Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Hours

There is a video in the archives of The New Yorker online which includes what most believe is the only recorded spoken words of author Virginia Woolf. It is a strange piece of audio, surreal to be listening to the voice that I have imagined so differently. It was part of a BBC recording entitled "Words Fail Me."

This post could hold a title of the same name. Michael Cunningham's The Hours is an absolutely brilliant piece of literature, and if I were able to discuss it with even half of the intelligence, wit and sensitivity he exhibits, I would be writing books, not just reviewing them -

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Such a great premise. A never-mentioned great aunt is released from a Scottish psychiatric hospital after 61 years, 5 months and 3 days into the care of an unwitting twenty-something boutique owner who still lives in the flat that was once the site of the offending act that put the aforementioned relative away all those years ago. Certainly bonds are to be formed and dark family secrets are to be revealed...Sounds good, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, what could be a dark and twisting tale of secrets, lies and those unspeakable things that pass from generation to generation is mucked up by a few awkward sub-plots involving an amorous step-brother and a married boyfriend and a flash-back style that just didn't sit well on the page.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Red Tent

"I would be a woman soon, and I would have to learn how to live with a divided heart." (Pg. 86)

...and so we recognize the theme of Anita Diamant's novel - The Red Tent - as well as that of the lives of women everywhere. This story of Dinah is loosely based on the Biblical saga of her father Jacob, who was the son of Esau and grandson of Abraham (as told in the book of Genesis). It is a powerful family drama; an epic, multi-generational legacy along the lines of Gabriel Garcia Marques' 100 Years of Solitude. As with the Marques' novel, at the closing the book, I found it impossible that so much could have been said in only 321 pages.

As should be expected, the text itself is beautiful, poetic. But in my reflection of the novel, I found I couldn't really remember any particular lines, only "scenes" and emotions tied to particular moments.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying

Ah, the good old days, when men were men, status was akin to the number of windows in one's office, and all the best secretaries wore conical bras.

You may have seen the musical version of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, starring Matthew Broderick on Broadway in the early 1990's, or you may have been lucky enough to have lived the life author Sheppard Mead described in 1952.

Getting straight to the point - I found How to Succeed...(aka: The Dastard's Guide to Fame and Fortune) not quite worth the read.

I realize that I might take myself just a little too seriously to ever fully "get" any satirical work but the text left me cold.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

House of Sand and Fog

Polylingual novels = critical acclaim? It certainly seems so. It also seems like I can't help picking them up like a case of head lice in a pre-school classroom.

I was less-than-thrilled with the the multiple languages used in A History of Love and Stones From the River, and I hardly noticed them in Eat Pray Love. Maybe because a dear friend of mine is Arabic, and I have grown used to hearing the music of an ancient language in my daily life that I really loved the Farsi that was woven throughout the text of House of Sand and Fog. Rolling the consonants and vowels around in my mouth, saying the words aloud - it seemed to soften the narrative somehow; to slow down the plot train as it charged toward an inevitably climactic end. It was beautiful.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The History of Love

If I were to make a list of all the qualities that make a book truly great, the most important would be that the text were able to MOVE ME. To tears. Of grief or joy or confusion, it doesn't matter. What matters is that the words and sentences strung together at some point become so personal that I can't not be altered for them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kiss & Tell

A sweet little book I read on St. Valentine's Day.

Compiled by Macy's to benefit the Go Red for Women campaign and designed by Werner Design Werks of Minnesota, Kiss & Tell is a coffee table book of sorts where famous faces and fashion designers reminisce about their most memorable kisses in between musings from the editors on the most romantic places to kiss or be kissed. Tres' Romantic as Kimberly Wilson would say.

Much of what you expect can be found in the thick, damask-illustrated pages - Nicky Hilton having been kissed for the first time by some slobbery high schooler, Kimora Lee Simmons sweet memory of kissing her baby daughter for the first time, and the oh-so-articulate Tara Reid with "A kiss is just a kiss, unless it's not just a kiss." One of the most thought-provoking pieces was by CSI actress Marg Helgenberger on Page 10 about a time she found herself in an elevator with the cute young actor Joshua Jackson who spent those few moments between floors telling her about HIS most memorable kiss - his first one actually - that had not only been on screen but with her! She couldn't even remember it, but it made me think about my own past liplocks and whether I might actually be someone else's most memorable kiss?

I loved that accompanying each vignette was a lipstick-print from each writer. Its amazing how some lips just look like they should belong to certain people - Monique Lhuillier - of course her lips look French - how could they not?

While I won't kiss and tell about THIS Valentine's Day, I will put out there a short list of places where I have stolen a memorable kiss, (or hope to one day!), checked off from the extensive list in the back of the book...

  • In the dark...
  • At the movies...
  • On New Year's Eve...
  • In a car...
  • In a car wash...
  • On a ski lift...
  • Under mistletoe...
  • In a hammock...
  • In the woods...
  • At the alter...
What about you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Cowgirl's Guide to Love

What can I say? It was a short book with big type and lots of bulleted lists.

The Cowgirl's Guide to Love
by Ellen "Lil" Patrick is your basic "Only the best man deserves fabulous you - BUT - make sure to have hobbies, know how to cook, pretend until you actually like sports and don't dress like one of those harlot saloon girls." Each bit of advice on how to recognize, then snag, then be with the aforementioned "Best Man" is peppered with piles of references to John Wayne, Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, horses, ridin', shootin' and yer darn tootin' the West was won by women!

What the Wild West can teach us about love and relationships is an interesting concept I think, and handled delicately could make for beautiful commentary. (Actually, for a perfect example of this, I highly recommend Peace Like a River - one of the most intensely touching stories I have ever read; it is a truly a love lesson in so many ways, set in the Dakota badlands and with a storyline tied literally and figuratively to such legends as Butch Cassidy and Wyatt Earp.)

This Cowgirl's Guide however is choppy - the ideas are bounced around and off of each other at what seems like breakneck speed, just barely hitting upon a piece of what might actually be good advice to the single lady before racing off to some other comment on dealing with the mama-dependent or mama-deprived man in your life, leaving no opportunity for concept development.

While the feminist in me rages against idea that all men can be categorized this way, I have found myself silently but inadvertently judging every man I meet and imagining I know what his mama was like. The author encourages readers to first know which kind they prefer, and provides tips for the training of each. Here are some gems:
Page 58:

"How to Manage Mama-Dependent John Wayne...
  • If you often have delicious homemade snacks on hand, so much the better...
  • If he leaves items of clothing at your house... return them promptly, washed and pressed...
  • When you are at his place, always clean up tidily after yourself, and leave the place a little cleaner overall than when you arrived... "
How to Manage Mama-Deprived John Wayne...
  • If he is mama-deprived, he will be alarmed by too much can comfortably follow your instinct to not vacuum the house or bake a pie before he comes over...
  • Don't feel you have to call him. You don't...
  • Avoid independently contacting members of his family..."
Intuitively, women know how to behave around guys we like - so books of this nature should be unnecessary, unpopular and unpublishable right? Well, sometimes it's nice to be reminded that all relationships have elements of game playing and that to win at love there are rules to follow, some to bend, and sometimes break. Like that whole not dressing like a saloon girl thing - dammit those old gals were hot - and classier than half the dames I saw in Scottsdale last night!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eat Pray Love

I first started Eat Pray Love in the summer of 2008. My book club had chosen it, and I was living at the time with my lovely friend and fellow writer Ashley - who is always gentle, spiritually sensitive and adorably, frustratingly zen. It seemed fitting, but the truth was that I couldn't even finish the book. I found it sappy, far too long and meant for people who were already living in an ashram in India - not, as was the case for me - out of suitcases in the spare bedroom of some friends who lovingly pretended I was not out of my mind that summer.

So the Oprah-favorite has sat on my bookshelf for almost two years, ready to be finished quickly and summed up in the sentence above during this year of intense reading. I always knew I would eventually finish it - I still haven't learned how to be a quitter... but fortunately, I had trouble remembering where exactly I had left off and had to start from the beginning again.

I couldn't have been more wrong in my thinking in 2008! Gilbert, the brave and honest writer that she proves herself to be, is someone anyone can identify with. She wants to be happy and peaceful and beautiful but cannot seem to get out of her own way. She very often wants to give up, can justify almost anything to herself, and is just stubborn enough to keep at it - it being the one year long adventure she set out for herself. I had this idea that Elizabeth Gilbert was this terribly calm, seeker- and finder- of the divine, this ethereal writer who was pretentiously quoting Sufi poets and who probably laughed delicately and without snorting. What I found is that she laughs often - and makes me laugh - in a frank, bawdy, too-much-information kind of way.

Page 73: "Here's how my Swedish friend Sofie describes the great queen [Christina of Sweden]: "She could ride, she could hunt, she was a scholar, she became a Catholic and it was a huge scandal. Some say she was a man but at least she was probably a lesbian. She dressed in pants, she went on archaeological excavations, she collected art and she refused to leave an heir."

And on Page 182: " ex-husband never forgave me for leaving, that it didn't matter how many bushels of apologies or explanations I laid at his feet, how much blame I assumed, or how many assets or acts of contrition I was willing to offer him in exchange for departing - he certainly was never going to congratulate me and say, "Hey, I was so impressed with your generosity and honesty and I just want to tell you it's been a a great pleasure being divorced by you."

(If you know me at all, you will find a little chuckle at the universe's idea of a joke if you read this, and then this - while thinking about the cadence of that last quote - and for future reference, never compare yourself to a writer whose book you didn't finish. Yikes.)

Her book, which chronicles Gilbert's year in Italy, India and Bali could have easily turned into a travel guide. It could also have turned into The Diary of a Sad White Woman, or Under the Tuscan Sun. Thankfully, it is not any of those things. It did however, make a really good case for meditation as well as educate me on a great many historical tidbits I may not ever have known. Case in point: While most of Bali is actually inhabited by the descendants of Kings, Priests or Artists, it also has a very violent history and only became known around the world as paradise in the 1960's as a result of a very targeted marketing campaign. (Pages 225, 236-238)

I finally fished the story with a feeling of optimism and promise, and a real belief that by truly seeking out the ways to internal peace that holy men and women have been professing for all ages - I mean really seeking - taking with determination the time and practices set forth, you might actually begin to achieve it. Even if you are a skeptic, even if you think you are a hopeless case, jaded and bitter and far too chatty. I'll tell you this - I'd like to find out.

I Love You, Beth Cooper

Before I Love You, Beth Cooper was a goofy teen movie, it was a book by Larry Doyle - writer of such esteemed work as Beavis and Butthead, The Simpsons, and one article in The Buffalo Grove High School Charger.

The typical slightly-dirty-and-always-boozy-party-romp story that has become the American "classic coming of age" in recent years (think American Pie, Can't Hardly Wait, Superbad...) in book form (or movie form for that matter) has never been my cup of tea. But I didn't say I'd be reading 100 extremely difficult, life changing books this year. Just 100 books. And this one was promised to be "laugh-out-loud funny" and you know what? I did catch myself laughing out loud - more than once.

While the vaudeville-ian physical humor carried the plot along and most of the humor, there were a few lines in the text that were brilliant, and - I'll bet- missing from the movie.

Page 100:
"Can I borrow your cell phone? I --"
"Good Catch," Beth said. She pulled her cell phone from her purse and tossed it out of the car. "GPS that, asshole."
The phone flew through the window of a passing Honda Civic and hit Harold Angell, a thirty-four-year-old nurse practitioner who had no ironic connection to anyone in the car."

The novel reads a bit too much like a script - almost as if before he sat down to write, Doyle had already decided that the destiny of Beth Cooper was to be embodied by Hollywood starlet Hayden Panettiere. Not surprising given his background in writing for TV. Than why not just cut to the chase and write a screenplay? Maybe because there is more money to be made when a popular piece is manifested in multiple forms. Maybe because Doyle was looking for a media in which clever asides do not have to be in dialogue. Maybe because "novelist" looks and feels good when viewed on a resume-website. Who knows?

What I do know is that my high school experience was not at all like the that of the characters in this book, what with their crashing of an H2 Hummer through the front door of a classmate's home, a sexy boy-girl shower after school in the gym locker room, and almost no consequences whatsoever. The music, on the other hand - I did get. What high schooler hasn't made the soundtrack of our lives? This one punctuated by Alice Cooper, The Verve Pipe, Sarah McLachlan and Billy Idol among others, I happily sang along in my head - duly-noting the quotes from Romeo and Juliet, Footloose, Clueless, Napoleon Dynamite...

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches you when to Quit (and When to Stick)

There are many things that my parents and teachers told me as a little girl that still ring true today, and if I'd only followed their advice consistently I'd be in a much better place than I am now. A few examples - "Save your money," "Always be on time," and "Don't drive over the speed limit." Yeah. Sometimes mother really does know best.

According to superstar marketer Seth Godin however, she doesn't always. In The Dip, Godin maintains that children should not be told "Never quit!" and instead, be forced to memorize something a bit more profound: "Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can't deal with the stress of the moment." Page 64.

"...the stress of the moment" - aka: The Dip - is defined as the space between starting something and mastering it. Choosing a direction and arriving at the destination. Short term pain that can lead to long term gain. Easy to read and agree with, less easy to correctly apply to life.

My three take-aways from the 87 page text:

  1. Be the Best in the World at what what you do. In order to do this, find the right world (or market, or hobby, or relationship) in which to operate, and define what The Best means there.
  2. Define the instances ahead of time where you should recognize a need to quit: when you are coping with a situation in which your hard work results in no change whatsoever, and when you are sticking with something that will only get more difficult to quit the longer you stay.
  3. Have the guts to believe that your goal is worth accomplishing, and keep highlighting the benefits of making it through The Dip.
Buried deep down in the psyche of most people lies an equation that Godin is fiercely trying to combat with this little book. Quitting = Failure. Godin encourages replacing the equation with three better ones: Quitting the wrong things equals Failure, Quitting the right things equals the freedom to become the Best in the World and Not Quitting the right things equals Mediocrity which also equals Failure.

My favorite quote from the book, and the one that is most pertinent at this particular point in my life is found on page 63:

"Coping is what people do when they try to muddle through. They cope with a bad job or a difficult task. The problem with coping is that it never leads to exceptional performance. Mediocre work is rarely because of a lack of talent and often because of the Cul-de-Sac*. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you're better off quitting."

How apropos that I actually live in a Cul-de-Sac. Hmm.

*Cul-de-Sac. French for dead end.

Dave Eggers - Hmm, that's interesting

In preparing to review A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius yesterday, I came across some interesting facts about author Dave Eggers that have nothing to do with his personal and familial difficulties but I thought were worth noting - enjoy!

Additional Credits: Comics Alliance,, TED Prize, An Affair with Words, McSweenys

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - again

At times, Dave Eggers stream-of-consciousness writing makes me uncomfortable. He actually says the things that I often find myself thinking, but would never say aloud for the simple fact that to expose my crazy thoughts to the world would likely result in my getting alienated from my social network and cast straight into The Cuckoo's Nest. It was stressful to read this man's thoughts as they vacillate between self-loathing and self-love, from being caged in by responsibility to being righteously validated by it.

Brazen Careerist blogger Penelope Trunk once wrote: "...the difference between a blog post that reads like a diary entry and a blog post that someone would want to read is usually just time passing." The same should be said for memoirs. At bookclub, many of my fellow readers expressed frustration with the tumultuous writing and layer upon layer of life and thoughts and thoughts about the life and thoughts about the thoughts about the life. Get on with it already! they seemed to want to scream. I felt the same for much of the text. And then suddenly, someone would speak out-of-character to deliver a monologue of wisdom that allows Eggers to express growth and learning that he could not express himself. His own character within the narrative could not have expressed it because the story is written so you feel taken along with him on the journey that was his early-twenties AS IT HAPPENED. (In first-person present-tense for all you lit-analysts.)

Why I think this book works is that indeed there was time that passed between the living of this period of the writer's life and the forming of the literature. He learned! He grew! He developed and was able to recognize some of the errors of his youthful ways! The backbone of any good character-story is such and Eggers successfully implements it, in a sneaky, unexpected way. Bravo.

Where the piece fails I think, is that we are not given a like-able protagonist. I found myself wanting him to pull it together, but not necessarily wishing any other success. Correct me if I am wrong here, but shouldn't you be the most like-able character in your own story?

As I mentioned in my first-half review, text within A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is so thick with narcissism as to be ironic, however - the book is so long that that the irony devolves back into nonsensical narcissism until the very end of the book. Not good for readers with short attention spans likely to quit a story in favor of one that appears better.

A coterie of articles that validate the truths within the narrative along with a rant from the author about being a "sell out" can be found here and here. Brace yourself, the truths are as sad and shocking as any heartbreaking work of fiction. More so because fiction, they are not.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stones From The River

As hard as it is to admit, aren't we all drawn with hideous curiosity to those who are different - strange - weird? We want to look away, we know that staring is rude but we can't help it, and yet, we won't dare get too close just in case we could "catch" their affliction?

Stones from the River could be described as a fascinating book about characters plagued with circus-freak misfortunes, set in the middle of Germany during the Holocaust. Not quite light reading. The stories of the boy who is raised as a girl and the son who gains the weight his parents eat, as well as other outsiders in the fictionalized town of Burgdorf are collected and spun and re-told by a Zwerg - a dwarf, a Little Person - who suffers great pains simultaneously ignoring and celebrating her uniqueness and the uniqueness of others.

Great writers are said to paint pictures with their words. Ursula Hegi paints in 3D. With her exceptional style, I feel like I could not only walk through Burgdorf without getting lost, but that I would know each inhabitant by sight and understand them completely.

Page 154: "For weeks it kept raining, and the river kept rising... Trudi helped her father carry the books from the pay-library. The flood covered the two lowest shelves throughout the library, soaked the legs of the wicker table, and stained the underside of the sofa, even though Trudi's father, with the help of Herr Abramowitz, had lifted its legs onto bricks. They wound the ends of the long drapes around the curtain rods, creating an odd rococo effect that made the living room look far more elegant than before.

The third week of the flood the rain ceased, but the surfaces of St. Martin's Church were half under water, and the people took boats to the chapel which stood on a hill near the Sternburg. It looked as if all the pigeons of Burgdorf had sought sanctuary on top of the bell tower, and it was impossible to see the slate roof tiles among the swarms of gray and iridescent birds."

It's in the little details that we comprehend the town as a whole, the persons in it, and the ability of the author to coax beauty from the everyday.

Unfortunately, it takes a long time to read this kind of detail.

With 525 pages, littered with "Frau's" and "Herr's," and a litany of other German phrases I was not accustomed to, I became acutely aware that in 2010, I have a short attention span that fights against the character-novel in a way that doesn't happen with the plot-novels that are experiencing greater popularity these days. In the last few weeks, I felt like the slowest reader on earth, but I am glad I stuck with it. The character development was amazing, the German perspective on the atrocities of WWII was something I had never engaged with before, and I really enjoyed the bait-and-switch paragraph structure used by the Spokane, Washington-based author. Take Page 291: "After six years of polite engagement to the elegant and accomplished Fraulein Raudschuss, the dentist, Klaus Malter, fell in love one hot June afternoon of 1941 - fell in love recklessly and irreversibly - shocking the town two months before his long-scheduled wedding day. His bride had her gown hanging in her closet , and every detail of the dinner had been planned, right up to the lemon and parsley fans that would decorate the cheese trays."

It's two pages before we ever get back to Klaus and the bombshell that was dropped at the beginning of the section. Almost - but not quite - long enough to forget about him and his new love entirely. I loved the gorgeous water-river-based metaphors, and the mythical and mystical stories designed to help us and the people of the small town make sense of their circumstances.

Part One Hundred Years of Solitude, part Big Fish, Stones from the River was ultimately a forced and welcome reprieve from the burden that this Year of 100 Books could become, if I let it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

Sometimes, honesty is highly appreciated. Other times, it is not. Learning to navigate this precarious line is one of my life's goals.

I first heard essayist Sloane Crosley on The Sound of Young America podcast. America's Radio Sweetheart Jesse Thorn was interviewing her about the collection of coming of age in NYC essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake.

Let me say this: She's funny. Really funny. And well-educated. Her exploits are for the most part, highly relate-able to anyone who has ever locked themselves out of their apartment, had a bad boss, searched for meaning in their name, or failed miserably in an attempt to be part of polite society. No topic is off limits, although thankfully she avoids much of the overplayed subjects of sex, baseball, and crime that others who've lived and loved in The Big Apple have previously written so well. Or at least so often.

Instead, Crosley boldly admits what all well-meaning community servants have secretly thought to themselves at one point or another: How can I put in the least amount of effort for the greatest percent of self-importance and apparent benevolence? This particular vignette recounts a stint as a volunteer in the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. We've all been there, really intending to Make a Difference! And then somewhere between unpacking boxes and giving directions to the directory...good intentions return to those who are truly pure of heart, and you find yourself calling in sick and watching a Tori Spelling marathon on Oxygen.

Reading about Crosley's internal debate over how truthfully to answer a child's question on the state of butterflies in the afterlife made me laugh, and appreciate her willingness to admit the discomfort we all feel when forced to make decisions we really wish we weren't responsible to make.

But then I got to a few essays where "names have been changed" was not enough to protect the innocent. Have you ever seen the movie "Never Been Kissed?" Watching it makes me cringe for Drew Barrymore's character so badly I get face wrinkles for days afterward. This is the same level of discomfort I felt reading as Crosley systematically picks apart a childhood friend who made the horrible mistake of including her in her bridal party. I'm not saying that I've never made fun of anyone, but I know that doing that type of thing to a person is incredibly unkind, and I like to think I'd have enough sense not to highlight my worst character flaws in a published book. But we live in a world where laughs often come at the expense of other people, and self-deprecation is a polished and ribbon-tied form of egotism. More than once Crosley laments her lack of girlfriends and place in her family's hierarchy. No one who reads this book would be shocked as to why; adventures of the Happy Healthy Well-Adjusted and Popular aren't nearly as entertaining. Well I guess I'm screwed -

Some people, like my mother for instance, choose to read romance novels set in beach towns when they want to relax. Not me. When I crave brain candy, I look for essay collections like this one. They are humorous, outrageous and at times insightful. With I Was Told There'd Be Cake in particular, there was a little bit of the predictably unpredictable, and a few times where I would have normally applauded her edginess, but couldn't because I was being beaten over the head with it.

Page 142: [Referencing the gradual forgetting of one's high school experience] "The order of life events gets fuzzy, as if it were not your own life but the life of some historical figure. Did Charles VIII get syphilis before or after he invaded Italy? Was I using tampons before or after I learned to tie a cherry stem with my tongue? I can never remember."

Oww! My head! It hurts!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac

I am a little afraid of failure. This literary journey is only for my personal enlightenment and was never intended to represent my abilities as reader, reviewer or writer. Nonetheless...the idea of not finishing the 100 books in 365 days immediately transports me into a terrified mindset my therapist has called an "Achievement Complex." (To which I plan on addressing, in the not so distant future with The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth.)

That being what it is, I wanted to give myself a good strong showing out of the gate and reached for Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac BA 42-300, subtitled "The Practical Bicyclist's Handbook and Basic Field and Street Manual for Utilitarian Riding."

Why choose this book? 1) It's thin - only 126 pages, and 2) It came into my possession for a mere $6 at the incredibly entertaining bike 'n beer festival Tour de Fat this past summer. A nice guy from Oregon sold it to me while dressed in vintage men's golfing knickers and a newsboy cap.

Now it may have been the numerous New Belgium libations offered at the festival, but at the time I couldn't think of a better purchase than what I thought was a handbook for the would-be hardcore urban cyclist, which incidentally, I am not. Now, having read every word of Boneshaker 42-300 - I've come to the conclusion that "Almanac" was a strange word choice for this nifty little book. As a child, I remember paging through a couple of farmer's almanacs that were kept around my grandparents' house from way back before weather reporting was a beautiful people's game. They were full of planting tips and graphs charting the phases of the moon - not - as far as I can recall, interviews with gardeners who hate non-gardeners or poetic chapters depicting the righteousness of farming in the worst of conditions. Both of which can be found within the pages of my 2009 bicycling almanac, should you replace "gardener" and "farming" with "cyclist" and "riding."

Despite the inclusion of multiple anti-motorized vehicle stories, the editors of Boneshaker manage impressively to stay pro-bicycle in a completely non-judgmental way. Take Boneshaker's review of a collection from the 8th Annual Bicycle Film Festival 2008 on Page 75: "Solid. An impressive blend of cycle-centric pieces. One worries, though, about the effect the highly stylized (and totally fucking exhilarating!) shorts about alleycat/street/stunt races will have. Do they give a dangerous/rebellious name to cyclists, especially to the motorists who are, albeit stuck in traffic, following the rules and not wreaking havoc?"

Its length allowed me to finish the book quickly, and in just a few pages, I learned about a painter who turns antiquarian bike race photos into awesome works of modern art. I read a want-ad seeking a non-motorized companion for a '98 Korean sportscar, and laughed outloud with the cyclist who tosses used cigarettes BACK into the vehicles from which they came, before pedaling off in indignation. Pages 112-115 claim indebtedness to Thomas Stevens, Pee Wee Herman, and all persons and things in between. At the end, I think I learned a lot more about the bicycle culture than I'll ever learn about changing a bike tire or how much weight a barnacle basket can handle before taking down the beach cruiser to which it is attached.

This short collection may be appreciated by avid cyclists, readers who are curious about the seemingly free and fearless riders passing them on the street, and anyone who enjoys a good beer-and-poem combination.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I'm cheating a little.

First day of the new year and I'm already justifying the chocolate cake. Ahh well, that is the nature of New Years Resolutions, is it not?

But this time, I think it is okay. I am giving myself a head start on The Year of 100 Books by counting Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius as book numero uno even though I am already half-way through it and started it last week. I'm not allowed to read the second half until after January 15th anyway because that is when my bookclub meets and we're splitting this one into two chunks because its kind of long.

So far, I'm cautiously optimistic. The first premise of the book is depressing, it being a memoir of the time when both of the author's parents died of cancer when he was 21. (At least I think it is a memoir - at this point I'm not entirely sure whether Dave Eggers the Author and Dave Eggers the Character are two different people. Or whether it is actually Dave Eggers the Caricature that narrates the story.) Either way, the internal dialogue of the Author-Character is so completely chaotic that you almost can't ruminate on his sad situation without missing something, which is just as well because I really don't like depressing books.

The first part of the book, as written by a twenty-something self-nominated Voice Of A Generation, is so completely narcissistic that I cannot decide if I love it because it is so unabashedly representative of those of us in our 20s growing up in the 90's and 2000's, speaking with clarity about the complex issues that we balance in our own little pieces of America. I also might hate it because it represents the worst of the worst self-involved, self-centered products of a generation who has been called out on its sense of entitlement more often than I care to remember.

Page 193: "...I won't apologize for having been brought up in what was, at least in my part of town, a pretty simple suburb - trees and a creek, nice parks. It's not like we had a choice, that at eight or nine, whenever, we could have left home, moved somewhere less horribly fraught with this hideous prosperity."

At this point, I'm hoping that the narrative is all completely ironic, and therein lies the Staggering Genius of this Heartbreaking Work. Otherwise, how could it possibly have won so many awards and have been praised by so many respected people? Then again, it wouldn't be the first time that the masses have missed a point.

Its entirely possible that I'm missing a point. I'm curious to hear what the girls in my bookclub have to say about it.