Archive for May, 2009

31st May
2009
written by Steph
partaboutcritics

Let the criticism begin! 😉

Full Disclosure: I finished reading this section a few weeks ago so that I could mull over questions and thoughts to pose to fellow readers… only I didn’t really write anything down, so my impressions of this section are not as sharp and clear as they might have been a few weeks ago, when I probably should have written this post.  Oh well, if I seem tentative or like I’m futzing about, we’ll consider it an exercise in style and homage to Bolaño himself.  At least I’ll have 4 more attempts to get this right! 😉 Also, I want to emphasize that Claire and I are using this opportunity to make 2666 a more communal reading experience, but people are free to read at their own pace.  We’re reading one section per month, and ask that you try to post your thoughts on each section within each month… But of course if you fall behind, that’s completely fine and we still want to hear what you thought!  If you haven’t started but would like to join along, please feel free!  Just post a comment at the bottom of this post linking to your review of Part One, and I’ll be sure to link to it.  And for people who already said they were going to read along, if I haven’t included your review but it’s been posted (or you post after I've published this), please do the same and I’ll be sure to add you to this round-up! When I think back on this first part of 2666, the thing that sticks out to me was how much I didn’t hate it!  That sounds strange, I know, given that I elected to host this read-along with Claire, but I really feared going into the belly of the beast (or at this point, the maw… the belly is yet to come, I think!).  I worried that I would really dislike the book.  From what I had read about the book during the 2009 Tournament of Books, it did not at all sound like a book I would enjoy, since the two commentators over at The Morning News found the book bloated, boring, sexist, homophobic, and generally a mess.  I worried the book would be pretentious and unapproachable, but seeing that I already had a copy of it in my apartment, I knew I had to at least give it a shot before excising it from my life; it was only fair.  Enter Claire whose enthusiasm to read the book was almost infectious, and I decided that maybe if I had a buddy going into this read, maybe if I didn’t commit myself to exclusively reading the book non-stop until it or I was done, that would be the best way to tackle it.  And thus, a read-along was born. (more…)
29th May
2009
written by Steph
Zzzzzz

Zzzzzz

I try really hard to give every book a fair chance before forsaking it, because I really am loathe to leave books unfinished.  But sometimes you just have to acknowledge that a book isn’t doing it for you and part ways.  One thing I really liked in Nancy Pearl’s Booklust series is the sentiment that it’s all well and good to give a book a fair shot, but there’s no point sticking it out to the bitter end if indeed the end will be bitter for you:
“One of my strongest-held beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book that they’re not enjoying, no matter how popular or well-reviewed the book is.  Believe me, nobody is going to get any points in heaven by slogging their way through a book they aren’t enjoying but think they ought to read.”
I feel I gave The Theory of Clouds a good run before deciding to put it down for good.  Rather than subscribing to the Rule of Fifty, I gave this book 75 pages before concluding it just wasn’t for me.  I had hoped for a book suffused with elegant poetry and thoughtful contemplation, but instead, the writing often felt trite and staid.  The back cover suggested the book would revolve around a Japanese designer living in Paris who has developed a fascination with clouds.  He hires a young librarian to track down a fabled tome that is rumored to exist but has never been seen, all the while bringing her up to speed with the history of cloudgazing as well as how clouds have fascinated and stimulated men over the years.  I suppose this synopsis isn’t really disingenuous, but I just felt myself bogged down in fairly uninteresting history a good portion of the time, and was failing to see any kind of coherent plot develop. The balance between non-fiction and fiction just felt too heavily weighted towards the former rather than the latter.  Maybe I just don’t care enough about clouds for them to serve as anything more than metaphors, or maybe contemporary French writing isn’t really my thing (I will say that the story did have a French vibe, which is fitting given the author)… The few sex scenes that were randomly scattered throughout the pages I read felt cerebral yet crude, and it seemed like they were thrown in there just because it’s French and how could the book not include some erotic tidbits? In the end, this just didn’t have enough of a plot to keep me interested, and neither the writing nor the ideas were sufficiently captivating to me either.  This book kind of gave me a similar vibe to The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, but without the thought-provoking philosophy and transcendence.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t say this is a terrible book, just that it wasn’t a good fit for me.  It’s a shame this didn’t live up to its gorgeous cover! Question: Do you feel compelled to finish every book you start, or are you willing to abandon ship?  How do you go about deciding to leave a book unfinished?
28th May
2009
written by Steph
It likely will live long and prosper

It likely will live long and prosper

Last weekend, Tony and I took advantage of the fact that there is a drive-in movie theater not too far outside of Nashville where you can watch two recent movies for just $7 per person, and all from the comfort of your own car!  Ok, so it’s no Imax experience, BUT it’s kitschy and fun, they have a great snackbar (funnel cake!  philly cheese steaks!), and it’s actually a great way of watching movies you’re kind of interested in seeing but don’t want to pay full price to see.  We tend to go when there’s at least one movie playing that we want to watch, but have never left after just watching one of the movies… which is how we’ve wound up watching such cinematic gems as The Mummy 3 and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (sadly, I am serious). But ok, sometimes there is a perfect storm where we wind up getting to see TWO movies we actually want to see.  Like last Sunday when after weeks of wanting to go to the drive-in but unwilling to sit through the Hannah Montana movie or Hotel for Dogs in order to do so, we saw they were airing a double header of the new Star Trek movie followed by I Love You, Man (which we had already seen, but enjoyed so much we were happy to see it again). (more…)
27th May
2009
written by Steph
Wonder no more!  Read it!

Wonder no more! Read it!

I’m a bit bummed that this long weekend was graced with gray skies and intermittent rainstorms rather than lolling about by the pool and using the grill, but dreary days can have their perks!  Sunday afternoon, I plucked Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from the shelf as I’d never read it before and proceeded to read the whole thing through OUT LOUD to Tony as we lazed on the couch.  I don’t know why it took me 26 years to get to this book, because it was so much fun.  For some reason I had built up in my mind the belief that Carroll’s language was rather cumbersome and confusing (I know I tried to read the story when I was younger but could never get past the first few pages), but this time round I simply found it delightful.  I knew the guy had a penchant for poetry, but I didn’t know he had such a fondness for puns (boo to all of those people who say puns are the lowest form of wit and humor – I love them!).  I was particularly amused by Alice’s dialogues with the Hatter and with the Mock Turtle and Gryphon, and the trial at the end was really very funny as well.  There was a good deal of snickering on both Tony’s and my part as I read through this book.
Poor Bill!

Poor Bill!

The story was at times manic and completely absurd (I can’t help but feel that kids might find it confusing at times, but what do I know?), but I thought it had a lot of charm and really appreciated it’s playful spirit.  I loved Carroll’s approach to the English language as well as how sprightly all of the characters are.  The copy I read was a hardback, annotated version (complete with lovely illustrations), but I read the story straight through without pausing over the footnotes and asides.  I know I’ll definitely re-read this story in the future, and look forward to spending some time poring over the details and trivia that might allow for a richer second read through.  My volume also contains Through The Looking Glass (which Tony tells me is far weirder), which I will read when I feel I need a dollop of nonsense to cleanse my reading palate.  I highly recommend this lovely little romp to anyone looking for a smart, diverting read. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
26th May
2009
written by Steph
Back during my senior year of undergrad, I got into the Ellen Degeneres show in a big way.  Whenever I could catch the show, I would (generally in my pyjamas, if at all possible!).  I loved Ellen's humor and her playful approach to her show, and really, she just came across as a really cool lady.  Her frequent references to drinking didn't hurt either... 😉 We don't have tv currently so I haven't been able to watch Ellen's show for quite some time now, BUT recently, Ellen gave the Commencement speech at Tulane University, and the results have been posted to YouTube.  Some of you may be feeling a bit low having to return back to work after the long weekend, so do yourself a favor and watch the speech below as she lauds the class of 2009.  It's both funny and touching and down to earth.  In essence, it is Ellen at her best. Also, I hope that when I graduate from Vandy that we get a commencement speaker half as cool.  Tulane gets Ellen; Harvard has had JK Rowling...  I realize Jane Austen is right out of the question, but come on,  Vanderbilt! Don't let me down! YouTube Preview Image
25th May
2009
written by Steph
Forget the scarlet, I give this one a green light!

Forget the scarlet, I give this one a green light!

Coming off of Michael Chabon’s underwhelming Sherlock Holmes homage, I had a yen to experience the real deal.  Back during my girlhood, I recall reading my way through an assortment of Sherlock Holmes stories, though for the life of me, the only one I can definitively recall reading is “The Five Orange Pips” (and of course, I have no idea what the story centers around other than the obvious, nor can I recall how it all sorts itself out).  My memory for plot is notoriously poor, so when I found the first of two volumes of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes at McKay’s I decided to pick it up so I could work my way through the Holmes back catalogue.  Having now read the first story (actually a novella) in the collection, I’m really glad I did! A Study in Scarlet was the first work published Conan Doyle, and it is the novel in which the inimitable Sherlock Holmes is first introduced.  The mystery is typical Holmesian fare – a body has been found in an abandoned house, the room splattered with blood, only there are no visible wounds to be found.  Baffled, the London police are getting nowhere so Holmes is turned loose on the case!  The novel is actually divided into two parts: in Part One, we become privy to the crime and follow Holmes (through Watson’s eyes) as he sniffs out his murderer ending with the arrest of the perp; in Part Two, there is a dramatic shift in perspective as we learn more about the murderer’s motivation and the events that lead to him carrying out his dastardly deed, as well as a final section in which Holmes reveals for the somewhat dimwitted Watson how we deduced all the relevant facts. (more…)
24th May
2009
written by Tony
The King

The King

Steph has been encouraging me to read this book for quite a while now, so when we ran across a beautiful copy that also included Saint Exupéry’s other works it seemed like a good chance for me to finally get up to speed on this classic. Since this is one of the best-selling books of all time, there is a good likelihood that I was among the few who hadn’t read it, and will spare you the ringing endorsement this book does not need. It is excellent, and though it’s ostensibly a children’s book, there is certainly a much deeper philosophical core that can be enjoyed and contemplated by people of all ages. This is a short book, and I think this review would best serve it by being short. “Language is the source of misunderstandings” says the fox to the Little Prince, and I think he is correct. (more…)
23rd May
2009
written by Steph
Here's a solution: skip this one!

Here's a solution: skip this one!

The hardest books (or novellas, as the case may be) to write about are the ones that I feel completely apathetic towards.  There’s nothing ostensibly wrong about them that I can nitpick to high heaven, but there’s also nothing glimmering and wonderful to get me all worked up about, so I wind up simply feeling like all I want to write about them is one word: Meh.  That’s how I feel about The Final Solution by Michael Chabon.  Unfortunately, “meh” doesn’t really make for an interesting entry, so I will try my darndest to say something about this wholly unremarkable slip of a book. The story revolves around a mute Jewish boy who flees to England to escape persecution in Germany.  His only companion is an African parrot named Bruno, who trills out a mysterious stream of numbers every so often.  Many people are pretty interested in Bruno and what these enigmatic numbers might be the key to, so to make a short story even shorter, one day a guest staying with the family harboring the mute Jewish boy is found clubbed to death and Bruno is nowhere to be found.  Although the murder holds little enticement for him, an aged detective with a penchant for tweed and beekeeping decides he will take up the case of locating Bruno and returning him to his young master. (more…)
22nd May
2009
written by Steph
Quick question for all my fellow readers out there (while I go about finishing up some reading so I can post some new content): what do you do when you're reading along happily and you're thrown for a lexical loop?  By which I mean, you come across a word that you don't know!  Horror of horrors, I know!  Do you: a) try to divine on your own what the word means? b) pause to look the word up right away? c) jot it down on a pad for later investigation, so as to leave the flow of your reading more or less uninterrupted? or d)  just barrel on through the confusion and continue with your reading, never to think on the word again...? I'm curious, because lately I've been reading things where I've been encountering unfamiliar words. I've used all of the tactics above, but none of them are all that satisfying for me.  I feel like it's a great opportunity for me to learn a new word, but more often than not, I look the word up right away, only to later forget what the word was and also what it meant.  I suppose this strategy is fine in terms of making sure I fully understand the slippery sentence I've just read, and it's not all that obtrusive (given online dictionaries, weird words can be looked up in seconds), but I feel like I'm missing out on the chance to expand my vocabulary AND it doesn't circumvent the need to look the word up again should I re-encounter it in the future.  If I jot the word down for later exploration, I'm stuck with not necessarily knowing the word in the context of what I've read (and my memory isn't so good that upon later looking the word up, I'll flash back to how it was used in the book, suddenly suffusing me with insight).  What's a girl to do? Tell me your tips and tricks for dealing with weird words and how you make them stick!
19th May
2009
written by Steph
Cole slaw?  More like COOL slaw!

Cole slaw? More like COOL slaw!

For May, it’s colder in Nashville than it normally is (generally this is the time of year where I eschew jeans and any full-length trousers for the next 4 months), but our building has finally opened up the pool area which means we also have access to the grill!  When I lived with my parents I frequently experience “grill overload”, as my mother would pretty much char everything in the summer months, but now that I’m the chief overseer of daily meals, I’ve come to appreciate what a grill can bring to our dinner repertoire. I love barbecuing burgers, brats, and kebabs, but those in themselves don’t necessarily make an entire meal (well, maybe the kebabs do).  This coleslaw is a great side for your grill-centric meals – it’s chock full of flavor (that only improves with additional time in the fridge) and easy to whip together with ingredients you already have on hand!  Sure you could just chuck some premade, store-bought dressing onto a bag of chopped cabbage and call it a day, but this is soooo much better (but easy!  I promise); the blue cheese really makes this something special. It’s now my go-to slaw recipe, and I like to try to always have some in the fridge (I’ve been known to simply have a bowl for lunch).  I adapted it from a recipe by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, so you know it’s good!  Prep time is only about 10 minutes, so this is really not a labor-intensive dish. Ingredients •    1 bag of pre-chopped coleslaw mix (contains red & green cabbage as well as carrots); alternatively you could buy those three things separately and shave them, but I know you’re busy, so the pre-prepared stuff is completely fine for this •    1 heaping cup of mayonnaise (not miracle whip… mayonnaise!) •    4 tbsp of Dijon mustard (we use a country blend made with white wine, which is sweeter and less sharp than the Grey Poupon kind) •    1 tbsp of dried mustard (optional.  I add it on a whim whenever I feel like making the dressing zippier) •    1 - 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar •    1 tbsp of honey •    1 tsp of salt •    ½ tsp of fresh ground black pepper •    1 cup of crumbled blue cheese (whatever kind makes you happy) •    ½ cup of coarsely chopped walnuts •    ½ cup of craisins or raisins •    bunch of fresh chopped parsley (if you have it handy… I rarely do, but I still love this slaw!) (more…)
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