Notes: Book 1/50. I want to hang out with Mindy Kaling
Review: Mindy Kaling is adorable in an “I’m a (mostly) respectful daughter of Indian immigrant parents, I don’t do drugs and didn’t drink in high school, and come from a place that any awkward girl can identify.” In case you don’t know who Kaling is, she is a writer on The Office and also plays Kelly Kapoor in the show. She also writes and stars in her own show The Mindy Project. Mindy seems so refreshingly real and a welcome break from more generic celebrities who fit the mold of what America finds desirable and attractive. As sad as it is, most women who are hilariously funny find themselves behind the camera more often than in front of it if they don’t fit the standard of American beauty. You know, size 2, petite, pretty face, etc. I mean, Tina Fey had to lose like 30 pounds before she could get on television (even though Liz Lemon on 30 Rock fantasizes about food and eats like shit and should NOT be as skinny as she is, but that’s a rant for another day), but Mindy somehow snuck her way onto television without us taking a ton of notice or shouting “Hey! She’s breaking those norms!” I mean, really, she’s a pretty woman who probably fits the average American woman’s body. She’s a size 8. I’m a size 8. But compared to the twiglets in Hollywood, she probably feels like a bloated whale who is always stuck in a navy blue dress. (Which is apparently the color they dress anyone over a size 4 in because someone decided it was flattering)
This book isn’t Bossypants, but it’s a fun, quick read about someone who has been wildly successful in Hollywood as a writer and actress. Kaling makes you feel like anything is possible as long as you just keep at it. The way Kaling tells it, it took one super successful entry into the International Fringe Festival to get her noticed and get a spot as one of the writers on The Office. She embodies the American Dream because he parents immigrated from India to give their children a better life here and what immigrant parents doesn’t harbor the desire that their child will become a star in America? (Or a doctor or lawyer more likely) She provides an interesting narrative on what it means to grow up Indian in America and not quite fit into the WASP-y American ideal as a child. (The school pictures she includes in the book are priceless). However, I think Kaling barely skims the surface on what could be a deeper discussion about the lack of diversity in Hollywood or not fitting into the standard body in Hollywood. It’s not my book (obviously), and I’m sure Kaling skirted around those topics for a reason.
Bottom Line: This book is cute, funny, and light. It takes all of a day or so to read so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or on a lazy Sunday, this is the book for you.
Happy 2013! I’ve been horribly neglectful of this blog through a series of circumstances, laziness, and a lack of new books to read. But a new year equals a new reading challenge and equals new posts! I got a new job in Maryland and left the beautiful, warm, beachy Charleston for Maryland -__- My new job frowns on me updating my blog at work, which is why there have been a curious lack of posts since October. My creative juices flow best at work, what can I say? Also, my computer at home is a piece of shit that I just need to dump at the Apple store to wipe everything clean off of the hard drive and start over.
For those of you who don’t know, for the last 3 years, I have issued myself a reading challenge. I challenge myself to read 50 books in the course of the year. I started a blog because I thought it would keep me honest while allowing me to write on a more consistent basis. The rules:
- Books have to be new books (not new in the sense they are new releases, but new to me). I am a notorious re-reader which screws with my count
- All books must be completed by December 31, 2013
- For the book to count, there must be a blog post associated with it
The problem? I don’t know what to read! I’m looking for recommendations/suggestions or questions. I like literary fiction (please don’t suggest I read anything along the lines of Fifty Shades of Gray), fantasy, epics (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), and humor. Actually, I like almost anything except Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight. I like my literature to have gone through some sort of editing process, sorry I’m not sorry.
So here’s to a 50 book 2013! Maybe this is the year I’ll actually finish this challenge! ..Maybe. At least I didn’t give up fried foods or bread or other ridiculous things like a few people I saw on Facebook.
Notes: 26/50 Books. This is totally a book for bibliophiles.
Review: I can’t gush over this book enough. It combines secret societies, mystery, and old dusty bookstores into one hell of a book. People who don’t love books like I do might not understand this, but books are magical. Sloan understands the magic of books and the secret to immortality locked away in novels (not too much of a spoiler, go cry about it.)
Basically, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hr bookstore operates in San Francisco and stays open around the clock. (What bookstore stays open 24/7? I must find one! Although it would probably be a front for a drug or prostitution ring.) Our protagonist, Clay Jannon, works in this interesting bookstore but finds it rather odd that Mr. Penumbra doesn’t stock almost any normal books. He stocks almost exclusively stocks books in code. Which an assortment of weird people dash into the store in varying states of disarray to buy. You see, these “believers” if you will, believe that the secret to immortality lies within the code if they can only crack it. Not like, I will write a book and live forever Shakespeare immortality, but for real I will never die immortality. They’re a strange but mostly likeable bunch.
The true coolness of the story (that might make it feel dated in ten years unfortunately) is the marriage of old technology (books) with new technology (Google). The union of the two different technologies shows how much literature, knowledge, and the way people receive it has changed. Technology and computers and kindle don’t replace literature, but work with it. In the novel, Google employs their best cryptographers to crack the code in Mr. Penumbra’s books. It remains elusive. When I read that, it made me happy because it seemed like too much of an easy answer. I mean, here are these people devoting their lives to cracking this code and learning as much as possible and for a computer to crack it in an afternoon is almost sacrilege. It felt to me like computers are only worth the person controlling them, they are only a tool. When I say this is a book for bibliophiles, I don’t mean people who have a stick up their butt and won’t even consider any other mediums for literature (Audiobooks, e-books, etc). I mean people who simply enjoy the written word and a good turn of phrase. I mean people who want to read every book in the world and dive into a novel and never come up for air. I mean the people who’ve dreamed about escaping to Hogwarts or Narnia or the Shire. Sloan utilizes every literature medium in his story and paints a more optimistic picture for the future of books and bookstores because there will always be people searching for knowledge and the meaning of life between their pages.
“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.” – Robin Sloan
Bottom Line: Definitely worth the read! One of the most interesting, best, and clever books I’ve read this year. It’s the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.
Notes: Book 24/50 North Korea is..interesting.
Review: I prepared myself for the book to disappoint me. It has been hyped over the last year and every book club in America has probably read it. (Mine is too) But I am happy to say that Johnson did not disappoint! I’ve never read a book set in North Korea, probably because the entire country cloaks itself in secrecy and mystery. We hear stories about work camps, starvation, and (when Kim Jong Il died recently) the adoration for their Dear Leader and his distinct pompadour.
While writing and researching this novel, Johnson actually received the opportunity to travel to Pyonyang and see North Korea for himself, which lends an air of authenticity to the narrative. I’m sure he only heard the approved version of North Korean history and saw only approved sites but nevertheless, he stepped foot in North Korea.
This novel follows an orhpan who isn’t really an orphan named Pak Jun Do. He never knew his mother and grew up in an orphanage as his father was the orhpan master. Consequently, he is mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life and gets assigned to terrible duties like tunnel digging in the DMZ and kidnapping unsuspecting Japanese and South Koreans at night. Pak’s life is ridiculous. I mean, the trajectory his life takes from a simple misunderstanding of mistaken identity by American diplomats creates what is essentially a suspense thriller. This novel isn’t just about North Korea and how insane and unpredictable of a place it can be, but how people can cope under extreme circumstances. It helps break the sort of cookie-cutter mold of poor people winning their circumstances and breaking free by offering a less than perfect protagonist. Pak Jun Do kills people. He sometimes operates under questionable morals and could probably be best categorized as opportunistic rather than an all around good guy.
Probably the best part of the book is how the communist government broadcasts Pak’s story in one chapter while in the next, we get Pak’s version. The difference between the two is striking and helps readers understand how difficult truth is to come by in this regime. Plus, again, it offers that air of authenticity from Johnson’s painstaking research and visits to North Korea. It feels real.
Bottom Line: The book is totally worth the hype! There are slightly graphic torture scenes which might turn some people off, but it’s the offhand way some truly awful things are mentioned that reall stuck with me after reading this book. Also, after reading this novel, I’m glad Kim Jong Il is dead.
Notes: 23/50 Chilling, well-researched, and fascinating. About time someone got it right
Review: While I don’t remember Columbine as well as others (I was in elementary school at the time), I still remember vague echoes of horror and a little tightening around my parents about sending my sister and I off to school. In my mind, this is the first school shooting that really rattled America and made school seem like a battlefield rather than the safety it was supposed to provide.
I remember hearing about Cassie Bernall because I want to a small, evangelical Christian school, and they lived for modern day martyrs. Cullen debunks the rumor that “she said yes” about her faith in God before Eric Harris shot her in the face. And you know what’s so great about this book? There’s no malice. Cullen didn’t set out to tear the rug out from under the Bernall family and prove their daughter didn’t die for her faith, as they hoped. He just reported the facts as he understood them. There’s no shaming the community, the police response, or blaming the Harris or Klebold families for raising sons who murdered fellow classmates. This account simply is.
Cullen presents a painstakingly researched account of what happened at Columbine that day in 1999, an attempt to explain why, and how the community struggled to rebuild and come to terms with what happened.
What exactly happened that day? Or, really, what didn’t happen? Columbine wasn’t just meant to be a school shooting, Eric and Dylan weren’t two loners who snapped at jocks, they weren’t a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, or any of the other silly rumors circling after the shooting. It was a bombing gone wrong. Eric and Dylan didn’t want to shoot specific students or have a hit list, they wanted to kill everyone. When police and emergency personnel rushed to the scene, they wanted to blow up Dylan’s car to increase the body count even more. The guns were merely to pick of stragglers picking their way out of the wreckage of a bombed school.
Cullen was a member of the media covering Columbine and they made serious leaps of faith with little facts and primarily contributed to the myths and rumors that surround Columbine to this day. In my opinion, this was the first truly American strategy that played out on television with the 24/7 news machine. Reporters constantly vamp and speculate when new information isn’t available in an attempt to keep the audience engaged. The leaps they made were logical leaps but ultimately untrue.
The first question people tend to ask when something like this happens is “Why?” We need to know motive. It helps us tie things into neat little packages. We need a world that makes sense and follows rules. Outcasts picked on one too many times fit the bill. It made sense. Sad, tragic, yes. But unfathomable? No.
Unfortunately, Eric and Dylan didn’t fit into these boxes. The FBI’s assessment of Eric concluded that he was a psychopath. He simply enjoyed killing. There was no motive that prompted his killing. He simply liked to watch people suffer. He felt no empathy and very little emotion even though he could charm the pants off of any adult who felt any suspicion toward him. Dylan simply hated his life and needed a direction – he followed Eric because it offered him a way out, it seems.
When I read this account, and I couldn’t help but think of the shooting in Aurora, CO in the movie theater of the Dark Knight Rises premiere. When I heard, I was disgusted and sad. It hit me harder than I thought it would because my friends and I frequently see midnight premieres. I wanted a motive. Why would anyone do this? What purpose does it serve? But, unfortunately, I think reading this book gave me the answer. He did it to do it. Killing people was the motive, not the result. He likens himself to the Joker in the series. Like Alfred said “some men just want to watch the world burn.”
The community, obviously rattled struggled for years to become normal again. Long after the world stopped paying attention to them and long after (sadly) the nation really cared anymore. There were lawsuits, angry parents, and students on suicide watch constantly. Cullen’s interviews and portrayal of the principal, Mr. D, are refreshing. That man deserves a medal for taking care of his students as well as he did.
Eventually, the community reclaimed Columbine High School. Even while today Columbine is synonymous with “school shooting,” students wanted their school back and shouted “We are..COL-um-BINE” to reclaim their identity and their pride. The world crushes us all, but they became stronger in the broken places, as Hemingway so gracefully puts it.
Bottom Line: Forget everything you thought you knew about Columbine. This book isn’t depressing or gruesome or graphic. It is just an attempt at an accurate account of that day and those involved. Highly recommend!
Notes: 22/50 (no way I’m gonna make 50 books by the end of the year..blurgh. The challenge continues another year)
Review: Okay, so I liked this book better than the first one of the series. Maybe because I’ve grown accustomed to the spelling and understand the political situation on New World a little more. Plus I’ve gotten used to the NOISE.
To me, this novel (and the series) grapples with the question of “What is it to be a man?” And it’s a question we see today. A disturbing amount of teenage boys (and girls) think being violent and not allowing any “disrespect” is what makes a man. In this society, men are only men if they have killed another man. The refrain “We are the choices we make” echoes throughout the book and forces people to consider what kind of people they want to be.
Our protagonists Todd and Viola are separated for most of this book and each has to make his/her own choices. What does it mean to be a man/woman? What side of this war am I on?
As much as this story is about Viola and Todd and their choices, the villains in this story aren’t really villains, which makes their choices that much harder. In the first book, it is easy to see Mayor Prentiss (now President) as a stock villain. However, book 2 explains his motives and his absolute conviction that his antics will bring peace to New World/New Prentisstown/Haven. He reminds me of the Mayor in the Walking Dead series in the way that he probably doesn’t see himself as a bad man – but he has to do bad things to keep the peace and get things done. He sees himself as a hero and as a man who has to do the dirty work no one else has the balls to do.
Mistress Coyle, the woman who is trying to overthrow him, is even more confusing. She means well, I’m sure of it and I’m positive I would be on her side. But she does…regrettable…things to strike back at the president’s men. She reminded me a lot of Coin in The Hunger Games series. A strong woman who did necessary evils, but unfortunately has all of the trappings of a dictator herself. Even if she believes what she is doing is right, her means are no more justified than the tyrant she attempts to overthrow.
My one critique of the story lies in Todd and Viola. I found them a bit irritating. I can’t explain why exactly, but their love for each other and obsession with each other didn’t feel real to me. They’re 14. It is one of the primary reasons I despise the premise of Romeo and Juliet. They’re no overt sexual tension, but their feelings are so damn intense (maybe I’ve forgotten what it means to be a teenager already? I’m sure my 14 year old self would defend that plenty of 14 year olds have intense feelings. Isn’t that one of the hallmarks of adolescence?) but my jaded 24 year old self could not accept these characters were 14. However, I will acquiesce and say that they have gone through more than most people do in a lifetime and that has aged them prematurely (they’ve killed for godsakes) and their shared experiences forged a bond stronger than most people see in their lifetimes. And Todd just giving up because Viola “abandoned” him made me want to throw down the book in disgust.
Also, minor quibble: the font change between Todd and Viola’s chapters was annoying. They weren’t different enough to announce THIS IS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER in capital letters. And why do we need to differentiate them still further? Each chapter had either TODD or VIOLA printed neatly at the top so we would know who narrated the section. I am competent enough to follow those cues without the text changing, thanks.
Bottom Line: On the whole, good book. Very emotional. Very intense. It’s a little contrived and has been done before (YA dystopia, can’t get enough), but I can’t wait until I can get my hands on book 3 because this one left us with a cliffhanger!