Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 9

I had no time to read anything more strenuous than a magazine for the last month. Library books have started coming in at a furious pace --- 6 this last trip! --- so maybe I'll be able to get to an even hundred books read by December 31st.

Here are books 81 to 90:

NON-FICTION
  • Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham
    • I watch Lena Dunham's TV show "Girls". I have seen her film "Tiny Furniture". I enjoy "Girls" and her film was interesting (I didn't hate it but I didn't love it either). Thus you could say I am a fan of hers.
    • If you are a fan, you will probably also enjoy her book. If you are not a fan or have never heard of her then you probably will not enjoy her book.
    • Dunham-related criticism can be found all over the Internet. Much of it centers on the nudity/sex scenes on "Girls" and on Dunham's personal look (the one fashion-related website I follow often complains that she dresses like "a toddler") in which it is pointed out with some regularity that she is not "conventionally attractive" enough to be in nude scenes (she is small-breasted and big hipped, your standard pear-shaped figure).
    • First of all, if you are offended by how she (or anyone else, for that matter) looks, then don't watch her show! Ignore her completely if you prefer.
      • To be honest I hate watching any nude/sex scenes anymore, no matter what the actors look like. It takes me right out of the scene because I start thinking things like: "I wonder how long it took to get the makeup all over their bodies. How long did they stand naked in front of the makeup people?" "Eeew, that's famous actor [insert name here] pretending to have sex with famous actress [insert name here]. Boring! Get back to the story!"
      • I have caught parts of the soft-core porn movies they used to show on HBO (maybe they still do?). They NEVER show wieners or vaginas and actresses' hair hides any naughty bits. (These movies are TERRIBLE. Hilariously terrible!) There are many, many breasts though and all I can pay attention to are the surgical scars on the women who have had basketball-sized implants. NOT sexy. (I don't think I am the target audience for these films.)
    • As a pear-shaped gal myself, I find it refreshing to see a similarly shaped woman who has no body issues on (pay cable) TV. There are a zillion skinny actresses out there and we all know that the size 00 standard flaunted on TV and in movies and magazines is ridiculous. 
      • I just looked up what my clothing size would be based on my college era measurements (about 34-27-39, a total pear). Apparently those measurements made my college self a current size 2-4 which is odd because in those days I hovered around a size 10-12. Obviously sizing has changed immensely.
      • An actress who wears a size 0 is somewhat a matter of genetic lottery combined with lifelong dieting and exercise (and constant smoking for many of them) to stay thin. Even at my college weight (approx 130 pounds) and measurements I was too "fat" to be an actress on any screen!
    • Lena Dunham is a young woman in her 20s in a creative field of employment. She may dress however she likes!
    • Her character Hannah Horvath on "Girls" famously said she wanted to be "the voice of her generation". Lena Dunham may not be the voice of her generation but she definitely has her own voice. Her book is filled with amusing anecdotes and tales of her life.
    • To reiterate: Fan? Yes, worth a read. Not a fan? Don't bother.
  • On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
    • I love reading books about disease and vaccinations. I am a firm believer in vaccination so I avidly follow the current debate over whether it does more harm than good.
    • I had high hopes for this book but I was disappointed. It is more of a book-length essay by the author on her decision-making process when she had her own child. I can see how this approach might be helpful to others in the same situation but it was not the format for me. 
  • How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
    • This was a six-episode series on PBS last month and I was lucky enough to get the library book while I was watching it.
    • The six topics are Light, Cold, Sound, Glass, Clean and Time. 
    • One succinct example: The printing press led to more literacy and the need for spectacles. This specialized glass-making lead to microscopes and telescopes.
    • The author wrote another book I read years ago about the man who figured out that cholera was spread by contaminated water supplies rather than random bad air (called miasmas).
    • Steven Johnson is adorable and I totally have a crush on him now! :)
FICTION
  • Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
    • I loved this book until the end when ALL IS REVEALED. Ugh.
    • The heroine is named Jam (double ugh) and she is sent to a boarding school in a last-ditch attempt to help her over the death of her beloved boyfriend Reeve. She and a handful of other students are assigned to an exclusive class called Special Topics in English. They study Sylvia Plath (who wrote The Bell Jar, hence "Belzhar") and there are magic notebooks. You know, everything you'd want from a book about an unusual boarding school!
    • And because I hated this ending so much I am GOING TO SPOIL THE PLOT IN THE NEXT BULLET POINTS! Consider yourself warned!
    • The notebooks magically take each student to the lives they had before the moment of the event that led them to the boarding school. The notebooks have only have a limited number of pages so the final visit to "Belzhar" reveals the big secret of each student.
      • Jam's boyfriend didn't die at all. He wasn't even her boyfriend but that of her best friend. Based on a few incidents (Reeve really isn't a very nice guy) that take place over a month, she only IMAGINES he was her boyfriend. She apparently has what must be a psychotic break because she kills him in her mind!
      • The other students in the special class had real problems. Jam is a loon. Her "bereavement" leads her to isolate herself from everything for over a year! I think her parents must be crazy too.
    • Hated!
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
    • I have not yet read Cloud Atlas (it's on my Kindle) but I loved the film (unlike most). I enjoyed most of this book but I remember very little of it plot-wise. I'm thinking that means I ultimately didn't like it that much. I do remember that the character I liked the most was one of the bad guys!
    • Mitchell's book is written around several characters, time changes and mystical wars between good and evil. If that's your cup of tea you may very well enjoy this book. Or wait for the movie? (Since "Cloud Atlas" did not do well at the box office, a film may never happen.) 
  • The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
    • It is very difficult to describe anything about this book without spoiling the experience of reading it. A girl named Melanie is a student. But she is kept in a cell and is strapped into a wheelchair for transport from cell to classroom. Then a horror thriller ensues.
    • SPOILER: Zombies! (Use your computer mouse to highlight the box to read it.)
  • Rooms by Lauren Oliver
    • As I write this I remember NOTHING about this book. Hmm. Not a good one then.
    • Okay, I looked it up. A man dies and his ex-wife and estranged kids show up to pack it up. But ghosts live there too. You learn about the ghosts and the estranged family. I guess I did enjoy it as I read it but it had no staying power for me. Sorry, Ms Oliver.
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
    • This book came via my best friend Lady Chardonnay. She very kindly lists the books she's reading on her blog from time to time. If something looks good to me I request it from the library. Lady C is one of the few people I know who reads more than I do! And I read a LOT!
    • This is a very cute book about a teenager who goes to boarding school in Paris for her senior year. (There are two follow up novels which I will try to get to eventually but I think they center on different characters.)
    • I went to a different high school for my senior year. It was no boarding school in Paris, however! Times are different. Now the characters are shown keeping in touch with old school friends via e-mail and other newfangled ways while getting to know the new friends. In my day, now 35 years past (egad), all we had was snail mail. And that died out quickly!
  • Lock In by John Scalzi
    • Based in the near future, some people have become "locked in" from a flu virus. This means they are completely paralyzed except for their eyes but retain their intelligence and awareness. Because one of the original victims was the wife of the United States president the government worked hard to create technology to allow the sufferers of "Haden's Syndrome" to interact with the world. There are robotic shells that the locked in can project their minds into to get around. There is a virtual reality world and there are integrators, people who can allow "Hadens" to use their bodies.
    • The novel itself is about a rookie FBI agent who has Hadens. He and his partner investigate a murder. This leads to a conspiracy.
    • Great book. It would make a great TV show or movie!
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    • This is a re-read of a book I first read aver 15 years ago. The Starz series has aired the first 8 episodes based on this novel with a further 8 coming next spring. The TV series is amazingly good and I wanted to refresh my memory with the book, especially since the TV show ended on a cliffhanger.
    • I really love the first 4 books of the Outlander series. I hope the TV show progresses at least that far!
    • The gist of the story: in 1945 Scotland a British woman is swept back in time over 200 years. While trying to return to her own time and the husband she left behind she becomes involved with the events of the past and a new man. There's much more to it than that, of course. Highly recommended if you like historical fiction with a time traveling twist!

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