Archive for the 'books' Category

Now What Do I Do?

Posted in books on April 27th, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The title of this blog post makes me think of the movie Forrest Gump – remember the part where Forrest runs and runs; pretty soon he has a pack of people following him, running with him, and then suddenly he stops and says, “I think I’ll go home now.”  The pack of followers is suddenly lost and without purpose.  “NOW what do we do!”

That’s kind of how I feel now that I’ve finished the masterpiece novel I was reading, Under the Dome by Stephen King.  This book was a page-turner from start to finish, all 1000+ pages of it, and it’s one of those books that’s so good it sends the reader into withdrawal once they’ve finished the story.  Not helping is the fact that I’m sick, and the only good part of being sick (if there is a good part of being sick) is curling up with a good book.  But now I’ve finished my good book.  I’m reading two others, but they’re not the same type of book.

One additional note about Under the Dome:  I learned before I had read too far into the novel that they were making it into a tv mini-series, and as the novel progressed, I kept wondering how that would work given the book’s adult themes and graphic violence.  Now that I’ve finished the book, I felt comfortable doing a google search on it since I didn’t have to worry about the ending being spoiled (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that to you – not when I recommend it so highly for you to read for yourself; it’s really very good!).  Here I learned that it is indeed being turned into a tv mini-series – for cable tv.  That makes more sense, and I will have to find a way to get my hands on it when it comes out; maybe that will help cure my withdrawal!

BookWorm

Posted in books on April 15th, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was always an avid reader, but then I took an almost decade hiatus from reading books.  Because I did (and do) my reading before bed, I think the hiatus was due to the combination of getting used to parenting and also being fresh out of college which meant that I wasn’t used to getting to read what I wanted rather than what was assigned to me.  But a few years ago, I took up the hobby once again, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it.  I began by reading non-fiction because I liked the idea of learning something while I was reading.  I read biographies and stories that ranged from fun to inspirational, and my favorite reading was centered on true crime.

I read In the Presence of My Enemies, the inspiring true story of the Burnham couple who, after years of missionary work in the Philippines, were taken hostage during a vacation there and held for a year.  I read My Lobotomy, the biography of a man named Howard Dully who underwent a forced frontal lobotomy at the age of 12.  I read How Many Hills to Hillsboro, an account of a family of 5 who attempted and almost made a cross country trip together in the ’60s – on their bicycles.  I delved into fiction, reading the entire Harry Potter series and loving it.  And now I call myself an avid reader with a “to read” book list a mile long – and by the way, all of the above mentioned books I enjoyed immensely, and I highly recommend them.

I think that’s how I ended up reading 3 books at the same time.  It began when I was looking for something to read that would compare to Harry Potter, so I tried C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and began with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  While enjoyable, it wasn’t quite the can’t-put-it-down book that I was looking for, so I consulted my “to read” list and decided to try a Stephen King book that had been recommended by a local newspaper columnist – Under the Dome.  With the exception of some short stories, I haven’t read Stephen King before, but I’ve enjoyed a few of his movies.  So far, Under the Dome has been exactly what I’m looking for – page-turning excitement that is hard to put down!  The novel is about a small town in Maine that is suddenly and inexplicably cut off from the rest of  the world by a mysterious,  invisible – yet very real barrier.  Between trying to draft and enforce their own laws, keeping lawless individuals under control and townspeople from going crazy – literally –  and attempting to figure out what the dome is and how to get rid of it, the little town has more than its fair share of strife.

A few weeks before my request for Under the Dome came in at the library, I had decided I wanted to read the Bible, and so I find myself switching between two 1000+ page books in bed at night – I am so grateful we found a great sale on that e-book reader, which makes switching between these two books easy on my arms and my bed partner.  I know a lot of people are intimidated by the complex language of the Bible, but the NIV version is fairly easy reading, and I really enjoy reading it and especially learning more about the chapters I’ve read when I go to church on Sunday.

As if reading two 1000+ page books at the same time weren’t enough (though on the plus side, it’s not like I can possibly get the characters in the Bible and those in Under the Dome mixed up – a complication I used to run into in my heavier reading days when I would try to read a book for pleasure and a book for school at the same time), another one of my requests came in at the library – Caril by Ninette Beaver.  Being a more obscure book, I don’t know that I will get the opportunity to get it from the library again, so I’m attempting the book-reading tri-fecta.  Caril is the unauthorized biography of Caril Fugate, the alleged accomplice to Charles Starkweather who went on an infamous murder spree centered in Lincoln Nebraska in 1958.  Although Caril was tried and convicted in a court of law, there has been much debate about her actual role in the murders because of her age at the time – 14.  The book follows the cases and Caril’s incarceration and is written from the media’s point of view in the 1970’s before Caril was released from prison.  It’s been interesting to read about other news items of the day (breaking news items in 1958 included: Liz Taylor’s husband killed in a plane crash and Elvis being drafted into the Army) and also how differently people reacted to news reporters taking interviews for the brand-new medium of the day: television.  Family members of suspects, law enforcement, and attorneys were all much more willing and able to talk to reporters and share details for the camera than they are today.  You may have seen one of a number of movies made about the Starkweather cases; the most famous is Natural  Born Killers, although that movie DOES NOT follow the cases accurately and is, in my opinion, a terrible movie.  I  guess the reason I’m so interested in these cases is because Charles Starkweather was a different type of serial killer and one who has escaped the major notoriety of say, Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.  I also lived in the lovely city of Lincoln Nebraska for a year, and I’ve seen many of the places where the crimes took place for myself – including the penitentiary where Starkweather was electrocuted and the cemetery where he is buried.

I’m really enjoying all 3 of my books right now, but reaching my goal of re-reading the last installment of the Harry Potter series before the final movie comes out mid-July is going to prove to be quite challenging!!

And one more note – further encouragement to read Under the Dome is the movie being made due to come out this year – looks like a made-for-tv movie, which is difficult for me to imagine based upon the violence involved and intensity of the story.  But if Stephen King’s other tv mini-series are any indication, Under the Dome the movie version will not disappoint and is an excellent reason to  pick up this great book for some perfect summer reading!

IT

Posted in books, Movies on January 25th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last Saturday night,  because the temperature wasn’t too bad, we went for an evening family walk and took the kids to Walgreens for milk.  Even at just 6:00, it was already completely dark outside, and a dense fog was starting to settle in, so Hubby and I decided it was a perfect night to watch a scary movie.  The only thing is that we watch A LOT of horror movies, and most of them just aren’t scary anymore.  Call it desensitization to the horror, or maybe it’s the fact that we have 4 kids and it’s difficult to find something scarier than say, 3 of them being wide awake at midnight or someone taking off their dirty diaper and making a mess with it.  But whatever the reason, it’s hard to find a movie that will actually scare either of us.

While we were trying to choose a suitable scary movie, we came across Stephen King’s IT.  My  husband was skeptical, but I was certain it would be terrifying, so we gave it a try.  And I was right, well partially right anyway – the first time Pennywise the horror clown was shown on the screen, it was so creepily done that my husband grabbed ME and not the other way around – which was only actually because I couldn’t even watch it; it was so scary!  Unfortunatley, my husband was no longer scared once Pennywise began to talk, but I was creeped out by the entire movie…  well, at least until the end, when the big showdown scene completely disappointed me and took away my fear – that’s all I’ll say, don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen IT.

I like to research movies that I watch; I look them up on imdb.com to see if I’m correct when I recognize actors from other movies.  When I looked up IT, I came across information that pointed to the theatrical release of an IT remake in the near future – I’m there!!

I think I might want to read Stephen King’s IT the novel first before I see the remake maybe; I’ve been thinking about what to read after I finish the 2nd Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  It’s going kind of slowly for me; I think I’m ready for a break from Hogwarts – some Stephen King should do the trick!  Then again, maybe not, I’ve been  having enough trouble sleeping as it is – matter of fact, I go in for a sleep study later today.  That’s all I need is to get my sleep problems under control and then give myself nightmares by reading scary books…  But anyway, wish me luck – I’m a little nervous about the study (I don’t know what I do in my sleep, and I don’t know how I feel about strangers knowing what I do when I sleep – that’s kind of personal!  Plus I’m going to miss my family like crazy and worry about them.  I hate sleeping in hospitals, but at least in the past, I’ve had a newborn baby to cuddle!).

Click here if you want to do more reading about the IT remake – but keep in mind that this article complains about the same spoiler at the end of IT that I hated, so if you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read it!  And one more thing…  I thought Tim Curry was just excellent in IT.  He was unrecognizable, which was probably part of the charm!

Harry Potter – Reading Vs. Watching

Posted in books, Movies on January 20th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Now that I’ve read the first installment in the Harry Potter series, I decided to watch the movie make the story come to life.  I wasn’t disappointed, but I much prefer the book – the movie leaves out a lot of details.  It was obvious that was going to happen otherwise the movie would be about 12 hours long, but the excluded details were enough to make me prefer the book to the movie.  Here is a run-down of thoughts I had while enjoying the movie last night:

•  Did the beginning of the movie portray Professor McGonagall as a cat as she is in the book?  I didn’t notice it, but I also came into the movie a minute or two late due to an unplanned (though pleasant!) phone conversation.  I would have liked to see her as a cat.

•  I really liked seeing how the train station came to life, and especially how exactly they found platform 9¾!

•  Did the movie explain the resident ghosts of Hogwarts?  I noticed lack of explanation for other characters as well – especially Neville! – but as stated before, it’s a long movie, so maybe it was out of necessity that they had to cut some descriptions that were present in the book.

•  The movie is well cast and directed.  Everything is just like I pictured from the book, and that’s a good thing.  I had considered waiting to watch any of the Potter movies until I was finished reading the series for fear that movie would ruin my vision of Hogwarts, but I’m glad I didn’t wait; the movie was very enjoyable.  I was pleased to see  that creatures like the Gringotts bank goblins, for example, looked just like the sketches in the book which also helped to make my expectations match the movie.

•  Visually, the invading troll was cool, although its extreme smelliness was completely downplayed in the movie – one of the things I wish was not.

•  This movie would be so cool in 3D!!

•  The charcer Hagrid gained about 50 IQ points for the movie.  He was likable, but reads dumber than he acted in the movie.  I think I would have liked to see him more like he was in the book.

•  The movie is a good representation of the book brought to life, but how is it to watch it on its own if you haven’t read the book?  I will talk to my husband about this because he did just that.  And for me – the movie almost went too fast for me.  I saw events happen in minutes that in real time, took me weeks to read about!  But then again, there are over 300 pages being shown in under 3 hours.

•  The character Severus Snape stood out as being very well cast – I’m not remembering a very vivid depiction of him in the book, and the movie did not disappoint in this regard.

FOLLOWING MIGHT BE SPOILERS – YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN OR READ HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE

•  Quirrell didn’t seem to be stuttering much in the movie, which brings me to a minor complaint that I have about both the book and the movie.   I felt that Professor’s Quirrell’s character was not elaborated upon enough to fully give the audience the big surprise ending.  Sometimes I would even get Quirrell mixed up with Filch (while reading the book anyway), but I guess that could also be a side effect of reading while falling asleep!

•  Did I miss something, or does neither the book nor the movie elaborate upon why Harry’s scar hurts when he see Snape?

Overall, a very enjoyable movie-watching experience!  Fun for everyone – the kids weren’t scared by it and enjoyed it, and my husband liked it so much that he’s been asking me when I’m going to finish the 2nd book because he wants to see the 2nd movie!

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone

Posted in books on January 8th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I did it.  I’ve finished reading the first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  And I really enjoyed it; I think I can officially call myself a Harry Potter fan!  The book was very fast-moving, and because it’s kind of a kids’ fantasy book (but don’t get the wrong idea – MANY adults like it too!), I was able to finish the entire 300 pages on my limited reading schedule without even having to renew it at the library once!

Tonight, I’m going to start the second book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and if I can convince my husband, we’ll be watching the movie of the first book this weekend.  And now I am REALLY excited to see the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando.  They are being kinda secretive about the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction, but it promises to use “entirely new technology” to bring the Harry Potter series to life “in a way never before experienced”!  Maybe something like The Mummy ride or The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 3D?  How cool would that be for Harry Potter!!  And the shops and restaurants are all going to keep in the tradition of the boy wizard’s world.  Chocolate frogs, anyone?  The world doesn’t open until spring, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get to Florida before the fall or next winter anyway, so if that becomes a reality, we will have to make sure we get to Universal – I really liked Islands of Adventure anyway, and now it’s going to be even better!  I just have to make sure I read all the Potter books by then.  And I almost don’t want to read too much about the new world on the internet for fear that it would be spoilers about things I haven’t discovered yet.

As much as I’m enjoying the Harry Potter series, I’m not usually one to stick to one type of book.  If I need a break from Hogwart’s before I get through all 7 stories, I might try The Zookeeper’s Wife, a story about a zoo in Poland in the 1930’s and how it’s destroyed during the holocaust – as long as it’s not too depressing of a read.

Parental Pickle

Posted in books, Current Events on June 10th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Have you heard about the controversy of Lenore Skenazy?  She is the New York mom who is under fire for letting her 10-year-old son ride the subway alone.  I would not put my kids on a subway alone, but us here (taking on a sudden  hickish accent…) are country folk, after all, and even I didn’t ride the subway when I was in New York three months ago.  But I trust that Ms. Skenazy made the right decision for her child…  why?  Because I think that parents these days NEED to be trusted to make the right decisions for their children!  I believe that we are in the midst of an age where we are much too over-protective of our young-uns.  And those parents who aren’t utterly over-protective are left to a cruel and unusual punishment of media scrutiny…  If you follow and/or agree with what I’m saying, you will enjoy the writing of Lenore Skenazy:

The last word: Advice from ‘America’s worst mom’

A year ago, journalist Lenore Skenazy caused a media sensation when she let her 9-year-old ride New York City’s subway by himself. In a new book, she explains why she has no regrets.

About a year ago, I let my 9-year-old ride the New York subway alone for the first time. I didn’t do it because I was brave or reckless or seeking a book contract. I did it because I know my son the way you know your kids. I knew he was ready, so I let him go. Then I wrote a column about it for The New York Sun. Big deal, right?

Well, the night the column ran, someone from the Today show called me at home to ask, Did I really let my son take the subway by himself?

Yes.

Just abandoned him in the middle of the city and told him to find his way home?

Well, abandoned is kind of a strong word, but … yes, I did leave him at Bloomingdale’s.

In this day and age?

No, in Ladies’ Handbags.

Oh, she loved that. Would I be willing to come on the air and talk about it?

Sure, why not?

I had no idea what was about to hit me.

A day later, there across from me was Ann Curry looking outrageously pretty and slightly alarmed, because her next guest (the one right before George Clooney) just might be criminally insane. By way of introduction, she turned to the camera and asked, “Is she an enlightened mom or a really bad one?”

The shot widened to reveal … me. And my son Izzy. And some “parenting expert” perched on that famous couch right next to us, who, I soon learned, was there to Teach Us a Lesson.

I quickly told the story about how Izzy, the 9-year-old, had been begging me to let him try to find his way home on his own from someplace, anyplace, by subway.

I know that may sound a little scary, but it’s not. Here in New York, families are on the subway all the time. It’s extremely, even statistically, safe. Whatever subterranean terror you see Will Smith battling in the movies goes home when the filming stops—probably to New Jersey. Our city’s murder rate is back to where it was in 1963. And, by the way, it’s probably down wherever you live, too.

That’s why letting Izzy find his way home alone seemed like a fine idea. Not dangerous. Not crazy. Not even very hard. My husband and I talked about it and agreed that our boy was ready. So on that sunny Sunday when I took him to that big, bright store, I said those words we don’t say much anymore.

“Bye-bye! Have fun!”

I didn’t leave him defenseless, of course. I gave him a subway map, a transit card, $20 in case of emergencies, and some quarters to make a call. But, no, I did not give him a cell phone. Because although I very much trusted him to get himself home, I was a lot less sure he’d get the phone there.

And remember: He had quarters.

Anyway, it all turned out fine. One subway ride, one bus ride, and one hour or so later, my son was back home, proud as a peacock (who happens to take public transportation). I only wrote about his little adventure because when I told the other fourth-grade moms at the schoolyard about it, they all said the same thing.

You let him WHAT?

The more polite said things like, “Well that’s fine, and I’ll let my son do that, too … when he’s in college.”

So—back to the Today show. After Izzy tells Ann how easy the whole thing was, she turns to the Parenting Expert—a breed that seems to exist only to tell us parents what we’re doing wrong and why this will warp our kids forever.

This one is appalled at what I’ve done. She looks like I just asked her to smell my socks. She says that I could have given my son the exact same experience of independence, but in a much “safer” way—if only I had followed him or insisted he ride with a group of friends.

“Well, how is that the ‘exact same experience’ if it’s different?” I demanded. “Besides, he was safe! That’s why I let him go, you fear-mongering hypocrite, preaching independence while warning against it!”

Well, I didn’t get all of that out, exactly, but I did get out a very cogent, “Gee, um … ” Anyway, it didn’t even matter, because as soon as we left the set, my phone rang. It was MSNBC. Could I be there in an hour?

Then Fox News called. Could I be there with Izzy that afternoon? MSNBC called back: If I did the show today, would I still promise to come back with Izzy to do it again over the weekend, same place, same story?

And suddenly, weirdly, I found myself in that place you always hear about: the center of a media storm. It was kind of fun, but also kind of terrifying—because everyone was weighing in on my parenting skills. Reporters queried from China, Israel, Australia, Malta. The English wanted to know, “Are we wrapping our children in cotton wool?” To which I boldly replied, “What the heck is cotton wool?” (Turns out to be the kind of cotton in cotton balls.)

The media dubbed me “America’s Worst Mom.” (Go ahead—Google it.) But that’s not what I am.

I really think I’m a parent who is afraid of some things (bears, cars) and less afraid of others (subways, strangers). But mostly I’m afraid that I, too, have been swept up in the impossible obsession of our era: total safety for our children every second of every day. The idea that we should provide it and actually could provide it. It’s as if we don’t believe in fate anymore, or good luck or bad luck. No, it’s all up to us.

Childhood really has changed since today’s parents were kids, and not just in the United States. Australian children get stared at when they ride the bus alone. Canadian kids stay inside playing video­games. After I started a blog called Free Range Kids, I heard from a dad in Ireland who lets his 11-year-old play in the local park, unsupervised, and now a mom down the street won’t let her son go to their house. She thinks the dad is reckless.

What has changed in the English-speaking world that has made childhood independence taboo? The ground has not gradually gotten harder under the jungle gym. The bus stops have not crept farther from home. Crime is actually lower than it was when most of us were growing up. So there is no reality-based reason that children today should be treated as more helpless and vulnerable than we were when we were young.

If parents all around us are clutching their children close, it’s easy to understand why: It’s what pop culture is telling us to do. Stories of kidnappings swamp the news. Go online, and you can find a map of local sex offenders as easily as the local Victoria’s Secret (possibly in the same place). Meantime, if you do summon the courage to put your kids on a bus or a bench or a bike, other parents keep butting in: An unwatched child is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Here’s a typical letter addressed to me at Free Range Kids:

“I understand that you probably don’t want your children to grow up afraid and not able to survive as independent adults,” she wrote. “On the other hand, I think you’re also teaching them that there is nothing to fear, and that isn’t correct. It’s survival of the fittest, and if they don’t know who/what the enemy is, how will they avoid it? There are many, many dangers to protect them from, and it does take work—that’s what parenting is. If you want them to run wild and stay out of your hair, you shouldn’t have had them.”

I agree that it makes sense to teach your kids about danger and how best to avoid it. Just like you want to teach them to stop, drop, and roll if they’re ever in a fire. But then? Then you have to let them out again, because the writer is wrong when she says, “There are many, many dangers to protect them from.”

There are not. Mostly, the world is safe. Mostly, people are good. To emphasize the opposite is to live in the world of tabloid TV. A world filled with worst-case scenarios, not the world we actually live in, which is factually, statistically, and, luckily for us, one of the safest periods for children in the history of the world.

Like the housewives of the 1950s, today’s children need to be liberated. Unlike the housewives of the ’50s, the children can’t do it themselves. Though I’d love to see hordes of kids gathering for meetings, staging protests, and burning their baby kneepads—and maybe they will—it is really up to us parents to start re-normalizing childhood. That begins with us realizing how scared we’ve gotten, even of ridiculously remote dangers.

We have to be less afraid of nature and more willing to embrace the idea that some rashes and bites are a fair price to pay in exchange for appreciating the wonder of a cool-looking rock or an unforgettable fern.

When we watch TV, we have to remind ourselves that its job is to terrify and disgust us so that we’ll keep watching in horror. It is doing an excellent job on both fronts.

We have to learn to remind the other parents who think we’re being careless when we loosen our grip that we are actually trying to teach our children how to get along in the world, and that we believe this is our job. A child who can fend for himself is a lot safer than one forever coddled, because the coddled child will not have Mom or Dad around all the time. Adults once knew what we have forgotten today. Kids are competent. Kids are capable. Kids deserve freedom, responsibility, and a chance to be part of the world.

I have to be honest, though: I write all this in a kind of shaky mood because I just got a call from the police. This morning, I put Izzy, now 10, on a half-hour train ride out to his friend’s house. It sounds like I’m a recidivist, but really: His friend’s family was waiting at the other end to pick him up, and he’s done this a dozen times already. It is a straight shot on a commuter railroad. This particular time, however, the conductor found it outrageous that a 10-year-old should be traveling alone, and summoned the police, who arrived as my son disembarked.

When the officer phoned me at home, I told him the truth (while my heart stood still): We had actually inquired of the railroad what age a child can travel alone and were told there was no specific regulation about this.

Later I looked up the official rules: A child only has to be 8 to ride alone on the railroad or subway. Good rule.

(From the book Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. © 2009 by Lenore Skenazy. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle

Posted in books on April 18th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , ,

e-sawtelle2

I just finished the almost 570-page novel Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.  It took me months to read this mega-novel; especially because I only read at night before bed.  There are some nights when I can’t read at all because I’m just too tired (and this book was heavy – both physically and emotionally – for reading late at night!).  Some nights, I only read a few pages, and then there are times like the night I finished the book – when I actually went to bed around 10:30 just so I could stay up reading for over an hour – and this is how I finally finished the story.

Edgar Sawtelle is an amazing book – it’s almost indescribable.  It took me a few chapters to get into the book however, mainly because of the author’s extremely descriptive writing style.  I wouldn’t say it was boring in the beginning, but the narrative is very detailed, and it took awhile to get used to as well as for any actual events to take place.  Once the action began, though, it didn’t let up, and I was hooked.  It’s one of those books that I looked forward to ending my day with and one I was sorry to finish.  Surprisingly, this is Wroblewski’s first novel!

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is set in the early 1970’s in rural northern Wisconsin over one summer.  It follows the life of a mute boy on the brink of manhood who is forced to grow up really quickly due to a set of tragic family circumstances beyond his control.  Edgar’s family has been breeding a special breed of dog for generations, and they do more than just breed the dogs.  Almost from birth, the dogs are very meticulously trained.  The book has been compared to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Although I’ve never read Hamlet, I read a summary, and the stories do sound as if they have similarities.  The descriptive nature of the novel paints a beautiful picture of the Sawtelle’s farm and the countryside beyond.  There are some very well developed characters as well.  That’s as much as I’m going to describe of the story because I realized I’m not doing it justice.  I wouldn’t want to turn off anyone just because I’m writing an unintentionally bad review.  I loved the book; I really did – I’ll go into that more later.  For now, here are some of the raving comments the novel received – most notably from author Stephen King, who knows a thing or two about story-telling himself!

I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In the end, this isn’t a novel about dogs or heartland America, it’s a novel about the human heart and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate…. I don’t reread many books because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.”
—Stephen King, author of Duma Key

The most enchanting debut novel of the summer… this is a great, big, mesmerizing read, audaciously envisioned as classic Americana…. Pick up this book and expect to feel very, very reluctant to put it down.
— Janet Maslin, New York Times

Nothing quite compares to my experience of reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. This debut…. is one of the most stunning, elegant books I have ever read…. what can deservedly be called a great American novel.
— Lisa Jennifer Selzman, Houston Chronicle

I am completely smitten…. The most hauntingly impressive debut I’ve read all year…. Edgar might be silent, but his story will echo with readers for a long time.
— Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

Overall, a great read, a book I highly recommend.  Be warned however, that The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is not for the casual reader.  I think that for one to truly enjoy this book, he or she has to be a dedicated reader –  someone who truly enjoys reading and has the time to devote to it, for reading this book is an experience.  If you are at all interested in reading the book, then stop reading my review now because there is something I must add that will be somewhat of a spoiler.

*SPOILER ALERT-SPOILER ALERT-SPOILER ALERT*
DO NOT READ BELOW THIS LINE IF YOU INTEND TO READ THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE!
CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!

The ending SUCKS.  As much as I truly enjoyed reading the book, the ending came close to ruining the experience for me.  Not because of death, but because of the way it’s handled.  The book ends rather abruptly, and I felt abandoned and ditched as a reader.  There isn’t any closure.  The main character, Edgar, learns and grows so much during the course of the novel, and he takes us readers with him.  But his knowledge isn’t shared with any of the other main characters, mainly his mother!  And his personal growth is also rendered pointless.  And then there’s the very last chapter, seen through the dog Essay’s point of view, which I just didn’t understand AT ALL.  What was Essay’s choice?  I just didn’t get it.  And I know I’m not alone.  It really says something when you do a google search for ‘Edgar Sawtelle ending” and all that comes up is a bunch of complaints from readers.  That being said, I think it’s still worth it to read this book – it was that good where a terrible ending didn’t ruin it.  But it came very close, and I was VERY disappointed when I first finished the book.

My Lobotomy

Posted in books on February 5th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I just finished reading an engrossing memoir entitled My Lobotomy.  It took me a really long time to read it because I had to put it on hold since another book I had requested from the library came in.  I was number 223 on the waiting list for the other book, so when it came in, I had no choice but to put down My Lobotomy for about a month.  I was reluctant to put it down though, because Howard Dully’s life story is fascinating.  The book details a kids’ life growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s under the thumb of his ‘evil’ stepmother.  As cliche as it sounds, there really is no better way to describe Howard’s stepmom, but ‘evil’ is my adjective for her, not his.  I find it very surprising and admirable of Howard that his memoir never takes a direction of self-pity, blame, nor hatred toward any of the people who were responsible for the trauma he endured as a child and young man.  Rather, the narrative is written very matter-of-factly, and it follows Howard on his fascinating, though tortuous journey through the United States mental health system in the 1960’s.

Howard Dully was forced to undergo a lobotomy at the tender age of 12.  Basically, his stepmother resented him because he was a reminder to her of his real mother, his father’s widow.  So stepmother Lou was determined to get rid of Howard any way she could.  When the lobotomy didn’t turn him into a vegetable, she shipped him off to loony bins, insane asylums, or mental institutions, whichever term would best describe these places in the 1960’s.  This is a picture of an anesthetized 12-year-old Howard getting an ice pick lobotomy:

dully_icepick200

Lou convinced Howard’s father and a doctor named Freeman that Howard was mentally ill.  Well actually, Dr. Freeman did not need much convincing.  He was the ‘father of the lobotomy’ and was eagerly looking for patients upon whom he could practice his ‘procedure’.  The procedure consisted of sticking an ice pick into one’s eye sockets and swirling it around – seriously.  And poor Howard was forced to endure this ‘operation’ as a kid at the age of 12.  His memoir details every aspect of his life; it’s riveting, heartbreaking, and finally triumphant because Howard is now a full grown man who seems like a genuinely nice guy, especially given everything he’s been through and had to come to grips with in his life.

The book starts at his birth and chronicles his early life with his doting biological mother; taking the reader through all his trials and tribulations with stepmother Lou, the lobotomy, his struggles with addiction as a young adult, and finally on his search through his medical records and the touching interviews he conducted with his own father about his role in the events that shaped Howard’s life.  The book also includes the many notes taken by Dr. Freeman after his meetings with Howard and his family, which offer a very interesting and unique perspective…

After I finished this book, I was curious about many of the things I had read about, so I conducted a little research of my own, and I found recordings Howard made about his story for the National Public Radio, as well as some more information about Dr. Freeman and his ice-pick lobotomies…  Fascinating stuff, and I encourage you to check out Howard’s story – the book is My Lobotomy by Howard Dully.  Like I said, it’s truly amazing to me that after all he’s been through, Howard just seems to want to know why it happened, rather than who to blame for it…  an extremely commendable type of attitude which is growing increasingly rare in this day and age and was very refreshing to read about.  Thanks, Howard, for such a compelling read!

Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom

Posted in books on November 24th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was doing a search in the library’s database, and I came across the title Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow.  Further investigation showed it to be a science fiction book about Walt Disney World in the future.  Not usually my type of novel (and I strongly prefer to read non-fiction anyway), but since we’re Disney affectionados, I couldn’t resist the read.  It took me over a month to read it, and that’s not even soley because I’m so busy.  The book is difficult to read – author Doctorow does a nice job at placing the reader in the characters’ futuristic universe, but it’s almost too much – he neglects to provide an explanation of certain things.  For instance, the characters all have “Whuffie” and “HUDs”, and these concepts are constantly revisited throughout the story, but it’s never explained exactly what these things are!  My interpretation is that Whuffie refers to a meter in one’s body that measures a person’s positive characteristics, experiences, and emotions – and others can see your Whuffie level.  A person with low Whuffie is shunned in society, and sometimes even denied entrance to Disney World.  HUDs seem to be a person’s computer – it almost seems to be a part of their brain.  They can look up stuff and send things to each other instantly with their HUDs like directions to places.  It seems to be kind of like today’s internet, yet it’s built right into people’s brains.  So, yeah, you can see why it was slow reading as the reader had to get around all of these unfamiliar concepts.  But onto the story itself…

In the future when Down and Out…  is set – and I don’t know what year that is, he never specifically says – Disney World is now a retro-park; something that is preserved only because it’s an example of the great works of our current time.  The main character, Julius and his girlfriend Lil (who was raised in the Magic Kingdom) are on a mission to save the Magic Kingdom and keep the attractions as they are: old-fashioned rides through vintage dioramas.  There is a group of people trying to “rehab” all the rides and give them a futuristic makeover, and they do get ahold of the Hall of Presidents – they make it so that the guests can actually see what it feels like to be Abraham Lincoln and the rest of the former Presidents.  It is the goal of Julius, Lil, and their friend Dan to keep the rest of Liberty Square (a section of the Magic Kingdom), especially the Haunted Mansion, away from the “ad-hocs” as the rehabbing group is called.  Throw in Julius’ murder (don’t worry, he’s been “backed up” and can reclaim his life in a clone) and the fact that he now has to find out who killed him and keep it from happening again, and that’s how the plot thickens.

Overall, it was a very interesting read, but probably not something I’d re-read.  It was worth stepping out of my usual non-fiction genre for the experience to read a science-fiction tale, but it wasn’t anything stupendous.  The story was interesting, and the author did a great job of detailing life in the future, even if it was at times confusing to the reader.  I kept feeling like I was coming in on a sequel having missed the first part.  I thought there’d be more details about the Magic Kingdom, and in that respect, I was disappointed.  But if you like sci-fi books and you’ve been to Disney World, I recommend this book only if you read a lot and have lots of spare time.  On a grading scale, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom gets a C- from me.  Up next for me is My Lobotomy by Howard Dully- a non-fiction book about a guy who was involuntarily given an “ice-pick” lobotomy as a 12-year old.

The Kindle

Posted in books on September 16th, 2008 and tagged , , , , ,

While I’m on the subject of reading…  I came across a cool looking device on amazon.com the other day – the Kindle.  Have you heard of it?  I hadn’t, but it sounds pretty cool.  Basically you can upload books, magazines, and even blogs to this portable device so you can read them anywhere.  It appealed to me because I like to read in bed, and it seemed like a good way to get newspapers as well as stuff off the internet into a format that’s easy for me to lie down and read.  But the more I looked into it, the more I realized it’s not really for me.  The first clue was its $350 price tag.  No thanks.  Maybe for $50 or so, I’d be interested…  The other thing about the Kindle is the fact that you have to buy books to put on it.  I can’t tell you the last time I bought a full price book from a book store.  I get my books from my existing collection, friends, or most frequently, the library – all free sources.  I could not picture a scenario where I’d be buying a book, even if it was to be put on this device.  I guess the thing that appealed to me most about it was putting my town’s daily newspaper on it so I could read it in bed.  My paperboy delivers at 5pm – just in time for the chaos in the house to peak as kids are coming home and I’m starting dinner and all that stuff – so it’s tough for me to keep up with reading the daily paper.  But I’m sure the daily paper from my small town wouldn’t even be available on the Kindle anyway…

But I thought it was a cool invention and I could see there being a market for something like this for people who travel a lot and love to read.  I find it strange that I hadn’t heard about it sooner, but they really need to lower the price on it if they want it to catch on!