Archive for the ‘August 2009’ Category

Finally, a book that I swear must have been written just for me.  I’m a broke, 20 year old stuck working in the campus library to make ends meet.  Julie Powell is a soon to be 30 year old, ex-theater geek who goes from temping to working for a bunch of republicans in charge of dealing with the aftermath of September 11th.  Needless to say, she does not like her job.  In fact, her life seems to be pretty mediocre.  It seems she’s living in a world where things seemed to pick her instead of her picking them.  (Do you ever feel that way, because some days I sure do.)

That is until she decides to start a wonderful culinary project: The Julie/Julia Project that is.  This project involves some wonderful things: blogging, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, lots of butter and cheese, and a few breakdowns just for good measure.  The journey that Julie takes through Julia Child’s life and cookbooks is an absolutely wonderful read.  It’s funny, witty, sarcastic at times, and completely REAL. There is no overriding editorial censor preventing Julie Powell from saying anything about her year of cooking dangerously – she admits it all.  And this is why I found the book to be incredibly heartwarming. It’s not about the project or the blog or the fame that followed the blog – it’s about Julie’s journey and how Julia inspired her to make a change in her life.  It’s about creating something outside of the miserable setbacks in your life and finding some joy.  Honestly, I think we all get to a point in our lives where a project like this becomes a necessity.  Unfortunately, we don’t all find the time to embark on said project.

Julie’s biting tongue literally makes me want to find her and immediately become her best friend – as well as the fact that she’s probably got endless amounts of cooking tips for me!  The book made me laugh out loud and read with a constant smirk on my face.  It also made me incredibly hungry.  If anything, this book will make you want to go out and start cooking Julia Child recipes.  And for those of you who don’t immediately fall head over heels for Julie Powell, you will fall in love with Julia Child.  Unlike the movie, the book is predominantly about Julie Powell with only snipets about Julia and Paul Child.  Although I love Julia Child, I enjoyed seeing Julia through Julie’s eyes.  Biographical information of Julia can be found in other pieces of literature – this book is not meant to be about Julia and I like that.  I also like the awe and respect Julie uses when speaking of her culinary hero.  Instead of getting to meet Julia Child, we meet Julie’s Julia who for the purpose of the book is absolutely sufficient and approachable.  She’s that voice in your head that guides you – a guardian angel of sorts and I love that Julie comes to realize and embrace this fact.  We should all have a hero in the back of our heads – I think it would make us all better people.

Still, the book isn’t perfect (few books are!).  Its definitely made its way into my favorites category, but that’s mostly because I loved Julie’s voice.  The plot and narrative isn’t always clear and doesn’t always flow smoothly.  Julie’s stories are frequently interrupted by other stories which left me confused as to what she was really talking about in the first place.  That didn’t make the stories any less enjoyable per se, but I would have liked everything to be a little more straight forward.  I wanted a clear timeline so I could feel like I was taking the journey through Julia’s cookbook with Julie.  I wanted to experience every success and disaster in stride with her.  But the book doesn’t chronicle every day of the project.  Instead, it merely recounts highlights and lowlights along the journey.  It’s easy enough to follow the general plot, but I’m afraid that some things might have gotten lost for me.  Maybe a second read through would smooth this out for me (and I’m sure I’ll pick this up again soon – it’s definitely one of those feel good books you want to read when you’re feeling down).

One of my favorite pieces of the book was reading about Julie’s relationship with Eric, which I found to be awfully inspiring.  They prove the importance of viewing a marriage as a partnership: he supports her even if he doesn’t always understand why she’s doing what she’s doing.  His unwavering support is beautiful and I find their marriage to be extremely inspiring.  Even after bickering or anger or frustration, they return to their roots, and remember what brought them together.  It’s definitely what I hope I’m building with Brian, my boyfriend of two years – a relationship built on the strongest bonds of friendship.  On this subject, one passage really sticks with me:

I blame Eric.  It was only because of him that I started cooking in the first place – I was a picky kid, but he was the most mysterious and beautiful boy in school, and I would cook anything to impress him, no matter how weird.  It didn’t take long for things to get twisted.

Quail in Rose Petal Sauce was the first really bad sign. (250)

As you can see, Julie’s stories and anecdotes are not only funny (hilarious at times), they are so easy to relate to!  I remember trying to cook my way into boys’ hearts all throughout high school (and absolutely adoring Like Water for Chocolate – another book I absolutely adore).  I still try to cook my way deeper into Brian’s heart.  There is something about cooking for someone else that really shows that you just love them.  It’s really beautiful and heartwarming.  Perhaps, as Julie points out, it has to do with that indescribable joy you get when you create something absolutely delicious and fulfilling out of seemingly nothing.  You take ingredients that on there own would be disgusting and turn them into a beautiful masterpiece  that gives your body nutrients and you feel complete.  At least, that’s how I feel when I make a good meal that I can share with people I love.  I feel satisfied in all the best possible ways.

Julie and her delicious, heartwarming meals won me over.  Beautiful and charming book.  Not necessarily a literary masterpiece, but definitely a must read.  Please, do yourself a favor and read this book.  Then, if you haven’t, go see the movie.  You’ll be laughing yourself to tears in both cases.

BONUS: Julie Powell will be releasing a new book entitled Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. I can’t wait to read more from her.  There was an excerpt in the back of my copy of Julie and Julia and I devoured the ten pages … can’t wait for more!

Overall rating: A-


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What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

This is my very first Booking Through Thursday (I feel an odd sense of excitement doing it!)  I’m very enthusiastic about the my answer to this question, because it’s an opportunity for me to endorse this book even more: the best book I’ve read recently would have to be Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride.  I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful book.  I made my mother read it.  I made my sister read it.  And I’m hoping that after my numerous endorsements and wonderful review, you will give it a shot.  Funnily enough, when I started reading The Robber Bride, it was anything but love at first sight.  I wasn’t even sure if I was going to tough it out and finish the thing.  But I am so glad I pushed forward because it turned out to be one of the most rewarding books I’ve read this summer!

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As you all know, I’m reading Julie and Julia right now.  It’s a fitting book for me because it’s about a girl who starts a blog (sounds familiar, right).  I’m finding some of her excitement about getting readers to be very similar to mine.  I mean, I started the thing thinking that it would be a fun way to encourage me to make more time for reading – it has turned into a gateway for me to find friends, interesting discussion topics, and an immense selection of new reads (just to name a few).

Still, blogging feels strange to me.  I’m never really sure how much I should share.  I’m usually a very open person, but I can’t help but wonder, will people find me interesting?  Do my insights mean anything to anyone other than me?  Where do all the thought I type in here even go?  The world wide web is such an obscure thing when you really think about it (not that I really spend all that much time thinking about it, but every now and then the subject comes up.)  It’s this space where I send these long, typed strings of thought, but it’s not really tangible.  I can’t touch it like I can touch a notebook that I use for a journal.  It’s almost like it lives in some strange imaginary space that anyone can access from the comforts of well, anywhere (as long as they have a computer with internet access).  It’s exhilarating that it’s so easy to connect, but also slightly terrifying.

In Julie and Julia, Julie Powell write about “proto-blogger” Samuel Pepys who kept obsessive chronicles of his life – volume and volumes of minute details.  She summarizes her musings about him in the following exerpt:

There’s a dangerous, confessional thrill to opening up your eminently fascinating life and brain to the world at large, and the Internet makes it all so much faster and more brealthess and exciting.  But I wonder – would we still have Sam’s jack-off stories, the records of his marital spats, if he’d been a blogger rather than a diarist?  It’s one thing to chronicle your sexual and social missteps to satisfy your private masochistic urges, but sharing them with the world at large?  Surely there are some limits, aren’t there?

I would say I agree to some self-censoring on here.  I don’t want anyone to know all the private details of my life, which is why I keep a private journal as well as this blog.  Also, having a theme (book reviewing) helps me stay on track so that it’s not all about me – I don’t find myself that interesting so why would anyone else?  But there is still that lingering question – is sharing like this at all really a good thing?  It’s so easy to connect to people over a computer that I find making real connections with people in real life to be slightly terrifying.  I’ve always been socially awkward but knowing and meeting people online seems to take some of that awkward edge off.  There’s already a discussion going on and I’m just joining in so all that awkward in between time is eliminated.  Does anyone else ever feel this way?  Are these just all part of some sort of undiagnosed blog-beginner syndrome?  Am I just losing my mind from my brain-less robot job?

Any thoughts from you, dear readers, out there somwhere in the expanses of the world wide web?  Is this something you ever think about?

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Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Pick two random sentences from your current read.

“You love me?  Who loves you?” (Super short and sweet.)

Already, I love this book!  I can’t wait to finish it and post up a full review praising it in its full glory!  Hope everyone is having a lovely, joyful Tuesday.  So far, I am.  I’m looking forward to getting off work in a couple minutes, sitting out in the sun, and digging in to this delicious guilty pleasure – similar to chocolate or ice cream (only without all the calories!) in book form.  Yummy.

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Review: Catch 22

For various reasons (hectic schedule, birthday weekend, fleeting interest in the book, ect) this book has taken me forever to read.  I’m considering finishing it today as one of my biggest achievements this summer.  And in so many ways, it has been quite an achievement.  For me Catch-22 is one of those books that I have been meaning to read FOREVER!  My father lists it as one of his favorite books and even entrusted me with his super old, lightly worn copy (he takes tedious care of all his books so they are like hidden treasures in the back of my garage).  Then I temporarily joined a book club that had this listed as the first book assignment – I failed there too.  But after all my trials with this book, I persevered this time and finished it once and for all.  Because although enjoyable at times, this is not a book I plan to read EVER again.

Catch-22 is a difficult book to describe because for a while absolutely nothing makes sense.  The book just seemed like a collection of outrageous things that could never actually happen in real life.  The main character, Yossarian, is a bombardier, who is attempting to scheme his way out of  serving in the war.  He schemes, lies, and cheats as he witnesses constant atrocities and tries to escape becoming the victim instead of just a witness.  Every time he approaches flying the required number of missions, Colonel Cathcart raises them. Many people ask when this book is mentioned, what is a Catch-22?  Finally I have an answer in the form of a very confusing example” “a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.”  So readers are witness to Yossarian as he is caught in the impossible Catch-22 – unable to leave his insane and at times hilarious position despite all his attempts to seem crazier than he already is!

The book is hilarious at times – it paints very vivid pictures of super outrageous situations.  I found myself frequently literally laughing out loud.  Still, the book can be extremely difficult to follow at times.  There are so many characters that I had to take notes to keep everyone straight in my head.  Also, because I don’t know much about war or the military, I found myself lost at times.  Still, the book is extremely vivd, and many of the characters/scenes will undoubtedly stay with you.  For example: Milo, operator of the mess hall, quickly became one of my favorite characters.  Because of his ability to buy and sell things cheap he becomes famous in Italy.  Also, Milo brings up the question: how far is too far?  He operates on the tagline “What’s good for M&M (his made up company) is good for the country” and uses that line to justify everythign he does – even bombing his own men.

Altogether, the book can be a struggle to finish, but it is still a worthwhile read.  I know that many people have read it and absolutely adored the humor and the characters that Heller creates.  Nonetheless, much of it went completely over my head.  I felt like the characters frequently talked in circles without ever really getting anywhere.  This made the book longer than it really needed to be (at least, in my opinion).  I frequently put the book down in frustration because I just wanted to know WHAT IS GOING ON?!!  Still, I found the end to be satisfying and for some that might be its saving grace.  So beware with this one, I think its a hit or miss for most people.  I hope that if you decide to pick it up, it will be a hit for you!

Overall rating: C+

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After reading Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale for classes in school, reading this mystery/suspense novel by Atwood was quite a treat.  This book is full of insight and a wonderful discussion starter.  I also found myself relating to the three female heroines in the book: Tony, Charis, and Roz.  When their hearts broke, mine did too.  I felt their despair and they wondered how they would pick up the pieces of their life after heart break, disappointment, and devestation.

Date finished: August 2009

The novel isn’t a piece of speculative fiction, like the two previous Atwood books I have read.  Instead, it’s more of a mystery/suspence book, which revolves around a woman named Zenia who drops into the lives of each of the three heroines and destroys their worlds.  What they emerge with is a surprising friendship.  What the book surprisingly really explores are the bonds of an unusual and unexpected friendship between three women who are completely different in almost every way.  After reading the book, I couldn’t help but think about my own friendships and how it is the smallest connections that can bring people together.  Atwood creates an unconventional friendship that depicts what I believe to be the truest bonds of friendship – helping someone pick up the pieces after they have lost everything that matters.  She does this in a very poignant way by not sugar-coating anything.  The book shoes that imperfections are natural in EVERYTHING – people, friendships, even enemies.  By shifting viewpoints between the three women, Atwood depicts reality.  She shows insecurities, jealousy, love, lust, anger – and she does so quite accurately.  Her writing is crisp and incredibly accurate at describing things that everyone feels.

The book is also about perseverance in the face of absolute devastation.  Atwood paints amazingly detailed pictures of each woman and their stories are amazing.  I finished the book feeling amazed at what some people are capable of living through.  The strength and courage of Atwood’s female characters is amazing and inspiring.  If anything, it should leave female readers feeling like they can really take on anything the world might throw at them.  I’m glad that this book kept with Atwood’s usual feminist undertones, because I believe that they introduce wonderful topics for women to discuss and think about. Still men don’t need to worry because the book is not all about women’s power, it just shows some of the struggles women face in the modern world.  Despite all that they have accomplished, there are still certain walls that inhibit them and Atwood openly acknowledges explores that problem in this book (but it is in a very tastefully subtle way).

All in all, I must say that this is yet another masterpiece by Atwood.  It was wonderfully written (as usual) and difficult to put down.  I very highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.  Her writing really throws you for a loop – it’s unexpected and absolutely refreshing.

Overall rating: A

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Review: Timeline

My sister recommended this book to me as a must read so despite my qualms about science fiction, I decided to give it a shot.  I hated Jurassic Park (sorry for any fans) and felt like this would be a difficult read for me.

Date finished: August 2009

But if you think about it, the past has always been more important than the present.  The present is like a coral island that sticks above the water, but is built upon millions of dead corals under the surface, that no one sees.  In the same way, our everyday world is built upon millions and millions of events and decisions that occurred in the past.  And what we add in the present is trivial. (359)

I was immediately proven wrong.  This book is nothing like Jurassic Park.  In fact, it’s not really like anything I’ve ever read before.  It takes the present and throws it into the past in what feels like an eerily real experience.  In this book, I feel like Crichton leaves the world of “science fiction” and enters what Atwood describes as “speculative fiction.”  In other words, he describes some of people’s worst fears when it comes to emerging technology.  It definitely leaves readers with some disturbing images of the future of technology, but it reminds us that not all advances are necessarily good.  Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

Like usual, you can tell that Crichton did immense research to ensure both scientific plausibility and historical accuracy.  Although a book of fiction, there are FACTS that make the speculative nature of the book believable.  The facts also make the world of the past into something real for readers.  Crichton is amazing at taking readers away from the comforts of their homes and throwing them into the dangerous if not amazingly fantastical worlds that he creates (or in this case, recreates) on paper.

In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated.  But in our century, they want to be entertained.  The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom.  A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do.  A sense that we are not amused. (443)

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a history “buff,” but I love learning about history and frequently imagine what it might be like to live in the past.  Crichton does a wonderful job of completing my picture of the past and filling it with things I never really expected.  He presents his fantastical fourteenth century world through three different pairs of eyes so that readers really get to see as much as possible.  Kate, Marek, and Chris change as they are forced to learn quickly how to survive in a world that seems so much like our own, but still manages at times to be horrifyingly different.  The characters offer fresh perspectives about history, while still maintaining an overall respect and awe for the past that I believe more people should have.  I find most of Crichton’s characters to be incredibly flat because his books are so plot driven, but these characters emerge brilliantly through the intense plot.

The purpose of history is to explain the present—to say why the world around us is the way it is.  History tells us what is important in our world, and how it came to be.  It tells us why the things we value are the things we should value.  And it tells us what is to be ignored, or discarded.  That is true power—profound power.  The power to define a whole society. ( 480)

Overall, I found this book to be incredibly enjoyable.  There were the perfect amounts of character development, suspense, facts mixed with fiction, and even some complicated ideas for readers to much on after they finish the book.  While I was reading it, I was writing an essay on how Obama can learn from Lincoln and it all made me remember how the present and the future will always have a very close relationship with the past.  There is a reason why we are constantly encouraged to study our history books – they teach us valuable lessons that should never be forgotten.  The past, especially the fourteenth century, isn’t quite as primitive as we might have imagined.  Just different.

Rating: B+

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