Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie and Television Reviews

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

I remember this movie getting bad reviews. I also vaguely remember seeing it when I was younger and liking it. But I’m older now and wasn’t sure what I would think. The premise is silly–young woman (Daisy) goes to older doctor to use hypnosis to quit smoking. While under hypnosis young woman slips into a past life and skeptical doctor must prove this isn’t the case, that Daisy is either pretending to be Melinda or is psychotic and he ends up falling in love with Melinda . . . but not Daisy. Lovely music beautifully sung by Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand, neither of them remarkably attractive but with the ability to deliver a song so perfectly that you can’t help but fall silent and listen.

And let me say that those hands! Barbra Streisand has the most beautiful hands.

No, this is not a clever movie. Nor is it brilliant. It’s cute and you get to see Streisand be clumsy and funny as well as serene and seductive.

I read on wikipedia that they’re making a revival of this musical but with significant changes from the original. For one, the main character, Daisy, will now be a young gay man. One could argue how different from the original can it be when Daisy was played by Barbra Streisand but that would just be silly and snarky.

Shrek Forever

Rob and I never saw the third Shrek movie but the first movie we saw together in a movie theater, back before large screens made me ill, was the first Shrek movie.  Of course we saw the second one in theaters as well.  Skipped the third because of the miserable reviews.  Which brings us to the fourth in the Shrek movie franchise.

Think Shrek meets It’s a Wonderful Life.  When Shrek, overwhelmed with the duties of family life, trades a single day of his life to be a real ogre again, he soon realizes that this one day is actually a day in a world where he never existed.  What happens to Donkey if he never meets Shrek?  What about Fiona who is never rescued from her tower?  What changes occur because one change is made in the past?

Adorable.  Fun.  Moments of gross boy-type humor.  And a sweet ending but . . .

Why did Puss have to be fat in the Shrek-less reality?  I look forward to the day when fat humor is as discomfitting and cringe-worthy as the racist imagery I saw in those holiday cartoons I reviewed or at least giggle-worthy as the sexism of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  For now, it seems to be a last bastion of tolerance.  At least that is my hope.  I may be overlooking an obvious offense somewhere else in modern media that will eventually come to light in my consciousness.  For now, I’m tired of the fat jokes and I think they need to end.

The Color of Magic

I love Terry Pratchett and I typically use any of his Discworld books as a way to balance out some of my more intense reading.  But being this is a year dedicated to my reading only books by women I can't indulge, even though I'm reading some pretty heavy things right now.

So whew!  And double whew!  Discworld is on dvd.  And just as silly and wry as the books.  I am sure I missed more of the humor watching it (with interruptions thanks to Rob and dogs and such) but I chuckled.  I was a little disappointed by DEATH but every other character lived up to my imagination.  A fun frivolous bit of fantasy escape.


I don't know how many times I've seen the Rosalind Russell/Natalie Wood movie but I remember hearing about this made-for-television remake when it first aired and thinking Bette Midler was an ideal casting choice for Rose, the penultimate stage-mother.  Cynthia Gibb does a fine job as Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee.  She recalls Natalie Wood so much, however, that it feels more like an homage than a performance of her own.  She's pretty and more talented than this role allowed her to be.  And why does Christine Ebersole get shuffled into a minor moment?  I love her.  I want more of her every time I see her.  But of course, this is Bette Midler's show and her ability to belt out a song is dazzling.  And she's surprisingly unsexy except when she's singing the final song.  The rest of the cast pretty much serves as filler as we wait for her to sing yet another ditty or belt out a show-stopper.  Now when will they release Sam Mendes' Cabaret on dvd here in the US?  Is that really too much to ask?

Despicable Me

I didn’t honestly want to see this movie.  The previews didn’t have me chomping at the bit to watch it.  So imagine my surprise when I liked it.  I didn’t love it.  Don’t need to have it for my very own but . . . mostly it is cute and fun.  Enough adult content to make it entertaining for those parents who find themselves suffering from other films or dvds with only childish content and cute enough for young ones.  Three orphan girls give little girls characters with whom they can identify and little boys will love the goofy boy humor throughout.  I think this movie is a family winner for one and all.

The Princess and the Frog

Well, this was a disappointment.  Typically, after watching a Disney movie I find myself humming a song or two or giggling as I reflect on some moment that made me laugh before or even recalling a line or two.

Ummm . . . yeah . . . not so much.  I didn’t hate the movie but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to watch it again.  I even wonder what feminists are saying about the “princess” of this film, how she is driven to build a restaurant but is told by her daddy to not forget the important things in life.  Hmmm.  Does this movie celebrate the working woman or undercut itself?  I don’t know.  I didn’t like it enough to figure it out or dislike it enough to think it through.  Altogether, a forgettable film.

Here are some links to other people's thoughts on the movie since I didn't care enough to really think about it.

Ned Kelly

Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom as Irish outlaws in Australia?  What's not to love?  This movie is based on a novel, Our Sunshine, which I've never read nor heard of before seeing this film.  My feelings about the film are ambivalent, at best.  It is hard to say whether Kelly and his gang were rebels along the lines of Robin Hood or simply thugs who terrorized the community.  The movie shows them murdering people mostly for revenge and the implication is that these Irish immigrants have no other recourse in the face of an established authority that simply will not allow for any other option.  But for every atrocity, an act of generosity is also performed, and mostly they are portrayed as desperate young men living in desperate times.  The final confrontation is brutal.  Interestingly enough, the myth surrounding the Kelly Gang is enough to contextualize the ambiguity one experiences while watching this film but the facts blurring into myth are probably more interesting than this film.

Don't Bother to Knock

Marilyn Monroe is, as always, luminous.  She plays a sexy and vulnerable woman.  (Yeah yeah yeah . . . when does she not play a sexy vulnerable woman, you ask?  Well, there are a few, very few, examples where she's still sexy but not quite so vulnerable.)  This time, she's darker, however, and not only vulnerable but also dangerous.  (Oh wait.  She's done that before too.)

I found the movie contrived and a bit claustrophobic, with an overwrought plot that I found mostly predictable and only redeemed by Monroe and Widmark taking it all so seriously.  Melodramatic and a good distraction but everyone involved deserved better.  (Also worth mentioning, this is Anne Bancroft's first film.)

Cairo Time

After Rob watched this movie one day, he suggested I should watch it, believing I would enjoy it very much.  He was absolutely right.  It is a lovely film, gentle and subtle.  Delicate throughout.  I don't know what it is about the film.  I can't say I loved it or that I would even highly recommend it and yet I want to own it because it is something . . . I don't know.  Something that just fits my personal taste in such things.  That hardly is a way to write a review, and commending something in such vague terms hardly makes it seem like a must-see.  I was engaged in it from beginning to end and the character development seemed like a ballet.  I also loved the music which, I am beginning to realize, has an impact on my overall appreciation of a movie.


Greta Garbo . . . need I say more?

She is perfect in this role, wonderful and funny.  I laughed aloud several times.  It is, of course, a highly propagandist film and the political climate it comically explores was far more complex.  Even in the context of its time, with contemporary hindsight, there is so much funny about this movie that it is deserving of the term "cinema classic" and I immediately wanted to watch Silk Stockings.  Unfortunately, my library doesn't have a copy.  Oh well.  I guess I can wait for it to eventually show up on TMC or something.


And Rob and I finally sat down to watch this movie.  His mother's been wanting us to see it for a while and I was resistant.  I am not into the white man converting to the ways of the indigenous people and just assumed this was a rehash of Dances With Wolves which, truth be told, I found ponderous and forgettable.

Okay, so the truth is, that is pretty much what this movie is.  But it also has some truly stunning special effects and for every ounce of predictability (and we're talking tons of it in this movie), I still caught myself getting teary and emotionally caught up.

I couldn't help smirking a few times at the "subtle" political messages and the New Age themes woven throughout the film's narrative but that wasn't enough to depreciate the film altogether and while I may not run out and buy it, if I were to find it on sale someday I could see myself adding it to the collection.  I'm a sucker for sci-fi stuff.  I like Michelle Rodriquez.  But to put my positive response in perspective, when I read they are making sequels with plans of making this into a trilogy franchise, I said aloud, "Crap, they're making sequels."

Hmmmm . . . maybe I didn't like it all that much after all.

Anne of Avonlea by Lucy M Montgomery

Anne of Avonlea by Lucy M Montgomery is the second of the Anne of Green Gables series.  I had never read the books as a child but when PBS showed Anne of Green Gables I became curious and read at least the first three books.  Truth is, I think there were only six still being published at the time or maybe my bookstore didn’t have more than the first six.  Either way, I was surprised to find out there are eight.  I read at least the first three books but then became bored . . .?  Or I found Anne less charming . . . ?  I don’t know.  I honestly can’t remember why I stopped reading the books.

Sooooo . . . I am rereading them.  Or some of them anyway.  Some of them will be first time reads for me.

I remember when I saw the PBS miniseries Anne of Avonlea, I was confused.  The story was so different from anything I remembered and, at the time, I reread the first three books.  The television show departs drastically from the books, give or take some minor similarities.  The book is charming, a little more romantic as Anne plays matchmaker and watches her friends slowly fall in love.  Things at Green Gables change but Anne, herself, is still enchanting as she dreams through her life but also does what needs to be done, growing into the kind of young woman who manages to maintain her innocence and imagination.

I’m curious to see how I respond to the rest of the books in the series.  Will Anne lose her charms for me?  Will she outgrow them and become less enchanting?  Or will what is adorable in a young girl become deplorable in a mature woman?  It’ll be interesting, I think.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder picks up where Little House in the Big Woods leaves off and left me even more disappointed and bored.  I liked the stories Pa shares about his own childhood and that of his father’s but these are no longer a part of the family’s life.   Pa is too busy building a house, etc.

Now I know that this book is criticized, strongly, for how much Ma hates the “Indians” but I think I missed something obvious because the only hatred expressed towards Native Americans was by Mrs. Scott who had apparently survived a massacre and would have residual prejudices.  However, Ma seemed mostly uncomfortable about there being Native Americans at all, as if the presence of white people should automatically assume everyone else would move away.

She was also uncomfortable upon first meeting Mr. Edwards although she was perhaps more tolerant of him because he was at least fully clothed (by her standards, anyway).

So what did I miss?  I’m not sure.  I only know that I won’t miss reading the rest of the books in the series because I have no intention of reading the rest.  Having said that, at least it carried me through the first few hours of our days' long hospital stay.  Just boring enough that I didn't have to think while reading it.  Who knew boring could ever be so effective?  Oh wait . . . most television programming managers already know this mysterious secret.  Hmmmmm . . .

Edit:  I found this excellent discussion of Little House on the Prairie and I simply had to share.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Good Girls Don't Get Fat by Robyn Silverman and Dina Santorelli

Good Girls Don't Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It by Robyn Silverman and Dina Santorelli is bound to be one of those books that to be a clarion call to action. How can we protect our girls from the barrage of body image advice that often slips into a form of verbal abuse in its inescapable and endless shout from various media including television, magazines, and even in the home and classroom?

The message is good and powerful but the truth is the book mad me feel completely disempowered. I felt like no matter what a parent does it will never be good enough. First the mother (how Freudian) is discussed and while I understand that the mother daughter relationship is a profound one, by the time I reached the end of the chapter, I felt that most mothers would be in despair. There is a list of suggestions for how to properly approach the issues of weight with a daughter but I doubt most mothers would put these suggestions into practice 100% of the time and by the time you finish the first chapter you realize that even one slip of the tongue, one mistaken comment, can be carried in a child's psyche well into adulthood.

The relationship with the father is looked at next and, again, it seems utterly hopeless. Be involved but not too involved. Say positive things but don't say things that are too positive. Be a good example but be careful because if you say or do one thing wrong it will be enough to undo all that you've done. One story in particular affected me as a woman shared how her father never really spoke up for her when her mother was endlessly commenting on the daughter' weight except for one time. The suggestion made by this now adult daughter was that the one time was not enough to outweigh all the silence but that it helped. (I'll write more about this in a moment.)

Next, siblings and extended family are addressed but not with the same intense scrutiny as the parents. But even here, the parents are responsible for speaking up. If one sibling is picking on the other or an aunt or grandparent says something to belittle the child, the parent must intercede every time . . . or else.

Finally, we come to the schools and here the teachers are held accountable even though the author and the teachers she interviewed iterated and reiterated how much of the bullying and such that happens in the schools is not done in front of the teacher. Somehow, some way, the teacher is supposed to handle something to which they are not an immediate witness. Yes, there are some infuriating examples of how teachers completely fail to be supportive but the examples of teachers who do it right are fewer and further between.

Then we come to the peer relationships-the friends, the boyfriends, the other classmates. Of course, a perfectly good teacher would intercede but we now know, thanks to the previous chapter, that there are very few of these. And of course, wonderfully loving and supportive family members-from siblings to parents-could protect the child even here but . . . nope. Not really. And by now we know how bombarded these poor children are by so many outside sources and that much of the abuse the individual experiences is so shaming that nothing much is said and . . .

I wanted to throw the book against a wall a long time before I reached the valuable conclusion which is a pages long list of resources for the reader and for young girls. These pages are the redemption for this book because, let's face it, even the title is ironic. The book blabbers on endlessly about how powerless children are in the face of these endless body image messages and from the title to every page of this book guess what is discussed: the body and body image. Did I miss something here? I confess, I even found myself wondering how others perceive me now that I've gained a few pounds. Am I being judged this harshly? Are people laughing about my thighs and such behind my back?

This book could honestly give anyone a complex. The parent reading is bound to feel inadequate. The teacher reading this book will feel powerless and unable to bear full witness. Even the child is bound to feel that her perception of being surrounded and disempowered is overly represented. "If the parents, family, teachers, and peers are all a part and parcel of the problem, how am I to stand up against all of this?" I would imagine the young girl asking herself.

But the resources are excellent and I would encourage anyone who starts reading this book who feels as discouraged and frustrated as I did to just skip ahead and get to them. There are books and websites for just about everything from media literacy (something I strongly urge any parent and/or teacher to explore) to books from children of all ages to movies (although I have to question a couple of those choices as well) to, of course, websites.

The resources are almost worth the price of the book but you can just as easily go to your public library, grab a copy of the book off the shelf and use the list of recommended reading to actually take home some better reading material. And websites often come and go so make sure you seek out the internet resources sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, a great idea for a book with an unfortunate title and not a lot of meritorious content. Most importantly, I wouldn't want an adolescent to read this book. If I, as an adult felt powerless in the face of all that's "out there," I can only imagine how a young girl who is still trying to figure it all out would feel.

In the meantime, check this out:  Click Me!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a book chosen by an online book group to which I belong.  Apparently, Little House on the Prairie has been challenged in some schools because of how Native Americans are represented.  I haven’t read the other book yet so I cannot comment upon that.

What I can comment upon is the memory I had of reading this first book to my children and how, at the time, I found it dull.  Boring enough that I forgot a lot of things.  For instance, Wilder’s descriptions are so detailed but often redundant.  She never tries to use a different word so a smell is never described as an aroma or odor.  While it is possible to overuse a thesaurus, there is an argument for using a new word especially when the writer is using the same word three or more times in a single paragraph.

I love how Pa shares stories from his own father’s childhood and his own.  I wonder why Ma doesn’t share an of her stories.  And even when the stories include corporal punishment, I found it interesting how important these stories are in how they extend the family dynamic beyond the small shelter of their little house.

While I suppose I can understand why parents are not up in arms about the use of corporal punishment in the books, I have to wonder at how the term “darkey” has not raised any objections.  At the end of the chapter “Sundays,” Pa sings a song while playing his fiddle.  The song is “Uncle Ned” by Stephen Foster.  (See?  I did my research.)  Foster wrote songs for minstrel shows.  Uh oh.  The lyrics of the song are changed in the book and “darkey” is perhaps more polite than Foster’s original lyrics but one has to wonder why nobody had a problem with the lyrics of this song.

Over all, I can see why these books remain so popular.  They tell a typically American story but I realized it didn’t tell my American story.  My Italian and Irish families came over to America but never left the east coast until after WWII.  The first generation probably arrived sometime before the turn of the century.  My grandfather was born 1900 and my mother was only a second generation American.

I only know my maternal family’s history.

It is interesting to read some of the things the family had to do to survive–how the meat is hunted and cured, how food is made, the making of gifts and such.  It is charming to read how Laura used a corn cob wrapped in a napkin as a doll until she is given a doll of her own.  The simplicity of their lives is perhaps meritorious and offers many lessons for our consumerism driven culture.  I doubt most children reading the book would appreciate their family’s decision to downsize the holidays.

When I first read this book to my children (about 20 years ago), there was a power outage and we didn’t have electricity.  It was fun, and somehow apropos, to read the book by candlelight.  I don’t think my children remember my doing that but I distinctly recall that experience.  Otherwise, the experience of reading this book to my children was mostly forgettable and rereading the book now was no more enjoyable to me.  Not utterly distasteful but wouldn’t it be nice of there were other books that shared the lifestyle of pioneers without being tedious to read?  I think so.

I'll be reading Little House on the Prairie with the group.  I doubt it will be any more exciting to read but hopefully it won't put me to sleep.  We're going to be reading Gone With the Wind too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Glad No Matter What by SARK

Glad No Matter What:  Transforming Loss and Change Into Gift and Opportunity by Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) is colorful, quirky, and overflowing with simple ideas and thoughts from a woman who experienced some difficulties in the past year.  After her mother’s death, the ending of a love relationship, and then the death of her 17 year old cat, SARK’s exploration of her own grief is both compassionate and candid.

What SARK lacks in depth she more than makes up for in sincerity.  She doesn’t claim to be an expert; she merely shares from her experience.  As she’s done in past books, each chapter focuses on an idea, a concept, something she herself either needs to learn or has learned or continues to learn.  Each chapter ends with a list of resources–books, websites, and more.  Sprinkled throughout the book are quotations, few (if any) are given full citations with only a name offered.  This seems to be the norm but I really wish more people would make the effort to say where the quote can be found because a good quote can often be found in a greater context but when a prolific person is quoted without a context only the truly intrepid is going to seek out let alone find the original source.

This is becoming a pet peeve of mine, I suppose.  But this is how SARK’s books have always been and I don’t begrudge her this.  In fact, Glad No Matter What seems to be more genuine than some of her other books.  There was a time when it seemed she was going astray from her own path and now she has returned to herself, inviting the reader to genuinely experience the gamut of emotions.  She suggests, and rightly so, that even in the midst of the deepest unhappiness there are things to celebrate and when hurting there are places of abiding love.  To give too much attention or weight to one emotion is to lose appreciation for all emotions and when we resist those feelings that are too difficult or even scary we risk losing touch with our own honesty.

To be clear, some of what she says comes off as pop-psychology and there is imbalance in what she shares.  This is to be expected.  As I said before and she’ll say even more loudly and clearly, she is not an expert.  If her advice is limited it is because her experience is likewise limited.  And as much as I love SARK, even I have to roll my eyes at some of her stories.  But that’s okay.  For one thing, I’m pretty sure she’d roll her eyes at some of mine too.  For another, I think we’d both get a good belly laugh out of the dizzy aftershocks of my eye rolling.  Then we’d find something else to make us laugh some more.

So no, she’s not brilliant but she dazzles and sparkles, her pages dance and sing, and in a world where so many people are scared to be honest, to be themselves, she’s unmistakably unique.  A welcome breath of fresh air.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Comfort by Ann Hood

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood is the memoir of an unimaginable loss, the death of a five-year-old daughter, and how Hood eventually grieved through the experience.  The book begins with an incantatory meditation of sorts that establishes a tone for the rest of the book.  Hood echoes the advice she was given by well-meaning others and her often visceral response, presumably unspoken.

If this memoir proves anything about grief, it proves there is no right thing to say to someone who has experienced a death and no right way to grieve.  For me, the grief Hood explores in this book is genuine.  At times it is as raw as Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking and not pretty and neat like some other writers.  It is also echoic, as Hood revisits the day her daughter died, repeats details about the girl’s favorite meal, what she was wearing, the emptiness of their lives without her.  When one reads the acknowledgments at the back of the book, it becomes obvious some of the content appeared in various magazines.  While this lends a context to the seeming redundancy, there is also something honest about how Hood’s grief circles back and cycles through the same things over and over again.  This is how grief is, in spite of the stages because we don’t move from point A (denial) to point B (acceptance) in a straight line.  Rather, we find ourselves going through the stages again and again, perhaps with a little more grace each time but never with a final conclusion.

There is no “moving on” or “getting over” the death of a child and how Hood does it is so beautifully and honestly shared in this memoir that I found myself crying, sighing gratefully that I can only sympathize, and knowing even now that such things remain unimaginable no matter how clearly or candidly the story is told.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Poser by Claire Dederer

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer is a memoir about a young mother told through a variety of yoga asanas.  Each chapter is titled after a yoga pose–some repeated–that tie in, more or less, with the theme of the chapter itself.

Have you ever read a book that you really, really wanted to like and you ended up only liking it, sorta?  That’s how I feel about this book.  The idea of it, I loved but the interesting premise of giving each chapter a yoga pose often seemed more pretense, done for effect and not always effective.  The young mother anxious over every detail of her young daughter’s life isn’t fully contextualized until later in the book and by then all this navel gazing made this reader want to point out the obvious: children have survived worse parenting than this self-conscious young woman could ever fear to be.

Dederer’s humor is off-key for me.  I could see the humor on the page but it never even drew a smile to my face, let alone had me chuckling along.  If anything, I occasionally found myself laughing at her rather than with her, a feeling that I did not like at all.  And what vague moments of enlightenment she achieved over the years, as a wife, parent, yogini–all of these are given short shrift as if she felt they were too delicate to hold up to the harsh light of letting other readers see what she believes and has experienced.

If western yoga is vilified as being watered down, more about exercise than enlightenment, morally irrelevant and mostly a social fad that has come and gone before and will go away soon, then this memoir is a testimony to the truth of these accusations.  Dederer’s yoga experience is American, with all the best and worst that this implies.

Perhaps one could argue that Dederer knows her American audience and has written a great memoir as a result.  And there is enough here to like to not condemn it completely.  Her insights  into her parent’s relationship and her own are of interest and, if they too fall far from the promise of being insightful, at least they allow a reader to realize that the author is not completely narcissistic.  Those who loved Gilbert’s first memoir or are obsessing over everything in their child’s life may feel an empathy for Dederer I do not.  Perhaps someone with a better sense of humor would laughed along with her as well.  As for me, I really, really wanted to like this book but . . .

(PS: It is interesting to note that it is not until near the very end of the book I find out that the author has chronic vertigo, something that would have made me inclined to feel infinitely more empathetic.  Really?  Not until page 322 does this chronic condition that has defined my personal life for the past four years come up in Dederer’s book?  This is a metaphor, I suppose, for how far removed her experience is from my own because even this, chronic vertigo, is practically irrelevant for her.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Back to the Garden by Patrice Dickey

Back to the Garden: Getting from Shadow to JoyBack to the Garden: Getting From Shadow to Joy by Patrice Dickey is a self-help book with short chapters, some barely covering a full page and most falling below four pages.  Dickey shares her personal story through the relationships she has both personally and professionally.  The wisdom she learns from her experiences are poured fourth on the page but there is not a lot of advice offered.  A few practical exercises and maybe some suggestions for affirmations but, for the most part, the book serves as a memoir cum guide.

When I first down to read this book, I quickly changed how I approached this book.  Rather than read in large blocks of time, I sat with each small chapter and read maybe one to three, at the most, in a single sitting.  Some of the chapters were clearly thought out, well written with a clear purpose while others seemed to meander in and out of ideas.  These latter ones confused me and it confused me more when a theme mentioned in a previous chapter would be forgotten altogether or mentioned so much later that I had to flip back to see if she was talking about the same thing.

There are times when a writer’s style, whether it’s good or not, simply doesn’t click for the reader.  I believe that this might be the case with Dickey’s book.  It may be that other readers had the same problem and, were I to seek out other reviews, I would hear my confusion echoed by others.  I avoid other people’s opinions about books until I can form my own.  But for me, something about Dickey’s merging several themes on the same page and within the same chapter was simply off-putting, easier for me to approach in smaller doses than immersion.

The book is written from a liberal Christian perspective.  At first I thought Dickey was mostly New Age (because of the terminology she uses), might be leaning towards Hinduism (she is a yoga instructor), or some confluence of all of the above that most call “being spiritual” but somewhere along the way she shares her experience in finally finding a church home I realized that she is Liberal, with a capital “L” and this may offend some more conservative readers while her Christianity might offend others.  Can’t win for losing, can she?  None of this offended me at all.  I liked reading about her spiritual struggles, her candor regarding her faith.  Transparent as she is about her life and her life’s stories, there are some things that she never fully realizes on the page and relationships that are more complicated than she ever explains.  The hints she leaves allow the reader to see the scars without re-opening the wounds.

This is a surprisingly above average self-published book–and I typically avoid self-published books because of the poor quality of the final product.  I won’t lie and say that this book is flawless.  I cringed when the author alluded to the song “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” saying it was sung by Ado Annie.  Close but not quite.  The song is from Annie Get Your Gun and Ado Annie is a character from Oklahoma.  There are a few other mistakes that a rigorous editor would have caught but I don’t think most readers will care and I would even guess that some editors for well known publishing houses might not have caught them.  (Do big publishers hire people to verify content?)

Thankfully, there are not the usual editing problems–the paragraph mistakes, the commas that come and go, the periods that manifest in the middle of words, or other clearly odd problems that seem endemic in self-published books.

I would marginally recommend this book.  There is an audience for it.  I’m afraid part of my problem with this book is that I was reading it at the same time as another.  The other book was one I had been enjoying since April, a daily reading book that was informative one day, inspiring the next, and more.  As a result, Patrice Dickey’s book paled by comparison.  Where hers was loosely organized, this other was tight and concise.  I think that was her intention, to write a more meditative self-help type book.  It simply didn’t work for me.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard is perhaps the most interesting novel I’ve read in a long while.  On the surface, the story is simple: Nora Lindell disappears one Halloween night and the emotional repercussions reach throughout the community, beyond the limits of past and present.  The prose is mesmerizing, compelling the reader to turn each page.  Even when an incident is distasteful it rings true.  The plural first person point-of-view voice could easily fall into an affectation but is used to such good effect, reinforcing the implication of how the group of male peers feel about what happened to Nora before her disappearance and what they imagine her life was like afterwards.

The enigmatic, even ambiguous, voice, referring to “we” rather than “I,” allows the narrator(s) to be both complicit and distant.  Both immersed in the events and forced to merely imagine most of what really happens, the questions unravel even as the various threads of the stories are woven, loosely moving in and out of the warp and woof of time.  Past, present, and future all inform one another and seemingly unimportant details emerge as complicated with implication.

I don’t know how Pittard managed to plot out the story in such a non-linear manner, circling around each truth like evidence in a crime scene.  There are no clear reasons or answers and, for this reason, the hypnotic quality of the narrator(s) ruminations is seductive and repulsive, an obsession that overshadows every page.  Pittard doesn’t make this story easy and offers no easy answers.  This is a poetic mid-life crisis, shared in a tone that is lyrical and evocative and, if there is no climactic understanding it is because imagination, whether it comes close to the truth or not, inevitably ends in metaphor and everyone in this novel–from the missing girl to her shattered family to the narrator(s) to the community over all–never sees one another above and beyond the roles they play, if not in real life then in one another’s imaginations. And the suggestion is that perhaps none ever sees themselves beyond what they imagine they are.

Definitely a provocative novel that I would recommend to just about anyone I know.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fifteen in 2011

The following post is copied from its original appearance on my other blog.  With the new review blog in place, it only made sense to move this post over to this blog.

Back in 2000, I decided to devote myself to reading literature written only by women.  I called it "Year of the Woman" for obvious reasons.  That's the year Rob bought me Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling, the thickest book he could find by a woman.  He didn't know it was the fourth book in a then unfinished series.

And so I dedicated 2001 to reading only literature written by women.

It was an interesting challenge I gave to myself, one I enjoyed more than I could have anticipated.  I didn't realize how hard it would be to find interesting books on the bargain shelves.  Most of the bargain books I found written by women were fluffy romances or about how I, too, could be thin and youthful forever.  These would be sitting side-by-side with books like collected works of Nietzsche or the essential Carl Jung and you can see why I found the dearth of quality literature disheartening.

Thank goodness for libraries!

So here I am, ten years later, and this past year (2010) I read fifteen books that had been sitting on my shelf as part of a different challenge:  The Read-It-Or-Get-Rid-Of-It-Challenge.  Okay.  So I didn't read all of the books.  I still have a few weeks before the end of the year but I can already tell you that a couple of the books will go unread.  Or unfinished anyway.  (Edit:  I will be writing a reflective piece on this and on the books that didn't get read or were left unfinished which I will post in the other blog.)

This year, I am doing both challenges.  Not only will I be reading only books by women but I am also going to read or get rid of fifteen books I've had on my bookshelves for a while.  Below is a list of the Fifteen in 2011.  I'll also be reading (or rereading, as the case may be) Jane Austen.  Ooooh . . . ahhhh . . .

And stick around for Lent.  I have already decided what I will be giving up for the Lenten season.

 Be Your Own Life Coach by Diane Scholten

I picked this up years ago after my mother and I went to a presentation by a life coach who works out of upstate NY.  Needless to say, in a one hour presentation there's only so much a life coach can teach.  I bought this book on a whim and loved it immediately and then . . . misplaced it.  I think I put it on the wrong shelf or it ended up buried in a pile of other books or something.  Whatever happened, the book remained unread and this seems like as good a year as any to commit to reading it and applying the teachings to my own life.

The Temple Bombing by Melisssa Fay Greene

This is an autographed copy I picked up while still in college after hearing her speak about her then latest book.  This one had already been published and popular, addressing issues of anti-Semitism in the south.

I've avoided reading this book not because I don't find the subject of great interest (and even urgency) but because I know it will distress me at some level.  It is not a topic one approaches lightly and, therefore, the poor book has been sitting on my bookshelf, neglected, for over a decade.

Edit:  You can read my review this book here.

Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene

Again, it isn't that I didn't want to read this book.  After all, I bought it for a reason.  But I didn't know if I could face a nonfiction account of racism in rural Georgia.  Especially not one that took place in the 1970s rather than the distant past of racism.  I think distance may have been easier for me.

Nevertheless, this is the year when  I will bit the bullet and face the stories of Georiga's not too distant past.  I am prepared to do so and that is truly a part of the battle where such stories are concerned.

Desperanto by Marilyn Hacker

I honestly can't tell you a thing about this book.  I can't recall buying it or how I acquired it.  Did someone give it to me?  It is possible.  Did I see it on a bargain bookshelf and grab it?  Also possible.

I know this much, the author's name is completely unknown to me so I can safely say that I didn't read a poem or story or other writing by Hacker and want to read more.  I simply have no idea where, how, or why this book came to be on my bookshelf.

All the more reason for me to commit to reading it this year, don't you think?

The Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath (ed Ted Hughes)

I tried to read this but felt such a deep sadness when I began that I had to set it aside. Then the Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath was released.  Hmph!

What I plan on doing is borrowing the unabridged version and reading the two side-by-side, to see what has been edited out.  Of course, I'll have to (once again) mentally prepare myself to read these journals because I already know that they will leave me feeling sad.  (If it weren't another Year of Women Writers for me, I would juxtapose reading Plath's journals with Terry Pratchett.  Oh well.)

Edit:  You can read my review here.

A.D. by Kate Millett

I picked this up on a whim, a bargain book that had an interesting cover.  I thought it was a science fiction novel about a dystopian future.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that it is actually a memoir.  And about growing up gay in the 50's.  And about family relationships and love.

Really, this is why I have to occasionally commit to going through my shelves and reading those books that have been neglected because this one ranks very high as one that I clearly have neglected for far too long.  I expect this is one I'll enjoy to the utmost.

Some Personal Papers by JoAllen Bradham

Have you ever heard that story about the medical professor who asked his students to tell him the name of one of the cleaning staff for the university building in which these students had been studying pre-med for a number of years?  None of the students could name one.

When I went to college I knew the names of many of the facility employees and befriended more than a few.  One of them, upon my graduating, gave this book to me as a gift.  The author was a professor at Kennesaw State University at the time.  I didn't read it for before because it stirred up much sadness in me.  But now I'm ready and eager to read this book and remember some good times.

Edit:  You can read my review for Some Personal Papers here.

The Beauty Myth  by Naomi Wolf

I tend to avoid some books because I know that they will stir up certain feelings or ideas I already hold.  I mean, do I really need to fan my feminist flames into an inferno?  Probably not.  And yet, I bought this book so it is time for me to buckle down and read it.

Not sure what to expect but no doubt, when I do read this, you'll know because I'll be thinking along more strongly feminist lines.  Or maybe you won't be able to tell.  Maybe it will all just sound as feminist as it does already and it will merely be more of the same.  Your guess is as good as mine.

The Dance of Anger / The Dance of Intimacy / The Dance of Deception by Harriet Lerner

I bought this book when I gave a copy of the first book, The Dance of Anger, as a gift to my friend Jorin Burr.  I don't know if she ever read it.  I don't even know if she ever received it but, at the time, I thought it would be interesting for both of us to read it together and discuss it.

So now I have this three-in-one volume that's been on my shelf waiting for someone else to read along with me and I give up.  I'm going to read it and the other two books in this volume.  I actually will be rereading the first book, which I read while I was in college and working with a really wonderful counselor.  If the other two books are even close to being as interesting as the first then this will be a wonderful read.

Edit:  The review for Dance of Anger can be read here.

Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong

This is the second time Karen Armstrong has been on my "Fifteen" list.  I keep buying her books and then setting them aside.  But not anymore!  This year I am going to read this book.

Originally, my intention was to read this book while I was reading the Qur'an (or The Koran) but I had mis-shelved this book and couldn't find it.  So when I came across it while reorganizing my books, I was so excited to add it to this year's list.  I am sure I'll learn more and appreciate it more fully than reading a poor translation of a sacred text.  At least, I hope so, anyway.

Edit:  I will not be reading this book after all.  To see why, read this post.

Healing the Soul of America by Marianne Williamson

The last few books by Williamson I've read have left me underwhelmed.  I bought this book shortly after 9/11 because I was so distraught by the vitriolic rhetoric that surrounded me.  It was hard to tune out and I wanted to read something that would, I hoped, be a breath of fresh air to me.  I didn't read it at the time but that doesn't mean I don't still need a breath of fresh air.  I hope that this book doesn't disappoint.

And I bought it at a time when a lot of people were either recommending Williamson to me or giving me her books.  It was weird.  Now I have a lot of her books, unread.

Finding Water by Julia Cameron

I actually haven't had this book a very long time, only a few years, but I bought it with the intention of reading it along with my mother and step-sister.  I don't really know what happened to that plan but I suppose I can go ahead (and even should go ahead) and read it without waiting for anyone else to join me for the ride.

Of course you, dear reader, are welcome to join me if you happen to have a copy.  Or can borrow one.

The Future of Love by Daphne Rose Kingma

I read another book by Kingma and loooooved it so, when I saw this book, I wanted to see what she had to say about love. I don't really know why I didn't read it sooner. I guess I already had some love in my life, in the form of my children and Rob, and I didn't really wonder about the future of love.

I don't even now.  It's there.  It ebbs.  It flows.  It evolves.  I guess I just didn't see an imperative to read this book but I remember loving that other book when I read it so I am sure I'll find some lovely quotes in this one, no pun intended.

Emotional Freedom by Judith Orloff

This arrived in my mailbox by mistake.  Oops.  Damn book of the month club.  But I paid for  it anyway and then let it sit on my shelf for a long time.

I am still not eager to read it but this is the reason why I do these read it or get rid of it challenges and it makes sense to add this book to the list.  It's been on my shelf long enough.  Time for it to move on or become a permanent part of my life.

Three guesses which of the two it will be.  Obviously, with only two choices, you won't need three guesses.  Oh well.

Jean Rhys:  The Complete Novels by Jean Rhys 

This book was a gift from Gina Allison.  I never read it.  I would pick it up and move it into my pile of read sooner rather than later . . . and then find something else to read.

I really want to read this book and either love it or find it a new more loving home.  Can I count this five-in-one volume as five books?  I won't.  I'm counting it as a single book.

Mostly because this one book makes the fifteenth book on my list of Fifteen for 2011.

Edit  The review for Voyage in the Dark can be read here.

Not too shabby a list.  I think it's interesting, indicative of my usual range of reading choices.  And last year I fell in love with a couple of the books I had been avoiding on my own bookshelves.  For all I know, I will fall in love with all of the above or maybe most of the above.  (I honestly think my heart would break if I got to the end of one of these read them or get rid of them challenges with nothing new to keep on my shelf.)

Now if only I could stop buying new books . . .
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