Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tyler Teaser Tuesday

now reading: John Tyler: Champion of the Old South by Oliver Chitwood

Welcome to Teaser Tuesday, a blog meme from Should Be Reading via Maybe Tomorrow. How to play along:

1. Grab your current read
2. Open to a random page
3. Share two(2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
4. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
5. Share the title & author, too, so that other participants can add the book to their to-be-read lists if they like your teasers.

I think most people who do this are reading fiction, and most of those genre fiction. Such is the book blogging world. I, however, am reading a biography.

"He was allowed to remain in private life for only a short time, however, as he was again elected (1838) to the Virginia House of Delegates. This time he went as the representative of a district of which Williamsburg was the center." -p. 152

Join the fun in the comments, or on your own blog - and share a link!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

MFK Fishing for Meaning

now finished:
The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
Lonely Planet Chicago City Guide

I've been doing a little reading! I like getting the Lonely Planet guide upon moving to a new city. Lonely Planet rules, and I like exploring, so it's perfect. In fact, I recommend getting the Lonely Planet guide to your city/state/province/island/country even if you've lived there for years. You will learn and discover new things, and it's fun to consider a new perspective on your home.

For my take on Ursula's feminist sci-fi classic, I steer you here:
Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

Now, onto this MFK Fisher business. No, I haven't undergone a personality transplant. No, it wasn't a dare. I actually read a book from the Food Literature section because it was chosen by my Women's Classics Book Group. Yes, I felt a little dread, because I'm not really a fan of reading/talking/listening/watching about food. It's the one section from my Borders days in which I was never tempted to buy the books I was shelving. (Well, that and maybe Romance novels.) When The Splendid Table comes on the public radio station, it quite literally makes me cringe. I hate it the same way I hated being dragged to three hours of church as an adolescent. Yes, there is information somewhere in the speaker's words that could be useful to me, and even interesting to ponder. But the last thing I want is to be a captive audience, sifting through all the boring jabber looking for something beneficial that I could just as easily philosophize about on my own.

For some reason, people fall all over themselves these days talking about how much they love to cook, watch the Food Network, and even shop for groceries. That last bit is due to the whole green living/farmers' market trend, or as I like to think of it, the we-made-fun-of-you-throughout-the-80s-and-90s-for-being-a-hippie-environmentalist-but-now-it's-suddenly-cool-to-give-a-shit-about-the-Earth movement. I adore fresh fruit and canvas grocery bags as much as the next person, probably more so (I'm the girl who's been trying to make you reduce, reuse, and recycle since 1987 - remember me?), but no, I do not need to read eight thousand articles about how you've "discovered" rutabaga. And no, I don't want a copy of your recipe. It bores me to tears. I cannot tell you how delighted I was by Annette Bening's restaurant table rant in The Kids Are All Right about all the self-righteous heirloom tomato talk.

I am digressing, but I am also honing in on my point. I think one thing that bugs me about all the "foodies," apart from the word "foodie" itself, which I think is retarded, is how impressed they are with themselves. Maybe that's why I like The Next Food Network Star, out of all the shows on that channel: the competitors are fighting hard to prove themselves, not resting on their self-made laurels because they chopped some vegetables this morning. The point is that I started reading this MFK Fisher book expecting to be unimpressed, and I was really happy to see that 1.)it was not entirely about food and 2.)she had some insightful, well-written passages about seriously cool life moments. But then it got really weird. I'm talking off-the-charts "what just happened?" weird.

So The Gastronomical Me leaves you shaking your head a little. I mean, did she even have an editor? Every book needs an editor. Every book. Not just to copy edit spelling and grammar, or trim 500 wordy pages down to 200, or whatever, but for theme and overall cohesiveness. Editors are misunderstood and they are totally necessary. And I'm really not sure this book had one.

The stories start in MFK's childhood (her name is Mary Frances Kennedy, and yet she's not Catholic? Figure that one out) and go through boarding school to life in France and then a trip to Mexico, from Prohibition into World War II, and through a husband and a lover who dies. And yet you really don't ever learn about her or understand what is happening in her personal life. That's why I say it's not well done.

At boarding school, she has a lesbian dalliance with another student - I think. In France, she rescues the neighbor young woman from - something. An aggressive date? It's not really clear. One minute we're in France with her husband and she's tra-la-la-ing about this man she loves as they take a boat somewhere for a perfect meal and wine, and then all of a sudden she's divorced, but she doesn't tell us that. She just tells us she's sailing across the Atlantic home to the U.S. to tell her family she's getting divorced. Her next lover/soul mate dies, but if you want to know what the disease IS that has caused him to LOSE a LEG, you're out of luck. And don't even get me started on Juanito. Seriously random creepy final chapter. Off the charts. I'm not spoiling it here, because I don't really understand what happened, so how could I tell you?

The thing is, much of the writing was interesting. This woman was clearly learning who she was, and that totally comes out, and I really liked her interactions with the Frenchies and lots of her life moments. But it felt like she was deliberately trying to confuse us. I know the 1940s didn't have quite the same tell-all sensationalist style that causes everyone and her dog to write a memoir these days (which I hate, too - memoir. Making my foray into food memoir just about like a descent into hell) but could she at least tell a complete story if she's going to tell it? It was like watching the edited-for-TV version of The Exorcist. You just know there's something you're not getting.

So anyway, I was all ready to give the book 3 or 3 1/2 stars until I got to the final vignette. I might even be willing to read another book of hers if someone can recommend one where something happens and she tells us about it and everyone acknowledges that this is happening. I really think she was born sixty years too soon - she clearly was meant to be writing a blog. Which I might not read. But she does have little epiphanies, and she writes lines such as, "I felt illimitably old, there in the train, knowing that escape was not peace, ever." That's a good line. I think I disagree with her, but it's a good line.

I will say this, too: there's one part where she totally comes to the defense of potatoes. I mean, she goes all out, declaring that "meat-and-potatoes" thinking unfairly relegates them to a "menial position" and that they should be cooked "respectfully." That part was awesome.

I'll take the praise of spuds over creepy gender-bending Juanito any day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Authors, party of six

Everyone knows Some people know that one of my favorite little games to play with myself is to imagine all of the celebrities who share my birthday (May 13, btw) at one big birthday dinner party, because it's quite an eclectic mix: Harvey Keitel, Stevie Wonder, Bea Arthur, Dennis Rodman, Mackenzie Astin, Stephen Colbert, and the latest addition, Robert Pattinson. Well, tonight I just happened to glance at my Goodreads profile (paying attention to something else entirely) and there's a whole "Linda's favorite authors" section where the first six who happen to default to the front page, complete with pictures, are: Fyodor Dostoevsy, Virginia Woolf, Nelson DeMille, Leo Tolstoy, Anna Quindlen, Gloria Steinem.

Suddenly, I was playing a new imaginary dinner party game. Imagine the possibilities! I mean, obviously, Fyodor and Leo could go off in a corner speaking Russian, but I don't think either is the type to do that. Nelson would obviously have to talk to Leo about how he totally used War and Peace in The Charm School. Which man would hit it off with which woman? Virginia clearly had opinions about Leo and Fyodor; what would she make of Nelson? They might be surprising friends. What would Virginia think about the latter century feminists, Gloria and Anna? Would Anna act like a journalist, or a novelist? And with Leo and Gloria at one table?! Two of the wisest people ever. Ever! World peace might just spontaneously come into being, just from them existing in each other's presence.

God, this is a fun game. Endless fun.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

More Asia, please!

now finished: Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer

This was the Pico Iyer book I should have read in the first place. You may recall that when I did my A-to-Z Literary Blog Project, I selected Pico for "I." However, I was reading novels for that project so I read his Cuba and the Night, a work of "fiction." It was OK, but not really a novelly novel, you know? More like a thinly veiled memoir of his Cuba experiences - kind of like what I'm writing in my own Cuba "novel." But I had wanted to read Pico Iyer ever since we had him on The Savvy Traveler back in the day, and I was most intrigued by Video Night in Kathmandu. So now I have read that one, and I am a fan.

He wrote it after traveling through a slew of different Asian countries in the 1980s. To give an idea, he talks about seeing Rambo, Madonna, and "We Are the World" making it big. The book's philosophy is basically his examination of how East Meets West as he travels in Bali, Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma, China, India, Hong Kong and Japan.

And all it did was make we want to drop everything and go back to Asia. Now.

I was actually already plotting to go back to Asia, but this book was like a catalyst added to an already bubbling over test tube.

It's not like he had the most amazing mind-blowing travel experience ever, or that he told some story like no one else could tell it. This was no Into Thin Air. It just made me insanely jealous because he writes about so many places and I want to see them all! The British expats having a grand ol' time in their high-rise Hong Kong apartments, when China's re-taking-over was still years off. Tibet and Burma and China when they were newly opened to Western tourists. Mandalay! The intricacies of baseball in Japan, before quite so many Japanese pitchers were doing great things in the MLB. And India - his delightful descriptions of the wacky layers of life that pile on top of each other in India, and how perfectly those crazy layers are reflected in Indian film.

Yes, please.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Girl Who Doesn't Care About Stieg Larsson's Trilogy

now finished: Men Who Hate Women by Stieg Larsson

Oh, you thought it was called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, did you? That's because we are victims of jackass corporate publishers who listen to their jackass marketing departments, who, unfortunately, are well aware of just how dumb jackass Americans are. The title in Swedish is .. um...something I can't remember or spell very well, but it MEANS "men who hate women." And that's what the book should be called in English. Instead, we have this "The Girl With..." nonsense. Apparently The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second book in the series, is an accurate translation of the Swedish title, and as this wise blogger points out, the first and third were willfully changed to distort not only the focus of those two titles but the second title as well, making it all about The Girl instead of the fact that she is taking on something more dangerous than she may have thought.

And now we have a jackass "English-language remake" of the Swedish film in the works and EW keeps jabbering about which actress will play Lisbeth Salander and quite frankly, she's totally not even the main character of The Girl With the Dragon TattooMen Who Hate Women, which I, unfortunately, have now read.

Usually I maintain my bestseller backlash for a bit longer than this - I first touched Men Who Hate Women With Dragon Tattoos, what - two years ago? Two and a half? In Borders Atlas Park. But there was this vast right-wing conspiracy to get me to read it, and then we went to the cottage and Brian's mom had it and blew through it and the second onto the third, and everyone but everyone like Jill! and Amy! and Stacey! and Chris and everyone on Facebook! and the Swedish movie was across the street forever! and the violence wasn't gratuitous, and wasn't misogynistic, or was it? and fine! fine! fine! I read the damn thing on the beach in two days. And my grade? W. For "whatever!"

It's like The Incredibles all over again. People got so uproariously mad when I didn't like that movie, because, they all said, "It's unique! It has this totally inventive, original story line about these superheroes who are, like shunned by society but really are smart and have these incredible talents!" To which I responded, how is that not the plot of every single superhero movie? And of every single Brady Bunch episode? My friends, we have a repeat. All the Män som hatar kvinnor (I looked up the spelling) devotees go on and on about the unique literary brilliance of this book. No. It's a mystery. It's written much like any mystery. Especially maybe The Da Vinci Code. It has its interesting points, but around page 280-something it goes seriously downhill for a while. And, as many people have pointed out SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! NOT TO DO WITH THE 'WHO DONE IT' BUT A PLOT POINT ABOUT THE CHARACTERS' RELATIONSHIP 300 PAGES IN SPOILER ALERT! SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT THE SPOILER! ALERT! ALERT! I'M GOING TO SPOIL NOW! there is no freakin' reason for Lisbeth to sleep with Mikael Blomkvist. Seriously. None. It is so stupid. Even if Stieg *had* to establish the nice-guy-can-be-promiscuous-without-hating-women-so-not-all-men-are-bad aspect of Blomkvist, he could have done so by him sleeping with his best friend co-worker (which he does) and one of the members of the Vangar family (which he does) or even the red herring of what's-her-guts in the cafe. UGH. Also I really really hate that Stieg took the David Foster Wallace/Emile Zola route with regard to the cat. The cat was, quite frankly, my favorite character, but he sacrificed it and, worse, made it the subject of monstrous brutality. That's when I wanted to throw the book across the room. OK THAT IS THE END OF THE SPOILER. ONTO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. NO MORE SPOILERS.

So I'm annoyed with Stieg, I'm annoyed with the publishers/marketers, I'm annoyed with the fans, and I'm totally not impressed by the story or the writing. Whatever, trilogy that you all can't put down. I can so easily put it down. Noooooo problem.