Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Green Book

If I could use one book to sum up this book it would be: DUH! Seriously! This book is about how to save the environment in the little ways we live our lives. This might be useful to someone between the ages of 8-15. Outside of that, its... well, DUH!

Some useful nuggets:
1. Turn the water off while brushing.
2. Recycle your paper clips.
3. Take shorter showers.

Who doesn't know these things? Everything they had to contribute could have been stated in a tiny little pamphlet. THAT would have saved the environment and would have been a better conservation of my time!

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

When I first heard of this book I was told it was boring. I was told it was frustrating and contained little revelation. I'm not sure what made me want to check it out anyways. This is a very short non fiction memoir of a man, Jean-Dominique Bauby who had a massive heart attack which resulted in "Locked in Syndrome". He was unable to move little else but his left eyelid. From this movement, with the assistance of friends he flutters his eyes to transmit a code to enable them to decipher what he wants to say. This book is his story.

I am blown away by this book. Its extraordinarily simple and perhaps because of that exceedingly haunting and touching. It makes you consider your life, and how you treat others. It also reflects on loneliness... a theme I'm finding to be increasingly prevalent in books I am reading these days.

To give you a glimpse, here are some excerpts which particularly touched my heart or where just plain old WELL SAID...

"I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperatey as I need to breathe."

(On how people have changed towards him in his life): "Had I been blind and deaf, or does it take the harsh life of disaster to show a person's true nature?

I guess the brilliant way he describes things and gives insight and meaning is particularly striking as it was written transcribed by a friend while he communicated with the blinks of his eye.

Often with people who are turned "vegetable" (as he discusses people referred to him as) we assume they are as vacant in their spirits as their bodies imply. This book shakes that notion. And it depresses me to know such a vivid soul is alive inside a trapped body... I will remember to appreciate my life. I will also remember to be kind to those who are helpless, and to whom my kindness could mean the world.

Man Walks Into a Room- Krauss

There is a consistent theme in the two books I have read by Krauss. The themes of love and loneliness. This book is beautifully written, it seems to flow from word to word and you almost forget that you are reading because you feel as though you are there.

This is a story about a man who disappears from Columbia University where he was a professor and is found eight days later with no idea who he is. It turns out there is a tumor in his brain. Once the tumor is removed 24 years of his life is evaporated. He remembers his mother but does not recall that she died. He remembers his Uncle Max, but not his wife, Anna who grieves. She has lost him, and yet not. She loves him, whoever he now is... but to him she is a person who looks at him with guilt for not remembering things he has no power to recall.

Its a more character introspective novel than a plot driven novel. You really consider concepts such as love and loneliness, etc. I find it interesting the theme of his love for his wife through the book. As though, yes he forgot most everything in the past 24 years and he forgot all the details about his wife yet he can't stop the nagging feeling that he cares for this woman though he is not 100% sure why.

I recommend this book to anyone for a lesson on good writing and a plot that makes you think.

"And yet what else does it mean to be loved, Samson wondered, then to be understood? What else but to be profoundly touched by another?" - Krauss 'A man walks into a room'

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Shopaholic & Baby- Sofia Kinsella

I don't normally read chick lit but its light and fluffy and helps long flights go by quickly. Shopaholic does the trick except the cover is so..... unavoidably chick lit. Its bright blue with ribbons and bows. I actually felt the urge to brown bag this book. About ten people asked me on my flight what book I was reading and I couldn't help but blush showing them the book. So, it remains to be seen if I can ever pick up another Shopaholic book as the resulting blushing was too much for me to bear.

This is a story follows Becky, an avowed shopaholic as she maneuvers pregnancy and a potentially husband stealing OB-Gyn. The story is very action driven, tons of dialogue scenes, and very light and bubbly. If you're looking for a quick fun read that is definitely going to make you smile at points, then this is not a bad book to check out.

Snow flower and the secret fan- Lisa See

Snowflower is a story of two friends in China during the 1800s. The story is told through the eyes of Lily as she describes her life and her friendship with Snowflower. Through Lily's eyes we see her recount her life now as an older widow. She describes her foot binding process, the way it is to be female in olden China, the pressure for women to be subervient to everyone, to give birth to sons, and to always put everyone else's needs above her own. After all, a woman is worthless, Lily reminds us several times in the book.

What is striking about Lisa See's book is that she does not put down any of the thing that were. Foot binding is painful and she doesn't condone it, but she does not condemn it. She writes as though she is Lily. She truly believes she is worthless as a woman though she clearly finds ways to overcome it. She accepts the times of that day, and the book is written in that very clear detached tone. What I'm trying to say is her story is not preachy as some books can be about past practices which were heinous and terrible. Yes foot binding is bad, but in China, at that time, it was the way things were. See does describe the negative consequences of foot binding, how women grew crippled, and sometimes died from it. BUT she does not make this book into "look how barbaric Chinese people are". I appreciate the objective tone of the book.

Their friendship is very realistic and very touching. Lily and Snowflower start out as friends in an unequal relationship. Snow Flower is wealthy and comes from refinement while Lily is the son of a farmer and her prospects are not as great. In marriage, Lily grows in stature while Snowflower diminishes and the balance in their relationship also slips though its clear through reading the book that it was never meant by Lily for this to happen. It reminds me very much of the relationship between Amir and Hassan in the Kite Runner.

I recommend this book. Its a good read, its a good educational lesson in history, and the characters stay with you for some time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Northanger Abbey- Jane Austen

This was my first books on tape experience and I must say I loved it. I love to read books and so having a good book occupying my thoughts as rush hour traffic inches its way forward helps the travels become so much more bearable.

Catherine is the heroine of this tale. The story follows her travel to Bath with her god parents the Allens. At first she feels lonely and unaccompanied by friends but overtime she meets various people and potential suitors. One particular suitor and his lovely sister take to her as much as she takes to them and she is then at the conclusion of her time at Bath invited to join them at their home in Northanger Abbey where the tension of the story truly unfolds.

This was a really funy Austen book where she pokes fun at the society of the day and the gothic novels which were prominent in that day and age. I love how she steps out at times and pokes fun at her dramatic gestures and prose in the book but I also loved that though in many ways satire the story actually had heart as well.

There is a scene in this book where I really remember Atonement and it gives Atonement a whole different perspective to me. Catherine loves Gothic novels with huge dramatic overtones and exxagerated conclusions. Due to her books and the fantasies, at Northanger Abbey her overactive imagination conjures up dramatic troubling inference after another based on things that normal people would not read into as she had. There is a scene where she finally addresses her suspicions to Henry Tillney who quickly sets her mind right and explains that all her thoughts were mere conjecture of the worst kind. She realizes that her thought processes were wrong and how harmful such thinking could be, to assume the worst could have led to the worst of consequences if anyone had chosen to listen to Catherine at her highest imaginings.

I've heard some people find this book not their favorite Austen book but personally, I think its one of my favorites, its so incredibly light, so sweet, and so tongue in cheek I can't help but want a copy of my very own.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Baby Proof - Giffin

Chick Lit is not my typical reading fare but it is fun and when will written, such as Giffin's books are, I can't help but allow myself a little indulgence. Plus, she is a former lawyer currently residing in my hometown so I can't help but feel a little bit of hope that as I read perhaps her good vibes will rub off on me.

Baby Proof is a story about Claudia, a 30 something book editor with a great job and a great life, and one stipulation from any potential suitor: She does not want kids. This is problematic for Claudia for many years until she meets Mr. Right (Ben) who shares in her aversion to baby raising and they marry, ready to have a blissful childless union.... UNTIL- Ben suddenly realizes that he does want kids. This change of events overshadows their marriage and puts their relationship in crisis.... not to mention her sisters and bestfriend are dealing with baby drama of their own **spoilers follow, I put them in white, just move your cursor over the following words and if you wish, they will appear** they wind up getting divorced but somehow this does not resolve the feelings of either. The story follows Claudia as she struggles to move on and deal with the different baby related drama of her life. **

This is a cute book. Its not deep so if you're looking for meaning do not read this. It is what it is, a cute chick lit that at times makes you roll your eyes, but still, written well enough to ensure you keep reading.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

About a Boy- Hornby

This book traces the lives of two people. One a grown man with too much time on his hands who finds creative and disturbing ways to fill his time. The other a young adolescent dealing with loneliness, a difficult school experience, and a mother who is consumed by depression. The book traces each life and how they intersect to form a very unlikely bond.

I read this book 5.5 years ago when I was studying for the LSATs. It was my study break book at Barnes and Nobles. I loved this book so dearly and the young boy who narrates part of the story always stayed with me. The movie was sheer disappointment, not doing the book any justice whatsoever. Over the years I talked fondly of the book and so finally a few weeks ago I purchased a copy for myself. Reading it again cover to cover was just as much fun as it was the first time through, in fact, I liked it more. If you want a light hearted read that is fun and endearing this is the book for you.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- Foer

This was a terrific story about 9-11, a family who lost someone they loved on 9-11, loneliness, and how we never truly can move on from losses as deep as the void that the loss of love leaves behind. The book is told from the eyes of 9 year old Oskar Schell. One day, looking through his parents room he finds a key in a blue vase atop his father's desk. The keys cover says "Black" on the cover. Based on this, he begins a quest to find all the people with the last name Black in NYC. The book trails him on his journey meeting new people, dealing with his loss, and following how his family deals with the loss as well. There is also a side story of his grandmother and grandfather and the history that they shared and what they endured and continue to endure. I really enjoyed this book cover to cover. There were moments that I laughed out loud, and there were moments that I wept. I believed in Oskar and I believed in his life and I learned a great deal from the book. What more can you ask from a book?


Everyone says this book is well written. Perhaps, but a more fitting description is: over written. Yes, the man has a knack for describing but he describes so much I quickly grew tired.

***spoilers below****
  1. I felt that there was not really any sort of atonement.
  2. I felt cheated by the fact that the reunion of Robby and Cecelia never happened. To me it was the equivalent of a long lengthy novel and at the end "HA! SIKE" or "Then she woke up and realized it was all a dream" (OH WAIT- that was what this was really)
  3. I felt that it was simply a book written for the sake of writing and wasn't really giving any thought to the reader of the story.
I am hoping the movie will be better.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Interpreter of Maladies- Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a collection of short stories about Indian women with different lives and circumstances. I really love this book and I have read it at least ten times. She writes very well, her stories flow effortlessly, at times I forget that I am reading and feel as if I am there. One thing about her stories is there is no huge plot or resolution. I usually mind this, but I went in knowing this and I just read the little snippets of life that Lahiri provides in her stories. If you read it knowing that you will love it because your expectations will be fair. My favorite stories: "The treatment of Bibi Haldar" and "Sexy"

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Spot of Bother- by Mark Haddon

This is a story about family and the myriad of issues families inevitably face, both real and imagined. George, the father thinks a spot of eczema on his skin is cancer and proceeds to lose his mind. Meanwhile, his wife Jean decides to have an affair with both predictable and unpredictable results. Kate their daughter decides to marry a most "unsuitable" man according to the family, and their gay son battles commitment issues as he struggles to figure out what he wants in life.

The book was hard for me to get into at first. I bought this book because I loved his first book "The Curious Incident.." but this book is very different both in tone and style. It almost feels like a different person wrote this novel. Though its a slower and not as intriguing as his first, I did ultimately like it. I will read other books by him, but will probably check them out from the library.