Thursday, June 29, 2006

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

He wrote with a chewed-up pencil stub, in a little notebook which he had against his heart. He felt he had to hurry: something inside him was making him anxious, was knocking on an invisible door. By writing, he opened that door, he gave life to something that wished to be born. Then suddenly, he would become discouraged, feel disheartened, weary. He was mad. What was he doing writing these stupid stories, letting himself be pampered by the farmer's wife, while his friends were in prison, his despairing parents thought he was dead, when the future was so uncertain, the past so bleak?

Suite Francaise is an emotional novel, written, as it was, while the real-life events echoed within were occurring. Comprised of the two completed sections of an intended five-part novel, which the author was unable to complete before her death in a concentration camp, the book also includes notes by the author, correspondence from 1936-1945 (three years beyond her death), and a preface for the French edition published in 2004.

The two parts of Suite Francaise could easily stand alone, but they're interconnected and their stories would have been drawn to fuller conclusions, had the author lived.

The first section (or book, as some describe it), Storm, describes the German occupation of Paris and massive evacuation by its inhabitants. Refugees rush to the countryside with mattresses piled on top of cars and their most important possessions crammed inside, by foot or by train if they have no car. During this slow and tedious exodus, they experience the horrors of war firsthand. Bombs fall around them, trains cease to run, fuel and food become scarce, cars must be abandoned, weary and injured soldiers retreat, people sleep on the ground or in their cars and steal from each other. In the countryside, farmers take in refugees but fear they'll run out of food for their own families. All is seen through the eyes of a few people and, for the most part, the characters are snobs. Nemirovsky, herself, wrote in her personal notes: "In general, they are often characters who have too high a social standing."

This inclination toward characters with a "high social standing" is the only real annoyance in Suite Francaise. Nemirovsky's writing is beautifully crafted, obviously skilled, and painfully visceral.

The second part, Dolce, adds some new characters and moves on to the next phase of occupation as German soldiers enter, and are billeted in, the small village where many of the characters in Storm have taken refuge. As they become accustomed to life with enemy soldiers sharing their homes and their dwindling food supplies, milling about the village square, and engaging in maneuvers with confiscated horses, conflicts naturally arise. Torn between recognizing the humanity of soldiers they know were ripped from their own lives in Germany and the reality that their own sons and brothers are imprisoned, there are moments of gentle conversation, inward confusion and paralyzing fear.

An absolutely gut-wrenching and amazing book. Because it was written with a focus on emotion rather than history, I found I could only read a little at a time until I became accustomed to the raw emotion; and, I did have to get used to those snobby characters. Dolce has a slightly broader focus, as the reader gets a glimpse into the former lives of some of the German soldiers, but I also believe it's a bit more palatable because by the time one begins to read Dolce, he is well-versed regarding the antipathy between French classes.

Okay, don't call me modern: I'm going with the "he" rather than "he or she" of modern English. So sue me. Long story short: thumbs up and worthy of a spot on the keeper shelves. I plan to search for the book Vichy, France - a history of Occupied France referenced repeatedly in the notes after the novel - and hope that if none of the author's other books (9 of which had been published before the war) are in print, that they will be revived because of this release.

I should probably warn you that the notes and correspondence are particularly poignant and kept me up most of the night, tossing and turning as I reran the desperation of the author, her husband, and her publisher, mentally. But, then, I'm a lousy sleeper, the spouse was snoring like a jackhammer, and the kiddo incomprehensibly decided to steal the futon (my location of last resort). Just read the book, if it's your thing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Five things that are keeping me from my reading, this week:

1. Friends who drop by unannounced and then stay for 3 hours
2. Husbands who recall they've left their luggage at home after driving 40 miles
3. Talkative kiddos (one at home, one by phone)
4. Shouldn't have bought those magazines
5. Late-night interruptions (like, you know, sheriff's deputies appearing on the driveway at 3:15am), which make the pages blur the next day

May your path to reading be unobstructed.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

The story of a college professor, Morris Schwartz, sharing some last lessons about life with one of his favorite former students as Morrie dies of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Everybody's read this book and there may not be much to add, but I have a lot to say. I expected to hate this book. I figured it would be heart-tugging sap and, in general, books involving terminal illness do not appeal to me in the slightest. Reading for a good weep is simply not an indulgence of mine; I prefer laughter to tears. However, my husband placed a request, so to speak. He knows I'm always watching for a number of titles at any given moment; and I just happened to locate a copy in our library's sale corner shortly after he mentioned that the book was recommended by someone at work. For a quarter, I snatched up the book and brought it to my husband. That was last year. He gobbled it up and set it down on the shelf in our bedroom, where it stayed. I tiptoed around it, occasionally thinking, "Maybe I should read it," and then countering with a "Nah, not my thing," or "Maybe later."

Since I seem to be a bit bogged down in my reading - about a third of the way into three different books - the size of this book caught my eye. Unlikely that I'd take any interest in it, I thought, but the book was at eye level at the right moment. I cracked it open and read a few pages, sat down on the bed to read a few more . . . and, then I didn't stop until about halfway. At that point I decided I'd better get off my rear and move the laundry; but the next time I picked the book up I didn't put it down. Morrie's words were addictive in both their impact and simplicity. My favorite quote:

"There's a big confusion in this country over what we want versus what we need," Morrie said. "You need food, you want a chocolate sundae. You have to be honest with yourself. You don't need the latest sports car, you don't need the biggest house."

Such words fly in the face of the American Dream and I'm sure that rubs a few people the wrong way. Then again, some reviewers at Amazon say Tuesdays with Morrie is full of platitudes, that it's self-indulgent. That's both a criticism of Morrie's thoughts and the writing; and they're missing the point. Watching someone you care deeply for deteriorate rapidly is a process that makes one reflect. I know; I've been there. With a person as loving and kind as Morrie telling you what he's learned, how could you not think about his words and apply them to your own life? I only wish my father had been able to speak during his last days; he would have undoubtedly shared some last bits of wisdom. Personally, I thought the writing was appropriately blunt and suitably respectful without going overboard on the mush factor, although one couldn't help but feel a tug at the end. Morrie did die, after all.

This book also just happened to remind me of a book I enjoyed as a child, Mister God, This is Anna. Like Tuesdays with Morrie, Mr. God, This is Anna is full of the wisdom of someone who is about to die. Anna, however, didn't realize she was going to die, and at a very young age - as in 5 or 6 years of age. But, she was unusually wise for a small child. Somewhere around here, I should still have my copy. I'm that bad about hanging onto books.

Thumbs up for Tuesdays with Morrie. But, I can't see how anyone could imagine who we'll meet in heaven, so I'll skip the next book. Sounds sappy to me.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Best Moment of the Day

I dropped by the bank to deposit a check, today, and noticed the teller had a gorgeous bouquet of flowers on the counter behind her.

"Wow," I said. "Your flowers are beautiful."

The teller positively glowed. "Thanks," she told me. "My fiance gave them to me. He probably won't do that when we're married, so I'm gonna enjoy them while I can."

"Oh, I don't know," I said. "I think you've got a good shot at getting flowers when you're married if he's sending them to you, now. My husband isn't really a flower person. Never has been. When we were dating, he once gave me a cactus."

She laughed.

"I try not to dwell on it," I said.

At this point, the teller tipped her head back and laughed so hard I thought she was going to fall off her chair, which I must say gave me my warm fuzzy for the day.

The rest of the day kind of sucked.

Magazines are slowing down the book reading (as are laundry, and being married to a slob . . . but we won't go there). Thanks to having read The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, I felt compelled - *compelled*, I tell you (pitiful, I know) - to buy a copy of The Believer magazine, just to see what else is between those mysterious covers, earlier in the week. Plus, I do adore Nick Hornby. Allegedly, the three magazines that I purchased at Border's were intended to save for our upcoming vacation plane ride. Ah, well. It's not like I haven't already been setting aside books I absolutely must take on the plane.

Still reading:
*Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
*Looking for Alaska - Peter Jenkins
*Tales from the Edge: True Adventures in Alaska - Ed. by Larry Kaniut
*Some other book with a title I can't remember and which is, to be honest, about to get ditched and therefore probably not worth mentioning

No recent bear nightmares, but I'm not holding my breath with this terror-in-Alaska theme going.

Show your love. Send a cactus.

Prickly Bookfool

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Addendum to The School Run

When I wrote my review of The School Run, I neglected to mention that the novel included a startling set of incidents that I found very disturbing as a parent. One of the characters leaves her child behind in his car seat while she makes a dash into the school - not once, but twice. Even after her toddler son has escaped from the car and disappeared for a few heart-pounding moments, it doesn't occur to this mother to actually pick up her child and carry him inside the school while she enters to dig through the lost-and-found box. Instead, she leaves him behind a second time, the next time locking the car and assuming he's secure.

There's a second aspect to this brief bit of maternal insanity: even knowing, as they search for the little boy, that the mother left her child locked in the car, the police don't question whether she was neglecting her parental duty. To me, that reveals that the author feels like there's nothing wrong with "just dashing inside" somewhere, provided a child is locked into a car. Believe me, I do understand what a pain it is to unload and carry a heavy child for a brief jaunt, say, into a gas station to pay - both of my sons were big, healthy babies and it was a nuisance lugging them around; but, as the old saw goes, "You do what you have to do." I found that particular secondary storyline upsetting because children have been known to die in hot cars while parents left them "briefly". I just thought it was worth a mention.

Bookfool who used to have a perpetually sore back from carrying kiddos

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The School Run by Sophie King

From the cover:

Meet seven very different people, all on the same route to school. Little do they know that over the course of one week the school run will have become a collision course, connecting their lives in more ways than one.

The School Run is a contemporary story that looks at the lives of seven adults during one very eventful week: three mothers and one widowed father, a woman who lost her only child, a teacher, and a French au pair. Each day, the characters cross paths in the run to the drop-off zone at St. Theresa’s School. All, naturally, have some sort of challenge to deal with. Is Harriet’s husband Charlie going to leave her? Will Kitty ever find a man to settle down with? Is there any possibility that Betty will spot the hit-and-run driver who killed her son? Why has Evie’s husband suddenly disappeared?

The School Run is a surprisingly well-written first novel. In form and style, it's vaguely reminiscent of The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble, but with its own flair. Each section begins with a snippet of radio chatter and, most of the time, the name of the main character serves as a heading to let you know which story you’re dipping into as the author whips from one character to the next, overlapping both the radio bits and the individual stories. The School Run has a tremendous flow and, thus, makes for a very quick read.

However, seven main characters are just a few too many. For the first third of the book, I found myself flipping to the back cover constantly, in order to discern which character I was reading about; and, even then, the cover information was not enough because there were so many children to keep mentally sorted. Still, the book was entertaining and even a bit surprising around the last third. All the strands of the various storylines were thoroughly wrapped up and, overall, I found the book a satisfying read in spite of the proliferation of characters and a bit of predictability. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy light, contemporary British writing.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan

Consider the Lily took me weeks to read - very unusual for me, especially if we're talking fiction; with non-fiction I often have to pinch myself and say, "Stay awake, dummy." In this case, I think the story really just moved very, very slowly because the author paid great attention to historical accuracy and detail. The heroine was also quite hard to warm up to, but eventually Matty Verral Dysart seemed to grow and thrive as a character.

Backing up a bit, Consider the Lily is a story set between the two world wars. Kit Dysart and his family live in a decaying mansion on a crumbling estate, Hinton Dysart, the family money having dwindled. After a suitable introduction involving a wedding, Kit, Matty Verral, her cousin Daisy, and other relatives and friends of both families go on holiday in France. Kit and Daisy fall madly in love and are, it seems, a perfect match. But, when the American stock crash causes a huge loss of assets, Kit is called home to deal with business without managing to propose.

Matty is independently wealthy and asks Kit to marry her as they cross the channel toward England, knowing she can solve his financial troubles. He agrees. But, Kit doesn't love Matty. Haunted by Daisy, he treats Matty gently and tries to be a good husband but with a distance that is cruel; sometimes she can even see him flinch when she touches him. When Matty discovers a grown-over walled garden, she finds hope and solace, as well as some startling family secrets. There, with her hands in the soil, she is transformed along with the beautiful flowers growing around her.

Favorite quote:

For the novice, the first steps in gardening are the most difficult. There is much to learn, wrote a great gardener, Gertrude Jekyll. But, unlike the lessons in love or hate, even the lessons in money, they are pleasant, oh, so pleasant, and the fallings by the wayside do not wound, only teach. The beginner, said Miss Jekyll, should be both bewildered and puzzled, for that is part of the pre-ordained way; the road to perfection. Each step becomes lighter, less mud-clogged, until, little by little, the postulant becomes the novice, the novice the fully professed. Oh, yes, Miss Jekyll, you were so right. A garden is a grand primer. 'It teaches patience and careful watchfulness: it teaches industry and thrift: above all, it teaches entire trust.'

Another 3.5/5. I believe this book is particularly worth a read for those who love gardening and historical fiction; one who gardens can't help but nod at the therapeutic value of sticking hands in dirt and watching beautiful creations grow. I also enjoyed the fact that Hinton Dysart (a fictional estate) was near Farnham, a small town that I've visited in England (and where I met a ghost, but that's another story), so I knew a little of its Roman history. An enjoyable story, if somewhat slow to develop.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Urban Shaman by C.E.Murphy

If you've followed my previous posts, you know my 14-year-old son and I have been sharing Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy. He finished reading on Friday night and I reached the end on Saturday.

When were both around 100 pages into the book, kiddo and I had a conversation that went as follows:

Me: This is a pretty weird book.
Son: Of course it is.
Me: What do you mean, "Of course it is"?
Son: Mom, it's about a shaman. Any book that has a shaman on the cover is going to be weird. They have spirit guides. They battle evil. It's weird stuff.
Me: But you're enjoying it?
Son (stealing book for the second time): Duh.

So, yes, the book is a bit bizarre, particularly if you're not accustomed to the fantasy/magic genre. At the beginning of the novel, heroine Joanne Walker (aka, Siobhan Walkingstick) sees a woman being chased by a pack of otherworldly dogs, into the path of a man with a knife. Convinced she must go help the woman, Joanne triangulates the woman's approximate location with a bit of mental math using the landing speed of the plane, current time, and the estimated time Joanne spotted her from the plane. It turns out the woman was being chased by a Celtic god called Cernunnos and the pack of dogs belong to The Hunt . . . sort of the rest of the team of god-critters, I guess you could say. Getting herself nearly killed by Cernunnos leads Joanne to the revelation that she is a shaman, or healer, and it's up to her to save the world.

I'd personally rate this one about a 3.5/5 because the fantasy aspect occasionally lost me and, geez, poor Joanne gets the crud beat out of her practically every 50 pages. Son loved it and wanted to rush right out to buy the next in the series, Thunderbird Falls. I decided we'll wait and buy that one for vacation reading, which got me a typical teenage shrug. He knows I'm a book wimp and he'll get to read Thunderbird Falls, eventually. Son rated it 4.5/5.

Bookfool whose life's earnings are probably keeping the publishing world on its feet

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Best quote, thus far

From Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy (Andi, you'll love this): "Once upon a time, a nice young half-Cherokee half-Irish girl went to college and got the ultimate would-you-like-fries-with-that degree: English. "

Son #2 didn't get it.

Obviously, I snatched the book back from the teenager. The attack cat glared at me and then yawned and put her head back down.

Update: Son came marching into the room *while I was reading*, last night (okay, I set the book down for a minute . . . but *just* for a minute) and said, "Where's Urban Shaman?"

I pointed to the bedside TBR pile and said, "But, I'm reading it." Nonplussed, he walked to my pile and plucked up the book. "I mean, I'm reading it right now. She just pressed her hand to the confessional window and the priest said, 'Go with God'. It's getting so good."

"Too bad," quoth the teenager. I tell you I get no respect. He's nearly finished, but I was forced to pick up Consider the Lily for my evening reading time and then started Tales From the Edge: True Adventures in Alaska (because last month I didn't scare myself enough reading about bears and inducing nightmares in which one such giant climbed upon my stomach when its cub decided to roll around behind me --so not my fault-- and I was about to be clawed open. . . this is why my bookclub friends call me "major wimp").

And, it's not like we don't have thousands of other books he could read.

Sighing Bookfool

Remember Me by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

I've already mentioned this book in several other posts, so I'll just copy my "official" review and then babble on. Remember Me is an advanced reader that technically belongs to my husband, but I have sticky fingers when it comes to books and the hubby didn't mind. You can imagine he's, perhaps, used to such things? My intense curiosity led me to hop over to the computer and look up some of the things the author mentioned. The Frozen Dead Guy Days Festival, for example, grabbed my interest. I got online and found a t-shirt for the teenager. Shopportunity principles failed - I bought last year's version because it cost less. Whether or not the school system will consider it offensive remains to be seen.

Official (and, therefore, probably dull) review:

An exploration of the traditions, trends, and future in American funerals written with humor and occasionally a bit on the gruesome side, Remember Me chronicles the author’s travels around the country to observe rites and rituals while learning what’s to come in the funeral industry.

An oddly fascinating, sometimes touching, occasionally downright weird chronicle written with a light-hearted flair but with the occasional “Ewww, gross” passage. The author traveled to a convention for funeral directors and crashed funerals, spoke to people with traditional and innovative businesses, and even described the funeral of her own grandfather in Japan. She joined in on scattering ashes from a plane with a homemade dispersal container, viewed the ceremony on-shore and the ocean burial of the deceased in an “eternal reef”, learned about turning human (thus, carbon-based) cremation ashes into diamonds, spoke to two men who have a mummification business and one who turns bodies into plastic, and attended the Frozen Dead Guy Days festival in Nederland, Colorado.

In general, the book was interesting but should not be taken as a detailed or scholarly analysis of trends, but rather a look at the variety of options now becoming available as Americans balk at the traditional funeral and burial process. The fact that the author had a new baby and often showed up at events and interviews with her child, usually in a backpack or stroller, added some light moments.

End of review--

Son #2 has walked off with Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy. Hey! He's not supposed to pull the same kind of snatching tricks as his mom. Serves me right, I guess, for turning my kids into avid readers. He's out of the house, at the moment, so I could just . . . yeah, think I'll tiptoe into the room and get it back. Hopefully, the attack cat lodged on his bed won't awaken.

Sneaky Bookfool on a Mission

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not a UFO

Still reading Remember Me by Lisa Tekeuchi Cullen (because I really do have to let my husband read it, at some point; it is *his* advanced reader) and I thought I was having a terrible time visualizing the "Eternal Reefs" burial method described in one chapter. They're created using a mixture of cremated remains and concrete. Okay, that's a fascinating (and environmentally upright) use for ashes. I looked them up and ---what ho!--- I actually have a decent imagination; they're just about what I expected. This is my favorite photo from, the website for the maker of these totally hoopty artificial reefs. They're dropped into the ocean after an on-shore ceremony, sink to the bottom of the ocean to serve as artificial reefs, and the undersea wildlife takes up residence in no time. Smashing fine way to repair reefs. Not that I want that to happen to me, but, you know . . . if it's between that and being turned into a diamond, I have no idea. I really wanted to be buried in My Beloved Mazda, but the husband gave it away, so whatever.

Also reading: Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan, which is *improving daily* and Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy

Bookfool being harrassed by teenager who wants me to get offline; yeah, yeah, I'm hurrying

Monday, June 12, 2006

Some days you wear pink . . .

And, some days you just have to tuck your head under your feathers and take a nap.

Migraines Suck/Two Old Women Doesn't

Day 4 of this migraine and I've reached the point it doesn't go away with the usual stuff, so I'm rooting around for different painkillers and sucking on Mt. Dew. Migraines suck.

I read Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival by Velma Wallis, last night. This is one I found in the library sale, where we stack our books and pay a quarter per stacked inch. At about 1/2", I'm figuring this book cost me 12.5 cents. I will be searching for more by this author.

Two Old Women is a tale of two elderly women who are abandoned (presumably to die) by their tribe during a fierce winter when so little game can be found that the people are slowly starving. Angered by their abandonment, the women choose to fight for survival rather than give in and die. A lovely legend passed on in the oral tradition till Wallis decided to write it down, Two Old Women describes the harsh reality of life in the Yukon during the days when the natives were nomadic and followed the food (caribou herds, salmon runs) to survive. Beautifully written and fascinating; this is one I'll shove on son #2, who also loves tales of survival. It's a mere 145 pages and illustrated.

Off to try to wake the son and maybe think about getting dressed. Maybe not. Migraines suck. Did I say that?

Miserable Bookfool

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain

I've been spelling "Guevara" wrong all week. Comment embarrassant (translation courtesy of BabelFish). Oh, well, just ignore previous posts with misspellings, if you please.

I'm about to gush about this book, so if you don't like glowing adjectives, cover your eyes and duck.

In Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, Ben Fountain tackles moral dilemmas and third-world settings with a literary flair seldom seen in short form. I was particularly blown away by the first of the eight stories, Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillara, in which a struggling doctoral candidate travels to Colombia to study the region's parrots and ends up the kidnap victim of MURC, the "extortionist rebels" known for ransoming foreigners in order to pay for arms to protect their cocaine plantations. Not only did the story pack the excitement level of Proof of Life (an excellent movie that apparently 50 people viewed and the 2 of us who don't care what Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe do in their off-screen lives purchased), but it was also told with brilliant detail and richness to the point of making me wonder, "Gosh, has he been there?"

And, in that question lies the foundation of Fountain's storytelling success. He doesn't just pose a moral dilemma and express political sentiments via the storytelling medium. Rather, he shoots the arrow of his message into the heart of the reader via the strongest of human foundations: truth. The senses evoked, the detail of historical fact and physical surroundings, even the dialogue are all so utterly believable that if the facts upon which Fountain's stories lie are in any way inaccurate, the reader will likely find such discrepancies hard to conceive when the truth comes to light. At some points, I had to remind myself, "This is fiction." Fantasy for Eleven Fingers, for example, may be based upon the life of a real pianist or it may not. I don't know my musical history well enough to discern the fact from the fiction. But, the story reads like journalistic feature writing and it's hard to believe, once ended, that the eleven-fingered musicians described didn't exist.

Brief Encounters is definitely a book worth buying, savoring, discussing, and rereading. Even the gorgeous cover makes it a book worthy of the "good shelves". Again, since this is an advanced reader, not due to be released till August of 2006, I have no image to post. But, trust me, the cover is really pretty. You'll wish your curtains looked that nice.

Other reads of the moment:

*Remember Me by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, an advanced reader that I've stolen from my husband. He'll get it back; I promise.
*Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan, a book that I spent too much on and therefore must finish, which is finally capturing my interest at around page 100.
*Whatever happens to be next to me when seated: cereal boxes, old notes and lists I should throw away, you name it.

Reading is my oxygen,
Bookfool in constant search of more air

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Blog, Blob or Glob

During a quiet moment, last evening, the spouse said, "Why don't you go work on your blob?"

Of course, I collapsed into a fit of hysterics and said I'm going to start a weblog for dyslexics (the hubby would fall into that category) and call it "Glob: a blog for dyslexics". Or, maybe "Golb" or his original snafu word, "Blob". It's okay, he's dyslexic and found me amusing.

Warning for mommies: You can turn your kid dyslexic by plunking him or her into a walker and never getting around to chasing baby through the crawling phase. I read up on dyslexia after marrying my feller and found that crawling is a phase that helps coordinate the eyes with the brain. Both my children were plunked on the floor with toys out of reach and they turned out fine - a little quirky, but fine as far as reading ability. The husband never crawled and, thus, fit this theory well.

However, don't think dyslexia makes anyone stupid. Mine has a PhD in geotechnical engineering. I'm the one who sits around reading and being a bum. Ability to read isn't everything. Try telling that to an English teacher and see if he or she invites you to dinner.

Bookfool married to Dyslexic Dirt Doctor

Friday, June 09, 2006

Shopportunity! by Kate Newlin

On the whole, business books have a few really common features:
1. They're annoyingly repetitive.
2. They're a boring slog.
3. They're often filled with pointless diatribes or theoretical hogwash.

Shopportunity! is a bit repetitive, yes. But, it's not dull; in fact, it's a surprisingly fun read. I practically quoted it to death to the hubby. Poor spouse. I'm bent on coercing him to read it and he's probably already heard all of the best anecdotes. Well, shucks, it's his fault for marrying me.

The basic theme: Cut-price stores and our quest for the cheapest products have led to inferior quality, understaffed stores, poor service, overindulgence, addiction to bargain shopping, and loss of benefits and wages for those staffing the stores. Newlin even asserts that obesity stems from our addiction to cheap products and, thus, the purchase and consumption of larger quantities of food. On this one point, I disagree. Europeans are thinner and healthier. But, they drink fewer soft drinks and more water, they walk more, they eat out less and cook more using fresher foods. They walk and they walk and they walk because they can and they often must. I could argue that point to death.

Otherwise, Newlin gives the reader much to think about, talk about, and act upon. She also describes what will happen to her own product. In a few months, Shopportunity!'s garish cover will be screaming from end counters and brandishing discount stickers. It will be promoted in magazines and eventually remaindered. It will probably make its already-well-set owner a heck of a nice nest egg. In short, everything the author claims detrimental to our lives is undoubtedly going to happen to this book.

Will it cause a revolution in the retail world? Will people stop to think about their habits, reevaluate them, and make serious changes that could improve the general quality of life for everyone in America? I doubt it. Some will, some won't. I've avoided Wal*Mart all week, but I live in a town with few options and staying away forever would be nearly impossible. There will definitely be more care in what I choose, at least for a time. I can't speak for those who live in large, metropolitan areas. They're fortunate to have options unavailable to me. Whether or not they'll choose to exercise those options remains to be seen.

A few of Newlin's anecdotes are actually borderline offensive. A woman is miffed when she buys a designer dress at Macy's and the clerk keys in a non-existent coupon, giving her a 30% discount. That's a problem? Sorry, not to those of us who couldn't afford a designer dress, even at 80% off. Roaming the aisles of nicer stores, indeed, isn't possible for everyone.

We can, however, do our best to choose the best quality affordable and available to each of us. Certainly, the vast majority of Americans would benefit by buying fewer items with greater care spent in their purchase. The best of Newlin's points:

1. Shop (you don't have to buy!) in quality stores when possible and learn what quality is all about.
2. Notice the details and make purchases with greater care.
3. Buy less.
4. Stay away from stores where you're badly treated or totally ignored.

Overall, an excellent book and highly recommended.

Cheapskate Bookfool in the process of Quality Purchase Training

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Slowly, slowly she putters away at her book stack

I'm still working on three books, hindered only by exhaustion and a weird summer schedule. Actually, come to think of it, there are quite a few obstacles putting a damper on my reading time, but I'm doing my best to circumvent them.

Shopportunity by Kate Newlin, an advanced reader which has a September '06 release date, has been captivating me, today. That's right, captivating. I'm not kidding. Who'd have thought that a book about shopping--describing the reasons discount stores have yanked away the thrill of the hunt--could be a fascinating read? Newlin has me looking around my home, pondering the junk cramming practically every corner. Oh, my gosh. What a tacky cesspool of cheapness. What a ponderously mountainous mess of unnecessary trinkets. What a tragic homage to the cut-price and pointless. What a disaster of epic proportions!

Maybe it's not quite that bad, but my home is certainly anything but classy. This has sparked a minor cleaning and throwing-away frenzy, which son #2 keeps interrupting by, for example, flinging a cup of milk such a tremendous distance (due to fatigue, not intent) that I have to empty our spare kitchen cabinets, purchased at the very classy IKEA, and shove them aside to clean the milk beneath. Life is definitely interesting.

I'm also still hacking away at Brief Encounters with Che Guevera by Ben Fountain--another advanced reader--and not because it's a difficult read. The stories are simply so thought-provoking that I feel obligated to set the book aside after each short story and let them roll around my brain for a time. Ms. Bookfool is predicting Brief Encounters will be a hit with book clubs in a few short months. We shall see.

Off to shove the IKEAs back against the wall and attempt to rid my world of the tacky. Happy Reading!

Clutterpated Bookfool

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

London Transports by Maeve Binchy or Please Hit These Characters Upside the Head

The copy of London Transports that I got my mitts on for a quarter at the library sale has a gorgeous cover. A glorious, brightly colored painting of trees, sidewalk and roadway set against a backdrop of cityscape and a mottled sky that looks like something Van Gogh might have come up with if he'd been in the right place at the right time (naturally, I can't find an image anywhere - darn). The inside, on the other hand . . . well, let's just say this wasn't the best of introductions to Maeve Binchy.

On the other hand, since it's my first Binchy book I can hardly judge. The 22 short stories had this in common: dreary lives, London settings (each story had a location name for a title, such as "Marble Arch" and "Pimlico") and characters that were in serious need of a good bonking. They were, for the most part, idiots. Emotional whackos. Stupid, stupid, stupid - just ditch the married guy and run types. The writing, on the other hand, was merely mediocre. Since I'd agreed to buddy read, I finished. Otherwise, I probably would have abandoned the book during one of my attention deficit fits, one of those moments when I reread a sentence five times and then found myself dreamily observing dust bunnies on the ceiling fan. The dust bunnies were scary; I should have been cowering, but I was somewhat hypnotized and neglected to even think, "Oh, say, I should do something about those dust bunnies."

Maeve Binchy also has a serious punctuation problem; she needs to learn about semicolons. I'd willingly to fly to Dublin to share my expertise. However, I supposed she'd justifiably bonk me on the head and send me home. Ah, well.

Till later,
Dustbunny-bound Bookfool

Moving in

Hello, everybody! It is I, loveable furry old Gro-. . .

Oops, no, it's just me - good old Bookfoolerytoes. I have moved because the other site was so dang slow it actually took 15 minutes to load up one of my posts. So far, the pages on this one are popping up quickly (fingers crossed, knocking wood, pulling hair, chewing fingernails, etc.).

Latest book notes:
I'm almost done with London Transports by Maeve Binchy and nipping away at Brief Encounters with Che Guevera (watch this Ben Fountain guy - these stories are totally amazing), as well as Shopportunity and Consider the Lily. I always was a little on the unfocused side. Reviews to follow, as I knock those off.

On the family side, the eldest kid came home with girlfriend in tow. Near as I can tell, he came to plunder and drove off looking like a very happy and successful pirate. I told him what I thought via email. He became suddenly quiet. I hope I'm not turning into my mother. Gasp.

Younger son had a blast at this weekend's swim meet and actually came home from 3 1/2 hours of swim team practice this morning, took a 5-minute shower, ate some sliced fruit and a Slimfast bar (he calls them "Fillfast" bars), guzzled water and took off with the church youth group for a "high ropes course", whatever that is. He came home grinning; but, frankly, he's pretty much always got a grin on his face. One of the swim mommies described son #2 as "the tall boy who is always smiling". Teachers describe him as, "that kid who reads instead of doing his class work." Either way, I'm crazy about him.

Off to place my nose in a book. Happy Reading!

Ms. Bookfool, aka Toes, aka "Hey You!"