Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Amy! Amy! Oscar! Amy!

Hi to everyone who reads this - both of us.
Just making a little diary entry to celebrate my sweet Amy's accomplishments this week. She's the third (fourth?) person I know who's been nominated for an Academy Award and, if she wins, I will be so happy that they'll hear me scream in Portland!

Amy is up for Best Supporting Actress for her AMAZING performance in "Gone, Baby, Gone."
Here's a toast to you, sweetness!


Friday, January 04, 2008


The vacation is over.

19 books. Many wonderful adventures.

I always treasure this time...and await December.

The Last Chinese Chef

Two-Book Day Alert: And what a scrumptious meal it was. THE LAST CHINESE CHEF was handed to Hillary by a friend who told her that, as a foodie, she would love it. Her reading completed, she handed the book to me and I devoured it after lunch. I just adored this novel.
We meet two characters, both at turning points, and watch as both history and food and family and a sense of "place" draw them closer and closer to each other. Mmmmm. It was a tasty book!

Nicole Mones is an author I've never read, but I'm familiar with "Lost In Translation" because of the evil that is Bill Murray (who I still hate hate hate; there's no getting around my utter contempt for him). I actually had a bad taste for a few pages because, well, I hate Bill. Luckily, my feeling passed as Mones transported me to the other side of the Pacific.

The book is like the great meals she describes: subtle, in tune with history and the present, and yet rich and bold. I particularly like that - even though I could sense the ending - I was more taken by the journey. Mones would likely say that the meal is kind of like that: you know that it is going to have to end, and that the end must satisfy the diners, but the last sweet taste is still something that should have its own surprises.

I could see the film in my mind, and - more than anything - this novel made me want to get to know the characters and their world. If I had the time, I'd board a jet to China just to live and breathe and DUH -- EAT -- in the world of this novel.

I RECOMMEND the novel to readers who love detail, who love food, and who can appreciate Guanxi (Mandarin readers have an edge on this detail, so read the book and catch up to them!).

Fire In The Blood

Irene Nemirovsky was a wonder - a true voice for the 20th Century - and FIRE IN THE BLOOD just proves it again. After reading SUITE FRANCAISE last year, I could have just stopped reading anything for a while, as that novel was stunning and moving and tragic and remarkable. But I often wonder: what would the world have been like with her voice?

FIRE IN THE BLOOD is something else, entirely. It's like a perfect, tiny jewel: a small piece of chocolate that you find sitting on a table and, as you place it in your mouth, you just melt away. It is a simple story, and Nemirovsky's magic is found in the little details.

Of course, having finished it, I can even see more clearly what she was going to do in SUITE FRANCAISE, so reading this brought forth all of the tragedy of the loss of that majestic work.

But, taken on its own, FIRE IN THE BLOOD is lovely. And I RECOMMEND it without reservation. On a side note, I have to say that I was reading an uncorrected proof of the novel; it was one of the more perfect proofs I've seen, so there's another blessing!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

OK, don't even start on me, because all the ladies at the pool were reading this book and you know me: I love the I read the book.

The work: Elizabeth Gilbert was in the worst kind of a life rut you can be in -- at the edge of a divorce, miserably unhappy, and wracked by nightmares. She makes the decision to talk to God and - in doing so - decides to take control of loving herself and finding her path. In the course of 108 chapters (her beads) + 1 more for the road, Gilbert's EAT, PRAY, LOVE traces her journey through Italy, India, and Bali as she eats, prays, and rediscovers her love for herself.

It's a lovely quick read trying to be something more than that, but it doesn't deliver anything I haven't read before, written by more mature, thoughtful authors. I could reach for so many more inspiring texts, and - at the end - I was unhappy to discover that Gilbert is going to continue to profit from the end of her depression by writing a follow-up, which is apparently what you do when you have a NYTimes #1 Bestseller based on your life and you are still living your life.

It is, at times, insightful. It is, at times, humorous. It is, at times, poignant. But there's no new there there. And, therefore, no link and no recommendation.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Savage Detectives

Well, I had to finally hit one, right? You know what I mean: one that I don't just "dislike" but that I actually hated. When my friend Marta came by today to ask what I thought, and I jolted up and bespoke my distaste, I got a hearty, "Thank you!" because she agreed with me completely. I don't want to speak ill of the dead, and Roberto Bolano was a serious poet, but I hated THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES.

No link to Amazon for this one -- and no recommendation either. Ick. Really. I mean, I could keep writing about how I could make a novel from the first section and the last and just skip the section in between, but that would make me look stupid. Blech.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Two-Book Day Alert! And what a choice I made for a second book! I must admit, though, that I started this one after taking a few hours off after THE ROAD and just finished it a few minutes ago. I put it down a few times this afternoon and came back to finish it after dinner.....

Marisha Pessl's debut novel, SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, is a lit-major's dream and I'm struggling to think of a major work or important character in the history of all literature that Pessl doesn't drag onto the boat with the reader. Not that I minded. ;)

It's an impressive (and long) debut - and Pessl certainly fills the cup with a motley crew of memorable characters - but, now that it's over, I kind of want more. That's a little odd to say about a book that goes 500+ pages (with no margins at all), but it's how I feel in the moment.

Blue, the central focus of our story, is really a wonder and the kind of character that readers just fall in love with. And as we travel through the most important year in her life, we are just sucked completely into the first novel, and we really never see the second one emerge until it is - literally - too late. 400 pages in, as Pessl's work takes a sharp (too sharp) turn, I felt like I was running to catch up to a story that I needed to keep processing. Much like EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, there's that moment of "what the??" and suddenly all of the pieces fall into place and you realize that you are reading a work of staggering that you need to go back and restart now that its done.

So - I'm definitely RECOMMENDING the book, but I've got some reservations. A few reviewers have noted that Pessl seems as emotionally disconnected from Blue as Blue is from the world around her, and I'm going to have to throw my hat in that ring as well. I can't take away, though, the real brilliance of the writing, though. It's funny and poignant and rich and dark and sly and delivers an amazing plot twist. It also intelligent - and that counts a lot for me. I'm happy for 2008 so far!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Road

So, I already hate hate hate 2008 because I'm ONE DAY into the New Year and I've already read a stunner of a novel. How in the hell did I *not* read this last year? And now how do I get through the next 365 days knowing that it's gonna take a hell of a novel to compare? UGH!!
Sparse, dense, deeply moving -- let's remember that they don't just hand out Pulitzer Prizes to everyone under the moon, okay?
And Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD is a must-read, okay? A "if you don't read this I don't know why you read at all" book. I'm already thinking about how I get this post-apocalyptic novel into the EWHS canon. It's as dark and moving as Saramago's BLINDNESS, but there is something purely American about this book, which already has numerous reviewers using the words "brilliant" and "classic" and phrases like "best of the century."

Set somewhere in the future, in the wake of a civilization-ending catastrophe, THE ROAD follows a father and son as they search for the truth of their lives. Somehow, McCarthy's world is simultaneously hopeful and desperately hopeless and, as a father, I found myself just clutching at the images and moments of desperation.

I must read this again soon. And it is RECOMMENDED with an exclamation point!