I wanted to like this book, but in the end, I thought that it was basically Annie Dillard-style writing, but not nearly as polished and seamless as Di...moreI wanted to like this book, but in the end, I thought that it was basically Annie Dillard-style writing, but not nearly as polished and seamless as Dillard's work.
This book tries to weave birdwatching into the process of the author's mother's death from (I believe) cancer. So it had the potential to be beautiful and heartbreaking. But it never did really become either beautiful or heartbreaking.
The alternation between scenes of birdwatching and mother's illness was kind of jarring, and broke up the emotional content of both topics.
I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. I wanted to laugh until tears were coming down my face. I wanted to, but I didn't. I chuckled a few times,...moreI really, really wanted to enjoy this book. I wanted to laugh until tears were coming down my face. I wanted to, but I didn't. I chuckled a few times, laughed out loud once or twice.
I saw some clips of Carrie Fisher's one woman show (from which this book is drawn), and found it laugh-out-loud funny. So I had high hopes for the book.
It could have been really, really funny. She's a very witty person, and she had some great material (just her parents' story alone is enough for a pretty funny book), but she squandered it in this book.
Basically, my impression of the book is that it's more or less a transcript of the show. There wasn't much care or effort put into transforming the material into something book-like. And that's a crying shame because, with a little more care and a little more work, the stories could have been fleshed out into a truly funny, sometimes sad, sometimes crazy book.
I'm imagining what a wordsmith like David Sedaris would do with this book, at least the Sedaris of 13 years ago. His ability to craft sentences and paragraphs draws the hilarious and the poignant into close proximity, which is what a book like Fisher's needs.
She's talking about her strange Hollywood family, Star Wars, her bipolar disorder, her broken relationships, her addictions: poignant mixed with hilarious is exactly what is called for.
Instead, we get a few really good one-liners, which are obviously from Fisher's live show. My favorite was: "I don't have a problem with drugs so much as a I have a problem with sobriety." Good stuff.
I wish it could have been carried throughout the book.(less)
I recently reread this after many years and it's been interesting to note my reaction.
While I was definitely inspired by the lofty ideals and sweepin...moreI recently reread this after many years and it's been interesting to note my reaction.
While I was definitely inspired by the lofty ideals and sweeping language of this book on my first reading, my much-older self is forced to note the many, many holes in Thoreau's premises and arguments. His passion can't be denied, but his prose reads exactly like the "minimalists" of the present day, who pare their belongings down to 50 things, or 100 things, or 15 things, or whatever the current fad is.
The thing that rubs me the wrong way about Thoreau and the minimalists is their insistence that their chosen life is the only one worth living, and that all other ways of living are suspect, wasteful, or otherwise undesirable.
Yes, I'll read it again for its exploration of the beauty of nature and the value of finding inspiration in your own backyard, but I lost some idealism along the way, and perhaps one needs idealism to fully appreciate Thoreau.(less)
I anxiously awaited this book from Sedaris, who is one of my favorite authors. Well, I anxiously awaited the paperback version of this book. It doesn'...moreI anxiously awaited this book from Sedaris, who is one of my favorite authors. Well, I anxiously awaited the paperback version of this book. It doesn't disappoint; his comic voice is still strongly present, but the slightly more touching side of his authorial voice (as evident in his previous writing about his mother's death, for instance) is stronger in this book.
He writes less about his crazy family's antics, and focuses more on his life with Hugh and his own internal processes. The chapter on quitting smoking and drinking was funny, yes, but it was funny in a wry-smile way, rather than a wiping-tears-from-eyes way.
His appreciation for the freaky and weird things of humanity is still very much in evidence, and his usual hilarious descriptions are definitely laugh-producing. It just seems like his voice has mellowed a bit, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.(less)
I really, really tried to read this book, but I just couldn't finish it. It's been recommended to me many times by people who know that I like to cook...moreI really, really tried to read this book, but I just couldn't finish it. It's been recommended to me many times by people who know that I like to cook, I love to eat, and I've always kind of heroine-worshiped Julia Child (she's so wonderful!).
But I just couldn't get into this book. Here's why I think I couldn't finish it: I read it too late.
I only tried to read this book in the spring of 2010, fully five years after it was published. I think that, in the intervening time, I lost much of my tolerance for blogger snark.
See, this book was among the first of the blogs-to-books crowd, along with other blog-stars like Heather Armstrong of dooce.com. And one of the reasons that their blogs were so much fun to read was because they're snarky and funny. They make sharp social and personal critique using witty, snarky prose.
And I think I got fed up with it. I do read dooce.com, but I think that the blog's shorter format is built for snark, whereas in book form, the snark becomes just a little bit overwhelming. In short form, I can handle it, but in longer form, it is wearying.
And in short, that's why I couldn't finish this book: I came to it too late, jaded from reading too many of Julie Powell's blog-star brothers and sisters. My tolerance for snark has slowly diminished, to the point that I can only take it in five to eight paragraph blog posts. This is why I'll probably never read Heather Armstrong's published works either.
Perhaps one day I'll recover from the overdose, but that day has not yet arrived.(less)
For a small dose of "history lite," this book is a pretty good read. The book revolves around the assassinations of US presidents Lincoln, Garfield, a...moreFor a small dose of "history lite," this book is a pretty good read. The book revolves around the assassinations of US presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. While the information about these assassinations is interesting (I too share an interest in the morbid and freaky), the writing was somehow not quite engaging.
She's a casual writer who writes in a conversational style, which isn't a bad thing, but something about her tone seems overly cute. I found that when she sticks to reporting history, she sounds good, even with her slightly cutesy tone. But when her writing veers into personal memoir, I find it less charming and even somewhat irritating.
I wondered why I found this book a bit irritating when I enjoy her commentary on NPR. I think it's because when I think I'm reading a history book, I expect to be reading history. But in this book, it's really more about Sarah Vowell's interactions with history and her love of the weird. While I really respond to this style with other authors, I guess my problem with Vowell is the overly cute tone of her writing.(less)
Very, very funny. His essay about attending the Illinois State Fair, in particular, is spot on. Likewise the one about his vacation on a cruise ship i...moreVery, very funny. His essay about attending the Illinois State Fair, in particular, is spot on. Likewise the one about his vacation on a cruise ship is perfectly conceived. (less)