Tag Archives | reading

Dave Eggers Has a New Book…and Big Brother look like a nice guy by comparison

I wrote a review of Dave Eggers’ new book, The Circle, for the newspaper here, and in their quest for space, the editors cut the first line of the review.  (I know–my deathless prose, snipped! Unbelievable.)

Here’s the line: “I didn’t like Dave Eggers new book, but I can’t stop thinking about it.”

And that’s the paradox: because as a novel, as a gripping story populated with characters we understand, it’s not that great. But as a novel of ideas–most of which are terrifyingly possible but I hope to god not accurate–it’s brilliant.

All of which is to say that probably you should read The Circle–but be warned: you will start to be warier about your whole social media world, if you have one. And if you don’t have a social media world, well, then, this book will scare the bejesus out of you, too.  And yes, of course I see the irony of me telling you about this technophobic thriller here, on this here newfangled interwebs thing. Of course. And frankly, I’m going to ask you to “like” and “tweet” and just generally social media my review all over the place, irony be damned.

Here’s the review--and I’d love to know what you think of the book, after you’ve finished it.

Continue Reading · on November 3, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, tech life, The National

You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth!

If you’re a woman-type person, then I would imagine at some point in your life, you’ve been to the ladies room, aka the female toilet, aka the powder room. (Does anyone still use powder anymore?)  And I would imagine that in that powder room, you’ve probably had at least one or two really great conversations, maybe a bitchfest or two, and probably at least a few honest conversations: your hair looks like crap, love those shoes, hate your date, you have lipstick on your teeth.

Don’t we all need a friend (or two or ten) who will tell us we have lipstick on our teeth or that the person we’re currently dating is a big loser? Yes, yes, we do.

And so let me present to you an entire BOOK of friends who will do just that! 3D_coverForPRINTI love this book, and not only because I’m in it but because I’m rubbing pages with writers like these:

Leslie from The Bearded Iris, Kim from Let Me Start By Saying, Anna of Random Handprints, Ellen and Erin from Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms, Suni from The Suniverse, and many more.   I guarandamntee that you will laugh out loud as you read through this book because the women in the powder room write about babies, boobs, boys; parenting, peeing, and perimenopause…and pretty much everything else, all with wit, intelligence, and more than a dollop of profanity.

You should probably order twenty or thirty copies of this book RIGHT NOW, using this here link to our amazon page.  And then you should probably take a few minutes and write a rave review about the book for that there amazon page.  Probably you should do all these things right this very second. Like, now. Immediately. Go. Buy. Read. Rite Rave Review.  What are you waiting for?

 

Continue Reading · on August 8, 2013 in Books, me my own personal self, pop culture, Products, reading, writing

if this is how a twelve year old gives compliments, how will he do insults?

Yesterday around dinner time, I asked Liam if he wanted chicken in a tortilla or just plain chicken with rice (I know, what a dazzling array of options. Don’t tell Ina Garten; she’d just feel threatened).

Liam, sprawled on his bed in his fuzzy bathrobe, surfaced out of the book he’s reading (The Name of the Wind, which is apparently the Best Book Ever in the History of Words).

“You know, mommy,” he said, bleary eyed from reading, “lots of families get take-out, like, all the time. But you…You just…take a little of this and a little of that and then the next thing you know you’ve made chicken tacos like from Dos Toros. I mean, I never could’ve imagined, Dos Toros tacos, here, in Abu Dhabi. You’re amazing.”

Dos Toros, for those of you not lucky enough to live in Manhattan, is a stupendously good taqueria that used to be around the corner from our apartment.  They do real cooking.  Me? I put chicken in a pan with some magic dust (Blue Smoke’s magic dust), slap the chicken bits into a corn tortilla with some Mexican rice from the marvelous Maria. No cheese, no sauce, no guac, no tomato, no beans. Dry as hell but the kid thinks it’s some kind of haute gourment special, so who I am to disabuse him?

Perhaps fueled by his love for chicken tacos, the twelve-year old flung his arms around me. “You’re just so great and nice and helpful, and you find me great books–or your students suggest great books–and you help me with thinking and ideas and everything and I just love you! You’re such a helper! You’re so good at so much and help me with everything.”

I am basking. My pre-teen son, gushing about how much he loves me? Oh be still my beating heart.

There is a long pause. Liam keeps his arms around me, then looks up.

“I mean, except in math. You can’t really do anything in math that’s useful to me. I mean, in math you just really have to, you know, how to do it. And you just, I mean, you just don’t.  When will dinner be ready?”  He picks up his book and dives back into the story.

From the heights of glory, I am cast down to the valleys.

I shuffle into the kitchen to make the tacos, wondering who will help me count out how many tortillas I need.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on March 3, 2013 in Books, family, food, growing up, Kids, Parenting

Books! (Part II)

I read a lot. I read for my job, I read to my kids, I read at the gym, before bed, and sometimes (if the book is really good) I read while I’m cooking: stir the pot, read a page; add the spices, read a page. This habit may be while things often get served “cajun style” but hey. A story about the earth slowing in its rotation is vastly more interesting than making chicken tacos for dinner.

Karen Walker’s The Age of Miracles is the book that made me burn dinner. It didn’t make a lot of “year’s best” lists that I saw, but it’s a wonderful book that combines an adolescent coming-of-age story, the flavor of a California suburb, and an incredible it-could-almost-be-true tale of apocalypse: the earth begins to slow in its orbit and no one knows why, or what the consequences will be.  Julia is eleven when “the slowing” begins and most of the novel’s story takes place during the first summer; she narrates the chilling final chapter when she is twenty-three. This book will make you burn your tacos, too.

The Age of Miracles

If you missed Ashley Norton’s The Chocolate Money when it came out last spring, give yourself a lift during the bleak February months and pick up a copy. She mixes some conventional elements–bitchy mother, cynical, sharp-tongued daughter, boarding school, huge family fortunes–into a very unconventional story. It’s a funny, smart debut novel; I’m hoping we don’t have to wait too long for her second book. (Read my full review here.)

Chocolate Money cover

booksideI read some  fantastic memoirs this year, two of which are road trips, of a sort. One is Father’s Day, Buzz Bissinger’s moving and frequently profound story of driving cross-country with his son Zach, a 24 year old who suffered brain damage at birth and who functions at about the level of a 9 year old. Bissinger talks unsparingly about being the father of a special needs son; Zach doesn’t change much during their journey but Bissinger finishes the trip a changed man.

Cheryl Strayed’s journey is a bit more unconventional: to cure her bad break-up, drug addiction, and sense of general malaise, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from beginning to end–about eleven hundred miles. She has no hiking experience and no companion on her trip; it’s a solo flight and the results are by turns funny, moving, and hair-raising. After reading about her exploits in Wild, my own whining about bad drivers in Abu Dhabi seemed utterly, completely lame. Boot_jkt-330

 

7445Continuing in the “your life really doesn’t suck by comparison” theme is  The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, which I read in one sitting. Granted, I had jet lag, so my inner clock thought it was still early evening even though it was well past midnight, but it’s really that good. Unbelievable, harrowing, astonishing, brutal, compassionate–all those things, frequently in the span of a paragraph. Jeannette and her two, then three siblings, live with their parents in trailers, the backs of cars, decrepit adobe houses, termite-ridden shacks in Appalachia; there is rarely enough food, lots of drinking, some theft, a soupcon of gambling, and narrow escapes from social services and the law.

 

 

13602426I don’t know about you, but the last few novels by Louise Erdrich have been sort of…noble failures. I read them out of a sense of duty because she is an Important Woman Writer, but nothing has come close to the brilliance and pleasure of Love Medicine, Tracks, The Beet Queen. Then this year, she publishes The Round House and bam! she knocks it out of the park. Not only does she perfectly channel the voice of a teen-age boy, she gives us one of the best portraits of a marriage I’ve seen and an unflinching look at contemporary life “on the rez.” Starting with a brutal crime and ending with an affirmation of unshakeable family affection, it’s all that a novel should be: it’s Important, true, but it wears its importance lightly. You are instead swept along on story and only later do you realize that the novel’s ideas have been on your mind for days.

 

 

Here’s a readerly failure: I wanted to read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo’s account of lives in a Mumbai slum but I couldn’t do it. I tried, and I admired her prose, and her ability to capture the personalities of the people she encountered, but ultimately it was too painful, too brutal–and the state of life for these people seemed too permanent. I stopped when a woman deliberately set herself on fire to get her neighbors in trouble. I’d like for someone else to read it and tell me that somehow there’s a happy ending… boo11869272

And now my big finale: a book I actually read just the other day, but it was published in 2012, so I’m including it here; Alif the Unseen, by Willow Wilson. Sean, over at Big Poppa Eats, passed this book along to me and it blew me away. (Sean’s blog reflects that he also has great taste in New York food, as well as books) Alif is an Arab-Indian hacker who lives at home until a program he write attracts the attention of the government. Then Alif, his next-door neighbor Dina, and a djinn named Vikram the Vampire find themselves on the run. Their journey wends through several unnamed Middle Easter cities, into the desert of the Empty Quarter, and into various magical cities populated by all manner of otherworldly characters. When Alif asks the djinn why they live in the Empty Quarter, the djinn tells him that djinn like abandoned places, with few humans around. “Detroit is very popular,” he says. The book talks about Islam, about writing code, about freedom and belief, about 1001 Nights, about love and language; and it ends with something that looks a lot like Arab Spring.  I loved it and then I gave it to Liam, who was fascinated by the idea of hackers–and deeply disappointed to realize that hacking was mostly illegal. alif13239822

And you? what did you read in 2012? What are you looking forward to in 2013?  What did your kids read? (And did you know that you click on the titles in this post to go right to Amazon? Or if you’re lucky enough to live in a place with a library, get busy with your reserve list…!)

Continue Reading · on January 11, 2013 in Books

Books! (Part I)

I live in a city without an English-language lending library.

Think about that for a minute. Liam said the other day “reading is an expensive habit,” and I have to say that out here, he’s right. I cannot tell you–mostly because I don’t even want to think about it–how much money we spend on books.

Which, I guess, in the scheme of things, is better than spending money on meth, for instance, or playing the ponies, or a lifetime supply of chocolate (I can hear some of you thinking that maybe that last one is debatable, but not to me).  And of course, I’m delighted that my kids have turned into voracious readers because hey, that’s a good problem to have, but I’m thinking they’re going to have to start mugging kids for their lunch money in order to support their habit.

It also means, as much as it galls me, that for the most part our entire family reads on some kind of e-device. Books on kindle are cheaper and easier to get; I don’t have to drive to the bookstore, I don’t have to pay shipping.

God knows at end-of-year time, there are lots of book lists to consult. Try Outlaw Mama, who wrote her list in tweet-speak; or look at the mahvelous Marinka who already has her list of “must reads” for 2013.

My list of books to read (or avoid) should’ve been published in the waning days of 2012. Whoops. So much for New Year’s resolution #2, 455: blog with regularity. I broke that bitch before it was even the new year. Dang. On the other hand, don’t you feel better about yourself now? I’ll bet you didn’t break any resolutions before you even made them.  (And of course, you can click on any of the titles I mention and go directly to Amazon.)

If you haven’t read Hilary Mantel’s books about Cromwell, Hank Eight, and his galpals, you owe it to yourself to read these now. Like, right now. Be prepared to leave the 21st century and take up residence in in the 16th for a good long time. Mantel won a Booker Prize for Wolf Hall and another one for the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.  I’m thinking when the final book comes out, she’s going to make it a hat trick.

Front Cover

I read some great mysteries/thrillers this year: there were two by Lee Childs, Worth Dying For and A Wanted Man, and okay, one of those might have come out in 2010, but I read it in 2012. Childs’ character, Jack Reacher is a classic American loner whose methods border on vigilantism. The books are nicely atmospheric, the plots aren’t too repetitive, and the women characters are usually more than just window dressing. Don’t bother with the movie: use the price of your movie ticket to download a few of these books (go back to the first in the series) and settle in. Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and you’re all set.

Do you know the Mistress of the Art of Death? She’s otherwise known as Adelia Aguilar, the heroine of this series set during the reign of Henry II, just after the War of the Roses (the real one, not the Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner one). Adelia was trained in Salerno as a doctor who specializes in what we would now call forensic science. In other words: she cuts up dead people and looks inside ’em. Sort of like the non-Zooey Deschanel does on the TV show “Bones.” But given that women couldn’t be doctors, Adelia pretends to defer to her traveling companion, an Arab eunuch named Mansur. We find out how this odd pair ended up in England, working for Henry II, in the first book, Mistress of the Art of Death. The plots and motives will seem incredibly contemporary–I guess people have been killing each other for the same reasons for centuries now–but the historical details, particularly about the lives of women, are fantastically interesting.

More “genre fiction:” I read The Twelve, the sequel to Justin Cronin’s The Passage, parts of which scared me so badly I had to sleep with a wee light on. The Twelve suffers by comparison, alas. Here’s the worst thing you can say about a novel that’s supposed to be really, really creepy: it was really, really dull. Too many characters, too many plot lines (many of which seemed to be “borrowed,” let’s say, from Stephen King’s The Stand).

No vampires here, but lots of demons, djinns, lesser spirits, and a few magicians capable of wrestling with these bad guys: Throne of the Crescent Moon reads like a great fantasy novel, complete with political intrigue, wise-cracking good guys, a few shape-shifters, and some seriously wicked spirits. In a change of pace, though, the novel is set in some nameless Middle Eastern country and so the entire book has a different flavor.  This novel seems to be the first in a series, which is great, but the book ended so abruptly (I thought, in fact, that perhaps the entire thing hadn’t downloaded completely) that it’s hard to tell where the next book is headed.

A book I disliked intensely even though everyone else loved it: Gone Girl. Figured out plot twist #1 about six pages in; stopped caring for any of the central characters about 25 pages in; wished the entire thing would just hurry up and be over at about page 80, and thought the final denouement, including Big Plot Twist #2 was just…meh. I’m sort of confused, in fact, by why everything thinks it’s so fantastic. Someone please clue me in.

A book everyone was curious about: JK Rowlings PHP (post-harry-potter) book. Didn’t bother to read it. Do not feel that this is any great loss, myself.

A book that taught me about psychoanalysis and cartoons: Are You My Mother? No, not the PD Eastman book about that damn bird who thinks that maybe a tractor is his mom. No, I’m talking about the sort-of sequel to Alison Bechdel’s brilliant graphic novel Fun Home. In the new book, Bechdel confronts her relationship with her mother (or tries to) and also studies the theories of DW Winnicott. Winnicott studied mothers and children; the idea of the “transitional object” is Winnicott’s: the blanky, the binky, the floppy bunny, all those things that help the infant handle separation from the mother.  That’s why that book about the bird is so annoying: there is no transitional object; nothing can replace mommy.  Mommy bird just wanted a little time off,  get out of the nest for a minute, but baby bird just keeps coming after her. Take it from this mommy bird: read Bechdel’s books, in any order you want; they are fantastic.

What did you read and love (or hate) in 2012? What are you looking forward to reading in 2013?

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Continue Reading · on January 11, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, reading

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