Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

dallas
May 30, 2012

Hi friends, how are ya?!  Tell me what you did this weekend, I must know.

I did lots of important things, like tanning….

and eating lots of Tex-Mex….

and making a general fool of myself with Les…..

And somewhere in between all of those things, Madison got married!!!!

She looked absolutely STUNNING, and I lost it for real when she walked down the aisle.  Mad, I am SO SO HAPPY for you and Bryce and am so thankful I could be there to celebrate with you two. 

Les and I had some extra time after the wedding to roam around Dallas, and after firmly deciding that we did not, in fact, like Texas at all, I unilaterally chose we wound up at the Sixth Floor Museum at the location of President Kennedy’s assassination.  I was actually really excited to be there, because I had just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 for my book club.  (Did I tell you I’m in a book club?  Once a month, ten of us get drunk on red wine and talk about sex.)  The book, while convoluted and complicated, is essentially about a time traveling man who tries to prevent the Kennedy assassination from happening.  As you can imagine, the book references tons and tons of details about Dealey Plaza and Lee Harvey Oswald,  and as I was reading, I realized that I knew very little about the assassination.  Essentially, I knew that a president had died, but I didn’t know much about the president himself, or the motivations of the shooter, or the chain of events, or the worldwide repercussions.  So even though I had read the book and enjoyed it, I was really excited about getting some context in which to place the books’ events.

The museum is on the sixth floor of the book depository from which Oswald shot the president.  It’s an all-audio tour, which I really appreciated because it moved you along briskly and you didn’t feel obligated to linger over any specific exhibit.  It was devoted mostly to Kennedy himself, and spent lots of time discussing his presidency and his various policy achievements and failures.  It then moved into a play-by-play of the 30 minutes surrounding the shooting, followed by in depth looks at the worldwide responses and the various conspiracies.  I wish it had delved a little bit more into Oswald and his background, because the book really made him out to be a tortured young man who, while utterly despicable, had a tough life and various conflicting beliefs.  Aside for minimal information on him, I thought the museum was extremely well done, and really a neat place to visit.  Especially for someone who did not live through the event, it did a great job of making you feel the urgency of the afternoon and the following immense sadness that not only enveloped the country, but the world. 

Photography wasn’t allowed in the museum, but here is the original building sign that has been preserved:

(Aside for the sixth floor, the building now houses city offices.  Wouldn’t you find it a little creepy to work there every day?)

Les and I then wandered over to the JFK Memorial, which is, well, unusual.  Have you ever been? 

I suppose the symbolism behind the monument is meaningful (a strong, quiet refuge within which one finds the strength to stand firm and steadfast against the world), but to me it screams 1970s architecture and is less impressive than what I expected for a president with a story as compelling as Kennedy’s. 

Were you alive when President Kennedy was shot?  I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but the 1960s fascinate me and I am embarassed at how slight my knowledge of this event was.  I’ve heard that it was the 9/11 of my generation–people remember where they were when it happened, a moment that signified a shift in the world as they knew it.  Perhaps what I’m even more curious about–were you watching TV when Jack Ruby shot Oswald?  I didn’t realize that the prisoner transfer was broadcast over live television; imagine the trauma young children must have felt at literally witnessing death. 

Anyways, if you’re ever in the Dallas area, I suggest the Sixth Floor Museum as a must see.  That being said, however, it costs $13.50 to get in, whereas all the museums in DC are f-r-e-e, so come visit me first. 

In other news, check out this HUGE-ASS engagement ring that my friend Lis got this past weekend!  Her boyfriend proposed while they were in Paris (awwwww!!) and I swear to you, I don’t know how she can even lift up her hand.  Mazel Tov to you, Lis & Adam, I couldn’t be happier.

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all is well.
July 17, 2011

If you are a Harry Potter nerd, you will recognize the title of this post as the last sentence in the seventh and final J.K. Rowling novel.  Sigh.  I finished that book a few summers ago while I was visiting my Grandma and Grandpa at their house in Redding, and I vividly remember being wide awake at 3:30 in the morning, sobbing over the death of Dobby, in the butterfly-decorated room that used to be my Aunt Gail’s.  In the way that only Harry Potter can, I was captivated through the entire book, and pulled the closest I’ve ever been to an all-nighter to get to the end.  Of course, in true irony, the minute I read the last page, I realized the saga truly was over, and contritely wished I had read the book slower, to savor the final 700 pages of Harry’s magical world.

On Friday, I saw the final Harry Potter film installment with Les and Michelle.  I thought the movie was just fine; a fitting adaptation to the hefty, complicated book.  About halfway through the movie, where Professor McGonagall and the other teachers start casting their spells to protect Hogwarts (if Harry Potter was not such a popular and accepted phenomenon, I would sound like an incredible nerd here), I became choked with emotion as I realized that this wild ride, the immersion into every child’s magical fantasy, was really coming to an end.  The end of the book made me sad, yes, but the movie put the period on the last sentence of Harry Potter.  I started crying in the theater, and my friends looked at me, mystified, and reminded me that Jen, this part isn’t even sad!

I’ve read numerous articles this past week on the significance of Harry Potter to the world.  It seems that there is no aspect of life he hasn’t touched: reinvigorating childrens’ desire to read; teaching young adults the power of good versus evil; instilling the value of patience in fans waiting breathlessly for the release of each new book; offering a true success story in single mom J.K. Rowling’s rise to riches; pouring money into Hollywood’s emptying coffers.  But for me, Harry and I had a bond that was so natural, so easily made and striking in its longevity, that it is hard for me to imagine my childhood without it.  (Cheesey!  But I’m in a weepy mood, so bear with me.)

I did a book report in fifth grade on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, before anyone even knew it was a good story.  I was a voracious reader as a kid, and I commend my mom for supplying me with so many things to read.  (The humongous Redwall series kept me occupied for years.)  I think she was in the bookstore browsing, and saw that Harry was both in the kids section and 300+ pages, and brought it home without another thought as a means of confining me to the couch for at least a week.  Well, Harry cast his proverbial spell over me, and I was hooked.  Harry was every child’s alter-ego: an under-appreciated boy who can actually perform magic–AND is idolized by society!  Let’s review: 1. Nobody sees Harry’s true potential; 2. He’s a wizard; and 3. The whole world loves him.  If you were a 10 year old, semi-nerdy, super lazy kid, you wanted desperately to BE Harry Potter.  Man, he had it good.

The first three books came out very close together, so once I was into it, I had fodder for a while.  I think what really drew me to Harry was the parallel between our lives–yes, he was playing Quidditch and fighting evil wizards, but he was also developing crushes on girls, and taking final exams, and never turning homework in on time.  He was simply an ordinary boy in an extra-ordinary world.  When he first fell for Cho Chang (aka Cho the Ho in my book, as I despised her), I was crushing on some 7th grader in my middle school.  When he had to go to that formal dance and was stressing about his robes, I was shopping for my 8th grade promotion dance and worrying about my hair.  When he had to take his O.W.L exams, I was struggling through my AP classes.  I literally grew up with Harry, and I knew that I could always go home after a bad day and immerse myself in his world, while not completely losing touch with my own.

The Harry Potter experience, books and movies, is over now.  I will be re-reading Harry for the rest of my life, and I will most likely buy the outrageously expensive boxed film set when it comes out, but there’s nothing like cracking open a new Harry novel that you’ve been anxiously awaiting, knowing that the words are about to wrap themselves around you like an Invisibility Cloak and whisk you away to a world that is outwardly exactly the same as the one you just left, but with plenty more space for imagination.

I don’t think Harry Potter taught me patience, like all the over-analyzing opinion writers have been saying, nor do I think he left me with an overwhelming sense that good will always triumph over evil.  He did, however, cradle my childhood gently between the Sorcerer’s Stone and the Deathly Hallows, two bookends keeping precious memories of early love, long school days, good and bad sporting events secure within their pages.  I’m 23 now, and I still forget that “home” is no longer my house in Pleasanton; “summer” is no longer empty days filled with naps and sunbathing; “bills” are no longer the green things in my wallet, but things I am now responsible for paying.  It is too much of an exaggeration to say that with the end of Harry, I finally realize that it’s the end of my childhood, but that sentiment is definitely buried somewhere inside me.  I hurt that there is no other saga within which I can mindlessly lose myself, while at the same time caring so much about the characters and their destinies.  I ache for nights where it was just me and Harry up late, rebelliously reading past bedtime.  My waning imagination has guided me to books with little room for creativity, books that are all smarts and no fun, and I yearn for the playfulness and drama that were so prevalent in Harry Potter.

I feel like I am in mourning over the loss of my friend Harry, and I’m curious if any other people feel the same way.  The amount of emotion I felt during the movie caught me off guard, and I was surprised it was so much more tangible after the film rather than after the book.

So, to Harry, the Boy Who Lived: I thank you for feeding the fire of my imagination and for being there as I grew up.

les, me, michelle

 

room, a novel
May 16, 2011

Happy Monday!

I apologize for my lengthy absence from the Blogosphere, but I have been struggling with a mild case of writer’s block.  I try to fill UrbanLoving with nuggets from my life that are actually unusual or interesting, rather than rambling accounts of my somewhat mundane life.  While these last few weeks have been undoubtedly fun, there has been little out of the ordinary to inspire me to resume my seat at the keyboard.

The most interesting experience I’ve had recently has actually been in the form of a book.  Just yesterday, I finished reading a novel called Room, written by Emma Donoghue, an intriguing look at what life would be like if your world was limited to an 11 by 11 foot space. 

Room tells the haunting story of a young mother and her 5 year old son who are imprisoned in a tiny cell.  What makes the book so unusual is that is told through the eyes of Jack, the son, in his 5 year old voice and undeveloped perceptions.  The reader never quite has complete understanding of what is going on, and has to do some critical thinking to read between the lines of what Jack sees in his world.  Born in Room, Jack knows nothing besides the objects within and the routine his Ma has established for them.  By capitalizing the names of the objects—Bed, Rug, Meltedy Fork—we understand that to Jack, who has no real companions, these things are his friends as much as his mother is.  While it may seem strange to us, it is perfectly normal (and really the only thing he knows) to Jack, which is part of his sweetness and allure.

The best part of the book is when Jack makes it outside (spoiler alert!!  Sorry.) and is overwhelmed by the new world.  Having never seen stairs, and thus unsure how to navigate them, Jack throws a tantrum and has to slide down them on his bottom.  Can you imagine not knowing how to get down a flight of stairs?  What an unusual idea.

Room is a stunning, emotional book that is gripping in its humanity.  The bond between Jack and his mother is intense, almost uncomfortable, but beautifully illustrated by Donoghue.  I absolutely recommend this book; it was the most interesting thing that I’ve done (read) in a few weeks.  (And those few weeks include a visit to my sister, a birthday celebration, and a trip to a local flea market.)

little bee
December 30, 2010

I’ve been reading
Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee for
the past few days, and finished it last night. It is a
wonderful, moving, well-written story, and I encourage anyone who
is in search of a page-turner to run and pick it up from their
local bookstore. Little
Bee
is a deceptively deep book about a
Nigerian refugee whose tumultuous life crashes straight into that
of a suburban English mother. The story is told from both
perspectives of the women, and enough details are left out that the
reader becomes the third narrator, filling in the gaps based their
own interpretations of the books’ events. It is a
refreshingly un-political book that merely presents a story of two
human beings and allows the reader to use the information in
whatever way they wish. At the end of my paperback copy, there was
a question
and answer section
with the author. Mr. Cleave
cited one true story as inspiration for Little Bee which
I would like to pass along: “In 2001 an Angolan man named Manuel
Bravo fled to England and claimed asylum on the grounds that he and
his family would be persecuted and killed if they were returned to
Angola. He lived in a state of uncertainty for four years pending a
decision on his application. Then, without warning, in September
2005 Manuel Bravo and his 13-year-old son were seized in a dawn
raid and interned at an Immigration Removal Centre in southern
England. They were told that they would be forcibly deported to
Angola the next morning. That night, Manuel Bravo took his own life
by hanging himself in a stairwell. His son was awoken in his cell
and told the news. What had happened was that Manuel Bravo, aware
of a rule under which unaccompanied minors cannot be deported from
the UK, had
taken his own life in order to save the life of his son
.
Among his last words to his child were: ‘Be brave. Work hard. Do
well at school.’”* I don’t know why this particular story moved me
so much, but I found it heartbreakingly beautiful. I imagine
that things like this happen every day, and simply go unnoticed in
our rushed worlds full of babies, gasoline, and mortgages. I,
like Mr. Cleave, make no attempt to lecture or sway political
opinions; I am just sending this story out into the intellectual
ocean on an internet ice floe, thinking it may melt and raise the
temperature of the water one tiny tenth of a degree.
Have you read any good books lately?
I obviously just finished Little Bee, but
I also read The
English Patient
during my flights to and from
California, which I thought it was a great story. Next up:
watching the movie!
*Excerpt respectively taken from
Chris Cleave’s website, www.chriscleave.com.

more politics & less prose
November 13, 2010

This afternoon I made my first trip to the infamous DC bookstore Politics & Prose, a hotspot where intellectuals and politically savvy middle age men gather and debate current events.  I woke up this morning to an achingly beautiful day, but could not muster the energy to compose a sightseeing agenda.  I knew I needed to get outside and savor the clear sky and calm air, so I merged an errand with an exploratory adventure: visit Politics & Prose and find my dad a birthday present.

I decided to walk instead of metro, so I donned some comfortable shoes (Uggs) and a fuzzy scarf (bright pink) and headed out.  Just being outside put me into a wonderful mood, and I made a big effort to look at my surroundings as I walked instead of the sidewalk under my feet.  It’s about 2 miles from my apartment to the bookstore, and I stretched it out to 45 minutes.  I stopped frequently to look at and document Fall’s brave last stand against winter, leaves blazing in the sun and trying desperately to stay on their trees.

When I finally got to the purple-awned bookstore, I was thrilled to discover that inside, it was every book-lover’s dream: shelves and shelves filled to bursting with the well known, classic, obscure, nonsensical, whimsical, purposeful, comical, playful, daring, disturbing, mysterious, moving.  It’s a bookstore that is stocked based on its’ owners preferences, not what is most popular or recently released.  There must have been a book in stock to answer any single political question that has ever been or is being asked; one finds herself perusing the shelves and realizing that there are answers to questions she didn’t even know had been asked!  What an overwhelming, exciting feeling.

I spent over an hour wandering around the store, looking at various books that caught my eye.  If I had the money and strength to carry them home, I would have left with no less than 9 books.  I exercised extreme self control, however, and only purchased a hefty non fiction on the 4 Supreme Court Justices active during FDR’s presidency for my father.  As I was checking out, I noticed that a little podium had been set up, with about 25 chairs lined up in front.  I asked the rather unfriendly lady at the cash register who was speaking, and she snarled a name at me before helping the next customer.

The guest happened to be a Dana Millbank, author of Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America.  I decided to stay and watch, since the books’ title included “tea bagging” (hahaha!!) and I had nothing else to do.  (One of the great things about Politics & Prose is that they feature regular appearances and book signings from guest authors–at least one a day, usually.)  I’m not very familiar with Mr. Beck, but I’m liberal and he’s conservative so I’m guessing we wouldn’t get along.  I was more than a little disgusted, however, to watch this Dana Millbank stand up and immediately launch into a thorough bashing of Glenn Beck and everything he stands for.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve done a little more research on Glenn Beck, and as anticipated, I do not like him very much.  He seems like a 7th grade girl who jealously spreads false rumors and disguises personal attacks as impartial exposures that benefit the greater good.  (Last week, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Beck attacked George Soros using rhetoric drenched in anti-Semitism and based on nothing legitimate.)  Dana Millbank’s book examines Beck and seeks to undermine his authority by questioning his “patriotism” and “loyalty” to the United States.  In his talk today, Millbank shared story after story that showed why Beck was a terrible person and has a terrible influence on our country today.

Okay, so great.  Mr. Millbank spent many months gathering these stories, writing them down, editing them, getting them published, and now promoting them.  WHY?!?  Mr. Beck is going to have a radio and TV show no matter what.  His followers are going to follow him no matter what.  Doesn’t Mr. Millbank know how difficult it is to change people’s political opinions?  One measly little book is not going to do that, especially when the title  gives away the authors’ liberal leaning so glaringly that no Republican is going to buy it.

I think this issue epitomizes American politics today.  The US faces a debt so staggering I can’t even wrap my mind around it.  Unemployment is still sky high.  Our education standards are lagging compared to the rest of the West (and East).  The political world is riddled with scandal.  Disgruntled people from every region, every background, every religion, every race want to blow our country up.  And all that voters, politicians, commentators are doing is pointing fingers.

Don’t we have more important things to worry about than undermining Glenn Beck?  Because for every book written about Glenn Beck, another one will be written about Rachel Maddow.  And honestly, that gets us nowhere.  Because no matter what the world thinks of Glenn Back and Rachel Maddow, we still have a trillion dollar debt and unemployed people.  Why don’t we stop arguing about who did what wrong, and just figure out how we’re going to fix it?  Maybe Mr. Millbank could have come up with a viable solution to the gang problem in DC, or spent some time screening print cartridges coming into the US instead of writing his book.  Making conservative Beck look bad doesn’t exactly make liberal Millbank look good– they both just come out looking like 7th grade girls with self-confidence problems and fingers that are quick to point anywhere but themselves.  I’m tired of the degrading and blaming and trash talking that is rampant among politicians today.  WHO CARES THAT JIM BOEHNER IS TAN YEAR ROUND?!?!  Do you?  Because I don’t.  So please stop talking about his glowing skin and tell me what he’s going to do better than Nancy Pelosi to get our country back on the right track.

I have reached the end of my rant.  Thank you for sticking it through.

Politics & Prose is a wonderful bookstore.  Go there instead of a big chain because they have the most phenomenal collection of books and a wonderful series of authors who come in and give little chats.  You can also sit at the adorable coffeeshop downstairs and argue with other patrons about whether Representative Boehner goes to a tanning bed or just uses sunless tanning lotion.

Just kidding.

it feels like christmas!
October 7, 2010

Tonight I finally crossed off something that had been on my to-do list for a long time: go to the library.  There is a public library really close to my apartment, so I walked down to it and signed up for a brand new library card.  Before I go any further, please just look at how CUTE my new card is:

It’s so adorable I literally cannot get over it!  My old card from the library in Pleasanton was a dinky little piece of white paper, and was so ridiculously boring I repeatedly lost it on purpose, always hoping that the new one given to me would have just a teensy bit more character.  Not only is this new card everything that I had ever wanted, but it comes with a separate keychain card!!!  Nothing short of genius.

 

So I walked into the library, armed with my fabulous new card, and began immediately wandering the aisles.  Books are for me what chicken noodle soup is for sick people: pure, unadulterated COMFORT.  Opening a book is like walking into an open embrace, one that smells of dust and memories and whose arms will hold you for as long as you want them to.  Starting a new book is like beginning a relationship: it hooks you, leaving you helpless to say no; it makes you laugh and blush and think; it pulls at your heart and makes you cry; it ends and you crave crave crave more.  I love all books, whether they are trashy romance novels that are embarrassingly addicting or Pulitzer Prize winners that you kind of can’t figure out or bestsellers that you only pick up because it looks trendy when you page through them on the metro.  I do not discriminate– a book is a book, and it will take you on an adventure if you let it, regardless of genre/length/hardcover/new/used/author.  The first book I ever read was Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and parents– if you want your kids to be readers for life, I swear that this is the book to put in their hands.  Even as my life grew increasingly busy as I got older, I tried to always make time to read.  Now that I am only (only?! HA!) working, I plan on reading as many books as I can get my hands on, and consider myself very lucky to have such an accessible library.

 

Tonight, I walked out of the library with 5 books and one DVD.  Because I’m so excited about each of my books (and my one movie), I’ll write briefly about each one and why it in particular called to me from the crammed shelves.

 

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, Yann Martel

This little book is sexy.  I grabbed it because Yann Martel also wrote Life of Pi, one of my and BFF Leslie’s favorite books.  (If you haven’t read it, READ IT.  It will blow your mind, promise.)  This is a collection of short stories that he wrote early in his career, and while I usually don’t like short story books, I will make an exception for Mr. Yann Martel.  Besides, a short story is like a one night stand– all the fun and none of the drama.  Right?  The inside flap says that the title story is about a very young man dying of AIDS, so I’m actually going to guess that there will be just as much drama in these little stories as in any full-length single story.

 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith

Okay, so I know this book doesn’t look like it would be worth the time that it takes to read it.  But I’ve been seeing it all over bookstores recently (I think he has some other ones out now too?), and while I would never pay for a book with the word zombie in the title, it seemed like a fun read if I could get it for free.  And in all seriousness here, I read Jane Eyre once in high school and it was TERRIBLE.  So if I can mostly read Pride & Prejudice but actually be entertained as opposed to tortured, then I’d say it’s a win-win.

 

The Blind Side, Michael Lewis

I am really excited about this book.  I have heard nothing but great things about the movie– which I haven’t actually seen yet– and it just seems like such an inspiring story that I couldn’t NOT grab it.  I have found that 95% of the times, a book is better than its film counterpart, so I am assuming that I will enjoy the book more than I would enjoy the movie.  I’m sure that when I’ve finished the book I’ll check out the movie, but for now, I am perfectly happy to curl up with a true story of love and dreams coming true.

 

About a Boy, Nick Hornby

Do I even have to give an explanation for this book?  It SMILES at you.  I mean, come on.  Who can resist a book that sits on the shelf and smiles?  The only thing that would make this cover more appealing is if it smiled at you and then winked.  But that’s asking a lot.  About a Boy is also a movie starring Hugh Grant, who is hot and charming and has a British accent to die for, so the smiling cover plus the fact that I can visualize Hugh Grant as the main character made this book a no-brainer.

 

Boom!, Tom Brokaw

I grabbed this monster (633 pages!) because 1. it’s silver-metallic and has color photos of famous people staring at me and 2. because I legitimately WORSHIP the 60s.  If I could be reborn at any point in time, I would chose the 1960s.  I took a class in college fall semester of my 4th year called History of Post-WWII America, and I loved it.  Think of the craziest things in the universe that could ever possibly happen, and 75% of them happened between 1960 and 2001.  (The other 25% happened from 1936 to 1946.)  The ubiquitous feeling of pure LIFE that characterized the 1960s appeals deeply to my desire to experience everything the world has to offer– and worry about the consequences later.  So while this book may be intimidating or boring to some people, I cannot wait to dig my fingernails into the pages and rip them apart looking for every last anecdote about the craziest decade in America.

 

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid

 

Okay, I literally have no idea what this movie is about.  NO IDEA.  All I know is that Paul Newman started Newmans’ Own salad dressing, which makes my all-time favorite Creamy Balsamic (pure heaven!).  When I saw Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid on the shelf I thought immediately of the bottle of Creamy Balsamic sitting in my fridge and decided to honor it by watching one of Paul Newman’s most famous movies.  I will let you know my thoughts on the actual film later, but seriously go buy Newmans’ Own dressings because they are delicious.

 

That concludes my raid at the local library.  After being checked out by one of those middle age men so pathetic they’re almost endearing (I could see the remnants of the sunscreen he had failed to rub in on his earlobes– reminder: he works in a library.  Indoors.  No sun.), I stuffed my new treasures into my ecofriendly and reusable grocery bag and headed home.  I cannot wait to finish this post so I can dive into bed and start one of my new books.  With all the possibilities stacked on my nightstand now, I feel like a little kid at Christmas* who can’t decide which toy to play with first.  I’ll write reviews of the books/movie as I finish them (and if they’re worthy of a review), but for now, consider me buried under a pile of crumpled wrapping paper, rapidly devouring my newest as-good-as-Christmas presents.

 

**For the most outrageous kid at Christmas, watch this video.  You will not regret it.