Monday, November 30, 2009

manhood for amateurs

My mother, another bookworm, brought me two books and a DVD: "A Child Called It" about child abuse, "Alicia" about the Holocaust and a National Geographic movie about the human footprint. Everything you need for a severe depression!

I read "A Child Called It" very quickly - sort of a sadistic exercise in gobbling up the most awful abuse imaginable. There was no counterpoint or higher message except that it's sad when a woman starves, beats and poisons her little boy. Yuck.

I reread "Gastronomy of Marriage" b/c it's so delicious. I hug that book!

Currently I am listening to an audiobook of "Manhood for Amateurs" by Michael Chabon and loving it. He has such great insights, observations and explorations of modern fatherhood. His rambling essays on topics ranging from OCD running in his family to carrying a diaper bag as purse. He does have a kind of nerdy appeal in that he talks about comic books, baseball, marijuana, and other geeky teenage boy topics. I could feel his affection for his family and that was the most interesting part to me.

On the shelf I have Nancy Mitford and the Alicia book about the Holocaust.

I gave my mother "The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian" by Sherman Alexie and she loved it, read it in one evening. I love that book because it shows how Junior can grow up in dire poverty with alcoholic parents and yet transcend his reasons for bitterness to embrace life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

gastronomy of marriage

"The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell was a delightful foray into Puritan history - not exactly a burning topic of interest for me these days, but I still liked the book. She intermixes pop culture in clever and witty ways. I loved her discussion of how sitcoms treat the Puritans and Indians in their obligatory Thanksgiving episode - Brady Bunch, Happy Days, etc. I haven't read "Assassination Vacation" because my brain cannot treat assassinations in a ironic way these days. Her next book is about Hawaiian history, that does sound fascinating.

"The Ocean Inside" by Janna McMahan was well-written, right on the line between commercial and literary fiction. I loved her depiction of sultry South, the family brought to the brink. Each story line - the little girl's cancer, the older sister's temptation into drug dealing, the parents' dissolving marriage - kept me hooked. I wish they all came together in a big bang, though. The story just drifted away and I was still waiting for all these ingredients to coalesce into something hair-raising. (For instance... the older sister uses the drug money to pay off her sister's medical bills and the parents use this dark knowledge as a secret that seals them together again.)

"The Gastronomy of Marriage" by Michelle Maisto is a book I just want to hug or maybe marry. I loved it, it definitely makes the cut for a space on my bookshelf. The dull way of describing it is a memoir about making dinner. It's really an investigation about two individuals joining together, each with different tastes and histories and talents. She takes a very thoughtful, nuanced approach to the domestic details - who cooks, who shops, who cleans, and what does that mean about the relationship? I loved the author's honesty and rich, vivid sense of place. I sincerely adored the book.

(Highly superior to the flat "I Loved I Lost I Made Spaghetti.")

Thursday, November 12, 2009

catching up

"Oxygen" by Carol Cassella was a quick fun read with a surprising plot. The writing style seemed really wordy, though - I felt impatient but hung in there.

"Family Affair" by Caprice Crane had its moments of humor but I didn't cotton to the multiple perspectives. It didn't move the story forward. I did laugh at the discussion about using the Bette Midler song "Did you ever know that you're my hero?" for a gyro commercial. Ha!

Also read "Pink Brain, Blue Brain" by Lise Eliot about sex-based development in kids. This was a really powerful and fascinating book! I learned a lot. It blew "The Female Brain" out of the water by choosing to focus on studies of children. If you only study adults, then they're already influenced by culture. The author, a neuroscientist with 2 boys and a girl, demonstrates how tiny differences in our brains grow into troubling gaps as stereotypes are reinforced.

It made me resolve to TALK nonstop to our baby boy and encourage him to partake in all types of play, whether for little girls or little boys. He needs to learn empathy and fine motor skills as much as he needs to learn spatial skills and physical confidence.

Friday, November 6, 2009

where men win glory

I love Jon Krakauer's books - after reading "Into Thin Air" I had nightmares about climbing Everest. So I was eager to pick up "Where Men Win Glory" about Pat Tillman.

You know all the massive fury you endured daily during the Bush administration as their deeds ranged from hopelessly incompetent to pure evil? This book swamped me with that same feeling - ugly rage. Krakauer does his usual of romanticizing a young man and portraying him as a noble hero - Tillman was a pro football player, but he drove a Volvo and liked cats. He left his football playing job to join the military in search of something real and true. He was killed by friendly fire and the administration launched a fraudulent scheme to hide the truth and keep public opinion in favor of the war. It made me extremely sad and angry to read.

I also read "A Beautiful Mind" by Sylvia Nasar about John Nash. The author is totally enamored of him as a mathematical genius - but in fact, he was a pretty horrible person even without the mental illness. He was violence and abusive towards women - refused to support his own child so the mother had to give him up?!? He was pretty despicable so I didn't feel too sympathetic during his mental illness struggles. Who cares how beautiful the mind is when the heart is so ugly?

The movie sanitized his life and cleverly dramatized what it's like to have schizophrenia. It is so well-written, though. Reading this book is like falling into the comfiest bed of pillows - you can relax, you know you're in skilled hands.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

a year in provence

"A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle was delicious and delightful - I loved it madly. It reminded me of Adam Gopnik's book about Paris - very learned and smart and funny. This book was as glorious as a vacation in Provence.

"The Jane Austen Book Club" by Karen Joy Fowler was also really wonderful. I resisted it, thinking it would be too sickeningly sweet. But she does have a wry take on things, a penchant for witty lines and a friendly writing style. I giggled to myself when reading it several times. The storyline is rather elliptical but I didn't mind at all, I liked her digressions and mini-stories and amusing take on love, relationships, books, pets.