Monday, December 29, 2008

reading challenge: diversity rocks!

The Diversity Rocks! challenge has options for everyone to pick a level of reading. The purpose of the challenge is to ensure ethnic and racial diversity in our reading choices. I'm opting for level 3: challenge addict, and I pledge to read at least 12 books in 2009. I'll pick my books as I go, but I've been attempting to read more foreign fiction, and this challenge will provide even more incentive.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

reading challenges: 2009 master list

For my sanity, I've created this master list to track my progress. A link to this post will appear at the top of the "reading challenges" toolbar on the right.

100+ Books (31 of 100+ read)
2009 Pub Challenge (9 of 9 read) - finished!
Art History (0 of 6 read)
Diversity Rocks! (0 of 12 read)
Read Your Name (6 of 11 read)
Support Your Local Library (25 of 25 read) - finished!
What's In a Name (2 of 6 read)
Young Adult (9 of 12 read)

reading challenge: read your name

The Read Your Name challenge sounds like a lot of fun too. The goal is to read a book with a title beginning with each letter in your name. I'm using nomadreader as my challenge name. Here are some thoughts on books I hope to read, but this list is subject to change.

N - Natives & Exotics by Jane Alison, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
O - Open House by Elizabeth Berg, O, Jerusalem by Laurie R. King, One of Those Malibu Nights by Elizabeth Adler
M - (The) Maytrees by Annie Dillard, Measuring the World by Daniel Kellman, (The) Midnight Diary of Zoya Blume by Laura Shaine Cunningham
A - Apples & Oranges by Marie Brenner, Affinity by Sarah Waters, (The) Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
D - Day by A.L. Kennedy, Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg, (A) Darker Place by Laurie R. King, Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears, (A) Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan, Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs, Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
R - Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg, (The) Return Journey by Maeve Binchy
E - (The) End by Salvatore Scibona, (The) Echo Maker by Richard Powers, (The) Echo by Minette Walters, (The) Education of Harriet Hatfield by May Sarton, Emma by Jane Austen

The Finished List:
N -(The) Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
O - Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings
M - Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan by Paula Marantz Cohen (finished 1/3/09)
A -Annie's Adventures by Lauren Barantz-Logsted
D -Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
R -
E -
A -
D -(The) Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips
E -
R -

reading challenge: 2009 pub challenge

The 2009 Pub Challenge sounds fun. It's simple: read nine books published in 2009. With new books coming from some of my favorite authors, it should be simple. Also, it will give me even more excuses to keep an eye out for new books.

Books I've finished so far:
1. Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein
2. The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis
3. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
4. Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton
5. The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison
6. Life Sentences by Laura Lippman
7. 8th Confession by James Patterson
8. Lords of Corruption by Kyle Mills
9. Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

reading challenge: support your local library

The Support Your Local Library Challenge should be a breeze for me, as I get almost all of my books from the library. I'll be doing it by default, but I'll update this list as I go.

1. Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel (finished 1/3/09)
2. Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan by Paula Marantz Cohen (finished 1/3/09)
3. Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews (finished 1/22/09)
4. First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (finished 1/22/09)
5. Flotsam by David Wiesner (finished 1/22/09)
6. The Wednesday Wars by David Schmidt (finished 1/25/09)
7. Serefina Under the Circumstances (finished 1/26/09)
8. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (finished 1/26/09)
9. Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems (finished 1/26/09)
10. Click, Clack, Moo (finished 1/26/09)
11. The Pout-Pout Fish (finished 1/26/09)
12. The Wall by Peter Sis (finished 1/26/09)
13. Likely to Die by Linda Fairstein (finished 1/28/09)
14. Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde
15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
16. Cold Hit by Linda Fairstein
17. Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein
18. The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis
19. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
20. Heart Sick by Chelsea Cain
21. Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain
22. Q & A by Vikas Swarup
23. Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton
24. Wedding Season by Katie Fforde
25. Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings

reading challenge: art history

The Art History Reading Challenge may be the one I'm most excited about. The goal is simple: read six books, fiction or non-fiction dealing with art history.

I'd like to read three fiction and three non-fiction. Here is a possible list of books I'll read:

1. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper
2. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
3. The Portrait by Iain Pears

1. Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis
2. Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill
3. The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren

reading challenge: young adult

While I'm feeling hopeful and optimistic about the new year, I'm adding a few more reading challenges. The Young Adult Challenge should be fairly easy to complete while I'm in the midst of rereading all things Harry Potter. Plus, I'll be taking young adult literature in the fall, and I'm sure the reading for that course alone will allow me to read twelve Young Adult books this year.

1. The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
3. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
4. The Giver by Lois Lowry
5. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
6. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
7. The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
8. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
9. Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

reading challenge: what's in a name 2?

As the new year fast approaches, I've worked up many possibilities for the categories for this year's What's in a Name Challenge? Although this list may change, here are my current ideas:

1. A book with a "profession" in its title:
  • The Love Artist by Jane Alison
  • The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
  • The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs
  • Priest by Ken Bruen
2. A book with a "time of day" in its title:
  • The Midnight Diary of Zoya Blume by Laura Shaine Cunningham
3. A book with a "relative" in its title:
  • The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison

4. A book with a "body part" in its title:
  • Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel (finished 1/3/09)
5. A book with a "building" in its title:
  • Open House by Elizabeth Berg
  • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
  • The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
6. A book with a "medical condition" in its title:
  • Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs
  • Heart Trouble by Kathy Hogan Trocheck
I only have to read one per category, and I've given myself lots of options. I'm looking forward to starting this challenge.

movie review: michael clayton

I've had Michael Clayton sitting around from Netflix for an embarrassingly long time. It's one of those movies I really wanted to see, but I was never in the mood to see. I'm so glad I finally took the plunge.

The film is deliciously dense. It's so clearly a film written to be a film; it treasures the visual medium. Dialogue is often minimal, and the viewer is forced to pay attention. The story is told in the details, and I thought I was missing things at first. It's subtle and seems subdued until the last ten minutes, when all the details and images come together seamlessly. It's a film that gets better the more you think about it; one further realizes how intentional every frame is.

I've enjoyed many of Tony Gilroy's films, but I may have to actually see The Cutting Edge now. I'm quite curious about the one film that doesn't fit with the rest of his resume.

Overall, I think it was better than No Country for Old Men, which won the Best Picture Oscar. They're certainly both great movies, but at the end of the day, Michael Clayton felt more complete. I'm incredibly partial to movies written to be movies rather than those adapted from books. They're different means of storytelling, and they're not always as compatible as producers seems to think.

George Clooney was good. Tilda Swinton was good. Tom Wilkinson was amazing. Sydney Pollock was great.

Rent it when you're in the mood for an intellectual thriller.

Rating: 3 stars (loved it)

book review: harry potter and the sorcerer's stone

I'm on a quest to re/read all of the Harry Potter books. I started reading Harry Potter the month before the fourth book came out, and I was spoiled. By the time the fifth book came out a year later, I didn't remember what was happening, and I didn't even finish it. Now that all seven are out, I'm rededicated to my efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, even though I still maintain the first fifty pages are unnecessarily slow and depressing. Once Harry gets to Hogwarts, the story really comes alive, and I enjoyed the story much more this time than I remember enjoying it last time. Perhaps because I had more realistic expectations going in. When I first read it, I was expecting the greatest children's book ever written. It's really good, and at times it's great, but I don't think the books themselves are brilliant. J.K. Rowling is brilliant, and the world she created is mesmerizing. She's a good storyteller, but there's a certain depth missing (at least so far, I may recant after book seven) to make me call the books brilliant. I'm eager to start rereading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Rating: 2.5 stars (really liked it)

book review: baby proof by emily giffin

Emily Giffin is one of my favorite authors, and Baby Proof is my favorite of her books. I had a sudden hankering to reread it, and once again, I read it in a single sitting. Baby Proof is the story of Claudia and Ben, the kind of blissfully happy couple I imagine everyone wants to be in. They have similar temperaments and agree on all of the important things. They both agreed they never wanted children, until Ben suddenly does. The fallout is brutal, as this disagreement is incredibly difficult to compromise on.

Baby Proof is not nearly as heartbreaking as I remember, which is a testament to Giffin's storytelling. It's hopeful and honest. It's one of my favorite books, and I need to remember to reread it once a year.

Rating: 4 stars (life-changingly good)

book review: the friday night knitting club by kate jacobs

I listened to this book on unabridged audio book. It's a passable novel, but it struck me that it was written from blueprints on "how to write a novel". Although many of the characters were likeable, the events they faced seemed formulaic and forced at times. Some storylines seemed more organic than others. There is the crux of a good story, even if it was awkward and forced at times. The events didn't surprise me, and thus I didn't attach much emotion to them. Jacobs' descriptive prose was awkward at times as well. Perhaps I was more attuned to it because I listened to it rather than read it, but she seemed to consciously avoid overusing characters names. Instead, she would write, "the tall man responded," which was not relevant to the scene. Yes, I remembered he was tall, but it didn't affect the conversation.

I'm looking forward to the movie, with Julia Roberts signed on as Georgia. It's one book I imagine will make a better movie. I wouldn't advise against reading it; I enjoyed it enough to finish it, but I certainly wasn't blown away by it. I'm even waiting my turn for the sequel at the library.

Rating: 2 stars (liked it)

book review: here's the story by maureen mccormick

I love The Brady Bunch. I grew up rushing home to catch the reruns on TBS every afternoon. I own the shag carpet covered box set of all dvds. Naturally, I was excited to read Maureen McCormick's memoir.

McCormick is not a great writer, but she does write candidly and honestly. Because I found the subject matter interesting, I was able to overlook her often awkward prose. The Brady Bunch was only the focus of part of the book, as I'm sure it was only the focus of part of her life, even though she remains Marcia Brady to most Americans. I most enjoyed her tales of Hollywood life and working with other famous people I had no idea she had interaction with. I adore learning about the interconnectedness of people, and this book provided many gems.

If you're a fan of The Brady Bunch or Hollywood memoirs, it's worth a read. Otherwise, it's not sensational enough or well-written enough to bother.

Rating: 2 stars (liked it)

book review: the lazarus project by aleksandar hemon

Sentence(s) worth remembering: "Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there." (p. 3)

"The world is always greater than your desires; plenty is never enough." (p. 3)

"I am just like everybody else, Isador always says, because there is nobody like me in the whole world." (p. 5)

"She was beautiful; my breath was taken; we were still lonely; she said yes." (p. 32)

"Nobody can control resemblances, any more than you can control echoes." (p. 106)

The Lazarus Project was the first book I read in my quest to read all of the National Book Award nominees. I had not read Aleksandar Hemon before, but I will again. Hemon is originally from Bosnia-Herzogovenia, but has lived in Chicago more than ten years. His transforming method of writing English is mesmerizing. Although this story is intriguing, I found myself most enthralled with his writing. He uses semicolons more brilliantly and intriguingly than anyone I've ever read. There's a reason he won a genius grant from the the MacArthur Foundation.

The story occurs in two time periods. First, it's the story of Lazarus Averbuch, who went to see the chief of police in Chicago in 1908, handed him a letter, and was shot. His death, which really happened, remains a mystery, and is a subject of much speculation, particularly for anarchists and immigrants. Contemporarily, Vladimir Brik, a writer and immigrant from Sarajevo married to an American neurosurgeon and living in Chicago, becomes fascinated by the case of Lazarus Averbuch and sets off to retrace the steps of Lazarus' life. The chapters alternate between the two centuries, and the story unfolds beautifully through this combination of voices.

Hemon is a brilliant talent, and I hope his mastery and transforming power with the English language continues.

rating: 3 stars (loved it)

Friday, December 26, 2008

can i really read 100 books in 2009?

It's an ambitious goal to attempt to read one hundred books in 2009. I'm a full-time graduate student, and I work two part-time jobs. I only managed to read thirty books (and counting?) this year, but I'm setting my goals higher next year. New years inevitably call for more introspection, and reading is one of my absolute favorite things to do. Still, I perpetually find myself watching television or wasting away the hours reading blogs. I'd like to return to focusing on reading. There's now a lovely reading chair, makeshift footstool and light in my bedroom, and I plan to spend a significant amount of time in it next year. I'm a goal oriented person, and I hope setting this very public goal of reading one hundred books will help me accomplish it. My aces in the hole are that I'm taking both children's literature and young adult literature this year, and the reading lists for those classes will help push me to one hundred. If I don't make it, it's certainly not the end of the world, but if I don't try, I won't know. I may choose to read many long books for enjoyment that will deter me from this goal. As long as I'm reading more, I'm happy. Cheers to 2009.

1. Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
2. Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan by Paula Marantz Cohen
3. Final Jeopardy by Linda Fairstein
4. Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews
5. First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
6. Flotsam by David Wiesner

Saturday, December 13, 2008

movie review: the jane austen book club

I won't mince words: I adored The Jane Austen Book Club. It was intelligent, warm and real. Impressively, in less than two hours, the film managed to deal with more than six storylines well. Sure, it's a little schmaltzy, but it's oddly satisfying. The film (based on Karen Joy Fowler's book of the same name) is not only an ode to Jane Austen, but to literature as a whole, especially its resonance over the years. As Jane Austen's novels are too, this movie is about life, love, loss, trust and friendship.

The cast was brilliant: Mario Bello, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, Hugh Dancy, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits and Lynn Redgrave. It was wonderful to see Emily Blunt have so much to do, especially after seeing her do little but smoke a joint and take her clothes off in Charlie Wilson's War. Mario Bello was fantastic. Despite so many excellent female performances, Hugh Dancy stole the movie. He was charming, dapper, awkward and ultimately endearing.

In so many ways, this movie comes dangerously close to being cringe-inducing and cheesy. Wonderful acting and the back drop of both intellectual and catty banter about Jane Austen firmly anchors this story in a respectable space. I'm not claiming the film itself is brilliant, but many pieces of it are, and it's ridiculously entertaining and moving. I can't wait to see it again.

Rating: 3 stars (loved it)

movie review: be kind rewind

It's not a secret I have a soft spot for (in order): Mos Def, Michel Gondry and Jack Black. I read the middling reviews of Be Kind Rewind, and I had moderate expectations. The film is slow to start. When it does pick up, it's delightful, witty and surprisingly poignant. By embracing the ridiculous, yet brilliant plot, the film manages to plausibly straddle the line between preposterous and believable.

It's refreshing to see Jack Black do comedy and drama; it helps restrain his wackiness into something more endearing. Danny Glover and Mia Farrow were fantastic. In this all-star cast, relative newcomer Melonie Diaz gave the best performance. I plan to make a point to see more of her films soon.

This movie delivers many laughs and quite a few tears. It's definitely worth seeing. Even though it's perhaps not brilliant filmmaking, it is unique, refreshing, entertaining and touching. If I had the power to edit out the boring beginning and elongate the last hour, I would.

Rating: 3 stars (loved it)

movie review: made of honor

Although Made of Honor included a few patches of humor and charm, it was lousy. Patrick Dempsey is endearing, Michelle Monaghan, whom I had no opinion of, was lovely. The supporting cast was fantastic: Kadeem Hardison, Busy Phillips, Sydney Pollock. It's a testament to the acting prowess of the cast that the wretched script didn't seem so egregious most of the time. The story itself is trite and uninteresting. The attempts at comedy were randomly slapstick and always unoriginal; the movie was almost a caricature of itself. I appreciate comedy with my humor, but it has to balance. Inserting slapstick into a poignant moment makes the poignancy laughable and the intended humor groan-inducing.

Ratings: 1 star (eh); if you have low expectations and a bottle of wine, there are worse ways to spend a night snowed in

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

movie review: charlie wilson's war

First, let me be honest about relevant biases I hold. I am not a fan of Tom Hanks. I don't like Forrest Gump, and aside from Big, I've never really understand his massive appeal. I either really enjoy Julia Roberts (i.e. Mona Lisa Smile or Steel Magnolias) or I'm lukewarm about her performances. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant in everything he's ever done. Finally, Aaron Sorkin is a dynamic writer.

The dialogue is fast-paced, which I usually adore (i.e. 30 Rock, the funniest show on television). When rapid dialogue coexists with Southern accents, it is sometimes difficult to understand. This movie is all dialogue. I found myself listening too hard to the individual words to always understand the depth of plot. It's certainly a history lesson, and the story is fascinating. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene he's in, and he deserved the Oscar nomination for it. I happen to believe his performance was even better than Javier Bardem's winning performance in No Country for Old Men, but I realize I'm in the minority. Tom Hanks was also fantastic, and I am not one to commonly hold this belief. Julia Roberts, despite having very little to do in this incredibly male driven story, was underwhelming. She's from Georgia, and I know she can do a Southern accent well, but her accent in Charlie Wilson's War was odd and un-Texan. She had a few great lines, but they managed to be more throwaways because of her accent and lack of character development. I would have gladly added ten minutes to the film's running time to see Julia Roberts have more to do.

All things considered, it's definitely worth seeing, but when you watch it, you may want to keep the remote control nearby to pause and rewind the rapidly fired dialogue. Prepare to once again be in awe of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Also, prepare to be absolutely depressed because the story is true. It's brilliance is in its tragedy; the layers of history must be determined after the fact. I give Aaron Sorkin credit for distilling a complicated part of history into a manageable hour and forty-five minute story. I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek depictions of women at the time. The screenplay and the actresses who portray Wilson's support staff manage to allow viewers to celebrate the decadence of the day with a modern view of its sexist underpinnings. It's not a movie I'll need to see again, but it is a movie I'm glad I saw.

Rating: 2.5 stars (really liked it)