30 June 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (#29)

I bought The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane because I was attracted to the cover, I was intrigued by the story, and I was really excited that the author was a graduate student - it gives me hope that, not only are there other people out there in my situation, but other things can be accomplished while working on the dissertation.

The main character is also a graduate student, and the book opens with her qualifying exams. Something that I remember well - though in my department they were called Prelim exams, the oral portion was still pretty terrifying.

The thing that I loved about Connie - the protagonist - is that her grad-student-ness is really believable. Even though I don't completely agree with every way that she is presented, particularly when she talks about how she and her roommate lived off a free cheese plate from a department meeting for a week. That's a bit of an exaggeration, at least in my experience, because I've always had a teaching job (though, of course, I'm sure that Cambridge is a more expensive place to live than Madison, so I'll give it to her). It's clear that Howe is also enmeshed in that world. I also really appreciated Connie's finely-honed skill of research. It's something that is often overlooked by people who don't understand the life of a graduate student, but is one of our most marketable qualities. 

Somehow, the even less-than-plausible aspects of this book were still believable, and the way that they were presented made them that way. I still won't go into great detail, but I think this was one of the better books I've read this summer, and maybe even this year. I was pleased to see that the characters were all presented as strong people, and I thought that the relationship between Connie and her mother, Grace, was really honest and complicated; I also liked the relationship between Connie and her best graduate student friend and roommate, Liz.  

Definitely recommend this book.

Overall, 4.25 out of 5.

24 June 2010

The Big Shaggy, or Heart

A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in the New York Times that talked about the benefits of studying the Humanities (which I do) and also discussed something he called "The Big Shaggy." I've honestly been thinking about it ever since then.

It got me thinking about the idea of heart, especially in light of some of the most recent World Cup matches.

I saw heart in Landon Donovan, in the 91st minute, after he made that goal - and in my husband, who was more enthusiastic about a soccer match than I had seen him about any sports even recently. Since soccer has so few goals, typically, and in this match there was only the one goal, it makes for just the most electric moment. It's something that permeates through the crowd, like the sound of the vuvuzela.

I saw heart, passione, in the Italians today. Sadly, it was too late. Today, in the wake of the heartbreaking loss to Slovakia, Marcello Lippi blamed himself for his team's early exit (you can read an article about it here). Of course, I would point to the fact that Totti and Del Piero retired from the national team, and especially that Buffon was injured and wasn't tending goal. I think that if the team had been able to rally before the 81st minute - because they DID rally and they were on FIRE for those last minutes of the game - things could have been different.

And, heart? Big shaggy heart? How about Isner and Mahut? They played that monumental set in Wimbeldon, playing for two days straight? They showed heart.

I hope that the American team keeps this level of heart for Saturday - and beyond, because I think that the heart they played with has the opportunity to really take them far.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden (#28)

I received this as an advanced reading book, and even though it took me a while to get around to reading it - my dissertation proposal draft was handed in last week and my TBR list keeps growing - I thoroughly enjoyed Helen Grant's first novel.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, once you get past the really wordy title, is somewhat mystery, somewhat realistic, somewhat portrait of what life can be like in a small town - in this case, in Germany at the end of the twentieth century. I don't want to give too much away, because I thought it was an easy read, enjoyable book, at times mystery and at times psychological. My one complaint was that I wasn't completely pleased with the very ending of the book - I liked the way that the story tied up but wasn't thrilled with the complete aftermath - I don't think it was technically an epilogue but that part of the book that was most epilogue-ish.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the use of German words - they aren't glossed in the text, though they can both usually be determined from the context and there is a glossary presented at the end of the novel. I appreciate Grant's decision, and I also think that she assumes the reader will take the time to look up the words in the glossary.  I don't always think to look up the words, because it stops the flow of the reading and breaks my concentration. But it gave a sense of authenticity to the book, since it's set in Germany and, for some readers, it can be difficult to remember that when reading in English.  

I would recommend the book without hesitation; it comes out in August. 

23 June 2010

22 June 2010

Ten Things for Tuesday

1. Tonight I had dinner with one of my very favorite people and our moms. Love them. Hope it becomes a monthly tradition.
2. I'm loving iOS4 - and now I don't feel like I need to get an iPhone 4.
3. I really want to see Toy Story 3. Hoping for this weekend!
4. I think that Netflix on the Wii is pretty awesome.
5. I actually miss the hilarity of the high school English papers - is this a sign?
6. I have two books to review for my blog. But I'm not doing it.
7. I'm trying to eat less meat. Just because.
8. I miss living in Madison, but am really glad to be so close to our families and to my oldest friends, especially Courtney.
9. I turned in a draft of my dissertation proposal today.
10. Done is better than good.

21 June 2010

Monday Musings: e-readers

I go back and forth on the whole concept of the e-reader. I have a much earlier post called "Where I hope technology will fail." And now I'm contemplating getting one - I know, right? I still hope the e-reader isn't the death of the book, but at the same time I don't really think that anything will ever completely replace that whole feeling of opening a book, and going to the bookstore. Finding new authors. The smell of books, especially old ones. Getting an actual autograph inside a book. Love, love, LOVE all of those things.

But what about academic books? Or books that I wouldn't spend much money on? I feel like, if I had an e-reader, and there was a book that I was on the fence about, or that I knew I wouldn't probably read again, it would be good to have. It would also be really good for academic articles, or so I hear.

So, that brings me to the current dilemma:

Kindle, iPad or nook? 

The thing I like about the nook is the ability to share books, and it's really the only thing that I like the most about it. I think that color touch screen is cool, but I'm not overwhelmingly impressed by it. The note-taking is somewhat tedious, because the keyboard is on the touch screen.

The things - there are two - that I don't like about the Kindle are the lack of sharing and the fact that you can't try a working model in a store before you buy it (yes, they SELL it at Target now - which I like - but it's not functional so I can't fiddle around with it, and even though the girl I was talking to about the nook at Barnes & Noble was pretty daffy, I could still play with it, which was nice). I like the two sizes (and, if I'm going to make the investment, maybe the bigger one is actually worth it?). I like the little tactile keyboard, even thought the letters are really small it's easier to type with buttons; I think it would be easier to use with both hands. I really like the note-taking feature on the Kindle (at least, on the iphone app, which I just discovered how to use).

Their libraries are similar; though the girl at BN pointed out to me that they have exclusive rights with some publishers, the Amazon free library is more comprehensive. I really like the e-ink technology, I think that it's a pretty cool concept. I like the super-long battery life.

My biggest problem with the Kindle and the nook is something that they share, which is exclusivity. I can't buy a book on BN.com and use it on a Kindle; I can't buy a book on amazon.com and use it on a nook. I can't buy a book in iBooks and use it on either one of them. I think that, honestly, if I could buy an electronic book from wherever I wanted and use it on my e-reader, I would've already bought one. Amazon, can you open up an amazon.it already? That would probably push me over the edge. I also read somewhere that amazon will convert academic articles into Kindle-readable documents in five minutes - is that true?

Which brings me to the iPad. I love - and don't love - the iPad. I don't love the back-lit screen - if I wanted to read on the computer all day, I would. I don't love the short battery life (compared to the other e-readers). I get it, iPad, you're a computer, but you need to work on your longevity. I don't love the fact that I can't use Word on it - seriously, can you just develop that? I don't love the whole pay-$30-per-month-for-3G - especially since AT&T service blows - but would it be a waste to get the wi-fi only model? I don't love the price - at $489 for the smallest model, it's almost twice the price of both the nook and the 6" Kindle (but just a bit more than the 9.7" Kindle). Oh, and I love me a touch screen. If Kindle had a touch-screen, I'd be all over it.

I do, however, love the fact that I can download a Kindle app and a nook app and read books from any of them on the iPad by opening their application. And I do kind of love the fact that it is also a functional computer and I can do word-processing on it.

In conclusion:
nook: pretty, but aside from its random monopolies with certain publishers, I think its main selling point is that it has the in-store support.
Kindle: my favorite of the e-readers, but I don't like that I can't just buy books wherever I want them. Also, meager selection of international titles.
iPad: good offerings of both kindle and nook apps, but battery life and excessive monthly charges make me hesitant to buy it.

My question to you is, do you have one of them? What have you found so far? Which would you recommend?

20 June 2010

The Surgeon (#27)

I read The Surgeon for book group. The murder-mystery is pretty straightforward - it has some twists and turns, but is overall a bit predictable. The premise for the novel is this: a serial killer is attacking women in Boston, and he bears a strong resemblance to a similar serial killer who was working five years ago in Georgia, but was killed by his fifth - and surviving - victim.

The work is gory, and definitely a page-turner. I read it in a couple of days, and I really felt like I was reading a trashy summer novel. Which is exactly what it was.

The whole time that I was watching it, I kept feeling like I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds. Or even a very-special episode of Law & Order SVU, where they involve people from different jurisdictions. It followed the standard format for a CM episode, and I found myself wanting to skim over the narration because it felt like I would be able to watch this episode any time.

Gerritsen did a good job providing insight into the serial killer's point of view, and I definitely appreciated the serial killer's unexpected personality profile. The writing had a good pace, but I just wasn't able to get attached to any of the somewhat flat characters or into the story, which I felt I would be able to predict about halfway into the book.

So, good summer reading, but I'm glad that I borrowed the mass-market copy from someone.

I give it a 2.5 out of 5.

16 June 2010

On Ulysses, on Bloomsday

Ulysses is the story of these men 
and their experiences on one day, 16 June 1904.
(images via Ulysses "seen")

Now, every year on June 16th, people in Dublin act out the odysseys of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, bringing the novel to life. It's a tradition, one that is steeped in literary history. 

Always on the list of "Best Books" and clocking in at over 300,000 words, Ulysses remains one of the most daunting and brilliant novels of all time. While it is extremely difficult to get through, it's also extremely rewarding. I read it in a graduate seminar, and we spent almost eight weeks on it. And we still felt like we needed more time. But it's beautiful and brilliant and when you're reading it, you can tell you're reading something important. Even if you don't always understand what is going on.

Ulysses is, of course, an adaptation of The Odyssey, but it's also the story of Modern Man, Modern Dublin and Modernity. 

If you're interested in learning more about Ulysses, here are two lovely places to do it:
Ulysses "seen" - a graphic adaptation of the work. Only completed through "Telemachus" but it has the makings of greatness.
re:Joyce - Frank Delaney's recent project, podcasts dedicated to various episodes in Ulysses. This project just started, and will finish for Bloomsday next year.

Just to help, I'm also going to offer "Ulysses in 39 words"
          I: Buck concelebrates                    II: Stephen educates                    III: Stephen cogitates
       IV: Bloom evacuates                       V: Bloom exfoliates                    VI: Bloom commiserates
      VII: Crawford prevaricates           VIII: Bloom masticates                   IX: Stephen explicates
        X: Dublin perambulates                XI: Boylan adulterates                 XII: the citizen co-agitates
    XIII: Gerty titillates                        XIV: Mina parturiates                    XV: Bella emasculates
    XVI: a sailor exaggerates              XVII: Our heroes micturate        XVIII: Molly menstruates

This comes from a postcard that I picked up in Dublin at the James Joyce Centre.

Ulysses is something that everyone should read.
It is on those lists for a reason.
It changed literature. Completely.
It changed me, too.

11 June 2010

You know it's winter...

...when I start watching Elf every other day and calling myself a "cotton headed ninny muggins" - okay, I do that anyway and I'm also aware of the fact that it isn't winter. But this is BIG, RELEVANT NEWS!

Today I read this article on the NYTimes that said, essentially, that they are bringing two of my favorite things and rolling them into one big example of wintery goodness! That's right, they're making Elf into a musical!

Get excited! I'd list off my favorite lines here, but I'm working and literally took a five minute break to check something out on the internet and I can barely contain myself.

10 June 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (#26)

I bought this book while in Ireland on my honeymoon - though it would be released in the US a week or so later, I couldn't wait and was super excited to read this before my friends. So I've chosen to include the European cover.

The final in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest was probably the most daunting of the series, both to read and, I imagine, for Larsson to write. I love love LOVE the whole series of books, and I can't believe how amazing the Swedish film was, and I fear the day that they announce Brad Pitt to be playing the role of Blomkvist in the American adaptation. It will just ruin it.

So, what can be said about the characters and the concept that hasn't already been said? Nothing. So, to jump into the last of the trilogy, I will say that biggest flaw I found with the book was that it got a little rough to get through around the middle of the book. Like the first books, I remember thinking that there was too much of parallel plots happening, and waiting for the plots to cross-over and reveal what the whole point of the book was. So, that happened with this book, but this book seemed like an actual tome beacause of its 700+ pages.  Once I was able to get over that hurdle, however, the book was, like the rest of the trilogy, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, and psychological, all while being wonderfully written and consistent in style with the previous books. The characters grow throughout each of the books, and I love that there aren't a plethora of irrelevant characters being introduced in each of the books. 

Well done, Mr. Larsson, and it's unfortunate that none of us will get the chance to read any more of your works. 

Overall, I give the book a 4.5 (out of 5).

07 June 2010

A Tribute to Direction

Over the weekend I went with my husband and my parents to Del Mar for the wedding of one of my favorite cousins, and got to spend some time with some of my other favorite cousins and family members. The wedding was really beautiful, the reception was lovely (and the food was delicious), the rehearsal dinner was a really nice party. We went to my Aunt's house on Sunday morning for a coffee before driving back up to Orange County, and it was a really nice moment to reflect on the weekend. But one thing stood out for me more than the other things.

Just over ten years ago, in September of 1999, I attended the funeral of my uncle Marco, an amazing, loving, vivacious person who affected the lives of everyone around him. He had been a professor of Political Science in San Diego for many years, and he just had the ability to light up a room and infect it with a sense of joy. He died really unexpectedly and it really affected me. I felt like I was kind of in a funk - I was a senior in high school and I was having trouble figuring out what I wanted to do with myself.  Everything was feeling rote and like I was just an automaton - wait, that's not completely accurate. I wasn't depressed or anything, I was just feeling uninspired.

Anyway. It was at his funeral that I really, truly realized what I wanted to do with my life, and found the direction that, until then, I had been missing. We were sitting at the funeral, and I looked around, and there were so many people there, people he had really inspired and affected. It moved me. With college applications on the horizon, I scrapped whatever poor writing sample I had been preparing until that point and re-wrote my essay about how inspiring he was, and how much I wanted to have an impact like him. I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but it was clearly heartfelt, because here I am ten years later and I'm working on making it happen.

During the wedding and the reception, he was mentioned during toasts and prayers and I almost started to cry each time, or I started to tear up thinking about it. I'm starting to tear up now, actually, but that's neither here nor there.

As we sat on their porch on Sunday morning, drinking coffee and reminiscing about the wedding, my Aunt sat down and asked me how my dissertating was coming along; I did my usual bob-and-weave answer, and she asked me more pointed questions that would be difficult to avoid, so we had a nice chat about my progress and topic and she told me about her experiences dissertating and, all of a sudden, it struck me that not only had I not heard from my advisor in ages, no one had asked me about my progress for a while, and not just because I try to skirt the issue whenever it comes up. It's because no one here has really been through it - it's not their fault, they just don't know what to ask and I don't like to have to continually explain my process.  So I've stopped being open about what is happening with my progress because, in explaining the different things that I have to do (on the long timeline, not immediately), it can really stress me out.

But I digress. What I took out of that weekend visit was that I remembered Marco, and I remembered how important he was in helping me find my way, and I felt all reinvigorated to finish my proposal sooner rather than later, and I'm just hoping to finish it next week. That's the plan, at least.

As tributes go, I can't mention his professional accomplishments or anything along those lines, because they are beyond the scope of my knowing Marco. I knew him as an uncle, a gregarious, insightful and kind man who helped me find my direction. Twice.

01 June 2010

Little Bee (#25)

Does it seem like I've fallen off the reading wagon? I haven't, I assure you. But I've been really preoccupied with my dissertation proposal, my sister-in-law's wedding, my honeymoon, and my job grading high school English essays can really take its toll after a while. But I just realized I had read Chris Cleave's book and not reviewed it, and before it gets too far into my memory (I finished it almost a month ago), I thought that I would jot down my review about it.

The back of the book says,

"We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it...Once you have read this book you will want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds."  

So, I won't tell you what happens or anything along those lines.  I'll just tell you about what I thought of it and how I came to read it.

I had been wanting to read this book for a while, because I was drawn to the cover (I once read that book covers and wine bottle labels are sort of designed with the appropriate audience in mind, so I always think about that when I buy either without knowing I want to buy them going into the situation). I finished it as I arrived in Ireland on my honeymoon (which was brilliant and grand and deserves its own post), so I carried it around the country with it only to never blog about it when I returned. Which was accidental. 

I liked the book. I wouldn't say that it rocked my world or that it was one of the best books I've read this year, but I was intrigued by the story, which was at times heartbreaking. The ending was the strongest part, as well as the relationship between the two women (they're mentioned on the back, so I'm not giving anything away).  Thinking back to the book, I can't think of anything that I didn't like about the book, I just can't think about anything that made it particularly amazing.  

Overall, I would give it a 3.8.  Out of 5.