Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Mostly Non-Bookish Update

Things have been a little quiet over here at Bookish Habits - I do apologize; it's been quite a hectic summer! Just this morning I had to run one of our cats to the vet after what I can only describe as a freak-out episode, the first half of which she screamed in what we can only assume was some kind of pain, and the latter part of which she was panting and drooling like a dog that had run an ultramarathon in the Mexican mountains. The vet said she seemed perfectly healthy, all systems normal, by the time I got her there, though. (What? Okay. Sure. Let's go with fine.) At any rate, not nearly enough time for leisurely reading, and I've been choosing long, complicated books to boot (Cloud Atlas - review coming shortly-loved it, by the way; currently, Infinite Jest...)

Friends have been in and out of town all summer, and our Wednesday nights at the Botanical Gardens have been a near-regular staple, despite the 100 degree heatwave that doesn't want to break. Ever. The pool has been visited but unfortunately not frequented. Last weekend it was sort of like used bathwater. Ew. Not refreshing. We've been climbing (in a gym, thus far, only) and I've been going to yoga classes. Running has not been happening, mostly due to my hatred of both treadmills and triple-digit heat.

Decisions for the upcoming nuptials are being made, suits and dresses bought, color palettes nearly chosen. (Who knew you had to pick a color palette? Apparently this is a basic thing besides deciding on what the bridesmaid dresses will be. Ugh. An event/party planner I am not. Luckily the coconspirator's sister is, indeed, an event planner, and I'm sure her help will be crucial to getting through this.) We even had our engagement photos taken, a year after the fact, by a wonderfully fun and cheerful husband-wife photographer team.  

In bookish news, the new bookclub I am in finally met a couple weeks ago and we discussed Room. It was interesting to revisit the novel after a few months, especially with people who'd just read it. None of them liked it at first, and then poof they couldn't put it down. I think these ladies will be a great group, although it was hard to leave at 11pm since I was the only one who had to get up and go to work the next day. The rest are teachers with the summer off. Why did I give up on my plans to be a teacher, again? 

Hopefully all this social nonsense will die down a little, and I can go back to shoving my nose in a book with more regularity. Being social is exhausting, no matter how fantastic the people are. Bookclub is at my place next time around, and we're reading The Intuitionist, which I'm excited about. I promise I'll be hopping around to some other bookish blogs soon & catching up! 

How has everyone else's summer been shaping up?

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer: Impressions

Once again, I very much enjoyed Wolitzer's style of writing. It's wry and warm at the same time. I did not enjoy The Uncoupling nearly as much as The Wife, though, as the plot seemed to be less tightly woven, more meandering in style.

The story is set in a New Jersey suburb called Stellar Plains (think Edward Scissorhands or Weeds or just look at the cover for a visual) where everything is orderly and quaint and comfortable, and nothing much every happens. Life is very safe and routine. That is, until the local high school decides to hire a new drama teacher who wants to stage Lysistrata - the Greek comedy in which the women refuse sex to get the men to stop their warfare. Then, slowly, a "spell" takes hold of the town, one that causes the women inexplicably to lose any desire for physical pleasure - in fact, causing them to be repulsed at the thought of it. Everyone reacts in strange and different ways, depending on the individual relationship.

It also seems to pose a not-so-subtle commentary on the accelerated change our culture experiences with each new wave of technology and connectedness:
You weren't supposed to think life was worse now; it was "different," everyone said. But Dory privately thought that mostly it was worse. The intimacy of reading had been traded in for the rapid absorption of information. And the intimacy of love, well, that had often been traded in for something far more public and open. 
The novel teases out all the details people tend to keep secret, rising to a crescendo of revelation and forgiveness near the end, a commentary on how little we really know even our closest friends and confidants:
All over town, the spell did its work. No one knew, of course; how could they possibly have known? Even in the absence of a spell, no one ever really knew what went on in anyone elese's bed. No one ever really knew what went on in anyone else's kitchen, or bathroom, or upstairs hallway. What actually happened there, and what got said. Couples might put on clown wigs and prance around. Entire families might kneel and chant and eat root soup. Who really knew anything about how other people lived? You might tell a friend some details, but of course you would always carefully choose which ones to reveal, and you would tweak them in some vain or self-protective way.
The magical realism bit of the novel seemed a little forced to me, although without it, there'd be no story to tell, no relationship quirks to shed light on in a new way. It falls only just short of working for me. Still, I'd say this book is definitely worth reading. It's light and delightful, even if not a riveting page-turner.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mid-Year Review

2011 is flying by - it's already over half over, so I thought I'd sum up my year so far, with some very casual "analysis."

Total books: 25
Total pages: 7603
Women:men::18:7 (oops)

I'm not a crazy-fast reader, and nor does the whole life bit allow for much more reading than I've managed. I'm jealous of all of you that can pull off 7-8 books a month. How'd everyone else do?

Living Dead in Dallas

The UncouplingMystic RiverBossypantsThe GiverThe StrangerThe Wife : A NovelAnimal FarmAmerican GodsFrom Eve to Dawn A History of Women in the World: Origins: From Prehistory to the First MillenniumA Visit from the Goon SquadThe Bird SistersRoomThe Thin ManMockingjayCatching FireThe Hunger GamesThe Age of InnocenceThe Cookbook CollectorThe Weird SistersUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeNorthanger AbbeyAnd Then There Were NoneSnow Crash


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane: Impressions

I finally got around to reading Mystic River about a month ago at the recommendation of Ben and the casual Lehane fandom of others, and it did not let me down! Even though I saw the movie years ago when it came out, the novel was still surprising (and better than the movie for offering much more nuance and inner psychological turmoil). One problem with seeing a movie before reading the book is the inability to picture the characters as anything but the actors that portrayed them. For example, I could not for the life of me picture Jimmy as light-haired or blond.

The basic plot revolves around three men who knew each other when they were children and drifted apart after a pinnacle incident changed their lives, one in particular, terribly. 25 years later, yet another horrific event brings them all back together, with devastating consequences. The well-rounded characters are painted with depth and precision - well, as much precision as one can get when rendering psychological portraits.
Sometimes Celeste found herself consciously trying to ignore a notion that it wasn't only the things in her life but her life, itself, that was not meant to have any weight or lasting impact, but was, in fact, programmed to break down at the first available opportunity so that its few usable parts could be recycled for someone else while the rest of her vanished. (123)
The novel progresses with a sort of compassionate suspense, leading the reader to the inevitable outcome he or she knows is coming while still hoping otherwise. The entire story is steeped in foreboding (is that the noir aspect?).
...Jimmy felt that mean certainty again.
You felt it in your soul, no place else. You felt the truth there sometimes--beyond logic--and you were usually right if it was the type of truth that was the exact kind you didn't want to face, weren't sure you could. That's what you tried to ignore, why you went to psychiatrists and spent too long in bars and numbed your brain in front of TV tubes00to hide from hard, ugly truths your soul recognized long before your mind caught up. (115)
Lehane manages to capture what just about anyone might be capable of, given the right experiential contexts and scenarios. It reveals both the depths of humanity's compassion/love and horrific evil, and it explores the tenuous morality and honor most of us strive for in our own way. All in all, it was a fantastic read, and I look forward to reading more of Lehane's work.
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