REVIEW: 'Breaking Dawn' by Stephenie Meyer

After four books full of romantic sighing, teenage angst, and trick-or-treat-type thrills, I still have no idea why I became so addicted to the Twilight saga.  The only thing I can think of is the dialogue: Meyer has somewhat of a gift for keeping her story moving.  There's always a conversation happening, whether it's between Bella and the vampires, Bella and her own thoughts, Jacob and Edward, Jacob and the other werewolves...  The events of the book, particularly the day to day activities (example: much of Breaking Dawn involves Bella and the Cullens waiting for Alice's visions to come true), don't do much to keep the writing interesting.  It's the internal monologues, and the dialogues (both internal and external) that help drive the plot forward.  However, I did notice that when the events in the book falter, the dialogue seems to struggle too, becoming like filler -- just something to get you through that scene until the more important things take place.

I must say, though, Breaking Dawn was my favorite of the four Twilight books next to New Moon because the characters could finally break down their walls and resolve their differences.  This brought out their true, honorable personalities.  All the distractions of the drama and fighting were gone.  Bella's transformation also allowed Edward to stop fawning over her like a mother still attached to her child's umbilical cord.  He felt like a real boyfriend for her, not just a...well, I envisioned him as an ironclad cage around her, stripping her of her freedoms, until this book.  In this book, he and Bella had a real relationship, which I appreciated.

I don't want to say much of anything else in this review because there are just so many spoilers and I feel like I've already given some things away.  And being the fourth and final book in the series...well, it's hard to review just one piece of a puzzle.

The Twilight books are either books you can't get into, or books you can't put down.  I am glad I gave them a chance, because I ended up in the category of Can't Put Down.  They may be targeted towards young adults, but you read them and (this is going to sound NUTS, but if you're a fan, you'll know what I mean) you realize that you were there, too, once, even if your boyfriend wasn't a vampire and your best friend wasn't a werewolf.  You were there, too, with those same (un-amplified) problems.  So maybe that's why Meyer is such a success.  Her books make you feel lucky and successful yourself.  Happy reading, vamps.

(And for reviews I've written for Twilight and New Moon, visit my Shelfari page. )

UP NEXT:  The Red Wyvern by Katharine Kerr.  This book is number...ten? in Kerr's Deverry series.  I've been reading them since high school.  If you're a fantasy fan, this next review's for you!

Book It

So, I've wanted to join a book club FOREVER, but my being out of school for so long, paired with the large amount of books I already have sitting on my shelf (some of them still waiting to be opened after 5+ years), has prevented me from doing so.

Are any of you in a book club?  What would you recommend for the someone like me who is craving bookish socialization, but who also likes to follow her own reading agenda?

If this one has like a "beginner level," I think I could get into it  -- I think I've even brought it up before...

Anybody out there in Lakewood who wants to do this with me (pending, of course, that my work schedule can be rearranged on Tuesdays)?

Lemme know!  :)

REVIEW: 'Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister' by Gregory Maguire

I bought this book to read for three reasons:  
  1. I love the story of Cinderella (so much so that when I was young I wrote my own version of the fairy tale, entitled the 90s).
  2. My best friend, who knows how much I love Cinderella, and who also knows that I'd enjoyed Wicked when I read it, recommended it to me. 
  3. My best friend enjoyed this book herself.  I know she has very particular taste when it comes to books. When she makes a recommendation, I know it's for real.
So, was Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire for real?

Yes and no, I guess.  It was an extremely non-traditional telling of the Cinderella story, and I don't just mean the fact that it was told from Iris's (the ugly stepsister's) point of view.  You know how when you see movie previews, the film is always touted as "either based on the true story" or "inspired by the true story"?  I understand "based on" to mean the story is closely linked to actual events.  "Inspired by," therefore, suggests to me that the story is more loosely formed from certain parts of the actual events.  And this Cinderella story was definitely inspired by.

Which doesn't make it dull.  It wasn't a book that I couldn't tear myself away from, but it had its strong points.  There were some great motifs running through the whole thing -- painting, colors, tulips, and senses -- which all served as nice foils to the continued reminders of Iris's ugliness.

The historical references made for interesting reading, too.  Maguire's research of 17th century Holland forms a great backdrop for the tale of the cinder girl.

The cinder girl herself, though (Clara)?  The character seemed awkward and incomplete, and maybe it was because she was out of her classic element.  Her involuntarily-forced-into-servitude element, that is.  Clara's willingness to sweep the hearth and live in solitude was a bit jarring for a long-time Cinderella lover like me.  I'm sure this is what makes this particular version of Cinderella so revolutionary, maybe even sort of feminist -- but I guess I'm more traditional that way.  This may be literary blasphemy, but I prefer strong, sarcastic Cinderellas who turn lemons into lemonade -- like the character of Danielle de Barbarac in the movie Ever After.  In Confessions, Maguire creates a Cinderella who is somewhat of a temperamental hermit.  Her good deeds of caring for the family are based in selfishness, though she struggles to do what is right for herself and her father.  This contrasts more common versions, where Cinderella is justified in running off with her handsome prince and leaving her step-family to suffer; it's a different kind of selfish.  Also in Maguire's version, there is a mystical, mythological element to Clara, but it's never completely explained...which bothers me.

And was the ball supposed to be the climax of this book like it is in other versions?  To me it seemed like a misplaced setting, a mandatory scene that didn't quite fit with the rest...which led to an even more out of place ending.

If you're looking for something different and dark to read, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister may be for you.  But if you're rooted in comparisons to the more watered-down, Disney-esque versions of this fairy tale (as I found out I am), just be aware that you might feel indifferent by the end.  I don't regret reading this book, and I'll never say a book was better left on the shelf.  I'll merely say that -- unlike Cinderella and her prince -- Confessions and I will only be living passably ever after.

UP NEXT: Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer.  The last Twilight Saga book, y'all!

Read It Again!

The most reliable demand of my childhood.  "Read it again, Mom!...Again, Dad!"  Whenever I picked up a book, you could bet that I'd be reading it again in an hour...a day...a week...and so on as I grew.

One of my best girlfriends from gradeschool once asked me why I was rereading something.  She hardly ever reread books. But the books I read were The Animorphs.  She read Jane Eyre, and The Lord of the Rings, and who knows what other giant novels.  And let's face it, giant novels are daunting.  The thought of rereading them, even your favorites, can be discouraging.  I remember reading in one of the Baby-sitters Club books that Kristy's grandmother rereads Gone with the Wind once every year.  I read Gone with the Wind and it took me a year to get through.  But ever since I read that Baby-sitters Club book (damn you, Ann M. Martin for writing so well for an audience like me), I wanted to have a book like that.  One I loved so much that I could reread it once a year and never be sick of it.

Sure, I have Charlotte's Web and The Outsiders...but not since I became an adult have I found a rereadable book that fits the once-a-year must-read criteria.  And in truth, my thirst for new reads surpassed my yearning for old favorites around the time I turned 15.

So what do you do when you dream of the perfect book?  I need recommendations stat.  What are your rereadables?  How do I get back in the swing of it? Halp!

Teaser Tuesday!

Have any of you ever read Gregory Maguire?  He's one-of-a-kind, and so I figured I should probably dedicate one of my Teaser Tuesdays to him.  Here's how I play -- and how you can, too:
  1. Grab your current read.
  2. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  3. Share with us two (2) "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  4. Share the title and author of the book, so we can investigate on our own if we like the teaser you've given.
  5. Please avoid spoilers!
 This one comes from Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, the book that's up for my next review:
"'And what makes you think beauty should go in and out of fashion like -- like a rage of eating with forks, or an obsession with the music of the virginal -- or a madness to adore tulips, for that matter? Will future generations look at this child and not be stunned by her perfection?'"

 Still waiting for Cinderella to show, but perhaps the above quotation is foreshadowing?! Eh? Eh?

REVIEW: 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfeld

Don't let my activity level on this blog fool you.  I tore this book up.  I finished it quite some time ago, actually, and I'm now about halfway through Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire.  So other than pure laziness, why did it take me so long to get this review up?  I guess there was a lot to think about.

I loved the book.  It was one of the first novels I've read in awhile that I couldn't put down.  I literally couldn't get it out of my hands.  I even had to keep it hidden in my purse at work, so I wouldn't try to sneak a few pages in during downtime.  I didn't learn until I was a few chapters in that Sittenfeld very, very loosely based this novel on the life of First Lady Laura Bush.  (So loosely in fact, that my "Conversation with the Author" includes this quote from Sittenfeld: "The book has four sections, and in each section there's a major plot twist that has a strong resemblance to an event in the real life of Laura Bush.  But then everything else is made up.")

Sittenfeld's tone reminded me a lot of Joyce Carol Oates'.  For lack of a better word, it was very...literaturey.  That's what I think of whenever I read Oates.  Symbolism and metaphor and allegory and theme and motif and whatnot.  And calm.  Even the tense parts of the book (excluding a few scenes of dialogue) were written with very little passion.  However, the first-person narration made the writing accessible.  It was very easy to get to know the character of Alice Lindgren -- she is very quiet, very honest, very matter-of-fact.  Even with these qualities, though, I was acutely aware I would never really be able to relate to Alice.  I could only love listening to her.  And that I did.  Her backstory was so extraordinary (obscure, even), that the contrast it gave to her completely demure personality was just stark enough to make it totally believable.

As my earlier quote from Sittenfeld describes, the book is divided into four parts, each part entitled with Alice's current address.  Each residence demonstrated a part of Alice's life that either propelled her forward, or held her back, depending on how you look at the story.  Also, I feel that sectioning the book this way gives a subtle indication that each residence is what most defines Alice at that point in her life: an innocent, sweet, small-town girl; an assured grown woman, living her ideal, learning the give and take of being a lover and partner; a responsible, determined wife and mother, weighing her options, striving to make it all work; and the dedicated, loyal, loving First Lady, who is finally breathing again after years of letting her non-confrontational personality suppress her identity.  Heavy stuff, but engaging, too.

The parts I didn't like, surprisingly, were Alice's prologue, as well as the last section, Part IV: her time at the White House.  The prologue created this exaggerated sense of foreboding that didn't fit well with the meandering quality of the storyline.  After Part III, Alice is more or less catapulted to the White House, much of the justification and background left out.  That caused me to feel uncomfortable reading about her life there.  The book loses some of its realism.  Her character didn't belong there, and neither did her husband's.  But perhaps that is the point of the entire novel.  Part IV: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is 124 pages (the third-longest section of the book), and contains the climax.  But instead of feeling fulfilled, Alice's story just feels jammed, the epilogue unfinished.  Nothing is resolved by the end. (Again, a symbolic, Oates-ish finger jab in the face, or just poor planning?)

I can see why this book was listed as a New York Times bestseller.  It's fresh, conscientious, and the writing is genuine and sharp.  With American Wife, Sittenfeld masterfully creates fleshed-out characters and an unmatched piece of fiction that will be hard-pressed to displease.

NEXT UP: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire.  My college roommate read this shortly after I finished Wicked, and recommended it to me since I so love the story of Cinderella.  Maguire's fanciful/historical/twisted take on the classic fairy tale should be interesting to say the least.

Share Stuff...Monday?!

(Title links to A Journey Journal of Sorts' most recent post on romantic beach reads -- I found the entry quite charming, so I'm sharing it with you today!)

Speaking of love affairs, I spent the majority of my weekend reading, and it was FABULOUS.  It was so stickily hot and stormy outside...the perfect weather for curling up in a camping chair on the porch with a great book, letting the warm, dry breezes sweep over you.  Too hot to do anything but relax and delve into a good story. A date with words.

And really, just like a whiff of someone's cologne can cause a fond tug on your heartstrings, there are certain times of day, or there is certain weather, or certain lighting, that bring to the surface a real craving for time with a good book.  Then, just like you'd be completely wrapped up in a relationship, those times of day, or that weather, or that lighting can prompt you to get just as lost between the pages of your latest summer fling -- I mean, read.

For me, my nostalgic rendezvous with reading is usually inspired by two scenarios, the first being very specific: Mid- to late-afternoon on a day that's been hot and sunny, but that's also had the building anticipation of a huge downpour.  The sky is a clear, deep blue, but the white puffy clouds that have been gathering all day have increasingly violet underbellies.  You can just feel the moisture in the air, and there's nothing better than looking up from your book to watch the storm roll in, release the rain, and roll back out.

The second is on first waking up to the light outside your window -- a bright, sunny morning.  It can be early morning or late morning.  And you know that all you want to do right then, before you shower or anything, is to pick up your book right where you left off the night before.  To open the blinds a little, maybe even the window if it's a sweet, breezy day, let the sunlight be your lamp and just get lost for an hour or two.  It's like being able to choose a great dream.  Snuggling under the covers and smelling the air blowing through your window screen.  Now that is pure romance.

What turns you on?

REVIEW: 'Lady Gaga: Behind the Fame' by Emily Herbert


That's right.  I'm caught in a bad romance with Lady Gaga.  Finding true lahve, lahve, lahve (love) with this biography by Emily Herbert,  It's hard to relate my feelings about it.  On the one hand, it was SO GREAT having all those Lady Gaga quotes together in one place, and the professional photos placed throughout are always a bonus.  On the other hand, the writing was amateur, more of a framework for the quotes than true storytelling or journalism.  Think of your 9th grade paper on the person who most inspires you.  I came up with that analogy when I realized Herbert tries too hard to transition between her paragraphs; the work doesn't flow.  Many of her paragraphs don't even need transition, but there they are, and always at the beginning.  Much too often, her thoughts repeat.  And speaking of repetition -- just as with J. Randy Taraborrelli's The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, I again find myself wondering where Herbert's citations are, what source material she used.  I really doubt the 2-album discography she lists on the last page got her all this insight into the Lady's present life, not to mention background. Not even an About the Author blurb lines the cover to give her credibility.  You may be wondering by the end how much of this book isn't made up.  I was wondering by the end what happened to my dream of being a book editor.  It's probable that only die-hard Gaga fans will enjoy this book, but it's also probable that's how it was meant to be published. In spite of all my negativity, I am in fact a die-hard Gaga fan.  The book was marketed to me perfectly.

There were several themes giving this book its backbone.  I have self-titled them and included a short analysis of each, in order of the prevalence I perceived.

Gush, Gush, Gush
As well she should.  While objectivity would have been a plus in a biography, it is fairly well known that Gaga is becoming more and more respected in her industry and by her consumers -- all for good reason.  I recently saw her in concert, and she is one of the most honest and eager performers I've watched.  She gets so into her music, and you can tell she's extremely educated in her field.  As Herbert puts it, rather innocently, "Many pop stars can sing and dance, but few can play an instrument and almost none of them compose their own material.  Lady Gaga can do all those things..."
Gaga is also hailed as being one of the most down-to-earth pop stars around.  As evidence of this, I can tell you she took the time to actually hold a "conversation" with her audience in the middle of her show, sincerely acknowledging them and thanking them for their support.  She doesn't really put on airs.  She has a way speaking that makes you feel like you've been friends forever -- so much so, that I could have sworn I was meeting her for drinks after the performance.  Emily Herbert has obviously become as swept up as I have by Gaga's inner fame, which is completely, absolutely infectious.

Who Cares?  It's Lady Gaga!
Herbert explained many of Lady Gaga's more eye-catching public appearances and fashions with this proclamation (if in more indirect language than I've worded it here).  To her credit, she did include the many criticisms of Gaga's fashion sense, and also of what Herbert believes to be publicity stunts (like the infamous teacup).  But she counteracted every criticism with this argument.  At the end of the day, who cares? It was Lady Gaga, and she can do whatever she damn well pleases.  Herbert makes the claim that everything Gaga does is for her career (a claim Gaga herself has also made, but I wonder if that goes right down to boarding a plane, as Herbert might tend to believe).  The sense of justification gets a little obnoxious, but I think it was supposed to remind us more of the empowering "I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR" type of credo.  Herbert was trying to point out that Lady Gaga is a strong, unique individual, who made her success on her own terms.  Great concept, just bad execution.

Anything for Publicity
Several times, Herbert mentions Gaga's entertainment industry savvy, but especially draws attention to the idea that Gaga would go just about anywhere as long as it kept her name in the papers.  It was a nice parallel to the Who Cares theme.  It makes you question, however, if Herbert has actually ever interviewed Lady Gaga herself.  From what I've read, and maybe I just don't want to believe, it doesn't seem to me like Gaga is in it for the publicity.  In fact, she's admitted that she hates the paparazzi side of fame.  Herbert does not address this admission in her book, and in fact seems to want you to think the opposite.  I am not arguing that Gaga is naive to her industry; I'm sure she very well knows what will keep her famous.  I'm arguing that Gaga seems more honest in that if she's staying famous, it's because of her art, her interviews, and her fans -- not because of a cheap stunt.  Herbert's hinting at the latter makes me uncomfortable as a Gaga fan, but who knows?  She did write the book, not me.

Undercover Catholic Girl
Despite all the hype, good or bad, Herbert also sticks to the idea that underneath all the makeup and all the fame, Gaga is still the good Catholic school-girl she was back when she was still known as Stefani Germanotta.  She reminds us that Gaga's music and performances are heavily influenced by her background, which is very true.  However, she also brings to the forefront a thought that "Gaga" may be just a facade -- something that is contradicted by Lady Gaga's quotes throughout the book.  From these quotes, we are led to believe that Stefani is Gaga, Gaga is Stefani -- there is no line in between.  Herbert seems to have a bit of trouble wrapping her mind around this, though.  She views Gaga's experience and rise to fame as more of a transformation, like Superman.  Stefani turned herself into Gaga, but she occasionally melts back again during any interview that makes her feel particularly vulnerable.  In my view, Stefani and Gaga were always one being (now whose Catholic background is proving an influence?).  It's an interesting point of debate.

Trying To Find a Balance
A parallel to the transformation theme, last but not least are the subtle hints of Gaga's desire for domesticity, and her attempts to balance that with her desire for success.  Herbert believes Lady Gaga gets these cravings because of her Italian-American background and the strong sense of family instilled in her while growing up.  I think Herbert is twisting Gaga's words here.  After reading all the quotes in the book, in addition to listening to countless other interviews of hers, I don't think Gaga is quite as upset by her biological clock as Herbert makes it appear.  She has admitted to wanting love, but who doesn't when they're 24 years old and single?  Or for that matter, who doesn't when they're single?  I believe Gaga when she says she's married to her work.  She may want a family someday, but Herbert somehow contradicts all the empowering parts of Gaga by trying to untangle the mystery.  By trying to decipher the reasons why Lady Gaga may not be disclosing the details of her love life, Herbert creates a negative focus that sheds an unflattering, angsty (and most likely untrue) light on her instead.  It was like I Love Lucy up in there, all the meddling.

Overall, Lady Gaga: Behind the Fame was exactly what I expected it to be: a quick read, interesting to me because of the subject matter, but with writing that wasn't so interesting at all.  If you're a fan, I think this is the first biography, and therefore a nice addition to your collection.  If you're not a fan, but curious at all, do a good deed instead of spending your money, honey: visit your local library to pick up this read.

NEXT UP: American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld.  A New York Times bestseller, and one of my purchases from the Buy Books 4 Small Fries Book Fair.  It's been on my shelf a long time.  It deserves to come out and play.

REVIEW: 'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen; and 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

When I was reading Pride and Prejudice, I thought about what I might say to spark the conversation in my review.  I even read some Spark Notes afterward so I could be SMRT, but what I realized is -- Pride and Prejudice is a beloved, beloved classic.  It's probably one of the most analyzed books out there.  I don't know what I could say about it that other people have not already said.

I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I thought I liked Jane Eyre.  Turns out no.  Jane Eyre has nothing on Pride and Prejudice.  Two different stories, yes.  Two different messages.  But as far as romances go, and as far as readability goes, Pride and Prejudice outdid Jane Eyre by as far as you could possibly go.  Pride and Prejudice even outdid Little Women.  The motifs were easier to read, the dialogue made it quite engaging.  And it was real.  I could relate more to Pride and Prejudice.  The characters were genuine.  The class system was completely characteristic of Regency England.  The characters had faults, and then acknowledged those faults rather than completely rid themselves of them (whereas, in Jane Eyre, Jane seemed pretty much perfect, and in Little Women, the girls' acknowledgment of faults too easily led to their problems' resolutions).

So anyway.  Seeing as how I had nothing completely groundbreaking to say about Pride and Prejudice, I thought I'd go ahead and double up.  As soon as I was finished reading Pride and Prejudice, I started Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.  I thought a comparison might make a more interesting blog post.  So here goes nothing.

I was worried about reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because I'm not really a zombie fan.  I don't read Max Brooks.  I thought Shaun of the Dead was funny, but a little sickening.  I have no desire to see Night of the Living Dead.  However, I would say if you liked the movie Zombieland, you'd probably enjoy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in terms of zombie quantity.  I was glad Grahame-Smith kept the bulk of the book as Pride and Prejudice.  It wasn't overrun with zombies and gore like I pictured.  The romance of Darcy and Elizabeth remained untainted.  There were a few good fight scenes that really gave the novel character, and only one change I wasn't sure I appreciated.  There were lots of ball jokes.  Overall, I found it to be a creative new twist on a novel some people might think stuffy (although I have to say those people are wrong).

Austen surprised me, too.  Pride and Prejudice kept me on my toes.  The twist with Lydia towards the end made my heart skip a beat.  I was glad to find Elizabeth so well defined, and both her and Darcy so true to their characters, even after all had been discovered and both pride and prejudice set aside.  Their personalities didn't do a complete 180 once they realized their flaws and their misgivings.  The novel was full of entertaining characters that moved as great vehicles for Darcy and Elizabeth's romance -- Mr. Collins, Charlotte, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Wickham, Lydia, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner...even Georgiana Darcy.  The only character I don't really get is Mary.  I think I'll have to do more reading on her.

I guess what I enjoyed most about reading the two novels back to back was that I almost felt like I was reading the same novel twice.  And funnily enough, I think I caught things while reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that I missed while reading Pride and Prejudice.  It really does always help to read things multiple times -- and I was happy that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies allowed me to re-enjoy Austen's masterpiece, but also give me a fun and quirky new way to do it.

So for both novels?  Obviously, I rate Pride and Prejudice higher than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  But both were my epitome of summer fun.

 NEXT UP: Lady Gaga: Behind the Fame by Emily Herbert.  I am totally going to this Lady's concert on Wednesday -- what a mood booster!

REVIEW: 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe' by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Well.  If you're looking for an unbiased account of the life of Marilyn, don't look to this book.

This is not to say there isn't a whole lot of new and noteworthy information in this book, especially in the beginning chapters, which covered Marilyn's childhood.  But, I say "noteworthy" with a grain of salt, and here's why: after reading this book, it has become clear to me that we will never have a definitive answer to who Marilyn Monroe was, why she has become so special to our culture, or what her life was really like.  She will remain a mystery.

Taraborrelli loses a little credibility for me in two respects.  Firstly, he does not list all of his source material in his appendices.  He says it is because there is too much of it, and it is his observation that the common reader does not even look at the notes in the back of a book after finishing it.  I say, WTF?  A common reader may not (and honestly, I often don't), but one who wants to make sure you're legit will, especially if your book is on the subject of Marilyn Monroe.  There have been so many stories about her, many of them fabricated, it seems ridiculous not to list every single material used for the creation of your own storytelling.  That said, Taraborrelli does list his primary sources, some of which are pretty impressive...or sketchy, depending on how cynical you are.  How on earth he was able to find Della Monroe's (Marilyn's grandmother) death certificate in the hands of a former neighbor was beyond me.  Many of the interviews he conducted for the first few sections of the book were with friends of neighbors, or family of neighbors, of the foster parents, orphanage management, and guardians Norma Jeane lived with in her early years.  The excerpts from these interviews are detailed, and for the most part, the stories seem to correspond with one another.  However, many of them focus not on Norma Jeane necessarily, but on her mother and grandmother.  I'm not sure if their lives were better documented, but the beginning chapters seemed to have more clout than those in the middle and end of the book, which detailed Marilyn's film career, her bout with prescription drugs, and her time with the Kennedys.  At times I wondered if he was basing whole chapters on Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.  There were also a few minor unexplained discrepancies in the gathered information that were either missed during editing or thought too small to bother with...but that sort of thing causes me to start viewing the author as unreliable.

The second aspect of the book that made my belief in it waver had to do with Taraborrelli's thesis, if you will.  The book was billed as an account that could link Marilyn's decline with her mother's (and father's, as it turned out) mental illness.  There were many suggestions of Marilyn's "hearing voices," but no credible evidence is given to prove that, excepting one or two stories saying she hallucinated a man who was following her.  I am not discounting the possibility that Marilyn also suffered from poor mental health, but this book did better providing evidence of her drug addiction.  The end of the book doesn't make any clear-cut assertions as to the cause of her death except to rule out conspiracy theory.  Floating between accidental overdose (or more correctly, intentional overdose with the underlying aim to call for rescue at the last minute) and suicide, Taraborrelli tries to tie both theories back to Marilyn's alleged mental illness, but only succeeds in keeping her as elusive as when the story, and possibly the research, began.

All of this said, I was not at all unhappy with the book.  It was easy to follow, and the fresh angle on Marilyn's personal life and family history was appealing to me, as most of what I've read so far has been about her career, death, and love interests.  Though the absolute truth about Marilyn's life is once again far from attained, there are a lot of good nuggets in here that are at least worth comparing to the other gems in your collection.

UP NEXT: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Another classic I have, until now, only seen on Wishbone!  And, it's the perfect prerequisite to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, which is on my list for the month of July. 

Peter Pan Me, Please

Oy vey.  I must say, I've been much more focused on new summer clothes, fashion, fragrance, fine food, and finally, FINALLY having enough money to pay off my credit card (yay!) to think much about the world of books this month.  I have still been reading up a storm, though, and that Secret Life review will be coming up quicker than you think (or than I planned).  I've actually already finished the book.  However, I'm making a point this time to read the appendices, as they diverge from the usual list format and are actually giving me more information about the author's sources, and consequently, about Marilyn.

Reading about a woman who is portrayed as never having truly grown up, and with summer fast approaching, I'm in the mood for light, dependable kids' books.  The B/F and I often have rather emphatic debates about age-appropriate reading material: when is it time to bite the bullet and stop reading books written for a younger audience?

The B/F will tell you that as you grow up, it's time to move on to more and more grown-up subject matter.  Like in phases, I guess.  What bothers me is when he tells me you can't go back.

What are you talking about?  Of course you can go back.  I know the way well.  Right back through all the bestsellers, chick lit, fiction, non-fiction, romance novels, fantasy/sci-fi, cookbooks, history, social science, and self-help, to land smack in the middle of the young adult section.  Or maybe even the children's section.  And sometimes even the infants' section!  (Don't deny it.  That bunny tail will always be so nice and soft to touch.) 

Sure, depending on how far back you go, you might look just slightly ridiculous.  But, when I browse those sections, I usually find that people think I'm there looking for a gift.  No need to feel embarrassed.  Sometimes you need simplicity in your head.  I can't think of a better way to get there than to read a children's book.  It's not like no one else is doing it.

So, obviously, my unshakable answer to The B/F's protests?  Never.  You are never too old for a kids' book.  Look at the success of Twilight among adults -- or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Heck, are you going to tell me you wouldn't sit down to read the first Captain Underpants from cover to cover if you had the chance? 

Kids' books are great because they don't hide anything.  You know exactly what you're getting.  There is not much guessing, not much reading between the lines.  This might sound backwards, or incredibly lazy, but every once in awhile, it's just so refreshing to have everything spelled out for you.  It's like therapy. 

The feeling of nostalgia I get when I re-read a FAVORITE kids' book is the BEST.  Oh, there are so many.  The Rough-Faced Girl.  Ramona the Pest.  The Pinballs.  Henry and Mudge.  Clifford the Big Red Dog.  Clifford the Small Red Puppy.  Charlotte's Web.  The Stupids Die.  Strega Nona.  The Store-Bought Doll.  Thundercake.  The Baby-sitters Club.  Spider Saves Easter.  The Sweet Smell of Christmas.  Oh, The Sweet Smell of Christmas.  That book was amazing.

Last fall when we took a trip with my family down to our favorite beach vacation spot, The B.F. and I ventured into the local bookstore (I still have no idea what it's called, even though I've been inside it at least once during every trip of the 9+ years my family has vacationed there), and THERE IT WAS.  An entire display of children's books, stacked with literally most of my favorites.  I wanted to ask how much for the whole five shelves.  The B.F. just stood, shuffling his feet, watching me melt, prodding me to leave them.  But how could I?  How could I leave Hats for Sale?  And Frog and Toad?  And Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus?  And Babe the Gallant Pig (way better than the movie, btw)And Stone Soup?  Seriously, you want me to put down Stone Soup?  With the same cover I remember from my childhood?  I honest-to-goodness got teary-eyed when I could see that The B/F didn't understand my feelings for those books, when they didn't touch him in the way they touched me. 

Sometimes I think I want to have children just so I can buy books for them, then steal them and read them for myself.  Under the covers.  With a flashlight.  We'll put the hall light on and turn the TV up in the other room just for effect.  When books can bring you to that special place, the one that makes you feel so good and safe, the one you thought was nearly gone, that's when you know they are worth reading.  That's what kids' books do for me.

And that's not so bad, is it?

REVIEW: 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

I must say, the second time around, I was much more involved.  Lots of spoilers here, so look out!

Maybe it's because Mother's Day commercials are popping up more and more frequently, but I want to start by saying the copy of Little Women I read was given to me by my mother.  I cherished reading it even more now that we've got a better relationship than we did when I was a teenager.  My mom is not exactly comparable to Marmee (because she's a MODERN WOMAN!), but she is pretty freakin' great, and only now that I'm grown up can I see that clearly.  *tear* (I know, sorry for the sappiness.)

In all sincerity, reading this book again was like looking back on my relationship with my mom.  Now that I'm an adult, and I've gone through my own transformation, I can definitely appreciate the book that much more.  I'll still say Part I was my favorite: the girls' innocent friendship with Laurie, and the vastness of their imaginations, kept a sweet smile on my face the whole way through.  I didn't feel nostalgia, but again, there was appreciation there for the naivete of childhood dreams and growing life experiences.  I never noticed before all the morals embedded into each chapter: I value more the morals in Part I, because they are the lessons we must learn to thrive as good human beings.  In Part II, the lessons become more targeted -- they are the lessons 19th century America encouraged its women to learn.  I'll admit that living in the 21st century caused the feminist in me to ruffle a little at some of the notions about being a "good woman."  The title even brings out the wryness in me.  But that's another story.

My affinities for the March sisters changed for me during this second, full reading, too.  When I first read the book, I was about eleven years old, and my favorite character was Jo.  At the time, I identified most with scrappy young girls who were pretty on the inside, whose best friends often became their lovers.  I think that's part of the reason I became so disenchanted with the second half of the book -- I wanted nothing more than for Jo and Laurie to be married, like a Disney movie.  As I read on this time, I became less and less enamored with her...her independence forced her into a lonely, spinster-like individual.  It bothered me that she completely gave up her writing, and that by marrying, she redeems herself as a woman.  Jo is an enigma, for she finds her calling as a caregiver (that shouldn't have surprised me, as we saw all the passion she put into looking after Beth), but to me, her generosity always seemed rather uncharacteristic, even sometimes self-serving (I imagined her saying, "What shall I do without...?").  Mostly I was disappointed.  I so wanted her to move to New York, have a writing career and a family, too.  And somehow, her Professor seemed all wrong...quite convenient, if you ask me.

This time around, I more identified with Amy.  I can reflect back on myself as a little girl, and realize that she is the one I was probably most like: a desire for popularity and beauty, a wish to be good and unselfish, and a drive to be educated and rich.  Amy is also the one I most admire in the book now, for she overcomes her childhood trivialities and grows into a charming, collected, rational woman.  She also gets to marry Laurie, and I do approve of the match there...although I believe that if Jo had only loved Laurie from the beginning, she would not have been so hard for me to identify with...although I don't believe that Laurie would have turned out as well as he did if that had happened.  What a pickle.

Beth I will never identify with.  Only the good die young, I guess.  Still trying to figure that one out.  Thoughts?

Oh, there is so much about this book I could ramble on and on about...but I think I'll leave the rest of the discussion for the comments.  I did thoroughly enjoy the story, and this copy is getting a very privileged place on my shelf.

How's a tagline for a closer?  "Little Women.  Better than the Vampire Diaries by a million."

 NEXT UP: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, by J. Randy Taraborrelli.  I hope to have this hefty hardcover biography finished by June 1...Ms. Monroe's 84th birthday.


not undecided recently shared a list of the top ten books that have influenced her view of the world.  I thought I'd try my own hand at the exercise, although I tend to read more for pleasure than anything else.  I hope you'll try it, too.  Consequently, if you're looking for more intellectual answers, not undecided's post has many many links that will take you to some indirect recommendations.  This one was really hard for me, because I first had to ask myself: What is my view of the world?  Of course I still don't have a concrete answer.  I apologize, my answers start to get a little lax towards the end.  I'm pretty sleepy.  But here they are, in a possibly particular order:
  1. The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway.  This was one of the first books assigned during my Lost Generation course in college.  I'm not sure if the book so much as the class opened up my eyes to the expatriates and their carpe diem world view, but the book actually turned out to be the first vehicle for my feminist leanings.  I'll never forget the gender-neutral namesake of Brett Ashley, or her subtle, masculine mannerisms and actions.  The book also introduced me to Hemingway's more radical writing style -- using dialogue more often than narrative to tell a story.  It was cool to see his style adopted by the more modern writers I'd been used to reading.  There is even a third influence in this book for me.  It brought history much closer for me.  I felt like I could have been there myself while I read this book, in the salons on the Left Bank, having tea with Sylvia Beach and Gertrude Stein.  And with the war in Iraq being reported on more and more at the time, the sentiment of Hemingway's novel definitely transcended the decades, still making relevant points after all that time.
  2. The Vagina Monlogues, Ensler.  This play showed me womanhood. Period.  I'd never fully understood the beauty of women, the power of women, the multifaceted-ness of women, until I saw this performed, and then read it shortly afterward.  I can't even describe the cultural importance this play has for me.  It's so empowering, and changed my view to help me believe in myself even more.
  3. The Lost, Mendelsohn.  This book showed me a much darker side of history, and of human nature.  It also showed me the perseverance we are capable of as human beings, and taught me to appreciate the present.  It taught me that there is no such thing as no legacy.
  4. The Bible.  It's corny, it's overdone, it's cliche, but how could I not?  I grew up in a Catholic household, I went to church every Sunday until I was seventeen (by choice or by force), and the only non-Catholic school I've ever attended was my kindergarten.  This book has had an enormous impact on me, whether or not I was resisting it at any point in my life.  As a child, I viewed it as a place for answers...sometimes even magical ones, if I played the game correctly. (Did you ever do that, where you ask a burning question to God, flip open the Bible, and whatever verse your eyes land on, that's your answer?)  These stories pervaded my education every single year of my life.  I've drawn on them for symbolism in my own writing, I've rejected them as the absolute truth, I've accepted most as myth, I've relied upon them for morals, I've debated their immorality, I've let them act as a comfort, I've kept their more uncomfortable teachings at bay, I've proclaimed the work unfinished, and I've even found through them a pathway to education and even feminism.  How. Could. I. Not.
  5. Blonde, Oates.  My obsession with Marilyn Monroe began with this book.  How could I understand what I do about pop culture without learning a thing or two about this icon?  Although this book is a novel, I eventually learned from Marilyn (and Oates, who writes beautifully) the value of art, compassion, gentility, and identity in places even like the silver screen.  So much changed after Marilyn.  Maybe even because of her.  She's certainly made an impression on me.
  6. Dead Man Walking, Prejan; Forgiving the Dead Man Walking, Morris.  I'm combining these two books because they both taught me to love social justice, even though Prejan's book wasn't what I was expecting (lots of legal jargon), and Morris' account seemed to go on a bit too long.  However, both addressed the U.S. court system and its flaws, and made me a more firm proponent of civil and human rights.  It was hard to think of a failing system up until I'd read these books.
  7. The Sense of Structure, Gopen.  Where do I begin with this masterpiece?  Almost a textbook, this guide to language and writing is my literary bible.  After reading it, I had gained such a focused perspective on my own writing style.  It taught me how I could better hone my craft to make my readers understand the feelings behind my words.  There is so much good stuff in this book.  Who could have fathomed writing from the reader's perspective?
  8. A Light in the Attic, Silverstein.  This book introduced me to poetry, and kept the lighthearted side of me alive while I was growing up.  It showed me that poetry is not always dark and sinister and depressing, like it was rumored to be around my classrooms.  Poetry shaped a lot of who I am as a person, symbolic poetry especially.  I think it was good for me to keep the rhythm to my life, and to find it in my subject matter.
  9. The Bhagavad Gita. Another religious text that expanded my cultural view.  I loved how it connected to so many things I'd already been taught, and made me feel so close to the rest of humankind.  In studying the Gita, I ended up studying so many other wonderful philosophers.  It truly expanded my reach into so many other areas.
  10. The Outsiders, Hinton.  Classic themes of the search for identity, gallantry, and social divisiveness.  It's got it all.  "Nothing gold can stay."

A New Month, a New Look


Hope you like the new layout.  I'm pretty pleased with the new templates and advanced design capabilities from Blogger in Draft.

I chose the new loose leaf look before I even realized April is National Card and Letter Writing Month.  I was just thinking how appropriate it looks: If I'd been writing reviews of books back when I was a kid, I would have done it in a notebook or journal.  I've always been very comfortable writing on ruled paper.  But, since it is National Card and Letter Writing Month, I'll take the design in that direction tonight and make this post a letter to you, my lovely readers.

Little Women is going well; I have only 300 pages left.  I'm hoping to be finished with it by mid-April, but depending on my work schedule, it may take me until the end of the month.  I don't want to give too much away for my review, but so far it's been very pleasant reading.  I'm fast approaching the part where I quit reading the first time, though, and I'm hoping that won't happen to me again on the second go-around.  I suppose we'll see soon enough.

Right now I'm sort of organizing more post ideas.  The spring and summer are my favorite times of the year for reading, I think, as they probably are for most people.  Something about being outside in the sun with a good book is just so relaxing for me.  It gets me out of the bathroom, anyway. ;)  I like that I can fully appreciate the laziness of summer while educating myself and keeping my mind busy at the same time.  That is called two birds with one stone.  Consider me a proponent.

Anyway, hope your April has been going as well as mine so far.  I just wanted to check in with you and see how y'all are doing.  Come back soon!


REVIEW: 'The Vampire Diaries: 'The Fury' and 'Dark Reunion' by L.J. Smith

 Let's jump right into it.

I did not move through the next two books in Smith's series as quickly.  The torrid teenage love junk was pretty much over, and in came the creepiness.

Well.  As creepy as you can get for a young adult vampire series.  Still, the books didn't land my dreams in fields of roses.

The fourth book was especially unique in that it was told from a different perspective -- a refreshing break from Elena's bratty narration.  Even though Elena's Ice Princess personality begins to melt by the end of the third book, she didn't make a large enough transformation for me to completely redeem her.  Stefan's personality also changed, as he went from mysteriously brooding in the second book to downright lovesick and self-deprecating in the third and fourth.

And can someone tell me where the heck Damon was in all this?  I never found him to be much of a threat, as he only made occasional appearances throughout all four books.  The love triangle described in the plot summary was absent from most of the story.

The next book in the series (The Return: Nightfall, published years after the first four), supposedly plucks this fading love game back from the edge...but, as always, once I begin a series in paperback, I must finish it in paperback.  As much as I'd like to be done with this series, and revert back to the more thrilling, less obvious TV show, there was one GIANT question Smith left unanswered at the end of Dark Reunion.  Sigh.  At least she's guaranteed the sales.

NEXT UP:  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I read most of this book when I was in gradeschool, but towards the end got bored and put it down.  This time, I intend to finish it!

Share Stuff Saturday: Texas Textbooks

(Title links to a NYT article about the new standards of education in Texas.  I am opening this one up for discussion.  I am appalled, but what say you?)

REVIEW: 'The Vampire Diaries: 'The Awakening' and 'The Struggle' by L.J. Smith


I completely blew through the first two books in this series.  Couldn't put them down.  Can't really explain why, as you'll see below.  I am happy to report these books are absolutely nothing like the TV series.  Although I'm not so sure I haven't ruined the show for myself anyway, now knowing what I do about the original story.

The Elena of the Vampire Diaries series is queen bee, self-centered, and totally caught up in her own feelings for her vampire boyfriend, and for herself.  I never thought I'd say Twilight's Bella would contrast as a stronger female character.  The books are kind of like The Babysitter's Club meets The Historian meets Dracula meets Twilight meets Goosebumps.  They are...childlike.  The movement of the plot has just enough excitement, the conflict resolutions are simplistic and at times a bit impractical, and so far the largest problem the characters have encountered has not been completely vampire-related (in the sense that if they were unable to correct the issue, Stefan's true identity probably would not have been revealed).  I'll say they're a bit predictable, as most teen romances are...and wow, did the romance part happen fast.  But it's not near as heavy as in Twilight.  And Stefan doesn't piss me off like Edward does, mostly because he's not all, "Oh, you poor fragile human girl, you're so simple-minded and clumsy, I must protect you every moment of your life!"  I think I'd trust Bella over Elena with most of my problems.  Bella is more mature, if you can believe it.

Okay. Sorry to keep comparing to Twilight, but that's all I could think of while I was reading this.  (Especially the part where Stefan demonstrates to Elena his superhuman-ness.  That was just like Twilight, I am not even kidding.  I am pretty sure Stephenie Meyer read these books before she started writing her own.)

Oh yeah, and also, watch out for the typos.  I found several.

So far, I'm obviously intrigued.  And it's really good to rest my mind after a book like No Turning Back.  I'd like to see how this ends up, considering the storyline is almost nothing like the TV show.  Two down, two to go.  See, it's not so bad, now, is it?

NEXT UP: The Vampire Diaries: The Fury and Dark Reunion, by none other than L. J. Smith.  Look out!  I am on a roll.

REVIEW: 'No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women' by Estelle B. Freedman

Where to begin?

I'll first say I'm using the word history instead of herstory throughout this post, for two reasons: 1) because that is the word Estelle Freedman uses in the book I'm reviewing; and 2) because that is just the word, and history wasn't really derived from the words "his story."  Fake etymologies bug me.  (Yes, I understand the social importance inherent in the statement of herstory, but to use it over and over again as if it were a word instead of a statement sounds silly to me.  So I'm sorry if I turned off any radical feminists out there, but I hope you'll read my review anyway because it was a really good book.  And sorry I got stuck on this tangent, of course we can argue about herstory later.  I'd like to hear your opinions.)

I'll start the actual review by saying this book is a great general resource to have on hand, whether you're just getting to know the intricacies of women's studies, or whether you're a seasoned scholar.  Freedman's writing is clear, and easy to follow.  There are no involved explanations of theory or feminist philosophy.  Everything is pretty blunt, actually.  There are feminist undertones, of course, but there is no sense of urgency or adamancy to make you feel uncomfortable with the subject matter.  Her tone is authoritative, but her voice definitely gives away her profession (she is a professor at Stanford).  She writes just as though she were giving an important lecture.  Her style is informative, but not invasive.  And even though I now believe this was meant to be used as a text book rather than...well, I don't really know what I was actually pleasant for me to read.  I can honestly say I was not bored.

However: this book is not formatted in a chronological sequence of events.  I assume this is because Freedman covers most of the globe in her work, and if she'd attempted to put everything in order, she would have wound up with way more than 397 pages (paperback), plus she'd really risk boring everyone.  The book is instead divided into sections that are all cornerstones of feminist(s) philosophy -- even though, I'll reiterate, it doesn't expound on very much of the theories themselves.  These are sections like: The Politics of Work and Family (including separate spheres, the rise of capitalism and industrialization, wage labor, and motherhood); The Politics of Health and Sexuality (including reproduction, gender and identity, and violence); and Feminist Visions and Strategies (including modern-day politics and the realm of creativity).  There are notes of the politics here, but I feel the book is written so that even a woman who is uncomfortable referring to herself as a feminist could be interested.  Freedman did a much better job making this work inclusive than say, Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks.

The one negative I'll discuss is the absence of personal histories.  Because Freedman covers so much global history, I felt like she didn't have enough space for individual perspective, something I know is growing in importance for the U.S. movement.  Much of the book was statement/fact (reminiscent of my gradeschool textbooks), although she did not often directly cite her sources.  Similarly, the rare quotations were often only attributed to their speakers rather than their speakers and their contexts.  In some instances endnotes or appendices were included, but every so often I would wonder where she got her info.  Several times I found myself curious about where I could find more information on certain topics, wishing she'd disclosed her resources in a particular paragraph rather than at the end of the book.  Sometimes the personal stories she did include were vague.  I think if she'd focused on only U.S. history, she might have been able to go more in-depth.  But of course, the very definition of feminism, not to mention its history, should include a global perspective, so I think her approach was the correct one to take; and Freedman did make it easy to see how progress in one country could affect the progress in another.  I think the interdependence of the movement in different countries has made it hard to write such a comprehensive history.  Ms. Freedman's is the only one of its kind I could find.  I do applaud her for taking on such an in-depth project -- and for pulling through well enough to give us such an excellent resource of feminist history.

NEXT UP: The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle, by L. J. Smith. (I decided to go two at a time...I think it will be easier on all you anti-vamps out there. ;) )

Teaser Tuesday!

This week's Teaser Tuesday comes from the book(s?) -- (I'll explain in a minute) -- I plan on reading next.  I have 27 pages left in No Turning Back, so I hope to get a review up for you by tomorrow night.  Not quite "early week," but midweek is still pretty good, right?  Right.

Anyhow, on to my next teaser, and then I'll go into the whole s-question-mark-in-parentheses thing.

  1. Grab your current read.*
  2. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  3. Share with us two (2)** "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  4. Share the title and author of the book, so we can investigate on our own if we like the teaser you've given!
  5. Please avoid spoilers!
*To keep this feature periodic, I will be using both teasers from current reads, and from books I've read before, but haven't discussed on this blog.

**Quantity of sentences may vary, depending on how long it takes to finish the thought within those line parameters. Teasers should still make sense!

So exciting this week for me!!!  From The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening, by L. J. Smith:

"'What?' said Elena.
'Badly bitten, I mean. It must have bled a lot, and it hurts her to talk now.'"

Spooky, right?!?!?  RIGHT.

Now.  What I meant by that whole book or books? confusion was that when I bought my copies in The Vampire Diaries series, they did not come as four separate books.   Kind of like a poor man's Lord of the Rings thing, they came with the first two books in one volume, and the second two books in a second volume.  So.  I don't know yet if I'm going to review each book separately (I probably should, seeing as how that's how she wrote them, and I think they will all have individual elements, even if they are all in the same series...though if it does turn out to be like Lord of the Rings, maybe I'll review them all at once), or if I should review them two at a time, counting a volume as one book.  I guess it will depend on how quickly I get through them.  They are teen romance novels about vampires, though, so I can't imagine them taking me as long as Jane Eyre, or The Forever War, or even Free Food for Millionaires.  I would probably check myself into a hospital if that happened.  For VAMPIRE POISON.  Oh, I have so much to learn.

Anyway, I hope you don't mind this whole vampire kick of mine.  I'll admit I'm sort of into Twilight, but that's more to keep up with the trends than anything.  My desire to read The Vampire Diaries actually stems from the fact that I love (like, LOVE) the new CW show based on these books...but I didn't realize it was based on books when I started watching it.  Of course, when I found out it was based on books, I ran right out and bought the books.  I am really hoping they don't ruin the show for me.  Separate mediums, separate mediums.

Honestly, I haven't been this psyched about a CW show since Roswell.  Back when the CW was the WB.  I think.  And Roswell? ALSO based on books.  But I heard those books were no good.

Teaser Tuesday!

To get you ready for my upcoming review on No Turning Back (by the beginning of next week, I promise), I chose to do this week's Teaser Tuesday on one of my favorite works of literature.  Ready for the teasing?  Begin!
  1. Grab your current read.*
  2. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  3. Share with us two (2)** "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  4. Share the title and author of the book, so we can investigate on our own if we like the teaser you've given!
  5. Please avoid spoilers!
*To keep this feature periodic, I will be using both teasers from current reads, and from books I've read before, but haven't discussed on this blog.

**Quantity of sentences may vary, depending on how long it takes to finish the thought within those line parameters. Teasers should still make sense!

The quote is from Helen Zenna Smith's Not So Quiet..., a feminist account of British women volunteering as ambulance drivers during WWI.  The title is a response to Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. 

"The Bug was sitting up screaming about men with no faces when Commandant stalked in in her God-Almighty way and ordered her to stop this nonsense immediately, with the result that The Bug wrenched herself free, flew outside, started up her bus, and was off like a rocket before one could say knife."   


Books in the Bathroom: An Exercise in Sociology (Or Psychology. Some kind of -ology.)

*WARNING: A more delicate reader may feel slightly nauseated by the end of this post.*

We all remember the Seinfeld episode "The Bookstore."  Jerry, George and Kramer are browsing in Brentano's when George announces, "I'm gonna hit the head."  While Kramer and Jerry continue their conversation about rickshaws, the camera lights on George: he selects a large book of French Impressionist paintings from a shelf, and carries it with him into the men's room.  In a subsequent scene, George emerges from the restroom and begins to place the book back on the shelf, but before he can do so, he is confronted by a Brentano's employee: "Did you take that book with you into the bathroom?"  George blinks a few times before responding, "What do you want to hear?"  He ends up having to purchase the book, which costs him $100...and that, we find out later in the show, Brentano's has permanently "flagged" so it can't be returned or donated.  "How dare they?" George asks Jerry later at Monk's.  "I got news for you.  If it wasn't for the toilet, there would be no books."

I find this storyline hilarious and intriguing at the same time.  Why are people so polarized when it comes to books in the bathroom?  Being a bathroom-reader myself (I decided I am finally over the stigma -- and oh yes, there is a stigma), of course I don't see the problem.  So in this respect, I am like George.  At the same time, I know there are people out there who do have a problem with books in the bathroom.  Refer back to "The Bookstore."  In the middle of the episode, we see George trying to sell his flagged book of paintings to Elaine (at a $25 profit).  Jerry walks in, sees the book, and exclaims, "What is that doing on the table?...I'm not eating anything in the vicinity of that book...That book has been on a wild ride.  George took it into the bathroom..."  Upon hearing this, Elaine loses it.  "All right!  Everyone clear!" she shouts as she stands up to exit, raising her arms.  "Biohazard, coming through!  Clear, clear!"  This display brings George to ask Jerry, "May I ask, what do you read in the bathroom?"  Jerry answers, "I don't read in the bathroom."  George retorts, "Well, aren't you something."

So it's clear that people's opinions differ drastically on the subject.  And while the Seinfeld episode is an excellent reflection of the feelings we see surrounding this issue, I decided to to see if I couldn't figure out first-hand what really drives the emotions behind the situation.  Of course, I am not so over the stigma that I surveyed complete strangers, so these results are probably overwhelmingly biased.  However, they are all anonymous, and so that should be good enough, right?  I'm about as good at social science as I am at math.   And speaking of math, this sentence is going to serve as my disclaimer on percentages.

Bear with me.  Here come the results.

  • There are more people who read in the bathroom than don't.
  • Those who read in the bathroom do so: to pass the time; to continue reading something interesting; because it goes well with a bubble bath; because it is one of the few places/times where they can feel peaceful and secluded; because it is easier to concentrate on reading; because they do it out of habit; and to distract themselves from what they're really doing in the bathroom.
  • Those who do not read in the bathroom do so: because it is not comfortable; because they have pets who follow them in that are better at entertaining them; because they are not in the bathroom long enough to read; and because the reading material they find in the bathroom usually does not interest them.
  • Those who read books in the bathroom also like to read other materials in the bathroom, ranging from magazines and comics to toothpaste tubes and lotions.
  • 50% of those polled who do not read books in the bathroom will read other materials if they are available in their own bathrooms -- every person included in that 50% mentioned bath & body products as "preferred" reading materials.
  • 100% of those polled who read books in the bathroom like to read in general.
  • 90% of those polled who do not read books in the bathroom like to read in general.
  • Of those that read books in the bathroom, most are more comfortable reading indoors (on a couch or a bed, and in a bus station, car, or airport were the most popular answers).
  • Of those that do not read books in the bathroom, most are more comfortable reading outdoors (on a blanket, at the beach or pool, in the sun, on a balcony, at a park).  The second most popular reading location for those who do not read books in the bathroom was in bed.
  • I found that the size of a person's bathroom is not a factor in their tendency to read books in the bathroom.  Most everyone surveyed described their bathroom as "tiny," "small," or "not big."
  • I found that approximate daily bathroom time (used for activities like showering, readying for work, etc.) is less for those who do read books in the bathroom -- between 15-30 minutes.
  • I found that approximate daily bathroom time (used for activities like showering, readying for work, etc.) is more for those who do not read books in the bathroom -- between 30 minutes - 2 hours.
  • I found that most of the people who do read books in the bathroom are either indifferent or do not care for the way their bathroom is decorated.
  • I found that most of the people who do not read books in the bathroom are either indifferent or are happy with the way their bathroom is decorated.
  • Of the people who do read books in the bathroom, 70% consider their bathroom a sanctuary.  30% consider it a place to get things done.
  • Of the people who do not read books in the bathroom, 10% consider their bathroom a sanctuary.  90% consider it a place to get things done.
  • Of the people who do read books in the bathroom, 70% currently do not take baths.  90% would read in the bath if (or when) they bathed.
  • Of the people who do not read books in the bathroom, 80% do not take baths.  0% read in the bath. [COMMENTARY: there were a few respondents who said they listened to their iPod in the bath because they were afraid of getting a book's pages wet.  But aren't iPods harder to replace if they get wet?  Books dry out.  Electronics just get ruined.]
  • Of the people who read books in the bathroom, 90% prefer to meander through life when it's possible (excluding work).  10% prefer to keep schedules.
  • Of the people who do not read books in the bathroom, 80% prefer to work with schedules, even for the occasional weekend plans.  However, for free time (or "me-time"), 40% prefer to meander.
  • I found that favorite colors/colors people are more attracted to do not have any bearing on the tendency to read in the bathroom.  Most everyone surveyed listed blue, green, red, and purple as their favorite colors.
  • I found that lighting in the bathroom has no bearing on whether or not people read in the bathroom.  Even those with poor lighting read in the bathroom. 90% of people who do not read in the bathroom have good lighting.
  • 80% of those who do read books in the bathroom would not choose to watch movies or watch TV in the bathroom over reading.
  • 40% of those who do not read books in the bathroom would choose to watch movies or TV in the bathroom over reading.  33% prefer movies/TV over books, 33% do not prefer movies/TV over books, and 33% are on the fence.  I still don't exactly understand what happened to the remaining 1%, even after the B/F explained it to me.
  • Of those who read books in the bathroom, 100% will read while they eat.
  • Of those who do not read books in the bathroom, 50% will read while they eat.
  • Of those who read books in the bathroom, 100% are likely to read materials in other people's bathrooms.
  • Of those who do not read books in the bathroom, 10% are likely to read materials in other people's bathrooms.
  • The people who do not read books in the bathroom say about those who read in the bathroom: don't take too long if I need to use the space; it's acceptable to read in the bathroom; don't leave books in the bathroom; reading on the toilet is gross; reading in the bath is acceptable.
  • The people who read books in the bathroom say about themselves: it doesn't come up in conversation; close family know I do it; I hide my bathroom reading from non-family members; I do not hide my bathroom reading from non-family members.
  • Everyone surveyed has a friend or friends that read books in the bathroom.
  • 50% of people who do not read books in the bathroom buy their own books rather than borrow from the library.
  • 50% of people who do read books in the bathroom prefer to buy their own books rather than borrow from the library.  
  • 50% of people who do read books in the bathroom read their library books in the bathroom.
  • 50% of people who do read books in the bathroom have been late for things because they were reading in the bathroom.
  • 0% of people who do not read books in the bathroom have been late for things because they were reading.  50% of people who do not read books in the bathroom have been late for things because of other bathroom activities (fixing hair was the number one reason mentioned).
  • 0% of those who do not read books in the bathroom think they will ever start reading books in the bathroom.
  • 100% of those who do read books in the bathroom believe they started reading in the bathroom at an early age (7-8 years old; as long as I can remember; 10 years old).

Lots of results.  Lots of miscalculated percentages, but they are probably close enough.  So if you can take it, here is what I learned:

I thought it was interesting that favorite colors weren't more reflective of personal decision/action regarding this issue.  That was my most psychological question.  I was more pleased with the results of the timetables question.  It seems that those who do not read in the bathroom were quicker to say that though they like to meander during their free time, they do prefer some planning, even when out with friends.  I was thinking the results would actually work out that way.

The most surprising result by far was that people who like to read in the bathroom seem to prefer to read indoors in general; and that those who do not read in the bathroom prefer to read outdoors.  That was a stark contrast I was not expecting.

Another surprising result for me was the amount of time people spend in the bathroom for other reasons.  It seems like those who read in the bathroom get their "bathroom time" in that way.  Those who do not read in the bathroom utilize their "bathroom time" in other ways (such as getting ready for work).  I am making an educated guess that both exercises are relaxing, but in different ways.  For those who read in the bathroom, the reading is what relaxes them.  For those who don't, they spend more time fixing their hair, doing makeup, showering...things that are necessary to their daily routine (schedules), but things that are also relaxing in their own way.  Brushing teeth and hair can feel nice.  Showering can definitely be relaxing.  Putting on makeup can become an escape because of the concentration you have to put into it.  Verrrry interesting, folks.

And I bet you'll all think twice now before borrowing a library book.  Although I will say 50% is less than I expected for that category.

So what do you think?  Are you a Jerry or a George?  Were there any results that surprised you?  Where will all this new-found knowledge take you next?

I don't know about you, but I'm headed to the bathroom.

Global Literacy -- I'll Drink to That

Ah, February!  Valentine's Day, Library Lovers' Month, Black History Month, Condom Week???, Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year, Presidents' Day, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, Daytona 500...there is a lot to celebrate this month.  Today I wanted to celebrate something else: my literacy.

I was lucky enough as a kid to have educated parents who cared enough about my education to teach me to read.  It seems so standard now in 2010.  It's bizarre to even imagine kids out there who don't recognize D-O-G.  Or L-O-V-E.

I love language, and I loved reading even before I could muster enough brainpower to sound out the words on the pages.  I don't know where I would be without words, and the power of literacy.

I do really cherish it as power.  And I believe it is a human right.  We all deserve to know what thoughts are being communicated in our societies and in our cultures, and we deserve a chance to enter the conversation ourselves.  Reading and writing get us there.  When I was younger, I was always so enthralled by the stories of Southern whites teaching Black slaves to read -- the fictional account of Bethlehem and Susannah in Jennifer Armstrong's Steal Away particularly made an impression on me.  It shook me to realize someone could actually (in my child's mind) get in trouble for teaching someone how to spell cat.  And that someone else could get in trouble for learning.  My parents always put such a high value on education.  Knowing what some people went through just to learn how to read kept me from taking my own literacy for granted.  Those stories helped me understand the importance of literacy, and they fully expanded my idea of true freedom.  Freedom really was knowledge.  Power, and empowerment, really could be found in education.

This is why I wanted to share with you a new initiative to expand literacy for children across the world.  Room to Read, Crushpad, and Twitter have all joined up to create The Fledgling Initiative, a campaign for positive change  in the lives of children all over the globe.  Room to Read, a global nonprofit, is an organization that has to date "established more than 700 schools and over 7,000 bilingual libraries with five million books, and supports the education of nearly 7,000 girls. Room to Read’s programs have already reached more than three million children..."

Twitter, of course, is one of the Web's leaders in social networking/microblogging.  By teaming up with Crushpad, a DIY winery in San Fran, Twitter has created and branded its own label (Fledgling wines), which will be sold to benefit Room to Read.  And, because it's Twitter, The Fledgling Initiative now has one of the best venues in communication to help spread the word.  Follow @Fledgling to stay up to date on Twitter's wine-making. There will even be times where you can participate in the creation.

Crushpad, based in San Francisco, is a winery that specializes in consumer customization.  For The Fledgling Initiative, they've helped Twitter come up with two limited edition wines (a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay). For every bottle sold, $5 will be donated to Room to Read.  Buying a whole case is equal to providing 60 local-language books to the children who need them most.

For more information on this amazing effort, check out this article and video at  Or, head straight to the source: visit,, or

I'm not really a wine-o, but this kind of thing I can get behind.  I can't wait to get my wine.  Finally, drinking to help the kids.

Teaser Tuesday!

I realized last week that I've been reading the same book for almost a month and I still haven't teased you with it.  So here it is, dangling in front of you, for this month's first Teaser Tuesday!

  1. Grab your current read.*
  2. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  3. Share with us two (2)** "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  4. Share the title and author of the book, so we can investigate on our own if we like the teaser you've given!
  5. Please avoid spoilers!
*To keep this feature periodic, I will be using both teasers from current reads, and from books I've read before, but haven't discussed on this blog.

**Quantity of sentences may vary, depending on how long it takes to finish the thought within those line parameters. Teasers should still make sense!

This week's teaser comes from No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, by Estelle B. Freedman.  Seeing as how it's also Black History Month, I thought these sentences were particularly appropriate:

"Once again, African American women struggled on several fronts for suffrage, to improve conditions for their race, and to achieve equality with white women.  Black women wanted the vote not only for themselves but also as a way to represent their race in those northern states where blacks could exercise the franchise." 

Curious yet?  Happy teasing!

Library Lovers' Month Has Officially Begun!

I really wanted to write a good post for today, all about libraries and how much I value them and what they bring to our communities.  I was even going to entertain you all with the story of whomever invented the first library, but it turns out that no one on the Internet definitively knows who that was.  You type in "Who invented the library?" on Google, and you know what turns up?  Who invented the toothbrush, who invented radio, and who invented the automobile.  Type in "Who invented the library system" and you get two results on cell phones and about 5 on the Dewey Decimal system, which is closer, but not what I was looking for.

Honestly, I am not really feeling the writing vibe today anyway.  Even what I'm writing now is frustrating me to no end. 

What I should point out is that libraries always have a lot of cool activities going on, so you should look up your local branch and see what you can do to appropriately celebrate Library Lovers' Month.  Most libraries' web sites will have a calendar of events, and then it's all fair game from there.  Here is Lakewood's:

Like on February 16th apparently there is a meeting of the Knit and Lit Book Club.  How do I join that club?  And do I have to know how to knit anything besides a scarf?  These are things I should research during Library Lovers' Month.

And since I cannot think of a way to end this post either, or even find a relevant library video on YouTube, tell me...what do you love about libraries? How do you plan on celebrating this month?

Share Stuff Saturday: They Banned the Dictionary

(And I thought California was the "liberal" state.  This Share Stuff Saturday is in part thanks to Five Star Friday!  Title links to a meaningful blog post by Great Big Nerd, which was featured in this week's edition.)

Twilight: The Graphic Novel

This article on my Google Reader was jumping up and down to get my attention this afternoon:

"Yen Press to Release 'Twilight: The Graphic Novel' in March"

The first printing will yield 350,000 copies, and will be available on March 16 of this year.  The graphic novel, being graphic, will include only selected prose from the first book of Stephenie Meyer's series.  The illustrations are done by Young Kim.

The article says the book will be released in two volumes (the release date for the second is TBA).

I've only finished 3 out of 4 of the books in the Twilight saga (I was late to the party, so to keep myself in suspense, I have a rule that I will only read the paperback versions), but I think I am going to have to add this graphic novel to my ever-growing list of Books to Purchase.  It will be interesting to see images put to Meyer's writing.  Yes, there are the movies, but I think we can all agree that film is an entirely different art form.  In addition, it seems Ms. Meyer has inserted herself very closely into the review process for the graphic novel.  This leads me to believe that the end product will feel very organic.

Share Stuff Saturday: National Book Critics Circle Finalists Announced

(Title links to the New York Times article listing the 2009 nominees for the book awards)

Book Guilt

"I love paperback too, except when I borrow it from a friend. Seems it always comes to me in pristine condition, especially from one fastidious friend, and I just KNOW it's going to be looking dogeared and disheveled when I give it back! Book guilt. Perhaps the best kind."
Does anyone else suffer from the seemingly incurable Book Guilt?  The above quote is actually a comment from not undecided, left on my very first blog post here at the 1kDEP.  I've been meaning to write about this for some time, because I feel it is a fairly universal experience.

I've mentioned before my history of book sabotage.  Stains, wrinkles, tears, even corners nibbled away by my guinea pig.  A book that falls into my lap is doomed from the beginning.  No matter how careful I am, a book I read will never remain in the same condition in which it starts. (This applies even to hardcovers.  I don't know how many book jackets I've lost.)

My college roommate, who is self-diagnosed with the same condition, softens the reality of the situation by saying she "makes love" to her books.  I am less subtle.  If she makes love to them, then I fuck them hardcore.  She got me this journal for Christmas a few years back, attractively titled Wreck This Journal.  I think it was meant for readers like me to take all their rage out on this one book, and quit bullying the others in their collection.  Great idea -- that book is a mess.  But I still can't stop ruining everything else I read.

Now, my own books I have no problem screwing up.  I carry them everywhere because I love them.  They become like my security blanket.  They are mine, I bought them, I adore them, and if I ever read them again, I can look at those stains or those pig nibbles and remember how great it was to read the book the first time through.  The wounds to the pages are like badges of honor.

However.  As a consequence of my habitual display of affection, I become that much more terrified to even touch the books belonging to other people.  It really is like being in a relationship.  A sick sick relationship.  Imagine I'd dated the B/F for so long, it gave me a weird feeling to even shake the hand of some other guy.  That's how I am with books.  I know how to treat my own, I know what they can take, and what their limits are.  But other people's books are so foreign.  I don't know how to handle them, so I avoid handling them at all.  Plus what if I came across some of their book stains?  It's like walking in on them.  It's weird.  And so whenever someone asks me if I'd like to borrow their copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, or Ariel, or Beaches, I immediately shy away, waving my hand, saying, "Oh, no, that's ok.  I'll just ruin it."  What makes it worse is that they never believe me.  People who own books love to let other people borrow them.  But they have no idea what I'm capable of.

Thus, Book Guilt.  Months ago, I finally built up some courage and borrowed a book from not undecided, which she'd recommended to me via Shelfari -- The Secret Life of Bees.  Turns out she'd actually borrowed it from her sister.  Double whammy.  The book was already pretty well worn, but I handled it with my kiddiest of kid gloves anyway, and made sure to worry the entire time I was reading it.  Don't forget this isn't yours.  You have to give this back to somebody.  This has to look good.  I don't think I ever put my whole palm on that book the entire time I was reading it.  Fingertips only.  But you know what?  I got it back to her sister in relatively the same condition in which it'd been lent to me.  That was the first time that ever happened to me.

So maybe you can overcome the book guilt after all.  I smell a New Year's resolution.