What was missing that kept this book from becoming a four or five-star review for me? A book that, earlier this month, had all of the publishing worldWhat was missing that kept this book from becoming a four or five-star review for me? A book that, earlier this month, had all of the publishing world and plenty of folks I know through social media in a tizzy over its release? I've mulled it over now that I'm finished and here are what I view as the strengths and weaknesses of Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus"...(I think if I just could have given more weight to the strengths I'd have fallen harder for it):
STRENGTHS • The lavish settings—Without question, readers will want to join visitors buying a ticket for this circus, one complete with a dizzying array of features—from a Labyrinth and tents made of ice to a wishing tree and rides where the sky reveals your dreams. It's a gorgeous backdrop to Morgenstern's plot and the author walks that fine line between wonderment and the tedium of too much detail. Should they turn this novel into a film (and surely they will), I can't help thinking it'll be the most challenging to adapt (from a special effects perspective) since Harry Potter. But, on that note, also the most beautiful (I can't wait to see how they construct Celia's color-changing dresses!) • Wonderful primary characters—It's hard not to be drawn in by Celia and Marco's story, one that begins with their being trained to challenge one another as powerful illusionists (but not knowing that their opponent is each other). What they create together is the basis of the book but, better than that, are the handful of scenes in which their love takes hold. Specifically, one scene I loved so much I wish I had wrote it, involving Marco sweeping Celia away in an illusion where they're floating upon a sea of ink in a boat made of books. Beautiful imagery, for sure....and an ideal romantic gesture for this bibliophile.
WEAKNESSES • For all the build-up of the challenge, its reveal felt like an anti-climatic let-down. • The back-and-forth of the storytelling—The book switches every few chapters from the present to the past. Normally, this is a fine construct for me, but the problem here is the dates being so close together (for instance, the "future" being, say, 1902, and the past, only a year or two prior). That made the narrative read disjointedly at certain spots. It also weakened the story for me, making me lose interest for portions of the first half (and thus being a big reason why this book didn't pull me in hook, line and sinker) • A bad habit of introducing characters only to reintroduce them (sometimes with 50-75 pgs. inbetween) using a nickname, or first name only..making it confusing to remember which character you're reading about (in particular, it took me a good 200 pgs to remember who was the engineer and who was the clock maker!) ...more
Do yourself a favor and pour a dirty martini or a nice gin and tonic for sipping while you read "Rules of Civility"...otherwise, you're going to spendDo yourself a favor and pour a dirty martini or a nice gin and tonic for sipping while you read "Rules of Civility"...otherwise, you're going to spend the entierty of its 300-plus pages wishing you had said drink in hand.
This book had reasons aplenty to pull me in: I'm a nut for all things featuring my favorite time period (1920s-1930s.) Make it a version of that history set in glittering Manhattan, toss in a few fine blue bloods, Art Deco accents and one hell of a finely crafted heroine and this book becomes a top read for me in 2011.
"Rules" starts a bit slow. The true character of the narrator, Katy Kontent, is buried under the first half of the novel's slower storyline, one that follows Katy and her boardinghouse roomie Eve (shout out to the wholesome independent Hoosier!) through a blustery courtship of sorts with the elusive Tinker Grey. It's a freak turn of events that leaves Katy as the odd girl out, pondering what she needs to do with her life to move on and out of the funk she finds herself in.
Enter Wallace Wolcott. Once Katy begins to succumb to the charms of her sweet friend (platonic though those charms may be), Amor Towles finds a real rhythm to his novel, a cadence to Katy's witty prose, and I...well, I couldn't put the book down for the final 150 pages!
From Katy's rise from a Wall Street secretarial pool to the publishing offices of Conde Naste, to her later dealings with Tinker and his "(fairy) godmother", Anne Grandyn, I was hooked. I wanted to BE Katy Kontent, so full of spunk and independence and a bright future ahead ——virtues uncommon to many women of her era.
Quite a few lines to love in this one too. Here were a few that made me admire the talent of author Amor Towles (not that I didn't already admire a guy who, at 46, with a successful Wall Street job, publishes his first novel—doing a bang-up job of telling a woman's perspective no less):
(pg. 128): "Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane—in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath—she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger. What my father was trying to tell me, as he neared the conclusion of his own course, was that this risk should not be treated lightly: One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamourous enticements."
(pg. 215): "Watch out for boys who think they owe you something. They'll drive you the craziest."
(pg. 239): (I just loved this scene) —Quit worrying about the coat. It'll find me. That's why I leave my wallet in the pocket in the first place. Now what's the fuss? —It's a long story. —Leviticus long? Or Deuteronomy long? —Old Testament long. —Don't say another word.
(pg. 259): "Most people have more needs than wants. That's why they live the lives they do. But the world is run by those whose wants outstrip their needs."
(pg. 297): (from Dicky, a character I loved): "If only we fell in love with people who were perfect for us, he said, then there wouldn't be so much fuss about love in the first place." ...more
Coming off a dense book on writing, Shauna's latest collection of stories, "Bittersweet" was like curling up on the couch with a blanket and a big 'olComing off a dense book on writing, Shauna's latest collection of stories, "Bittersweet" was like curling up on the couch with a blanket and a big 'ol bowl of comfort food — the literary equivalent to mac-n-cheese.
There are some folks who may read her writing and shrug it off as too folksy or too preachy. I feel sorry for them. Because I think Shauna has a remarkable ability to write poetically about the everyday moments we all experience but never take time to think about, let alone cherish.
In "Bittersweet," Shauna writes extensively about her experience miscarrying her second child. I felt so sorry for her reading her words about the loss. And again, because of Shauna's approachability, she seems less the person sharing these words through a novel and more one recounting what happened over cups of tea in her living room. Someone you want to reach out to, give a hug, and tell her everything will work out because it's life and, well, it always does. (This ability of hers to be so transparent is probably why people seem to flock to her as girlfriends — of which, as you read, she has many).
A number of essays in this title (there's something like, 40 in all), really REALLY resonated with me. I'm borrowing a friend's copy of the book and since she underlined many of the same passages I would have, I know they resonated with her as well. Shauna's books are ones I really should just buy copies of seeing as how — though I rarely re-read anything — so many of her essays I could come back to again and again.
Here were a few snippets I loved from a book FULL of thoughts worth quoting:
• From "Things I Don't Do": In which Shauna writes about how she's learning that while she wants to do everything in life and DO EVERYTHING BETTER, life is about figuring out those things you're willing to give up so as to focus on the things you really care about (among her things she doesn't do were things I, also, don't do: gardening, major home improvements, making her bed in the morning, baking -- I loved the "This is me, take it or leave it" attitude she conveyed with this lesson)
• From "Alameda": Share your life with the people you love, even if it means saving up for a ticket and going without a few things for a while to make it work. There are enough long lonely days of the same old thing, and if you let enough years pass, and if you let the routine steamroll your life, you'll wake up one day, isolated and weary, and wonder what happened to all those old friends.
• From "Twenty-Five": For a while in my early 20s, I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me. I feel more like myself with each passing year, for better and for worse, and you'll find that, too. Every year, you will trade a little of your perfect skin and your ability to look great without exercising for wisdom and peace and groundedness, and every year the trade will be worth it. I promise.
• From "Love Song for Fall": (for artists and writers and photographers and creatives): If you were made to create, you won't feel whole and healthy and alive until you do.....Do the work, learn the skills, and make art, because of what the act of creation will create in you.
Many more, but I'll let you read them instead. ...more
Of all the literary greats, I don't know what it is that makes me love Fitzgerald so. Maybe it's because, when I read him, I feel swept up in my own rOf all the literary greats, I don't know what it is that makes me love Fitzgerald so. Maybe it's because, when I read him, I feel swept up in my own romanticized ideal of an era (1920s-1930s) I've always been drawn to. Maybe it's because his prose makes me feel more intelligent just for having read it. Or maybe it's because, at a personal level, Fitzgerald himself just fascinates me. Whatever the cause, it's why, even when I found myself struggling with this novel, I still loved it.
"Tender is the Night" is the story of American shrink Dick Diver, who (against his better judgment) falls in love with fellow American, Nicole, who happens to be one of his patients early in his career. Their marriage is a rocky one——beaten down by Nicole's maniac episodes (she's schizophrenic). They become known (thanks in part to the fortune Nicole inherits) for their lavish lifestyle, most notably hobnobbing with other wealthy expats on the French Riveria (which is where they meet a series of supporting characters, including the young actress, Rosemary Hoyt, who will complicate Dick's life in myriad ways.) As the novel reaches its end, the reader sees how, in building Nicole up, Dick has brought his own life down and the book ends with less the bang I was anticipating and more a whimper.
1) Where the book threw me was in its divisions: Book I is told from Rosemary's perspective and, even concentrating with all my might, I had a HARD time getting through it thanks to its convoluted plot points. Book II was my favorite, wherein we learned the back story of Nicole and the start of her relationship with Dick. Book III gave us resolution in how these characters move on but, sadly, not an outcome to celebrate.
2) Fitzgerald wrote "Tender is the Night" at a time in his life when his wife, Zelda, was experiencing her own severe psychological problems (and he was dealing with his own alcoholism (which Dick struggles with as well)). The parallels of these characters' lives to F.Scott and Zelda have been fodder for lit classes for years.
3) Any man who can write a sentence like this will always leave my lit-lovin' knees a little weak: "Many times he had tried unsuccessfully to let go his hold on her. They had many fine times together, fine talks between the loves of the white nights, but always when he turned away from her into himself he left her holding Nothing in her hands and staring at it, calling it many names, but knowing it was only the hope that he would come back soon."
This was a book that made me gasp out loud as I came to its final pages. It had a plot twist that I should have seen coming but, since I didn't, leftThis was a book that made me gasp out loud as I came to its final pages. It had a plot twist that I should have seen coming but, since I didn't, left me crying out "Oh no!" in this You've-just-been-duped sort of way. Kind of like the first time I saw David Fincher's "Seven" and got to that scene where Brad learns Gwyneth's head is in the box and I was all, "Oh no, that did NOT just happen." Gruesome correlation there, I know, but this book shares with that movie its own dark and sinister character.
Overall, Martel's second novel (and the play within the book-—about a donkey named Beatrice and a howler monkey named Virgil) just didn't really "go" anywhere until the last few pages——at which point, Martel decides to deliver a jolt to the system with how he chooses to end the story of Henry the author and Henry the taxidermist (who's been writing the play about Beatrice and Virgil).
Add to that the fact said jolt invokes the Holocaust and you can understand all the more why this book can leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Hemingway once said all you have to do is write one true sentence. The assumption being, I suppose, that the rest will take care of itself. I thoughtHemingway once said all you have to do is write one true sentence. The assumption being, I suppose, that the rest will take care of itself. I thought about that sentiment often while I burned through Jean Thompson's "The Year We Left Home."
Likely because there is much that is true about this novel—that's the best way I know how to describe it. The setting. The story lines. The characters. So true they felt real to me——as if Thompson had come to my own tiny Midwestern hometown, studied the people I went to school and to church with, all to create these characters of hers known as the Erickson clan.
Not much happens in this novel with the exception of life going on. And isn't that how it goes? Marriages and babies and the mistakes that can haunt a family for the rest of its members' lives. When it's beautifully captured in a way like this, it truly is art.
Over the course of 30 years, Thompson follows members of the Iowa-bred Erickson family (each chapter its own vignette, picking up where we last left off with Ryan and Anita and Torrie and Chip, be it 1983 or 1993 or 2003). Along the way, there is mention of war (Vietnam and the post-9/11 engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq), economic downturns (the farm crisis of the '80s), marriages (and divorce), children, accidents, struggles with addiction, the whole lot. Certain characters get more action than others (in particular Ryan, the oldest of the four Erickson kids whose life becomes the central axis of the book). Certain chapters leave you sad and frustrated (you will know what I mean if all I mention is the word "Torrie"). And others feel as though Thompson has pulled back the curtain on our own thoughts as they relate to getting older and the choices that come with the process (ie, marriage and children and what it means to be fulfilled in one's work, and, also, death)
I want to recommend this book to everyone but I know that some people will find it TOO real for them. Because life——be it fiction or reality——has more than its fair share of down times and sad times and whereas I find something about the emulation of that on the page to be reassuring, there are those who only want to pick up a book with frilly fonts and pastel hues to escape that very thing. The pity is, when they do that, they miss out on the work of a wonderful writer like this. And that's really a cryin' shame.
Snippets from the book that I loved: • "You decided your life would go in a certain direction and maybe it did. Or maybe you were kidding yourself, and the world was mostly a matter of being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time."
• "If only you could grab hold of time like the end of a string, follow it along, roll it up into a ball until you got where you needed to be."
• "Marriage was love gone public. He had married Ellen because he loved her. He loved her because he had married her."
• "Sometimes she thought she was mostly a collection of minor talents."
• "When he was younger he had wished to see the world, and then he had wished to change it, and then he had been afraid it was passing him by. And his mistake had been to confuse a particular woman with the world." ...more
Of all the biz-themed books I've been reading this year, I have to admit that "Lovemarks" has done the least for me.
I found the style of the book theOf all the biz-themed books I've been reading this year, I have to admit that "Lovemarks" has done the least for me.
I found the style of the book the hardest element in luring me in. Whereas I'm sure a lot of visual types (or individuals with ADHD) would be drawn to how the author, Kevin Roberts (CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi), treats his text in this tome of his, I was not a fan. I found all the text over graphics and images to be a major distraction in trying to take home the lessons about branding that Kevin was trying to teach me. (I also wasn't pulled in by his writing, but that's another discussion).
So what of the take-aways....well, I did come away from reading this one with the following:
• Roberts believes that — more than anything — the world needs love. And that businesses must play a key role in making that happen.
• That whereas brands are built around the promise of quality, a set of defined attributes and are professional in nature, Lovemarks are about the relationship with the consumer, with an emphasis on sensuality, being wrapping in mystery and taking the form of a passionately creative individual or product.
• The three major factors to a Lovemark: mystery, sensuality and intimacy.
• One element to the mystery of Lovemarks that I appreciated was the concept of storytelling. I'm big on this, given the way I try to go the extra mile for each of my wedding clients by sharing their love stories with them (and, in turn, blog readers), so this was a great take-away to read: "Stories feed Lovemarks. They are how we explain the world to ourselves and give value to the things we love." If storytelling can help give value to my service as a wedding photographer, I'm all for it!
• If I said Apple and Starbucks were Lovemarks, you'd get the concept, right?
• And a final passage that I did bookmark: "There is one more thing that I believe Lovemarks need that aligns with Intimacy, empathy, and commitment. It is the intensity and rush that accompanies only the strongest emotions. Put together with Love it can transform the most insignificant product into a must-have. It has the power to give an intensity to a relationship that will carry it through good times and bad. Passion. With passion, the most difficult of objects can be achieved."
I had a wonderful chat this weekend with a new (and now very dear) friend of mine, Erin. We talked a lot about being the type of people who have so maI had a wonderful chat this weekend with a new (and now very dear) friend of mine, Erin. We talked a lot about being the type of people who have so many passions in life that we hate the idea of being forced to focus on just one of them (when our personalities lead us to believe otherwise). She mentioned that she's been reading this book and suggested I look into it as well. A great recommendation, for sure.... ...more
As a reader, I felt a bit disconnected working my way through Téa Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife." For two main reasons really, so let me break them downAs a reader, I felt a bit disconnected working my way through Téa Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife." For two main reasons really, so let me break them down for any of you who happen to read this review:
Disconnect #1: Even though I didn't love this book in a major way, I admired its ambitious author enough that, every few pages, I would remove myself from the storyline, thumb to that little image of Obreht's on the back jacket and ask of her, "HOW DID YOU WRITE THIS BOOK AT 25?!" I mean, there is a whole population of people out there that age who can't rent a car yet. Can't muster themselves to rise at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. And yet, somehow, this literary phenom has written a book that wins her the Orange Prize. Unbelievable!
Disconnect #2: The stories themselves were, well, a bit disconnected. The theme of the novel focuses on a young doctor reeling from the news that her grandfather has died—-a man full of quirks who shares lots of wonderful stories (a recurring tale about a deathless man he encountered being one of them) and becomes a doctor after a youth spent trying to escape the memory of his dealings with a woman in his village known as the tiger's wife (a moniker she earns after befriending a tiger on the loose that has terrorized the village).
It's a complicated series of plot points to go on about here (coupled with a confusing sense of geographic placement — is this the Balkans? Serbia? Obreht lets us draw our own assumptions based on our knowledge of the wars there) but I'll say again, even with those somewhat loose ends in mind, it's one heck of a debut. Glad to have read it, even if it won't be joining ranks with books on my favorites list. ...more
Christo Tsiolkas takes the prize for author who best makes use of George Carlin's 7 Dirty Words. Wow. Had I known what I was getting myself (and my boChristo Tsiolkas takes the prize for author who best makes use of George Carlin's 7 Dirty Words. Wow. Had I known what I was getting myself (and my book club) into, I would have never recommended this novel for our August meet-up. As it was, since this was my pick, I felt obligated to finish it. And it was only because of that obligation that I DID finish it.
it wasn't that the writing in this novel was necessarily bad. Tsiolkas clearly has a mastery of the written word. The problem was his desire to make every one of his characters (each becoming the subject of a chapter) so vile and unlikeable. While I might have been able to tolerate the notion that one or two of these characters were morally flawed, I had a hard time buying that every one of them could be a philander or a bigot or a liar or worse.
This was a plot that could have (and should have) held up, but it's a shame that Tsiolkas's language and ill will for his characters ruined it--for this reader at least. ...more
If you're so new to photography you've yet to shoot manual, are questioning whether you have it in you to start a business and/or have never heard ofIf you're so new to photography you've yet to shoot manual, are questioning whether you have it in you to start a business and/or have never heard of Twitter, let alone have an account, then the content of David duChemin's "VisionMongers" may just be revelationary to you.
If, on the other hand, you've been doing this for a while, check your social media accounts in your sleep and are pretty comfortable and/or confident in your photographic skills, well….not so much.
For me, the biggest factor in not giving "VisionMongers" a stronger review is that so much of its content is like reading a Cliffs Notes version of many other photo-related books and magazines out there (plenty of which I've already read). Had I read this in 2007 (even early 2008), I think I would have latched on to so much more content than I did this time around, as it would have been all new to me. While that can't be said now, I will acknowledge that all the material duChemin treads in "VisionMongers" is still great stuff for any photographer to review—whether they've been shooting for 3 months or 30 years. And because every person looks at the areas of our industry differently—from pricing and style to branding and technique—I believe you can always learn a thing or two from someone's new insights on the topics.
Here are some snippets of the seven pages of notes I took on this title (and given that number, well, clearly, I found plenty from this veteran photographer that I wanted to remember -- even if much of it reads like an inspirational quote book for the photographer in need of a motivational boost.)
Words to live by -- all of these:
"If you don't feel like photography is something you are called to do—by God, your gifts, your talents, a small nagging voice inside, or just overwhelming passion for it—then it's probably not the right choice for you."
"In an age where high levels of competence at your craft are assumed, the thing that differentiates us is vision: the way in which you wield your craft to tell the stories you see with your eye and your heart."
"It's your calling, after all. You should love it. But you still have to put in the hours and log the time. These dreams aren't going to chase themselves."
"Your passion for what you shoot—and who you shoot for—will place you head and shoulders above the mediocrity that's so prevalent in our industry."
"We shoot best that which we love best" (and for me, that's weddings!)
On maintaining a consistent brand: "Consistency builds familiarity and confidence. It is a repetition of design conventions like fonts, colors and styles that make you more memorable in the market."
And my favorite: "This is your journey. Do it slow, do it fast, do it however you choose, but do it your way. Any other path will suck the joy from the endeavor." ...more
At 640 pages, Kavalier and Clay is a book that commands your time and, if you're up for it, your attention. For me, the first 425 pages read as five-sAt 640 pages, Kavalier and Clay is a book that commands your time and, if you're up for it, your attention. For me, the first 425 pages read as five-star material. Then Chabon had to go to the South Pole (literally) and well...from there, (to borrow a phrase from my grandmother) he just got "loosey goosey" with his plot. It's why I ended the book still a big fan, but not as sold as I wanted to be.
Kavalier and Clay is the 1930s-era story of two cousins, Brooklyn-born Sammy Clay and his Czech cousin, Joe Kavalier. Joe has escaped the Jewish massacre of World War II (how he gets to America is a far-fetched but fascinating plotline featuring a Golum in a coffin) but pines for his family that remains in Prague. Sam is scrawny (with legs crippled by polio) but tries to make up for his diminutive status with big dreams of making a name for himself in the burgeoning comic book industry.
Magic happens when his imagination intersects with Joe's artistic talent, leading them to create the great Escapist, a character that comes to define not just their professional careers, but the overall theme of the book. Shortly after their partnership takes off, Kavalier meets and falls for the enigmatic Rosa Saks (meeting her for the second time at a party where he saves Salvador Dali from dying...I loved that plot point) and it is their on-and-off relationship that kept me reading to the end.
I finished Kavalier and Clay conflicted, because there were so many things I loved about it and yet, the parts that tripped me up, really tripped me up (to touch vaguely (but a bit spoilerish) on a few-- the South Pole excursion, the bungee jump atop the Empire State Building, how that coffin with the pile of Golum dirt inside it (WAS that what it was?) made it to their suburb in Queens and whether or not the names on the card at the end meant Sam stayed or if the Clay of "Kavalier & Clay" was referring to Rosa....) Sigh...so many questions unanswered. But I suppose the fact I'm still asking them means this book is as great a read as any I've given four stars on here.
A few lines I loved (so often with this novel, I'd read a particular sentence and think of how wicked talented Chabon is with his words):
Pg. 315: "His ribs no longer stuck out, and his skinny little-boy's behind had taken on a manlier heft. It was as if, she thought, he had been engaged in a process of transferring himself from Czechoslovakia to America, from Prague to New York, a little at a time, and every day there was more of him on this side of the ocean."
A beautiful scene where Joe thinks about his love for Rosa (pg. 324): "The two dozen commonplace childhood photographs—snowsuit, pony, tennis racket, looming fender of a Dodge—were an inexhaustible source of wonder for him, at her having existed before he met her, and of sadness for his possessing nothing of the ten million minutes of that black-and-white scallop-edged existence save these few proofs."
On Sam's return to comics after he fails at other dreams (pg 547): "He allowed the world to wind him in the final set of chains, and climbed, once and for all, into the cabinet of mysteries that was the life of an ordinary man."
Beautifully crafted narrative of an aspect of Rosa's physical beauty Joe's forgotten (pg. 569): "He had thought of Rosa countless times over the years of his flight, but somehow, courting or embracing her in his memory, he had neglected to dab in the freckles with which she was so prodigiously stippled, and now he was startled by their profusion. They emerged and faded against her skin with the inscrutable cadence of stars on the night sky. They invited the touch of fingers as painfully as the nap of velvet or the shimmer of a piece of watered silk."