Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Usually an adaptation makes a viewer who hasn't read the book want to go out and buy it. But this film is unique.It didn't make me want to go out and read Powell's memoir (though I am intrigued to check out her blog, The Julie/Julia Project). Instead, it made me want to go out and buy Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Some could easily argue that the film was based on both Powell's and Child's books, which I suppose would be accurate. (The people involved in the adaptation and in the publication of Child's book certainly thought so--they even put out a movie tie-in edition for the cookbook, which in my opinion, is going a little too far.) But to me as a viewer at the time, I didn't feel like the film was about Child's cookbook, but rather about Child herself and the process of creating the cookbook. Or even more about her book My Life in France.
It's not so easy this time. I even made my own Beef Bourguignon last night for dinner, but I had to do it without my own copy ofMtAoFC, and with the advent of the Crock Pot. So, since going out to purchase a big, fat, expensive book on French cooking just wasn't in the cards for me, I just had to be satisfied with the tips I learned in the film (tip #1: Don't crowd the mushrooms) and the cookbooks I do have in my possession. Some of which, I absolutely adore:
Friday, August 28, 2009
For most children of my generation, Reading Rainbow was an after-school staple like Handisnacks and juice boxes. I, for one, was ecstatic whenever the theme song would begin, my little face lit up in a smile as if someone just shoved Lite-Brite pegs in my mouth (another fantastic and sadly dying pastime).
"Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high,Take a look, it's in a book." — Reading Rainbow
You know the one I mean. That rainbow swept across the screen and made me feel normal for being such a bookworm, even at such a young age. LeVar's adventures gave me confidence to keep turning the pages, to beg my mother to take me to the library yet again, to go through the little Scholastic Book Fair catologs with such determination that you'd think I was taking the SATs. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
NPR's Ben Calhoun spoke with John Grant, the man in charge of programming content for Reading Rainbow's home station WNED Buffalo, to find out just what happened ('Reading Rainbow' Reaches Its Final Chapter').
In a nutshell, "PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that's not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do."
"Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read," Grant says. "You know, the love
of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read."
At least Reading Rainbow will still be available to educators, so the groundbreaking show won't be completely forgotten. But it's a sad day either way when encouraging children to read is no longer relevent enough to the media to keep a legendary, educational program on the air. It seems the mentality is to just teach them how and send them on their way. They never have to pick up a book again!
Just Reach for the Rainbow, my friends. Reach for the Rainbow.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Way Home" shot up to No. 328 on Amazon.com's Best Seller list TuesdayAnd even though the likelihood of the President reading every page in his summer reading list is slim ("at a collective 2,300 pages, Obama would have to pour through 300 pages a day while on vacation," acording to politico.com), people are racing to their computers and clicking away at Amazon.com to read along with the Pres. Just as they did when he was spotted reading The Post-American World by Fareed Zakarie.
from No. 33,349 when Obama's list was first announced Monday. The others
followed suit. "A Lush Life"? From No. 74,289 to No. 10,295 on Wednesday.
"Hot, Flat and Crowded"? From No. 231 to No. 41 on Wednesday. "John Adams"?
No. 14,301 to No. 7,067 on Wednesday. And "Plainsong" rocketed to to as high
as No. 189 from its Monday position of No. 8,155.
The Spellman Files follows a family of quirky--and at times, just plain crazy--private investigators with the eldest daughter, Izzy Spellman, as the guide. Lutz lays out a vast foundation for her series in this first book, really introducing you to Izzy and her hilarious family members with a wit and cynicism that you can't help but love. Mr. and Mrs. Spellman are parents one can only imagine have been exaggerated but really would take their young daughter down to the basement (aka the Interrogation Room) and question her till she admits to stealing that cookie from the cookie jar. Rae Spellman, Izzy's younger sister, really does make a sport of surveilling strangers, negotiating punishments, and bribing her siblings. David Spellman didn't take to PI work as well as the others though, becoming instead a lawyer--his family needs someone to get them out of their messes, don't they? Uncle Ray, an ex-cop, is a hysterical mess, who spends days groveling over his kidnapped t-shirt (Rae, of course), and his disappearing acts--known fondly to the family as "lost weekends"--are accepted by all involved, if not expected.
Then there's Izzy, our loveable heroine. Izzy's the kind of girl who would slash her parents' tires right in front of them to keep them from tailing her (though they naturally find a way around it), who would smash one of their headlights with a hammer so she could find them in traffic (they'd smash hers back), and who would go to visit her dentist ex-boyfriend #9 at the office just to nap in his comfy chairs and then request to borrow his BMW for a high-speed chase that can only end in destruction of property. Izzy will make you laugh so hard you cry, even while you're crying inside wanting her to love herself as much as we love her, despite her many, many flaws.
This novel is clearly character-driven with its glorious cast of characters, though the Spellmans' adventures throughout are certainly entertaining. The investigation of the Spellmans themselves makes for an interesting contrast for a family always looking through a magnifying glass at someone else, though it was under-developed throughout the first 3/4 of the novel. Izzy's detective work on the Snow case was additionally compelling, though it was wrapped up in a nice little bow by someone else. I'd much rather have seen Izzy actually solve the case correctly. It would not only satisfy me as a reader, but hey, maybe it'd up her minimal self-esteem a little bit, strengthening her character and showing some growth on her part.
I was also a bit disappointed by the lack of cohesiveness of the plot throughout. There is so much going on in was difficult to invest myself in more than just the family itself. I care about the story because I cared about the characters--not a bad thing necessarily, but it made me feel like I was missing a little something along the way. Moreover, rather than weaving the subplots together to make it feel less detached, the action is divided structurally by giving each subplot its own chapter numbers, so the book ends up with multiple chapter 1's. The sections are already jumping around in time, so why give the reader something else to be confused about? It's somewhat minor of a grievance though, as I still found this book to be highly entertaining and thoroughly recommendable.
The last word: A laugh-out-loud, delightfully fun debut that's a little rough around the edges but totally worth a read!
And check out the other books in the Spellman series: Curse of the Spellmans (now available in TP and HC, coming to MM in Feb. 2010) and Revenge of the Spellmans (now available in HC).
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
According to CBC news in Canada, Kraken Opus, a fancy UK publisher, recently announced a 850-page wine book that is expected to retail for £640,000--The Wine Opus. The book will discuss the top 100 wineries in the world, a list that will be compiled by the "United Nations of Wine" (who knew?). Sure, consumers will receive six bottles of wine from each of said wineries, but this is just absurd.
So, remember, even though prices are increasing at a rather shocking percentage, it could always be worse!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
While Gruen fills the pages of this novel with beautiful imagery and richly drawn characters, the hype around this depression-era circus tale is a little overblown. I was, of course, happily ensconsed in the depth of feeling toted around my Gruen's main character, Jacob Jankowski, and I found myself reaching for the next page again and again. Gruen's voice is enchanting and thoroughtly engaging. So, I won't make any claims to have not enjoyed reading this complexly detailed and excruciatingly emotional story. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit. But I do have some qualms about it that I can't seem to shake.
Firstly, I did not view Water for Elephants in the same light it seems as the reviewers from Publishers Weekly do when they say, "With its spotlight on elephants, Gruen's romantic page-turner hinges on the human-animal bonds[...]." Jacob, of course, had relationships with the animals in the menagerie, but I didn't feel that the book was at all about that bond. He's a vet; of course, he cares about the treatment of the animals. He spends all his working time with them too, so yes, he's going to form some sort of relationship with them. But this book did not hinge on that one bit in my opinion. Instead, Gruen's novel hinges on the personal relationships between the human characters: Jacob, Marlena, August, Walter, Camel, etc. To me, the animal relationships purely influenced the reader's feelings toward the humans. The animals liked Jacob and Marlena and they hated August and Uncle Al--their reactions amplified how I already felt about those characters.
The only potential horse of a different color here is Rosie, the lovable, hilarious elephant who finally gives August what he deserves when she hits him in the head with a stake, causing him to be stampeded. Parade Magazine goes so far as to call her the book's "majestic, mute heroine." But I can't wrap my head around that description, even with Rosie's role as the murdering, lemonade-stealing, Polish-speaking pachyderm. She doesn't even enter the book until more than halfway through, and while her presence in the book is suprememly entertaining and emotionally quite powerful at times (i.e. when August mistreats her and you watch from Jacob's POV), I don't feel like she plays that much of a role thematically. She kind of just does the dirty work for the characters, so the reader's opinion of Jacob (who possibly should have sliced August's throat like he intended to) wouldn't be soured and so there was no legal complications, while providing some comic relief.
I also am a bit bothered by the structural organization of this novel. I am all for flashbacks and parallel storylines when it's done with purpose, but here, I felt it was just done for the sake of doing it. The aging Jacob was reminiscing, sure, but he wasn't sharing the tale with another human, as in Big Fish where the father tells his son of his life in the circus. He was just remembering on his own, which seems a little bit pointless to me, especially given the fact that nothing really happens in the current day part of the story. All Gruen shows the reader here is a sad, lonely old man who has lost all his family (whether to death or to forgetfulness) and who pines after his youth. Maybe it wouldn't have bothered me so much if he told the story to Charlie at the circus; then at least it would've given the story a purpose. As it is though, it feels to me like Gruen was trying to use a technique common more often to literary than to commercial fiction, or that she used it purely to accomodate her prologue so she could tease that pivotal scene. Personally, I think the overall story would have been much more powerful without the older Jacob and had stuck to being a depression-era novel about a young man who lost everything and then found himself again in the most unlikely of places.
The other thing I'm struggling with after reading Water for Elephants is understanding why everyone thinks this is such an original novel. I do agree that Gruen did something special when she exposes the seedy underbelly of the circus in such a gritty and realistic way, but it's not as if it's never been done before. It hasn't been done often, granted, but it has been done. Big Fish, which I mentioned previously, is one very specific example. While Big Fish is a much more fantastical story that Water for Elephants, it still has a lot of the same basic plot points--a life-changing romance and an inside look at the circus. Gruen's voice in telling the story is what's so special here. Additionally, this story is more or less a patchwork of real-life events that took place throughout the history of the circus. While I am a firm believer in writing what you know, in researching a topic before you claim to know it, and by incorporating real life anecdotes and such into a piece of fiction, after reading Gruen's Author's Note I was incredibly disappointed that she took so much from fact and turned it into fiction. Almost all of the unique, humorous (and sometimes not so humorous) scenes in the book are based on actual accounts and not, as I had thought, a product of Gruen's imagination. It was a bummer to say the least.
The last word: A brilliantly written, but not-so-brilliantly crafted, and engaging novel with characters who stay with you long after you finish reading--it just could have used a little more editing.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Chick lit has always been more complicated than a formulaic romance novel--which, my friends, don't even think of going there, I work in romance novels and will beat down any one of you start ragging on it. And chick lit has always been "women's fiction," as is romance. They are two sub-genres of a very vast genre that varies in commercial and literary appeal. So all-in-all I'm honestly baffled here about why this topic is even news.
Yes, trends have been happening in chick lit speficially. It's become darker in a lot of ways, the character's have become more self-empowered and confident, some even downright bitchy. Yet, changes like this occur in all kinds of genres. As society shifts and new attitudes and ideas become more accepted, characters in novels are bound to evolve as well. So, who really cares? Characters have changed, I won't deny that. But the heart of chick lit drastically changing?
Thursday, August 20, 2009
And it just keeps coming. Publishers Marketplace announced today that Viking is planning a 1 million copy print run for Gilbert's follow up, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. Expected to be "a memoir of the "tumultuous year" that came after the mega-success of Eat, Pray, Love" (Publishers Marketplace), Committed is bound to hit the lists just by nature of the author's past success.
But do we really need to hear more from Elizabeth Gilbert?
Personally, I say NO (in capital letters no less, especially given her past history of adultry, but that's another story). I was underwhelmed and unimpressed with EPL, finding Gilbert to be a petty, self-involved protagonist with more than her fair share of luck (and money), and quite frankly, I don't think the world needs any more of her toxic energy. Don't get me wrong, I am all for the universal search for identity we all go through, and I am happy to know that Gilbert went on such a soul-searching adventure and hopefully truly did come out of it a changed woman. But we don't all need to shout it from the rooftops. And if we do, such experiences should be shared with tact and grace, with compassion and an understanding that there are people much worse off than you that you need to avoid trampling over with insignificant whining. While her imagery and experiences were unique and even lush at times, I felt Gilbert was lacking that very important quality, and I was unable to sympathize with her situation. Yes, her life wasn't perfect, but in a lot of ways it was pretty damn close, and instead of taking those imperfections and A) working on them, or B) having the self-regard and initiative to rid her life of them if she couldn't deal, she just cast aside the world and went off in her own little la-la land, thinking of no one but herself. As I read, I constantly felt like shaking her and telling her "You got yourself into it, chica, now get yourself out!" Not the reaction I want from an insightful and engaging memoir.
So, please. Keep me far, far away from Committed, or someone will need to commit me.
Try used books for starters. It’s been a trend of late to sell back and donate books in good condition to booksellers (like the Strand and HousingWorks in NYC, and the Salvation Army to name a few), where consumers can then purchase books a cost much lower than their price points. Then there are the not-so-well-known book swap websites, such as Paperback Swap, where people all over the country can swap, trade, and exchange books for FREE. Well, minus the cost for postage to mail a book off, but we’re talking minimal fee here, my friends. And if that’s too much for you, remember there are still those little things called libraries.
And then there’s my new favorite—drum roll please—Choose What You Read NY. As far as I know, this program is specific to New York City, but it has great potential to spread to major cities nationwide. CWYR is a non-profit book exchange that’s found its home in and around subway stops in the city. On the first Tuesday of every month, volunteers for CWYR are giving out donated books, just as the MTA gives out free Metros and AM New Yorks. There are three drop boxes in the city for readers to donate a book he or she has just read or it can be returned to the station on the specified date. All CWYR asks is that when you take a book to read, you drop it back off so someone else can enjoy it too!
Books dying? Come on! Just look at the fresh new ways to spread the book love!