Thursday, January 18, 2018

What I've Heard- As You Wish

Today I finished listening to such a fun book- As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. I love The Princess Bride. Like many of you, I'm sure, I can quote nearly the entire film and for me the jokes never lose their charm. I borrowed the print version of this book from the library just to take a gander at behind-the-scenes photos, but then I checked out and listened to the audio version. Typically, I only listen to books I've read in case I miss an important plot point, but I thought this book would be better as an audio version. With it being read by Wesley himself and with the voices of several other actors, I was totally right. This audio book was fantastic.

Cary Elwes is darling and so full of kindness and love for everyone with whom he worked on the film. The way that he talks about his experience filming this much-loved production of a much-loved novel makes me love the movie even more, if that's possible. He makes it sound as if making this movie was a dream come true, not only for himself, but for everyone involved with the production. And when he talks about his sadness at finishing filming and leaving the wonderful friends he had made, I cried, too. Sure, I'm a sap, but he made the production sound so wonderful that I didn't want to see it end, either.

If you love The Princess Bride like I do, you will loved this peek into how such a wonderful film was made and you'll learn so much about the actors and producers involved. And listen to the audio version. It couldn't be more wonderful.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

One of the things I really like about being in a book club is the opportunity to be introduced to new books that I might not have ever read otherwise. Of course, with that comes the risk that I will read books I don't like. While I normally would not continue a book I wasn't enjoying, with book club selections, I feel obligated to finish so that I will be able to contribute to the discussion. Today, I finished a book I would not have chosen and would not have finished if it weren't for book club.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen is about a little boy who has lived his whole life in a basement, along with his mother, father, older sister and brother, and his grandmother. Born in the basement, he has never seen outside. Everyone else in the family has severe burns from a fire before his birth. His sister even wears a mask to conceal her disfigurement. Told in sections, we first join the story when the boy is nearly five-years-old, we then jump ahead six years and eventually we are able to flashback to before the family entered the basement. This is the boy's story, whose name we never learn, so details are sketchy and his narration slightly unreliable.

I did not like this book. Just reading the description, it sounds dark and unhappy and I just don't generally go for books like that, but I'm a good sport and a devoted book club member, so I read. Even books we don't like can lead to interesting discussions. I look forward to hearing what everyone else thought. I can't recommend this book, but if you read it and want to talk about it, I'm here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What I've Heard- The Book of Life

I have just finished my most recent listen to The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness and I just never get tired of these books. The characters are wonderful, the writing is inventive, and the narration is outstanding. If you haven't read these books yet, please move them to the top of your TBR list. You won't be sorry.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit is a collection of feminist essays, the first being the title essay. It all begins with the story of Ms. Solnit attending a fancy party in Aspen where the host asks her what she does for a living. When she begins to talk about her writing and the topic of her most recent book, the host interrupts her and goes on at length about another, much more important book that was recently published on the same subject. No matter how much she tried to interrupt, no matter that her friend said three different times, "That's her book", he continued to hold forth "with that smug look I know so well in a man".

That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn't read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless- for a moment, before he began holding forth again.

She does make it clear that both women and men pretend to know more about things than they really do:

...but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men.

She is quick to clarify that she knows plenty of men who do not do this. Her writing isn't about All Men, but about behaviors that are predominantly displayed by men. In a postscript, she clarifies:

If it is not clear enough in the piece, I love it when people explain things to me they know and I'm interested in but don't yet know; it's when they explain things to me I know and they don't that the conversation goes wrong.

As an example, she mentions the Republican Representative from Missouri Todd Akin and his explanation for why abortion isn't necessary, even in cases of rape because "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down." 

The next essay, titled The Longest War, focuses on violence and the common factor in most violent crime- gender. 

So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over a thousand homicides of that kind a year. Of sixty-two mass shootings (as of the date of this essay, 2013) in the United States in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men.

The term rape culture is discussed in several of her essays and what that means for the way women approach the world differently than men. Every woman has been given the "self-defense" recommendations to avoid being raped (don't go out alone, carry your keys in your hand, don't wear certain types of clothing, etc.). Solnit discusses how this limits women. And why is it that women have to be taught how not to get raped, rather than the men being taught not to rape? She mentions these tips that were circulating the internet at the time:

The number of violent crimes committed by men are much higher than those committed by women.

Young female athletes, unlike the male football players in Stubenville, aren't likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds. There's just no maternal equivalent to the 11 percent of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector.  No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn't doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren't any celebrated female movie directors who gave a thirteen-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying "no," as did Roman Polanski.

Solnit credits a Twitter user named Jenny Chiu who posted "Sure #NotAllMen are misogynists and rapist. That's not the point. The point is that #YesAllWomen live in fear of the ones that are."
This book was a quick, thought-provoking read. If feminism is a topic in which you're interested (and I certainly hope you are) I think you will find Ms. Solnit has much to add to the conversation.

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people" --Marie Sheer

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Just the sweet cover of Elizabeth Berg's The Story of Arthur Truluv makes me want to read it. Once I got started, I didn't want to stop. In this book Arthur is an octogenarian grieving the loss of his beloved wife, whom he refers to as Nola Corrine, the Beauty Queen. Each day, he takes the bus to the cemetery to have lunch with her. He talks to her headstone, telling her all about his days and the weather. He misses her so much and just wants to feel like she can still hear him. One day, he notices a teenage girl sitting under a tree in within the cemetery walls. Then he notices that she comes back day after day, too. Wondering what she could be doing out of school and never seeming to visit any grave in particular, he waves to her, then introduces himself. Soon a friendship between Arthur and the girl, Maddy, develops and it is utterly sweet. Maddy has her own troubles, and a nose ring that Arthur can't understand, but she is able to talk to him in a way she can't talk to anyone else. Also chief among the cast of characters is Lucille, Arthur's long-time next door neighbor. Bossy and nosey, she nevertheless becomes an important part of his life.

This book is darling. I really loved the characters and Arthur's sweet, sage advice is as good for eighteen-year-old lost girls as it is for eighty-year-old wandering spinsters. When Arthur visits the cemetery each day, he pauses at other random graves, reads the headstones and then "gets" things about those buried there. He knows (or imagines he knows) things like how they met their spouses, their favorite flowers, the things they liked to eat. He even "gets" a story about one man's red robe, a Christmas gift that caught on fire after bumping a candle the first time he tried it on. These little stories are sprinkled throughout the book and add so much texture and love and it then occurs to the reader that we are "getting" Arthur's whole story, or at least more than the snippet we get of the others. Quick! Someone hug me!

One bit that really spoke to me is when Lucille feels she is old and useless, that she has nothing left to do in this world. 

"It's so embarrassing to be useless."
Arthur refuses to believe anyone is useless.
"Did you ever hear anyone say they wanted to be a writer? ... Everybody wants to be a writer...but what we need are readers. Right? Where would writers be without readers. Who are they going to write for? And actors, what are they without an audience? Actors, painters, dancers, comedians, even just ordinary people doing ordinary things, what are they without an audience of some sort?
See, that's what I do. I'm the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator."

I think it can be tempting in this world to think that if we aren't the writers or the actors or the painters that we have no value, but I kind of like the idea of being the great appreciator.

There are so many good lines in this book.

"Are you hungry?'' Lucille asks. Her favorite thing is asking that and having you say yes.

"Sometimes I wonder what the world would sound like if everybody stopped complaining. It sure would be a quiet place."

And my favorite:

Love is never foolish. Or unnecessary.

I may not be an octogenarian, but one small part in this book made me feel a bit old. It happens when Maddy talks about owning her mother's Tori Amos CD collection. She talks about it like I might have thought about my parents' Eagles albums. I suppose the passing of time sneaks up on all of us.
Can I get another hug?

This book is wonderful and sweet and lovely. I really enjoyed reading it and I hope you will, too.
Hugs for everyone!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 Year in Review

It is so hard for me to believe that 2017 is over! Where did the time go??
Here is a list of all the books I read in 2017:

1. A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
2. The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
3. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
4. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
5. My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson
6. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
7. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
8. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsay Lee Johnson
9. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
10. The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
11. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
12. My Name's Lyman by Lily-Marie Taylor
13. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
14. The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney
15. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
16. The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
17. We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
18. The Circle by Dave Eggers
19. The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond
20. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
21. All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg
22. Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star
23. the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
24. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
25. The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane
26. The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
27. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
28. Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
29. Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
30. Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
31. Girling Up by Mayim Bialik, PhD
32. What Was Mine by Helen Kline Ross
33. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
34. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
35. The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
36. Something Like Happy by Eva Woods
37. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittal
38. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
39. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
40. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria
41. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
42. Eligible by Curtis Settinfeld
43. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
44. La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
45. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
46. Artemis by Andy Weir

WOW! Forty-six books isn't bad at all. It's funny how over the course of a year you can forget what you've read. Honestly, that's the whole reason I started this blog in the first place. I could never remember all these if I didn't have somewhere to write them down. And some of those books from the beginning of the year feel so long ago! I guess this year really was longer than I remembered.

I think my top three most recommended books were probably:

There were a few in there that I didn't care for, but all in all I would say it was a good reading year. How was 2017 for you? Any reading goals for 2018? Are there any books in particular to which you are looking forward to reading? I have a huge stack of books on my bedside table and so many waiting on my Kindle that if I didn't get anything new all year, I don't think I'd run out of reading material. Here's to hoping we all make a little progress through our TBR piles. And to lots of new releases that keep us adding to that infinite stack!

Happy New Year, SmartGirls!

Artemis by Andy Weir

Sorry, for the delay, SmartGirls, but I'm finally back and ready to post about the final book I read in 2017. It was such a busy time of year with the holidays that my reading took a bit of a backseat. Then we were out of town and I had to wait to post. You know how it is.

The last book I read in 2017 was Artemis by Andy Weir, the author of a book I liked very much: The Martian. Set this time on the moon, Artemis features Jazz Bashara, a young woman living in the lunar settlement known as Artemis. Officially she is a porter, but her main occupation is that of contraband smuggler. Barely scraping enough together to pay the rent on her "capsule domicile" -essentially just an enclosed bunk and access to a communal bathroom- Jazz is searching for a way to increase her income. When she is offered something extremely dangerous with an extreme pay out, she takes it with barely a hesitation. Perhaps she should have done a little more research.

I was hopeful that Weir would be able to recreate the magic in The Martian, but I feel like he fell short. It is difficult for any author to follow a blockbuster debut and Weir's writing style leaves much to be desired. The dialogue is unpolished and at times choppy and Jazz is a bit rough around the edges, but to me her voice never sounds quite right. It feels like what a man thinks women sound like when they are tough and refuse to put up with any nonsense. Like The Martian, there is a lot of language that some might find objectionable, but it isn't overwhelming. And, unfortunately I was about halfway through the book before it got interesting for me. I only stuck with it because I had liked Weir's first book so well.

In the end, this book was fine. I won't likely be adding it to my "must read" list, but it may be just exactly something you would love. A lunar caper involving conspiracy and industrial sabotage is a great premise.