Reading for Pleasure *wink wink*

imagesAt the hair salon last summer, I took my Nook along.  My stylist said, “What are Christian and Anastasia up to *wink wink*?”  I hadn’t yet read Fifty Shades, but I had heard of Christian and Anastasia.  I said, “Oh, I’m not reading that.”  Turns out a large number of her clients WERE reading that, coming in with Fifty Shades on their e-readers, the 21st century version of a plain brown wrapper.  She whispered, “You have to check it out. Seriously. It’s hot.

So on the advice of my stylist, I did check it out.  And I’ll admit, it was sort of hot at first.  But it was also sort of degrading and stupid and repetitive.  It made me wonder just how this book became so popular, and I think it has little to do with good writing and everything to do with marketing.

We really don’t need a plain brown wrapper for Fifty Shades.  The cover is tame, discreet.  No bodice rippers or entwined bodies in sight.  This, I think, is a huge part of the appeal, legitimizing the genre somehow and making it seem less cliched and old fashioned.

I’d also call it erotica-lite.  FSOG has more of a relationship-focus than porn but more sex than a romance novel.  So it’s ok because, you know, they love each other.  Or something like that.

Book 1 of the FSOG trilogy is now the fastest selling paperback of all time, leaving a bewildered Harry Potter in the dust.  31 million copies of the trilogy have been sold worldwide.  Practically everyone’s read this book; your friends, your sister, your neighbor, the lady sitting in front of you at church.  If you haven’t read it, you’ve heard of it.  Even people who wouldn’t normally read erotica (hi…) want to check it out to see what all the fuss is about.  It’s been hand sold, woman to woman, in person and online over Facebook and Twitter.

Mommy Porn has influenced sales of racy toys and taken reading for pleasure to a whole new level.  It’s an exciting time to be in the business of selling handcuffs. Publishers have rushed to put out erotica titles for the masses, with varying degrees of quality, and covers so subtle they are perfectly acceptable on the book tables at Costco.

What, if anything, does this say about our culture?  Are we sexually frustrated?  Bored?  Oversexed?  Did we need something like Fifty Shades to give us permission to talk about our fantasies with our friends or our partners?  Or is this just pure escapism?

I don’t know, but I couldn’t get past the repetitiveness and the icky relationship between Christian and Ana.  I’m sure there have to be better titles in this genre, which I’ll admit is not without it’s charms *wink wink*.

Suggestions, anyone?

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Here we go…

DownloadedFile-5So I updated my About Page recently and whoosh, three books arrived in my mailbox last week.  I’m excited to start reviewing again and hope to share one review a week.  I’m not the fastest reader ever, and not the fastest reviewer either.  But hey, a goal of once a week is better than going a whole year without a new post, right?

The books that found me this past week include ARCs of Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (Harper Collins), Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende (Harper Collins), and TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Random House).  All of them look fantastic, however I might pass TransAtlantic to my mom.  I didn’t request it and I have so much reading material that I fear it will languish on my shelves for years.  But I think my mom will love it, and I want it to be loved by someone rather than be neglected and collect dust, so off it will go.  If she loves it, I might give it a try.

I started Reconstructing Amelia last night and quickly breezed through the first 50 pages.  Already, teenage Amelia has jumped off the roof of her private school, or did she?  There’s a mystery and it’s just ramping up.  I’m nervous for the main character, Amelia’s mom, Kate.

Also last week, I purchased The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch on the Nook for my daughter, who needs to read it for her sophomore English class.  I haven’t read it myself but would like to at some point.  My 8th grade daughter borrowed Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez from the library for her required RC reading.  It’s below her reading level, but her teacher doesn’t care what level they read at so long as they read 20 minutes a day.  She claims not to like reading, but I caught her giggling over this one.

I also used some Audible.com credits to get a couple more audio books for my husband, the non-reader.  Based on recommendations from both Sandy and Kathy, I got 11/22/63 by Steven King and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  Thanks for the recommendations, ladies!

What are you reading this week?

Sunday Salon – September 19, 2010

nose in a book

And here is the age-old question.. does BBAW rhyme with Hee Haw?  Or do YOU say the individual letters B… B… A… W?

I say it rhymes with Hee Haw.

Even though I’ve taken a step back from blogging, I’d have to be living under a rock (I’m not, just FYI) to miss all the Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) excitement.  All the craze and praise has been really fun to watch!  It’s inspiring to see all the enthusiasm for blogging and books and so.. here I am again after a two month hiatus.  Thanks, BBAW, for helping me remember why I love blogging and how it’s just about the most fun you can have on a computer.  And a big enthusiastic Congratulations! to all the winners and nominees, many of whom I count among my friends.  Congrats, too, to Amy, the tireless force behind BBAW, and her hardworking team for another hugely successful awards week!

I marvel at the time bloggers put into their blogs.  I’m guessing (well, actually I know..) a lot of them don’t have kids.  Many do, of course, and it is really THOSE bloggers I marvel at the most..  I’m not sure how they keep up.  Maybe their kids aren’t as demanding as mine or don’t have tons of activities to be shuttled around to, maybe they don’t help with homework, maybe they have no friends IRL, maybe someone else cleans their houses and cooks their meals, maybe they don’t work or need 8 hours of sleep at night.. I really don’t know!  But between blogging and Twitter and Facebook, who has time for trivial stuff like laundry, grocery shopping, or in-person conversations?

I think about that.  I think about the amount of time my children spend online, time that could be spent hanging out with other kids face to face deveoloping their social skills, or time just being bored and thinking.  I remember a lot of time like that as a child- free time where I had to find something to do or where I could work something out in my head- time to be creative or at least creatively solve the problem of being bored.  This is when imagination kicks in.  My children need to be entertained, all the time, and they have zillions of options for that, with 500+ channels on cable, iPods and phones, Wii and the internet.  They can’t stand to be bored.  Which is why I regularly unplug them from everything (my favorite form of punishment, actually).  You’d think I was hacking off an arm the way they carry on about it.  But I look at it as I’m giving them a gift- the gift of boredom.  I tell them, “Go develop your imaginations!” to much groaning and foot stomping.  My husband tells them, jokingly, “When I was your age, we played with sticks and rocks!”  They roll their eyes and say, “Daaaaaaaaaaaad! That was back in the Stone Age.”  But before long they find something to do that doesn’t involve earbuds or keyboards or remotes.

But it’s hard to unplug kids when I’m always online.  I’m modeling the very behavior I’m trying to change in them.

So that’s what the last two months were about.  With my kids home for the summer, I’d work (online) while they slept in or played- I was online only as much as I needed to be. And I think that’s my new plan- no blogging in the summer or during school vacations.  I’d rather feel guilty about ignoring my blog than about ignoring my kids.  Priorities..

We had Back to School Night at my  youngest daughter’s school this week.  This is my 6th grader, my reluctant reader, the one who whines about her 30 minutes of assigned daily reading, the one I have to set a timer for just to get her to crack open a book, the one who claims to hate reading.  So imagine my shock and awe when I was told that based on her Accelerated Reader score she is reading at an 11th grade level.. what?!?!  How can this be?  That’s a full FOUR GRADE LEVEL jump over last year.  She has to get 69 reading points this semester, and if you’re not familiar with the program, let me just tell you- that’s a lot.  She’s going to have to pick up the pace considerably to make her goal.  She grabbed a book from the library called My Fair Godmother– 14 points- and started it at school but has yet to sit down with it this weekend.  The AR books I pulled out of our bookshelves for her are stacked up and gathering dust.  She wants to pick her own, which I understand, but she’s going to have to actually start reading them.

My older one would rather read than eat or do homework.  So we have the opposite problem with her.  She gets in trouble at school for reading when she’s supposed to be listening to teachers or doing her work.  She reads in the car, she reads in bed, she reads everywhere, oblivious to her surroundings.  It’s hard to get mad about it when I understand it so well- she’s exactly like me.

As for my reading, I’m currently enjoying Honolulu by Alan Brennert for book club.  I read Molokai a few years back and loved it, so was thrilled when this one got voted in.  It’s about a young Korean “picture bride” who comes to Hawaii to marry a Korean man and have a chance at a better life and education in the early 20th century.  Naturally, things don’t turn out as planned.  Most of this book is being read while sitting on the bleachers in the hot sun at the pool where my older daughter practices with her swim team 6 hours a week.  She can’t read while swimming, but if there was a way, I’m sure she’d try.

So.. we’ll see how this goes.  It’s nice to be back.  Hopefully this won’t be my last post for another two months!

What are you doing this weekend?  What are you reading?

Happy Sunday..

Review: Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton

Westward, ho!

Many know the story:  The Donner Party was a group of doomed pioneers who left in a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois in 1846 for the promise of great adventure and a better life in California.  Due to a series of mishaps, poor choices, an ill-advised shortcut, early winter weather, and time-wasting travails, the trip took much longer than planned.  The group became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for several months with few supplies and little food.  They are infamous for the way they attempted to survive, by eating the flesh of those who had died before them.

Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton is told through the imagined letters and fictional journal entries of Tamsen Donner, 45 year old wife of George Donner, the party leader.  The book was a bit tricky to follow at first, because it’s not chronological, so it would shift from the present horror of starvation and death to happier times in their past, including Tamsen and George’s courtship, their decision to go on the journey and how it was made, memories from Tamsen’s childhood and first marriage, etc., then back to the freezing, starving, mind numbing realities of the Sierra Nevadas.  It didn’t take long, though, before I got into the flow of the narrative, and I was riveted.

Tamsen tries to distract her children from their hunger and harsh surroundings by describing the apple trees and cherry orchards from home, the lovely warm breezes of a Springfield summer.  When one of the children asks, “Why did we leave?”  their mother, sadly, has no adequate answer.  It’s something she thinks about constantly.

It is well known that the real Tamsen Donner kept a journal, but it unfortunately was destroyed.  One can only guess at what might have been written there, but certainly she would have recorded births, deaths, and details of the trip.  One might also expect to find dreams of the American West (the last frontier), fear of the unknown, feelings of regret and blame at the horrific turn of events, and hope for the future of their children.  That is all here in this fictional account.

I knew of the Donner Party because of the cannibalism but wondered how things could ever have gotten to that point.  By the time I discovered the answer to that question, it seemed like the only feasible option a mother could make- survival.  Tamsen Donner comes across as courageous, loving, strong, and full of wanderlust.  This book is a fascinating account of how things might have been and truly captures the pioneer spirit.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to the author for sending Impatient with Desire for me to review.  It was lovely, and I will pass it along to my mother, who also enjoys historical fiction.  I think it would also make a great book club selection.

Not Feeling the Love for A RELIABLE WIFE

In which I rip on a book everyone loves…

Disclaimer:  This is not a review, just rambling.  I’m not trying to be a literary critic, just a reader who didn’t care for a popular book.  I know many people will disagree with me.

When A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick was suggested and then voted in as my book club’s selection for March, I was so excited.  Having seen the buzz on the book blogs last year, my expectations were pretty high.

I thought it would be a dark story set in a bleak environment.  It was.  I assumed the setting would play a role on the psyche of the characters.  It did.  Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I couldn’t wait to find out.

Well.  Let’s just say this book is not for everyone.  I did not love it; in fact I found parts of it silly.  I’m clearly in the minority, so maybe it’s me.

Ok, so to bring you up to speed in case you haven’t read the book, there is Ralph Pruitt, a wealthy man in frozen-over Wisconsin living in a town named for his family.  He’s lived alone for 20 years with no love in his life and no family.  He owns everything and everyone works for him.  He advertises for a reliable wife and Catherine Land has answered his ad.

Catherine, we know immediately (from the back of the book and in the very beginning), is anything but honest.  She’s playing a role.  She flings her red velvet dress out the window of the train headed for Wisconsin and dons a basic black wool dress, more appropriate for an honest, sensible woman.  She has tiny blue bottles of liquid that she keeps with her.  She sews gems into the lining of her dress.  She’s up to something.

We find out soon enough that Ralph had another family, years ago.  He has an estranged son, Tony (or Andy, or some form of Antonio) from his first marriage.  Ralph made him pay for the sins of his mother and feels guilty for the way he treated him.  That guilt is the driving force of the story.

So it sounds good, right?  These aren’t really spoilers, mind you.  All of this unfolds very early on, and I’ll admit I was hooked.  I knew something was up- there were big red flashing signs all over the place- it was just a matter of what.  The book got off to a great start.  I wanted to know what would happen.

But then a lot of things went wrong, for me.  Without giving anything away, let’s just say Ralph sends Catherine on a big errand- which is the entire reason he needed a reliable wife.  My question, for those who’ve read the book, is why?  Why would he need to get married to do this?  Why did he need her to do this particular task?  Couldn’t he have paid one of the many townspeople who answered to him?  He had buckets of money.. there was no other way?

And Tony.  He also sends Catherine on an errand.  Why couldn’t he accomplish his mission on his own?  Couldn’t he have carried out his personal vendetta without her?

Yes, these men were using Catherine for their own purposes.  But please don’t feel bad for her, for she is a lying, murderous, despicable person who I thought at times was becoming a decent human but really wasn’t.  She had me fooled more than once.

There were some gaping plot holes and unexplained motivations and some head-scratcher stuff.  There was some laughable, silly dialog.  I found myself thinking, “That’s dumb” or “WTF?” a number of times.

The destructive, deceitful, selfish, sexually fixated characters were disturbing- and this book has three of them.  And I’m generally ok with dark and disturbing.   But then there were long looooong passages about sexual obsession that were a complete yawnfest.  It’s a sad day when reading about sex is boring, but the lengthy descriptive paragraphs were icky and tedious and I found myself doing a lot of skimming.

Another thing that was creepy and odd was Ralph’s obsession with people in town going mad and killing themselves or their families.  Apparently all that Wisconsin snow during the long hard winters made them crazy. Why was he so fascinated with sex, money, his long lost son, and tragic stories, to the exclusion of all else?

Ralph seemed so pathetic to me.  He did not seem like a powerful, wealthy tycoon so much as a passive old man.  Catherine, with her little blue bottles, is not a loving wife, and he knows it, and he does not care.  In fact, he welcomes her betrayal, allowing it to happen and even hastening it’s progression.  She’s aware that he knows, and everyone is acting like it’s perfectly ok.  And I did not understand that.  Why would he resign himself to that fate, willingly?  Somebody smarter than me, help me out.  Was it because he thought Andy/Tony would never come home?  And if that’s the reason, could he think of nothing else to live for (regular sex, perhaps, after the 20 year drought?)

There was a ton of repetition.  Like the phrase “such things happened”.  And I found the imagery of birds tedious.  Also the imagery of water- at first I thought the author was doing something kind of cool and subtle with the imagery, but after the 5th description of something being like water, or another mention of a bird (the heart beating like a bird, her hands fluttering like birds, “welcome home” sex like the singing of a bird, and the bird in the cage, and the bird in the garden..) I was rolling my eyes.  Again, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t need to be beaten over the head with imagery (or feathers) to get the meaning.

The whole scenario seemed vaguely familiar to me.  The frozen tundra, the long-suffering and wealthy bachelor with a haunted past, the beautiful woman with secrets of her own..  where have I read this before?  An old dusty classic from high school, perhaps?  I couldn’t place it but it had a very familiar feel.

So tonight is our book club meeting, and I cannot wait to see what everyone else thought about A Reliable Wife.  Someone else is leading the discussion tonight and I’m guessing she’s done a little research.  I’m going to sit back with my mouth closed and let the meeting unfold before I say a word about my impressions.  Maybe I will learn something and be enlightened.  Maybe I’ll see the error of my “analysis,” such as it is.  Maybe I’ll be the only one who doesn’t think the book is amazing and brilliant.  Or maybe not.

I’ll let ya know.

Review: Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich is the story of a troubled marriage on the verge of falling apart.

Irene America, the main narrator, lets us know there’s trouble right from the first sentence: “I have two diaries now,” she writes: the “real” one that is kept in a safe deposit box, and the fake one that is hidden at home.  She has discovered her husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, which she sees as a huge betrayal.

Gil is desperate for information and is looking for clues as to why Irene doesn’t love him anymore; why she is slipping away.  Irene, who wants out of the marriage, uses the fake diary as revenge for Gil’s betrayal, and as a way to manipulate the situation, deliberately misleading her husband by making up scenarios and sexual escapades to enrage him and make him jealous, hoping he’ll leave.

Gil is an artist, famous for his series of paintings of his Native American wife.   He has painted Irene in every possible way, from every possible angle, from “thin and virginal” to naked, pregnant, or “frankly pornographic.”  His work borders on obsession but supports Irene and their 3 children.  While Irene has been a willing model, she still feels used and objectified by her husband, as if he’s somehow stealing her identity.  At one point she tells him, “I feel like I’m being eaten alive.”

Irene has become an alcoholic, and Gil is frequently violent, leaving the children frightened and bitter.  My allegiance shifted from one to the other as I was reading the book.. but truthfully, they were both so messed up and both so wrong in the way they behaved.  There was such a sick co-dependance.  One partner wanted out, one couldn’t let go.

The writing is urgent and tense, just like the relationship between Irene and Gil, which is alternately abusive and affectionate.  The title is taken from one tender moment in the tension- one night a storm knocks out the power, and the family-including the kids and dogs- takes candles outside to play shadow tag in the snow and the moonlight.  It was sad reading about these people who once loved each other, and even sadder to see their children desperately trying to hold things together, doing whatever they could to survive while their world collapsed around them.

Anyone who has been in a dead relationship or at the end of a troubled marriage will recognize and relate to the emotions in this book- like how there can be a moment of affection in the middle of a mountain of hate that can trigger memories of happier times and briefly reawaken old feelings.  Shadow Tag is very well written but also just incredibly sad and almost too personal and painful to read.  It consumed me for the better part of two days, but be forewarned:  you have to be in the right mood for a book like this.  It’s a heartbreaking novel from an extremely talented writer, and I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for a sad, emotional read.

I received this book from the publisher, HarperCollins, for review.

Keeping the Feast discussion with author Paula Butturini

Hello, readers!

Tonight we are privileged to welcome Paula Butturini, author of Keeping the Feast, to our Winter Reading Series discussion.  She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Paula.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Paula and of course would welcome more.  Here’s what we have so far.

My questions:

How does John feel about Keeping the Feast?  How might the book have been different if he’d been the one to write the memoir?

Your beating was so brutal.  At what point did you feel safe and confident enough to work again?

I remember reading that you kept a journal (I can’t find it in the book, but I remember reading that!)  Did you know then that you might write a book like this?  How were you journals used in writing the book- did you re-read them, use whole sections, or just refer back to them as necessary?  Did John also keep a journal?

The bullet that ripped through John changed your lives so dramatically.  Journalists put themselves in harms way in the most dangerous places in the world, getting as close to the action as possible in order to share it with the masses.  Why do they risk their lives that way?  At what point is personal safety more important than the public’s need to know?

From Jill at Fizzy Thoughts:

I was surprised by their decision to buy a house in France…I would’ve expected a return to Italy. I was wondering if she’d be willing to speak a little bit about what factors influenced their decision to buy a house in France, and if Italy was even a consideration.

Also.. has living in France changed the way she cooks?

When I saw Thrity Umrigar at FoB last year she mentioned that journalism gave her good work ethics for writing her novels…that writer’s block wasn’t an issue, as she considered it her job to sit down and write every day (I’m totally paraphrasing here). Did Paula find it difficult to transition from journalism to writing a book? Did she build on her experiences as a journalist, or was it a completely different writing experience?

From Kathy at Bermuda Onion:

I loved all the food descriptions and kept hoping for recipes, so I’m wondering if Paula has considered writing a cookbook.

From Susan at Suko’s Notebook:

The only additional question I might add is if there will be a sequel at some point in time, or even a book exclusively about food–not necessarily a cookbook, but something very food-related?  The author writes so beautifully about food.

From Dar at Peeking Between the Pages:

1.  I was amazed by your perseverance and patience in the face of John’s depression especially having grown up with it.  How difficult was that for you and how were you able to put aside your feelings and anger to be there for him like that? I think it takes a special kind of person to do that.

2.  How is your relationship with your daughter given how yours was with your mom?  It’s great how honest you are with her regarding John’s depression – she will grow up understanding depression hopefully instead of resenting it.

3. I really loved how food was something that always brought comfort whether shopping for it or preparing it.  I think it’s important to find that something that will bring you through the tough times.  I thank you as well for sharing your story with us about depression because too often it’s a hidden disease and it shouldn’t be.

And one from “anonymous” – ok, it’s me..

My husband had a nervous breakdown 4 years ago and suffered a scary bout of depression and anxiety after his business of 11 years failed.  I worry about a relapse whenever anything goes wrong and nervously watch for signs of it.  So, my question is, has John ever had a relapse?  Do you live in fear that he might?

Come by tonight at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) to say hi to Paula and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!