Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Month of November, When I Reach 100

This post is a momentous one. In it, I mark book number 100. Now, to me, that is pretty darned impressive anyway, but moreso because this is the first time I can ever remember making a New Year's Resolution and sticking to it. That's right, fair reader. I am 32 years old, I made a resolution in January, and for once I completed it.

On Saturday, November 10th, in Atlanta, Georgia, book number one hundred went from dream to reality. It was fitting. I got the idea to read 100 books from Lesley's blog when I think she posted a comment in passing about it. I thought, "Well, that can't be too difficult, I probably read 100 books per year anyway. I'll give it a shot." Ha ha. It was A LOT harder than it seemed. I read books in Las Vegas on our anniversary trip, in Rhode Island and New York for our July 4th trip to visit family, in Georgia visiting Mike and Lesley, and in Florida visiting my mom. I read books while I was stuck in traffic (actual books, not audio books). I read in bed, in the bathroom, while cooking dinner, in front of the television, on my lunch breaks, during dinner, you name it, I read there. Reading affected my travels: I saw Almanzo Wilder's house after reading Farmer Boy, and I saw Margaret Mitchell sites in Atlanta. I'm going to be in the newspaper soon and had my first ever photo shoot, 'modeling' with books all around me. Random people started recommending books to me (book #100 was recommended by a woman I sat at a health fair with), and I now have 3 shelves, each packed 2 books deep, with books I haven't read yet. My wishlist of books I just HAVE to lay my hands on is at nearly 60 on I found a new favorite book, one of my top five ever. And of course, I just finished writing my second book.

Literarily speaking, it's been an awesome year.

And so, without further ado, the rundown of what I have read this month. As always, spoilers abound, so if you find a book that you think you might read, don't read the review. I might wreck the ending for you. Also, due to NaNo this month, I didn't read half as much as usual. Then I'll post a rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly separate from this post. And if I understand correctly, the article about me will run in the paper on Friday, December 7th. I'll keep you updated.

1. Why Do Men Have Nipples? (Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini) by Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg, MD.

Very much along the lines of Father Knows Less, which I read earlier this year, Mark Leyner who is a writer and Billy Goldberg, a doctor, set forth to answer everyone's weirdest medical questions, things that it would seem doctors get asked by really drunk party guests. The book is a lot more humor than it is too factual, but you do learn a lot about the human body and why men have nipples :^) The photographer was quizzing me last night while we were taking the pictures, and I felt pretty darned smartish. The book addresses things like folk remedies, food and the body, sex, aging, bathroom humor, and medical media (ER and the like). It was a quick read and a short little book, but definitely FUNNY and informative, skewed a little more heavily towards funny.

2. The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington. In bold, because this is officially book number 100 (sound the trumpets!). I recently did a health fair for work, and had to share a table with the Fairfax County Public Library's NLS for the Disabled representative. We got to talking books since she had a couple of my old favorites on display and then it turned out we were both in book clubs. So she asked what kind of books we were reading and I asked her what book her club was currently reading, and she said they like to read women's fiction that's not chick lit, and they were reading this book, The Monk Downstairs, which was a non-romance romance. Although we had known each other all of 10 minutes, she announced that I would like it and I should read it. Guess what? She was right.

The book tells the story of Rebecca Martin, a thirty-something single mom who's sharing custody of her young daughter Mary Martha with her surfer-dude ex-husband. She has an in-law apartment downstairs and she rents it out to Michael Christopher, a 30-something who has just left the monastery after losing faith in God, having been a monk the better part of two decades. Together, Rebecca and Mike navigate new relationships--Rebecca dumping Bob, a good guy who's all wrong for her, and Mike learning to live in the secular world after having been largely insulated from it for the past 20 years. And however unlikely (although since it's sort of a romance, it's pretty likely), they manage to form a common bond after not speaking for half the book and fall in love.

There is a sequel out, The Monk Upstairs, which chronicles their marriage. I am looking forward to reading it. Truly, this was not the typical sappy love story. The characters were real, their faults were all too obvious and unforgiving, and they were hard on each other. The book was not some hot but heartbroken dude stumbling on a gorgeous farmgirl who wants to raise his darling but precocious five year old. Two real people, who've been a bit banged around by life, find solace in each other. Good stuff.

3. Scarlett Rules (When Life Hands You Green Velvet Curtains, Make a Green Velvet Dress) by Lisa Bertagnoli. Can you guess where I picked this little number up? Yup, at the Margaret Mitchell House gift shop.

I will confess, here and now, that I have never read Gone With the Wind. But the movie was and has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I love that fiery Katie Scarlett O'Hara, and in fact when we were heading to Atlanta, I was telling Michael about the scene in which Scarlett is depressed while having to wear black in mourning and her mother offers to send her away. Scarlett poo-poohs Savannah as too boring, so Ellen offers Atlanta and Scarlett agrees, uttering a breathy "Atlanta!", which I thus uttered along the trip to Atlanta. So it was with great delight that when Lesley suggested some of the Mitchell sights to see that I enthusiastically agreed to be taken to see them.

Well, at the gift shop, they had a number of books and items there, and this little gem, Scarlett Rules..., jumped out at me. Its sassy, hot pink cover caught my eye immediately, and I had to have it. It's a formulaic "All I need to know, I learned from..." type book, of which there are certainly dozens (I also have What Would Jackie Do? in which I can take guidance from Jackie O in all pressing social matters), but I really enjoyed this one a great deal.

Some of the lessons are: Rule 1: Pretty Is as Pretty Does–Not a conventional beauty, the literary Scarlett knew it took more than an attractive face to get noticed. Learn to put your best features forward. Rule 8: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize–Scarlett used determination and perseverance to survive and thrive. Unlock your abilities and go for the gold. Rule 15: Find Your Niche–A woman ahead of her time, Scarlett succeeded on her strengths. Discover your gift and shine!

Some of it was like "Yeah, OK, clever, I get it" but some of it I found genuinely useful, and I think I will probably put some of the ideas into use ("Know when to say "Tomorrow is another day!"--not every crisis has to be solved today). Well written, witty, and clever, definitely a great read for any GWTW fans out there. And I think I might just take a crack at reading GWTW for real. Let me go add it to my wish list. :-)

4. Life on the Refrigerator Door: Notes Between a Mother and Daughter by Alice Kuipers. Evil book. Evil, evil, evil book, it caused me to make a spectacle of myself in public. In a public library even worse.

The book is a series of letters between Dr. Mom (who remains nameless), a single mom working as an obstetrician, and her daughter, Claire. Some letters are short, some longer, but soon they take on a renewed urgency when it turns out Mom needs to see an oncologist, and winds up having breast cancer.

I was sitting in the QUIET STUDY ROOM ONLY room at the public library, and as I reached the end of this book, I started to sniffle. And then I started to weep. And then I outright started to bawl. I stumbled out of there when the chick who was actually studying started glaring at me. I went up to the counter to pay for the books I was getting off the book sale shelf, and the librarian was looking at me kind of funny. I was chewing on my cheek and silently chanting to myself, "Keep it together! KEEP IT TOGETHER!" as I paid and made tracks for the parking lot. As I got in my car, I let it all out and started bawling my eyes out, reached for my cell phone, and called my mom, who was not home. I left an incoherent "I really love you, Mom!" message on my phone, only to keep getting cut off in a dead zone on my stupid cell phone, which only made me cry harder. Finally, I had to pull over. It was awful.

Only read this book if you are in a supremely good place mentally and are able to call your mom afterwards and tell her you love her. You have been warned.

5. The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo. Judy bought Michael and me this book four years ago on our first anniversary, since the traditional gift is paper. She bought us a copy on audio and in print. The audio is read marvelously by Jeremy Irons (yum!). But I have the print copy and decided to read it as well this time. My book club's waiting list has gotten so long that we formed a splinter group, which will now meet on Sundays. This is the first book that group is going to read together, and I'm really looking forward to discussing it, since I had forgotten how great this book is.

The tale is that of a Spanish shepherd named Santiago who is haunted by a dream of finding his treasure under the Egyptian pyramids. He is encouraged to do so by a gypsy and an old king, and so he sells his flock and makes his way across the desert, having many grand adventures as he does so. He learns many important lessons about life, such as not doing something just because that's the way you've always done it, and the importance of following your heart. The book is kind of self-helpy without being self-helpy, and I really like that about it. It's also just a great story. Without getting into overblown detail, you feel as if you know exactly what each place looks like, you can envision each character, you can nearly smell and taste each experience yourself. The writing is exquisite. I'm jealous!

6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Joan Didion's daughter Quintana fell gravely ill and was hospitalized with a serious infection. She was placed in a medical coma and put on life support. Only weeks later, Joan's husband, John Dunne, was speaking with her from their living room after visiting their daughter in the hospital, stopped mid-sentence and keeled over dead on the floor of a massive coronary. Four weeks later, Quintana pulled through and revived, but only two months after that, she collapsed from a massive brain hematoma.

Joan Didion documented this year in this book, which I think I heard about on NPR or somewhere, I'm not entirely sure. I know you're all going to hate me for kicking the widow when she's down, but this book was a lot less than I expected. I got through it, but I really thought it would be more about her feelings. Instead, Didion did a lot of research on grief and puts many of her findings in the book. She spends a lot of time analyzing the way things are and trying to figure out if she's behaving in a way that seems "normal" for your "average widow."

I read a review on that calls Joan Didion's writing as "cool" and perhaps lacking emotion, and I felt that way about this book. The most moving passage in the whole book was one in which she states that she realized she was in denial when she cleaned out her husband's closets, but couldn't get rid of his shoes because he would need them when he got back. I thought to myself, "well, now we're getting somewhere", but perhaps she didn't want to share where those painful thoughts led, because there was no indication that she picked the shoes up and flung them at the walls while sobbing in rage. And I wanted her to. I wanted her to be angry at God and everyone for putting her in this terrible situation with her husband's death and her daughter's serious illnesses. But instead, she seemed rather detached. Maybe she didn't want to share those feelings, but if that were so, she shouldn't have written a book purporting to be about that very topic. I found this book to be tremendously disappointing.

7. The Next Big Thing by Johanna Edwards. Kat is a big girl hiding a big secret: she's in love with an Englishman who thinks she's all of a size 4. She hears about a TV show called "From Fat to Fabulous" and decides to enter. She hopes to lose all the weight she needs to before the ravishing Nick (a London fashion designer) enters her life and finds out the truth about her.

Formulaic chick lit, but so not boring. I actually vascillated back and forth. I knew Nick was going to meet her and find out the truth, but I was thinking that perhaps Nick wasn't all he was cracked up to be either and that would be the catch. Wrong! Nick is every bit the snot he promises to be when he meets Kat, a meeting dreamed up by the producers of the TV show. I will leave it at that for the plot.

I absolutely tore through this book--it was good clean fun. I loved, loved, loved reading it, I think I read it in about 2 days at my mom's house in and around painting. Get it and read it if you like chick lit, and maybe even if you don't. it was the good kind, I promise!

8. Miss Julia Strikes Back by Ann Ross. Ok, this is one I forgot to add to the list earlier, and I can't believe it. I know I read it this year, since it came out in April and I have the hardcover. And the sad thing is, I remember reading it. I can't believe I didn't add it to the list, however. So I guess I'll add it here. It makes me wonder how many other books I forgot I read.

Miss Julia is back and better than ever. She comes home one day to find that her jewelry and Hazel Marie's jewelry has been burgled, and of course, she is not in the least content to wait for the police to go and find the stuff. Together with Little Lloyd and Etta Mae, she finds a private investigator (her usual go-to man, JD Pickens, is vacationing with Hazel Marie in Mexico) and goes after the jewel thieves herself.

The book is typical Miss Julia madcap hilarity, her proper Southern ladylike ways getting her into all kinds of trouble. The private investigator they manage to pick up is a drunk of the nth degree, and her interactions with him alone is worth the price of admission.

I love Miss Julia. Can't wait for the next one!

9. Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D. Conway.

I was shopping at Borders the other night, the night of the crocodile/wildebeest incident, and I happened upon this book, which was on sale for all of 3 dollars. The cover is a striking little number in bright red with a wreath of kitschy looking elf-heads adorning it. I thumbed through the pages, and when I saw a drunk Barbie swimming in a punch bowl, I knew I had to have it.

The author states that Christmas is the time all good taste goes straight out the window as people try to outdo each other with decorations, crappy food, and gay apparel. This book embraces the tradition of over-the-topness that is Christmas. The hell with Martha Stewart perfection! On with Kitschmas!

I am madly in love with the Valley of the Dolls Christmas tree, featuring Barbies spray painted silver. As you can imagine, Barbie takes it on the chin quite a bit in this book. There is also a tree made out of rubber gloves and one made from a tomato cage, covered in green grass skirts and leis. There are directions for wreaths made from an old tire, a straight from the cupboard Christmas feast, and clothing made from tree skirts. There's a scary-as-hell looking night light made from Santa's head, a drink called The Judy Garland, and stockings made from fetish boots.

The book is a festival of bad taste, but it's so bad it's good. Holiday hilarity just in time for the rush to hit.

So, that's it for this month. I am going to post my wrap up in December, as I want to see what number I ultimately get up to. I read nine books during NaNo, so I guess anything is possible, right?

Here's where I stand on the year:

The Great: Merry Kitschmas, Life on the Refrigerator Door, The Alchemist, The Monk Downstairs, The Next Big Thing, Miss Julia Strikes Back

The Good: Why Do Men Have Nipples?, Scarlett Rules

The OK: The Year of Magical Thinking

Totals for November:

Books Read: 9
Pages Read: 2206

Totals on the Year:

Books Read: 107
Pages Read: 33355

0 pearl(s) of wisdom: