Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Duchess

Very good movie, but surprisingly sad. I had never read the book Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, so didn't know the story at all, and had only heard comparisons to Princess Diana - another Spencer - so didn't know what to expect.
I thought it was beautifully filmed, and the costumes were stunning, and the and suffocation of all those corsets was so well portrayed - as well of course as the suffocation of being essentially owned.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley, by Stephen Faris

Oh god we're all doomed.
Excellent but wildly depressing book about drought, warfare, disease, melting permafrost, dying Amazon, Gulf Coast disasters, sea level rise, and bad wine.
I am very into the topic of our impending DOOM, but this was a downer even for me.

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry , by Le

I love this so much. The title was too long for me to have room to put the author's name, so here it is- Leanne Shapton. Yes, it is a novel written in the form of an auction catalog.

She did something so amazing here, and did it so exquisitely well.
It might seem like a gimmick, but it is so well done, it's past gimmick and into art.

In fact, I ordered this book for the library, because of an article I read in the NYT about it, and it sounded like something kind of new and interesting and clever. Then about a week later, I realized that some of the books from that order had arrived, but I hadn't seen this one yet, so I mentioned it to a non-fiction friend at work who told me that our cataloging friend had asked her if it was hers, as it looked so much like an odd non-fiction auction catalog. When non-fiction friend denied any knowledge of the book, cataloging friend was going to send it back as a mistake! Well, I ran to tech services and saved the book. Then about half an hour later I read it has been optioned to become a movie with Natalie Portman and Brad Pitt.

It's material culture as all, it's the objects of life showing the feelings, it's the culmination of our consumer society that a love story, with tingles and kisses and tears can be told, perfectly, through a collection of toast racks and pajamas and that the debris of life can tell a story as haunting as a traditional narrative.

Hats off to Leanne Shapton for this one.

I loved it so much that I ordered my own copy, which I lent to a friend. Today she texted me and said "That may be my favorite book." I replied and said "Oh that is so great that you liked it!" She replied and said "I read it twice."

That says it all, I think.

Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far), by Dave Barry

Well, of course this was silly and funny and kind of dumb, but hey, it was quick!
No, really, this has been all very weird. Elian Gonzales. Jesus that was weird. It just kind of reminded me of all the strangeness and left me feeling kind of queasy.

The Christie Caper, by Carolyn Hart

Pretty blah but ok Carolyn Hart bookstore murder mystery. I don't know why I read this. I don't have time, and it wasn't even that great, but I just wish so much that there were more Agatha Christie books that even reading a book about people who read her books was close enough.

Stone Cold, by David Baldacci

Pretty good spy-assassin-political thriller. Members of the Camel Club, along with hottie conwoman Annabelle work together to take down varied eeeevil politicians and casino owners. Plot holes you could drive a dumptruck through, but enough explosions and interesting assassinations (Andropov! Chernenko!) to keep it lively.

So OT- as a child, I had a hamster named Andropov, and I still have my stuffed polar bear Chernenko and my stuffed walrus Gorbachev. True, this. Might have influenced my liking of the book. As I read about the political mayhem, I glanced from time to time at Cherny and Gorby.

Five Skies, by Ron Carlson

Short, quiet, and sad book. 3 men working on a useless project find that life is about the process, not the results. Wildly depressing but very beautifully written, if you like long and detailed segments about carpentry.

Beginning Reader Books

Nate the Great and the Boring Beach Bag was great, Amelia Bedelia was daft, and Cam Jansen was just terrible.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bag Bazaar, by Megan Avery

Well, this was bizarre. The images seemed like fabric had been scanned into a computer, and then digital overlays of stitching had been added- there was not a single photo of a step-by-step or a single photo of a completed project.
Without any pictures, how would one ever know if they wanted to make any of the stupid things?
Well, I don't. So I guess that's that.

Heavenly Metal, Twisted Wire, by Lisa Brown

Beautiful pictures in this metal work craft book, but the projects seemed somewhat elementary or unnecessary. Good instructions though, and a lovely layout.

Death by Leisure, by Chris Ayres

Now this was a book. A great nonfiction book about the bubble, about the doom, about the apocalyptic fizz of the early 2000s and the hideous grim foreboding doomish vibe there is now.
That awful book about New York has nothing on this searing, funny, mournful, satirical treatise on Los Angeles in these burning days, and what made the real estate bubble so tantalizing, so irrisistable.
I'm not being clever at all when I say it made me laugh, and it made me cry.
Ayres post as the LA correspondent for a UK news organization led him into some of the most interesting (in the ancient curse way) situations one can imagine (Hurricane Katrina, Michael Jackson's birthday party), and his tone remained perfect.
Splendid (as he wishes he had never said.)
But really, I did weep at the end. (At lunch- so awkward.)
One quote (everyone should read this book)
"I'm just sorry about the weather.
We're all very sorry about the weather."
Read this book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dream House, by Valerie Laken

This was wonderful.
Kate and Stuart, a teacher and a programmer, buy a dilapidated house in Ann Arbor in an up-and-coming (read: gentrifying) neighborhood, planning to fix it up themselves, and, well, live the American dream.
This novel brought in more of the realities of what went so wrong with the housing market, what made people so desperate to buy into the bubble, what drove the engine of so much misery, than several of the nonfiction books I've read on the same topic.
It was almost elegiacal, and wound together threads of many lives that were tied into the house itself- former residents, a young man who had worked for a cleaning crew that came in after deaths, Kate and Stuart and their families, the way that material objects (futons, boilers, grills) can come to embody such powerful meaning (college, sex, death). No building could fulfill all the longing these characters had, but it was inevitable that they all try to make the structure stand for all they needed.
Haunting, beautifully written, and mournful.
"Sometimes, the nights, I don't want to waste them sleeping."
Hell of a good line. I wish I'd written that.

The Persuaders

Really fantastic documentary program from Frontline.
This one really went at it from many angles, following marketers trying to launch a new branded airline (Song), clinical psychologists turned corporate spies, renegade writers for Advertising Age (one of the most interesting magazines out there, for my money!), and it included interviews with some of the best cultural critics out there.

This was so good I can only say one thing- if you have ever dismissed advertising as background noise, if you have ever wondered how a 30 second ad might cost more than a movie to produce, if you have ever looked around and thought "WTF, mate?", watch this to get a concise, wonderfully articulate and thought-provoking look at what makes the sea we swim in.

Whole program available for viewing online here, at PBS.

Advertising and the End of the World

Very interesting documentary. Professor Sut Jhally from the Media Education Foundation talks about how advertising has become the primary communication force for our culture, what essential stories it tells us about ourselves, and about how desperately necessary it is to change our very societal goals in order to avoid environmental doom.
He attacks the very nature of the consumer-driven society, and while yes, yes, yes, I didn't see him really offer an alternative.
It may be controversial to say 'capitalism is wrong', but it's also kind of useless as an argument unless you are able to point to a viable alternative. Still, some excellent use of advertising images and a coherent argument that we lack a common culture made it worth watching, for sure.

Wicked, by Sara Shepard

The 5th Pretty Little Liars book- these are so fun and totally addictive. Who is the new A? Well, as I've mentioned before, I never guess right about the killer/bad guy in mysteries, so I just kind of enjoy reading along and seeing what idiotic things these girls do to get even further into trouble, but it is such a fun ride.
Sara Shepard has written an adult novel, which I'm really excited about. As much as I enjoy these as fluff, the writing is good- something much better kind of floats along in these, so I'll be looking forward to reading The Visibles when it comes out in May.

Death At A Funeral

This was ridiculously funny- so wrong, but so so funny. Worst funeral ever. Classic British humour- absurdist, tongue-in-cheek, a little bit filthy.

Baby Mama

Well, I kind of hated this, which I guess didn't surprise me, but I am surprised that Tina Fey would have written anything this... cruel?
It seems like the last acceptable group to mock in public is... economically disadvantaged white people? Chavs? Trailer trash? Is there even an 'acceptable' word in America for who these people are who deserve no dignity ?
I'm not saying that parts weren't funny, or that there wasn't a fierce skewering of a culture in which a woman often has to choose between her career and having a child, but this *really* didn't seem like the best way to address it, and the ending was a total cop-out.

Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil, from Wall Street to Dubai, by Ben Mezrich

Ridiculously fun book for the topic!
The story of the start-up of the Dubai Merchantile exchange was as filled with fast cars, chases, hot girls and private planes as any James Bond, but also gave a lot of insight into the workings of NYMEX and the lofty goals of Dubai.

Misery Loves Maggody, by Joan Hess

Re-read, but fun! In this one, Ruby Bee and Estelle take an Elvis tour led by Miss Vetchling, but of course, it goes hideously and hillariously awry, and Arly has to head to Memphis to sort it all out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Death of a Witch, by M.C. Beaton

Another fantastic Hamish MacBeth. Newcomer Catriona Beldame has been rumored to be selling the men of Lochdubh potions to increase their ... stamina, but when she is killed, Hamish has to look to the villagers to find the murderer.
I do love these, but I also wish Hamish would stop wavering between Elspeth and Priscilla.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Gimme Shelter, by Mary Elizabeth Williams

Gimme Shelter: Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast-Talking Brokers and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching For The American Dream is the whole overblown title, which promises much more than is delivered in this surprisingly weightless book.

For 310 pages, Williams moans with the dreadfully self-conscious tone of the plagued priviliged, and it is not a pretty sound.

The book is not, as implied, a look at the greater collapse of the American housing industry or what have you- it is a great whine about how she (freelance writer for publications such as Salon) and her husband Jeff (on-and-off employed copy editor) couldn't afford to buy in Brooklyn's Carrol Gardens during the housing boom.

Considering that they had lived there for years before prices skyrocketed, it seems rather sour grapes of her how much she bitches and squeaks about those friends of theirs who did buy early and made mad money from their foresight, and what she has to say about those dreadful new rich people who priced her out of what she clearly felt was rightfully her cool neighborhood- well, you can practically see her stamping her little feet.

She did have the grace to realize, close to the end of the book, that what she and Jeff were doing by buying and tarting up a place in way way uptown Manhattan (Inwood) was the same thing the wealthy were doing in Carroll Gardens- gentrification, lady. The rock stars priced you out of your neighborhood, now you're doing it to the residents of Inwood Park, the immigrants and the elderly.

I grow weary of these- The House on First Street, about the terrible agonies of restoring one's mansion in post-Katrina New Orleans, Not Buying It, (incidentally also set in smug-as-hell Brooklyn) about the fearsome self-denial it took not to recreationally shop for a year, Bitter is the New Black, whose loathsome author memorably carried a Prada bag to the unemployment office...

It's all nauseating. Seriously, none of the reviews I read of Gimme Shelter hinted at the self-pitying, bobo smug revolting nonsense that it was.

The Big Dirt Nap, by Rosemary Harris

Follow up to Pushing Up Daisies, which I loved. This was definitely another fun mystery, but I didn't feel that it was as tightly plotted as the first- that might be me, though, as I didn't have time to read it steadily and kept having to leave it for days. I can't wait to find out Caroline Sturgis's plan in the third book, so I liked it enough to stay hooked to the series!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Retail Anarchy, by Sam Pecker (mid-book update) (ARC)

I have NEVER done this before, but this book is so batshit insane, I have to. In the 52 pages I've read so far, he has ranted about everything from George Clinton's bands Parliament and Funkadelic to the "mentally handicapped" who bag groceries, but he's reached a soaring new height of madness here on page 53.

"The never ending shit-sprawl (I know it's crude, but really is there any other word?) of meaningless product, the movement of that product, and the ultimate disposal of the product for no good reason other than human failure is in itself what it means to live in a "consumer driven" economy.

Do people on antidepressants shop less?"

Wow, buddy! Do people on antipsychotics write less? This all gives me great hope for my own (fantasy) writing career. I really wonder what kind of edit job they're doing on this (I'm reading an ARC). If this is published as is, something is truly rotten in the state of Denmark.

(Up to page 58 and ) UNBELIEVABLY, this book has become even more WOW.

"While it's no secret that men's penises are responsible for lots of bad purchases, sometimes it's the need to avoid confrontation that feeds it as well."

Is that even a sentence? I would die if someone wanted me to diagram that. (Ps. It's about a local sandwich shop in his town, where the owner/operator is supposedly a hottie- although he disagrees- "she was not all that attractive, but she flirted with the factory workers".
I bet she didn't flirt with him, the jealous lout.

OMG. Page 61. I am going to make EVERYONE read this book. Dude is out of his mind.

"I don't have statistics on how many Cheesecake Factory hostesses end up working as prostitutes after their illustrious careers are cut short, but I have a feeling it's pretty high."

(page 68!!!) I might be obsessed, but this author certainly is. Damn, what did the hostess at the Cheesecake Factory do to him???
"Alcoholic drama-queen slut-in-dead-end-town hostess, please fetch the 17-year-old part-timer who spends al of his spare time fantasizing about you while masturbating instead of doing his homework so he may bring us an outrageously overpriced slice of your inest previously-frozen shipped-in-from and out-of state-factory namesake desert at once!...
Excuse me, did I call her a slut? I forgot this was a small town what with the big city restautant and all; I meant to say "popular"- thank you. ...
...I venture to say this is the first time that a book about economics has called anyone a slut and that may be the precise problem here with out economy."
Hot diggity damn, man. This guy is all fired up. If he can get published with this racist, able-ist, slut-ist bull, I should be able to get published.
Yee haw.
I cannot put this thing down. And I can't stop typing. His madness has infected me!

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

This was wildly inappropriate but ridiculously funny. Some biting social satire, and a lot of vulgar and almost breathtakingly tasteless moments. Funny as hell, though.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl

I listened to this book, and it was wonderful, but one warning- when she describes food, it makes you crazy with hunger!

Interesting look at the life of a NYT food critic- the lengths she had to go to to preserve anonymity were insane!

Bonus- recipes that sounded delish and very do-able!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hollywood Car Wash, by Lori Culwell

Fast, fun and juicy book. Midwestern theater student hits it big on a tv drama, and finds herself receiving the "Hollywood car wash"- becoming thinner, blonder, and more surgeried than she ever thought she would.
Rumor is that this is the Katie Holmes story- complete with awkward marriage contract and all. No idea, but I couldn't put it down!

Lucky Jim, by Kinglsley Amis

Well, this was supposed to be one of the 10 funniest books of all time, based on a list I rather trusted, but I didn't find it that fantastic. A couple of laugh out loud bits, but it was no Three Men in a Boat.

Plagued professor Jim Dixon juggles academic responsibilities, social life, and lady friends, and drops every ball.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Secret Asset, by Stella Rimington

Fast paced mystery set in post-9/11 England among MI5 and MI6.
A swirl of IRA, New York tabloids, and Pakistani terrorists made for a whirl of a read.
Liz Carlyle must find the mole in the service, and it's a race against time.
I thought this was great, and the writer was actually the first woman to head MI5, so she has authenticity in her details. The paranoia and surveilance seemed so right, and the Big Brother-ness of Britain's CCTV culture seemed almost understandable in the context of the book. The influx of Asians and mosques into the UK and how that has changed the fabric of the country, and I thought it was all very well done until the end, which rather whimpered out.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost It's Luster, by Dana Thomas

This was a fantastic, fascinating read. Thomas really went into the history of many of the major luxury labels, and pinpointed how contemporary business models have changed their product lines to an amazing degree. From the history of Louis Vuitton's trunk making and packing business for the French aristocracy, to the point now where 44% of Japanese own at least one Vuitton item and it is the most counterfeited brand in the world, there has been a major shift in what the business was about.

From Prada using cheaper thread to the still artisan-quality work at Hermes, this book gave delicious tidbits while following a definite trend of diminishment of what it is that made these things the best.

Wonderful read, and fun to boot.

Amber Brown Wants Extra Credit, by Paula Danziger

This read rather older than I had thought. Amber is upset that her mother is dating, and is falling behind in school, and needs to make up some missed assignments and wow her teacher with her How-To project, making AMBER BROWNies.

It was sweet, but I really am surprised at how much more complicated it was than I had thought these were.

Community Helpers Picture Books

City of Ember

Nowhere near as good as the book, but not terrible, really.