Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Weekly Read: 24

Forgive me for being so far behind on my weekly reads - being out of town for 3 weeks out of 4 means it's hard to get back in the swing of things. I'm going to go back and make sure I didn't miss anything. This week was mostly for finishing up books, and then leaving for Israel. I always assume I'm going to have lots of time to read while on vacation, but when you go places like Egypt or Israel, it never really works out that way.

READ: An Education | Lynn Barber
I went into this book having enjoyed the film based upon it and expecting to read something similar. That is not what this book is about. And that's not a bad thing. The chapter that the movie version was based on is rather short and does feel quite cinematic in that it truly is quite an interesting, to-the-point story. But to be honest, I think this chapter on her "educational" experience with Simon was probably my least favorite, if only because it still remains incomprehensible. Why would her parents even allow this sort of thing? Also, she is clear in the book that she wasn't really in love with Simon, and wasn't that broken up about their destroyed relationship, and therefore, the whole experience for her was sort of clinical. What she learned from their time together was people can't be trusted. Period. Also, don't bother hiding anything, because it will come out. What was more fascinating than her brief time with Simon the liar was the chapters on her writing career and her relationship with her husband, David. Barber's writing is honest and clear, concise and descriptive. Not only has she led an interesting life, but she has the ability to look back at it and be objective. The last chapter, about her husband's failing health, is compelling and quite touching, without being mushy or overdramatic. Overall, I would describe this book as a simple portrait of life and death, with a side of journalism, and recommend it to most everyone.

READ: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln | Doris Kearns Goodwin
It is hard to review a book that is this long because there is just so much it in. I've always found Abraham Lincoln interesting, but I pretty much knew just the basic US History class facts about him. While reading this book, though, I came to a much greater appreciation for not only the many things Lincoln accomplished during his life and presidency, but for the incredible person he was. I am convinced that the Civil War would have turned out very differently had Lincoln not become president in 1861, and Reconstruction in the South would have gone both smoother and better if he had lived to oversee it. Goodwin's central thesis of the book is that Lincoln's greatest strength was his inability to hold a grudge and willingness to work with and support those who had formerly worked against him. The key to the strong cabinet he built during his first term was skillfully bringing in all of his former opponents for the Republican presidential nomination in 1960 and making them work together as a balanced team. It was rather gratifying to see these men come to know and respect Lincoln, especially Seward, who was perhaps his biggest rival at that convention, and who had the most right of all of them to hold a grunge. Lincoln had the uncanny ability to see which way he had to maneuver politically to accomplish the tasks he desired - that in itself is how he overcame seemingly stronger opponents to actually be nominated for president. It was fascinating to not just see Lincoln and his actions, but to see him set beside his friends, enemies and colleagues, to hear in their own words what they thought about him and their actions. Some, I grew to enjoy (Seward & Stanton), others I wanted to yell at repeatedly and loudly (Chase & McClellan). All of them, though, had remarkable reactions to both Lincoln the man and Lincoln the president. Of course, we know about the heartaches Lincoln experiences throughout his life - the deaths of his mother, first love, and 2 of his boys. And we know how this story ends, too. That doesn't make Goodwin's descriptions of the events less powerful or heartbreaking. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole story was that Lincoln only had a few days to enjoy his big victory. He was finally happier than he had ever been in his life, and then it was all over. I was sad to be finished with this book, and I'm so glad I made the time to read/listen to it.

STARTED: Practical Magic | Alice Hoffman
I left for Israel last Thursday with my Kindle loaded full of books, and the first one I picked was this one by Alice Hoffman. I've been meaning to read this book for a while, mostly because I really like the movie that is based off of it. So far, the book does have the same general feel as the movie did - slightly mysterious, with characters you like and want to see happy. The book is a bit darker than the movie, though that only serves to deepen it, I think. The sisters' relationship is more hashed out, as are those of the daughters, who we actually see and feel grow up. I've reached a point where the book and the movie greatly diverge, though, so it will be interesting to see how different/similar they end up being in the end.

Next up: more vacation reading!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Weekly Read: 23

Not much reading going on this week, but at least I got through a few! :)

READ: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner | Stephenie Meyer
I've enjoyed the whole Twilight series for the most part, so when I saw Stephenie Meyer had written a "novella" based on a minor character from Eclipse, I was definitely interested in reading it. And it is an interesting story, a glimpse into the life of a normal newborn vamp. I ended up having a lot of sympathy for Bree - Her story is a sad one because we can see that she is different, that she really could have learned to be a "vegetarian", and yet we know that her story doesn't end well. I like her relationship with Fred, who seems like a cool guy. The only part I felt could have used more was I wish Bree and Diego had more time together to really build their relationship. It just seemed really deep very suddenly, and her devotion to him seemed rather out of place, especially considering the previous three months. Overall, I'd recommend this one to those who have read the whole Twilight series, but wouldn't call it amazing, and I doubt it's ability to stand alone as a story.

READ: Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players | Stefan Fatsis
I want to go play some SCRABBLE now, but deep down, I know would just be frustrated with how little I know. For now, I will make do with dreaming of how great of a SCRABBLE player I could be, if I wanted to. Much like the documentary "Word Wars", which I saw a few years ago, this book delves deep into the sometimes-strange world of competitive SCRABBLE. The similarity is not surprising - both filmmaker Eric Chaikin and author Stefan Fatsis become friends with and follow the same interesting "characters", and also appear in each other's work. There is only so much you can cover in a documentary, however, without it turning into an epic of History-Channel-mini-series proportions. The book delves much deeper, getting into the fascinating history of games, SCRABBLE in particular, and covering more players than one movie can focus on. The book also benefits from Stephen's own story of growing obsession with SCRABBLE as a competitive sport and all consuming lifestyle. I really felt like I was taking a journey with him - I wanted him to study hard, remember words, calm down, win, succeed in the highest level. As his rating grew, and his confidence along with it, I just hoped he would stay strong, stay confident, and trust in himself. I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed right along with Fatsis that he barely missed out on competing at Level 1 at Nationals, but at least he did well, and at least his rating finally made it over 1700, to expert. Of course, as soon as I was done reading, I hopped online to see what his rating was today, almost 10 years later. All along, Fatsis had said he started researching and writing the book just because it sounded like a good story, but really got sucked in to the world of Scrabble. I was disappointed to see that although he occasionally played in tournaments, he obviously stopped studying as much as he had, because his rating has suck into the 1500s. Obviously, this is better than I could ever hope to achieve, but still. He made me want him to be the best, and now it's almost as if he's let me down. Overall, I found this book to be fascinating and engaging, with lively characters that are too real and funny and quirky to be made up.

STARTED: An Education | Lynn Barber
I saw the film based on this memoir last February, during our 2-day marathon of Oscar nominees, and really enjoyed it. Immediately after seeing the movie, I went to my library's website and requested a copy. Finally, this past week, it came! It's hard to believe it took 4 months to get to me, but there it is. So far, it's an interesting read, but certainly different than I expected. I assumed that the book was going to cover the same part of Barber's life as the movie, and while that part is indeed included in her memoir, it's only about a 30-page chapter, and fairly close to the beginning. After finishing the chapter, on page 49, I thought, "Well, what in the world is she going to fill up the next 100 pages with?" In actually, the rest of Barber's life is far more fascinating than her 2-year relationship with the married Simon, thought it wouldn't make quite as good of a movie. This book is fairly short, though, so I'll hopefully finish it up in the next day or two.

STILL READING: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln | Doris Kearns Goodwin
I can hardly believe I am almost done with this book! Today I've been listening to Disc 34 of 36, and I have to admit, I will be sad when this one is finished. Lincoln truly is a remarkable man, and when I think about the impact his life and actions made on our country, it's mindboggling. I also can't help but think how many more wonderful things he would have accomplished had he had been murdered before his time.

Next week: Finishing the Lincoln biography for sure, as well as An Education. Then, who knows! I've loaded up my Kindle and leave for my trip to Israel and Turkey on Thursday! I'll hopefully be able to update my blog on the road, but if not, I'll do it all when I get back in July. Happy reading in the meantime!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Weekly Read: 22

Not too much reading going on this week, but lots of listening!

READ: This Lullaby | Sarah Dessen
I can't say this is my favorite book by Sarah Dessen, but it's certainly not my least favorite, and I enjoyed reading it.  If you've read any of her other books, you'll know what I mean when I say I can use just the phrase "A Sarah Dessen Book" to describe this one, too. The characters are interesting and well-developed, engaging and likable (for the most part). I'm happy with the way it ended, even if it was mostly expected, because it would have been sad and frustrating if it had ended any other way.

STARTED: Word Freak | Stefan Fatsis
I've never been very good at Scrabble. There's something about thinking of words off the top of my head that I just can't do very quickly. Then I get frustrated, and just stop playing. But I find the fanatical way people follow any obsession to be fascinating, and this story of the history of scrabble and the slightly-off-kilter people who play it professionally are no different.  I watched and enjoyed a documentary on the same topic a few years ago (Word Wars), so when I saw this book, I thought it would be interesting to hear more about this strange world.  Interestingly enough, the same people that are featured in the documentary are also prominently featured in the book, because the filmmaker and the book's author because part of the same group of scrabble friends/competitors.  I would call this book part history/documentary and part memoir, as the author himself gets sucked into the Scrabble obsession. I'll hopefully be able to finish this book up in the next day or two, but I am enjoying it for sure.

STILL READING: Finding Lost | Nikki Stafford
So far I am enjoying this book, but I haven't had much time to read it, because I have it on my computer at work. The insights into the show episodes have been intriguing, though, and I can see how it would be really enjoyable to follow along with this book as you are watching. I'm also really enjoying the extra articles - book synopses for those seen in Lost, which commentary on how they relate to the show, and short bios on the different philosophers whose names are referenced by the character names on the show. I don't know much about philosophers, so I am enjoying hearing about them.

STILL READING: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln | Doris Kearns Goodwin
After a trip down to Olympia and back, plus listening some at work, I am now about 2/3 of the way through this book. Man, it is fascinating! I loved hearing about the machinations of the nomination and election, and I now know more about how governments function at war then I ever thought I would.  Every Union loss is hard to read about, and I find myself endlessly frustrated, along with Lincoln, but the inadequacies of many of the Generals who lead the army early in the war, particularly McClellan. I wish I could have a time machine to go back in time and say to all of Lincoln's nay-sayers, "Neener, neener! Guess who is famous instead of you?" :) Of course, if I really had a time machine, I should probably swing by Lincoln's to say, "Don't go to Ford's Theater on April 15th. Also, arrest a guy named John Wilkes Booth, please."

Next week: Hopefully finishing some books, maybe even the Lincoln one! And then some library books, so I can return them before my trip. :)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Weekly Read: 21

Welcome to summer! I figured since it was June, it has to be summer, right? The weather here doesn't agree with me, though, and it's been pretty rainy all week, other than yesterday. Fortunately, that means more time for reading. :)

READ: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre | Amanda Grange
This is our book this month for our book club, and normally I would wait until the week before to read it so that the details stick in my head more, but I checked this one out from the library and needed to get it back. Plus, I wanted to claim some points for it in the spring challenge, so that meant reading it all on Monday. :) Luckily, it's a pretty quick read, and I enjoyed it for the most part. The main thing I would have changed is that I wish it had been paced differently. I wish Elizabeth had figured out/been told about Darcy's "curse" sooner, and they had spent more time on the action after that - evading evil relatives/vampires, finding out how to cure Darcy, etc. There was too much foreboding and angst going on at the beginning of the book, and it just didn't feel in-character for Darcy or Elizabeth to be acting that way. I liked the scenes in Venice, and the idea of a masquerade ball is so fun! I'd recommend this one to fans of Jane Austen and fans of vampire fiction, but probably not a general reader.

READ: Dead in the Family | Charlaine Harris
I love the Sookie Stackhouse series, and every time a new book comes out, I am excited to get it and read it right away! This one was just as fun as the others, and of course I love that Eric and Sookie are together, finally. FINALLY. :) They are surprisingly sweet together other. I thought it was interesting that for perhaps the first time, Sookie considered what her life would be like if Eric made her into a vampire, and she didn't necessarily see them staying together forever, like so many vampire romance books out there. Like anyone could break up with Eric, though! :P It was also nice to see a vulnerable and almost human side to Eric. Pretty much the only part of this I didn't like was all the vampire politics, like all the stuff with Victor. I agree with Sookie, it would be much more convenient if someone just killed him. Perhaps I am being heartless and desensitized to death along with Sookie. I'm already looking forward to book #11! Incidentally, I'd like to point out that this book is #50 of the year for me, so I am officially half-way done with my 100 book goal, yay! :)

READ: Fool | Christopher Moore
I've read a few books by Christopher Moore now and so far, they have all been hilarious. Guess what - this one is no different. It was so funny and bawdy and perhaps a bit more shaggalicious than I expected, but at least such things are used for humor, and to great effect. Pocket's story is both hilarious and heart-breaking, and he has perhaps become one of my favorite characters ever. It takes a pretty awesome guy to go through that crappy of a life and still come out on the other side full of humor and good will. The concept is really pretty interesting, too - a retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear, told from the perspective of the King's Fool. Overall, this was a throughly entertaining and enjoyable read.

STARTED: Finding Lost | Nikki Stafford
I first heard of this episode guide/commentary to Lost from my friend Cait, who also loves the show. I tend to be kind of skeptical about the usefulness of books about TV shows for some reason, but to be honest, the Lost universe is so rich and deep, there are endless things to discover by examining the episodes over and over. So far, this book has been pretty interesting, point out moments in the first few episodes that I had never noticed as significant. And you know, maybe some things were incidental, but maybe not. :)

STILL READING: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln | Doris Kearns Goodwin
This book has been really enjoyable to listen to so far. I'm about a quarter through the book and right before the 1860 Republican convention were Lincoln is nominated instead of the front runners, Seward, Chase, and Bates, the "rivals" mentioned in the book title. I can't wait to hear exactly how the voting went during the convention, and how Lincoln actually managed to secure the nomination.

Up next week: I'll keep listening to Team of Rivals, and keep plugging my way through Finding Lost, and we'll see what else. I haven't really decided for sure. :)