Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, October 24, 2011

"World War Z" by Max Brooks

Well, I told you I was going to hate this book. And, what do you know? I was right.

Not only is World War Z (obviously) about war (ugh!) but it is about a zombie war. I don't care for zombies. They're not pretty, they're not witty, they're not fun or clever or admirable. They're not even all that scary when you know how to handle them. So just what good are they, exactly?

Poor Max Brooks was already at a disadvantage with me due to his choice of subject matter, but this was only compounded by the grade-school errors that kept cropping up. Not like I've never made a mistake in my life, but I got annoyed right away by comma abuse (too many in some cases, not enough in others) and a jarring singular/plural mashup in one sentence ("It must have been a heartbreaking irony for those poor peasants, to see their town saved but then only being able to visit it as a tourist." Come on! Either learn to write or get an editor). Stuff like that keeps me from losing myself in the story. By the time I read "that time of the day when it's photovoltaic windows capture the setting sun" I was about ready to put this book out of its misery with one good shot to its brains. If I hadn't already read two thirds of it by that point, I think I would have. (Not to mention the fact that the library probably wouldn't be especially thrilled if I returned this book after an attempted pithing.)

This book is written from the perspective of a journalist conducting interviews with people from all over the world who were involved in fighting off the zombie hordes. In trying to describe every eventuality and cover every facet of the war, Brooks sacrifices the possibility of riveting story arcs that could have made me care about the individual humans involved. There were a few stories that stood out (the blind old Japanese man in the wilderness, the female American pilot lost in Louisiana) but most of the rest of the reports blended together in a nameless, faceless swirl. Even when I knew a character was being revisited, it wasn't often that I remembered where their story left off. And, paradoxically, it was annoying when stories stopped at a cliffhanger and were never picked up again.

In a nutshell: Boy, am I glad that's over. I have quite a feeling of glee as I peruse my TBR shelves, because I have every intention of LOVING the next book I read! Not least because I can assure you it won't have a single zombie in it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons" by Lorna Landvik

"A few years back, when I finally got smart enough to go to a therapist, she asked me how I had held things together all these years. It didn't take long to come up with an answer. 'That's easy. I belong to a book club.'"
This book was loaned to me more than a year ago and has had the misfortune to languish on my shelf ever since, merely due to its cover. The only way it could have looked any less like my kind of book is if they had actually printed "This Book Is Not For Kathy" on the cover. Well, its title wasn't any better. Either the title or the cover alone would say chick lit, but together they screech it like nails on a chalkboard.

But what do you know? I didn't hate this book. It didn't even make me feel like my brains were melting and running out of my ears.

The five housewives in this book weren't really angry (well, not all of the time, anyway) and I don't believe they ever actually ate any bon bons during the story. The name of the book is the same as the tongue-in-cheek name they chose for their book club, which impressively (or perhaps implausibly?) spans three decades. (What do you say, book club girls? Will you all stop talking about moving away so we can still be meeting in 2041?)

I found it disappointing that very little was actually said about the books the Angry Housewives read. The references to each title were unsatisfyingly brief, amounting to little more than name-dropping. But then a lot of the books they read didn't sound that great anyway. And the story was more about the Housewives, their relationships with each other, and the circumstances their families dealt with over the years. The books they read were there as more of a framework instead of the main focus of the story.

Anyway, I guess I've got to (grudgingly) admit that this book wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. I probably wouldn't ever re-read it, but I think I actually enjoyed reading it once. Don't worry about me, though: I'm planning to absolutely hate the next book I read. Because there's only one topic I'm less interested in than chick lit. Can you guess what it is?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"This is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper

I'd heard about this book from several bloggers, though I can't quite recall what it was that convinced me I needed to read it (which is even more true now that I've finished reading). But, though I can't say what first piqued my interest, I found it a good read with (for once) a cast of  characters who aren't quirky just for the sake of being quirky.

Judd Foxman and his siblings are roped into sitting shiva after their father's funeral. ("All seven days? That's hard-core.") Complex family dynamics are rendered comically bizarre by a lack of those emotional filters that aid in smoothing out normal human relationships. It's difficult for the Foxman family members to get along under the best of circumstances, and these aren't the best of circumstances. In their raw emotional state of grief, thrust into close quarters for an extended period of time (which, for this family, is anything longer than five minutes) a variety of eccentric issues bubble to the surface, causing an ever-changing stink worse than Uncle Stan's farts. Oh, and it doesn't help that Judd's wife has just left him. For his boss. And she's pregnant. With Judd's child.

"The past is prelude and the future is a black hole . . . " That's not the most encouraging notion, but if you've ever hurled yourself into the unknown, you know that's exactly what it feels like when all you can do is hope that you won't be stretched out like a mile-long piece of spaghetti, or be compressed into something one-millionth the size of a bedbug's eyeball, or vanish into a singularity. It's much better to think that, though I may not have fourteen grand in a shopping bag, anything can happen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"All the Sad Young Literary Men" by Keith Gessen

Maybe the title should have clued me in, but this book is kind of depressing. It chronicles vignettes from the lives of Mark, Sam and Keith, three college-educated young men with writerly ambitions. In the first section, the three characters are young and idealistic, their lives ahead of them and the world at their feet, but the reader can somehow sense they are spinning their wheels. The second section finds them feeling like failures, wretched and alone. In the third section, they've all achieved their own blandly homogeneous and hollow happiness because they have . . . settled. I don't think they realized they had settled, but I realized it.

At least each section is depressing for a new reason.

It was too bothersome for me to distinguish between the three main characters. I kept getting their backgrounds and family histories mixed up, and the men themselves seemed to be interchangeable. This made it more difficult for me to invest myself in the story. For example, in Mark's second section, I couldn't for the life of me remember who Leslie was, but I didn't care enough to flip back and find out. (Although, had I been reading this on my Kindle, I think I could have found it in me to expend the effort needed to Search This Book and find where her character was introduced.) Maybe I just didn't pay enough attention, but I began to think this would have been a better book if it had been called "The Sad Young Literary Man" (though maybe that's not quite as catchy a title) and the three main characters had been combined into one.

At the risk of boring you to tears, I will share with you the notes I finally forced myself to take in order to keep the Sad Young Men separate in my mind: Mark Grossman used to be married to Sasha, tried online dating and internet porn, and wants to date Celeste but sleeps with Leslie instead. Sam Mitnick is Jewish, loves Israel, was dating Talia and Arielle at the same time, lost them both, slept with Miss Perfect (Katie) and wrote his name in her book, and is supposed to be writing a great Zionist novel but never does. Keith (Gessen?) idolized a critic named Morris Binkel, spent a summer moving furniture, knows Russian, and roomed with Ferdinand, who dated one of Al Gore's (fictionalized) daughters. Hmmm, they sound fairly different from each other when I list their little bios one after another that way. So maybe it was just me?

Anyway, it's not as if this was a horrible read. I didn't gag on the writing, and it wasn't one of those books I dreaded picking up. It went by quickly enough, and I enjoyed reading it. But I won't be shouting it from the rooftops or pushing my friends to read it. I'm also very glad it only cost $3.97.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Books-A-Million is my Kryptonite . . .

. . . and my kids are fully aware of that fact. One could even say they exploit my weakness. I should know better than to even go in there anymore, especially with my kids.

During my last trip to B-A-M (a post-book-club sortie), I managed to leave without spending any money (a minor miracle!) even though I carried a pair of books around with me for a good long while, fully intending to buy them. I bet the poor things were so disappointed when I put them back on the shelf and left without them.

Tonight, I was not so lucky. Tonight I was not able to resist the inexorable pull of the printed word. Tonight, books were leaping off the shelves left and right, directly into my waiting hands.

First to make the jump: The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. Yes, yes, I know I could have downloaded this onto my Kindle for free. In fact, I probably already have, though I haven't read it yet. But what a cute little Puffin Classic edition, and only $5 (without even being on sale)!

If I'm going to mention E. Nesbit, though, I might as well go on and confess: I don't believe I've ever yet read any of her books. I've been meaning to read something of hers for years, ever since The Magician's Nephew name-dropped the Bastables (though don't ask me how I figured out who the Bastables were. This was long before Google came on the scene). Anyway, I'm planning to LOVE this book, and I might even share it with my children.

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau quickly followed. I've somehow become convinced that I need to read this entire series, though I can't recall who to credit that notion to. This seems to be an intriguing combination of The Matrix and The Giver. I'd definitely like to engage in a bit of read-the-book/see-the-movie with this one.

THEN I managed to find two books labeled "Buy 1, Get 1 FREE!" and they were both only $2.97! I must admit I selected them with my children in mind (even more so than the previous two), but I have a feeling I will enjoy them as well. First is A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris, a very tongue-in-cheek-sounding story about new sixth-grader Svetlana Grimm, who is afraid she might be a vampire. Yeah, I know, vampires are overdone these days. But an eleven-year-old vampire? That lends a slightly new twist to the trope (if you haven't read Let the Right One In). And I love the cover!

The second book in my BOGO offer was Bad, Bad Darlings: Small but Deadly by Sam Llewellyn. What caught my eye was (yet again!) the cover, not to mention the price tag. But what sold me on the book was the idea of a family of thieves attempting to abandon their old lifestyle. Why on earth shouldn't their first step be to set sail on the good ship Kleptomaniac? Throw in a little bit of a Gilligan's Island situation, and it sounds like something my kids and I can all love.

With four books already in hand, I figured I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. So I purposefully tracked down one of the two books I'd narrowly avoided buying a few weeks ago: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I'm not sure exactly what draws me to this book, but Greg's glowing review didn't hurt. And I'm quite fond of the little tree on the cover.

Too bad I can't remember which other book I'd been planning to buy during my previous B-A-M trip. Actually, it's probably a good thing I couldn't remember, or I would have ended up buying yet another book tonight.

This last book wasn't my selection, but it could have been, based on cover and title alone. Bookworm Child picked out The Last Invisible Boy by Evan Kuhlman. I'm pretty sure I'll be borrowing it when she's through, especially if she gives me her irresistible "You have GOT to read this" line.

I'll spare you the details on the other three books I bought (a HALO book for Oldest Boy and a Scooby Doo zombie book, of all things, for Littlest Girl). I also added a cute little Halloween picture book called The Copycat Costume to the stack.

I did manage to refuse renewal of my B-A-M discount card. I really didn't want to spend $20 to save $5 (though this perspective doesn't take future savings into account). Besides, I probably need to wait long enough for my card to expire again before I go on another book shopping spree!

Monday, October 3, 2011

In which my day is ruined, and then decidedly un-ruined

I have a meandering and slightly bookish story for you. It begins with my friend and fellow book club member Renae, who gave me a card from Starbucks which promised a free download of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I have been bombarded by this book (and its beautiful cover!) everywhere I look, so of course I'm curious about it, and hey, free? That's my thing.

So I spent part of Saturday in trying to figure out how to download this book and transfer it to my Kindle so I could (eventually) read it, only to find that, apparently, that won't be possible. If I would join the new decade and buy something from Apple that I could use to read books, I'd be good to go. But for now I'm stuck with a flip phone that thinks I should be impressed because it can take pictures, and I don't see an iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch in my near future. And I gathered that the free download wasn't the entire book anyway--it was just an "extended sample." Not so interested.

MEANWHILE, in the midst of discovering that I won't be able to read The Night Circus (even just part of it) for free after all, I ever-so-gracefully knocked my Kindle off the desk. I keep my Kindle in a great case, but the great case was flapped open, which is a not-so-protective state for it to be in. As it fell, of course my poor Kindle struck the edge of the PC tower, and of course the screen was the part of the Kindle that hit first, and of course this made a weird mark in the (normally amazing and magical) E Ink. And then I found my Kindle was in a coma from which I could not wake it, no matter how many times I tried to slide and release the power switch. I even tried the hold-twenty-seconds-to-reset thing . . . nothing. Just John Steinbeck looking at me accusingly, throat slashed, as if to ask, "What have you done to me?"

Oh dear. What a day. And what now? I mean, other than throwing my former Kindle and current useless trash against the wall? Do I spring for a new Kindle? (At least I timed it well, as the Kindle Touch has just been released.) Or do I do the budget-conscious thing and live a Kindle-less existence, no matter how grudgingly? I must admit I don't use my Kindle that often. Maybe it's just an old habit, but I nearly always reach for a paper book before the Kindle even crosses my mind. But I still have tons of books on my Kindle that I haven't yet read!

Before I gave up on my injured Kindle completely, I had to at least try to google my situation to see if anything could be done. After a bit of research, I came across a forum that recommended calling Amazon to see about a replacement. I'd already noted that their 1-year warranty only covers defects, not damages, so I figured it was a lost cause. Plus, I couldn't remember when I got the thing, but I feared it might have been more than a year ago. But, having nothing to lose, I called anyway.

Lo and behold, I came in just under the wire for the warranty (I'd gotten my Kindle last October 4th!) AND the nice customer service man told me he would send me a replacement! I didn't even have to beg! Amazon saves the day. My replacement Kindle should arrive Wednesday. Kathy is happy.

What have I learned?

  1. The Starbucks free book downloads are only extended samples.
  2. Those samples are DRM-locked .epub files which can't be read on your Kindle. (OR, if they can, tell me how!!)
  3. Don't drop your Kindle face-down on the hard and unyielding edge of a PC tower. (BUT, if you do, call Amazon and tell them your story! As my friend BR says, Amazon has amazing customer service. Use it. Only, don't tell them I sent you, as I'm not sure they would appreciate it.)
  4. Happiness is often merely a matter of perspective.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Time Out of Joint" by Philip K. Dick

Here's my second foray into the books of Philip K Dick, author of the novella that served as the basis for the movie Blade Runner. I started to love this book as soon as Vic couldn't find the light cord in the bathroom. Weirdness! It's great! And unexplained weirdness? Even better!

This is the story of semi-loser Ragle Gumm, who lives with his sister Margo and her husband Vic somewhere in 1959 America. Ragle has never accomplished much in life, other than his wildly successful run as winner of a national newspaper contest, but he is content in his lack of ambition. That is, until he begins to find that reality may not be as substantial as he has always assumed.

I truly enjoyed this book. The questions, the fascinatingly illogical hallucinations, the dawning realization that Not Everything Is As It Seems. (Most books with that element tend to be awesome.) The reader is on a quest to discover the truth right alongside Ragle Gumm.

However, the book was not pure awesomeness all the way through. Towards the end, I was distracted by things that rang false. Some elements had changed too much (fashion, speech, money) and others hadn't changed enough (prices, books, computer printouts). I suppose I was too hung up on expecting the world in the book to mirror reality more closely, but why should it?

I also must admit that the very end had me expecting Ragle to make a speech about getting on the spaceship in order to go to Blargon 7 in search of alternative fuels . . . I'm guessing I'm the only one whose mind made that leap, though.