Friday, February 27, 2015

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

[I read this book in 2009, and wrote this post immediately following.]
Esquire is my favorite magazine and Jacobs is hilarious--but I just didn't enjoy reading it the way a factoid-fiend would. This is not to say the book wasn't worth it. I'm glad I read it, but I was more driven by finding out if he ever had a child, rather than what knowledge he gained from his quest. In fact, it was more his writing style, than topic, which pulled me through the book:

Exhibits A - E
A. "The only time I'd ever encountered the concept of a penis bone was during conversations with my college friend, Ileana. Ileana had a very casual relationship with the truth." 22
B. "Savage Norse soldiers from the middle ages who, it is said, went into battle naked. Hence 'going berserk.' So to truly go berserk, you should take off your pants. Noted." 25
C. "I love this cafeteria! This is the most beautiful cafeteria I've ever seen. And this baked ziti--this is fucking delicious! You get to live in these dorm rooms? They're palaces. And your library carrels are so well designed. What beautiful fluorescent lighting! God, look at that pile of bricks in the yard. That's the most gorgeous pile of bricks at any college I've ever seen." This is Jacobs recounting an ecstasy trip at Brown. I, too, would be jonesin' over library carrels. 71
D. "Eventually I learned that asking, 'What do you do for a living' is bad Mensa etiquette, the equivalent of asking the average person, 'How often do you masturbate.'" 148
E. "If I twisted my ankle or got pistol-whipped by a gangsta rapper, she'd blame it on my not getting the proper eight and a half hours." 291

And, although I'm not big into facts, the two-penis-ed male and two-vagina-ed female bandicoots are rather interesting (291). And of course, any mention of David Granger is noteworthy, especially the insight on his lingo (295).

I did Google Jacobs to see if he works with Esquire. Indeed, he does, and seems to have written some pretty fabulous things for the magazine. What also intrigued me is that after his Great EB adventure, Jacobs found himself another quest, which ended with the book, A Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I definitely remember reading the Esquire issue that had advice from a Biblical-enhanced Jacobs. Maybe later I'll see what else he's had to say. But for now, I'll stick to his humor in perfectly pint-sized and poignant proportions.

Friday, February 20, 2015

the real nancy drew

I'm a sucker for re-reading things from my youth. That's why I re-encountered The Cat Who series in 2014 and why I almost started reading my old Goosebumps books this year. (It could still happen.) But the series I was most into was Nancy Drew. I had a numbered list and I would write down each book as I read it. You know: The Haunted Bridge next to #15 or Silver Cobweb next to #71. [Side note, I hated the contemporary 80s/90s Nancy Drew covers when I was reading age. I always gravitated toward the oldest looking books. Not that I had a lot of choice in our small libraries, but I didn't realize it at the time. Now, perusing the interwebs, I definitely recognize the ones I felt most strongly about were all older or looked older. Huh!]

Here's the post that I originally wrote about re-reading my childhood obsession in 2009. 
In my happy fervor of not having a lot of work, I finished all but one of the books Kristin and I have on our book queue. I read The Clue in the Old Stagecoach first, followed by the very first Nancy Drew story, The Secret of the Old Clock. 

Naturally I poked fun at the language-- George's exclamations of "Hypers!" was too much like Velma's "Jinkies." But, hey, it's a childhood favorite I couldn't totally hate on it. Nancy's totally hot, all the guys dig her, and the girls want to be her friends. In fact, I see a lot of other famous characters in the Nancy Drew series. Nancy and Ned are pretty much Barbie and Ken, and Nancy, George, and Bess are human forms of Britney, Jeanette, and Eleanor (The Chipettes, duh). Personally, the most entertaining part of the book was when my roommate picked it up and pointed out that Nancy enjoyed "dating" Rick while they were on vacation. "What about Ned?!?" she had cried. And it's true. As I read, I wondered the same thing. But, I wasn't alone. When Ned and his two chums (one who dated George and the other who was "a special friend" to Bess) wrote to say they were coming to visit, George asked Nancy what she would do about Rick and Ned. Nancy replied that some things just work themselves out. She was right. As fate would have it, Rick hastily had to leave the resort because his mother was sick. 

But my copy of The Secret of the Old Clock proved to be a doozie of a read. I can remember reading it both when I was little, and again in high school when I went through a nostalgic phase. The book I snagged at the library this time around looked old, but this was actually an exceptional copy. Despite never reading the forward or introduction to any book, I was curious as to why something so mundane as a children's series needed it. Reading through, I discovered that in 1959 the Nancy Drew series was revamped. This book, the first in the series, was published in 1930. While it didn't strike me as odd at the time, there have been a lot of changes since then, including women's rights movements and the civil rights movements. So, in 1959 they took every book written until then and modernized it. This included making Nancy 18 instead of 16, her mother dying when Nancy was older rather than very young, giving her a golden hair a new style (no longer the bob), and updating her car from a blue roadster to a blue convertible, and she drove on highways now and not main gravel roads. What this book did was turn back to the longer, and politically incorrect, version which was published in 1930.

I had a million reactions to this book and I wish that I had access to the revamped version, to see how different they were. Indeed without the reference of the newer text, it is painfully clear that is novel is out of date. The first is that when talking to her dad, Carson, she calls him "Father" incessantly. In the newer books she calls him dad. Another tell-tale sign of the old era is the phrase: "Like a true daughter of the Middle West, Nancy Drew took pride in the fertility of her State and saw beauty in a crop of waving green corn as well as the rolling hills and the expanse of prairie land." What the hell? First of all, it's the midst of the Great Depression and the era of the Dust Bowl. Reality check? (side note: I hate that Nancy spends her time galavanting around spending money and pitying poor people during the Depression.)  And no one in their right mind would write something like that nowadays anyway. In fact, my previous view of Nancy was certainly not "Middle West" minded. Typical of the sexual inequality of the period as well, one of the officers tells Nancy, "Not many girls would have used their brains the way you did." Also, unlike the Nancy of my day, this one is the head of the household, ordering the menu and food for dinner, and leaving Hanna as just a member of the household staff. 

The best part, or well, perhaps the most interesting of the cultural divide, is the racism. The forward mentioned it but until half way through, it never appeared. Then, as Nancy is planning to break into someone else's house, the "Negro caretaker" or "colored man" pops into the picture. HA. Nancy Drew is not only classist (which is evident in her shopping scenes) but she's a racist, too! The "Negro caretaker" is an alcoholic with a bunch of kids and he hates his job. He calls Nancy "White girl" and his conversations with Nancy are reminiscent of this particularly stereotypical dialect: "Ole Jeff done gone and made a fool of himself" and "...dis is my favorite jail." Need I say more. 

Clearly, for the benefit of today's world, the great Nancy Drew change of 1959 was needed. However, as the introduction points out, it's very interesting, from a cultural evolution standpoint, to remember our roots and where things begin. Thank you, Applewood Books, for bringing it back in 1991. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I wrote this back in 2009 when we first started the blog. I'm going to go back through and republish some of my original musings from the start of When English Majors Graduate.

I remember that I really enjoyed this book, as did my friends when we were reading it. Right out of college, feeling on top of the world. It's no wonder we were drawn to all the power.

All right, I wouldn't go so far as to call The Godfather erotic, but it was certainly more sexual than I ever imagined. Massive organs opened the book. Reconstructive surgery popped up partway through. The appetites of virgins also seemed to be a steady thread. All in all, I would go so far as to say I was pleasantly surprised by the sexuality of the book, if not a bit confounded by it. These parts seemed, to me, rather progressive, even in a novel that developed post-1950. Considering the Don's abhorrence of sex-related escapades, the prevalence in the text felt a little bit off. Plus, his hatred never really served a purpose. He feuded with the prostitution profiting family, but that's about it. What, exactly is the tale portraying about sex? How is the reader supposed to interpret it? Clearly, it is okay for males to sleep around, but women must remain chaste, monotonous, and dutiful. ::cue unnecessary and obnoxious feminism critique:: But it can't be all bad, either, you damn feminists. There is a desire for the utmost of protection for women in this novel (even if they are treated in something of an inferior light). Plus, I'd say that surgery of Lucy Mancini was very progressive. Still, the novel ends with Kay Adams going to church and becoming the perfect wife and accepting her husbands lies and lifestyle. I guess that's a bit submissive.

But enough of feminism. That was the last thing on my mind when I read the book (as it is in almost any situation). Mario Puzo created an enticing and enthralling fiction. I couldn't put it down. Seriously, I went with my family over the holiday and read all but the last 40 pages in a day and a half. The way the story develops is perfect--a bit of info here and there, and certainly not chronological or centrally focused on a character. But as the readers' involvement with the Corleone family grows, the plot develops, character background grows, and you slowly learn more and more to the point that at the end you know as much as a consigliere. Brilliant. 

Of course, I found some fabulous wordage as well. The nightclub that's a "finishing school for hookers" and the synonym "corpse valet" for "undertaker." And plenty of others that I didn't mark, simply because that would have taken away from valuable reading time. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Another past book club gem I just found notes on: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

I don't remember much from this meeting, but I do know the book was a quick/easy read for me. I gave it four stars on Goodreads, and I said it was a beautiful depiction of character. I think I really felt for the kid, and the characters you met were memorable/different. (At the time, that is. I hardly remember the book at all, now. It's embarrassing, really.)

What I took brief note of was the writing. There is some poignant wording. It was lovely.

.... she cried and cried and cried, there weren't any napkins nearby, so I ripped the page from the book--"I don't speak. I'm sorry."--and used it to dry her cheeks, my explanation and apology ran down her face like mascara... (31)

I like to see people reunited, maybe that's a silly thing, but what can I say, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can't tell fast enough, the ears that aren't big enough, the eyes that can't take in all the change, I like hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone... (109)

Maybe we're just missing things we've lost, or hoping for what we want to come. (222)

"I not know was New York. In Chinese, ny mean 'you.' Thought was 'I love you.'" It was then I noticed the I {heart} NY poster on the wall, and the I {heart} NY flag over the door, and the I {heart} NY dishtowels, and the I {heart} NY lunchbox on the kitchen table.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson

So, uh, I think I started writing this post in 2013. It's 2015. But the content--really, the one idea I'm suggesting--is too good not to share.

{A long time ago...}

Last night, my sorority book club gathered to discuss Running Away to Home, a novel by Jennifer Wilson.

The catch? Jennifer is a Des Moines resident and attended the event.


She wooed us all with her wit and hilarity. (Sidenote: She's pals with an undergrad professor of mine, and I can totally tell. They're both good stuff.) She told us a few fun facts that weren't in the book, name dropped some fabulous people she works with and for, and told us a bit about the reactions to her book--family, friends, and the people she met and wrote about in Croatia. She's visited a number of book clubs in Des Moines, and she's even heard from other book clubs who were planning trips to the same area of Croatia to meet the people in her story.

It was such a lively meeting, and so much fun to feel like you're getting behind the scenes, especially on a story loaded with real people and places. Oh sure, public libraries and universities and such do readings all the time, but I never thought about our rag-tag-group of sorority gals could coax an author into joining us at the local market. But really, authors are people, too. I highly suggest your book club look into it. Probably not our star, but someone near you. It certainly breathes a bit of new life into an ongoing gig.

{More recently...}

Jennifer now works two rows down in my office. She's editing a super-fresh magazine, and she's a riot in our on-the-reg meetings. I have to admit there's some disconnect for me between the writer at that table a couple years ago and the woman now working for the man, but I think she challenges a lot of what's the norm around this joint, and I like it a whole lot.

Word is she's working on another book, and I hope our club picks it up and invites her again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

I have to admit that I am a fan of both Bones and Castle. They're definitely on my guilty pleasures TV list. I found the former when I was in graduate school and watching only Netflix shows that were binge-worthy (see also: Murder She Wrote). The latter I found last year, when I was too lazy to change the channel on my TV and I didn't mind the handsome Nathan Fillion on my screen every day after work. I am way too into the Castle-Beckett relationship now, but I haven't watched anything since they got engaged. Gawd she's pretty.

Given my fondness of the shows, I'm surprised it's taken me this long to check out the books that inspired them. The audiobooks are wait-listed from my public library download site, but I wasn't too far down on the list for the first Bones book: Kathy Reich's Deja Dead. 

I listened to it in about a day and a half. It went quickly, and I was surprised when I noticed there were only 30 minutes left in the book. I guess that means things wrapped up a little bit quicker than felt natural, but not alarmingly so.

At introduction, there are a lot of differences between the TV and book characters of Dr. Temperance Brennan. I have to admit to liking TV Brennan better: she's a little bit more calculated and self-assured than Book 1 Brennan. Plus she doesn't have the same history that book Brennan has (divorce, grown daughter). But I'm looking forward to seeing how she develops in the books.

Some of the book's characters have similar/same names to the show, and I smiled with all the French crossover that happens with the Caroline Jones TV character always saying "cherie" with such attitude, which is clearly drawn from the French Canadian book roots.

Just checked my local library and Bones #2 Death du Jour, is not available on audiobook or for reading. But #3 is right there for the taking. Hmpf. You can be darn sure I'll do this in the right order. It just might take me a while.

... Stay tuned for an update when I finally get the first Castle book!