Tag Archives: books

What I’m Reading Wednesday: 2/1/2012

Today’s book: “Gabby” by Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords

This was the first book I read in a while that I really, truly enjoyed. Despite being incredibly sad, the story was inspirational and uplifting.

If you follow the news at all, you’ve heard of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Last January, she was holding a Congress on your Corner event in her home state of Arizona when a mentally disturbed man opened fire. Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head at close range. She survived, but with grave critical injuries. And horribly, six people were killed.

This book is the memoir of Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. Kelly wrote most of the book, which talks about everything from the couples’ childhoods to careers to how they met and fell in love. Of course, he also discusses what their lives have been like since that fateful day.

To be honest, I got this book along with several others and didn’t think I’d be very interested in it. But the storytelling is addictive. Readers are hooked by the drawn-out retelling of the shooting and Giffords’ recovery, interspersed with information about the couples’ pasts. It’s emotional and uplifting; you put the book down feeling like you really got something out of it.

By the end, we are amazed at the magnitude of Giffords’ recovery; I just wanted to fly to Houston and give her a giant hug and high five. Also, not knowing much about politics, the book offered a new perspective of how legislators make and vote on laws. Since it just came out that she will be resigning her position in Congress, this book makes the announcement particularly sad. Giffords was in the midst of an enviable life as an enamored wife, an admirable politician, and a hopeful mother – and it was all disrupted by the actions of one incredibly disturbed young man. However, her story is inspirational to everyone. It also made me want to become an astronaut; Mark Kelly’s recounting of space travel is pretty exciting.

Bottom line: Close to a must-read.
7/8 slices.

Looking for something to read? Get advice from other What I’m Reading Wednesdays:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell
11/22/63 by Stephen King

What I’m Reading Wednesday: 1/25/2012

Today’s book: “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides

I really didn’t know what to say about this one. It’s heralded as one of the top books in 2011 by the New York Times and plenty of other institutions – for whatever that’s worth. And the plot description on Amazon sounded intriguing. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t as great as I’d hoped it would be. It was a fine read, to be sure, but I can’t quite call it a great story.

The storyline opens on graduation day at Brown University in the early 1980’s. I liked the time setting; characters in “The Marriage Plot” weren’t plagued by ringing cell phones throughout the story. Unencumbered by technology, their interactions felt pure and honest. As one of the characters traveled the world, his lack of Facebook, Skype, and text messaging allowed him to truly come to terms with his feelings for another character. In 2012, can you imagine not talking to one of your loved ones for months and months? Relying only upon long-traveled letters that arrive weeks after they’re written? It’s a disconcerting thought.

So this book is basically about a love triangle. In the middle is the Madeleine, the girl you’d love to hate in real life. She’s self-absorbed, overly intellectual, and beautiful. On one side is Mitchell, the guy she’s been stringing along for four years of college. And on the other side is Leonard, the living definition of ‘tortured genius.’ Through a series of flashbacks and present narration following each character, we learn what happens to the three of them in the year after graduation. Now, all of their adventures hinge upon Madeleine’s senior thesis. The girl is completely obsessed with old novels, and she formulates this whole idea about – you guessed it – the marriage plot, the omnipotence of marriage as an end-all, be-all to so many of the stories that Madeleine read. As we read, we wonder: will these young people perpetuate the old stereotypes? Or will things be different for them?

It’s a fun read. Eugenides knows how to create suspense by switching the vantage point among characters at critical plot junctures. At one point, I was so eager to learn what would happen with a character that I wanted to skip the next chunk of narrative about a different one. For that kind of interest alone, I must give this book its dues; it was absorbing.

But a large flaw with the book was that Madeleine wasn’t a believable character for me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t identify her motives or understand her decisions; she just didn’t seem like a real girl. We have to wonder if this was because the author, Eugenides, is male; writing the opposite gender is a risky proposition. The guy is critically acclaimed as a novelist for good reason. He tells a great, absorbing story. But that doesn’t mean he understands what it’s like to be a 22-year-old woman and can portray one convincingly.

That said, the storyline was interesting and I devoured it quickly. It was something that I could almost relate to immediately, having graduated college a few years ago myself, and having woken up on the morning of my graduation about as hung over as Madeleine was for hers. This is a good book for adults in their twenties or thirties who can relate to the characters directly, or for people in their fifties who have fond memories of being idealistic post-grads in the 80’s.

Bottom line: Give it a shot.
6/8 slices.

Looking for something to read? Get advice from other What I’m Reading Wednesdays:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell
11/22/63 by Stephen King

What I’m Reading Wednesday: 1/18/12

Today’s book: “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” by Mindy Kaling

Kelly Kapoor isn’t the most prominent employee of “The Office,” but her one-liners stand out as the show’s most memorable. Who could forget her amazing gem, “Ryan used me as an object,” in the show’s fourth season? Or when she slapped Michael during “Diversity Day?” Although I stopped following the show since “The Office” has gone way downhill in the wake of Steve Carell’s departure, I have a soft spot in my heart for Kelly. You can tell Mindy Kaling is just having a blast with that character – and who can blame her?

After reading funny-TV-lady memoirs by Chelsea Handler and Tina Fey, I was curious to see what Mindy Kaling would contribute to the genre. This was not a disappointment. The story is somewhat disjointed, reading as a series of little essays and rants as opposed to a cohesive text. However, it is solidly funny and I found myself laughing aloud more than a few times. Mindy is likeable and relatable – see, I’m calling her Mindy like we’re friends, not Ms. Kaling like any respectable book reviewer would do.

The more readers learn about Mindy, the better the book is. She takes us from her childhood to college, where she truly thrived. We learn about her post-graduation communal living situation with two best girlfriends in Brooklyn. This situation led to the collusion of events that created a play, “Matt and Ben,” that garnished enough attention to join “The Office.” It also makes us grateful for every non-ideal roommate situation we’ve ever had, knowing that things could have been far more crowded. By the time we reach her present stint at “The Office,” Mindy feels like an old friend. We’re excited about her success, although somewhat disturbed by some of her comments (for instance, begging guys not to shave their chest hair; it reminds her of her dad who is a man… or something like that). But we don’t feel overly enthusiastic about the book. It was cool: witty and wry, the perfect blend of earnest with tongue-in-cheek. But I don’t feel the urge to recommend this to my friends, or reread it immediately to (cue Journey) hold on to that feeling.

“No one, uh, ever asked you anything so whomever’s name is Toby, why don’t you take a letter opener and stick it into your skull?”

Bottom line: Bring it to the beach or read it on a plane.
5/8 slices.

What I’m Reading Wednesday: 1/11/12

Today’s book: “Red Mist” by Patricia Cornwell.

I’ve been reading Patricia Cornwell’s books since I was little. I have many fond memories of my aunt passing along her Kay Scarpetta paperbacks when I went to visit her in Atlanta. Those books reside on my shelf to this day. On occasion, I still go back and reread them. Since I grew from a little kid nerd into a huge adult nerd, the mix of mystery, action, and science in the forensic thrillers is still addictive. Unfortunately, Cornwall’s writing is not.

Generally, the Kay Scarpetta series allows new readers to follow along regardless of their familiarity with the previous books. Although there is certainly a continuity to the series, Cornwell gives background to the characters and storyline so that anyone can follow and enjoy. This book? Not so much. It opens with dense, clunky dialogue that fails to explain anything that’s going on. Even being familiar with the series was no help. I was basically grasping at straws in an attempt to understand the plot. “Okay, so the narrator is in a prison… she’s talking to an inmate… wow, they’re still talking. They hate each other. I don’t know why it matters. Hmm, now she’s off to an apartment with some familiar characters. Why is this a big deal?” and so on. About halfway through the book, I couldn’t make it any further. The characters were still talking, but I no longer cared what they had to say.

Here’s a list of things that are better than “Red Mist” by Patricia Cornwell:
– blisters
– accidentally pouring spoiled milk in your coffee, then taking a sip
– your cell phone dropping the most important call you’ve ever received
– getting dumped
– STDs (with the exception of HIV)

Bottom line: Pass. There is nothing redeeming about this book. I’d recommend that you start with Cornwall’s old books and make up your own ending for the series.
1/8 slices.

What I’m Reading Wednesday: 1/4/2012

In the name of attempting to produce enough content post somewhat regularly, I’m going to start a series. It’s called “What I’m Reading Wednesday.” Disclaimers: I’ll never claim to be a serious critic, so take this with a grain of salt. Also, I’ll try not to post spoilers in case you haven’t read something that I write about. I’m going to write a little bit about everything and then rate it according to my favorite food, which is pizza. A typical pie has eight slices. (Rating systems with stars or thumbs-up are so overdone).

Today we will be discussing “11/22/63” by Stephen King, a guy who has written approximately several thousand books. I’ve barely scratched the surface of his stuff, despite going through a King phase in high school where I sampled classics such as “IT,” “Carrie,” and “Pet Semetary.” (All made into movies, and for all of which the books were better). My general feeling was that Stephen King’s books were creepy, but entertaining. Around that time, my grandma bought me a copy of “On Writing” – this was supposed to be inspirational in a time when everyone still expected me to grow up and become a writer – and I liked it. But I can’t recall reading any Stephen King book that I absolutely loved.

That changed within the last few weeks. I got my hands on a copy of his latest, “11/22/63,” and the story was compelling right from the synopsis on Amazon. The basic premise is, a guy from 2011 travels back in time to stop the assassination of JFK. There are 850 pages to the book, so as you can imagine, there’s a lot more mixed up into the adventures. You’ll find a healthy dose of violence, love, and life lessons to be found in here. Through it all, the storyline was shockingly addictive.

As true cynic who is skeptical of all popular entertainment, I like my sci-fi to come without pretensions. It’s the worst thing ever when you’re, say, watching a TV show that seems true-to-life and then all of a sudden there’s a stupid ghost in the mix. (Example: Grey’s Anatomy, Season 3, when Meredith “died” and my love for Grey’s Anatomy was murdered). Nope. That just doesn’t work. Note to all TV writers: either be whimsical and paranormal from the start, or don’t do it at all.

That’s why I liked “11/22/63.” The WTF-factor was present right from the beginning, and it’s as believable and realistic as time travel gets. Furthermore, it made me want to travel in time. Although the book is long, it’s a fast and entertaining read that will keep you captivated throughout. Also, the ending comes as a complete surprise – always a bonus for someone who loves trying to predict what happens! I’d fully recommend this book to anyone.

The bottom line: read it!
7/8 slices.