Category Archives: Books

Ugly Girls – a(n ugly) novel

Ever start reading a book and get a sense pretty early on that you’re not going to enjoy it? What do you do? Push through or bail? For much of my reading life, I’ve opted to push through and have, on occasion, been pleasantly surprised when something shifts or clicks and the book becomes enjoyable. Well, that was not the case with Lindsay Hunter’s Ugly Girls.

If you can imagine a social issue, it’s in this book – alcoholism, poverty, prison conditions, stalking, social network deception, violence, prostitution, vandalism, theft, promiscuity and hypersexuality, adultery, incest…yep, all in this 229 page novel.

When I initially began the book, I was put off by the somewhat confusing narrative – the characters’ names were not indicative of gender (Perry, Jamey) and the alternating voices took a while to become distinct. I stuck with it and was somewhat rewarded by the quality of the writing, which really wasn’t bad. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an equally redemptive moment in terms of plot – this story just became increasingly more bleak and dark. I don’t think there was a single happy scene or genuine laugh in the entire book.

If you’re into sad stories, complete with boatloads of wasted opportunities and stomach turning interactions, read this book. Just be sure to keep some hand sanitizer nearby.

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Thoughts after seeing American Sniper

I’ve seen a number of movies in the past month or so, three of which have been based upon books. American Sniper is the only one in which I felt the movie didn’t accurately portray the author’s experiences with real accuracy.

I admire Chris Kyle’s patriotism and willingness to sacrifice his life for his country, but the violence he exhibited away from the battlefield made me uncomfortable. It also left me wondering if such an innate streak of violence is what makes a soldier so successful.

The scenes depicting the gun battles were horrifying. I struggle to believe that after all of the supposed evolution of our species we have no other way to resolve conflict.

I have no problem whatsoever with Chris’ description of his enemy as being “savage.” Anybody who is willing to sacrifice a child’s life to harm another can only be described as such.

I am incapable of doing anything other than closing eyes when I am confronted with images of torture and physical aggression.  It isn’t that I don’t want to know about it, I simply can’t watch it without feeling physically ill.

The fact that there are (were) people like Chris Kyle who have such a powerful patriotism that it causes them to feel drawn to helping to eliminate threats to our country and citizens is remarkable to me.  Undoubtedly, he was a hero.

The choice between country, God and family, for some, isn’t easy.  I admire the commitment Chris Kyle and other members of our armed forces made to our country and wish it had been rewarded with appropriate post-active duty attention and care.

It doesn’t matter how many “kills” he had in battle.  His life was really more about taking care of people (his brother, his family, other soldiers) than it ever was about taking people out.  RIP, Chris Kyle.

 

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Running to hide in the dark

It’s times like this that make me understand the appeal of going to the theater to see a movie. Or three. I don’t often get to the movies for a film that is anything other than rated PG, but during my winter holidays, I found my way to the Spectrum three times for grown up movies.Two of the movies I saw were based upon books which I had very much enjoyed, while the third appealed to my curiosity and is the one which I’ve found myself reflecting on with surprising frequency. All provided an opportunity to escape.

Escape from what, you ask? Christmas and the stress which it can bring, the reality of who is present in my life and who is not, and a grief that I found I could not run away from no matter how rapidly I moved my sneakered feet. The holidays are a cruel time for death to visit.

So, I went to the movies. First, my middle son and I took in Birdman (and a medium popcorn) together. The plot was interesting without being groundbreaking and I thought the cast was outstanding. Michael Keaton was utterly convincing in the title role and Edward Norton was his standard mesmerizing self. Emma Stone continues to be difficult to look away from and I only wish Naomi Watts had been in more scenes. Overall, I found the film a bit disturbing, but that’s just coming from literal me. I like movies that neatly tie up in the end, and this definitely did not do that.

Christmas Day I made my way back down Delaware Avenue for a matinee of Unbroken. I’ve been waiting to see this movie since I read the book 3 years ago and, while I think the adaptation was respectfully done, the film simply could not live up to the printed page. There just isn’t any way to capture the richness of Hillenbrand’s book and Louis Zamperini’s life in 120+ minutes. By all means, see the movie but do not think it tells the complete story. Read the book.

I completed my trifecta with another film based on a biography, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. I just recently read and loved the book and think the movie accurately portrayed the journey that Cheryl Strayed took in the aftermath of the demise of her mother and her marriage. There are always creative choices to be made and I think the scenes taken from the book and depicted on screen were wisely made. I liked it, but, you should still read the book if you haven’t already.

Hooray for Hollywood and thank God for books and running.

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Filed under Books, Christmas, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Movies, Recommendations, running, winter

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone – by Adele Griffin

image: slj.com

You know how certain books seem to take up residence in some internal place? Maybe your head, sometimes your heart, at times your imagination and occasionally your soul? This is one of those books. From the opening page this novel that presents as a work of nonfiction, absolutely grabbed me and I can’t wait to booktalk it at the high school.

Told completely in interviews, news excerpts and images, this book magnificently wove a most believable cloth from threads of a fictional girl’s life. We learn on the very first page of the book that Addison Stone, a heartbreakingly beautiful and talented young woman, has fallen to her death while attempting to plaster a billboard with one of her own original art pieces. Knowing how Addison’s life ends does nothing to alleviate the almost palpable need to know how she lived and I struggled to put this book down. Super compelling.

I have something to confess. Author Adele Griffin so masterfully told this story that I actually spent some time searching the internet for clues about the art which accompanies the text in the novel. My attempt at determining responsibility for the book’s artwork is a testament to the authenticity with which Griffin relates Addison’s life.

As her friends and family, along with various other players from her abbreviated life, relate their impressions and memories, a picture which reveals a gifted, yet mentally unstable girl becomes increasingly more apparent. Poor Addison! Her sensitivity to all she alone could see made her, like many artists, too vulnerable to survive. Read this book. It will help to keep Addison alive a little longer.

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Want a good laugh? Yes Please

imageWas there a time in your life when receiving a book as a present would have prompted you to toss another log, along with the new book, on the fire? Well, trust me that will not be the response of any recipient of  Yes Please by Amy Poehler. If someone should be so doubly lucky to have both a blazing fire and this new memoir, all they’ll want to do is curl up in an easy chair and enjoy the ride through Amy’s life.

I knew I was going to read this surprisingly weighty (in ounces, not concepts) book quickly after I randomly opened to the chapter in which Amy relates her pregnancy experience with her oldest son. How can a reader not be immediately taken in and compelled to read about someone who claims to have the “Angelina Jolie of vaginas?” When she shares the unfortunate news that her ob-gyn, who apparently delivered Sophia Loren’s babies, died the very day before Amy’s due date, it is hilarious. At least from my never-having-another-baby-ever perspective, that is.

Additionally, Poehler offers sex advice for men and woman, a wonderful haiku collection about plastic surgery as well as other nuggets of her past, including personal photos. She talks about body image, education, marriage, relationships, SNL and charitable works in a very down-to-earth manner that made me want to be her friend. Her honesty is refreshing, particularly when discussing her own mistakes and experimentations. There is no photoshopping of her life.

Amy includes a frank discussion of her own experimentation with drugs (under the assumption that her children will never read her book because nothing is more boring to a child than their parent’s life) and offers this wisdom

“Teenage bodies should be filled with Vonnegut and meatball subs, not opiates that create glassy-eyed party monsters.”

Buy this book for someone you really like.

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Going Wild

I read.  A lot.  On any given day, I need to be prepared to “booktalk” titles, both fiction and nonfiction, with students in grades 6-12.  Intense, right?  This year, so far, I’ve read 55 books with a focus on titles of interest to middle school kids. After a couple of realistic novels about 6th or 7th graders, I generally need to cleanse my reader palate with something a bit more satisfying and tasty.  Something a bit, shall we say, Wild.

Yes, I know everyone read this book months (years?) ago while I was busy reading A Monster Calls, but that doesn’t diminish the impact this memoir had on me.  There’s just something about a female firsthand account of trying circumstances which I find completely captivating.  Imagine that.   

Cheryl Strayed’s recounting of her solo hike along the Pacific Coast Trail is an absolutely inspiring work of nonfiction.  I grew up in close proximity to the Appalachian Trail and have always been fascinated by the idea of trekking its length, but certainly not alone.  The physical and mental strength required to complete an accomplishment such as either of these is remarkable to me.  When you factor in the emotional state Strayed was in when she began her quest, her successful completion of her goal borders on the miraculous.

There were a number of passages in this memoir which caused me to pause, process and reflect, but none more than this:

“…it occurred to me for the first time that growing up poor had come in handy. I probably wouldn’t have been fearless enough to go on such a trip with so little money if I hadn’t grown up without it. I’d always thought of my family’s economic standing in terms of what I didn’t get: camp and lessons and travel and college tuition and the inexplicable ease that comes when you’ve got access to a credit card that someone else is paying off. But now I could see the line between this and that – between a childhood in which I saw my mother and stepfather forge ahead with two pennies in their pocket and my own general sense that I could do it too.”

Maybe I, too, can will go Wild someday.

Other inspiring autobiographies by women:

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A Monster Calls

Written by Patrick Ness and beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay, A Monster Calls, relates the story of young Conor, a boy in England living in denial about his divorced mother’s health prognosis.  At night Conor is subjected to a recurring nightmare of such horror that he cannot even verbalize the events he witnesses, while during the day he is repeatedly the target of the school bully’s attentions, a situation which he initially does nothing to address.

He begins to be, amazingly enough, visited by a monstrous yew tree.  While he is initially fearful of this beast that leaves berries and spiky tree leaves in his wake as evidence of his presence, Conor’s waking reality is far more frightening.  The nocturnal visits by the beast are ultimately the only time that Conor feels “seen” and he anticipates the monster’s call along with the stories he shares.  As the novel progresses, Conor must learn to accept the questionable manner in which life doles out rewards and punishments, as well as find a way to once again feel present.

This book broke my heart.  Of course, the parallels between the divorced mom and her (far more devastating) cancer battle struck a chord with me, but it was the thought of that child’s anguish and grief which absolutely wrenched me.  I’m sure every parent in the universe shies away from exploring the thought of prematurely leaving their child(ren), but this book makes that sort of avoidance impossible.

Answering the monster’s call will most certainly ring a bell.  Read it.

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