Thursday, November 29, 2007

lions and tigers and bears would get torn to shreds

Title: Skeleton Crew
Author: Stephen King
bookmark: an actual leather bookmark they gave me when I bought another book

I started reading this Halloween night, hoping to inject a little more horror into my day than my job already supplies. I didn't finish reading that first story until the following Sunday night. Don't look at me like that. There were other things that needed my attention, like the other two books I was reading, making food, and Family Guy. The cool thing was seeing a commercial the next night for a movie based upon that first story. Finally, I read the story a movie is based upon BEFORE I know about the movie! HA!! Take THAT, lazy Hollywood writers!! (ok, when I went to IMDB for that last link, I saw that I had also read this book, but that was before RITP was born, so you're on your own there)

The easy route would be to say that it's a collection of Stephen King short stories--people die or lose their minds in horrible and fascinatingly creative ways, usually at the hands/claws/tentacles/powerful psychic emanations of some bizarre otherworldly presence. But that would be oversimplifying and unfair. Some of them don't die at all!

I got the feeling that these were mainly some older works of the American Master of Horror, if only by how some of the characters acted and spoke. King is famous for riddling his stories with references to the pop culture of the story's era, especially the slang and rock music of the time. The strange thing about the collection (yes, it feels weird to say that as a singular when referring to Stephen King) is that it's not really the stuff he's famous for. Sure, there's horror (like the one made into a movie), and weird otherworldly critters brought here either by government experiments gone horribly wrong, dark magic, or some other unknown force, but there's also some flat-out sci-fi, some suspense, old-school creepy tales, noir crime, poetry, and even what seems to be a romance in the last entry, though not in the traditional sense. The stories are peopled, as ever, with a dazzling array of characters, and I was entertained by how the pieces I felt were much older had the standard cardboard female characters who really only serve as something for the male lead to either grope, comfort, or explain things to (thus illuminating the situation for the reader), but others featured females so dominating and strong that one of them is even a chilling villain. Looking back at copyrights, I found that I was wrong--the age of the story has no correlation whatsoever to the strength of the female characters, but it was still a fun game to play.

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posted by reyn at 7:17 AM

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Tasty Read

Title: Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
Author: Nancy Verde Barr

Nancy Verde Barr spent 18 years as executive chef to Julia Child. I wonder how closely the events in this novel relate to the ones from her life.

Casey is executive chef to Sally on Morning in America. Sally is 71, extremely friendly and fun, and fantastic at what she does (I wonder if her character is modeled off of Julia Child). One of the talents brought to the show to work with Sally is Danny O'Shea, a highly attractive Irishman who recently opened a restaurant in America.

Of course, Danny and Casey hit it off, but Casey tries to stay her distance because she recently got out of a relationship and also because she thinks Danny is too attractive and flirtatious to be a monogamous man. They hook up in Italy, then there's a tiff where Casey thinks he's not going to be happy with just one woman, but they make up in the end (sorry to spoil it for you, but it's not as if these types of novels ever end with the couple not happily-ever-after).

While the romantic stuff is happening, the extremely dislikable George Davis is blackmailing Sally and trying to control her life. Sally tells no one what is really going on, and tries to take care of it herself. It spirals out of control to the point where Sally very nearly has to leave the show. Casey finds out that George (whose real last name is Davinsky) has incriminating video of Sally's deceased husband presumably selling secrets to the Russians. Once Casey finds out George has mafia connections, she convinces Sally to go the FBI.

The book is chaulk full of Italian women cooking fantastic Italian dishes for huge families and for Sally's show. I have half a mind to make some of the recipes in the back of the book. Or perhaps, given my normal intense dislike of cooking, I've lost half (or all of) my mind. Interestingly, this is the second book I've read recently that involves a great deal of cooking and chefs. Maybe I'm going to turn over a new cooking leaf. Then again, I always did enjoy watching cooking shows, but that didn't do anything for my own culinary tendencies.

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posted by Kate at 10:25 AM

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Friday, November 23, 2007

just trying to get through the backlog...

Beware of Doug
By Elaine Fox

Lily's dog Doug hates all men, esp. new neighbor in her duplex Brady (a pilot), except for Gerald (who apparently wears enough cologne to incapacitate him). Doug schemes and drives Brady nuts, Lily then accuses Brady of hating Doug; eventually Gerald revealed as asshole, eloping on business trip with his secretary, Lily's dad (and his boss) is apologetic b/c he wanted them together. Lily had chemistry with Brady all along and both tried to resist; Brady swore off women beacause his last random hookup had serious mental issues but eventually they give in and he wins over Doug too.

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posted by ket at 12:23 PM

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um, no.

Someone to Love
By Jude Deveraux

Jace's fiance died suspiciously in England; he finds a postcard sent to her days before her death several years later with a house on it and is still not over her, so he buys the estate and tries to figure it out. Helped by Nigh, local girl who'd been a war reporter for a few years, hindered by housekeeper Mrs. Brown; also ghosts in estate that they interact with. Mrs. Brown is actually the aunt of a mobster who'd had affair with the now dead fiance when she was a teen in England at boarding school (which she never told Jace about), he tried to get back together with her when she and Jace were in england but she turned him down. He told Mrs. Brown she broke his heart, she killed the fiance in a guest room at the local pub where she was staying and made it look like suicide. Jace makes friends with his estate employees and townspeople over the course of the story, and stays there but buys smaller place with Nigh, since his love for her helped him recover from the dead fiance and all he learned about her after her death.

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posted by ket at 12:19 PM

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whoa

Accidentally Engaged
By Mary Carter

Clare's a psychic, gives reading to crazy chick saying not to get married, she leaves major rock of engagement ring with Clare; C goes to family estate to return to Jack, has to pretend to be his fiance for huge business-oriented engagement party to save family, thinks she might be falling for her "fiance" but also for questionalby sketchy family friend Mike who she made out with in a gardener's truck on the way up the drive after she had a car accident on the way to the estate; grandma seems delusional, but actually was friend of C's grandma, another psychic, who had said C would marry her grandson, so she's convinced C's meant for Jack; turns out Mike is illegitimate son of anal-retentive mom Madeline and family butler Anderson and suddenly she's in love with Mike for real when she learns he's Madeline's son and not her boy toy and grandma's prophecy is fulfilled, which is good when real fiance Rachel shows up mid-party. Weird, and didn't see any connection developing with Mike. And initial car accident a result of LSD-laced stamps she got from a motel clerk, which also explains random make-out with stranger in a gardener's truck.

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posted by ket at 12:14 PM

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mmm, designer shoes!

Killer in High Heels
By Gemma Halliday

ditz goes to Vegas to find her long-lost father, turns out he's a transvestite wanted by the mob b/c he's interfering with their fake designer shoe smuggling, her on/off thing with local cop goes to Vegas somehow because he's been undercover with the mob guys as a bodyguard, dad's saved but the cop/ditz thing is left in the air to enable sequels

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posted by ket at 12:12 PM

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what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom - unless you decide to write a book about it

Title: The Men's Guide to the Women's Bathroom
By: Jo Barrett

Obviously, it's full of velvet couches and chocolate. With a few private rooms for necessary functions.

So I went to an open call audition a few weeks ago, and ended up having to wait hours (literally) for my time slot. Thankfully the theater was next door to a library, so I went in and read this book while I waited. The entire book. While waiting for a 30 second audition. Yes, that evening was certainly an efficient use of my time.

Anyway, I remember a little bit, but not much, since I was reading for prevention of boredom, not retention.

Claire moves back to Texas following a divorce; a former lawyer, she's convinced she wants to be a writer, though she kindof needs a topic. Inspiration for the book comes, literally, in a bathroom, where she decided to start discussing advice dispensed by random people who also happen to be in public bathrooms (ladies, you've had this, right? I'm pretty sure I've been both an advice giver and receiver at times...) She starts dating Jake, an organic food entrepreneur, things seem great, then she goes to visit the family, has too much to drink, and manages to insult his stepmother, so she gets dumped. The book comes to fruition, eventually, but she has no money since she's been not working since returning home. She ends up working as a tour guide on one of those Duck tours, and then one day Jake and the parents show up, and they have a tearful reconciliation on the Duck, and then the book sells, and everyone's happy.

Cuter than I make it sound.

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posted by ket at 11:51 AM

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Really, Nora?

Title: High Noon
By: Nora Roberts

This is apparently her latest hardcover release. Nora seems to be hurting for major plot development points, since she threw one in here that I was not a fan of.

Phoebe, a hostage negotiator for the Savanna police department, meets Duncan when she's talking one of his former employees out of jumping off a roof. Romance ensues. She's got a kid and an agoraphobic mother. He's a lottery-winner, though she wasn't aware of it because it happened during the kid's birth.

And someone's messing with her. She dresses down a uniformed officer for subordination, and (this is the part I wasn't a fan of) he attacks her in the stairwell at work and fingers her.

When it seems like someone's out to get her on several instances after that, he's naturally the first suspect, but it turns out that some lunatic wants revenge because of a hostage she didn't manage to save.

The big climax takes place in a jewelry store where Duncan was heading to buy an engagement ring; his surrogate sister and mother are already there, for consultation. Plus the asshole former cop (he was fired) works there as a security guard. And Phoebe has to prevent the crazy (who has a Gary Cooper complex of some sort, hence the title High Noon) from learning her connection to some of the hostages and killing everyone. She obviously succeeds, since failing would put a bit of a damper on her relationship with Duncan, and the crazy is taken out by a sniper, and then she and Duncan get married.

Not the most satisfying book. I was with her until the rape, then wondered why Nora had to take what should be a feel-good trashy romance and make it a bit too graphic and real-life. Eh.

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posted by ket at 11:41 AM

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Green Acres, re-visited

Title: Heiress for Hire
Author: Erin McCarthy

Amanda, an heiress, is in small-town Ohio for the summer visiting a friend when her father decides she needs to grow up and cuts her off. Suddenly, she can't buy large lattes, or even groceries, so she decides to find a job that she's qualified for, which isn't easy. Dad, of course, figured this would send her running home, but she's determined to make it on her own.

Enter Danny. A local boy, he has a farm. And, he just discovered, an 8-year-old daughter. Turns out that girl he met at the fair and had a fling with the summer after high school had a (his) daughter and never told him. But now that girl's dead, and Piper's evil stepfather doesn't want her, so he drops her off on Danny's doorstep. Mark and her mother were rather verbally abusive, and Piper has some confidence issues, not to mention that her hair all fell out from stress. Danny certainly can't take care of Piper and run the farm, and Piper doesn't get along with his overbearing mother, so he hires Amanda to be a nanny/housekeeper (which she's okay with as long as no toilet-cleaning is involved).

Of course, both Danny and Amanda happen to be ridiculously attractive, but both are also fighting the attraction. Plus, Danny's mother doesn't like Amanda, and is afraid Danny will sleep with her and get her pregnant too (he has an ex-wife - they got married super-young because she was pregnant - apparently he's a baby-making machine!). (Don't worry - she miscarried, so Piper's the only kid, they subsequently divorced and are good friends - she's remarried now to Amanda's friend, which is who she was visiting, which makes me think there's a prequel to this out there somewhere).

Anyway, Amanda totally has a way with Piper, giving her self-confidence, and Danny starts to fall for her even more because of her connection with his daughter. Also, Amanda has a purse dog (maybe a teacup poodle?) named Baby; at one point Baby is almost eaten by a hawk (this takes place on a farm, remember?) but Amanda launches herself on top of him on a gravel driveway to save him, earning some skinned knees and elbows, plus a slice from the hawk's talon. This helps her gain Danny's mom's respect, but she still doesn't want her loving and leaving her son.

Of course, they eventually give in to temptation, even though Danny figures she's out of there by the time summer ends. But she reveals she loves him and wants to stay, and he proposes, and his mom realizes they're good for each other, and Piper's been in love with Amanda for months, so everyone's happy.

Wasn't too sure how I felt about this one at the start, since I don't do well with spoiled ditzes, but Amanda really grew on me. Might have to track down that potential prequel...

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posted by ket at 11:29 AM

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Whales in the Sky and People Who Don't Die

Title: Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band is Playing and Leviathan '99
Author: Ray Bradbury

Boy, Bradbury sure writes some crazy stuff. In Somewhere a Band is Playing, he interweaves poetry into the story of a writer who travels to a town where no one ages. He's carrying bad news that he is hesitant to relate. He meets a woman who is beautiful and young and Nefertiti all in one. She is Nefertiti. She is other women. The bad news is that a new highway is going to be built through the town with complete disregard for the inhabitants. The town isn't even on the map. Will the writer follow the townspeople to a new location and never age? You'll have to read the book to find out.

In Leviathan '99, there's a crazy spaceship captain, an alien named Quell, and the main character. He has a name, I just forget it. And there's Leviathan. The comet of all comets. Hell is a comet and it's name is Leviathan. And the crazy captain is out to destroy the comet that took his sight oh-so-many-years-ago. And only one will survive. I won't tell you who. I can't anyway, because I don't remember his name.

I'm not sure I'm going to read Bradbury much after this. Not that it was a bad read, just that I don't think it's my thing.

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posted by Kate at 7:54 PM

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Not "funny haha," but still "funny haha"

Title: Lisa's Story
Subtitle: the other shoe
Author/illustrator: Tom Batiuk
Bookmark: mainly left it open, but a couple times I stuck a CD maturity notice in there.

A couple months ago I was home visiting Dad and, as always, reading his paper's comics section. I grew up reading those (and in my very early years, having them read to me), and I guess I grew kind of attached to some of the strips I don't get up here. When I got down the page to Funky Winkerbean, I was sucker-punched. Lisa, the waitress-cum-lawyer-above-Montoni's, was being pushed through the park in a wheelchair by her husband, Les Moore (one of the best character names in comics). She was wrapped in a blanket, bald, and her head was drooping. The sides of her head looked hollow and shrunken, puckered in at the temples and cheeks, but there remained a stubborn intensity in her eyes. Ok, maybe I imagined that part, but Batiuk still did a hell of job drawing that scene. He drew it exactly as it should have looked. I know, because I've pushed that chair.

Seven or eight years ago, a friend of Batiuk's was diagnosed with cancer. Batiuk handled it by writing Lisa' breast cancer into the strip. Lisa had chemotherapy and a mastectomy, had reconstructive surgery, and went into remission. Several years later, Batiuk himself was diagnosed. He decided that he would survive--but Lisa wouldn't. This book compiles all the strips relevant to her initial diagnosis, remission, recovery, second diagnosis, and inevitable decline, even adding the epilogue strips that followed her death and moved the strip ten years into the future. Even reconnection with the son she gave up for adoption is included, and the last several pages hold an extensive list of cancer resources, hospice information, and volunteering or donation opportunities.

The story is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, and that dichotomy is displayed even in individual strips. Batiuk can move a reader from tears to laughter or back again in three panels or less, and the strength of his writing is not just that he can do that, but that it's startlingly realistic. When people are faced with trials that great, finding humor in it--any humor at all--is often what gets them through it in one piece. Lisa's Story isn't just about cancer. It's about survival, friendship, motherhood, life, death, the Great Hereafter, love, loss, discovery, how we cope, how we help one another, acceptance, and hope. Taken one strip at a time, it's still strong, but I read it all in one morning, taking breaks to knead bread and do dishes. I had to take those breaks. My personal connection with the story may have proved my undoing, but I think that even people who have never been touched by cancer would have a hard time reading this book in one shot without rubbing their eyes at least a little.

I ordered my copy at the book's release party, in the restaurant that serves as the inspiration for Montoni's. They ran out of hardcover copies eight people in front of me (many people walked out with ten or more copies stacked in their arms, and Batiuk not only signed and dedicated each one, but drew a quick head shot of Lisa. It was a slow line, but the pizza was good, and all artist proceeds go to a fund for breast cancer research and education), but I ordered a couple copies at the book table and stayed in line, empty-handed, to meet the author. I wanted to thank him for telling the story, for drawing her exactly as she should have looked... and for not saving her. Because it wouldn't have rung true. You can't save everyone, no matter how hard you may want to.

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posted by reyn at 7:58 AM

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Friday, November 16, 2007

A Book Worthy of KET

Title: Agnes and the Hitman
Authors: Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

An entertaining book with a horrendous amount of plot twists and complications. When I picked it up, I didn't know to expect gratuitous sex scenes, which was a bit annoying (yeah yeah, I know those are supposedly the good parts, but I don't generally read smut. Plus, when you pick up a book and aren't expecting that, it's irritating when suddenly you're reading a full-blown... - well, you get the idea). You'd think a librarian would remember that Crusie is more or less in that smut categorization, but no. I guess being an academic librarian has addled my brain.

So, Agnes is a woman with a temper and a penchant for hitting men on the head with frying pans (she's up to 3 or 4, but really, who's counting?). She's a cook, with a cooking column in the paper, so it just seems to happen that the frying pan is always a convenient weapon.

Then this kid shows up and tries to take her dog, gets bonked on the head with a frying pan, AND falls through the wall into a basement Agnes didn't know she had. And dies.

So Agnes seeks out Joey's help. Joey is ex-mob. He calls in his hitman nephew, Shane (a governmental hitman, of course), to protect his "little Agnes", because of course, Joey knows more than he's telling. Shane comes to her rescue, cue gratuitous sex scene (Agnes has an anger problem and her shrink told her to take it out in non-violent physical activity. Although I'm not convinced that scene really qualified as non-violent).

Also, there's the subplot of Agnes throwing a wedding on Saturday (the story takes place the week leading up to the wedding). Agnes just bought a house from Brenda (aka biggest bitch ever), who has this evil plan to get her house back by making Agnes default on payments. Brenda agreed to waive the first 3 months of payment if Agnes had Maria's wedding (Brenda's granddaughter) at the house. Of course, Brenda gets the house back if Agnes misses three payments - which she will have done if the wedding gets moved.

Oh yeah, and there's the subplot with Agnes' fiance, Taylor.

And that subplot with Shane's next hit.

Chaos ensues involving mafia, $5 million, a bomb shelter, flamingos, a pink wedding dress, multiple attempts on Agnes' life, a crooked government employee, other hitmen (or perhaps hitwomen), and way too much more to even begin to name.

My favorite character by far was Carpenter, Shane's cleaner. And by cleaner, I don't mean clothes or houses. Bodies. He's this huge hulk of a man who is ordained in some sort of out-there religion and is always making the most bizarre comments. He's nuts, he's sweet and unexpectedly caring for a cleaner, and he really makes the book.

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posted by Kate at 8:08 AM

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Irresponsible Parents

Title: The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Author: Jeannette Walls
Bookmark: A Kroger coupon for kitty food.

This book alternately made me depressed, astounded, horrified, and blind with rage. It's hard to read a book which makes you feel murderous towards two of the major characters. However, I still couldn't put it down. I didn't read A Million Little Pieces, but this book is so unbelievable that I cannot help but wonder about possible creative liberties, although none were probably taken.

Jeannette Walls was raised by two of the most irresponsible parents I have ever read about. At times living in a shack, car, or just plain homeless, the Walls family moves around the country because of the mother's wanderlust and the father's fear that the government is after him (as well as his tendency to get the family into sticky situations).

Jeannette's father, Rex Walls, was a brilliant man who occasionally worked as an electrician when he wasn't falling down drunk, destroying their various living quarters, and practically killing their mother. It's hard to like a guy who nearly pimps out his 13 year old daughter (he knew she could fend off the guy, or so he claimed after), steals the money his children have worked desperately to raise in order to free themselves from their crazy parents, and promises the sky, or in this case a glass castle, while delivering almost nothing. Of course, no one person is completely evil, and when Jeannette nearly drops out of college because she is $1,000 short, he touchingly comes up with the money, albeit by hustling.

Her mother, Rose Mary Walls, was an artist who occasionally took teaching jobs to help support the family. However, at least once a week, she had to be coaxed to school by her children while she was in the midst of a ridiculous temper tantrum about how she was an adult and should be able to do what she wanted. She also doesn't do very well standing up to Rex, but Jeannette later finds out just how hard that can be, so you really can't blame her too much for that one.

The first story of Jeannette's childhood is of her being severely burned at the age of three. She was making hot dogs for herself on the stove (her mother was probably off painting or something - I can't remember) and somehow caught her dress on fire. She spent many months in the hospital. And the horrifying stories just continue from there - eating out of trash cans, eating a tub of butter because it is the only thing available, the grandmother sexually abusing Jeannette's brother, an uncle pleasuring himself in close proximity to Jeanette after trying to touch her inappropriately, being beaten up by other children, and so many more. Hard to read, hard to believe.

Makes me very grateful for the parents I have, the roof over my head, the food in my kitchen, and so much more.

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posted by Kate at 3:17 PM

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Othello

Title: Othello: The Moor of Venice
Author: Shakespeare



Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me.
For making him egregiously an ass
And practicing upon his pace and quiet
Even to madness.


Othello, Act 2, Scene 1, ll. 151-54

Jealousy, hatred, race, betrayal – we’re all familiar with the great themes of Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello the Moor, a military mastermind, elopes with the beautiful Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian politician. Vicious tongues wag over the scandal. Iago, one of Othello’s trusted soldiers, secretly hates his master. With motives unknown yet sinister, he manipulates Othello into suspecting Desdemona of base infidelity. Poisoned by Iago’s wicked insinuations, Othello strangles the innocent Desdemona. When Iago’s wife reveals his treachery, Othello takes his own life in remorse. And everyone wonders at the end how the intelligent and noble Othello could be so blind.

This was the first time I’d read Othello. Good stuff. Since I already knew the plot, it was quite entertaining. Iago really is a great villain, blind malevolence personified. His evil mastermind speeches are fantastic. He definitely inspired me to practice my cackling and hand-rubbing.

The character that genuinely surprised me, however, was Desdemona. So much attention generally goes to Othello and Iago, that I expected her to be little more than an innocent damsel in distress, virtuous but brainless. But she’s quite entertaining in her own right, and much a stronger personality than she’s generally given credit for. Guts and an independent determination were required for her elopement, and she performed it with gusto. “O my fair warrior!” Othello calls her. She can be funny, too, and even challenges Iago, the play’s master of words, in a verbal jousting match. Unfortunately, this very potential for wildness and independent action contributes to Othello’s suspicion of Desdemona, and plays right into Iago’s hand. If she could fool her father, Iago asks, why could she not fool you?

I read Othello because I had a Shakespeare craving and it was a gaping hole in my repertoire. While expecting to be entertained, I was not expecting to be surprised. How cool’s that?!

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posted by Elizabeth at 9:53 PM

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Rwanda 1994

Title: We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda
Author: Philip Gourevitch



I was reminded of a conversation I had with an American military intelligence office who was having a supper of Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola at a Kigali bar.

“I hear you’re interested in genocide,” the American said. “Do you know what genocide is?”

I asked him to tell me.

“A cheese sandwich,” he said. “Write it down. Genocide is a cheese sandwich.”

I asked him how he figured that.

“What does anyone care about a cheese sandwich?” he said. “Genocide, genocide, genocide. Cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich. Who gives a shit? Crimes against humanity. Where’s humanity? Who’s humanity? You? Me? Did you see a crime committed against you? Hey, just a million Rwandans. Did you ever hear about the Genocide Convention?”

I said I had.

“That convention,” the American at the bar said, “makes a nice wrapping for a cheese sandwich.”


We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, by Philip Gourevitch, is an incredible account of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. That summer, Rwanda’s Hutu majority slaughtered a million of the minority Tutsis, literally decimating the nation’s population – that is, reducing it by one-tenth. The speed and efficiency of the killings were unprecedented, and thankfully remain unmatched to this day. Gourevitch tells the stories of the individuals who lived through this genocide – the villains, the heroes, and those who were simply lucky to survive. It’s an amazing piece of journalism, and one of the few books that I would confidently recommend as required reading for all.

(For those who are curious, the title of Gourevitch’s book comes from a letter written by Tutsis to a prominent Hutu leader in their village, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. The Tutsi’s execution date has been announced, and the letter begs the pastor to intercede on their behalf. Before the genocide, they had been members of his church. Ntakirutimana’s response was disheartening: “Your problem has already found a solution. You must die.” They did.)

We wish to inform you leaves no aspect of Rwanda’s genocide unexplored. Gourevitch begins during the colonial era, when -- based upon superficial factors such as height and facial features -- Rwanda’s Belgium occupiers arbitrarily divided the population into the upper class Tutsis and working class Hutus. He then takes you through the genocide and into the refugee camps that housed the survivors. These camps were just as dangerous as the villages where the genocide had raged. Often enough, they were populated by genocidaires who were receiving food and water from international aid workers who didn’t question whether their charity cases were criminals or not. And Rwandans’ problems didn’t end when they were finally able to return home. How does one survive in the aftermath of such an event? Gourevitch asks. How does one continue with daily life, when your entire family was killed by your neighbor with a machete?

Gourevitch’s writing is impeccable. He conveys the horror of genocide in a manner that is intellectually and emotionally engaging, but which never sinks into the black mire of cheap sentiment. The Rwandans’ stories are not exploited for dramatic purposes, but are told in a sensible, affecting, and respectful manner. The ugliness of genocide speaks for itself. Gourevitch wisely realizes he need not screech from a soap box to command attention. I appreciated that.

Gourevitch also impressed me by directly addressing my discomfort with the subject of genocide. While macabre details do not perturb me, my motivation for reading such details does. I do not want to be someone who wallows in the real suffering of others. My reason for reading this book should not be the pursuit of some emotional catharsis or sick thrill.

But Gourevitch openly confronted my concerns about “morbid curiosity.” He admits that the Rwandan skeletons he saw at a shrine were “beautiful,” and that his interest in such sites disturbed him. Why, he asks, are we fascinated by the details of genocide? Why do we want to look closer? We already know that genocide is horrible and wrong, so what can we possibly hope to truly learn?

Thankfully, Gourevitch does not try to answer or explain away these unsettling questions. He acknowledges his discomfort, but concludes that even though gazing upon genocide can feel morbidly voyeuristic…ignoring the details is even worse. As he writes: “The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda’s stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it.”

I can’t come up with a better reason either.

A fantastic book, one of the best I've ever read. Highly recommended.

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posted by Elizabeth at 8:07 PM

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My Sister's Kidney

Title: My Sister’s Keeper
Author: Jodi Picoult



I can be a forgiving reader. Really. I enjoy the cheesiness of laughably bad books. The only books that I find truly detestable are those which insult my intelligence by discussing serious topics in a completely ridiculous manner. Unfortunately, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper is just one of these loathsome beasts.

Warning: I’m about to spoil the plot of this book shamelessly and with relish! If you had actually wanted to read it…tough.

Kate was diagnosed with leukemia when she was a baby. No one in her family was a perfect match as a donor, so her parents conceived another child for the sole purpose of being a “perfect match” for Kate. They ensured that the child could be a donor through “preimplantation genetic diagnoses.” Enter Anna. By the time Anna’s thirteen, she’s given blood transfusions, bone marrow, and stem cells in order to keep the sinking Kate afloat. Now Kate’s kidneys are failing, and she needs a transplant. Otherwise, she dies.

And guess what? Anna says “no.” No, Kate. No kidney for you.

We actually have a very interesting premise here. Anna hires a lawyer, Campbell, who specializes in obtaining “medical emancipation” for minors. If a court finds that her parents aren’t making medical decisions in her best interest, a judge will give the responsibility to Anna or a legal guardian. Is it in Anna’s best interest to donate her kidney to Kate? Can she be forced to do so? Does she have a legal obligation, a moral obligation? All fascinating questions, which could make for a ripping tell of medical and legal ethics.

But Picoult RUINS IT ALL.

First, she makes Campbell a secret epileptic. And Anna’s interim legal guardian, Julia, is Campbell’s ex-lover. They were high school sweethearts before Campbell inexplicably ditched Julia the day of graduation – which he only did because he’d just learned of his epilepsy and wanted to “protect” her from the truth. Still, sexual tensions simmer between them. However, every time they get close to tearing each other’s clothes off, Campbell feels an epileptic attack approaching and flees the room. Seriously. Every time. He’s just as compulsive about it as Clark Kent. Guess flashing lights aren’t the only stressors that cause seizures…

A not-so-seismic courtroom scene is the book’s climax, and Picoult springs several stupid “twists” upon the reader. I say “twists,” but that’s not really fair, because they’ve been obvious all along. See, Anna’s not really a selfish creature who is so possessive of her bodily organs that she’ll let her sister die instead of relinquishing one measly little kidney. Oh no. Anna refused only because Kate secretly asked her to. *everyone gasp* Apparently, a life in hospitals connected to tubes no longer appeals to Kate. Who knows, maybe she saw The Matrix and freaked. Either way, she’s ready to chuck it all. Anna agreed with the plan only reluctantly, after Kate threatened a gruesome suicide.

Oh, and immediately after Anna’s dramatic confession on the witness stand…Campbell suffers a seizure in front of everyone! Surprise!!! Now Julia knows the truth, and they can live happily every after. But really, why do we care?

(Oh, and there’s another lame side plot where Anna’s father, Brian, is a firefighter trying to discover the identity of an arsonist who has been striking with increasing frequency. In an ironic twist, the arsonist is his own son, who is clearly striking out because he feels he doesn’t get enough attention. Nice. But the son kind of has a point, I guess. I mean, I wouldn’t have cared about him except for the arson, and even with that, he only merited one measly paragraph in this review. Unfortunate boy.)

So now Anna’s an angel (the silly girl won’t even lie under oath), and Campbell and Julia are gazing at each other with bedroom eyes. But what about Kate? She can’t really let herself…die, can she? Isn’t that a wee bit…evil? Don’t suicides go to hell?

Don’t worry, little children, Mommy Picoult will make everyone happy again – or at least morally righteous! And they’ll all get into heaven.

Oh, but Mommy Picoult, how?

Simple. As Campbell, Julia, and Anna drive from the courtroom in the rain – a giant truck hits their car! Campbell and Julia are badly injured, but live. Anna dies. How sad. Actually, she’s brain dead, although still breathing on a respirator. Campbell and her parents decide to pull the plug. Her kidney is quickly harvested and transplanted into Kate, who’s wavered in her determination not to receive it now that her sister’s pavement pancake. Kate makes a miraculous recovery and lives on indefinitely. Yay.

Despicable.

Picoult raised all those interesting questions – medical emancipation, a patient’s right to refuse treatment, etc. – and copped out on them all. None of them resulted in real consequences. How cowardly. Grow a backbone, Jodi. Better yet, if you have siblings, rip one out from them. I’m sure they don’t need it as much as you.

Actually, there was one good thing about this book: Campbell has a dog with him at all times that is trained to detect impending seizures. Whenever someone asks what the dog is for, Campbell gives a smart-ass answer. For example: “I have an iron lung, and he keeps me away from magnets.” “I’m a recovering alcoholic, and he keeps me out of bars.” Or, “I’m color-blind, he tells me when traffic lights change.” Ha! Those were great.

Several months ago, I met a colleague who was clearly very intelligent and driven and dedicated to her career. At first, I found her rather intimidating. But when we were discussing books several weeks ago, she mentioned a pure adoration of Jodi Picoult. While doing so, her eyes shone with genuine admiration.

I’m not intimidated by her anymore.

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posted by Elizabeth at 8:38 AM

5 comments



Saturday, November 03, 2007

i am underwhelmed, and so can you


Ti: I Am America: And So Can You!
Au: Stephen T. Colbert, DFA
limited free abridged audio edition, from audible.com









[before i even talk about this title, let me advertise audible.com for a minute. if you listen to many audiobooks and are willing to download them, it's a pretty cheap way to go. my plan gets me two books a month for $22 + tax. if you've ever bought many audiobooks, you know how cheap this is. a subscription will also get you access to free stuff, like a pretty decent library of recorded speeches and the like]

I watch the Colbert Report, and indeed I pay iTunes for the privilege, b/c we do not have cable. I think he's quite clever, sometimes the reach for maximum shock value turns me off a bit. I do so wish that the shock value reach of the people he enjoys imitating would turn off all their followers so that we wouldn't have to endure them any further; but it doesn't work like that, sadly.

There are some things in this book that are also quite clever, but (and maybe this was because i was listening to it instead of reading it) it just seemed so similar to show material that i wasn't that impressed by it. I would imagine the fact that this was written by a team of writers would reinforce this.

So, eh. Totally worth it for fans, and I would imagine this book was entirely an exercise aimed at fans, but its not going to win anyone over who isn't already willing to elect him our next president.

posted by ~e at 9:35 PM

1 comments




food jerk

Ti: Kitchen Confidential
Au: Anthony Bourdain
paperback, original edition, c. 2000

I don't think I like Anthony Bourdain very much.

I'd like to think that he's an ok dude, putting up an asshole front for some weird purpose of his own, but I think he might actually be someone that I wouldn't care to know. Not that I actually have to worry about it.

His stories are interesting, however, and I actually recognize some of the words he's using from being a 'Top Chef' disciple (a show where Bourdain also appears from time to time). I have a better picture of how a commercial kitchen actually works now; things are done a bit more piecemeal (sp?) than I would have previously suspected.

I wonder, however, about some of the parts where he is trying to explain over-arching concepts of the restaurant business to his readers. It almost seems as if he is over doing it either to prove that his wang is huge and that only the few and brave could possibly do what he does, or because he feels he needs to go way overboard in order to portray his feelings on the topic to people who aren't familiar with the people, places and situations he has found over his career.

Bourdain has also written two (mystery?) novels, which I can't imagine are good, but I will admit that I wouldn't mind reading his other memior-y book and glancing through the cookbook based around his current and relatively long-time employer, Les Halles.

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posted by ~e at 9:14 PM

1 comments




more nuns!

Title: The Sinner
By Tess Gerritsen

Maura, the Boston Medical Examiner (previously encountered here, though technically that book comes after this one), is called to the scene in a cloistered convent in the middle of a freezing winter, finding a dead novice and a critically injured nun laying in a courtyard. During the autopsy, it's revealed that Camille, the novice, had recently given birth - rather shocking for a nun, even one who hadn't yet taken vows. They find the baby's body in a pond on the convent grounds, and learn that it was anencephalic - highly deformed and unable to survive, the baby's brain was outside it's unsealed head. Searches for the father initally prove fruitless and serve only to insult the local priest, Father Brophy, with whom Maura, reluctantly, forms a connection.

Another body is found in an abandoned restaurant - seemingly unconnected, the killer cut off the victim's hands and feet, and peeled off her face after death; her teeth are in deplorable condition, and they're stumped as to how to identify her other than the odd lesions on her body.

Around this time, Maura's ex-husband, Victor, randomly shows up. He's a doctor for a tree-hugging, save-the-world organization, and they've been divorced for three years.

Maura identifies the random victim as suffering from leprosy; then they start making all kinds of connections. The surviving nun, Sister Ursula, recently spent three years in India as a nurse in a leper colony. The colony was wiped out in a suspicious massacre and burning while she was off getting supplies, returning to charred destruction. Sister Ursula was working for One World, the same group Victor is the poster-boy for. Just next to the leper colony was a pharmaceutical plant owned by Octagon, a major corporation. Shortly after the massacre, Octagon made huge donations to One World. Sister Ursula, who had been in a coma, started to recover, then suddenly stroked while all her doctors were around the bed.

One of the doctors, who had claimed to be her internist, was actually an Octagon employee, and had been the plant doctor at the one in India. The plant released a cloud of toxic chemicals one night, killing all the inhabitants of the village, except for one random woman, and the doctor led the efforts to hide the accident by destroying the village like it was an attack for being lepers. Ursula recognized him, and he pretty much killed her; he had already been interfering with her care the entire time she was in a coma. Victor was technically innocent, but had come to Boston to see what Maura was learning.

Maura was left alone, again, at the end.

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posted by ket at 11:16 AM

0 comments




ket del Clarinet

Title: Vivaldi's Virgins
By Barbara Quick

Anna Maria del Violin is an orphan being raised in the Pieta orphanage in Venice. Also there? Vivaldi, as the resident priest and music director. The girls who display some sort of talent are trained as musicians, and perform music Vivaldi composes for them, while the others perform manual labor tasks until they become adults.

Anna Maria, unlike some of the other students, doesn't know who her parents were. Many of her friends know that they are the product of a scandalous affair, or the daughter of a famous courtesan, but she knows nothing, and spends most of her youth trying to learn where she comes from.

Along the way, she performs as part of the coro, and is the most talented violinist they've had for quite some time. She receives strange gifts from the Jewess seamstress that hint at her past; she's kindof headstrong, and ends up in the 1700's Venice version of solitary confinement often, where the nuns encourage her to write letters to her mother.

Vivaldi is a major player in all their lives; he and Anna Maria have a close relationship, and he composes many works to have solos just for her (even writing "for Anna Maria" on the top of the score). He would do just about anything to further his music, and gets himself, Anna Maria, and a few of the other girls into trouble while acquiesing to the King of the Netherlands' wish to take them all to a masque.

Among her friends, though she has a temper, Anna Maria is the innocent. Claudia comes as a paying student from England, and she teaches the girls to masturbate as a way of understanding the passion Vivaldi wants from them while playing. Marietta sets up an assignation on a special field trip, and ends up pregnant, resulting in a hasty marriage to the son of a wealthy citizen (who wasn't her lover on the island, but he wants her, and she wants all he can offer her and her singing career, so they lie tothe nuns and get married).

Anna Maria found her true love while at the masque with the king - Franz - but he followed his family's orders and married the woman of their choosing, but for decades visited Anna Maria every year.

Silvio, was another student at the orphanage, and he and Anna Maria were close friends until she went to study music and he was sent away because only female students are kept after about age 9. Silvio went to live with Rebekkah, the aforementioned Jewess seamstress, and helps Anna Maria search for her past.

Eventually, it is revealed that Silvio is actually the son of Rebekkah's deceased sister, who used to be a student of the former maestro at the Pieta, and then he learns that the former maestro is his father. Anna Maria realizes that he has everything going against him - the son of a priest, half Jewish, and a "sodomite". However, he becomes a successful businessman in the end, and always friends with Anna.

One of the reasons for the continued friendship? Anna Maria learns her parentage. One of her favorite nuns, Sister Laura, died while Anna was in her late teens. After her death, a letter was given to Anna - Laura was her mother. She had been another student, a talented violinist, though not as talented as Anna Maria, and she too had had an affair with the former maestro, making Anna and Silvio half siblings. After Anna's birth, she became a nun so she could look after her. And to reinforce how small a community Venice was at this time, Laura was the older sister of the man Marietta married, so Marietta is now Anna Maria's aunt.

Anna Maria received several proposals as a young woman, but declined them all because of her love for Franz, deciding instead to stay at the Pieta as a member of the coro and teacher.

Many of the characters in the book were actual historical personnages; several other story-lines were based on actual happenings. Anna Maria lived, though all that's known about her childhood was that she was very talented but didn't progress through the ranks of the coro anywhere near the pace her talent would demand, leading to specualtion that she had disciplinary problems.

The book is incredibly interesting, jumping between Anna's letters to her mother and "real time" - and is a highly detailed illustration of Venitian life at its' peak.

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posted by ket at 10:52 AM

2 comments