Freestyle Friday

Freestyle Friday: Some recent thoughts on reading

Books for LivingI just picked up Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living a few days ago, and I’ve almost finished it. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves to read. He shares some interesting and sometimes profound thoughts, and I can see it being a book I could pick up and read again, flipping through chapters at random. I love a good book about books and reading.

Books for Living isn’t a compilation of reviews. Every chapter references a specific book, but often the book is tangential to other stories about reading or life. For example, in his chapter about The Odyssey (you know the one), he tells a story about a paper he wrote for his high school Greek class, a paper for which he believed he deserved an A but on which he received a C. When he tells his teacher, Mr. Tracy, that he believed he at least deserved a B, his teacher takes a red pen, crosses out the C, and writes in a B. Then he asks, “Are you sure you don’t want an A?” While Schwalbe struggles to determine just exactly what might be happening, the teacher continues:

It’s a C paper. No matter what grade I put on it, it’s still a C paper. But I’m happy to give it a B or even an A. In fact, why don’t you just tell me what grade you want when you hand in each paper for the rest of the term and save me the trouble of grading them.

Mind you, this takes place in the 1970s, decades before the trend of everybody deserves an A for effort. Looking back, Schwalbe says:

Great teachers help us see ourselves in the broadest perspective possible. Mr. Tracy may have wanted to teach me a lesson about my own arrogance, but he certainly wasn’t trying to discourage me: He was trying to get me to see things as they really are. Encouragement comes in many forms, but excessive or unwarranted praise isn’t encouragement.

Hear, hear.

So what does that have to do with thoughts on reading, besides being a passage in a book about reading? Well, because I’ve been beating myself up about not writing reviews of what I’ve been reading. Some people are terrific at reviewing everything, but only a very few write anything worth reading, at least in my opinion. First, everyone’s reading and reviewing the same books. Second, a plot synopsis (sometimes copied directly from the book jacket) followed by a list of pros and cons and a grade or star ranking does nothing for me, but then again neither do “reviews” that basically take five paragraphs to outline a book’s plot (but not the end!) followed by a few sentences about the reviewer’s opinion and a rating. That’s a book report. I’ve been guilty of the latter myself, when I can’t think of what I want to say, or when I’m trying to write a post about a book that was just fine thanks, but really…doesn’t deserve a lot of my time beyond the cursory “That’s worth picking up” or a decent star rating on Goodreads. It’s like this: Some books are Chipotle. It’s good and a lot of people enjoy it, but my god do we need a thousand reviews about a burrito? No. No, we don’t.

It’s amazing to me the time I spend thinking about this space and what to write here. I think about it so much I tend to forget it’s basically sitting idle. I’m still not ready to give up, but I’m not sure what I want this to be. A place to talk about books, yes. A place to write reviews such as the aforementioned…don’t hold your breath. But I still realize that this is a C-grade blog, and I’m okay with that. Like Schwalbe notes: “When you embrace mediocrity, you embrace humility—you learn to see that no matter how good you are at something, the world probably has people who are more talented at it than you.” (Oh yeah, look at me being all worried about the future of my blog as everything goes to hell around us. Priorities.)

Anyway, if you’re still with me, I’m going to change gears for a second and talk about something about readers that irritates the ever-living hell out of me. I follow a style blogger who sometimes posts about what she’s reading. Recently, she’s been reading Tana French. If you’ve spent any time here, you know I love Tana French, so no, I’m not objective about this at all. But the thing is, this blogger goes on about how she loves mysteries, but more of the P.D. James or Agatha Christie kind: more plot-driven, more whodoneit/howdoneit and less whydoneit. And that’s all good. We all have our preferences. But then she goes on to complain about how French spends so much time on the detectives and their lives and problems. She’s on her third French volume now and gripe, moan, complain. It takes everything I have not to leave a comment that says, Please, just stop reading them. You are not her audience. The whole point of the Dublin Murder Squad series is the Dublin Murder Squad—not the crimes. It drives me batty when people pick up a type of book they typically don’t care for and then blame the author. It’s one thing to say the writing is bad (in fairness, she hasn’t said this), but it’s another to be all, “I don’t really like books about quilting, so I picked up a book about quilting and oh my god when will the author stop with the quilts.” Quilts are the point. But otherwise, you know, I really enjoy her blog.

God, I sound crazy.

Heat & LightIn other news, I broke my TBR Double Dare pledge for the first time in five years. I was scrolling through something somewhere and I came upon a review (not on a blog…I think it was Nancy Pearl) of Jennifer Haigh’s Heat & Light and decided I had to read it right away, so I used some Google Play credit I had and read it in a couple of days. Oh, it was so good. And then I remembered that back in 2010 when I first got my Kindle I had purchased her first novel, Mrs. Kimble, so I read that, too (take that, TBR). Very interesting to read her latest and then her debut; she’s a terrific writer, completely engaging.

Another book I read recently that I highly recommend is The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney. It tracks two completely unrelated mysteries in the same city, which shouldn’t work but somehow works beautifully. Place and atmosphere seem to bring everything together, and it’s set in Oklahoma City which just somehow works.

That’s it for now. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and happy weekend!

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2016: Looking Back

As I mentioned in my Favorite Books of 2016 post, 2016 was a fantastic year in reading for me. Honestly, I can’t remember a better year since maybe 2012. The better part of my reading year was filled with four- and five-star books, and not simply because I was being generous. At the same time, several books I expected to love didn’t make the cut. You can see everything I read this year here, but I wanted to cover a few highlights of my reading year that aren’t just about favorites:

My very favorite books of the year were Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.

The book I finished too late to consider for year-end favorites was The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. This fictional account of Truman Capote and his New York society “swans” was a delightful surprise. If you enjoyed this one, I highly recommend The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne, a fictionalized account of the story of Ann Woodward, the socialite accused of murdering her husband.

The best debut author I read was hands-down Imbolo Mbue. Behold the Dreamers, a novel about a Cameroonian family employed by a Titan of Wall Street just before the 2008 crash, is so powerful that feels like it was written by someone who has already churned out award-winning work. Unlike a lot of novels that deal with contemporary events, I can see this one becoming a book that remains relevant because Mbue seamlessly manages to integrate a timeless story about wanting a better life with current events, events that never overshadow the more intimate drama of a husband and wife’s struggles to get ahead. It got some good attention, but I don’t think it got nearly enough. I look forward to reading her next book. She will most definitely be a writer to watch.

Another book I thought deserved more attention was The Unseen World by Liz Moore. Ada Sibelius’s father, the only parent she has ever known, is beginning to lose his mind. In the midst of this crisis, she learns a family secret that sends her on a mission to learn the truth about her father. Moore never lets Ada’s story veer into melodrama, nor does she turn the eccentric Ada into a silly caricature of quirkiness. Moore is a quiet writer, developing deep, original characters without sacrificing plot. I also recommend her novel Heft.

A book from my TBR pile that made quite an impression on me was Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. I bought it used five or six years ago after browsing through the (virtual) bargain bins on Better World Books, and then I promptly  stuck it on the shelf and forgot about it, probably in favor of something new and shiny everyone was discussing. This is another debut novel, although Lawson, a Canadian, was 56 when it was published (hope for us all). It tells the story of the four Morrison children, whose parents are tragically killed in a car accident at the beginning of the book. The novel has an unreliable narrator in Kate Morrison, who has very definite ideas about how the family tragedy has shaped everything in their lives. This novel is an interesting and often quietly humorous look at how family roles and myths can lock us into patterns that may actually have nothing at all to do with what really happened.

I re-read three books this year, M Train by Patti Smith, You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon, and Machine Dreams by Jayne Anne Phillips. I loved every single one of these books the first time around, and I’m happy to say they remained five-star reads. Re-reading M Train was like visiting a favorite friend, and I suspect it’s a book I could re-read every year without tiring of it. In 2017 I am planning to re-read Just Kids (more on that in a forthcoming “Looking Forward” post), but I may make room for both. I originally read You Remind Me of Me in 2005, on two long plane trips to and from Las Vegas. Like Kent Haruf or Bonnie Nadzam, Chaon is one of those writers who beautifully crafts the small stories of people in the so-called flyover states. Machine Dreams was Phillips’s (probably best known for her novel Lark & Termite) debut novel, and it covers the years from WWII through Vietnam, giving us the changing face of a nation and times through the stories of family of four in small-town West Virginia.

Thirty-six of the fifty-five books I’ve read this year were by new-to-me authors. Of those books, the best surprises were All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt, and A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. All My Puny Sorrows sounded like a book I would love from the get-go (because who doesn’t love books about suicide, really?), but the humor was completely unexpected. The latter two were both definitely outside my wheelhouse and were books I picked up because they were generating so much buzz with readers I trust. Mr. Splitfoot is absolutely grounded and magical at the same time, and Hunt never gives over to too much weirdness or too much explanation. A Head Full of Ghosts is supremely clever, even for those of us who aren’t horror fans, with fully realized characters and an overall interesting take on family narratives. Oh, and also an honorable mention for Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, which didn’t surprise me so much but did delight me to no end.

Thirty-one of the fifty-five books I read were by women, but only a lousy seven were by non-white authors, which is an issue I realized late in the year. To tell the truth, it makes me squeamish to count such things, though, because it makes me feel like I am patting myself on the back and congratulating myself on what a good little white person I am. That said, I realize I need to be more aware. The main thing I plan to do in 2017 is purchase books by non-white authors, so I can vote with my dollar and tell publishers what kind of books I want to see them publish. Except for books by favorite authors, when it comes to white authors I’ll probably start using the library more frequently. As much as I’d love to BUY ALL THE BOOKS, I have too many unread books right now to justify buying more unless the purchase makes a meaningful statement in some way. Given the recently announced Simon & Schuster decision to give a book contract to a white supremacist, I think voting with our wallets is more important than ever.

Only four of the books I read got two-star ratings: Siracusa by Delia Ephron, The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas, and Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. Siracusa and The Kind Worth Killing were on a lot of people’s favorites lists, but for me they both fell flat. The characters in both novels were unlikable and two-dimensional, and their motives were dumb. Still, I have to give credit where it’s due: The Kind Worth Killing had a very tightly plotted pace that kept me turning pages almost against my will. We Are Not Ourselves started out strong but quickly became a drag, as it has one of the most insufferable protagonists…and it started to get sloppy. At one point late in the novel, a main character suddenly has a sister, even though early in the novel it’s explained that he only has a brother. And Empire of the Summer Moon, a non-fiction account of the Comanche in Texas that won the Pulitzer, was shocking because it’s written from a very solid, Western, Christian, thank-goodness-the-whites-came point of view. I stopped at page 61, but up to that point the pages are flagged and underlined and marked with my notes exhorting my disbelief. Check out this little nugget: “This the fateful clash between settlers from the culture of Aristotle, St. Paul, Da Vinci, Luther, and Newton and aboriginal horsemen from the buffalo plains happened as though in a time warp–as though the former were looking back thousands of years at premoral, pre-christian, low-barbarian versions of themselves.” Because morality did not exist until Christians, y’all.

My other biggest disappointments were This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell and the third novel in the Elena Ferrante trilogy, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. This Must Be the Place barely escaped getting a two-star rating from me because it also had an implausible situation at its core and dull characters. I loved The Hand That First Held Mine so much, I had been looking forward to this one since it was announced. And with the Ferrante, I’m not sure what happened. My Brilliant Friend was breathtaking, but the longer the story went on in the third novel, the more it felt like listening to a friend who has a creep of a partner who makes her miserable but whom she refuses to leave. However, the books are interesting from a sociological standpoint, and Ferrante is very good at putting a reader right in the moment without succumbing to melodrama.

In other sort of bookish news, I finally finished The Gilmore Girls, including A Year in the Life. I’m not going to give away any hints about the ending, but I will say I found it kind of disappointing. Seasons 2-4 remain my favorite, and ultimately my favorite character will always be Emily.

I’ll be back soon with a look forward at all the bookish plans I have for 2017. Happy New Year to you all!

Freestyle Friday: September 23, 2016

Oh, hi there. It’s been a while. Thought I’d just drop by and talk about books for a bit.

I just finished Commonwealth by Ann Patchett this week. I never wanted it to end and I am sorely tempted to read it again right away. I’ve read everything Patchett has published, and I believe this is her very best work. I tend to prefer her fiction more than her non-fiction, mainly because I find her sort of insufferable, but in a likable way. She tries to be self-effacing, but she’s so very privileged and talented (and she works hard) that she comes across as the world’s most inept practitioner of the humble brag. Anyway, that’s not really the point. The point is she has managed to write a family saga that never gets caught up in the misery of dysfunction. The Cousins and the Keatings (and the blended family that results) certainly have their share of weirdness and anger and tragedy, but in Patchett’s tale, they just come across as people brought together by the accident of birth or marriage who somehow learn to co-exist with each other (or the idea of each other) and to have respect, if not love, for each other. I like that she doesn’t play anger or estrangement or grief to the hilt, but instead just lets them be natural reactions to circumstances where those reactions are not necessarily overblown. I’m almost hoping that this book sets up a new model for family dramas. The other surprise about Commonwealth is that it’s funny—and laugh-out-loud funny at times. Oh, I miss it already.

So I mentioned I thought this was Patchett’s best book, so for transparency’s sake, here’s my full list in order from best to pretty good (because let’s face it, nothing she writes is bad):

  1. Commonwealth
  2. State of Wonder
  3. Bel Canto
  4. Truth & Beauty 
  5. The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life
  6. The Patron Saint of Liars
  7. The Magician’s Assistant
  8. Run
  9. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (which also contains The Getaway Car)
  10. Taft

Another writer I found insufferable recently (although not in a charming way) was Ottessa Mosfegh. Her interview in The Guardian rubbed me the wrong way. As a matter of fact, I had Eileen on my TBR, but I removed it after reading the interview. The thing is, writers don’t have to be likable. They can be downright unlikable and still be great writers. But I felt like she was insulting her readers, if indirectly, and also other writers, and that doesn’t really work for me. She doesn’t have to do blog book tours or kiss up to anyone, but maybe keep quiet about her contempt. The way I see it is this: plenty of other books on the shelf—plenty of other really good books that were maybe thisclose to being nominated for literary prizes, and Eileen got their spot. I think I’ll read those books instead.

I just started reading All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. We leave for vacation in Amsterdam next Thursday, so I hope to finish that before we go. Of course, that leaves me with the dilemma of what to read on the plane. Last year I tried to listen to audio books. BIG mistake. I fell asleep and missed most everything, so this year I’m sticking with my Kindle. Possible selections are Sara Taylor’s The Shore and Amor Towles’s The Rules of Civility. I always buy a couple of books at The American Book Center to read on the trip hoe and as a souvenir. This year I’ve got my eye on Tana French’s The Trespasser, but the other one’s a wild card. Maybe Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad or Amor Towles’s new one, A Gentleman in Moscow.

I haven’t written in so long, I don’t know if anyone’s still out there…If you are, what’s your favorite Ann Patchett novel? And do you ever decide not to read a book because the author rubs you the wrong way?

Happy Friday, everyone. Enjoy!

Freestyle Friday, 02.20.2015

In the last few weeks I’ve been picking up a lot of short stories (and still staying true to the TBR Double Dog Dare). I have a subscription to One Story, and the issues (which consist, as the title suggests, of one story) have been piling up, so I finally decided to read them all. I think that sort of counts as something from the TBR, yes? I also finally got around to reading Lorrie Moore’s latest collection, Bark. More on that one another time. Right now I’m between books, but I think my next read will either be Skippy Dies or HHhH. I started both of these books last year, and through no fault of theirs set them both aside.

About this time every year I grow tired of all my clothes, but I especially grow tired of my shoes. Why is it so difficult to find cute winter shoes that one can wear with socks? I am not a tall boots person, and I have some black booties and they’re fine, but other than that I typically resort to wearing these old-school New Balance sneakers. I love them but sometimes I want more options than gray sneakers and black boots. Call me crazy. I am amazed at women who can wear ballet flats when it’s colder than, say, 60 degrees outside. That’s a definite no-go for me. I went trolling for some cute loafers or oxfords, but I can’t find anything that doesn’t either look too clunky or too much like I’ve given up on fashion. Also, I have narrow feet, and apparently all shoemakers believe that the only people with narrow feet are nuns over the age of 70. This makes me cranky. I want spring to get here just so I have a few more choices in footwear. Is that so much to ask?

Who’s planning to watch the Oscars? I’ve seen very few of the movies this year. Quite frankly, most of them were too sad for me to work up the energy to go and see them. I loved Birdman (sad) and (of course) The Grand Budapest Hotel (melancholy), so I’ll definitely be rooting for those two. I may manage to get in either Boyhood or The Imitation Game before Sunday. We’ll see. I’ll watch the show for the dresses if for no other reason. At least that’s something cheerful. Or maybe I’ll just give up and watch Guardians of the Galaxy (a.k.a. Burt Macklin in Space) again. (Edited to add: If there were an award for it, Guardians of the Galaxy would also get my vote for Best Mix Tape.)

Even though I’ve been very good about reading from my TBR, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been buying books. I had some leftover Christmas credit on The Site that Shall Not Be Named, so I may have gone a little crazy snatching up titles on sale, including:

Nonconformity: Writing on Writing, Nelson Algren. I bought this one after reading an interview with Sarah Gran where she mentioned it. I’m always on the lookout for good books about writing, not because I follow advice, but because I like any book that expands my thinking about the act (I cannot bring myself to say, “the craft”).

Black Water Rising, Attica Locke. This was on super sale and has been on my wish list since it was published. I’ve read many good reviews of this one, and I’m hoping she’ll be joining my list of favorite women mystery writers (along with Tana French, Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, and Megan Abbott).

After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman. And speaking of favorite female mystery writers, I cannot resist Laura Lippman. She’s one of those authors I always enjoy. I don’t want this to sound like a back-handed compliment, but her books fit the bill for pure entertainment, and I find myself not nitpicking my way through them the way I do sometimes.

Cry Father, Benjamin Whitmer. I’m not sure where I got the idea about this one, but this dark thriller was compared to works by Philip Meyer and Cormac McCarthy, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer. My mother has been telling me about this book forever. I think she reads it twice a year or something. Also, I am probably the last person on earth who hasn’t read it, so there you go.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins. This went on my “Most Wanted” list the minute I heard about it (and not because of the annoying “this year’s Gone Girl” comparisons. It seems like the hype has started to die down and I’ve seen some lukewarm review blurbs (not full reviews, because I am wary of spoilers).

Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke. I loved Kasischke’s novel Suspicious River (fair warning: it’s incredibly dark), and I haven’t read anything else by her in recent years so I thought I’d pick this up.

Best American Short Stories 2014, ed. Jennifer Egan. I used to buy this every year, but I’ve missed several years (like last year’s, edited by Elizabeth Strout). One thing I love about this short story collection is how each editor really takes it in a different direction. One of the best in recent years was Stephen King (although he was a controversial choice), and one of the most disappointing was Alice Sebold (truly a commercial, mediocre writer, she was a terrifically poor choice). So this year it’s Jennifer Egan, and I hope it will be full of interesting selections.

Best American Mystery Stories 2014, ed. Laura Lippman. For those of you who fear the literary short story, this is a great place to get your feet wet. I’ve only been following this collection for the last five years or so, but I’ve been impressed by the quality of the writing overall. And this year’s editor is Laura Lippman, so the stories are bound to be good.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. I was ready to dismiss this as the novel everyone’s talking about but probably isn’t that great, but then I decided to read The Lola Quartet and changed my mind because I love the way she writes.

The Might Have Been, Joseph M. Schuster. I heard an interview with Schuster on NPR a few years ago (I can’t find the link anywhere, but this article on Bloom is quite good) and decided to add it to my list. It’s another book about baseball that isn’t really about baseball (see Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding), and I loved the fact that this is Schuster’s first novel, published when he was 59. It’s never too late, folks.

Have a great weekend!

Freestyle Friday: Are You Going to See Gone Girl?

Gone Girl (Flynn novel).jpgUPDATE: This post does contain spoilers–not plot points or the ending, but information about the characters that might be a tip off.

I am. I am going to go see it. So far, I have only read two reviews. Linda Homes at NPR liked it very much; Manohla Dargis at The New York Times not as much. I don’t really care either way about the reviews—mainly I’m just interested to see how they could turn this book into a movie. I don’t have high expectations, but with Gillian Flynn’s screenplay and David Fincher’s direction, I don’t expect it so suck, either.

The thing that really shocked me was the vitriol in the comments section on the review in The New York Times. Not all of you loved (or even liked) the book. But even with that, I don’t think that many of you would say that Gillian Flynn is a misogynist for creating the character of Amy. That seems to be the consensus on The New York Times. One man in the comments section of Dargis’s review went so far as to say that he would not be surprised if ten years from now he learned that Gillian Flynn had a sex-change operation to become a man, because clearly that’s how much she hates herself and how much she hates women.

Interestingly, most of the comments about Flynn being a misogynist are written by men, but several of the women (and Dargis herself, in her review) point out that Nick almost comes off as sympathetic in the film because of the way it’s structured (apparently Nick’s scenes are all third-person, while Amy’s story is told from her first-person view through voice-over). But let’s face it: if Flynn had made Nick less sympathetic, if she’d made him more of a villain, she’d be called a man-hater, and instead she’d be receiving comments that in ten years, we will be likely to hear that she’s murdered her husband and son because she hates men so much.

I am consistently amazed at the myopic, mean-spirited behavior of some people. It’s perfectly fine not to like a book or movie—there are plenty I don’t like—but to call Flynn a misogynist just smacks of the worst kind of sexism. Guess what? There are some batshit crazy women out there. And there are some men who are real assholes. But if you are a woman, be careful that you only write about…what? What kind of women?

Hang on, let me go ask my husband…

Okay, my husband says women are allowed to write about:

  • Nice mommies
  • Girls who really, really want to get married
  • Girls who really like shoes and shopping
  • Wives of historical figures, as long as we don’t make their husbands look bad

My husband says women are NOT allowed to write about:

  • Mean mommies
  • Girls who want careers and not marriage
  • Girls who don’t want children
  • Girls who do violent things
  • Girls with psychological problems
  • Girls in bad marriages because that might make men look bad

Okay, so we’re all clear on the rules now. We can all go buy some shoes and enjoy our weekends!

Happy Friday.

Freestyle Friday 9.5.2014

I bought two books this week, and I almost bought a third. I know that shouldn’t be a big deal, but I have so many unread books. And then I have this other problem, which is that I bought two novels, when I have this sudden urge to read non-fiction. And then I have yet another problem, which is that I still have a (virtual) stack of review copies to get through, after my summer book request frenzy.

(Oh, you want to know what I bought? Okay.)

Annihilation by jeff vandermeer.jpgThe Shining Girls

(What…now you want to know what I almost bought, but didn’t? Alright.)

allthelight

(Wait. Should I get it?)

Only Lovers Left Alive poster.jpgWe watched not one but two movies last weekend. Lately we seem to be much more into watching television shows. (Our latest is Veep. Very funny. I see now why Julia Louis Dreyfus keeps winning the Emmy.) One I highly recommend is Jim Jarmusch’s The Only Lovers Left Alive, which features Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a married vampire couple. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s warm and hopeful. It also has the best suitcase-packing scene ever.

Palo Alto.jpgThe other movie we watched was Palo Alto. Couple of things on this one: First, this movie is based on James Franco’s short stories, which I haven’t read, but judging by the movie I suspect they are your standard MFA stuff. Second, this movie is directed by Gia Coppola, who is Sofia Coppola’s cousin. I happen to enjoy Sofia Coppola’s films very much, but that doesn’t mean I want to see a knockoff. Emma Roberts basically plays a younger version of Charlotte from Lost in Translation (wardrobe, attitude, all of it, and to be fair, she does a good job), and the movie is full of cinematography meant to evoke melancholy while the airy soundtrack plays in the background, á la The Virgin Suicides. It’s pretty, but better done elsewhere.

I am pretty sure Jillian Michaels is trying to kill me. Well, let me rephrase that: I am pretty sure she’s out to kill anyone who uses her workout videos. Or then again, it could just be that I am out of shape. I’ve been doing her Shred video. It’s only a 20 minute workout, and it combines strength, cardio, and abs. Nonstop. I’ll keep doing these, but I admit I’ll be very happy when Mother Nature realizes it is actually September (and not early August) and decides to cool things down so I can run outside. It’s not the heat itself, but the fact that I spend 10 minutes putting on sunscreen that basically melts off after I’ve been running for 30 seconds.

This week I wrote a review of a book by a well-regarded author. I wasn’t so crazy about the book, and then I read a review of that same book in The Washington Post where the reviewer loved the book. The reviewer made some fine points I agree with and forgot to mention, but overall I still feel sort of meh about it. The thing is, now I feel lame for feeling meh. Does this ever happen to any of you? Do you ever feel bad for not agreeing with a professional reviewer, particularly one you respect? I don’t respect the reviewer any less for liking said book, but I may respect myself less. I’ll post the review next week.

Happy Friday, everyone!

*All images from Wikipedia

Freestyle Friday: 07.18.14

Today’s Freestyle Friday is a short one. I’ve been days off my schedule after our trip to Amsterdam last week. Unfortunately, our reason for traveling did not pan out: my husband was there for a job interview, and although they liked him, they decided they needed someone with more experience specific to the role. The job would have required us to move to Amsterdam, which has been a dream of ours for years and after last weekend has now become a mission. We are disappointed but determined to get there in the next few years.

I’ve got three books awaiting review (The Enchanted, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and Stoner—let me give you the short version of what I plan to say about all three books: They are wonderful. Read them.). I realize that I need to get back into the habit of not letting myself start a new book until I have written a review of the current one (at least as long as I intend to write a review—I don’t always). I’m traveling to Seattle next week, and long plane rides provide ample reading time. As I am in a middle seat going both ways (joy), there is a good chance I won’t have enough space to do much more than operate my tablet. Also, my laptop battery only lasts about three hours, and it’s a five-plus hour flight. Darn! Reading it is.

Today I learned about Kindle Unlimited. I know you all hate Amazon, but it’s taking everything I have not to sign up for a free trial. I admit I am not doing that to protest Amazon. I’m trying not to sign up because I have so many unread books and review copies already, and I don’t need any more temptation. (We all know as I write this that I will be signed up by the end of the day.)

Running. Haven’t been doing it. When I get back from Seattle, I plan to pick up my Sub-65 Minute 10K program. I cannot decide if I should pick up where I left off or start over. I admit that I am less worried about the outcome and more interested in simply having a plan that tells me what to do and when to do it. I made it five weeks last time before travel interrupted.

And with that, I close and bid you all a Happy Weekend!