Category Archives: Books

Just Call Me Elaine Who Couldn’t Understand The Appeal Of The English Patient. Because That’s Me When It Comes To The Hunger Games.

Just call me Elaine. From Seinfeld. You know, the episode when she just doesn’t understand all the hoopla around The English Patient.

I don’t get the frenzy around The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I wanted to like it. I truly did. It was our book club’s latest pick and I really wanted to be able to go to the next meeting and contribute. I started it. I re-started it. I resorted to skimming. But I hated it. Meanwhile, everyone is “replying to all” and saying “Don’t you just love this month’s pick?” and “I stayed up until 4am to finish it. I couldn’t put it down!” and “I’m already finished with the second one in the series!”

There’s more?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

The premise of the book centers around a post-apocalyptic world in which a boy and a girl, ages 12 – 18, are chosen by lottery from each of the surrounding 12 districts to compete in a fight to the death televised event in which there may be only one survivor. Oooooo. A futuristic novel where the life of a human being is no longer valued. Death and destruction become entertainment. The joy of the primitive hunt.

Been there. Done that.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King.)

The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Loosely based on the book of the same name by Stephen King under his pseudonym Richard Bachman.)

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell.

And in my research, I discovered the book is deemed eerily similar to the Japanese cult franchise, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami , so much so that fans of Battle Royale are crying plagiarism.

A young adult novel about mass murder as entertainment. And a society that stands for it? Call me Pollyanna, but I’m uncomfortable with a novel that involves prostitution, sadistic torture, encourages suicide and murder and calls itself a young adult novel. I realize it is fiction. And I know the readers of the novel realize this, too. But as far as I could tell, there were no moral lessons learned other than survival will be paramount in the distant future. But why? It’s not a world I would like to live in.

And then there was the mass email that said, “The movie is coming out this month! We should all go! Let’s plan on it!”

Uh-oh.

How do I get out of that one?

 

12 Comments

Filed under Books

Jane Reads: This Beautiful Life

Like most of you, I love to read. I think that’s true for most of us who write. As a mother, it’s difficult for me to find time to read. With young children at home (I hesitate to say small as #1son just jumped two shoes sizes in the past 5 months. Yes. I said, two sizes!) my reading time is limited. But when I stumble onto something that grabs my attention, pulls me in and won’t let me go until I finish? I’m going to want to share it with all of you.

This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman, is a compelling story of a young teen who receives an illicit video email from a girl who has crush on him. He is stunned, conflicted and confused. With a click of a mouse, he forwards the email to his best friend – a friend with whom he shares everything.  A modern-day telephone game ensues and the video goes viral.

Privacy issues, family dynamics, social posturing in an upper class New York society are tossed together in a mixed-up tale questioning the boundaries we cross daily with our internet use. This story fascinated me as I wrestle with how public and transparent my own daughter seems to be on Facebook. I’ve had to ask her, repeatedly, to be careful with the pictures she posts of her little brothers. I typically get the eye-roll and a toss of the head. Feeling “square” I try to see it from her perspective but always come back to the same uneasy feelings that somehow our family privacy no longer exists in the click of a mouse internet age.

Helen Schulman is a compelling writer. I did get a little annoyed with meandering fluff sections and the use of profanity in descriptive, third person passages. I’m not against profanity use. I watch Dexter for goodness sake and have to check my own f-word use after watching an episode. But it seemed out of place (as if the narrator was trying to be as “hip” as her character) and seemed better suited to appear in actual dialogue. But I really enjoyed the way the story progressed from a different character perspective with each turn of the page. The frustration of the bread winning father, the shame and embarrassment of the son, the mom, barely coping with her new role as social outcast and the raw innocence of the 6-year-old daughter. A family divided in reaction and coping skills yet united in this internet tragedy.

This book doesn’t provide instant answers to the boundary hopping game the ease of the internet has given us. But it does push the reader to question personal boundaries and our comfort levels when we put ourselves out on the internet for all the world to see – whether we intend for the whole world to see us or not.

And what about our children and what we teach them is appropriate to share of themselves? For me, I’ve realized my own lazy internet parenting with my daughter and has me re-thinking how we’ll handle the computer with our sons.

I’m reminded of a New Adventures of Old Christine episode. Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) realizes that she just clicked send on a scathing email intended for her friend but sent instead, to her boss. She races down the cord of the laptop and yanks it out of the wall. Then breathes a sigh of relief. And her brother remarks, “Yep. I’m sure you stopped it.”

With a click of a mouse, your whole world can change.

And there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

9 Comments

Filed under Books

See, Hollywood? Even My Kids See The Difference Between A Book and Your Movie.

One of my favorite things about having kids is that I can relive the favorites from my own childhood. Especially books.

We’re readers in this family. And my boys love that magical 1/2 hour before bedtime when we read a book together. I couldn’t wait for my boys to have the attention span for me to read “chapter books” to them. The Borrowers. The Hobbit. Superfudge.

And Beezus and Ramona.

They loved Beezus and Ramona and I was thrilled. I was afraid that because it was about two sisters they might call it a “girls” book. But they didn’t. They loved Ramona’s antics (just like #2son) and Beezus’ exasperation (just like #1son.) It was a perfect fit – despite the gender difference.

The movie came out and they begged me to take them. I saw the trailer and I had my doubts. As adorable as Selena Gomez and Joey King appeared – it seemed a bit modern and a little off the track. I didn’t recognize the antics portrayed on the commercial. And with Selena Gomez’s popularity, I was afraid the theater would be packed with girls. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just acutely aware of #1son’s phobia of being associated with anything girly. (It’s just a stage. I know.)

So, I taped it. Or DVR’d it. (Whatever we’re calling it these days.)

It was a lazy, summer afternoon. We had swim practice in the morning and baseball at night. The afternoon was spent out of the sun and resting for the next activity. (Them, resting. Me? Housework.)

“Mom! Can we watch Ramona and Beezus?”

“Sure,” I answer, a bit dejectedly. I had wanted to watch it with them but I was under the gun to wash baseball uniforms.

I hear the catchy theme song in the background. I hear a giggle. I figure as soon as I pull the next load out of the dryer I’ll fold clothes in the family room and watch it with them.

But by the time I: sort through 3 hampers, feed the cat, gather 4 full loads of dirty clothes (by color), trip over the dog, transfer one load from the washer to the dryer, and grab the laundry basket towering with unfolded clothes? They’re watching Phineas and Ferb.

“What happened to Ramona and Beezus?” I ask.

“It was way different from the book,” says #2son, “We didn’t like it.”

“Yeah,” #1son adds, “The book was way better!”

See, Hollywood?

You needn’t mess with perfection.

 
 

10 Comments

Filed under Books, children

It’s True. Mother Nature Is Out To Get Us.

Remember a few months ago when I was talking about this book….

and how I couldn’t sleep after I read it?

To refresh your memory, it is yet another apocalyptic tome about evil terrorists who immobilize the entire electrical grid in the US (because all Americans are evil, of course). A high altitude nuclear bomb is set off and unleashes an electromagnetic pulse that paralyzes the United States. Death and destruction ensue. For over a year. The forward and afterword are written by a politician and a U.S. Captain in the Navy, telling us that this is a book describing not if these horrors will happen, but when, justifying their cause to get tough with terrorists.

Well.

I was listening to the news this morning.

And the book was right. It can happen. It probably will happen. But not by some evil dictator.

Oh no.

But by this cheerful, little guy.

Solar flares. They’re common. They happen all the time. But the big ones? The really, really huge solar flares? Happen about once a century. And we’re overdue.

Way overdue.

Scientists predict that the last really big one happened about 150 years ago. And because the only electrical-type system being used at the time was a telegraph, it only mildly paralyzed the area affected.

But today? When our very existence is dependent on electrical power? According to the scientist being interviewed, a really big one could paralyze an entire area (and we’re talking really big areas – like continents) for at best, a few months, most probably a year or more.

Are you kidding me? An evil terrorist I can deal with. (Well, two months ago I couldn’t deal with it but when you compare it to an act of nature, I can.) I can pray for a change of heart. I can send them love and light. But the sun? The whimsical, unpredictable flurries of the sun? Are you freakin’ kidding me?

I should just throw in the towel and start makin’ my sign.

This is so depressing.

I’m going back to bed.

22 Comments

Filed under Books, nature

When the Apocalypse Comes I Know Where to Run

I enjoy science fiction. Let me clarify. Really good, classic or soon-to-be classic science fiction. I’m talking H. G. Wells, Issac Asimov, Ray Bradbury kind of science fiction.

It all started with Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” And then it was short stories by Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. Or “Dune” or “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Even “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I was hooked.

And I liked that while most of what I read seemed so very real, it wasn’t – really. After all, it was science fiction.

And then a friend lent me “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen. I knew, a chapter in, that I probably shouldn’t finish it. I knew it would be disturbing. I resented the scare tactic forward by Newt Gingrich and the “Not If It Will Happen But When Will It Happen” afterward by Captain Bill Sanders of the US Navy. I’m not convinced that this is a classic in the making. It’s an easy, straight forward read, sure. Yet there is not much depth to the writing style.  There are some (hopefully) typos.

But intriguing? Yes.

Captivating? Yes.

Like a nasty car wreck on the side of the road, I couldn’t NOT look. I finished it in two sittings. And when I finished? I was glad I hadn’t read it just before bedtime.

But almost seven hours after finishing it, I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t help wondering if, God forbid, my children or even I might experience something this horrific in my lifetime.

When I was in my teens, AIDS was being realized as more than just a “gay disease.” I remember talking to my dad and asking what was the point of bringing more children into such a depressing world. My father smiled and said, “In my day, it was polio. In yours, it’s AIDS. For your children, it will be something else. Life always finds a way to move on.”

So, upon finishing “One Second After” I think, OK. It was “War of the Worlds” back in the 50′s. Today, it is “One Second After.” For my children? Something else?

Apocalyptic thinking is not my style. I don’t have canned goods, bottled water and ammo in my basement. But this book has me thinking I should.

And then I shake some good sense back in my head.

I can not live a life based on fear. I can’t plot each day, imagining each horrible scenario that could be avoided and take the proper precautions.

But I wear a seatbelt. I have insurance. I take my vitamins.

What is reasonable preparation for the worst and what is going overboard?

Bomb shelters in the 50′s. Preparedness or overboard?

My brother-in-law with stock piles of water, canned goods and ammo in his basement? Is he prepared or just crazy?

Well, at least I know where to run should the apocalypse come.

23 Comments

Filed under Books

Aidan Donnelley Rowley: The Process, The Journey, The Yes!

One of our very own became a published author yesterday. Aidan Donnelley Rowley, author of “Life After Yes.” Oooo, my heart did a little jump. And why? I hardly know her. But then, many times when I read her blog (Ivy League Insecurities) or she leaves a comment or sends an email, I feel like we are long-lost friends, keeping in touch through the convenience of the internet.

I discovered Aidan through her blog a few months after I began my own. I was immediately taken with her philosophical musings. Her lyrical phrasing. When she shared with us the excitement of having her book published I was instantly caught up in the joy. She was kind enough to share her thoughts on the process, the journey and the yes.

 1. Tell the truth, is this your very first attempt at publishing a novel?

 Yes, this was and is my first attempt at publishing a novel. I will say that I took my time with Life After Yes, starting it immediately after leaving my job at the law firm and working on it, on and off, for over three years before seeking an agent. I must add that I welcomed my two little girls during that time, so I was not a complete slacker! :)

 2. Many authors talk about books “writing themselves.” Did you have a plan or outline or did LAY write itself?

 I had no outline for Life After Yes, but I did have a vague plan in my mind for how the story would evolve. There were certainly parts of the book that “wrote themselves”; I would sit there for hours on end in my local Starbucks pounding away at the keyboard and then be amazed to have a dozen pages wherein my characters did things I never predicted they would.

3. What was the greatest challenge bringing your novel to life?

 Frankly, I – and I imagine most authors – faced many challenges in bringing my novel to life. Among the biggest were time and confidence. As a mother of two young girls, it was hard to find adequate time to sit down and focus and write. And it continues to be very hard for me to justify spending time away from them which writing a novel patently entails. And confidence. There were so many points during the writing process where I was plagued by doubts, where I convinced myself that my story would never cut it. Once I realized that it didn’t matter, that I loved to write and that completing the story – no matter its fate – was my goal, things really came together.

 4. What is the best advice you can give hopeful authors?

 Just write. Allow your first drafts to be terrible. Tease out your voice. Take writing classes. Don’t mimic. Be willing to fail. Be willing to succeed.

 5. What books have most influenced you?

 My favorite book of all time is Charlotte’s Web. This book plays an important role in Life After Yes and has continued to be a big influence in my life. There are so many things about this book that speak to me  – the simple and stunning nature of its prose, the universality of its lessons about life and love and loss, the commingling sweetness and sadness at its core.

 6. Writer’s Block. How have you overcome it?

 Blogging. Before I started my blog Ivy League Insecurities, I dealt with writer’s block by not writing. I would only write when I felt a particularly compelling urge and when the sentences flowed freely. The result was that there would be large chunks of time – weeks and months – when I wouldn’t write a word. Not good. The discipline of blogging and keeping to a schedule of posting five times a week has kept my literary juices flowing. The problem now is trying to find a balance between blog writing and book writing…

 7. You are a mother of two adorable little girls and a wife to a devoted husband. How did you balance time for your family and time to write?

 Looking back over the past few years, I feel good about how I balanced things between my family and my writing. I have been able to be a very hands-on mom and present wife while also being productive professionally. But – and it is a bit but –never once did I feel like I was doing a good job at balancing these things in the moment. Each and every day, I worry that I am neglecting something or someone in the existential equation of my life. I am just now realizing that this is par for the course and that balance is something of an enigma.

 8. Describe the perfect day for writing.

 The perfect day for writing is one that is busy and full of other good things – time with friends and family – but full of bits of time where I can sit down – in my office, or at a coffee shop – and bang out a blog post or a few pages of a manuscript. I do better with fitting writing into the cracks of my days – early mornings, between commitments, late at night – than I do with the open expanse of an entire day.

 9. If you could have a “do over” for anything involving the writing/publishing process for LAY what would it be?

 Good question. Tough question. I can honestly say – and know that this is before publication so I might feel differently even days from now – that I have been genuinely happy with how everything has gone with the publication process. There have been bumps. Of course. I struggled a bit with the title choice and cover choice, but I sit here now (yes, at Starbucks!) clutching my rookie novel and it is gorgeous and has the perfect title and perfect cover so it is all worth it. One thing I do wish is that I was able to enjoy the process a bit more. That I was able to worry a bit less. That I was able to control my insecurities a bit better. But, alas. I am here. And it’s a good place to be :)

(Leave your comment below by Saturday, May 22 at 6:00am EST for a chance to receive a brand new, hot off the presses copy of “Life After Yes!”)

(Kristen, at Motherese, hosts an online book club. The next selection is “Life After Yes!” It begins the week of May 31st. For more information, click here. See you there!)

14 Comments

Filed under Books, friends, People

If You Loved The Guernsay Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society Don’t Read Any Further. I’m About To Ruin It For You.

Everyone has been agog over the debut novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I’ve noticed many of you in Blog World have read it and loved it. I have friends (and a sister) who have recommended it. I finally picked it up.

And I hate it.

Oh. It is a lovely story. It has lovely writing. It’s just that I’ve read it before.

Has anyone out there read 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff? No? A charming, engaging, wonderful novel first published in 1970. It was then re-created for stage and film, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. (But don’t see the film. As wonderful as it is, as wonderful as Bancroft and Hopkins are – the book is so much better.)

The similarities between these two novels is jarring. Distracting, even. So much so, that I’m beginning to resent Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows for borrowing so much from a book so loved. A book published a mere 40 years ago. (Did I just say ‘mere’? Oh, man, am I old!)

Similar plots. Universal themes. I totally get that authors borrow from the classics. But they borrow the “boy meets girl, girl plays hard to get, boy wins girl in the end” kinds of plots. Or the universal themes of love conquering all or good beating out evil. The general idea. Not specifics.

Here. I’ll show you what I mean.

84 Charing Cross Road - post World War II, focuses on a time period of lacking, wanting and re-building, a main character who is an outspoken, female accomplished writer, a protagonist who is so inspired by the people on the other end of the postal line that her life is changed forever, written in correspondence style between (mainly) a woman and a man with an underlying hint that they feel a bit more than a platonic kinship, they are brought together based on their love of books, they share the difficulties of their lives, they try to help each other, they attempt to meet.

 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - post World War II, focuses on a time period of lacking, wanting and re-building, a main character who is an outspoken, female accomplished writer, a protagonist who is so inspired by the people on the other end of the postal line that her life is changed forever, written in correspondence style between (mainly) a woman and a man with an underlying hint that they feel a bit more than a platonic kinship, they are brought together based on their love of books, they share the difficulties of their lives, they try to help each other, they attempt to meet. (embarrassing note: I did not think to copy and paste. I actually re-typed the entire description. What an idiot I am. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, after all.)

See any similarities?

Oh, sure. There are differences. But not enough to keep me reading. I’m so annoyed at the flagrant plagiarism of a style/content/idea – I just can’t. And I am surprised that I’m the only one to think so.

Ahhhh, but I’m not.

“But most distressing of all, it borrows heavily from the truly original style and humor of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.” Amazon review.

And there are many other reviews out there that point to this similarity (just not quite as negatively as I do): “with an obvious wink to the classic 84 Charing Cross Road“, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is going to be this year’s 84, Charing Cross Road” (gag me), “marvelous debut…. Reminiscent of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road” (gag me with spoon, reminiscent?!), “Told in epistolary form this book is comparable to 84 Charing Cross Road“, “Comparisons to 84, Charing Cross Road are common and also well-deserved” – You get the point.

If you haven’t read 84 Charing Cross Road and you never will, then The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will be a wonderful book. But if you’ve read TGLAPPPS and now you’re intrigued and want to read 84 Charing Cross Road? I’m afraid you may be disappointed. And that is sad. Because 84 Charing Cross Road was here first.

21 Comments

Filed under Books