Sunday, February 12, 2012

No One Writes to the Colonel

Thanks to Alejandra Fernandez, a former RA, who sent me another great Gabriel Garcia Marquez book to read.  This time a collection of short stories called No One Writes to the Colonel.  Marquez is adept at bringing in the reader to a time and place of the “salt of the earth” South American.  The marriage struggles, the hard times, etc. are all captured in this one.  I loved the humor, especially in the title story (same as the name of the book) and Tuesday Siesta.  There are themes that run across all of the stories and some of the characters re-appear from one story to another.  The government and how it plays a role in continually “taking” from the people for its own gain is a mantra that my own wife’s family felt growing up in Argentina.  Marquez paints experiences through his works.  His characters are real; people you would find on any street corner in any city across the globe.  Survival even through the extreme level of poverty hits many of the characters, even when on her deathbed, Big Mama won’t let stop clutching the jewels that had been left to her knowing they will be pawned by her relatives as soon as she is in the grave.  A simple, but complex cast of characters.  I really enjoy his storytelling.  Very nice read!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

This Book Will Save Your Life

An interesting title for a book that I thought was a self-help book. The title of the book is This Book Will Save Your Life, written by A.M. Homes.  It was a recommendation from one of my colleagues at NYU, Anna.  I had certain expectations going in, but quickly realized this was about a main character, a fifty-something old man named Richard Novak.  Richard has been divorced for some years, has a 16 year old son, and moved away from NYC to LA to escape his life and responsibilities.  Richard has removed himself from everyone around him and the book begins with his “mid-life crisis” which brings him to the hospital in great pain.  After his own release, his life really begins.  He engages with all kinds of people, faces lots of strange experiences, and faces his fears – his son, his ex-wife, the aging process, and the fact that to pay attention means you engage with others, and maybe, just maybe, help some other folks along the way.  Richard’s reclusive nature has made him a rich man, always watching his investments.  He lives in upscale Cali, though needs to relocate temporarily because of a sink hole next to his house.  His journey includes, saving a horse from the sink hole, saving a woman who sends an SOS from the trunk of a car after being kidnapped, saving a drowning man at a party, and then letting his son open up and be saved – especially after his interaction with a high-powered movie exec (former CIA agent) who physically assaults him.  Richard is a man who needs to be awaken from a world that is passing him by.  He finally does through a series of helping others, even the doughnut shop owner.  This is a wild story with characters only found in Cali, Hollywood that is.  I’d say it doesn’t really come neatly to an end, even though there is personal growth and connection from a guy who you just don’t believe will or could open up.  A great deal of “unbelievable” over-the-top things happen throughout.  A mixture of the unbelievable and a stretch to the “warming of the heart,” but I just didn’t get there.  A little bit too much “everything and the kitchen sink”-type story.  The dad/son story was pretty compelling, but I got lost with most of Richard’s other relationships and how they connected to his journey.  A range of emotions and characters wrapped up in a format that had no chapter breaks.  How could I stop for a meal break?  OK, not the best, but a light read for sure.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Silent Land

There aren’t a ton of books that you start and can’t put down, this was one of them for me.  Thanks to Lisa for the recommendation.  The Silent Land by Graham Joyce has just two characters, a husband (Jake) and a wife (Zoe).  They go away on a romantic weekend in the Italian mountains for a ski trip.  The book begins with an avalanche where both characters seemingly are covered by the snow.  After a miraculous escape the real action occurs…. Or does it?  When Zoe and Jake get to the hotel at the bottom of the hill after their escape they find the beautiful accommodations….. empty!  Is this really happening?  I got the Stephen King feeling reading this one.  Weird things start happening.  Zoe and Jake try to escape, but they seemingly can’t escape the mountain.  Being alone in the world, the two alienate each other, share moments of exhilaration, and start to question everything about their relationship.  Add the complication that Zoe is pregnant.   Think about being alone in the world with the person you love, in a place that is beautiful.  Lose the fear and just enjoy… but how long will that last?  There is a surprise twist in this one, which I won’t give away.  I enjoyed the mystery, is it real or a dream?  Some beautiful moments, including the last scene of the book.  Short, quick read.  Well worth picking it up!  Thoroughly enjoyed the book, though Jake was a pompous ass as a husband, huh?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Secret Lives of People in Love

What a wide range of emotions and feelings that the reader experiences reading The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, an adjunct faculty at the School of Visual Arts, right down the street from NYU! (Maybe I’ve passed him on the street.)  The book contains nineteen short stories outlining situations of missed loves, loves that no longer exist, missed opportunities, and ships that connect in the night.  There were certain themes that returned time and time again.  During some stories I was saying to myself, “déjà vu? Didn’t I just read that story?"  Many of the characters were carbon copies of each other with repeating story lines, but with different characters.  I started to fall asleep a bit as the stories unfolded and I neared the end of the book.  To be honest there were only 3-4 of the stories that actually moved me as someone who does love others.  My favorite was the story (As Much Below As Up Above) of the man who was asked to leave the submarine to help the tug pulling it, and then the submarine falters and all of his friends he left behind die.  The story captures how “happenstance” things really are and one person’s survival is just a lucky turn of fate.   In Little Birds, a young girl separated from her parents at age three (she gets on a train by accident as her parents watch her disappear) and never see them again.  She lives with the owner of a porn shop who plays the role of parent and puts together a whole new story of a life for her. Is it a film of fiction that he now creates for this young “dove” or is it real?  And my favorite of all, Snow Falls and Then Disappears, a pretty picture of how two loves connect on another level when worlds don’t always intersect, a man married to a deaf woman.  Emotions are hard to create among readers and I think Van Booy’s book is very much hit or miss.  The nice thing is that the stories are short enough that if you don’t like, no worries, it is almost over.  I’d say read the three I suggest, the others, only if you have some extra time.  Disappointing overall.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Imagine being a young 15 year old, not connecting with others, ostracized because you believed your grandfather’s stories about his friends from a far-away island, an island that contained seemingly strange children?  That is the lead in to MissPeregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs where Jacob Portman shares the impact that his father has on his life, and continues to have when his grandfather is killed in the backwoods of his home.  Was it self-inflicted wounds?  Was it from a pack of feral dogs? Or was it by some monster that Jacob thinks he sees, though his friend who was with him doesn’t…. this sets the stage for Jacob’s hospitalization.  Is he crazy?  His parents, the police, and his only friend think so.  And now the journey begins.  In his dying words to Jacob, his grandfather shares a few cryptic last words about things for Jacob to look for after his death.  It isn’t until Jacob’s 16th birthday party when his aunt shares a book that his grandfather had left for him that he understands he needs to find out about his grandfather’s heritage and the strange cast of characters that were shared with Jacob throughout his childhood.  Jacob’s psychiatrist allows his father and him to visit an island off the coast of Wales (Jacob’s father to do some bird watching for his newest book and Jacob to find the hidden secrets).  I really enjoyed the cast of characters that Jacob found and how he connected to his grandfather, both outcasts in their respective circles.  Jacob finds more than he bargained for, especially a day of infamy, September 3, 1940, that goes over and over.   Loops? Peregrines? Whites? There is mystery and intrigue at every step.  A great kid's story – every kid wishes imagination never ended and usually when we are old enough to fall in love for the first time it does, but not in this one.  A wonderful story that has you wanting to never put the book down.  Thanks Lisa for the suggestion.  I won’t tell you what happens for Jacob who in the end needs to make the decision to leave this world for love and for the salvation of the peculiars.  Pick it up!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This is your Brain on Music

It’s now time for bonus favorite book time, this is the beginning of many short takes on books I read from friend recommendations.  I will be reading these recommended books until new RAs start visiting me in late spring/early summer.  Today’s book, This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin, is exactly as it sounds, a review of how music impacts the brain.  Levitin begins with an intro that provides the novice music teacher wanna-be a lexicon of music definitions such as: timbre, contour, loudness, reverberation, meter, key, melody, cadence, diatonic, you get the idea.   Levitin utilizes many of the 40-somethings favorite songs to explain each of these terms, such as Dark Side of the Moon, Back in Black, Every Breathe You Take, Sledgehammer, and I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen.  Why do we remember voice more than facts?  This book is all about how music impacts our brain.  Why does music make my feet tap?  Why do I like the type of music I like? Why does music trigger certain memories (i.e. how do we connect life experiences with certain music)?    Not only is the book understandable for the “lay musician,” it is written with great examples (songs I remember and LOVE).  This is an in-depth investigation from a music guy turned “music scientist”!  We learn about Levitin’s ascent from high school band geek into the classroom of Stanford and MIT.  Levitin really does his work on the subject with a who’s who in his literature review.  Academics will respect the work, music lovers will learn a great deal of “what’s behind the music!”  Pick it up, worth a listen down nostalgic road.