Monday, December 17, 2007

TBR Challenge

So I found this thing online and I think I am going to try it. I don't have a physical stack of TBR books because I usually read books from the library (not a big rereader) but I do have a virtual stack of books so I'm going to pick some books from there.

Amanda's 2008 TRB CHALLENGE LIST

Birthmothers (Merry Bloch Jones)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone(JK Rowlings)
Primal Wound (Nancy Verrier)
Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier )
The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman)
Atonement (Ian McEwan)
Women in Love (D.H. Lawrence)
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) - this one's for PB
On Writing - (Stephen King)
Native Tongue (Suzette Hayden Elgin)
The Abstinence Teacher (Tom Perrotta)
The Surrogate (Judith Henry Wall)

Alternates
Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk) also for PB

I tried to mix up some nonfiction adoption stuff I want / need to read, some fiction (which I love) and some classics that I ought to finally get to. We'll see

Quickie (James Patterson) - audiobook

This was OK. PB really enjoyed it. I found all of the plot turns to be a bit much. By the time I got to the 10th plot twist (and I'm not exaggerating - I think there are that many) it was almost laughable. The book was fast paced though which is perfect for me to listen to in the car.

Basic plot is that a police detective has an affair with her coworker, who is killed by her husband. The reasons for all of this (the affair, her coworker having the affair and her husband killing the coworker) are all part of the major plot twists.

One thing that really drove me craze about the book was that the main character kept having this big moral crisis about her infidelity - she felt guilty for lying to her husband about the affair even though HE KILLED HER LOVER. Ack. I kept wondering throughout if it was because it was a female character.

Anyway, maybe I didn't like it so much after all. But it was reasonably entertaining, especially when I was in traffic.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York (Gail Parent)

Ooooh, this book is clever. I read it because it was supposedly a predecessor to Bridget Jones and I have to admit it lived up to the hype.

The book is written supposedly as a suicide letter from a Jewish girl going on thirty in the 1970s who is at her wit's end because she can't get married. Not much in the way of plot but the book is just plain funny. It's hard to believe 1972 when this book was written (and five years before I was born) was 35 years ago. Ack!

Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)

*****THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS*******


This is actually a reread... but I haven't read it in at least 10 years. I don't know what it is about this series - it's about a nurse who steps into a set of stones in the Scottish Highlands and is transported back in time 200 years to the 1740s. There, she meets a Scotsman names Jamie who she must marry in order to avoid an uncomfortable political situation. The reason she has to marry him is that the brutal sadist who left Jamie irreparably scarred by means of a public flogging suspects Claire is a spy and means to "question" her. Ironically enough, this man is the great-great grandfather of the man Claire left behind in her time (Frank). Jack Randall also has the hots for Jamie - the reason he flogged him is because Jamie refused to have sex with him.
Oh, and Jamie is wanted for a murder because Jack framed him.

I really can't explain the appeal but the books are riveting. I never would have read it except one of my coworkers highly recommended it. I believe there are 4 books in all... They are some of my absolute favorites.

So back to the story. Claire and Jamie get married. Then Claire gets put up on witch charges because of her close association with a self proclaimed witch who just happens to have poisoned her husband because she is pregnant by the cripple laird's brother. Oh and the witch, Geillis Duncan? Turns out she is also from the future - just as she sacrifices herself to the screaming horde to save Claire, she gets a glimpse of her smallpox scar.

So then, Claire and Jamie return to his family estate, Lollybrach, which his sister Jenny and her one legged husband are running. Jamie thinks Jenny bore Jack Randall's son, but turns out she didn't. Just an ugly rumor. Jamie and Claire can only stay at Lollybrach for a fews days though as the English patrols are still hunting him.

They are about to leave when Jenny's baby is born. As they are making final moves, Jamie is captured by the English to a formidable prison, where he spends a lot of quality time with Jack Randall. He is sentenced to death by hanging. Claire breaks in only to find a weak Jamie who has already been tortured. Jack Randall walks in, catches Claire and Jamie bargains with Randall - he will participate in his games in exchange for Claire's freedom.

After Jack Randall nails Jamie's hand to the table, Claire is booted out the back of the prison and is set upon by wolves which she has to fight off with her bare hands. She is rescued by a huge man wearing a bearskin. Turns out he is Jamie's mom's former love, the one who gave her the pearls Claire now wears. He helps break Jamie out of prison, by sending many, many cattle into the prison. They get Jamie out but they are almost too late. Claire makes emergency repairs to his shattered hand and body, then they flee to an abby in France where Jamie has family and where he successfully recovered from near fatal wounds once before.

This time though, the pain is more mental than physical. Jamie admits to Claire that the torture he endured has left Claire and Jack linked in Jamie's mind and though he burns for her he cannot bear to touch her. He asks Claire to leave the abby, then promptly contracts a blood infection and is about to die. Claire has an incredibly odd encounter with him where she essentially pretends to be Jack Randall. Jamie fights her and slowly begins to heal from all he's been through. At the end of the book, Jamie and Claire are contemplating moving to America and they hint that Claire may be pregnant.

See, I don't know why I like it, but boy do I. I am surprised by how little I remember of the details of the book - I rarely reread so it might be this way with everything I read. Who knows? At any rate I think I will revisit the entire series. Will have to put the next one on my request list at the library.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Marching Season (Daniel Silva)

Loved it, loved it, loved it. PB and I listed to this one on audiobook - one of the best I've heard so far. It's written by a former war correspondent who uses his experiences in journalism to add rich detail to the novel.

It's the story of Michael, an on-again, off-again CIA agent whose married to the doctor of a liberal senator. The story centers around Michael's showdown with a deadly former-KGB, now killer for hire code named October. October tried to kill Michael and his wife but instead killed his partner and Michael's wife, Elizabeth killed October's lover and partner.

October works for a super secret society made up of the heads of various state intelligence units and big arms dealers. The essential idea is that they involve themselves in efforts to crush the Ireland peace accords in order to encourage violence, and therefore the need for weapons and state security worldwide.

I actually didn't know much about the Irish conflict before I listened to this book. I would definitely read more of his stuff.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Queen of Babble in the Big City (Meg Cabot)

I am addicted to recurring characters in books (that's why I loved The Second Assistant and The First Assitant).

This book did not disappoint. As I mentioned earlier, this character cracked me up by not holding back a single thing she was thinking - much like myself and my grandma (from who I apparently inhertied 99% of my genes).

Our character has moved to New York and is living with her boyfriend at the end of the last novel. She is working as a receptionist at a law firm owned by her best friend's boyfriend's father, and she is also working for a bridal dress restoration expert (but unfortunately not being paid). As part of her job at the law firm, she meets a soon to be society maven who currently smells like seals, who is being forced to wear her MIL's hideous gown. You see where this is going... she restores said gown and becomes famous for it. Oh, and along the way, her best friend turns into a lesbian, she realizes her boyfriend is a commitment phobe, loses her job at the law firm and begins dating best friend's (now ex) boyfriend.

My only gripe - the ending was a little too cliffhangerish, with ex boyfriend showing up on the last page, just as the relationship with best friend's ex was about to... ahem... consummate. I have to get the next book now but I would have been pretty pissed if I read this when it first came out. You see, while I like series, I also like instant gratification... hmmm maybe I would appreciate Harry Potter more now.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Come Together by Josie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees

Another book by the authors below. It was OK It is rare to find a chick lit style romance with serious moments and deeper explorations of the actual ups and downs of the relationship.

Still written in alternating chapters (one male, one female). Despite my fondness for the names Jack and Amy I pretty much had no sympathy for these two, especially Jack. It was an interesting book, don't get me wrong, I just didn't like the two main characters.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Boy Next Door (Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees)

This is a recommendation from that really cool website I found a while back.Htere are several boooks by these two authors - the woman writes the part of the woman in the book and the man writes the part of the man in the books, in alternating chapters. Or maybe they write the chapters of the opposite sex... no I'm pretty sure they write their own.

Anyway, interesting way to tell a story though admittedly, it's a litle gimmicky. The authors are British and I am really beginning to enjoy British fiction... or at least British fiction of the low brow variety.

This story resonated with me because it's about two kids who are friends, then turn into high school sweethearts, then get driven apart and are reunited in their late thirties, after she's had a kid and just before he is getting married. Just like PB and me. JK, we missed everything from "high school sweethearts on". Otherwise it would be a much cooler story.

But I can totally relate to the idea of falling in love at one point in your life, at a very young age and that transforming who you are and what you turn into it. PB and I did that - it's hard to imagine how very different my life would be if we weren't together. And when you start dating so young you literally grow up together and influence who you become as adults.

Listen to me, I make it sound like we got together when we were 7.

Anyway, enough about that, this is the blog about books. So I already pretty much summarized the store (minus the drama of a father who is criminally shady and literally dies a fiery death, a glimpse at a boarding schoool for boys and a loveless marriage in between). The story is told, like I said, from alternative points of view, and also in flashback to fill in what happened to them as kids / young adults.

It's a fun read. Quick too. My only really big complaint is that the ending was *much* too abrupt for my taste. And I didn't really connect with the female lead, I was much more interested in the male lead. Hmmm.... wonder what that says about me?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Man Without a Country (Kurt Vonnegut)

I heart Kurt Vonnegut. Seriously heart him.

This book is a treatise / memoir / farewell / final / love / letter to his audience / hysterical political rant.

Unfortunately, we listened to it on audio book... PB is not as familiar with his work and didn't know about the illustrations. It was a great diversion on our last trip home though.

He also made some really good points - mostly about how destructive men have been to the earth in a relatively short period of time. I defintiely need to get a copy of the book.

Plus you know, any Bush-hater is a friend of mine.


Confession: Originally the slashes in the second sentence were the word c.um. But I thought that word, especially combined with "Bush-hater" might lead to massive amounts of disappointment if people landed here by way of a search of some kind.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Anthem (Ayn Rand)

So it's sad that I didn't even hear about Ayn Rand until I got to college, and I didn't read any of her books until well after graduate school.

This book reminded me a lot of 1984 - something about the narrator's voice seems very similar to me. And there are obvious parallels in the storylines.

I didn't like this book quite as much. I think the philosophy of man and human nature as an end worth celebrating in an of itself interesting, but the end of the book left me with a nasty taste in my mouth when it came to the narrator. He seemed to full of himself and too literally trying to cast himself as God and the creator. Or something.

The version I read had a really cool feature - it contained an earlier manuscript of the book marked up with edits in Ayn's own hand. It was really cool to get a glimpse of her editing process.

Glad I read it and I'm really looking forward to the Fountainhead. Whenever I get around to reading it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Two Books Removed from My List

So I am actually axing two books - Size 12 is Not Fat and Size 14 is not Fat either. They are chic lit books trying to pose as mysteries. And while I like chic lit and I like mysteries I don't like the intersection of the two....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Undomestic Goddess (Sophie Kinsella)

Another nice chick lit book. This is from the author of the Shopaholic series. Here, our lead character is a high powered attorney in London who is living a hectic, stress-packed life and makes a mistake that costs a client 50 million pounds. In the resulting panic she flees the city, ends up somewhere in the English Countryside and accidentally accepts a job as housekeeper, despite the fact that she doesn't know how to cook or clean.

Just like me :-) Well except for the 50 million pound loss. So far.

Anyway, a large portion of the book is devoted to her living in the country, taking lessons on cooking and cleaning and falling in love with the gardener. For a time, she forgets about her job at the top lawfirm in the city but one day the niece of her employer's come to visit, bringing a brochure of Carter-Spinks along with her. This inspires Samantha to google herself, and much to her dismay, she discovers she is the laughingstock of the legal world, even causing the phrase "pulling a Samantha" to be coined.

But did she really pull a Samantha? More research reveals a sketchy family connection between the lawyer who supposedly was defending her at the lawfirm and one of the businesses that might have profited from Samantha's mistake. At some point she realizes maybe she didn't make the mistake, and uncovers serious misdoings by her former mentor.

In the end she clears her name, declines a partnership offer, accepts a partnership offer, declines it again and accepts it again. This is the part of the book where I got put off. I get that it's confusing and she's flighty, but it seemed like the author really went overboard at the end, perhaps because she didn't know how to wrap it up and didn't want to end with the cliche' getting married and having a baby.

I also wish she would have explored Samantha's relationship with her crazy, career-obsessed mother a bit more. The Geiger's (Samantha's employers) are extremely well-written and LOL funny.

Overall, a good read.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bitter is the New Black (Jen Lancaster)

I loved this book. I actually hadn't read her blog before I read about this on some website and apparently she already has another book out and one on the way. I had the second one (Bright Lights, Big Ass) on reserve at the library but I didn't pick it up before it got returned. Yes, I am that delinquent borrower :-(

Anyway, the level of snark in this book is hysterical and I heart it. I can't wait to check out her other two books.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The First Assistant: A continuing tale from behind the Hollywood Curtain (Mimi Hare)

Of course I like this book - so snarky and I am such a big sucker for sequels / series. I am still trying to figure out where the author actually worked.

I think it's fascinating to get a glimpse of the real life craziness that is Hollywood. I visited there once and loved every minute of it. Of course I could never actually live there - I think I am about 100 lbs heavier than the low would allow :-)

Monday, August 13, 2007

1984 (George Orwell)

It is an injustice that I wasn't forced to read this book earlier in my life. My telescreen should have made me.

Seriously, I really enjoyed this book. PB and I listened to it on audiobook and we were so engrossed that we were looking for reasons to drive around to keep listening. On more than one occassion we stayed in a parking lot or driveway to get to a good breaking point.

I can really comment on the book itself - I'm sure I have nothing left to say that someone else hasn't said before (and much more eloquently). Besides, I need to actually read the book now. I do think the scene in Room 101, which I had heard about before, was one of the most dreadfully compelling things I've ever heard. I cried when he betrayed Julia.

Prep (Curtis Sittenfield)

Ooh, loved this one. Loved it, loved it, loved it. All about a middle class girl made good. She gets into a prestigious prep school on scholarship and the book details all four years at the school.

I think I liked this book because it made you work to sympathize with the main character. It wasn't the typical teenage angst that affects everybody kind of thing - though that definitely figures in. This book more deeply explored the role the protagonist had in creating her own crappy teenage existence, not something that most coming of age books do, or do well.

Main plot is that she attends the school, is an outsider, develops a crush on a boy. Boy starts coming to see her at night and they begin a sexual relationship that never turns into anything more. Girl "accidentally" exposes the upper class privelage at the school in an NYT article, becomes even more of an outcast and graduates. Talks briefly about what happens to them after school.

Forwhatever reason I kept picturing this book as happening at PB's college (Earlham, in Richmond Indiana). Not sure what that's about.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What Men Want (Deborah Blumenthal)

So-so. It was a book about a columnist, that was kind of interesting. I really felt disappointed in this book though. There weren't may interesting messages, except for one character that had moved to the wilderness to escape the pace of modern life, even though he was perfectly OK when had to come to the city. There was some commentary on the role of journalism in society, but nothing too earth-shattering.

Honestly, I felt like there were so many characters and stories that a lot got left out... I'm guessing this one was edited way down. End result = so-so.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cool site

While I tried to find out who the First Assistant was actually about... yes I'm THAT busy at work today, I found this website:

Trashonista: We Read Books Like They're Going Out of Fashion

I really like it and will be checking back to get new book reccs. Because, you know, my list over int he sidebar isn't long enough already.

sigh.

Less reading, more moping

Apparently, I haven't been up to reading too much lately. Here's what I read in June / July:

VoiceMale (Neil Chethik)
Queen of Babble (Meg Cabot)
2Cool2BeTrue (Simon Brooke)

So I probably should write about VoiceMale. I thought it was quite interesting really, a sociologist writing about men in relationships basically - what they think, how they express themselves, etc. The part of the book I really liked is that he didn't just interview men and draw conclusions. He also conducted a nationally representative phone survey to validate those findings. I really liked that approach giving that I write surveys as my job. LOL.

And yes, I did actually read a book called 2Cool2BeTrue. Isn't that 2dumb2betrue? I picked it up because it looked like typical chit lit fair, written by a man and with a male model as the lead character. It was mildly amusing.

Queen of Babble was pretty enjoyable actually. I liked it because the main character was written in a stream of consciousness-esque style, and sadly enough I had had some of the same thoughts running through my head before. There is a sequel to this book that I will definitely be picking up.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Sacred Cut

Don't know who it's by... it's an audiobook PB and I listened to on the way to Chicago to visit with potential e-parents.

It was a long and overwrought crime novel. The voices were funny. It was set in Rome and had something to do with undercover missions. That's pretty much all I remember.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Book on tape

At PB's urging, we listened to Freakanomics by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner on tape across the course of several car trips. It took a while to get through, but I liked the experience.

The book was interesting - I think the authors are very good at reframing questions in new ways and looking for data sources to answer those questions. As an exercise in creativity in research I think it's brilliant. The link between abortion and violent crime is a particularly interesting hypothesis and I can't believe they actually came up with it.

That said, I feel that many of the authors demonstrations fall prey to the same crticisms they make of other research - they are almost all correlation / anecdote based. I guess I am too much of an experiementalist at heart. Sigh.

No time...

Books I've read recently but not had the time to post about:

Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus: these are the authors of the Nanny Diaries. I liked the book. I think it had a lot to say about feminism that I really haven't had time to process.

Rattled by Debra Galant: OKish. I finished it because I find it very hard to not finish a book once I've started it. Interesting environmental themes and a good portrait of an obsessive SAHM.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious: Loved it, loved it, loved it. Can't believe I just now got around to reading it.

The Second Assistant by Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare: Loved this one too - hysterical account of a second assistant to a hollywood producer. I suspect a little reasearch would reveal which agency and which stars the author loosely veils in the novel. Too bad I don't have time to actually do that research, huh?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner

So I have no idea when I actually started this book. I suspect it was in January. I remember it was so soon after Baby Bear went home that I found reading about a women whose two month old died way too painful. So I put it down and dusted it off today.

V. good read. I liked Good In Bed and In Her Shoes (and I also like the movie adaptations of In Her Shoes BTW) so I am not surprised that I enjoyed this one. It's about three new moms who meet in a prenatal yoga class and how they develop into mothers. The pivotal character, Lia is the mom who lost her baby - she is an actress in Hollywood and actually ends up leaving her actor husband and fleeing the city to someplace near her home. So it's interesting that all of the "here's what motherhood means to me" revolve around an axis of loss of a child.

I like this book because it presents different "models" for motherhood - career obsessed and fitting a baby in, hippy mom who wants to do everything naturally and stay at home, obsessed, perfectionist mom who tracks, records and analyzes everything. There are also interesting discussions of each woman's relationship to her own mother. The workaholic grew up poor with an alcoholic mom, and works hard to make sure that never happens again. The perfectionist mom grew up with an activist mother who felt that wealth and privelage would guarantee her kids turned out all right. I can't really recall what hippy mom's mom was like but her MIL is a holy terror that makes their lives miserable. In the end the way hippy mom comes to terms with that relationship is by imagining her MIL as a neglected infant, craving attention, whose cries no one answered.

My only complaint: the way we're hit over the head with the themes rather than letting them unfold naturally. I also react to the literary device of telling the story with four voices, and delineating those voices with the name of each character at the beginning of her chapter. If your voices are good enough, we'll figure out who's talking, OK?

Parenting Someone Else's Child: The Foster Parents' How To Manual by Ann Stressman

This book was OK. I always like reading about other people's experiences, I think because I am naturally nosy. Probably also why I like really crappy reality TV, too.

I probably would have got more out of this book if I hadn't already ready Ruby Payne's "A Framework for Understanding Poverty". That book, which I read for a work related projected had a pretty interesting central thesis about how kids in poverty grow up with vastly different value systems and that some behaviors we consider abnormal really only present adaptive behaviors that are often linked to survivial skills. Case in point: an enormous percentage of kids in foster care are medicated for ADHD. However, the author contends that the kids aren't distracted and inattentive - they are vigilant and watching their environment because they can't take for granted that their home is safe in the same way that middle class kids and children from stable homes do.

However, in both books I found myself reacting to the semantics. Seems like we're painting social classes with a pretty broad brush, without a lot of "objective evidence". Not to discount their expertise, I just didn't like how it was presented as a verifiable truth.

I also really hated the 11 point Comic Sans font. Not a good choice for books.

maneater by gig levangi grazer

Read this book for the online book club over at Tipped Uterus. Have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The tone is hysterical and this book has some of the best lines I've ever read. I'll come up with examples and post here later but for now just know the story revolves around a spoiled rich girl living in Hollywood, with one of the foulest mouths ever (that's probably why I liked her). She has several close friends, most of whom kind of seem like bitches. She deliberately targets an up and coming producer who is rolling in the dough, only to find out that she's actually married his incredibly poor best friend posing as said rich boy. Too bad that's after she gets pregnant.

Huh, another motherhood book. Interesting, since I didn't even pick this one. LOL

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Lust for Life by Adele Parks

A typical "grass is always greener" tale of two sisters. One is young and carefree, breaks up with her hippie boyfriend to look for more marriageable material and later regrets. The other is a dowdy, stay-at-home mom who turns into a hipper, more fun version of herself when her husband leaves her. Eliza (the free spirit) eventually finds all of those men are dull and boring and returns to the hippy.

Martha (SAHM) has a more interesting journey - she begins wearing Deisel jeans and makes a naked friend named Jack Hope. She realizes she loves him, tells him that, scares him away, gets invited to live in America with him, realizes she can't leave her kids, loses him then swoons when he stays in London at the last minute so that they all presumably live happily ever after.

There are some really funny scenes in the book - Martha throwing wine at her husband is hysterical. And again, all the British dialogue makes me smile.

Just in case...

I am pretty sure no one is reading here. But on the off chance that someone stumbles over, I wanted to direct you to a new online bloggy bookclub over at Tipped Uterus.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

To Have and To Hold by Jane Green

Another fluff book... maybe these aren't fluff books, maybe since I haven't wrote anything about any other kinds of books, they're actually all I read, eh?

Anyway, this one was about a woman who pretty much totally remade herself to please her husband. She goes from being mousy brown, curly haired and in love with her career (which is catering) to being blond, sleekly groomed, stylishly attired and in love with her husband (who guides all of these changes).

They get married and move from London to New York, where they buy a country home that once belonged to an author with somewhat of a sordid past. Really, I think maybe she just slept around during an age where that wasn't allowed.

Of course, said husband turns out to be a terrible womanizer. Alice looks the other way for much of their marriage but eventually becomes attracted to her best friend's beau (who her best friend really wasn't all that into anyway). Harry likes the new Alice, mousy brown hair and gardening clogs and all, which the reader knows is really the old Alice.

The tone of this book is not like modern day chic lit. It reminded me a lot of Valley of the Dolls, my all-time favorite guilty pleasure. But the book promised more than it delivered - I really wanted the author whose house she lives in to be relevant to the story, and maybe she was in an earlier draft, but she definitely wasn't in the final form.

All in all, an OK read. I guess it might raise some interesting questions about the loss of self in relationships, the ways in which women (especially one of Alice's husband's long-term mistresses, Josie) try to manipulate men to trap them into marriage. You know, if I thought much about it.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Game Over by Adele Parks

So this book was OK. It’s one of those chick lits that I am fond of as an escape and a way to really tune out and not think. Basic story is girls is a career driven mega-bitch who creates a reality show called Sex with the Ex where people who are about to get married test their fiancĂ©s by setting up situations where their old flame tries to tempt them into bed. Then she meets someone who refuses to be on the show and falls in love with him, even though she is uncapable of experiencing love because of abandonment issues regarding her father. She flees the relationship and makes plans to marry her safe best friend, who loves her more than she loves him and is, therefore, not a threat.

Of course, the reality show comes back to bite her in the ass when her fiancĂ© sets her up with… wait for it… the man she is secretly in love with. Good guy assumes she was involved and ditches her. She pines for him and they are eventually (and really abruptly) reunited. The end.

What I dislike about this story is that it confirms the stereotypical picture of women – they can either be competent, powerful and good at their jobs OR they can be warm. They can’t be both. Even though men can be both. Of course, why would I expect chick lit to fight stereotypes? Tee-hee.

I do like the cheeky British humour and slang.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Handmaiden's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Obviously not a new book, but one that was definitely worth a read.

I read a blog entry about it somewhere, I think in the context of a discussion about Children of Men. Certainly, there are some interesting messages in this book for anyone who's struggled with infertility and some elements are particularly timely given the politics of today.

A brief synopsis: In the (now very) near future the United States has completely changed... the government has been overthrown and a new ultraconservative, Christian-esque theocracy is in charge. Interestingly, at one point Atwood suggests that the coup was blamed on radical Islamists, and talks about what was supposed to be the temporary suspension of the Constitution turning into an entirely new form of government. Additionally, environmental contamination has rendered many parts of the country uninhabitable and it is to these areas that citizens who refuse to conform are sent.

Basically, a lot of what the new regime is about is the the subjagation of women. Women are no longer allowed to read or write, cannot really have social relationships and are essentially assigned rigid roles, which are even conveniently color coded - blue for the Wives, who are married to the highest ranking males, green for the Marthas, older women who are a lot like indentured servants, red for the handmaidens, who serve a reproductive function only and a multi-colored dress for what are called econowives, who must fulfill all household duties on their own.
Not only women are the targets, it seems that anyone who is not the cultural default (white male) is fair game and those who aren't sent to the colonies are hanged and placed on "The Wall" for everyone to observe. White men can also become targets, if the transgress against defined sexual rules (no homosexuality, no sex or really contact with Handmaiden's except for procreation, no adultery except with Handmaiden's, etc.)

The main character (Offred) is a handmaiden, her sole purpose is to produce a child for a higher ranking couple who is unable to have their own. She is essentially property as evidenced by the naming convention, "Of____ " Fill in the blank of whatever man she is currently trying to get pregnant by.

Throughout the book, Atwood points out that mens' status in this patriarchal society dictates that they be beyond reproach, therefore, the issue of infertility always falls squarely on the shoulders of the women... in fact, if a handmaiden fails to produce a "keeper" in her first three placements, she is declared Unwoman and is sent to the colonies, along with the feminists, lesbians and widows (Oh my.)

Atwood's storytelling style is pretty unique - I've not read her before and the tone of the book took some getting used to. She writes a lot of short, declarative sentences. The voice of Offred is intended to sound like the character herself recounting the events that happened to her. The story unfolds through a combination of Offred's description of events serving as Fred's handmaiden and recollections of her life in the time before. In general, I liked the way the story was told.

I didn't really like the appendix to the book. Essentially, some resolution is granted by our reading the transcript of an academic conference presentation about 100 years after Offred's experience. The idea is scholars have uncovered the story we've just been reading recorded on a series of audio tapes in the handmaiden's own words. I did think the tone of the conference was hilarious and unfortunately true to life based on my own experience listening to pompous speakers presenting their revolutionary ideas. But, as a storytelling element I thought it contrived and cheesy.

A lot of the ideas in the book resonated with me. The eery comments about a corrupt regime blaming various political events on Islam. The scary nature of the religious right and how sick and twisted a society could become without the separation of church and state. Maybe the tenuous nature of wome's rights - that is that they are granted by men, some of whom would rather do away with him. And, especially the reduction of a woman to the function of her uterus.

The book also made me wonder what would have happened to me in this society. An "unwoman" to be sure. Some dreadul life cleaning up toxic waste in the colonies. Though we don't ship woman off who can't have kids, I think there is an undercurrent of "wrongness" about women who can't or don't reproduce - whether out of choice or because they have fertility issues. I've heard people say that you aren't a woman until you're a mom. That people without children are irredeemably selfish. Lots of crap.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I loved this book.

It was hard to read. It is a riveting first person account of the author's first year of widowhood. I use that word explicit;y because there's a part of the book where she talks about the word "widow", and it stuck in my head.

Anyway, her writing style is almost one of stream of consciousness - only that consciousness is very skilled at telling it's story. What I really mean is that it's so intensely personal that you feel like you're in her head. But it's also beautifully crafted.

It's really just a book you have to experience. There's no real plot - just the discussion of her reaction to the unexpected loss of her husband and how that changed her world. This book madde me v. thankful for my life as it currently is and v. afraid of how it could so easily be different.