Saturday, February 27, 2016

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

I read this book to fit under the 2016 Reading Challenge "Book written by a celebrity". I *love* Lauren Graham. I loved Gilmore Girls and someday I want to watch the Parenthood series because I heard great things about it.

This book was a little disappointing to me given how much I like Lauren Graham. I just feel that it fell short of its potential. Or maybe I was just hoping the main character would remind me more of Lauren and it didn't. Anyhow, it was a great throwback to the era I grew up in-remembering 1995 in all its pager-is-the-only-on-the-go-communicator-answering-machine-message-phone-tag-filofax glory. It was NOT that long ago, but it was such a different world when it came to communication. I do feel I have a bit more empathy for hopeful stars just wanting to survive by doing what they love.  As a classical musician, there are plenty of people out there who are required to have "real jobs" in addition to doing what they love, so acting doesn't have a monopoly on that type of mentality. Visual artists probably run into the same problem. I did like the confusion that Franny had about who she was-having pretended so much. It makes me wonder if that's why Hollywood relationships (especially the ones where they're both celebrities) rarely last-how could you ever know if you REALLY TRULY knew the REAL person underneath all those acting jobs? How do the celebrities even know who they truly are themselves? I'm sure there are several who feel grounded in who their true self is, but for every one of those, I'm sure there are others who really aren't sure and just play a part all the time depending on what they need to be and who they need to be it for.

It seemed a little stereotypical, since to the reader, the "right" choice was quite obvious, even though it wasn't obvious to Franny. The one fun thing was that one character, whom Franny viewed as a threat towards the beginning turned into a pleasant friendship.

I liked how there are comparisons to different professions and how they measure and/or define "success". Lots of professions have more concrete ways to measure success because it can be shown with numbers on a page. In the arts (and I would dare say education), not all "success" is completely measurable. I mean, how do you measure giving a student more self esteem? It's not quantifiable. A failed audition doesn't mean that you are "the worst" but just that you weren't "the best" on "that particular day". I'm living in a community right now that's quite large. There are 2 large symphonies and several small spin off groups. I had an audition and I got nervous and probably talked too much and then I made a couple mistakes that I've NEVER made in EASY places and was one of the final TWO people to get cut. (This was for a spot playing flute). I've since joined a flute choir just to have some outlet to play in and have discovered that there are several other players who are playing in other, heterogenous groups (which is my favorite-I love mixed instrument groups and enjoy playing in them immensely) who are not as good as I am. As in, they have trouble counting, or keeping intonation consistent or things that I think are pretty basic. BUT they were here first. Those other groups aren't looking for anyone better than what they have. So it's very political, it's very much about relationships (not always talent-which this point is in the book too!), and it's also about seniority and loyalty. I knew that going in to moving here, luckily, because a fellow flutist who is light years better than me warned me. It's really a shame.

Anyhow, back to the book....I liked the best friend Jane a lot, she was a VERY real person to me. Dan was also a fun character and I thought he brought a dose of reality as well. Quintessential nerd who is going against the families wishes to do something practical like become another generation of Dr. and instead wants to write science fiction or at least a screen play. This story is told all over music history with composers. Either the composer came from a musical family and was pretty much expected to continue in music or the family was highly disappointed with a chosen career in music.

I think my absolute favorite character, though, is Franny's dad. He's an English teacher and measures time by his course syllabus. That is EXACTLY how I would measure time as an English teacher. And what I love even MORE is the fact that since he asks Franny to get back to him before he reaches the next novel in the syllabus, you know Franny probably has his syllabus memorized by default as well.

I guess I liked it more than I thought, although I would have liked a slightly more conclusive ending, I mean, you are PRETTY sure things are going to end the way you think they are, or at least you have really good HOPE for it, but it's not for SURE. but I guess nothing in life is.....Anyway, I guess the last part I liked was the universal desire to be liked and accepted by the "right" people. This is shown in two ways with Franny. One is in her choice of agents and the other is in her choice of guy. It's pretty obvious to the reader, like I mentioned before, but I know that as a real human being, I have been in positions where I think the answer should be obvious about which crowd to associate myself with, but I don't necessarily want to go with that answer and I second guess myself. As a species, even if we have strong self esteem and all that, I think we all have this inner desire to be accepted and we feel that because relationships are SO incredibly important that we have to associate ourselves with a specific person or group of people or we will be jeopardizing our future. But, as this story plays out, we realize that sometimes we need to go with our gut and what's best for us, not who we think others would be more impressed by.

So on Goodreads, I gave it a 3, in reality it's a solid 3.5

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Seriously, I'm Kidding, Ellen DeGeneres

I actually started listening to this as an audio book last summer while packing my home, so there were some VERY timely parts that made me laugh out loud. Which I needed, because I did NOT. Want. To. Move. But it was necessary. Anyhow, I never got through it all before the title expired and then moving day came and life was crazy. So I decided to pick it back up as a physical book for the 2016 reading challenge "book written by a comedian". I know she's a talk show host, but she is considered to be a comedian, so that's good enough for me :-) And you have to read this with Ellen's voice in your head. Because in the audio, she narrates it, and that is what makes it funny.

So let me tell you, the FUNNIEST part for me while packing up random stuff in my kitchen, I listen to this chapter on clutter. So here is an excerpt:

Nowadays people are a little more aware of how much stuff they have because there's a bit of social stigma if you have too much stuff. There's even a name for the people who have the most stuff. They're called hoarders. Back in the day they were just called grandmothers. If you want to clean out your house and get rid of stuff, you can always do a good spring cleaning every year. Or you can do what I do. Move. I move a lot. I've moved about ten times over the past fifteen years. I don't move for the sole purpose of getting rid of stuff. I'm not crazy. I also move so that I never have to wash any windows. "Is that a smudge? Time to pack it up. Let's go." When you're packing up a house, you're forced to decide what you really need versus what you can get rid of. You might have been holding on to cases and cases of empty glass jars, but once you have to pack them up and move them, you realize maybe you're not going to harvest your own honey. My mama is similar to me in that she also likes to move a lot. Mama has moved thirty-two times since 1952.....Anyway, my mama might be similar to me as far as moving around goes, but as far as clutter is concerned she's a little different. When she moved into the house she lives in now...., she made it a point to tell me how excited she was because she was going to downsize. She was getting rid of all the stuff she didn't need anymore and starting fresh in her new house. I was so proud of her. I went over to help her settle in and I assumed when I got there, I wouldn't have to unpack much more than a pillow and a spoon. Not so. Let me share with you all the items Betty "I Am Downsizing" DeGeneres asked movers to wrap up, place in a box, seal up the box, put in a van, and move into a while new house so that I could cut open the box, take out hte items, and unwrap them:

1. A three-hole punch
2. A single-hole punch
3. A VHS tape of Abs of Steel
4. An unopened VHS tape of Hip Hop Abs
5. A harmonica
6. Another harmonica
7. A third harmonica
8. A rusty sifter
9. A colander from 1953
10. Biscuit cutters.

Many of these items have moved thirty-two times. And I should point a few things out. First of all, Mama moved into that house in 2010, not 1987, as the VHS tapes would have you believe. Second of all, Mama is not in a blues band. She doesn't play the harmonica and even if she did, the ones I found in that box looked like that had been dug up next to some train tracks. If Mama put her mouth anywhere near them I would immediately taker her for a tetanus shot. Thirdly, Mama does not cook or bake or prepare food in any way. I don't know what sort of imaginary biscuits she thinks she's going to cut."

And I was listening to all of that as I was packing up boxes....some of which had content lists that are just as silly because I didn't have the time (or gumption) to actually go through them as I was packing (in my defense, I pretty much had to pack an entire home on my own in 2 weeks. I THOUGHT I had made excellent progress, but when my husband returned to help with the 'last few things' it turns out you really can hide quite a large amount of THINGS in places that the are "put away" in).

So I would give this a 3.5 star rating because most of it was funny, only a little was annoying, and only a slight bit was a little inappropriate (but not in a hilarious enough way).

Friday, February 19, 2016

What's to Become of the Boy? Or: Something to Do with Books, Heinrich Boll

I found this book looking at a list of books under 150 pages for the 2016 reading challenge, but decided to put it under "Book that's been translated into English" category because I felt it'd be easier to find another short book than another translated work that would pique my interest as much.

This book is a memoir of the author Heinrich Boll that he wrote himself. It's interesting because he admits that he's writing this all down in retrospect trying to remember what happened some 40 years ago (from the time of writing it-it was published in 1981). It has the distinct air of a gentleman getting on in years telling a story to make a point, to help the next generation understand a few things.

Heinrich grew up in a Catholic pacifist family who wanted nothing to do with the Nazi's. There were some things about Germany that I hadn't considered when wondering just how Hitler got into power. Part of it could have been the influenza epidemic weakening the society. Their were economic struggles, which gets people down for sure. I loved how he mentioned that there were plenty of people who DIDN'T support the Nazi movement, but were survivalists, so they put in the minimum, they did their fair share of bribes, of keeping quiet, of complying to only the degree necessary. For instance, there were days when it was compulsory to fly the Nazi flag, so his family purchased a flag for those occasions, "albeit a small one: on days when displaying the flag was compulsory, sentiments could also be deduced from the size of the flags." (page 37). So much of life was structured and I think the degree of risk one took to avoid that must have varied on location as well as how many friends you had in high places. He said that he never felt that he was better than the Nazi's or lifted himself up, there were 2 other boys who also didn't join the Hitler Youth program. His family felt compelled to put up a little bit of a show when in a family council it was voted that his brother would join the Storm Troopers (yet, he was absent most of the time, and the family bribed someone with cigarettes to mark him present). The permeating question, as the title implies, is what would Heinrich do after high school? What profession could he possibly go into? One of his relatives suggested "Something to do with books". It wasn't acceptable for him to declare "book trade" so on his official certificate of Maturation (equivalent of a high school diploma, I suppose) it says "publishing".

Anyhow, I give this book 3.5 stars because it was very interesting, but it was also a bit dry and even at only 82 pages it was a little hard to get through. Some parts were more compelling than others. I was lost in some places because I didn't recognize the names or places in several instances, but I don't think that detracted from the message of the book.

I feel the message was to get across another perspective of that time period. It's very easy, more than 50 years later to look back with all we know and make a judgement call, but we have to remember what it was like for them in the moment because if we are going to be honest, we can only make judgements in light of what was in the moment for them. Otherwise we are only kidding ourselves into being much smarter than we actually are.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Because of Winn Dixie, Kate DiCamillo

I listened to this as an audio book because it happened to be available when I wanted something to listen to while doing chores :-)

I really enjoyed this! The narrator used a thick southern accent (but not so thick that you couldn't understand) and have enough variations in the voices that you knew who was who.

This is a great story of learning how to deal with sorrow, grief (even if it's delayed), starting over, moving, making new friends, not judging others too quickly or too harshly, to give other people a chance, and how animals-especially dogs-are capable of bringing people together in a way people just can't do it on their own. I liked how satisfying the ending was, even though not everything was quintessentially "happy", it had closure for those parts and plenty of happiness and hope for continued happiness.

Now I really want a dog! I don't think I can fit this into any of my 2016 reading challenge books, but it's ok, it was definitely good and I'd definitely recommend it to my daughter (almost 11yrs now) to read. And I think I'll get the movie adaptation from the library to watch as well.

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult

This made the NY Times Bestseller list, so that's where I filed this in the 2016 reading challenge. It's also on Rory's list as well ;-)

I was really loving this book. Sure there were some annoying points (like WHY does Campbell keep telling people different reasons for his service dog? and are people REALLY that ignorant-or at least WERE they at the time-to think that service dogs are ONLY for people who are blind?), but it was engaging and hard to put down. It was a little confusing because it kept jumping narrators and also it kept jumping times. I can't even remember what year it was SUPPOSED to be in the "present" day of this story. There would be flashbacks within the chapters too, so the timeline of everything was sometimes hard to keep up with.

The thing I liked MOST about this book is that it made me think. I also kept juxtaposing the mother, Sara, with my good friend Christy. Christy's oldest child, her 12 year old daughter, was born with a kidney disorder that has always taken a lot of time, effort and resources. Right now, they are on their way to qualifying for transplant. They are required to wait until her kidneys are 100% gone and non-functioning (I don't know why, I don't know if there's a medical reason for this or if it's an arbitrary insurance rule), but they are currently waiting for the insurance to give them the go-ahead for them to test the first likely candidate for a donor. They are hoping to find a related donor, but they are asking that if anyone still wants to have children to NOT consider being a donor and they are NOT asking any of her younger siblings either! I looked up online and I guess in rare cases, there ARE minors who are living donors, but it's definitely not the norm. So the premise of this book from the get go was a little far fetched to me. The other issues Sara had were that she was SO tunnel vision on keeping Kate alive and healthy that she practically forgot that she had a son (and his criminal behaviors were completely ignored up until the last minute-and even then, his parents protected him from natural consequences by not turning him in for any wrong doing) and wasn't very sympathetic to Anna for wanting freedom from being tethered to her sister. That part was believable, because I know as a mom how much you want to do for each of your kids, but looking at my friend Christy, it's obvious that you can be focused on one child and still love and be aware of all your other kids. Christy has 5 children. And they all know as age appropriately as possible what is going on and they all get it. I'm sure they have their moments of jealousy when their mom is spending yet another several days in a totally different city with their sister, but they know how lucky they are to NOT be the one with a medical problem-they see the limitations their sister has because of her condition and they are not jealous of that. When their mom is home, she does her best to be present and there for her other kids as much as she is for her oldest. I'm not sure if it's perspective that this fictional mother lacks, or the refusal to accept anything that her own agenda. About halfway through the book, I was thinking, well, what does KATE want? Why isn't that a top consideration as well? It does come about, but not until much later.

The thing I liked the LEAST was the ending. I won't put any spoilers, but it felt like I was robbed of a decent, believable ending. It wasn't even close to what could have logically happened. I had been giving my husband the reader's digest version of this book because I wanted to talk about the issues it raised about parenting and parenting in the midst of a chronic or terminal illness. When I told him the ending his reaction was "What? It's like she couldn't make the decisions that she was trying to make her characters make so she just made this cop-out ending instead." She doesn't even leave the reader with a "was the right choice made?" because she eliminated choices. It reminded me of Twilight and the debate over whether or not Bella should become a vampire and how Meyer forced the choice upon us because it was either turn into a vampire or die giving birth to a half vampire. Only, I felt like I could accept that in Twlight MORE than I can accept the ending here.

I was going to give this book 4 stars. But just as the ending of "Curious Incident" pushed it up to 5 stars, the ending of this one pushed it down to 3. I'm not even sure I want to watch the movie adaptation.......