Monday, December 28, 2009

How the World Makes Love

How the World Makes Love... And What It Taught a Jilted Groom by Franz Wisner
Well, I missed Honeymoon with My Brother, apparently a bestseller, but I enjoyed the less popular follow-up, How the World Makes Love. Nearly 40 and still struggling to get over the breakup of his 10 year relationship that ended when his fiance literally literally dumped him on his wedding day (by not showing up), Wisner sets off on travels to learn more about how other countries view love. He visits Brazil, India, Nicaragua, Czech Republic, Egypt, New Zealand, and Botswana and interviews natives about their love lives and their thoughts on love, marriage, and sex. What he finds is very different customs, slightly different attitudes, and one unifying theme--hope. Most people have the hope that true love exists, rather or not they have found it. And we see this hope sparked in Wisner as he chronicles his relationship back home in LA amidst all his travels. Many of the tidbits he found in the various countries are interesting, but I was a bit bored with his own commentary.

Hide & Seek

Hide & Seek: How I Laughed at Depression, Conquered My Fears and Found Happiness by Wendy Aron
This book was fantastic. Aron writes about her struggles with recurring depression as she hits 40, but she somehow makes it funny. Perhaps it's her background as a TV sitcom writer, but she knows how to add humor to sad stories (i.e. a stay at a mental hospital). After we get some background on Aron's condition, she heads into her experiences trying various self-help classes including a self-esteem class, an anxiety class, Weight Watchers, and a creativity class. She really tries to help herself and, in doing so, she is likely able to help others struggling with their own depression and self-esteem. A must-read for anyone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and/or self-esteem issues.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Darkling I Listen

Darkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats by John Evangelist Walsh

It is not known what exactly killed John Keats at such a young age, though the popular diagnosis is consumption. Reading Darkling I Listen, though, makes me wonder if he didn't die of a passionate heart. Although Walsh focuses on the last 100 days of Keats' life, spent miles and miles away from the love of his life, the most interesting passages focus on Keats' relationship with Fanny Brawne. Many of the 39 surviving love letters he wrote to her are dissected to exhibit a man completely consumed with the best and worst emotions related to love. He was jealous, he was insecure. In one letter he tells Fanny that if his illness doesn't kill him, his love for her will. It was a short love affair in the scheme of things--2 years, but Fanny lived 45 years after Keats' death and somehow managed to keep her relationship with Keats a secret to all--including her husband and three children--until she was on her own deathbed. Although Walsh uncovers some interesting points of history in Keats' life and work, the book probably holds little for anyone but those already interested in Keats. And anyone who has seen the movie Bright Star, which follows the intensity of Keats' and Brawne's intense affair, of course.


Cleaving by Julie Powell
Ok, Julie & Julia was cute. And Julie Powell's relationship with her husband, Eric, was the cutest part of all. She portrayed him as the super supportive and encouraging husband who put up with all her breakdowns and crazy ideas with nothing but love. So when I found out that Julie cheated on him, multiple times, I had to find out why. She documents their marital problems in her follow-up to Julie & Julia, Cleaving, while also telling her story about learning the fine art of butchering meat.

Full disclosure here--I am a vegetarian and am disgusted enough by meat to not only not eat it, to steer clear of the meat department at grocery stores. So, I skipped a LOT of this book. Each time she went into incredible detail about cutting up pigs was when I skipped straight ahead. The part I did read dealt mostly with her obsessive affair and it was fascinating to see what actually drove her to do that. I could almost understand why she did it. Almost. Really I found myself screaming at her inside for being so stupid and blind to her husband's love. I'm not sure I would recommend this to anyone unless they really, really enjoy meat or have been the adultress in a relationship and can relate to her emotions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Only in New York

Only in New York by Sam Roberts

Roberts is the Urban Affairs Correspondent at the New York Times and he does a podcast on the Times' website. This book is a collection of 40 of those podcasts. These stories about the people, places and history of New York are fascinating. He's funny, smart, and full of interesting facts about the greatest city in the world. While the casual New York visitor might not find the stories "fascinating," I believe many would be of great interest to anyone who's lived in New York longer than a month. Did you know the average speed of the 34th street cross-town bus is 3.4 miles an hour? That the law that requires dog owners to pick up after their dogs was enacted in 1978 while Ed Koch was mayor (and he does not have his own dog because he doesn't want to pick up after it)? This is definitely recommended to anyone who loves New York. And if you don't love New York, we probably wouldn't agree on too much.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bitter is the New Black

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
I really wanted to like this book. For may reasons, among the most important 1.) Lancaster is from Indiana 2.) She was a Pi Phi 3.) She lives in Chicago and most of the stories in this memoir take place in Chicago and 4.) It's billed as a comedic memoir. Alas, I hated this book. Lancaster isn't shy about saying she's a, well, female dog with a capital B. But that doesn't make it any more ok that she's so mean and rude and heartless. I enjoy good memoirs, and I really enjoy funny memoirs, but I couldn't laugh at any of this because the writer is simply not likeable. She wouldn't ever be my friend. If anything, it's terrible that she did get a book deal and that somehow she was given contracts for even more books full of heartless snark.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Gift

The Gift by Cecelia Ahern
Cecelia Ahern, Irish author of P.S. I Love You, writes a good story. However, The Gift is loaded with "Christmas Carol" type lessons that make it, frankly, annoying. Perhaps I just expected something filled with more Christmas cheer and all I got was a truly unlikable protagonist and a rather strange angel. I wouldn't recommend it, though, unless you really like cutesy lessons about what matters most in life.