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Archive for May, 2008

  • Admit One:  A Journey Into Film by Emmett James
  • Publisher: Wheatmark (January 15, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 220 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1587369141
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587369148
  • SheIsTooFondOfBooks Rating:  3 1/2 stars
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    Emmet James spent his childhood in a small town near London, creating mischief and pulling pranks while he fantasized about becoming a Hollywood actor.   In the introduction to his memoir Admit One: A Journey into Film, he explains that the “environment, mood, personal history and circumstances in which a person sees a film changes that film in a necessary, unique and exciting way.  It creates a whole new story – a living, breathing film.  The film of one’s life.” 

    Thus, James shows us the film of his life, illustrating various events from childhood until the present, using a specific film as metaphor in each chapter.  Reminiscing about Star Wars Episode IV leads to a story about the must-have movie tie-in toy of the Christmas season, and how James responded to the department store Santa who disappointed him; he discovers that his mother shows an uncanny resemblance to Margaret Hamilton’s wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz; a viewing of ET leads James to rig up his bike to more efficiently transport aliens.  As James grows older, the connections become even more intriguing – after a particular distasteful brush with juvenile delinquency, his parents move the family to the country, to a haunted house straight out of The Amityville Horror.  The tales continue as James finally comes to America to pursue his acting dream.

     

    Admit One is a quick enjoyable read, within a unique framework.  Aside from a bit of unnecessary crass language and an oddly angry letter addressed to Steven Seagal, I found it pleasantly entertaining.  James neatly connects the various films to his personal narrative without stretching the relationship. The writing is witty and colorful, including many humorous anecdotes and descriptions.  I could imagine a narrator doing a voice-over in a 1930s gangster movie as I read “the only things on the girls were the eyes of every man around them.”

     

    It is a good selection for a reading group during the summer months when seeking a “lighter” book.  Aside from James’ personal story, it leads the way to discussion about our personal connections with movies, and the comparison of our childhood dreams to the reality of our adult lives.

    James concludes with another truth, illustrated within the pages of his book, “film holds the power to alter a person’s thinking, juxtaposing the huge world and one’s small place in it.”  It seems this talented actor and writer has found his place in the world.

     

     

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       I was tagged by kegsoccer, who was wants me to share Six Random Things About Myself:

    1. Watching Casablanca is a Valentine’s Day tradition in our house.  It always ends with the toast “here’s looking at you, kid!”

    2. One of my favorite ways to spend a quiet day (aside from reading, of course!) is to work a jigsaw puzzle.  I’ve put jigsaw puzzles on hold for a few years while I wait for my youngest to stop stealing the pieces out of the box!

    3. I broke my leg doing the Chicken Dance – no kidding!

    4. I’m an amateur genealogist and have amassed Civil War Pension records that tell quite a tale.  I keep thinking there’s a book in there somewhere, but I haven’t put pen to paper yet.

    5. Unusual “talent”:  sticking out my tongue and touching my nose with it … it’s not nearly as amusing as it was when I was younger!

    6. Our bookcases hold a collection of clocks set to the time that represents our wedding date.

    Rules: Link to the person that tagged you, post the rules somewhere in your meme, write the six random things, tag six people in your post, let the tagees know they’ve been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog, let the tagger know your entry is posted.

    Here are the six people I tagged:

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    Renowned historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough gave the 2008 commencement speech at Boston College this past Monday.  It was an oration charged with encouragement and wisdom for his audience.  

     

    There has been a lot of press about one particular section of the address, in which McCullough encourages the graduates to “stop the verbal virus” and limit the use of words such as “awesome”, “actually” and “like”.  While I agree that grammar and vocabulary misuse is a “ginormous” problem (and I’m a huge fan of Lynn Truss’ manifesto Eats, Shoots & Leaves), my favorite lines are the ones that encourage a reading community:

     

     “Make use of the public libraries.  Start your own library and see it grow.  Talk about the books you’re reading.  Ask others what they’re reading.  You’ll learn a lot.” 

     

    That’s exactly what we do with our blogs, online reading circles and discussion groups!  Many of us are also involved in face-to-face gatherings that meet to exchange ideas, opinions, and sometimes arguments about the books we read.  Mr. McCullough, send those new graduates our way!

     

    Read the full text of McCullough’s speech, “The Love of Learning,” at this link. 

     

    Of McCullough’s works, the only one on my bookshelf is John Adams … which I read and discussed with a book group years before the HBO movie was aired!  After studying this list, I’ve added The Great Bridge to my reading wishlist … what do *you* recommend?

    • 1776
    • John Adams
    • Truman
    • Brave Companions
    • Mornings on Horseback:  The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt
    • The Path Between the Seas:  The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1940
    • The Great Bridge:  The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
    • Johnstown Flood

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  • Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co (February 26, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0618683356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618683352
  • SheIsTooFondOfBooks Rating:  5 Stars
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    David Sheff’s memoir Beautiful Boy:  A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction is an honest first-person account of Sheff’s response to his son Nic, who has become addicted to methamphetamines.  The book chronicles the hopes and disappointments that Sheff experiences over a number of years as he discovers that Nic is using drugs, the extent to which he is using them, and the power with which they have taken over his life. 

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     
    Sheff seamlessly moves between the present and the past.  In the present, as Nic journeys in and out of sobriety, Sheff struggles with guilt as he tries to balance his desire to help Nic with his need to keep the rest of his family safe.  There are parts of this narrative that are written in short staccato sentences; the reader feels the urgency and desperation in Sheff’s thoughts.  When Sheff revisits the past, we get a more complete picture of Sheff’s earlier years, Nic’s youth and their family life; the memories are for the most part happy and Sheff shares them with great detail. 

     

     

     

    Sheff’s skill as a researcher and journalist is apparent as he artfully weaves technical research, interviews and expert opinions within the story he tells.  The information about the biological basis for compulsive behavior and addiction is written in such a way that a layperson can understand it.  The genetic tendency toward addiction is not offered as an excuse, rather it is one component of Nic’s journey.

    David Sheff tells *his* story, respecting the line between his life and the addict’s; Beautiful Boy is a compelling read. 

    (Reading Beautiful Boy made me curious about Nic’s own perspective on his addiction.  Have you read his memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines?  Should I add it to my wishlist?  Please leave me a comment with your input

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    How many books do you have cataloged in your LibraryThing account? How do you decide what to include- everything you have, everything you’ve read- and are there things you leave off?

    I opened my LibraryThing account only last month, when I became intrigued with the concept of organizing my books – being able to search and create lists by tag (author, subject … that was child’s play; now I can search by the novel’s location, whether it has won an award or is on a particular “must read” list). Being organized (in bits and pieces) really satisfies me, you should see my spice cabinet!

    I started pulling books off my shelves and entering them, beginning with some of my non-fiction titles. I entered my first 199 “free” books, loved the system, and signed up for a lifetime membership. I have 254 books listed as of this morning; I got side-tracked mid-way through the fiction shelves, and need to spend some more time inputting.

    I’m including all the books in my bookcases, as well as books I’ve borrowed from the library (not owned) and read since I joined LibraryThing. The few children’s books I’ve catalogued are either remnants from my own childhood, or children’s books that I’ve reviewed.

    I’ve rated about half the books; any newly-read books have ratings, most recent reads have reviews. I’ve listed some books I own but didn’t like; I think it’s time to clear the shelves of those offenders!

    I want to be able to refer back and give a non-recommendation if a friend asks about a book I don’t think is worth reading. Aside from a low rating and an appropriate comment or review, how do you handle these books in your online library?

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    • The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
    • Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 6, 2007)
    • Paperback: 352 pages
    • ISBN-10: 006079156X
    • ISBN-13: 978-0060791568
    • SheIsTooFondOfBooks Rating:  4.5 Stars

     

     

     

     

     Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us, is a native of Bombay (now Mumbai) who came to the US for graduate school, and has worked here as a journalist for many years.  She was raised in a middle-class family, painfully aware of the class difference between her family and those of the domestic servants who came daily to help with household chores.  Umrigar has stated in interviews that her discomfort with these arrangements strongly influences her writing.

     

     

    Her first novel, Bombay Time, visits the residents of an apartment building in Bombay, exploring not only their relationships with each other, but also their relationship to the city in which they live.  The Space Between Us tells the story of two interconnected families in Bombay; Umrigar continues to examine the connections and contrasts between the middle-class Parsis and the lower-class living in extreme poverty.

     

    The story is set in contemporary Bombay, where Bhima, a domestic servant who lives in the slums, travels daily to the home of Sera (Serabai), a middle-class Parsi for whom Bhima has worked for twenty years.  As the novel unfolds, Umrigar volleys between these two main characters, parceling out bits of their separate pasts, as well as the history they share.  Bhima is raising her granddaughter, Maya; Sera has taken Maya under her wing and is funding her college education.  This education will help Maya break free from the oppressive poverty that her family has lived in for many generations; she will not work as a servant in another woman’s house.

     

    Umrigar is a skilled storyteller, she creates beautiful flowing language and metaphors to illustrate.  When Maya wants to hear more about her past, Bhima carefully edits the information she reveals, “She sifts through her memories, as if she is sifting through the rice at Serabai’s house, removing the stones and the hard pieces, leaving behind what’s good and shiny.”  Similarly, Sera protects her own daughter when speaking of her father, “Sera went through the purse of her memory, hunting for a few gold coins.”  We see the similarities between the two women, and the efforts they make to put family first.

     

    As in our own lives, the characters find that their lives don’t always follow the plans we have made for them.  Umrigar’s novel shows us the seemingly impenetrable “space between us” that can be caused by differences of class, gender or religion.  Bhima proves that in times of desperation, humans are resilient.  We are often able to draw inward and pull out the strength and courage we need to move past barriers set in our path.

     

    The themes explored in  The Space Between Us are universal, not unique to the setting of Bombay.  It’s a book that we can all identify with, perhaps women more so than men.  I highly recommend it for the top-level storyline, the substructure of the motifs, and the skillfully-crafted writing that Thrity Umrigar offers.

     

    Note:  The paperback Harper Perennial version I read has additional resources in the P.S. appendix.  These include additional background notes and an interview with the author, Umrigar’s writing tips, and an excerpt from her upcoming novel, If Today Be Sweet. 

     

    I read this book as preparation to participate in an author interview with Thrity Umrigar on Book Club Girl.  During the interview, Umrigar answers readers’ questions, discusses how her early years influence her writing and talks about her current projects including the re-release of her memoir and an upcoming novel.  

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    Several bloggers are holding contests to win books.  What a great way to get us more involved in what others are saying about must-have books, especially as we gear up to fill our summer reading lists.

    The two featured here are from friends on LibraryThing; you can visit any LibraryThinger blog by clicking on one of the links in the right-hand column. 

    If you’re holding a contest and I’ve left you off this list, my apologies!  Leave a note in the comments and I’ll add you to the next Friday Freebies.

    Devourer of Books is celebrating her 100th post by sharing some of the books she’s reviewed in the past 3 months.  Simply visit the blog and browse the reviews (or search using the “book review” tag).  Leave a comment on the Contest page telling which book you’d like, and the reason for your choice.  Posting comments on other pages and linking to your own blog will increase your chances of winning.  There are several great books listed, my “wish list” grew as I read the reviews!  Start reading here.

    Over at Lori’s Reading Corner, she’s offering brand new books to five lucky winners!  The books are:

    What Looks Like Crazy by Charlotte Hughes
    Dying Breath by Wendy Corsi Staub
    The Third Victim by Lisa Gardner
    If you win one of the books, Lori asks you to “pay it forward” by giving away the book (after you’ve read it!) in a contest of your own.  What a great way to keep the pages turning.  Click on the Pay It Forward button above to enter.
    Good luck on both contests!

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    Did I get your attention with the title of this post?
    The New York Times ran an article in the Arts section earlier this week (5/20/08 ) titled “One for the Ladies – and Their Friends.”  The gist of the article is that many women plan to see  the “Sex and the City” movie in groups, and have planned dinners, nights out, and weekends away from home to celebrate opening night of the movie.  Apparently this type of group viewing is more common to shows like “Star Wars” or the cult classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

     

     

     My husband read me an excerpt from the article and said (in jest?), “you should blog about that.”

     

    Me:  “I don’t write about movies”

     

    J:  “Why not?”

     

    Me:  “I write about books, authors … quirky little things about language.”

     

    J:  “But you wrote about book group names, and running a triathlon with women from your book group.  It seems a slippery slope to blogging about movies you watch with your book group, then restaurants you eat at together!”

     

    Me:  “Well, I have to draw the line somewhere!”

     

    But where to draw it?  I’ve been thinking about this over the past couple days.  My intent in creating SheIsTooFondOfBooks was as an offshoot of the cataloguing and reviewing I do on LibraryThing.  Sometimes I have a comment about a book that doesn’t constitute a review, and sometimes there are other (random?) book-related thoughts that I want to share.  This blog seems a good way to contain those thoughts, and it’s interesting to see what feedback and conversations develop.

     

    Back to that line … I’ve decided that, yes, book reviews, and comments about authors and book-related musings are obviously going to have a prominent place here. Will there be asides about books that have inspired me in my life, and connections I’ve made because of them?  Will that “slippery slope” lead to a review of a movie based on a book I’ve read?  Is it crossing the line to discuss the Indian restaurant I visited after reading The Space Between Us?  Do all these questions sound at all like something Carrie Bradshaw would wonder?  Where do you draw the line?

    (edited 5/24/08 to fix font size)

     

     

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  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (April 3, 2007)
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0316010669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316010665
  • SheIsTooFondOfBooks Rating:  3 Stars
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    We’ve all suffered the consequences of poor decision-making, and celebrated when we’ve made a judgment that led to a positive outcome.  I’d like to enjoy more of these favorable results, so I eagerly picked up Malcom Gladwell’s Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which promises to show “how we can all become better decision makers”.  I really appreciated Gladwell’s The Tipping Point:  How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference which explained how three distinct personality types can help spread the acceptance of an idea, trend or product.  Based on the cohesive thesis in this first book, I had high hopes that Blink would do the same in the realm of decision-making; unfortunately, it didn’t completely deliver.

     

    Blink contains a large collection of anecdotes and studies; the vignettes are certainly interesting.  The first chapter focuses on a purchase of purported ancient Greek kouros purchased by the Getty Museum .  The museum commissioned many studies to analyze the style and material of the statue.  The results of these studies overruled the “feelings” that several art experts expressed, that something was off.  Enough questions were raised that today the statue is labeled “about 530 BC, or modern forgery.” 

     

    If we are able to extract a central theme to the book, it might be that gathering a large amount of data before making a decision is not as crucial as gathering the few essential points of important data.  But … Gladwell doesn’t show us to distinguish between crucial and extraneous data.

     

    There are thorough footnotes for each chapter, and an index to all names and topics mentioned.  The later paperback editions of Blink include a 20-page afterword in which Gladwell distills the lessons learned in each chapter; bringing a semblance of much needed cohesion to the book.  Overall, a good and interesting read, but not one to lead us to make better decisions. 

    (note:  our neighborhood book group chose to read Blink.  We all agreed that there were many interesting anecdotal stories about instinctive decision-making, but that we weren’t shown the tools to hone this skill ourselves.  Several of us explored the Implicit Association Test described in the book and found online here.  Give it a try, you might be surprised at your results!

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    This week’s topic: Discussion groups. Do you belong to any (besides Early Reviewers)? Approximately how many? Are there any in particular that you participate in more avidly? How often do you check?

    I read many of the threads in the Early Reviewers groups.  I just have to be careful about posts dealing with books on my wishlist … I don’t want to come across any spoilers!  I check the Early Reviewer threads about twice a day.

    A BN First Look group was recently created on LibraryThing.  I joined that since I’ll be reading Stewart O’Nan’s Songs for the Missing through this program.  I also check the activity on the BN First Look site itself.  I look at these a few times a week; this will pick up once the online discussion for the book begins in earnest.

    There are quite a few sites and blogs that I lurk behind the scenes on … reading the posts but not often commenting.  I often feel that if I don’t have anything to add to a discussion I don’t want to simply chime in with a “me too!”.

    One not-book-related discussion board that I’m on is flylady.  I like the “daily cleaning missions” and her idea of concentrating on one zone of the house each week.  With four kids I’ll take all the organizational tips I can get.

    Click on any of the blog links in the right column to see what other LibraryThing Early Reviewers have to say about online discussion groups.

     

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