Friday, July 31, 2009

7. Cloris by Cloris Leachman with George Englund

I wanted to read Cloris, Cloris Leachman's autobiography, for a few different reasons:

1. I love celebrity tell-alls! (Have I mentioned that?)

2. I have read and re-read the autobiography Past Imperfect by Joan Collins countless times. (It's excellent!) She describes in detail the affair she had with George Englund while he was still married to Cloris Leachman, and I wanted to read about those events from the married woman's point of view.

(Also, I was a little intrigued by the fact that the ex-husband co-wrote the book.)

3. I have heard a couple of stories about interviews with Cloris Leachman that suggest that she's at the age when she no longer cares about following publicists' orders and not offending anyone. (Did anyone else hear that she called Betty White a slut?) Yay, dish!

So how did it stack up? A complete disappointment!

In her introduction, Cloris states, "I decided it would be wrong to write my autobiography in chapters, because I didn't live my life in chapters. The long walk I've taken wasn't divided into tidy sections. It came in arcs and rainbows, sprints and marathons, clouds and clear places." Right. So she jumps around between times and topics, and it's impossible to put what she's writing about into context and gain any understanding from her experiences.

I admittedly prefer autobiographies to be written in a chronological context, and I prefer linear story-telling. I think it's somewhat arrogant to say "well, I didn't live my life in chapters, so how could I possibly write about it in chapters?" An autobiography is not a diary; it's meant to be read -- and enjoyed -- by other people. How do you expect readers to be able to follow along when you don't have an established method of story-telling? How is a reader supposed to put an event into context when they can't remember where you lived or if you had one child or two at that point? It's disorienting and defeats the purpose.

One of the problems with this approach is that I don't feel like I know very much about the events of Cloris's life. I think she has five children, and I know that at one point a son died. I don't know when exactly she and George Englund divorced or exactly why. She states more than once that she has won nine Emmy Awards, but I don't know for which nine projects. I know that she has two younger sisters, but I barely know anything about them or her relationships with them.

There was some celebrity dish (an epic night of love-making with Gene Hackman, anyone?) but not enough to really qualify as a "tell-all" or to believe she's not leaving the best stuff out. The Joan Collins affair? It rates a couple of paragraphs, but Cloris doesn't really relate how she felt about it or it affected the marriage. As far as George Englund goes, he is the love of her life and she of his and end of story. They are great friends and what does it matter that they see other people? That was frustrating, as I really don't understand it or relate to it. Open up a little more and tell me about it, and maybe I'll be able to see where you're coming from. Isn't that the point?

I don't recommend this book. It's not worth the amount of time it takes to read it -- and it does take a bit longer than one might expect because of the writing style. Cloris interrupts herself to go on tangents about other topics throughout, and at best is just rambling.

Instead, watch this clip of Cloris on Chelsea Lately. It will take much less time and give you an idea of how the book goes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BBC Book Survey

I saw this on Facebook, and wanted to post my answers here since it relates to my Magnolia Reads project. Apparently, the BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. How do my reading habits stack up? Books that I have read are in bold.

1 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
11 Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch by George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House by Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
34 Emma by Jane Austen
35 Persuasion by Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
41 Animal Farm by George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
45 The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
50 Atonement by Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi by Yann Martel
52 Dune by Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
62 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History by Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road by Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick by Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
72 Dracula by Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses by James Joyce
76 The Inferno by Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal by Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession by AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web by EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
94 Watership Down by Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet by William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

6. Austenland by Shannon Hale

When I started my current job years ago (2003, to be exact), I made quick friends with another girl in the office named Sarah. We bonded over Desperate Housewives, the constant ridiculousness of co-workers, and our love of reading. As I recall, she even tried to recruit me to watch Arrested Development when it first came on. Great girl, Sarah. Always looking out for me. A lot has happened since we first met: We both left the company (although I came back after about a year), we both got married, and she now has two beautiful children (who I would love to meet someday!). Facebook helps us keep in touch, and when I posted a status asking for book suggestions, she left a comment saying that I had to read Austenland. Knowing Sarah, I put it down on my list without a second thought.

I don't know if this will surprise anyone, but I'm not a big Austen fan. I read Emma about 12 years ago, and my sister Mollie helped me place the characters in the context of Clueless. Mollie actually just recommended that I read Pride & Prejudice this year, so maybe I will become an Austen person. Maybe. Anyway, I don't think my lack of Austen awareness had much effect on my enjoyment of this novel. This is the story of Jane, a thirty-something singleton who has been burned by romance too many times. She finds herself relying more and more heavily on the fiction of Jane Austen, to the point that she's not sure any man can live up to her fantasy. A relative bequeaths Jane an all expenses paid vacation to a resort that transports you to 1816. Three weeks of living in Austen's time? Jane is unsure if this vacation will help or hurt her, but in the end cannot resist.

I really loved this book. It's very well-constructed, giving you bits of Jane's romantic history throughout as well as insight into her relationship with her mother -- all of which could reasonably be expected to lead to Jane's current predicament. You empathize with Jane, as she struggles between indulging her fantasy and trying to break herself of it. The writing is exceptional. Hale takes a quirky concept and makes it very relatable, and keeps the pace and tone lively. This is a quick read at under 200 pages, and definitely worth your time. I highly recommend it!

Monday, July 27, 2009

5. Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill

My friend Jeff recommended Ursula, Under to me after falling endlessly in love with it. I put it down on my list of recommendations and checked it out of the library without knowing what it was about. When I finally read the book jacket description, I got a little worried. The book tells the story of a little girl named Ursula who falls down a mine shaft and the ensuing rescue attempt. The story jumps from that of Ursula and her immediate family to tales of some of their ancestors, from a Chinese alchemist who lived 2,000 years earlier to a playmate of the future queen of Sweden in the 17th century. It all sounded a bit... high-brow? I knew that this was not a book I could get through in a couple of hours; rather, it was a journey for the characters and myself.

It took me a long time to feel invested in the story. While I liked reading about Ursula and her parents in the present day, I had a hard time wanting to know about her ancestors from the distant past. The more recent the stories of her ancestors, the more interested I was. I think that's because their stories felt more relatable to me. Or maybe it's simply a matter of feeling more in my comfort zone; I'm not sure. Once I was about halfway through, I really settled in and enjoyed myself. I particularly liked the story of Violeta, the aforementioned playmate of the future queen of Sweden. 

It almost seems like you have to finish the book before you can process it at all. There is a question raised at the beginning of the story by a drunken society woman watching the rescue coverage on the news: Why spend all this time and effort to rescue some worthless trailer trash kid? The easy answer is that the little girl is not worthless simply because her family does not have much money and does in fact live in a trailer. The more complex response is that the universe doesn't make mistakes -- this little girl that is the cause of so much time and effort and heartache is a life that has been thousands of years in the making. Every decision, every action by her ancestors and every experience they went through led directly to the creation of this joyful little girl whose favorite color is purple. Every life is intertwined with every other life in this world, and not saving Ursula would be a catalyst for unimaginable consequences. 

This book will undoubtedly make you think of your own history and distant relatives. I know stories of my family, but only going as far back as two or three generations at most. I don't know where my ancestors were or what they were doing 200 or 2,000 years ago, but whatever their stories are, those stories have allowed me to exist. It's kind of amazing to realize how intertwined your own existence is with others, in the past, present and future. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

4. Breakfast With Tiffany: An Uncle's Memoir
by Edwin John Wintle

I was at the library, browsing the biography section, and this title jumped out at me. Anyone who knows how many times I've seen Breakfast at Tiffany's could probably understand why.

Ed Wintle is a single gay man in his early 40s, living and working in Manhattan. Although happy with his nice, orderly life, Ed has a growing sense that something is missing. After frequent phone calls from his at-her-wit's-end sister, he offers to take in her troubled daughter Tiffany, and she eventually takes him up on it. Within the space of eight days, Ed's life is turned completely upside down. This book contains the story of Ed and Tiffany's first year together. Tiffany's home life has been volatile, and while she wants to escape it, that's the only type of environment she knows. Her misguided attempts to recreate it frustrate both Ed and the reader. Ed and Tiffany have had a loving and supportive relationship as uncle and niece, and while the transition from friend to parent is difficult and full of challenges, it is utlimately beautiful and rewarding.

Breakfast With Tiffany is so well written and so well paced, I flew through it. Hours passed and I didn't even notice. (There went my Sunday.) You can probably tell that I loved it. Ed Wintle is a witty, smart and self-deprecating writer who makes you feel privileged to be part of his journey. His humor and warmth invite you in and don't let you leave.

3. What I Did for Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Romance novel: Check!

This is another book that I read about online. The blogger who posted about it described it as a romance novel and it sounded good, so I thought I could get my one romance novel checked off early. When I picked it up at the library, I was a little doubtful from the cover that it was an actual romance novel. It just didn't look like a bodice ripper to me, you know? When I got to the first sex scene, I discovered that I stood corrected.

The basic premise of What I Did for Love is this: Former child star and America's sweetheart, Georgie York, is dumped by her action star husband after he meets a serious actress/humanitarian on the set of their new movie. Georgie is left on her own with the overwhelming sympathy (read: pity) of the media and the public. Sound familiar? Luckily, the similarity to the Jen-Brad-Angelina scandal ends there and the story really takes off. Georgie accidentally marries her reviled former co-star Bram in Vegas, and the two decide to fake a happy marriage for the positive publicity and ensuing career boosts. And of course, after a few twists and turns they fall in love and live happily ever after. (Sorry about the spoiler, but come on. What did you think was going to happen?)

The story was well constructed, the characters were three dimensional and well developed, and there was a lot of heart to the story. Aside from a couple of over-used phrases and Georgie's father's sex scene, this book was a pleasant surprise. I highly recommend it, if you're in the market for a fun and saucy (read: not sleazy) romance novel.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Peacock feather feadband!

I was in Ann Arbor with Annie and Doug a week before their wedding, helping them pick out thank-you gifts. We had a lot of fun choosing t-shirts for a friend of theirs in Urban Outfitters. While they were checking out, I tried on some headbands. I absolutely fell in love with this peacock feather one. The price tag ($24) was a little steep, so I had to walk away.

I enlisted the help of Colin and the advice of one of my craftier friends Lisa. After one failed attempt and a lot of disappointment, we finally made one successfully! It took some fabric, spray-on craft glue, super glue, feathers, a headband and a lot of patience. And look! You can tell it's handmade, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, yes?

In order to make your own:

1. Get supplies! We got the peacock feathers and spray-on glue at Jo-Ann Fabrics for a total of $7, and bought a plain thin headband at Rite Aid for cheap. I had scrap felt and super glue at home already.

2. Trim the peacock feathers. The scissors I used were a little dull, and I recommend using sharper scissors for better results.

3. Spray the glue onto the back of a feather, and press it down onto the felt. Let it dry, and then glue on the other feathers one at a time. I chose to replicate the pattern of the Urban Outfitters headband, but I think this could be pretty in a lot of different patterns.

4. Let the feathers dry completely on the felt, and then trim the piece of felt. I think it's safer to trim the felt after applying the feathers, but you could try it either way.

5. Try on the headband in front of a mirror. Hold the feather applique up to it to make sure you know where you want to attach it.

6. Apply the super glue to the headband, and put the feather applique on top. I held it in place for a few minutes, and then let it sit for half an hour before actually trying it on. So far, it's holding!

7. Wear your headband and look super-cute!

2. The Truth About Diamonds by Nicole Richie

If you know me, then you know that celebrity tell-alls are right up my alley. I am embarrassingly well informed about celebrity "news," pop culture and the like. What can I say? It's my one vice, aside from caffeine. So when I first heard that Nicole Richie was writing a novel, I knew that I wanted to read it. For whatever reason, I never made a point to when it first came out and only remembered this when I read the Fug Girls' take on Lauren Conrad's thinly veiled, "fictional" account of a young girl who moves to Los Angeles, books a reality TV show and finds out who her true friends are. As luck would have it, my local library had a copy of the three-year-old novel so I was all set.

The Truth About Diamonds turned out to be a bizarre hybrid of fiction and autobiography. The narrator is the real-life Nicole Richie, who describes the rise, fall and subsequent rise from the ashes of her fictional friend Chloe Parker. Nicole and Chloe are eerily similar: both were adopted as toddlers by famous musicians, both dabbled in drugs, and both had a fame-whore "friend" who convinced them to do reality TV. When the book jacket promised a story "through the eyes of the captivating Chloe and the talented voice of Nicole Richie," I had no idea that meant that Nicole was part of the story. This creative choice isn't too distracting once you realize what's going on, but it's a strange way to go about the story-telling in my opinion.

The novel itself is not bad nor badly written. It's dishy without trying too hard. Sure, it's pretty lightweight as novels go, but that's to be expected. I would definitely recommend it for a couple of hours of harmless fun.

Oh, and in case you were wondering the truth about diamonds is that while they signify wealth, they can represent so much more: love, commitment, family. Thank you, Nicole Richie, for that life lesson.

Friday, July 17, 2009

1. Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough

I read about this book in a review of the movie Public Enemies, and it sounded intensely interesting. Colin and I saw the movie, which focuses on the manhunt for John Dillinger, and I realized how little I knew about this era and that I wanted to know more. The phrase "the birth of the FBI" especially piqued my interest. I've read and seen lots of fictionalized accounts involving the FBI but didn't know very much about the actual history of the agency. So I checked Public Enemies the book out of the library.

The story that Burrough set out to write and the story that I set out to read turned out to be very different. He chose to write a comprehensive narrative history of the rise and fall of the six major criminal factions whose crime wave led to the creation of the FBI as we know it today. In the Author's Note, Burrough states, "It is a big, sprawling story with gunfights and investigations in dozens of American cities involving literally hundreds of major and minor players, including an army of FBI agents, sheriffs, and policemen." Yes, it is indeed. Each chapter covers about a month's worth of events, jumping from state to state, bank robbery to kidnapping, investigation to jail breakout. I found it incredibly difficult to keep track of names and events, and it wasn't until I was about halfway through the 552 pages that I settled into the format (it took about two weeks to get through this book, which is a very long time for me). I tried not to worry too much about remembering everything and to enjoy each story on its own.

The stories are as interesting as I had expected. Burrough covers Bonnie and Clyde, Baby-Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, the Dillinger Gang, and the Barker Gang. Their reputations in popular culture were not all earned, especially in the case of Bonnie and Clyde. They are depicted in the book as wannabe amateurs who never reached the level of fame in life as they have done in death (thanks to the 1967 film). Baby-Face Nelson comes across as a sociopath who enjoyed shooting at civilians. Ma Barker, the infamous brains behind the Barker Gang, was no more than an old, simple woman who enjoyed jigsaw puzzles. Hoover is responsible for the myth of her as a criminal mastermind; he needed a way to explain her death at the hands of FBI agents. Dillinger paid attention to his own press, and acted accordingly in bank holdups. He liked the thought of being someone the public looked up to.

Reading about the early years of the FBI was frustrating for me. It took agents years to find their way and settle in to their responsibilities. This is due in part to Hoover's recruiting techniques. He wanted an agency of well-bred young lawyers, and did not bother to hire anyone with experience in law enforcement. Agents could be suspended for being one minute tardy to work. Each field office eventually became responsible for their own gun training. There are countless stories of agents losing suspects, forgetting to follow up on leads, missing chances due to lack of training and foresight. Hoover had a few "cowboys" who were brought in to help the college boys as needed, which was often. The cringe-worthy part for me was the lack of civil rights extended to suspects. One woman was held hostage in an apartment by FBI agents, who questioned her relentlessly about her boyfriend's involvement in the Kansas City Massacre. Another man was told that he had no rights, and that no one would miss him if the agents "accidentally" killed him.

While I did enjoy these stories, I would rather not have read a narrative history. I found the format to be too confusing, and it was too difficult to put these events into perspective. One more thing? I have no idea who that is on the front cover. I read the entire book and front and back covers -- it doesn't say anywhere! What the what?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Magnolia Reads.

I've been mulling over an idea for a couple of weeks now, and I've made up my mind. I'm going to do it. I'm going to read 100 books in one year.

I got the idea from Pajiba, a site with self-proclaimed scathing reviews for bitchy people. One of the reviewers there has been posting about his quest to read 100 books in the span of one year. It turned into a challenge, with more and more site staff and readers joining along the way. They're calling it the Cannonball Read, I think. Cannonball Run, maybe. I have a like/hate relationship with Pajiba, so I'm kind of taking the idea and running with it, rather than joining up. I like some of their reviews and running jokes (their nickname for Katherine Heigl, Rainbow Killer? loves it) but overall there's a little too much of the scathing and the bitchy, so I subscribe and just skip the posts that I don't care to read. So it's just me, unless I can recruit you?

I've always loved reading, and I re-read like crazy. But I work as a proofreader, and that makes it hard to read for fun. My eyes get tired. I get lazy. I have a much harder time with material that's not well written. And I tend to read only books that I'm sure I'll enjoy, rather than trying new things. So the idea of this challenge -- 100 books in one year -- appeals to me. This is a sure-fire way to get out of the rut I currently find myself in.

Here's how it works:

Rule #1
All new material. No re-reading allowed!

Rule #2
No audio books. Only the written word for this girl. Anything else seems a bit like cheating.

Rule #3
The 100 books have to represent a variety of genres and subjects.

Here's how we'll break it down:

20 suggestions
I am now taking suggestions! You can leave a comment on this post or e-mail me. I will read 20 books that have been suggested, no matter what. I reserve some veto power, though. If a suggestion really and truly sounds like something I would not enjoy or get anything out of reading, I will strike it from the list. I will limit the vetoing based on the number of suggestions that I receive, and will try to keep it to three. Sound fair?

17 "classics"
I realize the term "classic" is subjective. I will be using Time's The Complete List and Random House's Modern Library to base my selections on.

10 books that have been adapted into movies
This just sounds like fun. I may or may not have seen the movie, but this will be the first time reading each book.

10 biographies and/or autobiographies
I will try to read about a variety of people, but I won't plan ahead so much as to break it down here.

10 other non-fiction
While biographies and autobiographies are non-fiction, I'd like to try and read 10 other non-fiction books as well. Again, varying topics.

5 mysteries
I enjoy mysteries, always have. It's tempting to read the last page of the book first but I will try not to for this challenge!

3 science fiction/fantasy
If you know me at all, you know that I am not a sci fi fan. I'm going to try and give this genre a fair chance, though.

2 graphic novels
I have never read a graphic novel, and figure it's about time.

1 romance
Just because.

1 Oprah's book club pick
I'm not really an Oprah person, and any book club picks that I've read previously weren't on purpose.

1 Colin's pick
Colin gets one pick that I have to read no matter what. I have no idea what he'll come up with, and I can't wait to see.

And the remaining 20 will be made up of books that I hear about or that catch my eye at the library.

Rule #4
I'll post a response to each book that I finish. I'm thinking about some kind of rating system, but I'm not sure. How about a scale of one to ten? One being To Kill a Mockingbird, the kind of book that enriches your life and you could enjoy reading once a year. Maybe 5 could be The Devil Wears Prada, a fun read (with an uber stylish movie adaptation) but that doesn't quite hit the mark. Ten would definitely be something like Stories From Candyland, a book so bad that you killed brain cells while reading it, but didn't even have fun doing it.

So, that's the plan. I don't know, does it sound doable? I would like to think that I can do this, no problem, but I guess you'll just have to stay tuned.