Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Truth About Forever : a review

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (2006)

Macy can’t forgive herself for showing up late to run with her father that day. Maybe if she had gone right away instead of sleeping those extra few minutes, she could have arrived in time to prevent his death. Now she is the girl who watched her father die, and is tired of everybody’s pitying looks and words of sympathy. She keeps her feelings inside and does what is expected of her, studying hard, working at a boring job in the library, and trying to be perfect. Her fa├žade begins to crack a bit when her goody-goody boyfriend Jason suggests they take a break. Then she takes a second job at Wish catering. Thriving on the busy chaos and befriending her new co-workers, Macy begins to feel alive for the first time since her father’s death. She becomes close to Wes, opening up with him about her past as he shares stories of his mother’s death and his incarceration. But Macy’s mom, hiding her grief behind long hours of work, doesn’t see things the same way and Macy can’t bring herself to confront her mother about what she is going through.

I started off on the wrong foot with this book. Having a very similar experience as a teenager, I couldn’t buy the idea of Macy being “the girl who saw her dad die.” I absolutely understood the constant ongoing words of sympathy (so fake and polite and requiring some sort of awkward response), but to be labeled like an outcast because she happened to be there when he died? Shaky premise. Jason, her boyfriend, was also a little hard to picture with his bizarre language that was somehow a cross between a therapist and a businessman, but contained zero teenage boy. However, I warmed up to Macy and the book very quickly. I understood the torture of her boring job where she wasn’t actually allowed to do anything interesting, and found the characters vibrant and genuine.

Macy’s trajectory of grief was believable, as was her strained relationship with her mother and their inability to discuss her deceased father. I loved the details about her dad’s addiction to ordering products advertised on tv. Wes was also great, an artist with a somewhat dark past. Their game of Truth reminded me of so many conversations I had with friends as a teenager, and I rooted for them to finally make a romantic connection. Don’t let the stupid cover deter you – this is a satisfying novel that has nothing to do with feminine hygiene products.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Freedom to Read

It is Banned Books Week again, the yearly attempt by ALA to inspire outrage over book censorship in America. The only problem is, there IS no book censorship in America. If you start reading about it you will find that what we are actually outraging against are complaints by busybody parents of elementary school students out in the square states. More often than not, the books they complain about are ultimately not even pulled from the shelves. And if we're going to use such a liberal definition of "censorship," librarians, as I've said before, are the worst offenders.

Every year I roll my eyes and complain about how out of touch the ALA is, but this year I am actually offering a suggestion. Instead of focusing on such lame challenges (or "expressions of concern") of library materials, why not highlight our freedom to read by comparing it with actual, real censorship in other parts of the world? For instance, in India The God of Small Things was banned after publication in 1996, earning the author an obscenity trial, and more recently in 2007 a book on Islam was banned there as well. In 2008 a book called The Devil's Discus was banned in Thailand. In fact, here is a whole list of books banned in the authors' native countries. Not to mention the extensive and ongoing censorship of media in China and North Korea.

We could call it something like Freedom to Read Week, which is more relevant and accurate than Banned Books Week, and celebrate intellectual freedom in all its forms. Real censorship DOES happen, in many parts of the world, and that is what we should be learning about if we want to foster appreciation for the freedoms that we have here at home.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Amsterdam!

Pardon my blog silence of the last couple of weeks - I was on a long-awaited vacation! I wish I could show you everything, but we'll have to settle for just a sampling.

There are many wonderful and unique things about Amsterdam: the ubiquitous bicycles, the tall and beautiful inhabitants, the ample opportunities to drink beer outside along a canal, but I think what I loved most was just the way it looked.




Many of the canal bridges are lit up at night.


Amsterdam was surprisingly small and walkable. We walked everywhere! It was cold and rainy, but we did not let that deter us. Here I am standing in front of the National Museum.


It is undergoing extensive renovations and we only able to see a small part of it, but even that was huge and amazing.


The National Museum of Spectacles was also worth a visit. I love how the building looks, and the collection is fascinating and eccentric.


This little shop was cute as a button.


Here I am posing in front of the Poezenboot - the Cat Boat! It's a cat shelter on a houseboat.

One day we visited Delft, which is super cute and looks a lot like Amsterdam but is smaller and filled with expensive ceramics.



Another day we rented a car and drove north. Kudos to Eric for being willing to drive on those crazy roads with their confusing signs. We visited a couple of little towns but I really enjoyed just driving through the country.

Oh look - a windmill!


These old-timey windmills and few and far between at this point. These ones have taken over:


They are just everywhere!


There were also a lot of cows and sheep. I only got this one crappy photo, but you get the idea. Unlike in America, there are hardly any fences on the farms. Instead, there are canals.

As is usually the case with vacations, I spent a lot of time eating unhealthy things.

Mini pancakes from a street market. So cute and tasty!


A huge pancake from a strange round restaurant with a carousel inside of it. The pancake is topped with Grand Marnier, ice cream, and whipped cream. Nutritious lunch!


Most importantly, I discovered the wonderful goodness of the stroopwaffel.


All in all, a fantastic trip. I can't believe I waited this long to go there, but I'm so glad that I did!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's Not Summer Without You : a review


It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han (2010)


In this follow-up to The Summer I Turned Pretty, we skip ahead to the following summer. Much has happened in between – Belly had a disastrous relationship with Conrad, culminating in a prom night break-up, and Susannah has died of cancer. A couple of months later Jeremiah calls Belly in a panic because Conrad has gone missing from summer school. All three end up at the summer house in Cousins in a desperate attempt to right everything that has gone horribly terribly wrong.

There are a lot of flashbacks to the things that have happened, like Susannah’s funeral and Belly’s quasi-relationship with Conrad, but the focus here is on the future. All the characters are hurting because of Susannah’s death, and the relationships are all strained because of it. I thought Han did a good job of this actually. Sequels are tough, and this one surely couldn’t be anything like the first simply because of what has happened, and she deftly handled the developments and aftermath.

It’s not a happily ever after and she leaves some question marks at the end. I think her point – at least this is what I take from it – is that it doesn’t matter because nothing really, truly ends. Our lives are changing all the time, and regardless of who Belly ends up in a relationship with at the end of the book, she hasn’t “ended up” at all because she’s only 16. Many more things will happen to her and there is no way to predict them this early. (No Harry Potter/Hunger Games epilogues here!)

If you really just want a feel-good summer novel, maybe just stick to the first book. But for further insight and character development (or if, like me, you always need to know what happens next) I do recommend reading this book as well. Let me know what you think of it!

The Summer I Turned Pretty : a review


The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han (2009)


Belly absolutely lives for her summers at the beach house in Cousins. Every summer she’s gone with her mom, brother, mom’s best friend Susannah, and Susannah’s sons Jeremiah and Conrad. She doesn’t miss her school friends at all, or regret that she can’t attend their summer parties and Fourth of July get-togethers. In fact, the one time she brought her best friend, she regretted it. Summers are meant to be spent with only these particular people. Jeremiah is her best friend, Susannah like her second mother. And ever since she can remember, Belly has been in love with Conrad. Moody, elusive Conrad who has never given her a second look. Until this summer, when both boys notice that Belly isn’t a little girl anymore.

There is a coming-of-age feel to the novel, because this is the first summer that Belly is invited out to parties with the boys which creates friction with her brother Steven. And while I wouldn’t call her relationships with Conrad and Jeremiah a romantic triangle, there is plenty of tension.

There is another shadow cast over this summer as well. Susannah has been spending more and more time napping or out on alleged shopping trips with Belly’s mom Laurel. There is mention of an impending divorce, but we learned in the beginning of the novel that Susannah once had cancer, and every astute reader knows there’s a reason we are given this backstory. Belly has to grow up in many ways during this novel, and accept that the summers she loves are changing forever.

This is a great summer YA novel, completely free of high school related drama, which I appreciated, but there is plenty of romantic tension and adolescent angst. I liked Belly’s changing relationships with Conrad and Jeremiah, and her confusion and outbursts felt genuine. I hated that her name was Belly (short for Isabel – such a better name!) but she is a character you can root for.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Still Alice : a review

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (2009)

Harvard professor Alice Howland is diagnosed, at the age of 49, with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Beginning with occasional memory lapses like forgetting where she left her Blackberry and becoming lost in her own neighborhood, the novel chronicles her slow but steady decline in minute detail. Her relationships with her husband and daughters change, and her hard-earned career slips away.

This was another book chosen by my book group that I didn’t think I would like. Though I find the subject matter fascinating, it’s also so terrifying that I dreaded reading the book. But strangely, this novel made me feel a bit better about potential dementia. Maybe because it’s not such an unknown now, or perhaps because Alice was unaware of so much of what she forgot that at times she was blissfully ignorant.

There were some very touching moments in the book between Alice and her daughters, and her graduate student. And some very frustrating moments with her husband who I wanted to slap more than once. But such is the nature of serious illness, especially the kind that changes one’s personality.

I imagine there are a lot of challenges in writing a book from the perspective of someone with Alzheimer’s disease, but the author did a great job of making us see what is happening to her – things she cannot see – while still helping us feel what she is feeling. She made the moments of confusion confusing even to those of us who are lucid, and that can’t have been easy.

If you haven’t read this yet, definitely consider it. I really couldn’t put it down.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Lesson

Or, The Importance of Reading all the Words in the Pattern

The good news is that I almost finished my Procrastination Pullover, with the minor exception of the short sleeves. The bad news is that I screwed up bad enough and early enough that most of it needs to be ripped out.

This is a bottom up raglan, which means that as you approach the chest area, you need to cast on for the sleeves, adding extra stitches to the round, that you will later pick up and knit to finish the sleeves. In this pattern, the instructions read “Slip next 6 stitches on waste yarn, provisionally cast on 42 stitches for the first sleeve, work to 3 stitches before second side market, slip next 6 onto waste yarn, provisionally cast on 42 stitches for the second sleeve, work to end.”

Somehow I missed the very important word “provisionally,” and yes, I realize that it appears there twice so I have no excuse. When I got to those parts I just cast on the 42 stitches using the backwards loop method and continued on. Then I finished the body of the sweater and decided to read ahead to the sleeve instructions, which begin by saying to undo the provisionally cast-on sleeve stitches. Whoopsie.

Photographic evidence of non-provisionally cast-on sleeve stitches:


At this point I did what anyone would do and just shoved the whole damn sweater in my basket and started working on my Whisper Cardigan instead, but this problem will eventually need to be faced. Sooner rather than later, given that we are now moving into fall, the season in which I was planning to wear this sweater.

I considered whether I could just pick up the stitches and knit the garter edging, skipping the 3 rows of stockinette (which would make my error quite visible). However, there are some other issues with this sweater that I wouldn’t mind rectifying.

For instance, despite adding a bit to the length, it is still too short.


I don’t think I accounted for this much horizontal stretch, which consequently makes it shrink vertically.

Additionally, I didn’t see the part of the instructions describing how to round off the edges of the neckline before finishing it (again with not reading the pattern thoroughly). So ripping back and re-knitting may make a lot of improvements that result in a more wearable garment. I’m trying to be positive about this.

It IS a quick and easy knit and after all I do have a vacation coming up soon. If I have to re-knit a whole damn sweater, surely some of the sting will be taken out of it if I’m doing it in Europe, right?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tinkers : a review

Tinkers by Paul Harding (2009)

As a man lies dying, we travel with him back to his New England childhood, the memories interspersed with stories of his father’s life. A short book, but rich with detail and feeling, both fantastical and spare, realistic and poetic.

This is a book to bring with you someplace quiet where you won’t be disturbed and can just absorb it alone in peace. At least that is what I wish I had done. The dying man, George, and his father Howard, were both likeable yet flawed, and I really liked the slow revealing of each character. I loved the scenes of Howard driving his cart around selling his wares, and about the people he met and experiences he had. But the descriptions of George repairing clocks were also quite wonderful.

I dog-eared a lot of pages in this book. I’m pretty sure I’ll read it again someday, so I’m glad I have my own copy. It’s a pleasure on many levels: the story is good, the characters are appealing, the language is just beautiful.

Here is a passage I marked, one of my favorites:

“And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A bit of orange

This will be the Whisper Cardigan from IK spring 2009. I want to build up my cardigans in number, styles and variety of colors.

So far the project is slow going. I had to make a trip to Windsor Button for a circular needle this size in metal. The joins on my interchangeables were making this project maddening. That was over a week ago and I still haven’t transferred it to the new needles. But when I do it will practically knit itself, I’m sure!

Oh, and the yarn? Malabrigo Lace. It is absolutely luscious.