Friday, September 25, 2009

Making Your Life Hard

Yes, I am.

I'm moving to Wordpress, people who occasionally visit the Punnery. Check me out here. Don't forget to update your RSS feed!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People by Toby Young

This book should really be called, If You Ever Wanted to Write for Vanity Fair, Here are Fifty Million Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Bother, because, really, that’s exactly what I got from it.

Toby Young moved from London, England to New York City in the mid-90s to become a contributing editor for my favourite magazine, Vanity Fair. The LA Times called it “an undistinguished six-month stint at the magazine”. It was a little longer than that—three years, but who’s really counting?

This book is his memoir of his time in New York City amid the people who make up NYC: the rich, the famous, and those who think they are.

It was eye-opening. I suppose a part of me knew already what he had to say about life in NYC. Life is shallow, it’s hard to make friends or get a date, and ultimately people will leave in the lurch when you need them most. I’m sure there are lots of people in NYC who aren’t like that, but the world that I’ve always wanted to live in—the one Toby moved into—is that one. It really is Sex and the City, only it’s much more ruthless and everyone is trying to get into it. Who am I to compete with that?

It’s hard living in any large city without succumbing to the jadedness. Yesterday, Michael Bryant, a former Attorney General of Ontario was charged with dragging a cyclist to death with his car. It’s a sensational story getting a lot of coverage in the city. But I can’t seem to work up any feeling towards either the victim or the man who allegedly killed him.

I’ve only been living in Toronto for a year, but I feel like I’m already turning “cold”. Where is my innocence going? Is it possible to remain guileless while living amid the soot and grime? Or does it get beaten out of you by the people you meet and the things you see?

I thought about all of this after reading How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. In a way, I feel like it saved me from going down a path that would find me facing the same people Toby did. I don’t know whether to thank him for saving me the trouble, or steam forward, regardless of the warning signs I saw in his book.

No matter what the city’s affect has been on me, I don’t think I’m a lost cause just yet, though. My favourite part of his memoir was his story of Caroline, his wife. It gave me comfort to know that there are people out there who still fight for their love.

Anyway, I think I’ve veered a little bit in this review. If you want a great memoir from someone who lived and breathed the glossy magazine world for several years (and anyone who loves the zeitgeist would), you should pick up How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. Plus, it was hilarious.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hey, I'm Back!

You would assume, by my lack of updates here, that I haven't been reading. That's untrue. I've been reading like a fiend. So much so, that I had to stop blogging about it.

You see, when I read too much, I tend to just over-do it. I don't read books one after the other when I'm in this frenzy; I read them all at once. And that leads to a lot of abandoning because if one book is less interesting than the other, say, four books I'm reading, I'll stop reading that one since I have so many others on the go.

Added to that is my slight aversion to writing book reviews for books I've not finished. I just can't do it. I don't feel right about critiquing a book I haven't finished because I'm not committed to it long enough to get to the end. It just feels like cheating, you know?

So I stopped writing here. But I kept reading! So I thought I'd mark my return to The Punnery with a brief overview of the books that I have finished and really enjoyed over the summer!

Oh, and...I was also pretty busy this summer. Can't blame a girl for wanting to get a tan, right?

Anyway, here's what I read (and loved) on my summer vacation:

1) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

Little known fact: I've always wanted a more refined palette. I suspect years of living in a smokers home has reduced my ability to taste and smell to a fraction of what it could have been. Of course, over time it will improve. I have no doubts about that, but if only I could have the ability to smell like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the main character in Suskind's tale of intrigue. Set in eighteenth-century France, Suskind creates a tale of a man whose greatest passion is his own sense of smell. As he learns to create his own perfumes, he is consumed by the desire to create the perfect scent, taken from the still-warm bodies of young virgins.

Such a good tale. I cried out in disbelief at some parts of the book and couldn't stop talking about it as I was reading it. Ask, Kiki. She couldn't get me to shut up about it.

2) A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

This was my first trip into an Ernest Hemingway book. Previously I'd tried reading The Old Man and the Sea, but I was young and I didn't really have the patience. I'm glad I read A Farewell to Arms, though. It's about an American ambulance worker stationed in Italy during the First World War. At the front he meets a beautiful nurse and they fall in love. It's a really simple story, but it's really about the characters in this one. I knew that Hemingway was known for his words, the simplicity of his narrative, but the beauty within it, but I didn't really understand that until I read his book. I was taken in by the love between Leutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, the beautiful English nurse.

3) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I wasn't going to add this at first because it's one of the books that I didn't finish, but I felt I needed to address it. This is the second time I've given up on this book. I even wrote a blog post about it on Simply put, this book is my Moby-Dick. I want to catch this bloody white whale SO badly, but it's TOO MUCH for me! The conversational latin, the theological and philosophical discussions, and the reams and reams of descriptive paragraphs...I just can't do it. I got further into it the second time around, but it got to the point where I would groan thinking about picking it up each time. I carried it in my purse like a ball and chain for a week before I left it on the sideboard finally and picked up Too Good To Be True by Kristin Higgins—the exact opposite to this book. I wish I could say that I loved this book. It has SO much potential, but I fear that Umberto Eco is just too smart for me, and for that, I have to concede defeat. No one likes to think they're dumb, especially when they're reading.

Right now I'm reading two books, and I'm on the verge of abandoning one as I'm not really enjoying it. The first (the one high alert) is The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. I see too much of myself in the navel-gazing New Yorkers, and I'm really looking for an escape in my books right now. The second is How To Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young, a memoir of his five-year tenure at VANITY FAIR, a publication that I absolutely love. It's a real eye-opener about the magazine and I'll say more when I actually finish the book (very close to it!)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I realize that The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins has been reviewed by nearly every single book blogger on Blogspot, but I felt the need to toss my hat into the ring anyway. Better late than never, right?

The reason why it took me so long to read it is because I'm a library patron these days. I can't remember the last time I bought a recent release. It's just not in my budget, unfortunately.

So I had to wait patiently while the sixty-three people in front of me in the hold list read the book.

I'm glad I did.

If you know the premise of the story, skip ahead, intrepid reader. For those not in the know, Katniss Everdeen is a young girl who lives in the Seam in post-apocalyptic North America. The United States has been transformed into Panem, a twelve-district colony that is ruled cruelly by the Capitol. Katniss' district happens to be the twelfth—the poorest, saddest district out of the dozen. She takes care of her mother and sister Prim by hunting and gathering in the forests.

Each year, the Capitol holds the Hunger Games, a battle royale between twenty-four tributes, a male and female from each district. Every child between the ages of 11 and 18 is eligible to be chosen through a lottery system called the reaping. This is Prim's first reaping and she is chosen.

Katniss volunteers in her place to save the child from certain death, even though it might mean her own death.

I love a good dystopic society story. I think it makes me feel better about living in my own society because, hey, at least they don't make children battle each other to the death in an arena while the rest of the nation watches anxiously through television. Plus, these sort of stories are challenges to the author because she essentially has to create a brand new world, without making it sound like it's a Brave New World, if you catch my drift.

Collins successfully constructs a world that I have not read of before. It's different than a lot of the other dystopic novels I've read in that it's a much more natural world. A lot of authors assume that if society is going to get worse, it's because everyone moves into the cities and plugs in, but Collins sets the society back by wiping the slate clean and creating a new colony, one she can virtually play with endlessly.

Given that this is Book 1, I'm eager to find out what happens next. I won't spoil the outcome of the novel for you, but it's definitely worth a read.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Monthly Wrap-Up: May 2009

Books Read:

1. Jaime Hernandez: Locas: The Maggie & Hopey Stories
2. Andrew Davidson: The Gargoyle
3. Neil Gaiman: Coraline
4. Neil Gaiman: The Sandman Vol 2: The Doll's House
5. Jason Lutes: Jar of Fools
6. Laurie R. King: The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Books Currently Reading:

1. Geert Mak: In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century

Challenge Update
1. To-Be-Read Challenge: 2/12
2. Graphic Novel Challenge: 8/12

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Review: The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

I'm not really sure why, but it's taken me years to finally read a book by Neil Gaiman. Yes, I've heard lots of things about him, and they've all been good things. He sounds like he would be right up my alley: dark, brooding stories about mysterious people in interesting and (sometimes) made-up lands.

Part of the problem is that Neil Gaiman has a huge bibliography and I didn't know anyone who could point me in the right direction. This is the same problem I have with Terry Pratchett. I would love to read Pratchett, but I don't know where to begin. If anyone would like to recommend me a Pratchett book to start reading, I would be thrilled.

Anyway, back to Gaiman. I have finally broken through the bibliography and started where I probably should have years ago: The Sandman, Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

Preludes and Nocturnes introduces us to the Sandman, the king of the Dreamworld. When we first meet him, he is captured by an ambitious magician, stripped of his clothing, his helmet, his magic sandbag and his red jewel. Naked and powerless, he is imprisoned in the basement of the magician's estate for decades inside a magical sphere. Years go by and the magician dies of old age, feeble and no closer to the Sandman's power than before he had captured the demi-god.

The magician's son, frightened by the Sandman's power, is too afraid to set the king of dreams free after so many years of imprisonment. Finally, when the son is nearing his own death, the Sandman is able to break through his prison and wrecks revenge on the cowardly magician's son.

Meanwhile, the Dreamworld is in a shambles. While the Sandman is imprisoned, chaos reigns through the dreams. Some people simply stop sleeping, while others fall asleep and never wake up again—until the Sandman escapes.

While he finally has his freedom, the Sandman must now find his stolen possessions, no easy feat now that they have been scattered. The Sandman travels through hell to challenge a demon for his helmet, finds his sand in the possession of a former lover of John Constantine, and his red jewel in the hands of a crazed man who has turned it into a weapon powerful enough to bring down society.

To say that this introduction to the Sandman is fast-paced and rivetting is not giving the book justice. I can see why people rave about the series. Gaiman is a masterful storyteller. Part comic book hero, part fairy tale, it's unlike any comic book I've read in awhile.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I'll be honest, I had a hard time writing this review. Not because the book is bad. On the contrary, I found this book so wonderful, I passed it onto my mother. The reason I'm finding it hard to write a review is because it's so hard to for me to explain it. There's so much that I want to tell you about The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King!

To begin with, it's a mystery. Not just any mystery, though. It's a Sherlock Holmes mystery. On the other hand, it's not a Sherlock Holmes mystery because a) it's not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and b) it's not about Sherlock Holmes.

The book is about Mary Russell, a brilliant young woman who one day stumbles upon the great detective while out on a stroll across the Sussex Downs. From that moment, her life changes completely.

Already graced with her own keen intellect, she is taken under Holmes's wing the summer before her first semester at Oxford. Under his tutelage, she learns the art of detection and disguise.

Yet there's more. Holmes and Russell are not just tutor and pupil. They're kindred spirits. A brilliant mind is hard to find, if you believe the serendipity in Laurie R. King's book, and their's is a partnership that seems to have been divined by the stars. Russell is hungry for knowledge and Holmes is more than happy to provide her with the foundations of a sound detective's mind, yet he recognizes her as an equal, not just an untouched block of clay.

The story begins with Russell's tutelage under Holmes in his Sussex cottage and quickly shifts to the first mystery of the novel. Holmes and Russell travel to Wales to find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator. Disguised as wandering gypsies, they rescue the girl from an unnamed villain by working together. This sets the stage for the main conflict of the story—someone is after Holmes and his close friends, including Russell.

I can't get over how well-written this book is. King is a master at writing well-crafted dialogue that sounds natural. And the narration provided by Mary Russell herself stirred me to read some passages aloud for the simple pleasure of having the words come out of my mouth. With such weighty characters as Holmes and Dr. Watson to work with, there's a danger in losing the true voice of the character, but King doesn't. Each character, both her own and any that she has borrowed, sounds genuine. Holmes in particular is a masterpiece. Compassionate, witty and brilliant, he is a Holmes that you can believe in.

When it comes down to it, though, I have to say that Russell is by far my favourite character, but I believe we're meant to root for her anyway. She holds her own against Holmes' scathing wit and has her fair share of well-crafted passages.

I'm excited for the next book in the series, and then the next, and then the next. I think Ms. King is a fantastic author and I plan on reading the entire Mary Russell series.

I was inspired to read The Beekeeper's Apprentice because of A Striped Armchair. Not only did A Striped Armchair write a great review on the book, but then the wonderful Laurie R. King came along and wrote a guest-post for her!

Rating: 5/5