Thursday, May 27, 2010

an exact replica

I've been doing more rereading. "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination" about a stillborn child. I tried to read the "Butterflies of Grand Canyon" but couldn't really get into it. It's a cozy mystery so it's the characters aren't exactly deep and I keep confusing them. They all seem to have weird names that begin with E.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

bringing home the birkin

"Bringing Home the Birkin" by Michael Tonello is quite entertaining. Hermes wouldn't sell Birkin purses to people who walked in the store - but he figured out that they would if he spent a ton of money in the store first. So he started doing this as a business - going to Hermes stores and events all around the world, living a lavish lifestyle at fancy hotels, then reselling the bags on ebay. He thinks the bags aren't really worth so much money, but he'll take advantage of the pentup demand.

He's pretty smart and the book is funny. For me, it exposes the shallowness and hypocritical world of designer fashion. These people think they are special because they have an expensive purse - so dumb. And we're sold this message in a million ways every day.

Rereading "The Imposter's Daughter" and "Renegade." At the library, I got "The Butterflies of Grand Canyon" which looks fun.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

the kind diet

I was really inspired by "The Kind Diet" by Alicia Silverstone - so many good arguments for eating a plant-based diet, both for personal health and to save the planet. I bought a bunch of weird ingredients and made some recipes. They have been good, even my husband likes them. I guess I am still stuck on the issue of eating so much processed soy foods like Vegenaise and soy cheese. Michael Pollan says eat real food, not fakey food products. Plus I think soy can mess up your hormones if you eat it a lot. So I am perplexed. Certainly, reducing my intake of dairy would benefit my health. I eat quesadillas for snacks several times a week. I did feel different after a vegan meal. I felt very light and floaty. Anyway, it's a good book.

"When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead is a real delight, a YA book set in the NYC of the late '70s. I like the gritty atmosphere of the homeless and a strange sandwich shopkeeper - these are kids with a lot of automony and brushes with a great variety of people.

"Someone Will Be With You Shortly" by Lisa Kogan is a bunch of essays on modern life - she's quite funny and manages to savage Republicans quite frequently. Erma Bombeck meets Rachel Maddow. I chuckled at several stories.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Next up!

I have two New Yorker issues to catch up on.

I went to the bookstore yesterday and got Richard Wolffe's "Renegade" - I read it when it first came out and loved it. I mean, the story of the campaign is stranger then fiction. Also more dramatic, more hilarious, more mind-boggling and more meaningful than fiction. "Renegade" dutifully retells the story we all lived through with the characters we all got to know too well - but because the hero won and saved the day, I want to hear the story again and again.

I also came home with two other books that were discounted and intriguing. "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers is a book I read in high school and wanted to reread. "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks sounds too tasty - a literary mystery that sweeps across 600 years.

And at the library, I have a ton of children's books awaiting me! I requested a bunch of books that Gwyneth Paltrow recommended in her GOOP newsletter.

jesus, interrupted

I have been on a crazed reading binge! So many amazing unputdownable books.

First, I finished "Seven Loves" by Valerie Trueblood. I read most of it in Hawaii. It's beautifully written, lush and evocative, with sentences that shatter your very heart. The author is a poet.

The book is a reflection on seven relationships May has had in life - her husband, her lover, her son, the man who caused her son's death, etc. Wonderful - but there is no plot to pull the reader along. When I put the book down, I didn't feel a strong enough connection to want to pick it up. I only read on for the perfect, piercing sentences. Example: When thinking about religion, May "had petitioned someone in secret, those first years, to take hold of her and wring out the dark water and bring her back." I love that description - wring out the dark water.

There's another passage about happiness and its many forms:

"There was selfish, hoarded pleasure, offering itself in the wrong place; there was exuberance that flared up hissing like a camp stove. There were risks, mistakes. Mistakes could certainly carry a wild happiness. In a life like hers, a life impossibly protected and fortunate as you looked at lives around the world, a life burst open and pumped out and then stubbornly, appallingly reverting to something that would have to be called happiness - you could never choose one day."

Upon reading Ayelet Waldman's recommendations for Mother's Day books, I bought "Life Among the Savages" by Shirley Jackson and "Family Man" by Calvin Trillin. Excellent choices! I was in a fever to get "Life Among the Savages" because I adore humorous domestic tales set in the mid century. Who knew Shirley Jackson had a funny family life? It was totally enjoyable and relatable. She makes remarks like "having the third child is the easiest" which are definitely of another era.

I was chortling and giggling throughout the incredibly charming "Family Man." I want to read this book to my husband, he'll get a kick out of it. He also dislikes asparagus and cats. Trillin writes his bemusement upon finding the Koala Kare changing tables in men's restrooms, their family tradition of Chinese food for Thanksgiving, and his distaste for the yowling Siamese cats. He has a perfect light touch with these topics - never cloying.

I also listened to "Happens Every Day" by Isabel Gillies, a memoir about divorce. I find it oddly fascinating as she recounts the breakdown - every time I listen, I try to pinpoint the moment her husband gave up on the marriage. He was a poetry professor and she was an actress on "Law and Order" so they are interesting people to begin with. Plus they are both from fancy WASP families who summer in Maine. Then you add all the drama of her husband leaving her for another woman and it's very gripping. She's kind of ditzy but utterly sympathetic as a mother trying to preserve the family for her sons.

And I read "Jesus, Interrupted" by Bart Ehrman in a state of mild euphoria as he basically explains everything you wondered about Christianity. My own teenage stage of extreme religious devotion collided abruptly against my college class on the Ancient Mediterranean World. We read the Bible along with other texts of the time and it blew my mind to learn that stories of miracle-working gods on earth born of virgins were not rare.

This is the book I should have had at the time. Ehrman explains that the Bible is often regarded as the inerrant guide, God's Word on earth. Yet it has lots of contradictions about almost everything. When did Jesus die? What was his behavior like on the cross? Did he call himself God? Why did he perform miracles? What did he want his followers to do in regards to Jewish law? The list goes on and on and these are not insignificant questions.

This leads to a history of theology - when and how various Christian beliefs developed, such as the Trinity, Heaven & Hell, resurrection of the body, the immortal soul, etc. It is insanely fascinating - I wanted to jump up and down as I read this out of joy of finally understanding. I felt the same way when reading "Guns, Germs and Steel." Also when I read an article in the Utne Reader about what's behind the beliefs of the political parties.

The Bible is the basis for much of our society - what it says and why it says things are relevant to our lives today. And yet, as the author points out, no one talks about the historical study of Jesus. Pastors learn this stuff but they don't teach it in churches. So no one knows what the Bible is really saying.

Anyway, it was a great book and I think everyone should read it. It's far from an attack on believers - it's a compelling history of the Good Book. It's intriguing reading this book after reading "Life of Pi" - which makes the point that humans prefer the better story over a factual account to explain the world.

I want to read more of Ehrman's books.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

every last one

I just finished Anna Quindlen's "Every Last One" and I'm going to spoil the plot right here.

First, I did enjoy the book and her description of the hubbub of family life. Everyone's busy, everyone has their own schedule, everything is hectic. The family in question is the mother (narrator), her doctor husband, their independent daughter Ruby and twin sons Max and Alex. The kids are teenagers so the mother Mary Beth is all caught up in their dating dilemmas, proms, curfews, drinking issues, college applications, etc. Then Ruby breaks up with her boyfriend and he goes nuts and kills the whole family.

This is my problem with the book. A skinny teenager strangles, stabs, and kills three people - Ruby, Max and the father - while the mother was asleep upstairs. Seriously? That is so implausible to me. It's hard to stab someone. You'd think the dad would have shouted something or fought back. The whole horrible scene is only indirectly referenced, no details are given. It's not Ann Rule or anything (which is good). But it seemed like a major stretch.

And of course the second half of the book is about the mother's grieving process. I really felt for her - the ending built up until I was almost in tears. Quindlen excells at writing with all kinds of perfectly on-point observations of modern life. (Plus only she would invent a mass murderer with a Tolstoy fetish.)

I also read "Second Time Around" by Beth Kendrick, who writes these extremely silly fluffy books. Friends from college are given a bequest when their friend dies and they all use the money to Follow Their Dreams.

While on vacation, I read "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel - yes, b/c Obama liked it. I admit I'm obsessed with the Obamas. I found "Life of Pi" very capitivating and I'm not one for seafaring adventure/fantasy books. I was totally enthralled by the boy's castaway story and stunned by the ending. But, crucially, I was not annoyed. Often I get very testy at the "it was all a dream" trope. I think it's unfair and against the rules to withhold info and make the reader less knowledgable than the story teller. But here, it was well done because the point was that we pick the better story. The amount of truth in it is not the deciding factor. And this is extrapolated to encompass religions. We choose what we want to believe and that is a totally understandable, respectable and even noble trait.

I want to talk to someone about this book. In this book, Pi's true story is a horrific tale of murder and cannibalism and "the better story" is about wild animals on a lifeboat and a magical island. So the implication is that life is harsh and ugly and religion offers a better story.

But I want to probe at that idea... I feel it sets up a false choice. I feel religion can be a tool of mysogeny and oppression and the real story of life on earth can be extremely beautiful and affirming. Obviously it can also be very brutal and painful as well. But what if the better story is the empirical truth? Perhaps evolution is a good example.

I was struck by a line where Pi mused that choosing doubt over faith is like choosing immobilization as a form of transport. This book made me think.