Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: My Formerly Hot Life

I am likely the target audience for Dolgoff's memoir/self-help/humor book on getting older. That said, I found it difficult to relate to this book. Dolgoff's inspiration for this book was discovering that people no longer saw her as a young, hot, pick-up-able woman. Instead, she's trying to come to terms with the fact that she's become an average, perhaps boring, mom. Dolgoff's complaints about aging will likely sound familiar to most. Her metabolism has slowed, she can't stay out all night anymore, men no longer try to pick her up on the subway.

The purpose of this book is to let readers know that perhaps it's not all so bad. There are benefits to getting older. The problem is that I'm not sure that Dolgoff is actually convinced that it's going to be okay. It seemed as though the author was caught between feeling she had to present a silver lining and wanting to let her readers know that the cloud actually sucks. I also felt like I couldn't relate to many of Dolgoff's concerns. My friends and I don't have so many difficulties meeting for dinner, and we don't really care if the places we go are considered hot by everyone else. Maybe the issue is that I don't live in Manhattan. Maybe it's that I don't work in fashion.

Ultimately this struck me as a book that doesn't know what it wants to be. It's not funny enough to be a work of humor. It's not deep enough to be a memoir. This seems to be a problem that a number of blogs-to-books face. Some of the material in the book would be interesting and charming as a 1-2 page magazine article, but a 200-page book is overkill. It was difficult for me to get through this book, and I didn't feel like I left it with any additional insight.

Stephanie Dolgoff, My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young (Ballantine, 2010) ISBN: 0345521455

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: The Quickening

This novel follows the lives of two women living on adjacent farms on the Great Plains during the Great Depression. Enidina and Mary, two very different women, are brought together by geography, but have little else in common. Enidina's life is filled with sorrows, but Mary has little ability to empathize. Mary, while devoutly religious, is convinced in the ultimate rightness of her actions, even when those actions are questionable or self-serving. Meanwhile, Enidina is the very definition of Christian patience. She takes death, poverty, and the hardships of farm life with a quiet patience and stoicism.

This was quite an interesting book, though it was rather slow to start. I found the characters somewhat difficult to get to know, living out the image of the taciturn Midwesterner. I also found the format to be a bit clunky; much of the book is written as Enidina's letters to her grandson. The end of the book is quite good. Hoover has captured a particular type of character, the strong Midwestern farm wife, brilliantly.

Michelle Hoover, The Quickening (Other Press, 2010) ISBN: 1590513460

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Anthropology of an American Girl

This is a book sorely in need of an editor. The book is a veritable tome, clocking in at hundreds of pages, when 200 would probably suffice. The plot follows the late teens and early twenties of Eveline Auerbach, coming of age on Long Island and in New York City. For Evie, these years are entirely defined by her first love with an older man. That love is largely unrequited, so Evie compensates by filling her life with other unsuitable men. As the book progresses Evie describes her life, feelings, and surroundings in excruciating detail. While for some characters this might make for an intriguing book, Evie is not one of those characters. While unrequited teenage love will likely resonate with many, most of us grow up and get over it. Evie does not. Perhaps this is why I thought the high school section was the strongest part of the book.

Evie is the sort of character who lets life wash over her and lets things happen to her, and is convinced there's no other way for things to be. She also has tremendous talent for choosing bad men. Evie's parents were somewhat unbelievable characters, allowing her to move in with an older man, generally paying her no attention whatsoever.

I think I would have liked this book much better if it had been ruthlessly edited. I was expecting to love the book, and I did not.

Hilary Thayer Hamann, Anthropology of an American Girl (Spiegel and Grau, 2010) ISBN:
0385527144, 624 pages

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review: The Book of the Dead

The most important thing to note about this book is that this is not a book about death; it is very much a book about life. This book is a collection of biographies of interesting individuals: a sort of Aubrey's Brief Lives written by comedians. Each of the character sketches is short, 5 to 10 pages. The chapters are organized according to shared characteristics, ranging from bad childhoods to sex addicts to monkey owners. The sketches are undeniably humorous, and the authors have a knack for focusing on the absurd. This is a funny book, well-written and easy to read. It does operate according to the law of diminishing returns; this is a book best read in small increments, any more is overload. My one significant criticism is that some of the chapter themes are rather far-fetched, and the biographies have little to do with the theme of the chapter. Monkey-owners was probably the worst of these. Overall, though, an enjoyable book, and one that will leave the reader with all sorts of fun stories to tell at cocktail parties.

John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, The Book of the Dead (Harmony, 2010) ISBN:


I can't believe that I'm late signing up for the RIP V challenge! I love this challenge, and the artwork this year is amazing (note the beautiful button). Hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, it involves reading four books of the spooky/scary/Halloween type. This should be no problem. Right now, my potential list of reads includes:

Agatha Christie, Miss Marple Short Stories
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hounds of the Baskervilles
Pam Lewis, Speak Softly, She Can Hear
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
P.D. James, Cover Her Face

This is all subject to change at any time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Pieta

I am not generally one who thinks that books should be longer. Sometimes I'm sorry when the experience of reading a particularly good book is over, but I rarely think that they would benefit by being longer. This book, however, really could be longer. In a scant 120 pages it deals with some pretty weighty themes, including death, divorce, child abuse, and the place of art in the individual's life.

Jim Priest, his daughter, and his dying mother spend her final days in the family home. In the process they recount the past: a past in which Jim cowered to avoid his father's abuse while desperately seeking parental attention.

This is heavy material, but the reader only gets snippets, never the full story. Throughout my reading I constantly wanted more explanation. I felt like I never really got inside the heads of any of the characters. The book is rather dialogue-heavy, and I found I preferred Jim's narration, rather than his dialogue. I generally found the dialogue less fulfilling, especially that between Jim and his daughter. The idea for the book has a lot of promise, but I finished my reading wanting to know more about Jim's childhood and the Pieta.

William Zink, Pieta (Sugar Loaf, 2010) ISBN: 0970070241

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review: A Vintage Affair

While mourning the death of her best friend, Phoebe Swift decides to open a vintage clothing shop in London. Phoebe has been left with tremendous survivor's guilt following the suicide of her friend Sam. Guilt has led Phoebe to end her engagement and to cut ties with her former fiance. To cope Phoebe throws herself into her shop. The book follows two parallel plots: one following Phoebe as she returns to the dating world, the other chronicling her growing friendship with an elderly woman who has a closet full of clothes with compelling histories.

Though this book deals with some sad events, I would describe this book as a 'happy book'- light and enjoyable to read, and left me with a smile and an upbeat attitude. This is one of those books that reads quickly and ties up neatly in the end. Sometimes I want to read exactly this kind of book, and this is one of the better examples of this genre I've read recently. I'd call it beach or vacation reading. I did have a few issues with the book- I thought the ending was a bit too tidy, and I was annoyed by Phoebe's decidedly poor treatment of her ex-fiance. Those things aside, I very much enjoyed reading this book, and will search out other works by this author.

Isabel Wolff, A Vintage Affair (Bantam, 2010) ISBN: 0553807838