Review: The Bean Trees

Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees. 1988.

I am reading a lot this vacation! What an excellent vacation.

The Bean Trees is a book I idly picked up because Dre insisted - he read another of Kingsolver's books, The Poisonwood Bible, and fell in love with her. Now, I haven't read The Poisonwood Bible, but I am susceptible to hype, and I'm also susceptible to a book lying around with nobody reading it. I wasn't quite in the mood for Luka yet, looking for something a little more down to earth, so The Bean Trees was it.

And it's very down to earth. There's no wacky magical realism here (though I do love me some magical realism) - while some strange things happen (one of the primary premises is a Cherokee baby gets more or less abandoned with a single and broke young woman driving west from Kentucky), all of those things could easily enough happen. The Bean Trees is about growth and resilience in the most unlikely places, and what it takes and means to be a family.

It turns out this was Ms. Kingsolver's first novel, though I didn't know until I was about halfway through and actually read some of the reviewer's quotes on the back cover (look at how thorough I am!). I can't say anything about how her writing progresses later, but for now, I really do like her style. Her narration (through her main character, Taylor) is frank and friendly, as Taylor herself is quite frank and friendly, occasionally taking a turn for the poetic. While the book deals with heavy stuff such as child abuse and illegal immigration, there's always enough hope that I wanted to keep reading. More than anything, it's about the lives of the people in the book - mostly Taylor and Lou Ann (her friend/roommate) and the children they're saddled with - and how they get by.

And I could read their getting by all day. I unashamedly love this book, and I'm almost sorry I finished it so quickly. People should read it. Then they'll love it, too.
gail, annoyed, bomb, sarcastic

Review: Eating the Dinosaur

Klosterman, Chuck. Eating the Dinosaur. 2009.

Eating the Dinosaur was a Christmas present last year, and I haven't gotten around to it until now. Why? First, it takes me essentially forever to get around to anything (unless I have little else to read), and second, it's Klosterman. Mind, I like Klosterman quite a lot, but I still haven't finished the other work of his that I own (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs). But we were leaving for New York (still here, btw), and I needed to pack relatively light (since the cat coming along meant we had to make a lot of room for his stuff). So that meant not bringing Deed - it's kind of huge - and picking up something that I can read intermittently and not feel bad about not finishing. What the hell, says I, I haven't even finished Klosterman's LAST book, and I don't feel bad about that. So why not bring this one.

I finished it. And I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Eating the Dinosaur, like Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, is all about cultural analysis - specifically, pop culture analysis. In Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman examines everything from Nirvana to the Unabomber to laugh tracks to professional sports to time travel and raises questions (and some answers) concerning what some people call "the human condition" (namely the crap that keeps people thinking late at night). And it's all pretty fascinating stuff. But I enjoyed it much more than Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I figure I must, because I actually FINISHED Eating the Dinosaur, and I finished it very quickly.

I suppose the primary difference is while Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is Klosterman's self-proclaimed late night book, written late at night while he's thinking late at night (about the human condition!), Eating the Dinosaur feels more like it's written the next day, with notes from the night before but the clarity of a good night's sleep. As always, Klosterman writes in a very casual style, but now his writing is tighter, his theses clearer, and his explanations are easier to follow.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs suffers greatly from Klosterman's meandering - as a result, there were whole sections of the book that I just didn't CARE about, so I skipped whole pages. Sometimes I even skipped chapters (but everyone should read his chapter on the Sims, because it's BRILLIANT.) Eating the Dinosaur didn't suffer from this: he has an entire chapter about football, which I followed (and I don't give a flying crap about football) because I was interested in his thesis early on and he explained various aspects and rules well enough for me to follow. At the end of the chapter, I was glad that I did.

Anyway, if I were to recommend one Klosterman book, Eating the Dinosaur is it. If you're interested in pop culture analysis, this is a very good read. It also probably helps that I agree with Klosterman more often in Eating the Dinosaur, but then, I always did interpret When Harry Met Sally a little differently than most people. (And pick up Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs anyway, for that Sims chapter!)

Next: No idea yet. I have a Salman Rushdie novel here - Luka and the Fire of Life - it's supposed to be a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Maybe I'll get to it before I go home.
blank, rochelle

Review: X-Campus

Marvel. X-Campus.

There's no copyright info as far as I can see, though I assume this graphic novel was published this year. Mind, I don't generally post about the comics I read, but I figured I'd put up one about X-Campus, as I'd just finished it and it's reasonably self-contained. (I really SHOULD put up a review of the full series Y: The Last Man, which I've also recently finished, but in that case I really should revise my essay on it instead. So instead, concerning Y, I'll just say this: It's very good. Go read it. Then please talk to me about it, because zomg.)

Anyway. X-Campus is a graphic novel which is a retelling of Marvel's X-Men, the main difference being a number of the iconic X-Men (Rogue, Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Iceman, etc.) are teenagers, and some are teachers/staff at a private high school. This is not Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, either: he's a teacher there (so is Magneto!), but he does not run the school itself.

This is the kind of crap that I love, so it's no wonder Dre suggested a friend of ours get it for me for Christmas (I didn't even know it exists). And I did very much enjoy reading it. The story is decently concise and self-contained; a rudimentary knowledge of the X-Men is useful, but not necessary, and by the end of the graphic novel all loose ends are tied up.

Things that I really like:

1. Codenames are minimized - they're high school students; why do they actually need them?

2. The X-Men as fairly normal students is fun to watch. Examples: Cyclops, instead of being the uptight leader he's generally thought of as, is instead an awkward, skinny dork of a teenager with no control over his powers. Wolverine, instead of the eXtreem badass with a heart of gold we're used to (sigh) is instead a kid who likes to act tougher than he is and - while a decently effective bully - is not good at getting girls.

3. While there are villains, and they're pretty super, they're not actually supervillains in the truest sense. Example: Juggernaut is abusing his powers on the football field, not wreaking havoc in a wacky costume. Actually, nobody has wacky costumes.

Things I don't like:

1. The art style took a little while for me to get used to. It's not bad, but Rogue seriously looked like she was stoned/disinterested in everything even when she was (apparently) highly interested (or traumatized). Later, she didn't look so bad to me - so I must have either gotten used to it or she actually did look stoned at first.

2. I've always thought that Professor Xavier's a little creepy and overbearing/demanding - maybe it's that whole SUPER POWERFUL TELEPATH thing - and that so has not changed for me with this comic. Oh well. It's just Xavier being Xavier.

Anyway, fun read. I recommend it if high school X-Men is your kind of thing. Otherwise, you'll probably hate it. Edited to add: Also, flight is a waaaaay cooler power when nobody else can do it. Just saying.

Up next: Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur, since I've finished it.

Review: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

Powell, Julie. Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. 2005.

I finally finished a book! GO ME. For the record, it's not Julie and Julia's fault that this took so long. It's my thesis, my engagement, my job, my other hobbies, and essentially my life's fault. (I actually also read the fourth Harry Potter book and attempted the fifth, as well as all sorts of thesisy things, in this time - obviously, I didn't review any of it. Maybe I'll write about Harry Potter later, at least.)

On to the book. I picked up Julie and Julia at a bookstore in D.C. on an impulse buy; the title looked interesting, I opened it up, and I started chortling madly at one of the passages. zegon was actually somewhat annoyed at the time, because given my reaction, he wanted to buy it for me. Probably for my birthday or something. Oh well, I'm sure I got something else... I just can't remember what.

I have not seen the movie. Hell, at the time, I didn't even know a movie was coming out for the book. So I can't comment on that. The book, however, is everything I think a memoir should be: funny, insightful, and honest. It follows Julie Powell, a temp secretary, and her year of cooking dangerously - that is, trying to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, which is made more interesting by the fact that Powell is 1. in a dead end temp job, and 2. nowhere near the level of a professional chef.

The writing is casual and clear, something like reading a blog (which makes sense, since Powell was blogging about her experiences) but with more polish. The anecdotes are amusing and well placed, and the cooking... well, the cooking is cooking, with all of the ups and downs that come with cooking. But I never found myself bogged down by it; Powell spends about the perfect amount of time explaining the recipes and process for my tastes.

Anyway. Rambling review short, Julie and Julia is a good, fun memoir, definitely worth looking into if one's interested in that whole exploring-the-human-condition-through-cooking thing. I obviously am.

Next: Sheepfarmer's Daughter, by Elizabeth Moon. I miss me some fantasy novels.
blank, rochelle

(no subject)

Why is it that now that I have a job and next to no free time, people are randomly popping in and asking me to do editing things for money? Couldn't they have filled in, I don't know, the year-long gap where I had no income at all? That would've been nice. Not that I'm complaining about the abundance now, but it would have!

I nearly ran over a dog about an hour ago. Four of them were running around, barking like mad, and one took a sharp left into the street. I stopped, felt my wheel hit something, and I think I screamed for a good ten seconds. The dog was okay, though; it ran back to a lawn nearby, and someone standing nearby called that he was all right. Scared the everliving fuck out of me, though. People seriously need to control their pets.

Wedding planning continues, as Dre and I try to stay on top of this so it doesn't bury us. Our wedding party has been asked, we have our budget now, and we drew up a preliminary guest list. I need to do more address gathering. A lot more address gathering. We'll see how things pan out... I hope people don't give me a hard time if they don't end up invited; we don't have even half of the money spent on an average wedding.

Now to cut my nails and reread Edgar Huntly.
distracted, curious, embarrassed, chinstrap, humbled

Planning thoughts, or something.

There's going to be a lot of wedding thoughts going through this journal over the next while, I think. Ah well. I am starting early!

Dre and I are tentatively thinking June 2011, on a Saturday, as a wedding date. It would be ideal, since he'll have school then and a number of guests probably will be, too - not to mention the number of people we'd probably be asking to fly/drive in. So during break would be great. On the downside, it turns out June is the most popular/expensive month and Saturday is the most popular/expensive day, so in that sense, things could get ugly.

Need to call parents and ask them if they're willing to put money in and if so, how much. We REALLY can't afford much on our own. Once a budget is figured out, can start with some very early planning and ideas as to what is reasonable for maximum awesomeness.

Guest lists are going to be a pain in the ass. I'm so afraid I'm going to forget somebody I really want to come or have to cut people out I also really want to come. Both will probably happen. And there is family. Oh, the family.
brick, determined, victorious, proud

Life is crazy, but at least it's moving! Finally.

A couple of life-changingish events happened recently, so I'd better document it here for posterity (and let people know what's going on!).

1. I got a job after a year of unemployment. It doesn't pay very well (10/hour), and it's part time, but I like it. I'm converting/editing textbooks into word documents so students can use their computers to read them. I've had it for about a month now, and I'm slowly working my way out of completely broke and into mostly poor. Taking that job at McDonald's for one day might have spurred it on...

2. Yesterday, Dre asked me to marry him. I said yes.

Edit: Oh, and here's a picture of the ring, just uploaded:
brave penguin (delfina)

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. 1999.

I've been told by dreol, Harry Potter nut and English major that he is, that Chamber of Secrets is the weakest of the seven novels in the series. It certainly seems to be his least favorite; he says he thinks it's because it's less connected with the overarching story and the rest of the novels than the others.

He may be right, but it was still a fun read. And Chamber of Secrets isn't unconnected - not in the least. There was at least one gun on the mantle that comes out in book six (or I assume so; I made the connection with the movie - I haven't yet read book six). If there's one thing Ms. Rowling can do right, I would have to say it's setting everything up... even this early, even in the second book that can get mired in a pile of seven (which by all rights should be less important than the first for VAST FORESHADOWING), I found myself spotting... well, not quite hints and clues, but things - items, people - that would come into play much, much later. And I haven't even read the rest of the series; this is just from my incomplete movie knowledge. So there's something there. Book 2 might not be as connected, but it doesn't lack connection.

Past that, Harry Potter continues to be escapist fiction of the best sort. Rowling does a decent job re-explaining Hogwarts and some of the events and revelations that took place in the first novel - I'm assuming she doesn't continue to do this, once she realizes how rabid her fanbase is and how much they tend to remember, but she does manage quite well. Harry has a personality but not too much of one; his two friends fulfill their roles as sidekick and brain very well. And seriously, I don't mean any of those things in a bad way, as I like Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. But it's good for escapist fiction - you have to be able to substitute yourself for them, in those roles. If I were in junior high school, I'd be gobbling Harry Potter up just for that. Snape's still my favorite character, but huge surprise there. And I'd more or less forgotten about the second movie (more proof that it's not as connected, perhaps?), so part of the Big Twist at the end came as a surprise.

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Rowling does goof in a few places - careless mistakes, like confusing "ancestor" with "descendant" at one point and making a dialectical botch in Lucius' Malfoy's speech at another. But these are minor things that are easy to skip over, and overall, I've found the novel enjoyable, quick, and fun.

Next: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell
gail, annoyed, bomb, sarcastic

Review: The Enchantress of Florence

Rushdie, Salman. The Enchantress of Florence. 2008.

I picked up The Enchantress of Florence when on vacation with dreol at Rehoboth Beach, Deleware. While I'm a pretty huge Rushdie fan (I've read Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Satanic Verses, in that order), I wasn't intending on picking up a book while there - but there were so many bookstores and the cover was so pretty. And it had Florence, and an enchantress, and it was taking place during the Renaissance, and it was also about India (because Rushdie is almost always about India), and there was nothing not to make the book a fun story. So I picked it up.

It took me some time to get to the book and even more time to finish it, but over the past few days, I read voraciously. Rushdie's always had a grip on language that I've been extremely jealous about - this book is no exception, and I would have been delighted to read it if only to see how he strings his words and sentences together. But there is more to it, of course. Enchantress reminds me of an old-style and grown up fairy tale, where crazy (often unfair) things happen and characters assume that magic exists. Also, there's sex! (That's the grown up part.) Characters are surprisingly rounded within their fairy tale capacities, and I like them, but I found myself not getting too attached - probably also because of the feeling of old-style fairy tales combined with power struggles from Back In The Day. Get too attached, and I'd be devastated or disappointed.

Enchantress seems fractured and almost confused, but the whole story is woven together by the end. Stories are told inside of stories. There are about five or six major subjects discussed; I found the most predominating one also the one that seems barely touched on for the first third of the novel - that of what a woman has to do in order to make her place in a world dominated by men. Mind, this woman's also an enchantress... well, probably an enchantress... magic's a funny thing. But it helps. Sometimes.

Rushdie's done his research concerning the Renaissance, Florence, India, Akbar, Machiavelli, women... he even put a bibliography in the back of the book. It's apparently his most researched book thus far, and it shows - at the same time, he's completely unafraid of tossing details aside to insert more magic and make way for his story. That makes for some good reading. At least on my end.

Next (which I've already finished): Harry Potter and the Chmaber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling
distracted, curious, embarrassed, chinstrap, humbled

More jobless whining - plus, ACen!

I turned in four applications today. It would have been five, but the fifth position was already filled. As I not-entirely-joked earlier today, "If I ever somehow managed to go back and see how many of these things I've sent out, I'd probably crawl into a depressive hole and never come out again." An average of two applications a day for months and no turn out does not do wonders for my spirit.

There's an open interview process at Family Video right down the street this evening, so hopefully I'll make a good showing there and maybe even get a job. I hope, I hope. I've never been so nervous about a grunt job interview before. But I want it so much more than fast food work! And yes, I did put in that application, too. (Just wait, when I finally do a job - IF I finally do get a job - it'll be a minimum wage thing, and then I'll actually get one of those receptionist/secretary/clerical work positions that I want the very next week, and I'll feel all guilty about leaving the job that I wanted so much for MONTHS.)

Need to prep for ACen - we'll be driving up to Chicago tomorrow for it. Honestly, we don't have enough money to go, but not going will put everyone else in the hole, so... we're going! On the bright side, I'm so nervous about job stuff that I can't afford the nerves to lose over ACen!