Tuesday, October 27, 2009

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America
Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey

This is an interesting collection. The premise sounds great in theory--have 50 different writers provide glimpses into each of the 50 states with an essay. Having only lived in two states myself, I of course skipped ahead to Indiana and New York, rather than read the anthology from cover to cover. Indiana was by Susan Choi, an acclaimed writer I've actually never heard of, though apparently she was born in South Bend. I was disappointed in her focus on her relationship with her father and the stereotypical observations (conservative bumper stickers and yard signs such as "Pray to End Abortion") about the state. Where was Fort Wayne? Where was Indianapolis? Where was the hospitality and warmth that really is here in the heartland? It wasn't in Choi's essay and she really showed her disappintment in not being able to write about new York.

Good for the reader, Jonathan Franzen instead got the space writing about New York. His was an innovative essay. He pretended to be interviewing New York State, and of course she was a conceited woman with little time to talk because she was simply too busy. And she had a harried, fast and smooth-talking publicist. It was a comedic look at the state and he did a great job with it. Also interesting were the state rankings in the appendix such as crime rates, educational expenditures, etc. Nothing too surprising here--seems they could've found more interesting rankings.

At any rate, probably worth a read if for nothing else than for seeing what was written about your own state. Hoosiers might want to stay clear, though.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Walls' memoir about growing up in a family with four normal kids and two dysfunctional parents has been a bestseller for the past few years and after a friend talked about reading it a second time, I figured it was time for me to give it a first try. Her childhood was interesting, to say the least, with an alcoholic father with big ideas and an artistic mother who suffered frequent spells of depression which left her holed up and unavailable to her children. How Jeannette and her siblings get by with litte food and little else is an amazing story, and it's good to see how Jeannette especially awakens to the realization that her parents are failing her and ultimately rises above and makes the life she wants in New York City. I don't think it's worth a second read, but a first read--sure, why not?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Barack and Michelle: Portrait of An American Marriage

Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage by Christopher Andersen

Why is Barack Obama President of the United States? Yes, he's brilliant, eloquent, compassionate, driven... Most of all, Americans see themselves in Obama, and that is why he is our President--he speaks for all of us. And his wife, well she speaks for us, too. And together--well, they are the power team that Hillary and Bill could never be because the romance wasn't quite so evident. As Andersen summed it up: "Barack and Michelle have proved themselves to be remarkable--as man and woman--, as husband and wife, as father and mother. But it is in those things that make them so accessible, so human, that we recognize ourselves--and, if even for a fleeting moment, like what we see. Theirs is, in every way, an American marriage."

Not only does this quick-moving and anecdotal biography tell the story of how two like-minded JDs fell in love, it tells the basic life story of both Barack and Michelle. If you've read Dreams from my Father, you likely know most of the story of Barack. You might not know as much about his days as a "stoner." And you may not know so much about Michelle's upbringing. For anyone looking for the basic background of this power couple, and perhaps a dose of reality (surprise! they have had many arguments and struggles that threatened their relationship)--this is a great read.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It Sucked and then I Cried

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita by Heather B. Armstrong

This one was recommended as a very funny memoir and indeed it was funny, but Armstrong came across more like a whiny, ungrateful new mom than funny for the majority of the book. I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to. I'm thinking the best audience would be women who have had difficult pregnancies and hard times as new mothers or for their husbands (because the men should get insight into how tough it can be, right?). However, Armstrong is really not very likeable. Her husband comes across like a saint, though--a true trooper supporting her through all she went through!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

I really wanted to love this book since I loved Paper Towns so much and the premise was so interesting. 17-year-old child prodigy Colin has dated 19 Katherines and each one has dumped him. When Katherine XIX (as he refers to her) breaks his heart, he sets out on a journey to not only reinvent himself, but to find the mathematical solution that will predict how long a relationship will last. It's cute because he really wants it to show that Katherine XIX will come back to him. At any rate, once the funny premise was introduced, it wasn't all that interesting to me. Teenage boys might find it interesting, though.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Redemption by Karen Kingsbury with Greg Smalley

This was my foray into inspirational fiction, or as Borders calls it "Christian fiction." Several patrons recommended this particular book so I figured it was as good as any to try out. I have to say I was pleastantly surprised. I thought it would be all church, all the time, but this one started right out with an affair! And although two outcomes were wrapped up very neatly through the majority of the novel, I went back and forth on which way the story would ultimately end which made it a quick read as I was eager to see what happened. I felt there were too many Bible passages awkwardly stuck into the story and feel it would've been much better without that, but I imagine those devoted to this genre keep coming back because of that.

In the end, the story wasn't even wrapped up as nicely as it seemed to be headed. And that's because this is book 1 of a series. I'm not convinced I need to keep reading to find out what happens to Kari, but I'd still recommend this book if you aren't put off by Bible verses and cheesy relationships.

P.S. It takes place in Bloomington, Indiana!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love is the Higher Law

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

I'm mixed about this book. I think it did a good job of showing the emotions September 11th evoked in so many people and I think most people are ready to see this. I also think the writing was well done and the characters were developed in a short novel. However, being that the book was from the perspectives of three teenagers (albeit one in college and two seniors in high school), I thought the narrative was far too advanced for a YA audience. It had a Dawson's Creek flavor to it with the big words and existential philosophy that I just don't think is a part of 18-year-old's lives. And I couldn't get over thinking that there was no way those thoughts were really going through their minds. It's clear Levithan used this novel to come to grips with his own emotions about that sad day and I don't fault him for that. But in that way, this is more a novel for adults than teenagers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This is How

This is How by M.J. Hyland

A truly sad story about a man slowly losing his mind during a horrible breakup and a quarter-life crisis. Unfortunately for the protagonist, Patrick, his nervous breakdown causes him to unintentionally (or intentionally, you decide) kill a fellow boarder at a bed & breakfast and, ultimately, end up in a series of jail cells. What he experiences and thinks while in jail is insightful, but in the end I closed the book feeling relieved and grateful for my own freedom.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paper Towns

Paper Towns by John Green

Wow, John Green is hardly older than I am but he's already written three very popular young adult novels. His latest, Paper Towns, just happens to be funny and charming and engaging--all in one pretty package that I devoured in one day. The characters are likeable and sure to hit close to home for any high school students, and the underlying mystery of what happened to Margo propels the story and left me on the edge of my seat to the very end. A great book to recommend to the 12-15 age group!


Home by Marilynne Robinson

To read reviews of this book, one would think it must be one of the grandest literary ventures of our time. Alas, I found it to be boring, slow, and void of any excitement or new lesson. The thought of two middle-aged siblings coming back to help their ailing father, while settling into old patterns and reconciling their past while also reconnecting with each other as their present selves is interesting, but the story wasn't interesting enough for me. Of course I was rooting for things to work out for Jack in the end, but regardless of how the story did indeed end, I wasn't unhappy to read the last line.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Second Chances

Second Chances by Jane Green

I read Jane Green as quickly as I ate Hershey's kisses when I was 22, but I set her aside for other chicklit authors and different genres before I'd been out of college even a year. I went back to her after a co-worker raved about Green's recent titles and I was ready for some lighter reading. This was definitely "light" and, despite the sad catalyst for the book's events (a man is killed in a terrorist attack--bringing his childhood friends together, now in their late 30s), it was pretty enjoyable. It wasn't completely predictable as I feared, but it also didn't stay with me. Junk food reading is what it is, but anyone who picks up Jane Green shouldn't be expecting much more anyway.