random

A "Be Healthy" Update

I do most of my “Be Healthy” soul-unburdening over at “Is that my ass?” but a little note to say that I spent waaaay too much money on groceries but I have yummy raspberry muffins to show for it.

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Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday: Troubles

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
– Grab your current read
– Open to a random page
– Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
– BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
– Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

As for the Major, his cold was much worse and he had just decided to spend the rest of the day in bed when a message arrived from Sarah to say that she was bored and would like to come to the Majestic “to see everyone” and would he come and collect her?  He was ill.
~ p 228, Troubles by J.G. Farrell

*Troubles just won the “Lost” Booker!

stuff I read

Born to Rule

Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria has been hanging around the bookshelves for several years.  I’d actually forgot I had it until I started cleaning out the book hoard because it needs to decrease a bit before moving house.  So I started reading it before getting rid of it (I’ll see if my mom wants it).  I would have sworn I read it before but there wasn’t a book journal entry (maybe I only read the part about Alix marrying Nicholas of the Romanovs).

The subject matter is interesting – of Queen Victoria’s numerous grandchildren, five of the girls grew up and became Queens Consort, dotted around Euope.  Maud of Wales (Queen of Norway), Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (Tsarina of Russia), Marie of Edinburgh (Queen of Romania), Sophie of Prussia (Queen of the Hellenes), and Victoria Eugenie (Ena) of Battenburg (Queen of Spain) married into reigning houses during the tumultuous period marking the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries.  Each woman is interesting enough for a biography of her own (and in Marie’s case, she wrote three volumes of memoirs).

Putting all five Queens into one book is interesting in that it shows the parallels between each woman’s life, from childhood to adulthood, but the constant ping-ponging around between Queens within each chapter can get confusing.  So much so that you can forget which person is which; there are a lot of family names and nicknames used frequently in the book.  I also would have appreciated a map or three or more; this period in European history has constantly changing national boundaries so sometimes it’s hard to remember where the Austro-Hungarian boundary was pre-World War I, or where the heck in Greece Tatoi is located, or where Ekaterinburg is in relation to St. Petersburg, or where Hesse and it’s boundaries were in relation to Berlin.  There are two sections of very lovely photographs, which is nice, but a map would have done wonders.  I did a lot of Wikipedia-ing and Google Map-ing.

Confounding this lack of geography was the irritating habit of the author to foreshadow coming events with some form of the verb “to shatter.”  Everything is earth-shattering, shatters the peace, shatters a marriage, or someone’s life is shattered prior to the description of whatever event it is that does the shattering.  Annoying, truly, especially when the last line of chapter eighteen closed with a teaser concerning Queen Marie’s knowledge of “earth-shattering news concerning the Tsarina of Russia’s indispensable favorite, Rasputin” (p 225) but the opening of chapter nineteen concerned the birth of Queen Ena’s last child in Madrid.  We get back to Rasputin on page 238 in chapter twenty.  The saving grace of this book is the personal story of the five Queens; it was the only thing keeping me going when I was on the verge of chucking it all and looking up everyone on Wikipedia to see what happened.

music notes

Guess what my Blu-Ray player does now?

It streams Pandora Internet Radio!!!!

A software update downloaded and, presto!  Not only can I stream Netflix wirelessly on my Insignia Blu-Ray player but Pandora stations, too.  I’m so excited!  I almost peed my pants (no joke).  I think I made ten stations in about 30 seconds when I set up the account.

I don’t have a super fancy cable package anymore and I was missing the music channels (since MTV and VH1 play almost ZERO music anymore – curious – and I like to listen to classical piano music at night) so this is such a great surprise.

Off to listen to the “Jean-Yves Thibaudet” station.

Best American · stuff I read

The Best American Short Stories 2009

This was my last “Best American” 2009 book yet to read and I’m glad I saved it for the end.  Each of the stories in this volume are wonderful selections, very wide ranging, and occasionally gut-wrenching.  Brava to Alice Sebold for her selections (in her introduction she notes that out of the 200 hundred stories she read in consideration for this volume, eleven were immediately “in” – I wonder which ones).

The story from this volume that most haunts me is “Modulation” by Richard Powers – a story about a rogue music “virus” and its easy spread and effect on listeners.  What affected me so deeply was the ability for something like this, and even more sinister, to spread in the exact way that Powers proposes in the story.  File sharing.  Powers also gives his characters, however briefly we meet them, a deep love of music in all its forms and that appeals to me as well.

Alex Rose’s “Ostracon” is heartbreaking in the depiction of an elderly woman who doesn’t realise the depths of her dementia – her husband, however, dreads what the loss of Katya’s memory portends.  “The Briefcase” by Rebecca Makkai is heartbreaking, too, chronicling a man’s brief escape from his life political imprisonment by usurping the life of the man, a professor, picked to replace him in the body count; the briefcase of the story is the key to the unnamed man’s salvation and downfall.

One story, however, seems altogether too real to be fiction.  “Beyond the Pale” by Joseph Epstein is narrated by Arnold Berman who tells the story of his love for Yiddish and how that love led him to translate the work of Yiddish-language writer Zalman Belzner.  The story is matter-of-fact, chronicling the life of an ordinary man and father who crosses paths with a piece of history.  The little details Epstein includes – the suits worn by a beloved grandfather, Gerda Belzner’s idiosyncrasies, the arrival of children – make the piece seem like a mini-biography, less like a story, and it is all the more enjoyable for that reason.

All the stories in this volume are a delight to read, even the stranger ones like “The Peripatetic Coffin” and “Hurricanes Anonymous” which seems to have neither beginning nor end.  Never having read any earlier short stories volumes from the Best American series, are they all like that?  I guess I’ll have to wait and see!

stuff I read

It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me

“Meet Ariel.  Her glass is half empty…and leaking.”

So begins the description on the back cover of Ariel Leve’s new book It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me, a collection of entries from her “Cassandra” and “Half Empty” columns.  Ariel is a worry-wart with a bit of pessimist mixed in; she says on page one, “Worrying is my yoga,” and she quibbles over the mundanities of life like how to respond to “what’s up?” or the way New Yorkers view your responses to small talk at a party.

However, there is a wryness to her writing.  Ariel also finds the irony of a situation.  In “Don’t Ask Where She Got It” Ariel notes that while women in New York will share intimate medical history freely they are reticent to disclose the store where they purchased the handbag you’re admiring; if you steal their style, you could subsume their life.  She muses over the complications of a proposed all-male brothel – not legal complications, but relationship complications.  She also notes that the woman “tut-tutting” you in the check-out line because you asked for a plastic bag is not the tree-hugging bicyclist but another species of female entirely.

She loves coffee, too (which is what prompted last week’s “Teaser Tuesday” post), so I find a kindred spirit in Ariel – I also tend toward the negative, love coffee, and find a “loser friend” can occasionally come in handy. 

For those not familiar with Ariel’s style, reading It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me straight through may seem a bit of a chore.  She worries about everything and usually assumes the worst of Murphy’s Law (i.e. if something can go wrong, it will) so reading one column after another can make her observations seem repetitive.  I think the layout of this book helps to alleviate this (I read it straight through but then I’ve read her previous columns at times).  Each piece is the length of a column – at most 2 pages or so in length – and they are grouped by subject; you can jump around to a different chapter depending on the subject and read just a few columns at a time if you need a worry break.  Ariel’s work is very much worth reading because she is a “real person” rather than one of the glitterati.  She’s an author in a small Manhattan apartment not a megastar boo-hooing her way through her multi-million dollar contract in the Hamptons.  We can all identify with the hassle of trying to find a cab.  In the pouring rain.  By yourself.  In stilettos (and I live in Iowa – I may not hail many cabs but I have had to traverse a very large parking lot in the pouring rain by myself in stilettos without getting lost, run over, or soaked to the skin).

*Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday (late): It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
– Grab your current read
– Open to a random page
– Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
– BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
– Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

I haven’t done a teaser in a while!

One day at lunch my science teacher saw me drinking coffee in the cafeteria and complained to my mother.  He told her that he didn’t think it was a good idea for me to have caffiene and that’s probably why I wan’t paying attention in class.  But she told him the reason I didn’t pay attention in class was because he was a moron.  After that, he left me alone.
~ p 16, It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me by Ariel Levy

BNBC · stuff I read

The Scent of Rain and Lightning

Nancy Pickard’s new novel, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, is the new Barnes and Noble Recommends Main Selection. This is a murder mystery (of sorts) revolving around the Linder family and set in fictional small-town Rose, Kansas.  Jody Linder’s father was killed 23 years ago – her mother is missing, presumed dead, in the same incident – and the man convicted of that crime has been released from his sentence on a technicality.  The novel consists of two parallel timelines: the modern line which follows adult Jody as she processes the news that the Bad Man from her past is now free and the flashback line which tells the story of the day leading up to the murder of Hugh-Jay Linder and the aftermath of that event. 

The writing of The Scent of Rain and Lightning is very lovely, which is an odd description for a novel with fairly dark subject matter, but it was very evocative. There is a lot of beauty in the descriptions of the Kansas prairie and the thunderstorms that roll through the plains. Pickard sets and maintains a wonderful atmosphere in her book and it does remind me of Billie Letts’s Where the Heart Is in some ways, the small town with its intimately intertwined core of residents. There is a nice twist at the end of The Scent of Rain and Lightning and I can tell you I thought I had the mystery figured out…but I was completely wrong.  That’s a nice feeling when you’re reading a mystery novel.  The characters are at times a little two dimensional – the town bartender, the busy-body, the abused wife of the Bad Man, etc. – but Pickard did quite well fleshing out the different members of the Linder family.

The one thing that got to me – and should have been fixed at the editing phase – was the massive foreshadowing done in the first set of flashback chapters. The reader has already been informed that Something Bad happened to Jody’s family in the opening chapter so I really didn’t need the heavy-handed “next-to-last time she saw her father” or that Something Bad would happen in less than 24 hours at the end of a chapter or a break. It was too much and it did get distracting in a book that was otherwise quite nice to read (and hard to put down). 
 
*Dear FTC: I borrowed the advance copy from my store.