Friday, February 24, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words! Friday (Annie Dillard)

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Fridays at my blog are dedicated to logophilia. Logophilia: the love of words. Logophile: a lover of words. I celebrate words on Fridays. That means that I'll either a) share a new vocabulary word that I learned in my reading, or b) share a passage that I've encountered in past or present literary sojourns that struck me as particularly beautiful, awesome, or funny. Are you a logophile?

An American Childhood is one of my favorite memoirs. It's about growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. It was especially delightful to read this while living and working in Pittsburgh, driving daily past locations mentioned in the book. I first discovered Annie Dillard in college and vowed to read more of her once I realized that if I could magically be able to write like any author, it would be Annie Dillard.

Somewhere between one book and another, a child's passive acceptance had slipped away from me also. I could no longer see the world's array as a backdrop to my private play, a dull, neutral backdrop about which I had learned all I needed to know. I had been chipping at the world idly, and had by accident uncovered vast and labyrinthine further worlds within it. I peered in one day, stepped in the next, and soon wandered in deep over my head. Month after month, year after year, the true and brilliant light, and the complex and multifaceted coloration, of this actual, historical, waking world invigorated me. Its vastness extended everywhere I looked... I was not to discover literature and ideas for a few more years. All I had awakened to was the world's wealth of information.

I love this passage because it speaks of a curiosity about the world. I hope that the day I stop learning--and loving to learn--is the day that I die. If all you do is stare bleary-eyed at the TV for hours every night, never reading, never dreaming, never learning, never yearning to travel, then oh, my friend, in the words of the dreamer Anne Shirley: "how much you miss."

Monday, February 20, 2012

I've Got Your Number

Poppy almost has it all: she loves her job, she's about to marry a semi-famous scholar, and she's wearing the family heirloom mega-emerald engagement ring he gave her. In one afternoon, Poppy's life is nearly derailed: at a luncheon at a hotel, she loses the mega ring! The ring is officially missing and Poppy is officially in deep trouble. It only gets worse when she dashes outside to search for cell service (oh sorry, she's a Brit. I mean mobile (moe-bile) service) and she's mugged. Her attacker makes off with her phone, leaving her ring-less and mobile-less and despondent. But her luck quickly shifts when she discovers a high-tech discarded mobile in a wastebasket (British: a bin) in the hotel lobby. She scoops it out and claims it as hers... after all, disposed articles are public property, right? Turns out that the phone she's swiped is the phone of businessman Sam Roxton's former personal assistant. Confronted by the handsome Sam to return the phone, she refuses, instead promising to forward any relevant correspondence on to him, a stranger she's never met, in exchange for keeping the phone for a few more days. After all, she has to find that heirloom ring. And she's given her new number to the hotel staff in case the ring turns up. And she has to get married in ten days. Doesn't she? 

Kinsella writes formulaic chick lit: there is the ubiquitous handsome guy who is mysterious and brusque in a Mr.-Darcy-kind-of-way, the frazzled yet delightful girl who just needs a good man to see past her insecurity/frazzledness to her true beauty, the idiot boyfriend, and the love triangle featuring all three of the previously mentioned tropes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In this case, I was counting on Kinsella to provide a humorous and fast-paced story. I read this as a antidote to The Fault in Our Stars, which is currently vivisecting my heart so brutally that I needed a break from it. Luckily I've Got Your Number performed the service I had hoped it would. By page 25 I was laughing so hard, I had tears running down my cheeks. The scene involved Poppy stalling a Japanese businessman, at a loss as to how to prevent him from leaving the building. Suddenly she's blurts:  "I am a singing telegram!" in front of the whole contingent of Japanese businessmen, and proceeds to perform an original song/dance number to the tune of Beyonce's "Single Ladies." Every time I think about it, it makes me smirk! The laugh that keeps on giving. 

Rating: 3.5/5 stars. I always want the characters to have a little more love-story development than just getting together in the last couple of pages, but still that laugh made it all worth it. Excuse me while I go roll on the floor and laugh some more.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words! Friday (The Fault in Our Stars)

On Fridays, I celebrate words. 

The esteemed Book Club of Two is currently reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Right now, I am being utterly ruined by this book. I've had a lump in my throat since the second paragraph on page one. Despite the whole got-my-heart-in-the-wringer element, I have laughed! And I love these characters. The dialogue is kinda Gilmore Girls/Dawson's Creek-esque. And by that I mean that I don't think that anywhere on Earth there are teenagers who talk in the way Augustus and Hazel do (and aren't these highly improbable names for the youth of 2012?). But this is the fun of fiction: the suspension of disbelief.

Also, the author of The Fault in Our Stars is, as you can see, adorably and nerdily hunky. I should add him to my Hunky Authors post.

The prose is beautiful and somehow Green really manages to capture the voice of a teenage girl. I'm not sure how this dude can sound like a 16-year-old girl, but he succeeds. Believe me, I know. I once was a 16-year-old girl. 

The following passage is one of the instances in which I laughed: (I love that Hazel makes any word into an adjective. I do this myself, so maybe that's why I like it. I'm a firm believer in making up words as you go. Also: a double contraction! Rare and intriguing...)
Then I found myself worrying I would have to make out with him to get to Amsterdam, which is not the kind of thing you want to be thinking, because (a) It shouldn't've even been a question whether I wanted to kiss him, and (b) Kissing someone so that you can get a free trip is perilously close to full-on hooking, and I have to confess that while I did not fancy myself a particularly good person, I never thought my first real sexual action would be prostitutional.
 And this beautiful line:

As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once. 

Augustus is an anomaly. He's 17, reportedly gorgeous, and has amazing muscles. Sounds like many 17-year-old boys I stared at when I was the 16-year-old girl that I once was. And yet Augustus is exuberant! And affectionate! And unashamed of emotion! (The exclamation marks are in honor of Gus's exuberance). He's like the anti-teenage-boy. And now I know the inspiration for his personality: This is the author's YouTube channel. Definition of exuberance.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bond Girl

When tomboy Alex Garrett was little, she realized a few things about her Wall Street banker father’s place of employment:  “inside voices” were not necessary, there was a tantalizingly frenetic urgency, and there were boys everywhere. In short, Alex knew that Wall Street was the place for her. A decade and a half later, in 2006, Alex graduates from college and is hired as a bond trader for the firm Cromwell Pierce. Alex learns the ropes of her stressful job in a volatile economic climate, navigates a complicated office romance, and successfully maneuvers amid the fickle politics of a Wall Street firm. She is referred to only as “Girlie” by the men in her department. Alex has officially become the Bond Girl.

This is a timely read; the echoes of the 2008 Recession continue in 2012. Erin Duffy was a Wall Street “Girlie” herself, and after years in finance, was laid-off by Merrill Lynch in 2008. She uses her insider knowledge to craft a fast-paced, believable, and entirely interesting story about Alex’s life on the Street. Bond Girl does for Finance what I assume The Devil Wears Prada did for Fashion (if I had read it): provide a tiny window for the masses into a mystifying and complicated industry. And while Duffy includes financial lingo, the book isn’t weighed down by it. I couldn't define hedge fund if my life depended on it, but even I felt my heart race at the depiction of the excitement of the trading desk. The Wall Street office in which Alex works is vividly portrayed: phones ringing, lights flashing, a thousand monitors on which to monitor the market, employees eating breakfast sandwiches while swearing into earpieces, traders shouting across desks… no “inside voices” here.

Refreshingly, Duffy didn’t fall into the clich├ęs that I expected her to. Alex was a strong and sassy girl who held her own in the Wall Street World of Men. And while Duffy could have easily portrayed a Devil-Wears-Prada-esque boss, he is actually a sympathetic guy, Alex’s biggest champion in the office. Part of the appeal of Bond Girl is that Alex felt like a real girl. If Alex WERE a real girl, we’d be the exact same age; I graduated from college in 2006, too. The reader feels Alex’s highs (successfully pranking a fellow employee; getting her own desk) and her lows (mishandling a trade to the tune of $93,000; avoiding the sexual advances of nasty Wall Street pervs) along with her; I laughed out loud and cringed in vicarious embarrassment.

And finally, Duffy’s first novel paints the behind-the-scenes people of Wall Street--the people that the public viewed as “criminals”--as REAL people. Yeah, there were some crazy office hijinks that involved a $1,000 wheel of parmesan and a trader who, for an office bet, ate one of every item in the vending machine in eight hours, winning $28,000 for his intestinal fortitude. (He sat in an office and binged. Alex was designated as the “watcher” to be sure he didn’t barf or cheat. All in a day’s work…) Blatantly depicted were office politics, revolting sexism and sexual harassment, huge Ivy League egos, and financial excess that made my stomach churn. But Bond Girl also depicted the humanity of the regular joes at the bond desk: not the greedy executives, but young idealists like Alex. Alex, who dreamed of a job on the Street to be like her dad, to compete with the boys, to challenge her smarts.  

Rating: 4/5 stars. Really engaging and entertaining. Fresh and contemporary. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top Ten Books That Broke My Heart a Little

 Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish.

For some sick reason, my heart craves tragedy. This is a list of just some of the books that have broken my heart and made me cry:

1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. An unconventional story of friendship and love, life and death. Will once lived the good life until an accident left him a quadriplegic, planning his own death via assisted suicide. That's when Louisa -- eccentric, vibrant, and lively -- comes into Will's life to try to convince him to choose life. I bawled for the last 50 pages of this book, prompting my husband to look up from his video game and say, "Why do you do this to yourself?

2.  We the Living by Ayn Rand. A girl alone against the world. What could break your heart more than that?

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. A little girl alone against the world. What can be sadder than that?

4. What is the What by Dave Eggers. The story of one of the "lost boys" of Sudan. He survived warfare and death, crossed the ocean to find a future in America, only to lose the girl he loved: 
If ever I love again, I will not wait to love as best I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible thing to think. It is no way to live, to wait for love.

5. Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson. A woman taken away from her sons and her husband against her will. Could it get more heartbreaking? Oh wait, yes it can, because not only is she crazy in love with her husband, he is a wild and fierce Comanche warrior. Yeah: WILD. FIERCE. COMANCHE. WARRIOR. And it's based on a true-life story. About real wild and fierce Comanche warriors.  

6. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. Saying good-bye to a WILD and FIERCE SCOTTISH WARRIOR in a KILT is always sad. When he is your husband and you are saying good-bye to him for the last time before you return to the future from whence you came is HEARTBREAKING. And yes, the key words here are: FIERCE. WARRIOR. (in a) KILT. And no, this one is not based on a true story. 

7. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Hemingway's first wife loses him to another woman. Heartbreaking. So far,there hasn't been a book written about his second wife losing him to another woman. Or a book about his third wife losing him to another woman. Maybe those are in the works.

8. The Bronze Horseman trilogy by Paullina Simons. Alexander feels sure that he has just said his final good-bye to his wife and is wishing for her a life of safety and happiness. He won't be there beside her, so he prays these things for her instead, using the words of the 91st Psalm. Wow:
She turned to Alexander one last time, and in Tatiana’s eyes he saw her love, and then she was out the door and gone. Alexander whispered after her, ‘Tatiana! Thou shall not be afraid of the terror by night… nor for the arrow that flieth by day… nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor the destruction that wasteth at noon day. A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near thee.’

9. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I can't talk about how much you've pained me, Scarlett, with your prideful ways. You could have been with a strong man who loved you all along.

10. Queen by Alex Haley. Jass, the son of a Alabama plantation owner, falls in love with Easter, a slave, and his childhood friend. That's heartbreak waiting to happen.

Excuse me, while I run from the room and bawl into a pile of Puffs. Happy Valentine's Day, to you, too. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words Friday! (5) Maggie Stiefvater

On Fridays, I celebrate words. That means that I either share a new vocabulary word that I've recently learned or a passage of particularly beautiful prose that I've encountered in past or present literary sojourns. Did you learn a new SAT word this week? Did you read a passage eight times over and dab tears from your eyes at the beauty of it? Then, please, do share!
In my excitement over Maggie Stiefvater's announcement of her upcoming book, The Raven Boys (start the countdown: it's out September 18!), I've chosen two of my favorite lyrical Maggie passages. These ones are in honor of Valentine's Day.

  There is no better taste than this: someone else's laughter in your mouth.

...he walks over to me, dark and silent. He's looking at me like he looked at me at the festival, and I know I'm looking back. Something wild and old spins inside me, but I don't have any words.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Night Circus

Two magicians in a feud that has lasted for decades each select a pupil to engage in a magical duel. The setting is the night circus, a mysterious circus that opens after sunset and closes just before dawn. The pupils are Celia and Marco and they enchant the circus with their magic. What Celia and Marco don't know: the identity of their competitor and the ultimate cost of this magical contest.

The Night Circus is vividly imagined. This is mainly a novel of atmosphere and mood. Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams) -- as it is called -- is described in ways that make the reader feel dreamlike, pleasantly wrapped in a fog of magic and dreams. The prose is carefully worded and sometimes beautiful, but it wasn't smooth. It was as if each word was weighed and carefully selected for proper effect. This, combined with the short sentences, short paragraphs, and short choppy chapters, disrupted the flow.

I am a reader who loves plot development and even more than that, character development. This is not the book for someone who likes DEVELOPMENT. SPOILER: The contest will end with the death of one of the competitors. Normally, this shocker would make me gasp and fret for the characters with whom I had fallen in love. In The Night Circus, I thought, "Meh. I guess someone will croak."

Rating: 2.75/5 stars. I really had a hard time finishing this. The author created an enchanting circus of dreams, but I was not enchanted with the plotless prose.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words! (4) The Night Circus

On Fridays, I celebrate words. That means that I either share a new vocabulary word that I've recently learned or a passage of particularly beautiful prose that I've encountered in past or present literary sojourns. Did you learn a new SAT word this week? Did you read a passage eight times over and dab tears from your eyes at the beauty of it? Then, please, do share!

This week's excerpt is from The Night Circus and needs no introduction. Anyone with an ounce of romance in her heart will appreciate this moment of flirtation:

   "Do you remember all of your audiences?" Marco asks.
   "Not all of them," Celia says. "But I remember the people who look at me the way you do."
   "What way might that be?"
   "As though they cannot decide if they are afraid of me or they want to kiss me."
   "I am not afraid of you," Marco says.