Friday, April 30, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Memory Keeper's Daughter The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book does a wonderful job of looking at hard choices and the long-term, wide-reaching impacts they can have. Edwards' treatment of each character's internal strife--the husband and father David, the wife Nora, the nurse Caroline, and son Paul--is both touching and compelling in a way that drives the reader through the book, feeling fascination, frustration, and compassion both with and for the characters throughout the story.

It's a beautifully sad tale told in a picturesque way. Each strand of the story is treated with careful details so that not too much attention is paid to those that don't matter, but nothing interesting or essential is ignored. Edwards does a fine job of wrapping things up emotionally for her characters, in the end; however, the events and actions she ends with are disappointingly predictable. However, life itself can sometimes follow predictable patterns, so perhaps she was merely staying true to the story. Either way, it will be a joy to see what she comes up with next.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Swimming

Swimming Swimming by Nicola Keegan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first two-thirds of this book were right on the mark: it's a book about swimming, family dynamics, and growing up. We follow the main character, Pip, through her childhood and adolescence as she deals with her sister's debilitating illness and depression, her mother's agoraphobia, and her father's virtual withdrawal from the family by catapulting herself into the world of competitive swimming.

Having been a swimmer myself, I found the various passages describing swimming and the feeling of "having swum" very accurate. My favorite passage is the following: "It hurts to write with a pencil, to sit down on a chair, to pee, to take of my sweater, to run up the stairs, to answer the phone, to open a book, to get in a car, to get out of a car, to take off my shoes, to lie down on my bed. The ache is proof of an efficient swim; the more I ache, the faster I become." That is exactly how it feels and exactly what you have to think when you are training--otherwise any sane person would just give up!

The book begins to fall apart, however, when Pip begins to fall apart. It was strategic of Keegan not to end Pip's career on an Olympic high note, because many of the issues in the book would have remained unresolved or else have been too quickly and falsely resolved. However, as Pip tries to resolve things for herself and the writing tries to reflect her mental state, I, as the reader, found myself becoming less and less interested. Fewer things happen as the book progresses in this manner, and the introspection becomes tired and overdone. By the end of the book, I was no longer flipping pages with eagerness to get to the next one; I was flipping pages to get the thing over with. Feeling that way about any novel is never good.

I hope to see more work by Keegan, particularly fiction dealing with family drama and/or athletic careers, because she handles these very well and, with a little more work, will undoubtably keep a reader captivated throughout the duration of a novel. Really, though, I hope to find another book titled "Swimming" that focuses solely on a swimming career. And I don't mean a book like Phelps' No Limits, either. I want a story. I want a story told well.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Do you remember....

Long distance calling? Remember when calling another state cost extra? Or even another area code? Imagine picking up your cell phone today and thinking, “Gotta keep this short—it’s long distance.” Instead, it’s now, “Gotta keep this short—or call back after 9 when my minutes are free!” Unless of course the call is international; then that really is long-distance….

Card catalogues? And not the online ones, either—the kind that used thousands of indexed-size cards all lined up in long narrow drawers along library walls. You would page through alphabetically until you came upon the author’s last name of the book you wanted . . . or didn’t, and had to ask the librarian.

VHS? Remember walking down to a Blockbuster to rent a movie? Remember them not having the one you wanted? Or any of the ones you wanted? Remember when the previous renter didn’t rewind the movie you finally ended up renting and having to wait while it whirred backwards in your video cassette player? Sometimes you finished half your popcorn by the time the movie was ready!

Then, trying to skip the previews was nearly impossible, because usually you’d go too far and have skipped past the beginning of the movie. Then, there would be a fight over the remote control, because someone would be convinced they could do it better. . . . Now, with DVDs, all we have to fight over is what to order next on Netflix.

Search engines before Google? Yahoo! might still be known in some circles, but does anyone remember AskJeeves or Altavist? What about Lycos, InfoSeek, Dogpile, or Netscape? Does anyone even consider searching anything but Google anymore? And would they still say they “googled” it even if they “yahooed” it?

Dial-up internet? Forget smartphones or even WiFi. This was the era of don’t-pick-up-the-phone-or-you’ll-knock-someone-off-the-internet and, if-you-pick-up-the-phone-while-someone-is-connecting, you’ll-get-an-earful-of-“screeeechhh!beeep!scheglamphmlbigphlpl!beep!”

And most of all, does anyone remember a time before the internet?! It’s a wonder we were able to survive. We had to use real maps to get anywhere! We used the telephone to make reservations and appointments! We looked up numbers and addresses in…the yellowpages! (Can you believe they still print those?) And we sent mail via the Postal Service! Just think if you had to wait three days to receive your e-mail. . . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Little Bit of Heartbreak: Rutgers Half Marathon

I knew before I even got to the race that I wasn’t going to PR. (For those who are still wondering, PR stands for “Personal Record.” And yes, it is being used here as a verb.) I had been feeling tired and “out-of-it” all week, and mentally I was simply not as excited about this race as I had been for the one in DC (in spite of the fact that I was running the Rutgers race with friends, and I ran DC alone).

Race day arrived, and despite a foreboding forecast, the sun was shining and the skies were clear. The course turned out to be impressively flat and scenic, and the race was well-attended. All-in-all, excellent conditions.

Unfortunately, good conditions weren’t enough. I ran a time slightly faster than my Queens half-marathon time, but considerably slower than my most recent DC time, clocking in at 1:37:05.

The real disappointment came when I looked at the race results. I came in 4th in my age group—which is great!—but if I had run my DC time in this race, I would have taken 3rd. Third place! I would have placed in a race with over 3,000 participants! It is a weird dichotomy to feel happy to have run a sub-7:30 pace while feeling sorry that I didn’t run as fast as I “could have.”

Could I have pushed myself harder? In hindsight I want to say yes, but in actuality there is just no knowing. Next race, though, I am going to check my watch. Looking back at my split times, I was on pace to PR up until the last 5k of the race! So if nothing else, at least there was a lesson learned.

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceGender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-24)
13.1 miles1:37:057:24/mile 22/1351 4/183

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: The Help

The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fabulous story. Fabulous characters. Fabulous life lessons. This book would have received a fabulous five stars, if only the author would have written it in true, distinguishable, convincing African-American dialect. Instead, two of her three narrators merely sound like a white person who, two-thirds of the time, throws in some bizarre truncated language, trying to sound uneducated. In short, Kathryn Stockett writes like a white person trying to sound black. And it's a shame, because who can blame her? She is.

The story itself is beautiful. Structuring it so that it is told from three different first-person points of view is also wonderful, because it keeps you, the reader, from "rooting" for only one group of people or considering only one possible outcome to any particular action or set of events.

However, Stockett's attempts to write in African-American dialect fall far short of their goal. Not only does she fail to convincingly portray the sound of a black woman speaking, but she fails to distinguish the two black maids who narrate her story (Minny and Adelaide) from one another. Fortunately, they are discernible by their attitudes and circumstances throughout the novel, but when it comes to their speech patterns and "voices" they are completely indistinguishable.

The novel, as an entertaining piece of literature, was a pleasure to read. However, as a critical writer and English major, I cannot help but give Stockett and her editorial team the criticism that they deserve. I hold out hope that she improves upon this aspect in her next novel--because after the success of The Help, there will surely be one.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Waiter Rant

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To anyone who has ever worked in the food service industry: this book is spot-on amazing. Every nasty cook or customer is someone you've either worked with or for, and if you haven't, you know you will.

Plus, even as a consumer, you cannot help but giggle over some of the obvious truths he illustrates throughout the books. Don't go out to eat on Valentine's Day. Why? Because even if you make reservations, you will be squeezed into a restaurant that shoved more tables than it has the capacity to hold and eat sub-par overpriced food being dumped out of the kitchen by overworked cooks. Duh.

I am even more wowed by the fact that this book started out as a blog. This is pretty much my ambition: to turn my blog into something more substantial and widely read . . . like a book. Of course, Waiter Rant was considerably more refined than my personal "here are some curious events and my thoughts on them" blog. But hey, you never know what a project can turn into. . . .

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Old Roommates . . . Finally Zero

Moving out of the York St. apartment after a mere two-and-a-half months was one of the best decisions I could have made. Let me tell you why:

In case I did not describe this well enough in my earlier post, the guy from whom I rented the room, J___, is a control freak. When I was still living there, he would constantly try to tell me where to put and not put my belongings, warned me that I couldn’t have guests, and tended to perform all of these communications via text message. The even more confusing part, however, is that he would also make me food, have nice evening chats, and be generally pleasant in person.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was an incident where I left a few dishes to dry on a tea towel, went to the city, and received a text message about “needing to use the dishwasher” and “not leaving items in other people’s way on the counter.” Meanwhile, someone else’s rice cooker had sat on the counter for a week.

Coincidentally, the friend who had found me this apartment managed to find another apartment where—thankfully—I could live in peace by myself; so, although it would be more expensive and I would have to go through the hassle of moving yet again, I took it.

This is when the real fun began:

  • I say I’m moving out. In the same note, I try to reduce money hassles by letting J___ keep the initial deposit as the last month’s rent. There is no formal contract or lease, and since I have only lived there for fewer than 3 months, this seems reasonable to me. He awakens me with a series of texts at 2 a.m. on Saturday night (technically Sunday morning, I suppose), informing me that if I want to stay living in the apartment, I need to “pay for the whole month” because “the deposit is not rent.”
  • Less than a week later, J___ offers to lower my rent if I will stay living there. By this point, I have already signed the lease for the new apartment. I decline.
  • J___ makes food and leaves me a portion. Twice.
  • One Monday morning, he needs to drive to Hoboken to pick up something from his rabbi. He offers me a ride to work. I accept.
  • I come home from work one night to find him watching Benny & Joon. I make dinner and finish watching the movie with him. Things seem pleasant in an almost normal “roommate” sort of way. I begin to seriously doubt whether moving out was the right decision.
  • The evening of my move, he texts me, “You moved like a ninja!” I offer to return the keys the next day and also pick up shelving I left at the old apartment. He tells me not to rush and adds, “If you need anything, let me know.” I take him at his word. I should have known better.

Then, finally, what happened is this: last Thursday, my friend A___ was arriving in NYC to stay with me for a few nights. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to go pick up those shelves; they are heavy, and he would be able to help me carry them back to my apartment. On my way home from work, I stopped by the old apartment in order to pick up my mail and to make sure I knew were the shelves were. Lo and behold, they were not where I had left them. Nor were they in the living room. Or the basement. At this point, I texted J___, asking, “Hey, where are the shelves?”

The response I received was staggering. It went something like, “You are not legally allowed to be in the apartment. You have no reason to be there. If you are there please leave. Your keys should have been left when you moved out. If someone came home they would have every right to call the police and say you broke in.” He told me I could come and get the shelves later, i.e. when he was at the apartment. So basically, the moment I moved out, I was deemed completely untrustworthy, demoted to the level of a trespasser, and expected to operate at his convenience. Thanks.

What’s even better is that once I replied that I was doing this because I wanted help carrying the shelves, he offered to drive them over to my new apartment. Then, when I suggested his giving me another roommate’s phone number so that I could do this transaction with them in case he wasn't around on Sunday (the "day of exchange"), he suddenly became available on Friday.

In the end, he did drive the shelves over to my new place—albeit during the day on Friday, while I was at work. And on Sunday, when I finally handed off the keys, we stood talking in front of my apartment about bikes and where to buy matzoth . . . as if he hadn't just practically threatened to have me arrested.

I might save zero money over the next year because of higher rent; I might get lonely from no one to talk to; I might even miss sharing belongings, particularly when I am lacking something and am either forced to go buy it or do without. But at least now, I won’t have to deal with someone trying to control my life. If I want someone to have control, I will give it to them!

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Apartment (i.e. All MINE)

A few views of the new place.

BedroomLiving Room Kitchen

Friday, April 2, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir

Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read the title of this book. Then read the subtitle. What you just read is exactly what Susan Isaacs delivers: her snarky but authentic memoir, told as a series of angry conversations with God.

Fed up with feeling abused and neglected, Isaacs finds a priest-turned-therapist named Rudy and announces to him that she wants to bring God to couples counseling. From there she backs up and tells the story of he relationship with God, from a childhood of adoration and dedication to an adulthood of perusal and frustration, she tracks God’s will back and forth between New York and L.A., trying to make a life for herself whether with a church, with a man, or with a television series. She writes the dialogues between God, Jesus, Rudy, and herself in theatrical




style, which breaks up her narrative and serves to contextualize the “present” time of the book, in which she is seeking a new relationship with the sarcastic, annoyed God she thinks she knows.

I cannot say that I necessarily relate to Isaacs, her faith, or even most of her experiences (even though I, too, live in New York). Perhaps I expected to, because I too doubt God and am frustrated by him. However, this is never really the reason to read a memoir, and as a memoir, this book works splendidly. It is like Eat, Pray, Love, only without nearly the same degree of dragged-out self-indulgence, and with an added religiously moral ending.

I found the book amusing, and I think anyone who enjoys reading about religion or reading memoirs would find it worthwhile, too.

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