Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fresh Jennifer Weiner -- just in time for spring

Last week, I went to the library near work on my lunch hour. My main goal was to settle my fines, but of course I looked around. The place is about the size of my living room, so it's a good half-hour break destination. I only got three books, but one of them was the new Jennifer Weiner, Best Friends Forever. I did that one first, since it was a 7-day book, and got it back only one day (or 12 hours, as I prefer to view it) late.

As I've said before, I like Jennifer Weiner a great deal. Like Lisa Jewell, her books are not always terribly deep. They almost invariably meander towards a happy ending, with the heroine getting her man, solving most of her problems, and shaking off the last droplets from the storm of the book before walking into her new, happy, sunny life.

Best Friends Forever is no exception. The heroine of our novel is 33-year-old Addie Downs. She's such an underdog that it's hard not to root for her. Her life, thus far, has been rather sad and dreary. Picked on through all of high school (because she was fat; it wouldn't be a Weiner novel without a character with weight issues), she lost the closeness of her family early on, with her parents both dying during what should have been her freshman year of college. During high school, she also 'lost' her brother in a sense: he was in a terrible car accident and suffered from brain damage. Although he's able to have some semblance of a life, he's not really a companion for Addie.

But in a way, Addie's most devastating loss, the one she truly never got over, was that of her best friend Valerie. Valerie, in high school, was everything that Addie wasn't. Skinny, pretty, popular, well-liked. During their senior year, they had a terrible falling-out and never spoke again...until the beginning of this novel.

The novel mostly takes place in the past. The present-day plot is rather thin: it involves an accident at the class reunion, the lonely, unhappy cop who investigates it (and you know what his real role in the plot is from literally the moment he appears in the story), and the unlikely, unforeseen reunion of Valerie and Addie after fifteen years and a horrible betrayal. But like Jewell, Weiner's characters are enjoyable, her writing is strong, and she paces her stories well. I enjoyed reading something where the female friendship was the primary focus, too.

If you hate Jennifer Weiner, stay the hell away from this one. It probably won't change your mind, but fans will enjoy it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Welcome Spring

I heard this very pretty piece today on NPR. It's titled "Butterfly's Day Out." I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Going for The Gold

Unlike last time, I'm actually trying to make good on posting more. I really, really liked this one, so even though it's not timely anymore, I'm going to answer:

Olympic Reading February 18, 2010

You may have noticed–the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general? Here’s your chance to discuss!

(And for the record? My favorite Olympics book is Joy Goodwin’s The Second Mark which tells the story of the three figure skating pairs involved in the 2002 Salt Lake City controversy. The controversy is actually the smallest part of the story–the fascinating part is learning about the training of the three teams–Canadian, Russian, and Chinese. Just saying. And yes, I AM watching the Olympics on tv each night.)

I totally watched the Olympics on TV. I love them. And the Winter Olympics are my thing, because they have the skating, which I love. In high school, I actually went to the Figure Skating tour -- twice. I got to see all of the 1994 Olympic medal winners in person (except for the guy who won the men's gold, but he sucked anyway). Nancy Kerrigan, Oksana Baiul, Gordeeva and Grinkov, Viktor Petrenko -- I saw them all.

I kind of got out of it after that. In college, I didn't have access to a TV, so I couldn't watch the world championships and keep up. In 1998, I was in England, and they just didn't seem to show very much, plus they had an even more extreme time zone issue than America did (I think I saw 5 minutes of curling one night after I came home from the bars). But this last Olympics has gotten me back into it. There were so many outstanding performances, and I'm still extremely pissed about NBC's piss-poor coverage of the championship gala.

Anyway...books about the Olympics. I've read a couple. I want to read more, and was excited to hear about the figure skating book referenced in this question. I read a very comprehensive one, titled The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games by Allen Guttman. I also read a more specific one, Nazi Games. I selected these basically by figuring out where the library kept their sports books and wandering over there to see what they had.

The Olympics are definitely not without their flaws. Dave zirin, at Edge of Sports on the sidebar, hates them. But I can't help but love them. They've spawned such a fascinating history, too, such an interesting way to look at world events that they're terrific to read about as well as watch.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Missing Out

The title of this post reflects both its subject matter, and how I felt after cruising over to the BTT blog, a place I haven't been for about four weeks. There were some excellent topics, some that I just may have to revisit. I picked the one that I liked the most to work on today:

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”

I don't have kids, but I have to confess that I don't fully understand the concept of "a non-reader." Especially since I live in the north, where it's cold for a good portion of the year. What do non-readers do with themselves? I'm very glad I've been a reader all my life, because unlike many other hobbies, books will always be there for me. At a certain age, I was too old to play with my dollhouse. Kids who are into a lot of sports will age out of them at different rates, too, plus many sports require either a certain setup (like ice hockey, gymnastics and swimming) or at least the presence of quite a few others who also want to play (baseball, football, lacrosse).

So I don't know what I'll do if my kids don't want to read. If I have any, which I'm still undecided about, I'll do everything in my power to get them into it. My parents read to me quite literally from the time I was a baby. By the time I was 3 or 4, I could read well enough to read things to the NEW baby (there are pictures. Seriously). There were always books around, and I was never barred from reading any of them (leading to a few "Grandma, what's an erection?" moments, that were probably worse for the adults involved than they were for me).

But when I encounter a person that doesn't want to read, or doesn't read often, I do enjoy trying to find them things. My boyfriend is a prime example. He had a learning disability, back in the days when there really wasn't such a thing. Back when we were growing up, there were the regular kids, the smart kids, the "retards" whom we were not to call that and who we only saw on their way to eat lunch -- through the window of course, since they ate early and alone; and then there were the dumb kids. The kids where it was OK to say to their faces that they weren't college material, and that they were dumb as sheetrock. One cannot help but internalize a little bit of this.

But, he does read now. After we saw "The Fellowship of the Ring," he went out and bought all three of the books, plus "The Hobbit" and "The Silmarillion." He finished the trilogy plus one in about three weeks time. Several years later, he's still only halfway through "The Silmarillion," but I understand most people don't even make it that far. He liked the Eragon books, and right now he's working on a novel about Arthas, the chief villian of World of Warcraft.

Most of my attempts to find him something have failed. He couldn't get into the His Dark Materials trilogy. He won't pick up Harry Potter, even though he quizzes me about the plot points for about an hour after each movie. I've finally figured out that he likes "high fantasy," so I'm going to get him some Ursula LeGuin after he finishes the book about Arthas. I think it's just a matter of finding what the person might like, as long as they're receptive to it.