Monday, January 30, 2012

MWF Seeking BFF

As I've gotten older, many of my close friendships from high school, college, or even the first years out of college, have either faded completely or are barely hanging on. People become immersed in their careers, marriage, and children, and become too busy to devote time to friendships. I've also found that as I've gotten older, it becomes harder to make new friends. As someone who lives in the suburbs and doesn't have children, there aren't a whole lot of places to meet new friends. So, when I saw Rachel Bertsche's new book MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, I was intrigued. Could it be that I'm not the only one that has had difficulty finding new friends?

In her late 20s, married but no children, Rachel recently moved to Chicago. Although she knows a few people, she hasn't made any close friends. Despite living in a large city, she has had difficulty meeting people. Rachel decides to take on a year-long quest to make new friends, promising to go on 52 "friend dates" by the end of the year. She tries everything from being set up by her spouse, coworkers, and family, joining new classes, publishing an online ad, joining Meetup groups, attending speed friending, matchmaking services, and even renting a friend.

What results is an entertaining account of her experiences and a thoughtful look at the concept of friendship. She finds that despite her worries, she is not alone in her difficulty finding friends. She worries that the only people she will meet at these events will be losers, but it turns out that most of the women she meets are smart, professional, fun women who are also having trouble making connections. Rachel has done her homework for this book. She frequently references research that explores the concept of friendship, different types of friendship, and the need for friendships in our lives. She also addresses an interesting point about the stigma of loneliness in America. We see ads for matchmaking services all the time. It's perfectly acceptable to shout from the rooftops that you want a romantic relationship, but tell anyone that you are looking for a friendship and people automatically think you must be a loser. Rachel quickly learns that you don't need to be embarrassed about looking for new friendships, because chances are, others are too. And judging by the wait list for this book at the library, she is right.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hunger Games

I have to admit that I am totally psyched about "The Hunger Games" coming to the big screen on March 23rd!  I knew the film was coming out and all the hype was very positive.  I decided I would take the plunge and read the book before the film came out.  There is a lot of talk these days about YA literature and the crossover appeal of this particular book.  All I can say is that this middle aged man loved it.  I found "The Hunger Games" to be a fascinating mix of fantasy and science fiction and furthermore I was surprised that it was well written as well.  Several years ago I read another YA title that was huge and also was made into a series of movies.  I was amazed how poorly written that particular book was, so it was a pleasure to read "The Hunger Games" after that bad experience.

I very purposely didn't watch any of the trailers for the movie before I finished the book.  I didn't want to read the book with any preconceptions.  The night I finished the book I went over to the computer and found the official trailer and watched it.  I have to admit that after seeing the trailer I was even more excited about the movie.  Many of the images and scenes looked almost exactly as I imagined them.  The main characters seemed to be perfectly cast.  Katniss in particular looked exactly as I imagined she would look.  I've read that the movie is supposed to very closely follow the plot of the book.  If this is the case I don't see how this movie won't be a huge hit that will appeal to audiences of all ages.

You still have two months to go.  So there is still plenty of time to get a copy of "The Hunger Games" and read it for yourself.  Once you do I think you'll understand why so many people are looking forward to the movie coming out.

If you've read the book already are you also excited about watching "The Hunger Games" on the big screen?

It's here!

Ok, so it's not the Academy Awards but it may as well be for anyone who reads Teen lit. The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in YA Literature is for Teen titles what that ridiculously heavy gold statue is for film. As announced this last Monday John Corey Whaley's "Where Things Come Back" was given the honor and (gasp!) I haven't read it yet. In fact, this book was nowhere near my radar for possible choices for this year's Printz award. I like this fact because A. I enjoy surprises and B. This keeps me on my toes and humbles my assumptions about the crazy world of Teen reading. I will definitely be checking this book out soon but in the meantime here are a list of this year's Printz Award honorees.

A perhaps lesser known (but just as significant) award given each year is the Alex Award, which honors 10 titles written for adults but which have special appeal for Teens. This award blurs the line between traditional "Adult" fic and "Teen" fic, which makes the titles below some of my favorite recommendations of the year. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Winner is...

With awards season upon us for movies and televsion, I was heartened to see that during the Golden Globes telecast there were several references to books and authors.   It seems that in the past few years more and more books are being turned into screenplays.  
On the red carpet, Brad Pitt made mention of the book Moneyball and of how he was blessed with such a great story.
In their acceptance speech for Best Motion Picture-Drama, producer Jim Burke and director Alexander Payne of The Descendants sent a shout out and thank you to acclaimed author Kaui Hart Hemmings on whose book the movie was based.
Accepting his Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in television’s A Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage mentioned first and foremost (after his wife) author George RR Martin for his imagination.  Martin, in turn, was reported to say how pleased he has been with how faithful the producers have been to his work and that the goal was to take his story and translate it to a different medium such as television. “No TV show or movie is ever going to be 100 percent faithful to a book but I think people who love the books will love the TV show and that will continue to be true,” he added.  How true!
Not all of our beloved books make the red carpet.  Here are just a few of the books turned into movies this past year:  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly, Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin, One Day by David Nicholl's, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Too Big to Fail (TV movie) by Andrew Ross Sorkin, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling.

Up next is the Screen Actors Guild Awards on January 29th and on February 26th we have the 84th Academy Awards.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rules of Civility

Did you ever have a year when the decisions you made--almost without thinking--affected the course of the rest of your life?

Amor Towles' book Rules of Civility begins in a jazz club in New York City on New Year's Eve 1937. Katey Kontent and Eve Ross are spending their carefully budgeted nickels on martinis, when they meet Tinker Grey. Wealthy and handsome, Tinker Grey enjoys exploring their haunts even as he offers Katey and Eve access to the fine dining, expensive parties, and beautiful homes of the elite upper class. Until an accident changes the course of their relationships.

The book is beautifully written with great dialogue and it offers a terrific exploration of social structure at the end of the depression. Katey narrates the book; she's witty, grounded, has a strong sense of self, and she takes chances. Even the minor characters in the book are well-drawn. And Amor Towles has compiled a jazz play list for the book, including Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker. So put on some music, mix up a shaker of martinis and step into 1938...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Which Everyone Seems to be Coming of Age...

Going into the holiday season I selected a very large stack of books from our shelves and brought them home for a month long binge read.  There was no rhyme or reason to the pile, really.  Some were novels I’d had on my “to read” list forever, some were random things I picked up based on one best of list or another, but, as I read them, a very strange trend began to emerge…

Somehow –and I swear I didn’t see this coming – I wound up reading roughly a million coming of age stories, several of which incorporated weird relationships with stunted, inappropriate adults.  I mean, I love a good teenage bildungsroman, so maybe I should have anticipated this, but SERIOUSLY GUYS,  I HAVE READ SO MANY OF THESE THIS MONTH.  What’s with all the crazy fictional elders?

Anyhow, I've decided to go with the trend and make a short list of a few of the more recently published of my winter literary encounters with these tales of self-discovery in questionable climates, of adolescents who want to desperately to grow up and of adults who can’t seem to master the process.

Espach’s debut novel is an envious achievement; a fresh romp through the wilds of affluent suburban Connecticut told with the perfectly rendered voice of wry leading girl Emily Vidal.  In a perfect storm of smartly framed melodramas, young Emily catches her father with the neighbor’s wife, witnesses the neighbor’s subsequent suicide, his wife’s pregnancy, the divorce of her own parents, and then begins a surprisingly lasting affair with a 20-something high school teacher she immaturely calls “Mr. Basketball.”  While the turmoil may sound like the workings of a primetime soap opera, Espach has a talent for teenage dialogue and a way of capturing, rather beautifully, the constant displaced feelings of adolescence.  Everything old is new again, and its this sensibility that carries the novel through its more expected moments.

Leo Binhammer is the only male faculty member in a female-dominated New York City school for girls.  He relishes the attention he receives from his peers and the adoration of the girls in his care (no, no, not in that way) until his star is forced suddenly into decline by the arrival of a new, young teacher who manages what Leo cannot seem to– he challenges and charms a particularly intellectual ward who Leo fears.  Hummingbirds is a sort of male-centric Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, an academic quirk fest for those still in love with leather school satchels and the idea of a uniform sweater.  When it digs in the gossipy dirt it does so with the flush of school girl crushes and chatter just as smart as it is frothy.

      Blau’s 70’s-set coming of age is an adult piece of literature disguised as one of the candy-coated confections of your young adult life.  Our tale follows 14-year old Jamie as she battles with the pressures of growing up with exhibitionist hippie parents. A period piece if ever there was one, Jamie’s sun-soaked revelations on surfer boys, stoner friends, and her own faltering attempts to forge her own path into adulthood make for a read that’s surprisingly deft in its character development without surrendering any of the cheap and cheerful entertainment.

While I will admit to not enjoying The Family Fang as much as some of this blog’s other esteemed contributors, I won’t hesitate to recommend it as an engaging, fast-paced read that manages to cleverly raise questions about art and artifice while smartly articulating the damage wrought by parental deception.  The Fangs are a quirky clan in which the performance artist parents permanently merge their innocent children’s lives in with their very public art.  Think of it as a literary satire that blends the films of Wes Anderson with the cartoons of Charles Addams.

       Youngish high school teacher with a cult following and a casual comfort level accidentally stumbles into an affair with a female student.  Yep, heard that one before. Maksik has been receiving plenty of press for his novel under the guise that it is our teacher’s relationship with a second student –  a young man from an abusive household who develops his own sort of ‘crush’ – that truly adds a new spin on a recycled plot device.  While the rise and fall of this particular educator is occasionally interesting to observe, the Parisian setting is a lush addition, and the political tie-ins often surprising, I’d be lying if I told you You Deserve Nothing added anything at all to the nasty old student/teacher cliché.  Bland, often quite indulgent, and made all the more creepy by rumors of the inspiration being drawn from an actual affair of the author’s own. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Challenge: 420 Characters

Could you write a story in 420 characters? Those of you familiar with Facebook know that the status update field is limited to 420 characters. Lou Beach has compiled a collection of mini stories from his Facebook status updates titled 420 Characters. Some are humorous and some are quite dark. His creativity is impressive, as is his ability to hook the reader in so few characters. I'm not usually a short story fan, but I enjoyed these. My favorite story is about a chicken having a nightmare in which her baby chick, a pink marshmallow Peep, is being devoured by a toddler. The chicken wakes up and says "Christ, I hate that dream."

What would you write, if you had to tell a story in 420 characters?

Friday, January 13, 2012

I'll admit, I love a dash of drama thrown into my realistic fiction, and with Teen books there are no limits to the amount of it I can find. "How to Save a Life" by Sarah Zarr has that perfect combination of real life circumstance and one of a kind appeal that I'm always craving.

Jill figures she's got enough going on, what with the unexpected death of her father 10 months and the subsequent and stifling quiet that has permeated the house she shares with her mother, not to mention the fact that she's been steadily detaching herself from friends and family. Then, out of the blue, Jane's mother announces her plans to adopt a baby, but wait, it gets more complicated (cue the drama). Jill's mother decides to bring Mandy, a very pregnant 17 year old, into the house to stay until she gives birth to a baby that Jill's mother will adopt. Suddenly Jill's not only feeling ousted by the possibility of a new sibling being thrown into the mix, but she has to share her home with a quirky and intensely private girl who could be giving birth to her sister or brother. Crazy stuff, right?

However unconventional the synopsis of this story may sound, overall the sincerity of the writing and of the characters will pull you right in. Despite my thirst for all kinds of crazy drama, my favorite aspect of this book was its element of subtlety and respect for the character's situations. In no ways are the circumstances of Mandy and Jill contrived into some sort of soap opera. Instead, each girl gets her deserved spotlight in a story that intertwines characters while still making sure to set each apart from the other. I ended up loving the characters I thought I would dislike, and questioning the ones I thought I would root for. This is the kind of book that comes along every once in a while and shakes up my perception of the quick summary I read on its back cover.

So, if you do like the drama and if you don't like the drama, this book is for you! Sara Zarr's writing is eloquent, perceptive, and has that unique mix of appeal for young readers and older readers alike. Trust me, there's a reason this book was chosen by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal as a "Best Book of 2011".

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The King's Speech

I love books but I also love movies.  One of the things I'm constantly doing is watching the movie and then reading the book or sometimes I do it the other way around.  In my experience 95% of the time the book is better than the movie.  There are rare exceptions like "Field Of Dreams" which was much better than the novella it is based on, but almost always the book is better.

I recently finished reading the book "The King's Speech" and then I watched the film immediately after finishing the book.  To me this was one of the very rare occasions where the book is not better than the movie.  The book is very different than the movie.  Both were very enjoyable in their own ways.  I would call then equals.  Neither is better than the other.

I was a history major in college so historical accuracy is important to me.  This is perhaps where the greatest differences lie between the book and the movie.  The book "The Kings Speech" is co-written by Mark Logue, the grandson of Lionel Logue who was the speech therapist who helped the future king.  For the book Mark Logue did a great amount of historical research and had access to Lionel Logue personal papers, archives, and scrap books.

While the movie plays with historical facts to present more of a drama the book sticks to the real story.  It was fascinating to read about the future Queen Mother and the little Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.  The book also goes into fascinating detail about Edward VIII abdicating the throne.

What I found the most interesting difference between the book and the movie was how the relationship between Lionel Logue and the future King George VI is shown.  In the movie Lionel Logue treats the future king as just another patient.  He treats him no differently than he would treat anyone coming into his office.  The movie gives the impression that Lionel Logue, as an Australian immigrant to England, doesn't have the same sort of respect for the monarchy that an Englishman might have.  According to the book this is completely false.  In the book Lionel Logue is awed by the presence of the future king and he goes out of his way to follow correct protocol.  In the film Lionel Logue calls the future king "Bertie" when they first meet, shakes his hand, and there is physical contact.  In the book Lionel Logue would never dare call the future king by his nickname and always refers to him using the proper title of "Your Majesty".  In the book one of the most dramatic scenes is when Lionel Logue accidentally touches the arm of the king in excitement after one of his speeches because he is so proud of him.  This was after having worked with him for over ten years.  Commoners aren't supposed to touch the king.  It's a big deal and Lionel Logue knows that.  In the film he touches him the first time they meet.

So while the film of "The King's Speech" was very enjoyable, and certainly deserved to win the Oscars it was awarded, if you are looking for the true historical facts behind the story, read the book!  You'll hopefully enjoy it just as much as the film.

Are there any other books that were made into movies that you think are equally good?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Favorite Books

I recently came upon the following from How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren:  “Reading a good book should be a conversation between you and the author.  Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with this book.  But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying.  Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author.  It is the highest respect that you can pay him.”
By reading others works we learn of new things, new ideas.  These ideas transpose themselves in diverse ways, affecting others reading the same book in different ways.  No one book says the same thing to everyone.   This brings me to the following list that showed up on just the other day.  It’s a list that was created in September 2011 for National Read a Book Day of celebrities’ favorite books.  After reading the list please feel free to comment on what your favorite book is, we would love to hear what YOUR favorite book is!

Ben Affleck- Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Michelle Obamba- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Judd Apatow- A Death in the Family by James Agee
Samantha Bee- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Harold Bloom- Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
George H. W. Bush- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Don Cheadle- If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Himes
Bill Clinton- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by  Maya Angelou
Anderson Cooper- A Death in the Family by James Agee
Mark Cuban- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Nora Ephron- The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Chris Matthews- A Thousand Days by Arthur M. Schlesinger 
Barack Obama- Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gwyneth Paltrow- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Robert Pattinson- Charles Baudelaire: Complete Poems by Charles Baudelaire
Amy Poehler- I Like You by Amy Sedaris
Natalie Portman- Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander
Bill Simmons- Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
Jay Z- Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Ready for a high stakes contest with a multi-billion dollar payoff? Nostalgic tour of the 80’s? View of a future spent more on-line than IRL (in the real-world)? Geek coming-of-age/love story? David vs. Goliath battle? Puzzles?

You’ll love Ready Player One.

In the book, the reclusive video game designer James Halliday rocks the world when he dies: he offers his company and multibillion dollar fortune to the first person who can solve the puzzles and obtain the three keys hidden inside the OASIS. While life on earth in 2045 is pretty harsh, the refuge is the OASIS—Halliday’s vast virtual reality. Wade Watts grew up in the OASIS, his avatar going to school, buying goods and services, playing games, and meeting other people, well, avatars. And a huge subculture is born as millions search for Halliday’s prize. But years pass, and no one solves the first puzzle.

Wade plans to win the contest; he focuses on Halliday’s lifelong obsession with the 1980’s, and he doesn’t cut any corners researching. Films. TV episodes. Lyrics. Comic books. Video games. He stores information in his grail diary as possible clues for his quest—and then, as his avatar Parzival, he discovers the first key.

Parzival rockets to the top of Halliday’s contest scoreboard in OASIS, and the competition to win becomes fierce, even while the clues to the next puzzles become more difficult. Wade has to decide if he can go it alone--or join with other geeks--all while racing against the evil conglomerate bent on winning and subverting the OASIS to its own ends.

You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy this book (but pass the book along to someone who is!). And you’ll definitely want to revisit your favorite 80’s TV shows and movies. I’d start with Wargames and Back to the Future, followed by the Star Wars trilogy (original, not prequel). How ‘bout you?

Monday, January 2, 2012

The House of Silk

For some reason, I can't seem to get enough Sherlock Holmes. From the original Conan Doyle stories narrated on audiobook by Simon Prebble, to the latest movie version (although that might have something to do with Robert Downey Jr.), the BBC modern adaptation Sherlock, and Laurie King's mystery series featuring Holmes and Mary Russell, I seem to be on a Holmes bender.
Fortunately for Holmes' fans, the Arthur Conan Doyle estate has authorized a new Sherlock Holmes novel. Anthony Horowitz, writer of the popular British television series Foyle’s War, has resurrected Sherlock Holmes and his partner, Dr. John Watson, for what could be their biggest case yet: The House of Silk. What starts out as an investigation of a burglary ends up turning into a much bigger case. Holmes and Watson discover a horrible crime that implicates members of the most esteemed families of England and the government. Horowitz delivers an intriguing mystery with realistic details of the gritty London underworld. The author also remains true to Holmes’ voice and personality, which should please die-hard fans. The audiobook is narrated by Derek Jacobi, who does a wonderful job with the various English accents.

Thanks to Noreen's suggestion, I'm moving on to A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes' Canon.