Wednesday, July 26, 2006

72. "PostSecret" ~ Edited by Frank Warren

If you have never visited the website, PostSecret, then you can catch up with the recently released book. Frank Warren came up with the idea of creating postcards about personal secrets as a way to let go of his own feelings over an unidentified stressor in his childhood. He began requesting other secrets via postcards. They began in a trickle, then a flood.

The postcards range from jokes about sexual fantasies to major cries for help. After getting over the voyeuristic feel, it's easy to take time with each postcard and marvel at the simplicity of language and beauty of design. It's a simple reminder that we are all connected by the slenderest of threads.

Not high literature, but an excellent book nonetheless.

4.5 out of 5.0 Secret Martinis.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

71. "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith" ~ Anne Lamott

If you are a writer, you must know of the author Anne Lamott via her amazing work, Bird by Bird. Nearly all of us have confessed to writing "shitty first drafts," a term coined by Lamott (which I steal frequently).

Plan B is the nonfiction version of a sequel to Tender Mercies. Didn't read it, so I didn't know what to expect.

If you like dreadlock wearing, hippy-dippy, left-wing radicalism, kid-loving-hating, Bush-bashing, Jesus-adoring essays, then, man, have I found the book for you.

Lamott's essays made me laugh. Made me angry. Made me throw down the book and say, "Blagghh." Made me bored. Made me irritated. Made me hungry (for chocolate, of which she refers to in 13 of her 24 essays).

While I appreciate her absolute dedication to honesty, did I need to know that I have a cellulite-ridden belly to look forward to when I'm fifty years old? Or all the ways that she's a Christian, yet hates - in a visceral, throat-ripping way - George W.? And while I realize she is a master at writing, or at least is portrayed as such, didn't her editors notice that the majority of her poignant essays ended with a sappy metaphor of light? I get it. Don't beat me over the head with any of your books, already.

1.75 out of 5.0 Barely-a-floats.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

70. "Lady Chatterley's Lover" ~ D.H. Lawrence

As a former public relations guru, my main familiarity with this novel was through its notorious litigations in the United States. A naughty book. A filthy book. Mass communications law required the memorization of dates, actions, favors. What is the meaning of "obscene"?

Frankly, it turned me off. By my definition, obscene meant unworthy of my time, my attention. It meant strippers who applied cake makeup to their belly stretch-marks, old transvestites trolling bars. Sad. Depressing. I have enough of that in my reality, thank you very much.

So it was with wonder that I read - and reread - the first paragraph: "Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. [...] We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen."

The brief plot summary -- Constance Chatterley and her husband, Sir Clifford Chatterley, live as royalty in a poor mining town. Sir Clifford lost the use of his hips and legs during the war, yet Connie stayed with him, believing in the marriage of common ideas and beliefs. Then, she met the gameskeeper, Oliver Mellors, who reminds her of the physical pleasures she had dismissed from her life.

So many questions arise from this book, let alone the objection that a "love story" could be found objectionable and "obscene" because of the words "fuck" or "cunt." Oh, burn my blog, too!

Can there be love without physical intimacy? Are men without "balls" weak, and have men, in general, become lesser beings than they once were? Is power and control more of a turn-on than sex? And on, and on.

I would love to teach this book. I would love to take a class about this book. This does not mean that I loved the book; however, if I am pondering the meaning behind a scene several days after reading it, I hold the entire piece in high regard.

Lawrence writes simply, yet with a divine intuition. There are so many one-liners that I've scribbled into my notebook. Well worth my impertinent wait.

3.8 out of 5.0 English Rose Cocktails.

69. "Love Medicine" ~ Louise Erdrich

Life on a North Dakota reservation is brought to vivid luminosity in Erdrich's Love Medicine. While it's labeled a novel, I approached it as a series of short stories about the same group of people, namely the Kashpaw and Lamartine families, and how their lives are interwoven through a series of sixty years.

Written in 1984, I'm sure this book made a ripple in the literary world. Now, however, my over-wrought sense of political correctness bristles at the cartoonish caricatures of Indians as alcoholics. But when Erdrich wrote about the sisters at the church, I fell under her melodic spell. Who can imagine such cruelty? Who can imagine such passion?

Overall, that's what this book is about... the love-hate relationships that entrap us, endear us. "You could really mess up your life grinding the wrong thing," says Lipsha Morrissey in the best chapter/story, "Love Medicine." Wise words that have no expiration date.

4.0 out of 5.0 Crest Shots.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

68. "Godless" ~ Pete Hautman

Agnostic verging-upon-atheist Jason Bock scrapes the flint against his father's skewed Catholic beliefs by creating his own religion. Smart-ass to the core, he decides to embrace the city's water tower as the icon of his new religion; when his best friend, "Shin," can't refute this possibility of God as water tower, Jason forms the Chutengodians.

This is a young adult novel that is written with such intelligence that it makes adults feel the pressures and uncertainty of adolescence and teenagers the wisdom of many lifetimes. Hautman creates three-dimensional characters that represent and/or idealize certain human qualities, each flawed just enough to like him or her.

Definitely a keeper for the YA lesson plans...

4.5 out of 5.0 Liquor-Free Orange Bucks.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Editor's Note: Take IX

How does one read past the first thirty pages of Lolita? I'm far from a prude - oh, if only you knew - but I cannot seem to get the ideas of child molestation out of my head. Enlighten me, wise ones. This is my fifth attempt.


Goodies from the e-mail bag:

"What would you rate your own book?" - this from a master (or mistress, actually) of making people uncomfortable. Professionally. My book would receive 2.0 out of 5.0 Power Orgasms, but luckily for me, it is no longer in print, is not considered a "proper" book (since the publisher sold out to iUniverse), and will never be seen again. But, for a genre read, it's okay. Now, MH, would you like to share how you decided to become a dominatrix?

"I can't believe that people are rooting against you."
"First time reader [and] had to comment about the person whose friend was betting you wouldn't read 150 books. who cares?"
"I still don't think you'll make it, but read my book, XXXXXX, in your attempt."
"Ese lector francés no le insultaba. Pero pienso que está loca, también." - Graciás. Es verdad. Estoy loca. Muy, muy loca.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

67. "Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood" ~ Marjane Satrapi

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not fond of the new trend in graphic novels. I find myself looking for "KAPOW!" and the glorious advertisements for x-ray glasses and sea monkeys.

However, Persepolis may have changed my impression. Written about the author, Marjane Satrapi's childhood from ages six to fourteen, this is a heartfelt memoir of the Islamic Revolution and Iran's war with Iraq. For the underinformed Westerner, the childlike illustrations simplify the horrors of the atrocities, like neighbors turning against neighbors or the ways young Iranian boys are taught to desire the "key to heaven": a gold-painted plastic key that promises wealth, happiness, and, of course, women, in the afterlife.

Satrapi is that outspoken finger-pointer in the back of the class, the one who announces that the emperor wears no clothes. Her drawings are dark, sensual in loops around God's face, terrifying in waves of dying fire victims. She manages to add humor to situations that are abominable, even stunning. Yet, her language never seems forced, even through several translations.

Sometimes a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words.

4.0 out of 5.0 Graveyard Spirits.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

66. "Terrorist" ~ John Updike

Perhaps Updike relates too much to character Jack Levy, whose "sole remaining task is to die and thus contribute a little space, a little breathing room, to this overburdened world." This would explain the patchwork-quilt effect of Terrorist: one part political commentary, two parts religious questioning, and one part thriller.

Ahmad has devoted his life to Islam at the age of 18, detesting America's freedoms of expression as tasteless and dire. He sees his classmate, sassy Joryleen, surrounded by flames fanned by her lackluster Christianity.

Intelligent, Ahmad surprised Levy, the school counselor, when he says he is not going to college, but instead wants to become a truck driver. "But you can't drive hazardous materials until you're 21," protests Levy. Ooo, where is this going?

The dialogue is painful to read. While scrunching my face up for the thirtieth time, I remembered Harrison Ford's complaints about George Lucas's dialogue in Star Wars.

If one were to compare, one would bow down to Lucas.

There is some of Updike's characteristic dry wit, but it's so bone arid that the sentences blow off the pages in clouds of dust. This novel may answer the question, "Is it too soon to write about 9-11?" I would say, "It's too late."

.75 out of 5.0 Ice Picks.

Friday, July 07, 2006

65. "A Farewell to Arms" ~ Ernest Hemingway

An American, "Tenente" Frederic Henry, serves in the ambulance division of an Italian army base. Jaded, brittle, he meets Catherine, an English nurse/aide at an adjoining hospital. Romance ensues. Love, actually.

This was a timely novel, in my opinion, for greater study. Oftentimes men are accused of fostering war; in this case, Henry despises the war, especially after finding love-attachment-desire with Catherine. After he is injured, then rehabilitated, he is returned to the front lines as the Germans are invading. The men who complain about the war are called anarchists, but aren't they the only honest humans?

After Henry escapes being shot as a traitor (accused of being a German in Italian uniform), he turns AWOL. But the war still haunts his thoughts, and though he is back with the lovely Catherine, not all can remain blissful once he bids farewell to war.

A thoughtful, provocative inspection of violence, mediocrity, fate/karma. My only beef is the stilted dialogue. There are only so many "Oh, darling!" passages that one can read before wanting to blow one's nose upon the page.

3.5 out of 5.0 Capris.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

64. "Love That Dog" ~ Sharon Creech

My golden retriever, Nya, decided on a cuddle while I read this book. As she leaned all 70-plus pounds against my kidneys, I snuffled into tissues.

Do not read this while cuddling with pets. Especially dogs. Particularly "yellow" dogs.

This tender, sweet peek into the mind of a child is a fast read... fifteen minutes, tops. The book follows his journals - a one-sided conversation with his teacher - as he learns about poetry and expressing himself.


4.5 out of 5.0 Non-alcoholic Wassails.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

63. "The Girls of Slender Means" ~ Muriel Spark

To whomever recommended this book, I give my thanks.

The May of Teck society is for women in London during wartime whom have no proper living arrangements. In essence, it is a sorority house, with characters who swap clothing coupons and face cream, count calories and beaus.

Of the sisterhood, "Brainy" Jane is the most serious; she thinks it is because she is the fattest. Though the third person narrative jumps frequently, it is mainly through her eyes that that reader sees the humor and ultimate tragedy of the novel.

The side story of the writer-turned-religious vigilante seemed to overdo it to me, but that's just personal taste. There is a far more effective and rending scene that says more in its details.

3.85 out of 5.0 Black Marias.