Saturday, June 30, 2007

43. "Stones From the River" - Ursula Hegi

I never guessed that so many of my recent choices were "Oprah" selections. While I agree with her taste, I'm a bit annoyed. I dislike the idea that one person can control the success of a novel; however, this could just be my own frustrations and jealousies talking.

Anyway, Stones From the River is an epic novel about a dwarf name Trudi Montag. Her struggles and dreams stretch from the end of WWI through WWII and beyond as she settles into her role in her German neighborhood.

This book is so similar to my recent read, Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, but lacks the pull of non-fiction truth. Still, it is mesmerizing to unravel the different weaves of families and friends, and how everything and everyone is connected.

3.75 out of 5.0 Angry Dwarves.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

“If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” - L. Wittgenstein

Now that my health has improved, it's time to concentrate on work. I've had a warped perception of my performance, so now that I've been "brought up to speed," I'll stop "pushing the envelope" and aim for "gold stars" instead of "black eyes."

The language of the business world cracks me up.

Stones from the River is a 525-page novel, so it may be a while (ahem, 2 days) until I finish it and post a review. Meanwhile, please post your favorite banned book in the comments section. I'll add it to the "refrigerator" section.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

42. "The Road" - Cormac McCarthy

One could say that this novel about what happens years after the apocalypse is a metaphor for life; thus, it is Cormac McCarthy's swan song of his own dark travels.

But such analysis is banal when faced with the horror this book invokes. A father and son, alive-but-just-barely, walking south to the coast after an unnamed worldwide catastrophic disaster kills off everything alive. This is the story of what happens when cows are extinct and no plant survives due to a blackout of the sun. Truly God-fearing, Bible-thumping apocalypse.

Humans become monsters. I cannot write that sentence without feeling its inadequacy. How about, humans become unrecognizable to the point that I felt like the pages were bleeding.

It is a novel without hope, but with daggers of light - kindness, beauty, strength. It is only by concentrating on those things that one is able to make it past the first few chapters.

Special books cast a scar upon the reader. This one would be placed near my heart... or across my wrists.

4.9 out of 5.0 Red Deaths.

Entry altered to include this as a banned book. If it isn't already, it will be soon.

Friday, June 15, 2007

41. "The Tent" - Margaret Atwood

How I've adored you, Margaret Atwood. I've read almost all of your books, first choosing them by each luscious title, then beginning with your earliest work. Your books were meant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But this? As the pre-teen set would say, "WTF GF?"

And this reader may as well be 12 years old after reading (skimming) this book of three page... what would you call them? Anecdotes? Prose poems? Or the groans of a great-grandmother rocking in her chair, condescending enough to mutter about the inherent wrongness of everything and her utter brilliance.

Or, as this reviewer put it, "Would it be out of line to call Margaret Atwood a cranky old broad?"

This hurts me: .5 out of 5.0 Old-Fashioneds.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

40. "Red River" - Lalita Tademy

I'm going to admit something that may initiate some mud-slinging - I am tired of reading about slavery. The scars from whips have too many descriptions - like branches, trees, spider webs, knobs. The stories are too similar - lost husbands, wives, sons, daughters... sold or raped or both.

This attitude stuck in my mind as I plunged into Red River. It is called a novel, but Tademy has thoroughly researched her family history, so she actually exhaled and brought life into photos and newspaper clippings enclosed in the pages.

A story about her family following slavery. Ho hum. A story about her family and their roles in the Colfax "Rebellion" (really a massacre) - enough to pile a load of bricks upon my chest. I felt like I couldn't breathe when I read her portrayal of this historical stand-off between blacks protecting their Republican sheriff and judge and white jackasses ignoring Reconstruction. It physically hurt to read this.

But... and isn't there always a but? Tademy split the book into two parts. After the shocking story of the massacre, she tried to tie up the loose limbs of her family tree. While this may have been extremely interesting for her, it felt somewhat at odds to the powerful first half. The Tademy family did a lot for education in Colfax. Reading the meandering details of who married him and birthed her and died because - it pulled the power away from the first half.

So, my recommendation is to read the first part. I would rate that 4.5 on my 5.0 scale. On a whole?

2.5 out of 5.0 Red Raiders.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"It's always the freckled ones who have crap veins." - anonymous nurse

Indeed. I do have crap veins. But it only took three pokes to find a good one today, and that is below average for me.

Play adult mad-libs in the comments to make me smile: "I've had more fingers up my *blank* than *blankity blank."

All better on the health front... again, thank you for the well wishes, poop jokes, etc.

Monday, June 11, 2007

XX. "The Painted Veil"

I'm 40 pages into this book and annoyed. Does this get better?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

39. "Lullabies for Little Criminals" - Heather O'Neill

Baby lives with her heroin-addict father in squalid flat after flat. Her hunger for love becomes so strong that even the slaps of the street's pimp is desired.

From age 12 to 14, Baby's life on and off the streets is chronicled in this first novel by O'Neill, a bit autobiographical and a lot of pathos. The strength of her descriptions and ability to tell a story without an ounce of "woe-is-me" is endearing.

While the story isn't new, the way that it is told makes this a worthwhile read. Instead of one simile, O'Neill uses three. Toward the end of the book, this became a nuisance, the proverbial guest who stayed too long. But this description of reading may be one of my most favorite passages:

When I opened a book now, I was seized with desperation. I felt as if I was madly in love. It was as if I were in a confession booth and the characters of the book were on the other side telling me their most intimate secrets. When I read, I was a philosopher and it was up to me to figure out the meanings of things. Reading made me feel like I was the center of the universe.

3.8 out of 5.0 Baby's Bottoms.

Friday, June 08, 2007

38. "Beloved" - Toni Morrison

I thought I'd read this novel, but confused it with The Bluest Eye.

Too tired for a full review... it's simply one of the best novels I've ever read. Beautiful, lyrical writing. Its truths are stunning. Skip Song of Solomon and read this.

4.9 out of 5.0 Sweet Lovin's.

P.S. - Thank you for the kind emails and notes. The biopsies caused an infection, so I'm flying feverishly high. I'll find out more next week. Meanwhile, the wikipedia joke Bristol Stool Chart was a hilarious find in my email inbox, Mr. Italy.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

My veins are filled, once a week with a Neapolitan carpet cleaner distilled from the Adriatic and I am as bald as an egg. However I still get around

and I'm mean to cats." - John Cheever

I am not at this point. I probably will not be at this point. But I worry, especially since the first time around, it was unexpected, a little pain, a little embarrassment. Colon cancer brings everything back to poop.

Stage 0, it was removed, I was fine. Now it's second verse, same as the first. I'm drinking Fleet phospho-soda (ginger-lime, I mean really, what made them think that ginger-lime is the best flavor for this?). I'm running to the bathroom. I desperately want to sleep until ten tomorrow, then wink at a cute nurse and get extra Demerol during the procedure.

But mostly I want to know that everything is okay. Things are different than last time. My doctor has looked deep into my eyes with more seriousness. Blood tests are as wonky as Paris Hilton's eye (oh, God, forgive me for that awfulness).

My son made me a Fleet cocktail - no alcohol. One part Squirt, one part diet Rite black cherry, one part orange-ade, and one part ginger-lime intestines-cleaner-outer. If you refrigerate it, you barely notice the Fleet. Oh, and plug your nose while chugging.

I've filled out the paperwork. I've scheduled time off from work. I've thought of the worst case scenario, and I've fantasized about the best news. I've thought of donating my hair to Locks for Love. I've thought about keeping it all and dying it sassy-slutty red. I've thought about colostomy bags bursting during sex. I've let my mind wander, but then remember that I don't know anything for sure yet. Tomorrow.

I read. I read a lot. And if I couldn't do that, you may as well kill me on the table tomorrow.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

37. "Then We Came to the End" - Joshua Ferris

A group of copywriters and art directors gossip and gripe through the dot-com bust as they watch their coworkers get axed, one by one (or, as they put it, "walking Spanish," based on the walk to the plank). In between the coffee breaks and long lunches, there is the rush to look busy, appear so important, in order to avoid being the next on the chopping block.

Told in a plural first person format ("we," to include all of the creative team members), it covers everything from stolen office supplies to romances. When their boss, Lynn, is rumored to have breast cancer, they all work feverishly on a pro bono project for the Alliance Against Cancer - while continuing to pack themselves into offices or cubes, complaining and gossiping.

It's bitter humor. The book has been compared to Catch-22, but I think that's a stretch. There is no political agenda in Ferris's first novel, but there is enough dry wit to knock one back into the faux security of a cube wall.

Being a copywriter, I probably found this book more funny than other people. The description of how we come up with ideas resonated too strongly. In fact, I may steal some of their methods. Overall, if you have ever worked in an office under the fear of failure or fall, this will remind you of every coworker in payroll, HR, and IT.

3.75 out of 5.0 Chicago Fizzes.