Welcome to my blog. If you're addicted to books, like I am, then you've come to the right place. I mostly write about books and my experiences reading them. These are very personal book reviews. (If you can even call them book reviews...) I’m a true believer that none of us lives in a vacuum. When you read a book, watch a movie, listen to a song, etc., you absorb that art form into your life experience, and it changes you. But you also change it, because no two people see anything the same way. The way I interpret a novel may be totally different from the way you will. It’s still the same novel, but the meaning for each of us is unique. Once you express that meaning, it changes the art. So these posts are about how these books fit into my life. I’d love to hear how they fit into yours. Please make comment and share your experience.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Review of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

During my stay-at-home-mom years, I had a few favorite movies that I watched over and over again.  They may have been entertainment while I sat nursing a baby, or they were the background noise as I cooked and cleaned and did laundry and changed diapers.  There are too many to list them all, but the BBC six episode min-series version of Pride and Prejudice was one of my go-to DVDs.  It’s 5 hours long, so I could never watch it all in one sitting, but because I knew it by heart, it didn’t matter.  I could start it and stop it at any point and if I was called away for kid-duties, it was okay, because I knew every line, every scene in my head.  My pre-school age son even called it “The Mr. Darcy Show” because it was such a regular in our house. 
Pride and Prejudice [Special Edition] [2 Discs] [DVD]
I’ve owned a copy of the book for years, have skimmed it many times, but never have I picked it up and read it cover to cover.  I knew I would like it, love it even.  But considering the book was published 199 years ago, I didn’t think it would be a crack book. OMG! Was I wrong!  Once I started it for the BABBs, I couldn’t put it down.  I devoured the last 350 pages in less than a day and finished it in no time flat.  And I loved every word.

I’ve always said I much prefer to see the movie first, because if you love the movie, chances are you’ll love the book too and the movie won’t be so much of a disappointment than if you do it the other way.  It was hard to imagine that I’d like a book more than I love my BBC mini-series.  I didn’t think there was any way I’d think the book was better.  But it was.  Of course it was.  Not that I in any way find my beloved mini-series lacking.   In fact, if anything, I now appreciate it even more as an expert adaptation.  They were so true to the dialogue in the book, so faithful to the course of the novel that I found myself nodding in approval in numerous places, acknowledging the BBC’s portrayal of a scene or they way they condensed several weeks in the book, etc.  It was fun to have the real book version in my hand and now feel like I know it just as well. 

I always feel awkward “reviewing” a piece of classic literature.  Somehow it seems terribly redundant; as if there was anything I could say about this book that hasn’t already been said over and over again.  It wouldn’t have endured for 199 years if it wasn’t fabulous.  Even doing a plot summary seems silly.  Who (honestly) doesn’t know the story?  Anyone?  So I’ve been having a little fun with some of the basic ideas of the story—alliteration and rhyme.  Comment if you can come up with better ones…

Five fortuneless females ferret for fellows

Lizzy loves licentious Lieutenant then learns large lesson

Darcy disinterested due dim dowry

Caroline catty, Collins captivated, Kitty capricious…

Joyful Jane wants jovial joining

Bingley beguiled but buddies boggle with bogus bunk

Elizabeth enchants, Darcy recants

And they all live happily ever after. 

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)

Crack Factor 10.  Really, it’s a 10. 

PeopleFactor – 10.  Austen’s gift is how well she can convey a character’s personality.  And she gives you a cast of characters that is incredibly rich.  From dull and annoying Mr. Collins, to the arrogant Caroline Bingley to the conceited, condescending Catherine DeBourgh, Austen leaves you in no doubt about these characters.  And I love that she gives you just as many that are odious as likeable.   

Story Telling Factor – 9.5.  I was worried that the book would be kind of rambling and boring, just like the lives of these 19th century rich people, who have no occupation other than to exist and be waited on.  And while the plot seems simple, there is enough drama in this book to propel it forward quickly. 

Writing Skills Factor – ?  Okay, so this was written 199 years ago.  But I was never lost or confused by the language and actually enjoyed it more than books that are only 50 years old.

Bad Ass Babe Factor – 9.9.  Lizzy is totally Bad Ass. 

Hotter than Adam Factor – 9.5.  If Darcy isn’t the epitome of a man who can learn from his mistakes and become the partner he needs to be for his beloved, then I don’t know who is. And he’s hot, too.  

Total Rating 9.78

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review of the Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost

I’ve had my fair share of travel adventures.  In Argentina, I survived 3 robbery attempts and a pervy bus passenger who thought it was okay to rub his genitals on me.  In Venezuela, I stayed in a roach infested hotel and paid 10 times more than a local for bus fare.  In Bolivia I survived tropical fire ants and I flicked llama poop at my cousin.  I’ve seen the favelas in São Paulo and a Paraguayan no-man’s-land border crossing where everything is for sale.  In Patagonia, I walked so much I had quarter sized blisters on my feet.  In China, I watched my husband eat pigeon on a stick and fried scorpions.   

My sister has lived on 4 continents and she’s probably got just as many stories.  Some will make you laugh, some will make you shudder and some will just make you thankful that you don’t have to live there.  I got the same feeling reading J. Maarten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, a humorous travel memoir of Troost’s two years living on the atoll island of Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati.  The story begins with Troost’s ramblings about a string of dead end jobs and gen-x confusion about what to do with his life.  Then his girlfriend gets a job offer in Kiribati.  They are both entranced with the idea of living on a South Pacific island—the palm trees, ocean breezes, friendly people, relaxed atmosphere.  They were wrong about almost everything. 

The Sex Lives of Cannibals

If you’ve never heard of Kiribati (pronounced “kir-ee-bas”) you’re probably not alone.  It’s a tiny nation, composed of 33 islands of which only 21 are inhabited with its less than 80,000 citizens.  This is how Troost describes it: 
To picture Kiribati, imagine that the continental US were to conveniently disappear leaving only Baltimore and a vast swath of very blue ocean in its place.  Now chop up Baltimore into 33 pieces, place a neighborhood where Maine used to be, another where California once was, and so on until you have 33 pieces of Baltimore dispersed in such a way that 32/33 of Baltimorians will never attend another Orioles game again.  Now take away electricity, running water, toilets, television, restaurants, buildings and airplanes… (p16)
Troost narrates incidents with peeping Tom neighbors, stifling equatorial heat, empty rain water tanks, fish, fish and more fish to eat.  And if you don’t want to eat fish your option is canned corn beef that is several years past its expiration date. 
What I appreciated most was Troost’s explanations of how completely foreign this culture is to anything a westerner can imagine.  These islanders’ sense of time, property, order, cleanliness, safety, health,  food and just about everything else is 180 degrees from what we are used to.  I found myself wondering over and over again, why anyone would choose to stay in such a desolate place.  And yet, the way Troost tells the story, you often find yourself laughing as much as you’re horrified at some of the things that take place. 
Ratings (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)

Crack Factor – 7.5.  This is an entertaining book, not great literature, but enjoyable enough to keep you coming back to the page.  

Enrichment Factor – 9.5. Have you ever heard of Kiribati before? Yeah, me neither...Did you think all South Pacific island nations were little slices of paradise?  Can you imagine a place where nothing grows, but people still live?  Troost also does a great job of going over Kiribati’s history, economy, society, government and examines the social issues and challenges these people face.  It was certainly eye opening.  I had no idea such a place could exist.    

PeopleFactor – 8. Troost, his girlfriend and neighbors make entertaining characters. 

Story Telling Factor – 7.5 There’s not a whole lot of plot here.  It’s mostly a collection of vignettes; they are well woven and in the end, you get a sense of what he and his girlfriend gained and lost (both positive and negative) by living in this place. 

Writing Skills Factor – 8.5 Troost does a pretty good job with the humorous travelogue. I am always impressed with someone who can make a career out of seemingly nothing. For him to narrate his life as a house-husband in the middle of nowhere and turn it into a book is pretty cool.  Makes me wonder if I’ve got a novel somewhere in my own life…

Total rating - 8.2