Thursday, June 2, 2011

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica

My favorite part of this book? When it ended. I hated it. I don't know that I've ever applied the term "mind-numbingly boring" to a book before, but it definitely fits here. I was on page 100 before I conceded that the book would not get any better, and since I had already invested so much I didn't feel like I could quit. Oh how I wish I had. If you know anything about me and my relationship with books, you should see a big red flag right about now. You should be thinking, "But wait. Wendy doesn't hate books." And you'd be right. As much as I'd love to write a book someday, I know I'm not actually capable of doing so. Therefore, when someone actually accomplishes that feat, I tend to respect them. I give them the benefit of the doubt thinking, "Well, it's better than I could do." I couldn't even bring myself to do that here.

My main complaint? The author is just plain irritating. I spent 302 pages festering with annoyance. The way he writes, his thought process, his personality all just grated on my nerves. The most annoying thing, though, was the organization of the book. Or maybe I should say the lack thereof. Dublanica supposedly set out to write a book about his experience as a waiter. By the title, I was clued into the fact that there would be some complaining in the book. I figured I would enjoy a funny little memoir full of stories of stupid restaurant customers that act as a microcosm of society. Instead I got a messy conglomeration of self-indulgent horn tooting and vast generalizations with repetitive and crassly recounted examples. Several times the author admits he is arrogant. Well guess what, Steve. That doesn't make it okay. Nor does it somehow make it entertaining to read about.

Another complaint? Overuse of the word "yuppies". Any time an author has a favorite word he or she uses in every chapter,  it screams ignorance. (Stephenie Meyer and "surreptitiously," anyone?) Get a freaking thesaurus. But this particular issue screams even louder considering that the term he favored no longer applies to society. I recognize that Dublanica studied psychology in college (though for some reason his book is plagued by several references to debunked Sigmund Freud theories), so he might not know this. Yuppies were a class of people (young urban professionals) that emerged in the 1980's. And the term stayed in the 1980's. People trying to revive it in the twenty-first century sound old and out-of-touch. Dublanica is no exception. 

Okay, but the actual reason I hated this book is its whiny angst. I'm aware that term is inherently redundant, but there's no better way to say it. As I turned each page I was thinking, "Get over it," or, "Cry me a river," or, "SO WHAT???" I had several professors in college say that if you ever saw that note written in a margin of your paper, "So what?" you knew you had work to do. I'm at a loss as to why this man's editor never gave him that helpful note. Perhaps he didn't have enough ink in his pen to write the note 302 times.

At this point, I'd like to digress. Forget about the book and let's just talk about jobs in a service profession. Any time you're working with the general public you risk the frustrations that accompany the masses. I feel like I have plenty of room to say this. I work as a court clerk. I literally spend every day working with people from all walks of life. I deal with the wealthiest attorneys in the state (or, usually, their runners) and homeless men. I interact with drug dealers, drug users, Mormon moms, immigrants, and Judges. Trust me, I know how taxing it can be to work with these people day in and day out. In that regard, I suppose you could say I should be more sympathetic to the plight of waiters as it appears in this book. But guess what? I'm not. The author worked in a high-end restaurant. I'm sorry, but no matter what he thinks, he did not see a true sampling of society there.

One section of his book states, "I've seen people get married and divorced. I've seen babies being born and parents mourning the loss of children. I've waited on people celebrating birthdays and  grieving at funeral repasts. I've helped people when they had heart attacks and seizures. I've witnessed customers being kind and cruel. I've met the rich and famous and the poor and common. I've spoken to nuns and priests, rapists and pornographers, criminals and cops. I shook hands with soldiers and politicians. I've looked upon the beautiful and the ugly" (192).  He just described a morning on the front counter at the courthouse. And guess what? I'm still able to enjoy my job. Dublanica acts like working with people is a curse. He's in the wrong line of work. The thing I love most about my job is how I'm able to learn from so many types of people. He acts like society is a disgusting pool of people lesser than himself. I have no tolerance for people who do nothing but complain. Make a change in your life or make your life work.

Finally, I was irritated that this entire book was about writing this book. Maybe that sounds confusing, but it's actually pretty straightforward. Every chapter he talked about his book deal, gathering stories for his book, wanting to write a book, having writers block about his book. JUST WRITE YOUR BOOK ALREADY. The way he put the thing together, it was like this agonizingly long introduction. You always felt like you knew what the book was supposed to be about but only because he told you a million times and not because you were actually able to read it for yourself.

Ugh. Like I said, irritating.

Am I being too harsh? Have you read the book? Did you feel the same as I did or did you take a different outlook? Are you familiar with the author's website Is it any better than the book? Let me know!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

"My compulsion to be always on the move began to fade. 
But I liked to go for long walks at night. 
I often walked west toward the river. 
The city lights obscured the stars, 
but on clear nights, 
I could see Venus on the horizon, 
up over the dark water, 
glowing steadily."

Apparently I'm making a habit out of starting books with a completely incorrect impression of what they're about. Jen read this book forever ago and told me then that I had to read it. That must have been in the midst of one of her Holocaust-related reading binges, because I thought this book was about the Holocaust. And yes, that error would have been easily corrected by reading anything about the book, but I make it a point to not read the summaries on the backs of books because I think they give away too much.

Anyway, this book is NOT about the Holocaust. That's particularly interesting because the book has been sitting on the shelf for nearly a year, and the reason I put off reading it is because I was never in the right mood for the heaviness of a WWII book. Turns out, it was better that I read it when I did. While I cannot relate to any of the details of this book, the story seemed to have this theme of moving on. I do not mean to minimize the suffering of Walls' life by drawing a parallel to my own, but this book did a lot to bolster my spirit. In just over two months, I'll move away from my home and family to attend law school. I had a hard enough time when I moved an hour away for my undergraduate education, and I've really worried about my ability to make a new life for myself. But reading how the Walls siblings each, at their own time, moved to New York with little more than the bus ticket that got them there and successfully created their futures, I couldn't help but grow slightly more confident about my ability to do the same.

However, there is much more to this book than the relatively happy ending that most of the children find. In short, the book is the author's story of her nomadic childhood with two parents who were selfish at their best and even, at times, entirely negligent. Her father's alcoholism combined with a sincere disdain for authority kept him frequently jobless, traveling throughout the deserts of the west and, eventually, back to his childhood home in West Virginia. Reading about all that the kids were up against--not only the horrible living conditions. the long spells with little or no food, or the inability to make friends and fit in but also the irresponsibility of the parents and apparent disregard for their children's welfare--it is remarkable that the children were able to so efficiently achieve their goals. 

As I read this book, I was so angry with Jeannette's parents. And I'm ashamed to admit I was, at times, even angry with Jeannette when she would forgive her father after he exhibited particularly devastating behavior. But now that I think back, I realize that frustration was probably because of my ignorance regarding the true meaning of unconditional love. On a very basic level, I can understand Jeannette's relationship with her father, because I too have always believed in my dad, have always seen in him my hero. Growing up, I was happiest when he was telling us bedtime stories. My dad and I have many similar interests, and I seek his approval. But if I'm being honest, it's so easy to love my dad. That love has never been tested. I've never had to forgive my dad. He has always been stable, reliable, and a perfect example of hard work and morality. Considering all of this, I am truly amazed at Jeannette's love for her father. 

I could keep going on about this book, because there's so much to digest. I recommend reading this to anyone. It is bound to change your life or at least how you view it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stuck in the Middle (Sister-to-Sister, Book 1) by Virginia Smith

"Her life was no longer stuck. Her Father had plans for her."

This book was free on my Kindle and I bought it awhile ago because it was a story about sisters. My sisters are the most important people in the world to me, and I always like books that rely on that special relationship.

At first, I didn't like Joan. While she is self-admittedly quiet and reserved she came across more timid and insecure than anything. I recognize that there are 25 year-olds that still live at home for a variety of reasons, but when they do so with no plans to venture into their own new phase of life at some point, it seems weird to me. For this reason, I didn't like Joan. I'm a fan of strong, independent female characters, and I didn't see that in her. However, I soon realized that this book was about the journey of self-discovery and by the end of the book I liked Joan more. Sure, she was still shy and quiet but no longer in an annoying way.

With that said, I think the bulk of my review is about the idea of this book. I started reading it without knowing it was what the author calls "God-honoring fiction." Had I known that, I'm sad to say that I probably would not have read the book. I'm a very religious person, my own beliefs shape the way I live life each day, but I don't often read religious books. Maybe that's bad to admit, but it's the truth. But that truth speaks to what this book is about. During the course of this book, Joan comes to understand religion and her relationship with God. Reading it helped me do the same. I'm grateful that I have always known the power of prayer, where Joan had to learn as an adult the ways in which God communicates with His children. In that regard, the book didn't teach me anything I didn't already know.

However, I saw a lot of myself in Joan (mainly the aspects of her personality I didn't like haha) like how she had been hurt before, how she was reluctant to let herself get close to people. I laughed out loud when I read, "With relief, she realized she had managed to mention Roger the Rat without wanting to spit. Maybe she was starting to get over her anger," having recently had a similar realization myself. I loved watching Joan's relationship with her mother improve, not recognizing until she was an adult that her mother's love had always been sincere and lasting, waiting for her to recognize and accept it. "New tears sprang to Joan's eyes. How many times had Mom said those words? At least a million. But never before had they fallen like absolution on Joan's aching heart."
And of course, I love Ken. What's not to love about a religious, young, handsome doctor with a dog that's as disobedient as my own? :)

This book isn't for everyone. There are a few eye-rolling moments when the sisters' interactions are a bit cliche or when things fall perfectly into place. But if you're looking for a feel-good book to lighten your spirit and reaffirm your faith, this is a good book for you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

"Then the fish came alive, with his death in him,
and rose high out of the water
showing all his great length and width
and all his power and beauty."

I know that this book is studied as a literary masterpiece. I know that it's used to demonstrate successful symbolism. I know that it's a "deeper" story than just a tale about an old man and the sea. But I gotta tell you...all I got was the old man and his journey catching a fish. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. It was well-written and I was able to finish it easily in a day (it's only like 125 pages). I was sad for Santiago, who had gone so long without catching a fish that the other villagers laughed at him and talked about his bad luck. He's so determined and optimistic that day 85 will be his day to catch a fish, and he hooks the largest marlin you can imagine, only to have the fish torn apart by sharks as he tries to return to shore. It was very sad, and I can see where you would be able to draw parallels between his experience and the way we sometimes allow our dreams and pursuits to consume us, but I didn't get much more out of the book than just a good story.

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

"Yeah, but she's my psychopath."

I still don't know how to accurately review this novel. I read it in its entirety in one day, which tends to make me like books more because I don't have to wait for things to happen. In this book are a lot of elements of my favorite tv shows, Criminal Minds and 24--FBI profilers, serial killers, torture, a drug-addicted hero, families broken by careers in law enforcement, etc. What was most interesting is that the main killer you deal with, Gretchen, is a woman.

One downside to this book was the language. It wasn't the worst I've read, but for some reason lately I've been avoiding books with much swearing, so the foul language that was in this book really stood out to me.

Also, if you have a weak stomach, you wouldn't do well with the torture scenes. It's interesting: I realize now that I've never read torture scenes, only seen them on 24. But reading them didn't bother me much and it's probably because I'm interested in that genre of television shows.

I just found out that this book is actually the first in a series of 4, and I think I'll definitely be reading the remaining 3. I'll let you know what I think.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

"Oysters are a lot like women.
It's how we survive the hurts in life
that brings us strength and gives us our beauty."

Since half of the members of our book club disliked this book, this post might be extra long so that I can say everything I wanted to point out when we met last night. Don't say I didn't warn you :)

I absolutely loved this book. I felt like I was on the verge of tears the entire time because I was sad or touched or happy or simply reflective. CeeCee is such a lovable character. She is an innocent child but also faces a more adult world than she should ever have to see. I love her resilience but also her very tender heart. I think Beth Hoffman does a wonderful job at creating a believable character in CeeCee. 

One of my favorite things about this book was the language. It was utterly beautiful. Things were said in such a romantic manner that I found myself marking down quotes every couple of pages because I felt the characters were talking directly to me. I'm going to share a bunch of those quotes (unless I specify otherwise, it's the narrator, CeeCee, talking):

"When a chapter of your Life Book is complete, your spirit knows it's time to turn the page so a new chapter can begin. Even when you're scared or think you're not ready, your spirit knows you are." - Mrs. Odell

When my fingers touched the knob of the back door, something inside me shifted--I could actually feel it. I knew Mrs. Odell was right. I felt the flutter of a page turn deep within me as a chapter of my Life Book came to a close.

Those six simple words echoed around me and filled the room with light: I’d sure love to have you...I’d sure love to have you...

She glanced over her shoulder at the house, which was now bathed in a warm tint of yellow from the sun. "Yes. Everyone needs to find the one thing that brings out her passion. It’s what we do and share with the world that matters. I believe it’s important that we leave our communities in better shape than we found them." (-Aunt Tootie)

Mrs. Odell once told me that forgiveness had a whole lot more to do with the person doing the forgiving than it did with the person in need of forgiveness. She said holding on to hurt and anger made about as much sense as hitting your head with a hammer and expecting the other person to get a headache.

"I know this is the same sky that hangs over Ohio, but the sun seems bigger here. Everything seems bigger."
She pursed her lips and thought about that for a moment. "Maybe your eyes is just more open." (-Oletta)

(After CeeCee witnessed her new black friends robbed and assaulted) I thought about all the scary stories I’d read where evil-eyed villains left me paralyzed with fear in the wee hours of the night. Yet, no matter what they did or threatened to do, I always knew I could close the book and make them go away. But the man at Tybee Island was real, and what he did had changed my view of the world. Forever.

Miz Obee’s face tensed, but Sapphire looked at her friend kindly, patted the table, and said, "Just set up the board as best you can. We’ll play with whatever we got." I thought that was one of the wisest things I’d ever heard anyone say.

As I watched this silent exchange between Sapphire and Miz Obee, it occurred to me that that’s what friends should do: cherish the good and pretend not to notice the harmless rest.

I actually have a bunch more marked, but I'm tired of typing, and you're probably tired of reading :) Bottom line, I thought this was a heartfelt book with lovable characters, written beautiful that contained countless bits of wisdom. I recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

"With a boy you can never know whether he's smitten or gagging, but with a girl you can tell in the first three seconds. Between girls there is a silent and unending flow of invisible signals, like the high-frequency wireless messages between the shore and the ships at sea, and this secret flow of dots and dashes was signaling that Mary detested me."

I read this book because it was chosen as Jamie's book club selection. I don't seem to ever make it to their discussions, but I like to read the books anyway. This one was wonderful. I hesitate to give books too good of reviews, because if people take my suggestion for a book I don't want them to be disappointed if it doesn't live up to their expectations. But I mean it--this was SUCH a fun book. The narrator is an 11-year-old girl, which makes the whole book. It would not be the same story if it weren't told from her perspective. 

I love Flavia's knowledge of chemistry and the way it shapes her outlook. I love her sarcasm and relationship with the adults in the book. I'm not going to go into specifics, because I really think you should just read this one for yourself. It's a relatively quick read, and I think Flavia is just so charming that you will instantly fall in love.

If you do decide to read it, please let me know what you think!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers

"When I look at you
I see the woman I want to be
Strong and brave
Beautiful and free"

Last night after sleeping away most of the day and getting caught up on my DVR, I felt like reading, but none of the books I'm currently working on appealed to me. So I picked this one up off the shelf. I bought it online from Barnes and Noble during their after-Christmas clearance but couldn't remember what it was about. Let's just say that after a week of stress and tears, this was the wrong book selection. The author tells this story through notes between a mother and daughter, left on the refrigerator door. The notes show a typical relationship--simple store lists for the daughter to pick up after school, the daughter angry at her mom for a fight they got in about a boyfriend, plans made for a breakfast or dinner together. But the notes also reveal the mother's struggles as she finds out she has breast cancer and finds it hard to tell her daughter the truth. The book was a quick read--I easily read it in about an hour--but heart-wrenching.

*Sniff sniff* I'm grateful for reminders of how much I love my mom.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

"'ve been told and not told..."

I have to say that this book had enormous potential, and now that I've finished it I feel such a letdown.

When Miss Lucy goes off on page 81 and tells the students that no one is being honest with them about the future, that they've been told and not told, I thought how clever! The author was telling the reader something directly through a character's dialogue. I was so impressed. The entire book had been guesswork for the reader up to that point. You were given just enough information to form some assumptions about the subject of the book, and your assumptions (well, my assumptions at least) end up being correct. But your process through the book is exactly the same as the students' throughout their time at Hailsham. They learn about things before they can actually understand what they mean. The reader is the same way. In that regard, I loved how SMART this book was.

But I also hated how dumb the book was at times. For instance, the feelings between Kathy and Tommy are not believeable. I think you want Tommy and Kathy to fall in love, but all the sudden Ruth tells them they're meant to be together, they're having sex and searching for Madame. I just didn't buy it. It didn't feel sincere and it was almost insulting that the author expected their relationship (as it was developed in the book) to be enough for the reader.

I think this book had enormous potential as commentary on the moral dilemmas posed by the possibility of cloning or even lesser scientific advancements. But it fell short, and I was disappointed.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Emma by Jane Austen

"...this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults..."

It has been a goal of mine for a long time to read a Jane Austen book, so I was extremely happy when Kimmy chose it as our February Book Club selection. I bought it and started reading right away. It was much more accessible than I expected. I've tried reading Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion before and never made it far in either. But I was immediately caught up in Emma. Then school got busy and I was reading a book a week it seemed just to keep up with homework. Needless to say, I didn't finish in time for Book Club; I was so upset with myself. To be truthful, I rarely finish our group selections. I guess I have a mental block against doing what I'm told. However, I was completely set on finishing this time. As punishment to myself (but also because I didn’t want to hear the ending) I stayed home from Book Club last night and resolved to finish. And I did!

In general, I very much enjoyed this book. I was excited to see the change in Emma as the story progressed. I found her a very interesting character from the start but didn’t like her very much, as a person. However, I was immediately a fan of her relationship with Mr. Knightley. I loved how he kept her in check, not afraid to tell her when she was being difficult or out-of-line. Yet he also sincerely cared about her. So I guess you could say that I guessed the end from the beginning in that regard. The same is true of Jane Fairfax having a secret past with Frank Churchill and Hannah continuing to have feelings for Mr. Martin. Perhaps these things were obvious to everyone from the start; I don’t know. So while I can’t say I found this book particularly suspenseful or surprising, I think it speaks volumes for both the quality of writing and the story that I stayed so invested.

I loved Mr. Woodhouse and all his eccentricities. I loathed Mrs. Eaton. She’s a conceited little beast. Miss Bates was thoroughly entertaining to me, and I loved that she was the cause of the biggest change in Emma’s character. Following Emma’s behavior at Box Hill, I felt so bad for Miss Bates. I loved that Mr. Knightley called Emma out on it. I also loved that Mr. Knightley’s disapproval of the situation had such an effect on her. Emma successfully swallowed her pride (which she rarely had to do), and Miss Bates was as forgiving as I hoped. I was entertained by how well-developed all of the characters were. They felt real to me–I almost felt like I could guess some of their behavior beforehand because I understood them so well. I think that’s rare to find in books.

Needless to say, I loved it. I want my own Mr. Knightley but feel very much as Emma did about marriage throughout most of the book.

Some passages that jumped out at me:
"My being charming, Harriet, is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming–one other person at least."

"As for objects of interest, objects for the affections, which is in truth the great point of inferiority, the want of which is really the great evil to be avoided in not marrying, I shall be very well off, with all the children of a sister I love so much, to care about . . . and though my attachment to none can equal that of a parent, it suits my ideas of comfort better than what is warmer and blinder. My nephews and nieces!"

"But where little minds belong to rich people in authority, I think they have a knack of swelling out, till they are quite as unmanageable as great ones."

"What is right to be done cannot be done too soon."

And my favorite:
"He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults, bore the discovery."

Another Blog?

I can hear you groaning right now. As if my self-indulgent Life in Limbo blog weren't enough, I started the joint efforts of a So We Think We Know Dance blog (that Jessica and I used for all of 2 minutes) and a Book Club blog (that I'm pretty sure no one in the group looks at but me). And now here's a fourth? To be entirely honest, this blog is more for me than for you. A few years ago, I bought a Book Lust journal to keep track of all the books I read and my thoughts on  them. It's still empty. Yet I've been relatively good at updating Goodreads and my blog with what books I finish and when. I was adding Never Let Me Go to my Currently-reading Shelf on Goodreads when I saw the poll on their website asking whether or not I kept a book blog. At first I thought of our Book Club blog and almost marked yes. Then I thought--I should keep a blog of the books I read personally. So here I am. I intend to write about the books I'm reading and have read and my thoughts on them. Most posts will probably contain spoilers, so you should avoid reading unless you've already finished the book I'm talking about or have no intention of doing so.

So, we'll see how this goes. PLEASE comment with your thoughts. If you've read the books I talk about, let me know! If you have suggestions of similar books I might like, I'd love to hear them. Happy reading!