental, odd characters and atmosphere that Alice journeys into by following a perpetually late white rabbit. As she descends down a hole, the world's intriguing atmosphere grips Alice's curious nature through a keyhole revealing a lovely garden which becomes her ultimate destination. The question is how to get there. Her quest becomes even more challenging as she finds digesting makes her either grow or shrink and the inhabitants of Wonderland contain a peculiar manner than what she is used to.

Along her journey she joins a caucus race, finds the white rabbit's house, runs into a forest to stubble upon a caterpillar, comes upon the peppery atmospheric house of a Duchess who has a pig for a child and a pet Cheshire cat whose grinning nature is expected, follows a path to the Mad Hatter's tea party where she is riddled why is a raven like a writing desk and finally finds the beautiful garden which belongs to the Queen of Hearts whose entourage is made of cards and plays croquet using hedgehogs as balls and flamingos as mallets.

As her journey seems to take a turn, she awakes to find herself underneath a tree beside her sister, listening to her daily lessons. Her sister sits, listening to Alice's tale, and thinks, " she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days."
The thoughts parallel those with mine, as the story becomes a delightful child's tale of a curious and honest girl who is full of wonderment that perhaps leads her to unpleasant encounters but never a dull moment. The following quote perfectly sums up the philosophy of Wonderland and a mantra for dreamers:
"Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might
appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise
than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."

Through the Looking Glass, begins another day in Alice's life, playing with kittens, one who has a mischievous nature so Alice threatens to place the kitten into the parallel world through the glass vanity above the fireplace. As she climbs above the mantle, pondering what the opposing world is like, she soon finds herself on the other side engaged in a battle between two colored armies. Upon closer inspection, Alice finds they are chess pieces come to life and the world is made up of a large chessboard. She soon finds herself on a quest to move about the land as a pawn through eight squares to end as a queen beside the red and white who already reign. Through this journey, she finds herself conversing with flowers, encountering Tweedledee and Tweedledum who tell her the tale of The Walrus and The Carpenter, leading her onto Humpty Dumpty who questions her manners, eventually turning her around to find herself at dinner beside the two queens with a crown placed upon her head. Once again the theory behind Wonderland can be found in quotes said by its inhabitants:
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be: but as it isn't, it ain't. 'That's logic."

Alice awakes to find herself in a chair with her kitten, pondering once again what reality exists and what world did she find herself in.

Carroll's delightful imagination gives us a curious world filled with odd characters and worlds that seem impossible to the mind, however Carroll teaches us that nothing is impossible if you just ponder on the possibility of it. Filled with literary prose and unique language, it is easy to see why Alice's tale continues to be an inspiration and muse for many.

Here's an awesome link to Carroll's life and inspiration for his tales:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lay The Favorite - Beth Raymer

Lay The Favorite-Beth Raymer/Spiegel&Grau/2010/p226
Memoir/Gambling/Travel/Life Insight

In 2001, Beth Raymer finds herself in Vegas, broke, reeling admist the bouts of a recent break-up, working in former boyfriend's parents' Thai restaurant, planning how to afford her $17 a night hotel room banking on cocktail waitressing as her best bet, all within the first few pages. In walks, Amy, a regular customer, who tips Beth on a job that will change her whole life. Dink, Inc. is run by Douglas "Dink" Heimowitz, CEO, operator and Beth's new boss who forays her into the world of underground sports-betting. As part of Dink's crew, Beth learns the in and outs of point spreads, betting lines and gambling lingo amid hundred dollar dinners and business trips that include five star hotel suites and first class air. Dink gladly takes Beth under his wing and she soon starts to have amorous feelings for him which quickly result in her termination.

To work off her steam, she begins to box at Johnny Tocco's where she is catapulted into a career as a professional with aspirations to win the amateur Golden Gloves tournament in Madison Square Gardens, exactly where Oscar De La Hoya got his start. However, money is always tight and she begins to itch for the taste of seedy money-making involvement she once had.
Beth becomes Bernard's Girl Friday, a quizzical mathematician turned bookie with a great pension and love for food. Beth simply gets him Boston creme doughnuts every morning. Bernard gets an idea to set up shop in the Caribbean where off-shoring gambling is risky but legal and takes Beth with him. Curacao is filled with exotic views and hot climates that reflect her testosterone and attitude-filled co-workers. She eventually finds herself back in NY, home with her dog and a man she loves, but itching to get back to Vegas and Dink who proves to be her mentor through and through. Exacting rightful revenge, she find herself flying to South America, going on the expedition she always dreamed of at the conclusion of the book.

I love the idea of this book. The world of gambling has become a prominent face in my life recently and much of its manner and characteristics have found a place in my world. It definitely reflected the gamblers who aren't the cliche mobsters with guns and drug addictions, betting everything on the line, although that's in there too. Beth is a great story teller, noting the detail and nature of her surroundings, definitely living a life full of stories and her endless travel-bound feet make sure the adventure never ends. However, by the end of the book I wanted to know more about Dinky and Bernard. I would love to read a book about them! They are characters within themselves, highly intelligent men gambling in order to create a challenge for themselves, yet yearning for some sort of stability that they can never settle down to reach, both full of insecurities and superstitions. Raymer puts a lot of detail into these men and their stories which I happen to like but doesn't really resonate much of a personal connection to her as a reader. The story had good pacing, moving fairly quickly between Beth's highs and lows, resulting in a quick, enjoyable read.
Definitely a great summer afternoon read! I read that it's being made into a movie, interested in who will be casted and how it will all play out.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cakewalk - Kate Moses

Cakewalk: a memoir by Kate Moses/ The Dial Press/ 2010/pgs 347
Memoir/Family Mother-Daughter relationship/Cooking

Kate Moses has a weakness for sugar. As do I. I found myself smiling at her sometimes devious wonderment of sugar in all its forms. Sugar seems to be the only stabilizing force in her estranged family. From a father who doles out approval in frosted animal cookies to a mother who keeps every packaged snack in stock to her own culinary efforts to win approval from her peers and self. However, sugar does not fix everything in her life. She chronicles her awkward growing years, changing schools, trying to make friends, issues of weight, getting a career, motherhood, all on the background of trying to deal with a dramatic, over-bearing, beautiful mother who at her core loves her daughter but constantly places strains on their relationship all throughout Kate's life. I would definitely recommend the book to someone interested in mother-daughter relationships especially trying to understand the pressures place between them.

The added bonus is that it is laced with wonderful recipes that usually center around a story or theme within the chapter she writes. The recipes range from cakes and fudge to bread and candy. However, most seem to require more finesse than just boiling water especially since Moses seems to be a noted baker granting praise from M.F.K. Fisher and Kay Boyle.

She writes with a simple, lyrical prose detailing her surroundings with a nice narrative writing. Overall, I liked the book, wasn't quite in love or enthusiastic about it as I thought I would be but I do think she is a lovely writer, not over-dramatizing her living situations, very realistic, pointing out that time is a great virtue in all facets of life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Willow In A Storm: A Memoir - James Peter Taylor/Kathleen Murphy Taylor

Willow In A Storm/James Peter Taylor-Kathleen Murphy Taylor/Scarletta Press/2007/pgs320
Memoir/Biography/Prison life/Sexual Identity

At age 30, James Taylor is convict to a life sentence for the murder of a Minnesota banker named Kenneth Lindberg, a family man with a hidden past that tragically ended his life. Taylor grows up with multiple opportunities at his fingertips; a small haven he calls home in suburban Michigan, living in a newly developed wealthy community afforded by his successful father and loving mother, a caring extended family living nearby. He is graced with athletic greatness that continually helps him throughout his life. He spends his summers in Connecticut with the likes of Martha's Vineyard as his playground. However, beneath the surface is a dark secret.

Jim has a vague notion that he is not like other boys. While his cousins play outside, he makes his way to closets in order to wear women's clothing, lying in the dark, in a bra and dress, in awe of how the fabric feels on his skin. His sexual orientation becomes confusing at such a young age only to be magnified by sexual abuse from his father and an older boy in his community who he looked to as a mentor. These experiences not only cause emotional repercussions on his esteem and psychological being, but also start a spiral of needing approval which eventually leads to the cause of his imprisonments. He seems to start moving from one scheme or person to another only to prove to his father that he can make a successful life on his own, failing to prevent hurting those who try to make paths in Jim's life such as his wife and daughter.

Imprisonment forces Taylor to return to his homosexual ways, casting on womanly roles in order to survive life. Even with his feminine manners, he suffers from great injuries some that cause severe and permanent damage such as blindness. However, prison was also where Jim learned about faith and redemption. Learned repentance and forgiveness which the idea of the book seems to stem from as it works as an apology for all those he has wronged. The memoir contains plenty of darkness but there are glimmering rays of light in the end.

Overall thoughts: The memoir captures the absolute bleak nature of prison life, detailing dangerous and psychological warfare prisoners face. He spares no detail of his life, which at times seemed to lag a bit, especially moving from one prison to another. Perhaps, I judge this somewhat unfairly because as I was reading, I kept thinking of all the wasted opportunities, the people he hurt, and the situations he got himself into. Although I do not think imprisonment was his absolute destination, I kept referring back to these facts in my mind. I did feel some compassion for him and noted how well-written his accounts and apologies were manifested. Definitely not a book for light reading

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eating The Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman

Eating The Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman/Scribner/2009/pg245
Humor/Pop Culture/Social Aspects/Essay

Chuck Klosterman is known for his take on all things pop culture but even beyond that, for his own personal take on everything ranging from music to movies to the culture of Kiss in Fargo. He has his own brand of wit and humor which transfuses into his writing, creating interesting coffee table reading that is laced with sarcasm and one-liners.

Eating the Dinosaur offers his thoughts on being interviewed and the intention and necessity of lying; the legend of Nirvana and the comparisons between Kurt Cobain and David Koresh; time travel and the eight key steps as to why it doesn't work resulting in the eating of a dinosaur; sports coverage including the rise and fall of basketball player Ralph Sampson; voyeurism; the career of Garth Brooks and his alter ego Chris Gaines; the wonderment of football; ABBA; the characteristics of laughter; the world of advertising; the meaning of being literal in an ironic world; technology and the truth seeping in Ted Kaczynski's aka The Unabomber thesis titled, "Industrial Society and Its Future."

I love Klosterman's humor and his books always give me a new outlook or sometimes a new world view/mantra as the idea of deconstructing Save by the Bell episodes for some universal truth that important things are inevitably cliche never really occur to me before him. His writing possess sharp wit and hilariously obsessive detailing over subjects that most writers and people would dismiss as brainless and shallow yet he pulls it off flawlessly.

Read also: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Klosterman, Chuck Klosterman IV, Killing yourself to life by Klosterman

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti: A memoir of Good Food and Bad Boyfriends - Giulia Melucci

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti: A Memoir of Good Food and Bad Boyfriends by Giulia Melucci; Grand Central Publishing 2009; 278 pgs

Giulia Melucci dishes out on her serial dating experiences. This seems to be a plot line like most "chick lit" novels, divulging about bad dates, weird habits, men who are supposedly mature but act as though they have just arrived to the senior prom. Melucci definately has encountered her own set of dating woes, from the man who was forever a cool teen, the aging hipster who owns a scooter and goes to bars to watch his son's band play, to the man who could have made her his wife.

The twist to this book is the cooking which is obvious from the title. Melucci is known for her cooking skills and she artfully writes about the woes of dating while enjoying the comfort of food, whether its consoling or celebrating, healing or energy, however food doesn't seem to be just for nourishment. I loved how each man is represented by his different eating habits and how they manifest as an outlier for how the relationship will unfold. Whether this is just evident after the fact and in line with the narrative or just keen observation, I liked it nevertheless and thought it was a perfect way to tie both of the books pivotal elements together. I truly envy her relationship with her mother, not only for her enduring support but also fantastic culinary skills that I wish I could learn.

I read this while traveling and it was a great read. The writing is fast paced and is outlined as short stories featuring one relationship per chapter. All the while including recipes for the dishes she makes which is fantastic as the book doubles as a cook book. And I have to say the dishes sound wonderful and easy enough for a novice cook like me to try. I can't wait and will definitely add on to this post as I try some out. I would recommend this for someone wanting a summer read, entertainment, and a little soul searching for the quest of finding someone to make you continually smile when life gets in the way.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Map of the Invisible World - Tash Aw

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw; Spiegel and Grau; 2010; 318pgs; Fiction/Historical/Asian/Family Drama

Map of the Invisible World tells the story of orphaned Adam, a fifteen year boy who is trying to etch out an identity for himself while still trying to remember a past that haunts him. He keeps having images of a life he once knew and of a boy, his brother, who he is longing to find in some hopes that he will be complete somehow if found. His search takes him across Asian islands, whose scenery is well described by Aw with added historical and political events of the early 1960's. The journey is the highlight of the book and catalyst for the story line, however the beginning lags with various character development which continues throughout the novel. Johan, Adam's brother, makes interesting appearances throughout the book in his own narrative which could be the most captivating element as his chapters are shrouded in mystery not only as to who he is but what life he leads. Overall, the story's themes of loss and identity are clearly identified, the characters are intriguing, the scenery is beautiful, yet there seemed to be potential for Aw to do more.

Final Thoughts: It was hard to get into, the several story lines seemed more distant from each other which for me did not add to a whole cohesiveness for the book. I found it dragging on more often than not which deterred me from wanting me to continue on to the elements that I found exciting. I wanted to like the book but ended feeling disappointed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Advanced Genius Theory - Jason Hartley

The Advanced Genius Theory by Jason Hartley; Scribner; 2010; 252 pgs;
Non-Fiction/Social/Popular Culture-Humor/Music/Miscellaneous

The Advanced Genius Theory is the product of a Pizza Hut conversation between Jason Hartley and Britt Bergman. The theory becomes a roundabout way to praise and appreciate the culturally famous people of our world who may at one point have been rejected by their fans. It basically comes to the point where the artist hasn't "lost" their talent but instead evolved and change their craft in such a way that we just haven't understood what they did yet.

It combines two thoughts, rejecting the preconceived notions about the life of an artist and embracing the "absurdities of geniuses as a means of expanding our thinking about what is good or valuable." At times the overall understanding of the theory seems to be as contradictory as the term falling gracefully. The general pattern is same: early innovation that is not immediately appreciated, a lengthy fertile period leading to widespread acceptance, and a long fallow period that eventually sullies their reputations and angers their admirers. See Elvis Presley, Steve Martin, James Brown, John Lennon and of course Lou Reed, from whom it all began with.

The language reads with witty, strong, enthusiastic statements that makes the reader want to be a part of the hipster crowd chatter, however it may be a little too extended at times especially for 200 plus pages. The blog and numerous articles in Spin and other such magazines seems to clarify the theory justifiably. Yet maybe its fullness is necessary for those to understand and achieve advancement and not just overt. Overall, the theory is interestingly confusing, to say the least.

Look to the website and read through articles to get a grasp on the theory

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Commencement - J. Courtney Sullivan

Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan; 2009 Vintage Contemporaries; p416; Women's Lit-Fiction

Commencement tells the story of four friendships told from each individual's perspective. The novel follows the lives of Celia, Bree, Sally and April who meet their first year at Smith college, an all women's school, an all to seemingly perfect backdrop to form their lasting bonds. Their first encounters occur like any another freshmen girl; homesick, lonely, and trying to find some normal ground on unfamilar terrain. At first their friendships seem to forms as a means of convenience, someone to walk to class or sit with in the cafeteria as their first appearances could have less in common with one another.

Eventually each girl learns that the others complement her in such a way that they come to find a new understanding of themselves and each other. As in any relationship, the friendships go through some strains; the girls live miles apart, Celia in New York, Bree in San Fransisco, their work and personal lives take tolls on their time, and soon the natural drift begins to take place.

Yet, the girls still and always will, retain the identity of who they were when they are a group, the unique persona that seems to appear only when they are together. Major milestones bring the girls together in times when they are needed the most, making their friendship something to be envied and admired. A shocking event will bring them closer than ever and forever change them.

Sullivan captures the essence of friendship with keen observation, evoking the rich rewards and also the trying time and endurance to face hard times. She does a wonderful job of capturing the true nature of awkward firsts and feelings of expectation and belonging. A quick summer read that will constantly remind you of what you love about your best friends.

Overall thoughts: A great summer read in the veins of The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants, the Jessica Darling series that starts with Sloppy Firsts and others where women are finding who they truly are and what friendship means.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Elliot Allagash - Simon Rich

Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich, 2010 by Random House, Inc.; 224 pgs; Fiction-YA

Elliot Allagash is a rich, corrupt, masterminded schemer who begins his demise on Glendale prep school as a transferred eighth grader. Enter his victim and daresay friend, Seymour Herson, the lowliest of the low, for no particular reason which is probably the worse scenario. The narrator of this smartly written first novel easily plays the pawn in Elliot's game only to be trapped and learn the hard lesson of growing up.

Elliot possesses the underhanded evil that most people secretly wish to obtain. Yet he still possesses the soft belly of a lonely, unsupervised, privileged son that just wants to be loved by his father.

The book is a very quick read in the lines of Juno and Superbad meets Catcher and the Rye, where the unassumingly cool become geek chic, with Rich's intriguing characters whose prose is illusionary enough to picture the snarky smirk on Elliot's face. The two make an interesting pair to say the least, surviving grandiose plotting, lying, cheating, and the average tribulations of being teenagers.

I would say a definite read for those who cheer for the underdog, want an easy, entertaining read, like coming of age stories. The little quirks set it apart from typical high school drama.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The First

It was recently suggested to me that in order to fulfill my current dream of reading books to eek out a living, I should probably start somewhere. How I didn't see that coming, I have no idea. So, in the aftermath of this incredible idea being sunk into my brain, came the product of this blog. I apologize in advance for my rambling but hope that it isn't all trivial and perhaps you might stumble across something that entices you to read it. That is my only hope and probably biggest fear. I plan to read a book and write my reviews on it. Simple enough right? Please feel to give me recommendations especially if there's something you are interested in but don't know if you want to put in the time and effort, I will probably be your guinea pig. I am pretty much open to every genre, trying to be a dabbler in everything, from biographies to fantasy fiction, to young adult and memoirs. I will try to read more current novels which is becoming a very promising and sometimes daunting task of a publishing intern. Being broke is never fun.

My goal for the year is also to get a start on all the greatest books lists one should read before they die, including but not limited to Penguin's top 100 list which is where I will being my journey. Sorry in advance for all the classics that may start to pop up but I feel that in doing this quest it will enlighten my literary cannon and hopefully I digest some thoughtful insights to say while schmoozing. Doubtful, but maybe.