19 April 2013

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I had seen The Paris Wife advertised all over the place last month and after a year of saying, "I really want to read that!" I decided to give it a go. 
Now I'm not going to say it was as bad a Juliette, but I will not be recommending this book to anyone. Ever. 
I was excited to read this book because it is about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Even if most of the story is fiction, I like reading about the lives of writers. No matter how much you read in biographies, or even autobiographies, there is something really fascinating in seeing another writer put the famous person in question into real life situations. I am a huge C. S. Lewis fan and have read his autobiography many times. There is still something, possibly magical, about seeing Anthony Hopkins portray Jack on screen that makes me all giddy inside.

I am not huge into  Hemingway history. I've read a bit of his work for school and after watching In Love and War, I read A Farewell to Arms. Well, I started reading A Farewell to Arms. (Though after Pat's reaction to the book in Silver Linings Playbook, maybe it's good that I didn't finish it.) I can't say that I'm an expert on his life. Maybe if I was more of one, I would have found this book more interesting. 
I found it intriguing at all because it's about the woman behind the man. Well, the first woman behind the man. Also, it's Paris in the 20s.Talk abut the golden age of writing! (And as another side note, I watched Midnight in Paris shortly after finishing this book. So good! I loved it! Part of it really resonated because of what I had read about other writers of the time. Also, Tom Hiddleston was F.Scott Fitzgerald. So. Yeah...)
Hadley Richardson is twenty eight and practically an old spinster by the time she meets Ernest Hemingway. They fall deeply in love and are married less than a year after they meet. Their relationship is tempestuous; Hemingway is a man who is first married to his work and married to Hadley second. Or, as time goes by, maybe not even to her. 

Like I said, it was interesting. But...it was a difficult read. It wasn't really about Hemingway; it was about Hadley. It was how she dealt with things, her emotions and her interpretation of their relationship. And as silly as this is, it was hard to follow because they used so many nicknames. Nicknames for Ernest and Hadley changed all the time and at one point they use the same nickname for each other! It is really difficult for me to keep track of the characters. There wasn't a whole lot of dialogue in this book. It was an interesting concept, but not a terribly compelling read. 

My go to book about authors & romance is, you guessed it, Possession by A. S. Byatt. I'll keep my eye out for other fictionalized accounts of real life authors, though. Do you have a favorite almost-true novel?

17 April 2013

Seating Arrangments by Maggie Shipstead

I know I know. I read this book in January and I STILL haven't got a review up for it!
This was another Goodreads find and honestly, I wasn't thrilled with it. Not everyone on Goodreads is thrilled with it either. One commenter recommend picking up The Paris Wife instead, which I would not recommend, however. 
It is called a satire in the publisher's description, but I'm not sure that is a good enough excuse for how vapid and selfish the characters in this story behaved. The story is about a family, led by the tiresome Winn Van Mete (who seems to care more about his own social standing than supporting and loving his family.) on the verge of a wedding. Winn's eldest and very pregnant daughter is marrying up in the world (much to the joy of her father) and their socialite wedding is take place at the family's vacation home on a pristine island in New England. Being surrounded by his daughter's beautiful friends, Winn can't seem to keep it in his pants, but discovers his self control at a very odd moment. While the wedding planning is wrapping up, his youngest daughter is making some rash and unwise choices to make her recent break up (she is a bit of a social climber too) not hurt so badly.
What some people praised as detailed and rich descriptions, in my mind were tiresome and stiff sentences. Like the author was trying to hard to be "great."
I know this is a bit of an odd review for me, but I just didn't like the book. I finished it. That is probably the best thing I can say about the book. 

Have you read it? Am I way off here? 

15 April 2013

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

This book has been on my reading list for over a year. Well, for at least a year. I even started it last year but had to take it back to the library before I got overdue fines for it. Coincidentally, almost the same thing happened this year. Probably almost to the day. 

I was able to renew it and started into as soon as I finished The Paris Wife. The same night in fact. 

I don't know if it was because I had seen the movie (and cried gross ugly tears) and knew what was going to happen right at the start or if it was just the way Jonathan Safran Foer captures emotion. Whatever the reason, I got about 16 pages in and found myself crying. 

Maybe it is the subject matter. It isn't a secret. It is in every summary of the book out there and every review of the movie. It is the story of Oskar Schell and his life after his father died on September 11, 2001. 
Maybe that was the reason I just couldn't read it. I don't like watching fictionalized accounts of that day. I watched the movie World Trade Center with my freshman college class. I cried in front of a bunch of strangers (who thankfully became my friends). The images are still too real, too ingrained in my head. I can still see it replayed on the old TV set in my music teacher's basement. 

I realize that much fiction has been written about it, and will continue to be written about it. More films will probably be made about it in an attempt to memorialize the lives of those who were lost. I have no personal story to tell. No one from my family or distant relations was there. I know one family that lost someone from their family. You could say that I was pretty far removed, personally, from the horrors of that day. But it happened in my lifetime. It is very much a part of my story. 

Oskar Schell's story isn't just about loss. It is about the intense forever very Christ-like love his mother displays for him. The kind that you can't always see, but once you know it is there you realize it was keeping you safe the whole time you thought you were unloved and ignored. It is about discovering loss around you; even in your deepest, darkest, most sad day, others are existing in their own hell on earth. It is about the spirit of adventure and being constantly ready to learn, even if you make mistakes. You aren't failing; you are leaning 100 wrong ways to do something.  It is also about finding things: bits of history in Central Park, how things are connected in the world around us, and relatives you didn't you about.

If you can read fictional accounts about that day, please read this book. Tell me that was just like the movie, that they were able to capture the same emotions and story line. Tell me you cried at the movie and that the book made you a little misty eyed. Tell me the book spoke to your emotions and made you think. But, most of all, tell me the truth. 

12 April 2013

An Abundance of Katherines by that John Green fellow

So...after the whole "John Green, you make me cry ugly tears! Why would you do that! AND thank you!" thing, I decided to keep reading John Green books. I'm a glutton for punishment. I emailed a friend after I checked An Abundance of Katherines out of the library: I am nervous/excited that it will be the same amount of pain as Looking for Alaska. I press on timidly. But with great hope.
Because when you read John Green, it's not if there will be tears, but when. 

Colin Singleton has dated 19 Katherines...and has been dumped 19 times. Colin, a child prodigy, feels he's peaked too soon and is looking for meaning to his life. And if he could just figure out why he keeps getting dumped...well, that would help a lot. He takes his best friend, his beat up car and all the money he has and goes on a road trip to find himself...whatever that actually means. 

I'm not an expert on John Green books, but so far they are coming of age stories. Figuring out who you are as a person, what you like, what you don't like, how you handle intense emotional situations, how you grow. I hesitate on this next sentence...but it's very Holden Caulfield. Except, if you know me, I hate Holden Caulfield. What I love about John Green is his characters feel more real. To me, Holden was an angry, spoiled dude who swore too much and didn't take time to understand other people. But Colin...Colin is different. He is the nerdy geek in all of us who, no matter how hard he tries, just can't fit in. He understands that he is different and fine with it, but at times, life is just too confusing. Is he a washed up, has been child prodigy? 

Maybe instead of bringing up Holden Caulfield and one of my second most hated book of young adult literature (the prize belongs to Lord of the Flies. Or maybe it's actually a tie for first place...) I should have just called this book a coming of age story. Or to let you all know that I really did pay attention in my critical literature & young adult literature classes, it is a bilsdungroman. That's right, I'm breaking out the German vocab! It's a coming of age story, simply put, and it's beautiful. It's a story about love and loss, heartbreak and healing and trying to make sense of the ever changing world around you. Well, as best you can when you are a washed up child prodigy, newly graduated from high school, who has just been dumped by your nineteenth Katherine.  

PS If you haven't figured out that I think John Green is pretty cool, well, just stay tuned. I just got two more of his books from the library: Paper Towns & Will Grayson, Will Grayson. So either get ready to tune the next few posts out, or get on the bandwagon! 

05 April 2013

Looking for Alaska

Somewhere between my sobs over the Lizzie Bennet Diaries ending and tumblr exploding with feels, I found John Green. 

That isn't entirely true, but it's true enough for this story. 

His newest book, The Fault in our Stars, had just come out and the interwebs were full of everything tfios, LBD and John Green. 

Fine I said. Fine. Let me find out for myself what this John Green fellow is all about. I took home Looking for Alaska and my life changed. 

I hate you, John Green. But. Of course when I say "I hate you" what I really mean is "thank you." Thank you for putting love, hate, pain, forgiveness, hilarity, the good, the bad and the horribly ugly, and gut wrenching grief into understandable words. Sometimes those emotions (love, hate, grief, etc) can only be expressed with smiles that break your face, clenched fists or silent tears down your face. Somehow (I think magic was involved, you Hufflepuff) you were able to translate the truth of messy emotion.

I read Looking for Alaska like I would any other young adult novel. Just picked it up and dove in. I loved it. Loved it. The characters, the antics, the school, the pranks. Miles Halter doesn't fit in. Anywhere. He has zero friends at his school and he finally decided to do something about it. He decides to enroll in the boarding school his father went to and sets off to search for the Great Perhaps. Even if he's not so sure what that entails, it is what he has decided to do. Shortly after arriving at Culver Creek Boarding School, he meets his roommate, gets a nickname and falls in love. Hard. Her name is Alaska Young and she is a force to be reckoned with. 

I loved it so much that I paid no attention to the days that were passing or the pages that brought me closer to "After." When I finally came to "After" my days caught up with me. And I cried. I cried so hard I had to close the book and just exist with my tears. I couldn't read it for days after that. I was too afraid that the words would pick at the scar my pain had left, reopening something I was trying to let heal. Maybe not quite a week later I thought it would be okay to pick it up again. It wasn't. But even through the pain and the tears I was reminded why it was all okay.Because, as C. S. Lewis said, we read to know we are not alone. Someone else understood the pain of loss. Someone else knew what it was like to realize your memory of a person was fading, and that that realization brought a completely different wave of grief. 

Sorry for the overly emotional response to this book. Even if I hadn't been dealing with something personal, this book still would have struck a chord with my emotions. It's not just the content; it's the style. John Green has an incredible storytelling gift. He has a certain way of drawing you in through fiction, connecting with you on a real level and then releases you with words of wisdom that you realize aren't just for the story; they are for you, the reader, to take home with you and think about. Find truth in and incorporate into the way you view life. Just like the gem he left at the end of Looking for Alaska: The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.

03 April 2013

You've got red on you...

I was an intern at Mussleman Library at Gettysburg College for a year. I read a lot. I walked a lot. I watched a lot of DVDs. A lot. Their collection was better than my local public libraries and my university library combined. Black and white, award winners, British, American, French, TV series (all of Buffy, ftw!)-- you name it, they had it. It was awesome!
As you do, I got to talking with some of my co-workers about movies and what we liked to watch. Someone said to me, "Have you seen Hot Fuzz? You need to see it!" 
I said I would...and promptly fell in love with Firefly and Serenity. Oops. Not exactly the same thing...
Some time later, this co-worker again asked me if I had seen Hot Fuzz. Fine fine. 
I checked it out that night and watched it that night. 

 I loved it. It was hilarious and full of explosions! Full of the British wit that I have come to love...perfection. The image of Simon Pegg's character jumping over back yard fences (What's the matter, Danny? Never taken a shortcut before?) still makes me laugh.

Everyone I talked to had seen Shaun of the Dead but not Hot Fuzz; I had seen Hot Fuzz but not Shaun of the Dead. I'm not too big into zombies...well...I didn't used to be. Guess what ya'll?  Shaun of the Dead is HILARIOUS!

My friend Rachel insisted I needed to see it and so one Sunday night we Skyped  and watched Shaun of the Dead together. Best decision ever. She lives a few states away and I haven't seen her in...oh my gosh...like, five years. (Less than three, dude.) Anyway, Skyping to watch this movie was the next best thing to actually being in the room with her. 

I had just finished reading Nerd Do Well by the brilliant Simon Pegg, so some of the story line had been a bit spoiled for me. Did it ruin the film for me? Oh. No way. Not even possible. In his book, Simon Pegg talks about what got him into the "nerd world," what it was like for him growing up and about his film/acting/writing career. I might have thought it would have been more biographical, but he really just skirted around personal stories. Which, on the one hand, I commend him for. I think too much of the world is interested in the behind the doors life of the actors they love. And I think, sometimes, the actors of this world are all to happy to oblige. Keeping that door closed, the way I see it, humanizes them MORE than seeing all their dirty laundry. Just like you or like me, they keep things private. I think I respect Simon Pegg more for keeping that door closed than if he had opened it. Plus, when I see him act or read his book, I don't see his personal life; I see a good hilarious actor who makes zombies funny. 

Sorry. Rant over.

Anyway...Shaun of the Dead. Rom-Zom-Com. Romantic Zombie Comedy.  Zombies slowly invade Shaun's neighborhood right around the time he realizes he needs to reorganize and get his life together. Talk about the fates conspiring against you. Don't worry though, Shaun has a plan: Take car. Go to Mum's. Kill Phil (his step-father who is in the process of becoming a zombie. Sorry Phil.) Grab Liz (the girl who recently dumped him for, you guessed it, not having his life together). Go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.
Sounds simple. But when does life ever go according to plan? I highly recommend this film. It is hilarious, there are zombies, a brief appearance by Martin Freeman, and the great comedic timing of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. What more could you want?