So the good news is, Lena Dunham is wrong. She's not the voice of a generation, as her thinly disguised version of herself on her TV show once stated.So the good news is, Lena Dunham is wrong. She's not the voice of a generation, as her thinly disguised version of herself on her TV show once stated. Nope, she's just the voice of over-indulged narcissists who have been so praised for every shit they've ever taken in life that they no longer smell the stink. Someone needs to let her know that acting like an annoying, precocious child when you're in your late twenties isn't adorable, funny or impressive.
It's too bad, because Dunham has flickers of insightful moments on these pages. There are some smart observations, such as when, in a chapter about losing her virginity, she notes "[h]ow permanent virginity feels, and then how inconsequential." There are some funny moments, too, like when she writes, "He had a lot of time to cook: his job, editing the newsletter for a nonprofit that promoted the global language of Esperanto, was 'flexible.'" Funny, right? And self-aware enough to partially trick me into thinking she's in on the joke.
But to contrive this book of essays (some free-form, because this girl doesn't abide by RULES!) as things she's "learned" makes me cringe. There's nothing remarkable about what she writes - neither in the content nor in how she tells it. It's more like a never-ending blog post by someone who can't utter a sentence without the word "me" or "I" in it.
In closing, I'm going to recount the (unintentionally) funniest scene from the book:
"After reading an early version of this essay [about death and dying], my friend Matt asked me: "Why are you in such a rush to die?" I was shocked by the question, even a little pissed. This wasn't about me! This was about the universal plight...."
OH THE IRONY...
Lena, Lena, Lena...your problems are simply not that interesting, important or unique.
PS: I'm not getting into the whole privilege debate. You can't help who your parents are, and besides, forget privilege - my personal opinion (that everyone on Earth has been waiting for) is this chick's upbringing was like a social experiment gone wrong. Regardless, when your parents have friends in high places, you should make sure you're worthy of the favor they're pulling. Otherwise it's just extended nepotism....more
I'm seriously considering tagging The Boys in the Boat with my "All-time Favorites" tag. I loved it that much.
The lazy way of describing this book (wI'm seriously considering tagging The Boys in the Boat with my "All-time Favorites" tag. I loved it that much.
The lazy way of describing this book (which I'm starting with; not sure what that says about me) is that it's one part Unbroken (action-packed, Olympian[s] on the brink of WWII, scrappy hero who'll win your heart), one part Miracle (that is, the movie about the underdog US Olympic hockey team during the Cold War) and one part In the Garden of Beasts (juxtaposing 1930s Germany/the Nazi regime history with a smaller, more humanized story). Whip all that up in the blender, and you get The Boys in the Boat.
The two books above were easily, easily five-star reviews for me, and I could watch Miracle seven thousand times without ever tiring of it, but to say this book is "just" an amalgam of those great things is like that experiment where they put celebrities' famous body parts together (Angeline Jolie's lips, Julia Roberts' smile, etc.) but instead of it being this otherworldly gorgeous being, it was like a creepy Frankenstein. In other words, it doesn't do it justice. It's excellent on its own, without comparisons to anything else, and if I weren't so lazy, I wouldn't have even brought them up in the first place.
Given the (justly deserved) uproar over Unbroken over the past year or two and over everything Erik Larson has written ever, I'm surprised I haven't heard more chatter about this book and its author. Like those two authors, Brown is both an incredible writer and an incredible researcher, which when compiling books of this magnitude is essential. The book never gets stuck in weighty, dense facts, though - you'll fly through the pages effortlessly, if necessary staying up all night, flashlight-under-the-covers style to finish it. Brown is a hybrid of a journalist, one who can enliven history while poking at your feels and inspiring you, and he deserves to be more widely read.
Nothing I say here about the book is going to make you read or not read it. As the subtitle says, it's about nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That, and so, so much more. ...more
This is the book that Gone Girl could have been if it hadn't been trying too hard to shock and awe its readers with more and more inane plot twists. DThis is the book that Gone Girl could have been if it hadn't been trying too hard to shock and awe its readers with more and more inane plot twists. Dangerous Girls cleverly combines two ripped-from-the-headlines plots - Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba and the Amanda Knox/Italian murder trials - into a dangerous and exhilarating ride through the judicial process and the truth, lies, manipulations and obfuscations that it entails. Lots of fun, and though I despise the term "beach read," seeing as this book's crime takes place in Aruba over Spring Break, I think it's safe to say Haas wouldn't mind you getting a little sand in the pages. (Or in the edges of your Kindle, if you roll new school.)
Note: I read this on a Kindle, and upon adding this book on Goodreads, I'm glad I did. What's happening with this cover?? It looks like 50 Shades of Barf Goes on Spring Break. You just lost 80% of your potentially audience...good work, publishers....more
In the beginning, there was Bossypants, and it was good. Then, eyeballs a-flicker with dollar signs, every book publisher scrambling for their next biIn the beginning, there was Bossypants, and it was good. Then, eyeballs a-flicker with dollar signs, every book publisher scrambling for their next big hit began searching for the next Tina, and just like that, a new genre was born: Memoirs Written by Female Comics. The recipe is as follows: one part career memoir; one part image-softening, relatable life story as a woman or mother; one part humanizing, character-building mistake, regret or transgression; a dash of the raunchy; and lots of humor since these people do get paid to make us laugh.
Don't misunderstand me; I'm not anti the genre - it's just that I now see through it, so I'm a little weary of it. It also doesn't help that I read Yes Please soon after finishing Lena Dunham's painful, horrendous book, so maybe I'm just still suffering emotionally from that whole situation.
Mizzzz Dunham aside, Poehler's book, as much as it saddens me to say it, was not everything I hoped it would be. Not surprisingly, she's an excellent writer, but some of the essays (or gratuitous humor within otherwise well-written essays) felt like floor scraps from the writers' room that never should have made it into production. I'm not sure I'm in a safe enough place mentally to discuss the beginning, but dear lord. Was her editor high? Then there were a few cases of little punchlines or aside quips that fell flat on the page - as though without her bringing them to life physically for us, they just were DOA.
Still, those flaws can be overlooked by the brilliance she pulls off routinely throughout the book - and interestingly, I didn't always think the humor and/or show biz essays were the best. Yes, it's fun to hear about her work on SNL and Parks and Rec and to hear firsthand stories of people I would like to marry, like Tina Fey and Seth Meyers, but I was more drawn to her writing about children, both hers and the ones she's met through her volunteer work.
Poehler's essays on her own children were so sincere and true - from the legitimately LOL-inducing story of her first son's birth to her sweet memory of taking naps together in the Nantucket breeze to the way she described her son as smelling like a "love cookie" (yesssss!!!) - that I teared up. In her personal life, Poehler is a huge advocate for girls (she has her own organization that encourages girls to "change the world by being themselves" called Smart Girls at the Party), and in her essays about high school and Haiti, you can feel how strongly she wishes for every child to grow up knowing safety and love. It's in her chapter about Haiti that she writes one of my favorite things about having (or loving) children ever:
When your children arrive, the best you can hope for is that they break open everything about you. Your mind floods with oxygen. Your heart becomes a room with wide-open windows. You laugh hard every day. You think about the future and read about global warming. You realize how nice it feels to care about someone more than yourself. And gradually, through this heart-heavy openness and these fresh eyes, you start to see the world a little more."
Maybe the reason I feel a little unsatisfied by this book is because I was so impressed by the more honest stuff that the "and here's my story about fame and fortune, and here's a joke, ba-dum-dum!" just didn't rock me the same way.
That said, had the book eschewed humor entirely, we wouldn't have the sentence "Moms and dads would patiently recite every item on the menu to their squirming five-year-olds, as if the many flavors of ice cream represented all the unique ways they were loved," and we'd all be a little worse off. ...more
So I didn't loooove this book, but I was still surprised by the universal panning of it on Goodreads. It's funny, peoples! It's also largely satiricalSo I didn't loooove this book, but I was still surprised by the universal panning of it on Goodreads. It's funny, peoples! It's also largely satirical, which is an under-appreciated art these days - in the written form, at least - and all too easily can be overlooked. So take out your satirical reading lenses and enjoy the following samples of Frazier's acerbic humor, as told through the voice of a burnt-out stay-at-home mother of two:
"Larry hopped out of bed before dawn and disappeared down in the basement, and I had the luxury of just lying there with the whole bed to myself and thinking about people I despised." p.59
"One very important key to maintaining our daily sanity is a simple scheduling tactic I call Putting Things the Hell Off. Today I am Putting the Hell Off Cleaning the Fucking Refrigerator, and the reason is simple: I just don't fucking feel like it. Looking at my calendar I see a whole raft of blank days during the rest of my life that I can devote to this stupid task, when perhaps I will be in more of a refrigerator-cleaning frame of mind." p.174
"Trevor has such an imagination and I hated to interrupt his creative processes, knowing how important this kind of play is to a child's development, but really he was driving me out of my fucking mind...." p.202
"Margaret and I agreed that it is somewhat harder to relax with a drink when the kids are home or when you know you might have to hop in the car without warning and chauffeur them somwhere. I feel this is an invasion of my personal space...." p.222
It's basically a book of that, so you can use the above to determine if this book is your kind of thing or not.
Still, despite some wickedly funny moments, I couldn't give the book more than three stars. Some of my first notes in this book were about how sad it made me when she closes with "Oh, what a fucking horrible day this has been," which happens about every third entry. Cursing Mommy is weary of her husband, her kids, her life - which makes me, as a stay-at-home mom (and one with a tendency to swear like a sailor, though I'm working on that), wonder what he's satirizing. Is Frazier saying Cursing Mommy has too much time on her hands to hate on things and should go find herself a job? Or maybe that part's not meant to be satirical? Complex literary styles can be so confusing, I tell you!
Oh, and an obvious disclaimer: Don't read this book if you're afraid of seeing Bad Words. There are many of them, as the title may indicate. ...more
Once, someone told me I was the most interested person alive. "Thank you!!" I told him, astonished that finally someone else realized what I've knownOnce, someone told me I was the most interested person alive. "Thank you!!" I told him, astonished that finally someone else realized what I've known all along - that the Dos Equis guy is lying. It is, in fact, I who am the most interesting person alive!*
"No, no - not interesting...interested," he said, shattering my dreams without even realizing it.
Shit. So much for that.
But then I thought about it, and being the most interested person alive is pretty cool, too. I can get sucked into ANYTHING because I am fascinated by EVERYTHING. I might be the only person on the planet who enjoyed Yann Martel's 14-page description of a pear in Beatrice and Virgil, and I have yet to encounter a subject that can't even pique my curiosity a little bit.
Soo, I felt pretty good when I started with Alexandra Horowitz's On Looking as I was anticipating having an obscure-fact party in my brain, but alas, there was no party to be had. Boo.
First off, the book is one giant LIE.
Okay so that may be a slightly extreme way of putting it, but I don't seem the be the only one who thought she would repeat the same walk with 11 different experts, thereby casting 11 different points of view on the same space. Wouldn't that have been infinitely more interesting?? (Spoiler alert: Yes.) I thought the entire point of the book is "look how much you're missing in everyday life" - so shouldn't these alleged** experts be able to illuminate one walk in 11 different ways? Oddly, some of the walks were in fact the same, whereas the others were in entirely different states. Huh?
There was also a problem of content. It often seemed the Horowitz didn't sponge enough information out of her experts to fill the whole book, so she resorted to bolstering each chapter with marginally relevant filler content. Example: In one chapter, she scours the streets with a doctor who's adept at diagnosing illness based on peculiarities of gait and appearance. Unfortunately, probably because people were bundled up against the cold and thereby hiding their sickly complexions from inspection, there were only about two people the doctor was able to size up on their walk. Rather than scrap that doctor idea and come up with a new expert to walk with, Horowitz is like, "hey guys, let me also tell you about this physical therapist I know from when my back was out, which I may have mentioned before because my back was out for like half of this project which probably was an ominous way to begin a book dependent upon my ability to walk but anyway this guy also knows some things about gaits, like let's see well usually you walk with your hips in synchronous rotation which thereby forces the legs forward via kinetic propulsion [yes, I made that up] and...what was I talking about again?" Right, like that.
By far my favorite chapter was her walk with her toddler son as I myself have an almost-toddler son, and I am endlessly fascinated by what he finds fascinating. We take him to the aquarium to see the bright, colorful fish and silly penguins, and the kid stares at, say, the bolt holding the tank together. Horowitz was smart to start the book with this little man's walk, though, since it hammers home the point that really, nothing is intrinsically more interesting to look at than anything else (except faces, according to science - babies are born to respond to faces). Everything provides an opportunity for investigative study, when you think about it, but in this day of constantly being "on," we too often forget that. Horowitz's book is a nice, if slightly off-target, reminder to slow down and look at the world around you.
I can think of no better ending to this review than the immortal words of one Mr. Ferris Bueller:
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."***
*I pride myself on being a grammar nerd, but this is tripping me up. Do I say am or is there?? Calling Jess, help please...both sound wrong.
**I don't know why I said that. They're clearly well-established in their fields and are fully deserving of the "expert" title.
Interesting that I chose to read this book right around the time when I decided to lean OUT big time.
Prior to March 2013, I had a great job doing intInteresting that I chose to read this book right around the time when I decided to lean OUT big time.
Prior to March 2013, I had a great job doing interesting work for (mostly) wonderful people, but that job happened to exist in NYC - aka the most expensive city in the country - and for all the job's plusses, "financially rewarding" it was not.
Post March 2013, everything changed. I had my first baby - a sweet, adorable bundle of baby boy joy - and upon crunching the numbers, I realized that post-tax and post-nanny, it didn't necessarily pay (financially, at least) for me to work. I knew we could live on my husband's salary alone without changing our lifestyle significantly (yes, my salary was that paltry), and I knew that if I were to continue to work, the cost of a nanny would have eaten all but about $5,000 of my post-tax income. Would you work full-time for that amount of money? Would $5,000 get you out of bed every day and help you overlook crowded smelly subways, meetings with people you kind of want to punch in the face, losing PowerPoint presentations when your computer crashes, having no flexibility to your life from M-F, 9am-6pm...$96 a week. $13 a day. No thank you.
That, paired with a rather inconveniently timed move to Boston, left me a stay-at-home mom who now spends her days singing "The Wheels on the Bus" at baby music class, playing with the parachute at baby-and-me class and doing downward dog while blowing kisses at baby yoga class instead of going to meetings, writing proposals and managing budgets.
It'd be nice to end that previous paragraph with a "...and I wouldn't have it any other way," but the truth is, I miss work. I miss the brain power involved, I miss being around adults, I miss solving problems...but the flip side of that truth is that if I were at work, I would miss my boy. What's a young professional gal to do?!
Sandberg acknowledges that having approximately $1,000,000,000 in the bank makes it a little easier to cover the childcare and other household help that greatly, greatly simplify the life of a working mother. Still, her message isn't one of an out-of-touch, idealistic celebrity boss - she's not Gwyneth, and this isn't Goop. The stats in Lean In aren't anything that someone with an interest in women's studies wouldn't have encountered, but they're upsetting to read, particularly given how numerous they are. (Most interesting to me is the case study where a successful woman was profiled, and a focus group gave her horrendous ratings on things like "would I be friends with this person," "I'd like to work with this person," etc. The exact same profile was given to another focus group, only this time the woman's name was changed to a man's. You probably aren't surprised to hear that this fictitious man got rave reviews for his business savvy, his drive, his success...all the things the woman was critiqued for.)
I think Sandberg's admonishment to "lean in" is exactly what women need to hear, and her book should be required reading for anyone in the workplace, particularly for those who think being a feminist is bad and/or that things already are equal because the women's rights movement already happened. (These are also the people who don't think racism is a problem anymore, either.) This book made me imagine what my life would be like if I don't go back to work - and if I do.
So, while I can see myself running board meetings and accepting Time's Person of the Year award, I - and millions of others - struggle with the reality of what life would be like with two parents working, and the thought of it makes me hyperventilate. The chaos! I am emphatically not a fan of chaos. After a long day of work, household duties still would need to get done, and while it's not glamorous, someone has to be sure that a healthy dinner is on the table every night and that all members of the household are bathed on a somewhat regular basis and that the dirty laundry gets washed and folded. Since my husband works crazy long hours, that someone would be...me. How some people do it, I have no idea. One of the women I respect most from my job is a C-level executive, has three great kids, works out, always looks impeccable in super chic clothes, cooks AND reads (and is on Goodreads!). For the life of me, I don't know how she does it.
I'm no closer to arriving at the answer - my answer, the one for me and my family - than I was when I started this "review," which is more a blog entry than an actual assessment of the book. I suppose, being a businesswoman, Sandberg can appreciate that economics necessitates that either choice - staying home or working - will result in the diminishment of something else, be it family time, a skyrocketing career, sleep...something's gotta give. I'm just not sure what I want that something to be yet. ...more
In 200 or so micro-vignettes, The Lovers' Dictionary reveals more about two people, their relationship and every relationship that ever existed than bIn 200 or so micro-vignettes, The Lovers' Dictionary reveals more about two people, their relationship and every relationship that ever existed than books many, many times its length. That in itself is remarkable---especially to someone like me, to whom brevity does not come naturally.
I love the sentiment expressed on page 120 (ineffable, adj.) that "trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough." I love that that the author wrote this while actually describing so beautifully love and life through revised dictionary definitions.
At first, I thought this was a story about the birth and death of a relationship, but upon further consideration, I'm not convinced that's the case. I don't think it's a love story, or a break-up story, or a cathartic-release story. I think it's a story that portrays love as an entity different from being in love. When you're in love, everything is wonderful all the time. When you love someone, sometimes that person doesn't put the cap back on the toothpaste, or maybe they drink too much, or maybe they drive you nuts by using their legal background to out-lawyer you while arguing (or maybe that last one is just me...), and it's up to you to decide if that's something you can live with.*
That leads me to my favorite entry of the book---vagary, n. The mistake in thinking there can be an antidote to the uncertainty.
How brilliant is that?
Side note: I appreciate creative writing---not just Creative Writing, i.e. fiction, but creative in how the writing plays with prose and our preconceptions of what format a book should take. On that note, major applause to Levithan for taking a risk and succeeding wildly. I wonder, however, if this book would have earned the same reception had Jonathan Safran Foer written it. All the popular kids love to belittle JSF's creative work as precious and twee, but I'm not sure I see what makes one's work clever and the other's contrived.
*In my case, I'm going to stick this one out for the long-haul....more