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!