Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory is like a sociological Mary Roach. Caitlin Doughty became a medieval history major becausSmoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory is like a sociological Mary Roach. Caitlin Doughty became a medieval history major because of her fascination with death. She came to work at Westwind Cremation and Burial for the same reason -- all culminating in her desire to make death less of a mystery and more a part of our lives. And thus this book was born: to present her argument as to how death is hidden in current American culture and how that's not good for us.
Her stories about life in the day-to-day of the crematory are genuine and moving. The gallows humor is helpful when dealing with such a touch subject and I, for one, really appreciated it. Otherwise I might've cried and put the book down and said "Keep that Death stuff away from me." Which would've defeated her whole point. Doughty is candid and that's refreshing, even if I don't necessarily agree that we should move back to washing our own dead in our living rooms.
I think the only part I really took issue with was brought into stark relief because of the recent Ebola outbreak. While I am not in any way sucked into the hysteria and realize that Ebola itself is rather difficult to catch...part of the reason it has spread is due to traditional practices of families washing their dead. Doughty does address the issue of disease spreading (there is virtually no way to catch a disease from a corpse) but it's not enough to make me comfortable with handling it myself.
Other than that, I appreciated Doughty's openess and generally agreed with a lot of her arguments. ...more
The good part about this book is that John Grisham does get a say -- it's obvious the man knows what he's talking about, regardless of his bestsellernThe good part about this book is that John Grisham does get a say -- it's obvious the man knows what he's talking about, regardless of his bestsellerness. The notes Grisham gives Vanderwarker are detailed and thoughtful in the way that good editors are detailed and thoughtful. (Painful for the writer, definitely, but nothing that's new to anyone with a good writers group, a gifted teacher, or a professional editor.)
However, there are lots of problems with this book. If you're looking for writing insight, you're gonna get about fifteen pages worth. And, strangely enough, all of the problems I had with this book-about-writing-a-book were problems Grisham called out regarding Vanderwark's central novel-in-progress. Seems some issues just bleed over, whether fiction or non-fiction.
On page 103 Grisham tell Vanderwarker in his notes: "The best advice is based on brutal honesty. This book, at least the first half of it, has so many distracting subplots that the main story takes a back seat." And...there are so many subplots in Vanderwarker's Writing With the Master itself that the main story takes a backseat. The main through-line is supposed to be about Grisham mentoring Vanderwarker. Instead, you get asides about baseball/football, the environmental group Vanderwarker supports and participates in, notes about his relationship with other people besides Grisham, and on it goes.
On page 160 Grisham states: "In your case you have the habit of stopping the action and telling the reader about the characters involved in the action. There's way too much backfill. The reader will not care where any of your minor characters went to college or what they did in the military or anything about their wives." Ummm, yeah. Just about anything referencing anyone other than Vanderwarker or Grisham hits a wall in this.
Look, I know in real life we have husbands and wives and friends and that they have an enormous impact on the creative life. However, in this case Vanderwarker's real life doesn't feel integrated. It feels like we have to stop talking about writing and the writing process in order for Vanderwarker to introduce the (sometimes truly tragic) elements that impact his life.
Grisham also calls Vanderwarker out for dialogue -- and in this book it doesn't sound authentic either. As someone who has read a decent amount of Grisham, I didn't hear him at all in the actual conversations presented by Vanderwarker. Only in the long notes.
And -- here's the hard part about this book -- as a reader, I really really really don't care to read sections of a book that are not working. If it were working, we wouldn't need Grisham mentoring. Right? I would have preferred to have the Sleeping Dogs text inserted with Grisham's mark ups (after all, the point is the mentoring and what we can learn, right?)...not just laid out in paragraph form, forcing me to read text that I already know will have to be corrected. It doesn't illustrate anything and it's frustrating.
Unfortunately, there's just not enough of the Master in here for me. It's mostly a struggling writer struggling. ...more
This play revolves around a college English professor: Ellie. During the course of one evening she is trapped in a snowbound cabin with her first loveThis play revolves around a college English professor: Ellie. During the course of one evening she is trapped in a snowbound cabin with her first lover, her second lover, her current lover, and a possible future lover -- all women.
An awkward situation to be sure.
While Chambers capitalizes on the intimate setting and forces each character to examine her motivations -- I think the key word is 'forces.' For example: Peggy, Ellie's perfect first love, enters the cabin scene halfway through the play...and there doesn't seem to be a good, plausible reason for her to physically be there except that Chambers wants her to be there. (view spoiler)[And when Peggy sleeps with Pat, Ellie's former lover, the scene seems designed to create a tension that is never brought forth on stage. The two sleep together and Ellie doesn't seem to give a shit because she's found her own new love. (hide spoiler)]
There's more than one moment like that -- a dramatic element is introduced, only to be dismissed without delivering. Probably the biggest issue for me was the death of Cassie (a person whom we never meet). Cassie died as a direct result of Pat -- Ellie's former lover. Pat cheated on Ellie with Cassie (a young woman Ellie also cared for) got drunk, drove, and wrapped a car around a tree. Cassie is killed. Pat walks away.
You'd think there'd be something else mentioned after they initially talk about it...but there isn't. This is an element great actors can always know is beneath the surface and allow the story to inform the tension between the two characters, but as far as explicit confrontation...nada. On the page, it feels uneven.
First, a brief low-down: A young man drives a Mercedes into crowd of job-seekers at a job fair. He kills eight people, wounds a bunch of others, and tFirst, a brief low-down: A young man drives a Mercedes into crowd of job-seekers at a job fair. He kills eight people, wounds a bunch of others, and then seems to drop off the face of the earth. Then we jump a year later and meet retired Detective Kermit William Hodges, a.k.a. Bill, who was the lead investigator on the case. Bill is depressed and considering suicide when the Mercedes Killer sends him a letter telling him to go ahead and off himself, unwittingly giving Bill a reason to live: namely, to hunt down the bastard who ran through a mass of people with a stolen Mercedes.
For those who may be looking for a horror fix...this isn't it. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.) Mr. Mercedes has more in common with Sue Grafton and J.K. Rowling's alter-ego Robert Galbraith than it does with The Shining or It. As a reader, I don't mind that at all. The bad guy is definitely bad and the good guy has enough questionable motives to make it a quick, interesting read.
There are definitely some plot holes and leaps of faith that the reader has to make, but if you read it quick enough (like I did) you won't think about the problems long enough to truly distract you.
My biggest issue (not counting plot holes and leaps of faith) with the novel related to a more basic issue -- it felt like the beginning of a series. I felt only marginally introduced to the main character (strange, right?) and his former partners. I was only gonna give this book two stars...then, lo, I arrive at Goodreads and find this is the first part of a trilogy? I have rounded my star rating up in hopes that the next couple novels will fix the distance-y issues I was experiencing.
An example of a 'distance-y' issue (a term I have coined my own self): The sidekicks. Jerome and Holly. First off, the sidekicks don't come into the story in any measurable way until almost the end, which was a bummer because they were great foils for Hodges that were massively under-utilized -- they could have presented the arguments and counter-arguments to Hodges thought process...rather than the reader going "What the hell, dude?" And considering the pivotal roles they play, it's kinda disappointing to not spend more time with them.
But, I mean, dudes, it's still King. Plenty of attitude and spark through the pages to keep 'em turning. I especially love the emails between hero and villain. Snarky. Good times. ...more
"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't
I think the first book review of the year should set the tone for the rest of the year. And what better way to start the year 2013 than reading and reviewing the book that has everything? In fact, it has so much of everything that I used every single one of my shelves to label it. I'm pretty sure that I'm still short a couple subjects.
Sure, I could've been reading Anna Karenina and learning about Imperial Russia with the rest of my book group instead of learning about the present American stuff I already know. But since my reading goal this year is 100 books - which is like reading everything - I should start my odyssey with the book that has everything. Everything American, that is. Anna Karenina just has affairs and trains and Keira Knightly and other stuff.
Tolstoy's book doesn't have anything that Colbert's book doesn't have.
Anna Karenina has extramarital affairs: America Again has illicit relations between politicians and food.
Anna Karenina has people who hate their jobs: America Again has resume how-tos.
Anna Karenina has 2-D: America Again has 3-D.
Anna Karenina has Siberia: America Again has North Dakota.
Anna Karenina was translated into English: America Again was written in American.
It's probably this last one where Tolstoy has managed to one-up Colbert. America Again has no, count them: none, award winning translators. We're just expected to understand paragraphs like: "But the Real Question is: are America's best days behind us? Of course they are, and always have been. We have the greatest history in the history of History. But never forget, our best days are also ahead of us, and always will be. Because America also has the Greatest Future in the history of the Future. It's our Present that's the problem...and always is be."
I mean, Colbert began two sentences in that paragraph with But. And fragments. You just don't do that. A good translator would've saved him some face-saving. ...more
This is one of the books that I always "meant to read" but never got around to, despite its tiny page count and ginormous reputation. Having read it,This is one of the books that I always "meant to read" but never got around to, despite its tiny page count and ginormous reputation. Having read it, I feel like I've checked off a big ol' checkmark - so that's pretty satisfying.
WARNING: Lots of spoilers ahead, but I'm not marking it off because I'm assuming a lot of people know the story, even if they haven't read the words....
A lot of you guys probably know that this book set off a couple trends - both rather disheartening:
1. (less serious, but distressingly calls to mind the fashion of today's Emo kids): men wearing yellow pants with blue overcoats - just FYI: this was not a good look then and it is not a good look now.
After the book was published, it was subsequently banned in many places in an effort to curtail young men from imitating the climatic suicide of Werther.
When I picked up the book and started reading I was vastly irritated with Werther as a character. Whiny, angsty, woe-is-me. My impression of Werther was that he was the needy kid in class who always gets up in your personal space and spouts pop-philosophy at you, trying to make you feel inferior so they fell better. Yet somehow you always feel sorry for him. Kind of. When he's not irritating the crap out of you.(You people know this kid.)
Enter Charlotte the Adored. Somehow I found myself rooting for Werther in his attempts to win her heart (mainly because it seemed like he was winning it - in spite of his stalkerish Edward-from-Twilight approach). But Werther's angst is further angstified by the fact that Charlotte's already engaged to another guy (Team Albert!).
Really, I'm kind of ashamed of myself because I thought that anyone who would imitate this guy and kill themselves was...um...stupid.
But what follows this opening sequence of seeming emotional ranting and woe is a troubling look at the psychology that precedes a suicide. It's almost textbook. And Werther made some convincing arguments for suicide - including knocking folks like me, who haven't been there - and therefore can't know:
"It is in vain that a man of sound mind and cool temper understands the condition of such a wretched being, in vain he counsels him. He can no more communicate his own wisdom to him than a healthy man can instil his strength into the invalid by whose bedside he is seated." (p 41)
In other words: you can't tell someone who is depressed to "get over it."
And Goethe's descriptions of Werther's actions match almost point for point the clinical symptoms of depression:
In the evening I say I will enjoy the next morning's sunrise, and yet I remain in bed; in the day I promise to ramble by moonlight, and I nevertheless remain at home. I know not why I rise, nor why I got to sleep.
But the piece that got me - and probably quite a few men in pre-Revolution France - was the argument between Werther and his rival Albert. They discuss suicide openly, and Albert claims it is the coward's way out: "It is much easier to die than to bear a life of misery with fortitude." Werhter's reaction is to compare suicide to a "nation which has long groaned under the intolerable yoke of a tyrant rises at last and throws of its chains - do you call that weakness?" His argument is basically that suicide is action, and therefore a braver thing than just taking what life throws at you.
(Which I disagree with, but his argument could be convincing to the right listener - as history has proved.)
As far as the writing itself goes, well, there's miles of flowers. (Sometimes literally.) The reverence of the 'sublime' (the sensation of being small when compared to nature) was on the rise when Goethe wrote, so there's lots of nature involved.
It's an epistolary novel, so it's all letters and journal entries. This can get tedious and there's an awkward transition after Werther pulls the trigger.
It's well worth reading, but make sure you're in a happy place before you jump in. And I hope your happy place doesn't involve yellow pants. ...more