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Archive for the ‘Jen’s Life List’ Category

I read this book for one reason – Nora Ephron wrote it. You know, Nora Ephron. She wrote You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally which are two of my absolute FAVORITE movies. I mean who does not love Meg Ryan in those roles? I mean she obviously didn’t create Meg Ryan but you get what I’m saying.

Anyway, while this book had some of the wit that made me love those movies, I left with the feeling that this book is schizophrenic. There were about fifteen essays total and several of them focused on getting older. I knew to expect this going in but I guess I expected something different. So much of what she talked about were vain attempts to look younger. Vain attempts characterized by the use of procedures, salon visits, and creams that are essentially a luxury of those with money. She came off as shallow and vain during a lot of these essays. At first I couldn’t tell whether she was intentionally being tongue in cheek or if she was serious. I somehow ended up with the impression that she was more on the serious side and this bothers me… A LOT. Granted I’m not even middle-aged yet, I like to think I’d be more accepting of what time will start to do to my body rather than attempting to dye and primp  my way to looking younger. I’m not particularly looks obsessed now and hope to stay this way.

The parts of the book I really liked were those that recounted stories from here life sans the pitfalls of aging. There was more wit and less whining. My recommendation – pick up this book and then call me so I can tell you which essays to read.

Reading is one of the main things I do. Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after of day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

***

Whenever you give up an apartment in New York and move to another city, New York turns into the worst version of itself. Someone I know once wisely said that the expression “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” is completely wrong where New York is concerned; the opposite is true. New York is a very livable city. But when you move away and become a visitor, the city seems to turn against you. It’s much more expensive (because you need to eat all your meals out and pay for a place to sleep) and much more unfriendly. Things change in New York; things change all the time. You don’t mind this when you live here; when you live here, it’s part of the caffeinated romance to this city that never sleeps. But when you move away, your experience change as a betrayal. You walk up Third Avenue planning to buy a brownie at a bakery you’ve always been loyal to, and the bakery’s gone. Your dry cleaner move to Florida; your dentist retires; the lady who made the pies on West Fourth Street vanishes; the maitre d’ at P.J. Clarke’s quits, and you realize you’re going to have to start from scratch tipping your way into the heart of the cold, chic young woman now at the down. You’ve turned your back from only a moment, and suddenly everything’s different. You were an insider, a native, a subway traveler, a purveyor of inside tips into the good stuff, and now you’re just another frequent flyer, stuck in a taxi on Grand Central Parkway as you wing in and out of La Guardia. Meanwhile, you rad that Manhattan rents are going up, they’re climbing higher, they’re reached the stratosphere. It seems that the moment you left town, they put a wall around the place, and you will never manage to vault over it and get back into the city again.

***

“Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it’s your last, or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live twenty more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really all going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in America is so unbelievable delicious? And what about chocolate?”

***

I live in New York City. I could never live anywhere else. The events of September 11 forced me to confront the fact that no matter what, I live here and always will. One of my favorite things about New York is that you can pick up the phone and order anything and someone will deliver it to you. Once I lived for a year in another city, and almost every waking hour of my life was spent going to stores, buying things, loading them into the car, bringing them home, unloading them, and carrying them into the house. How anyone gets anything done in these places is a mystery to me.

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Since Cleopatra’s death her fortunes have waxed and waned as dramatically as they did in her lifetime. Her power has been made to derive from her sexuality, for obvious reason; as one of Caesar’s murderers had noted, “How much more attention people pay to their fears than to their memories!” It has always been preferable to attribute a woman’s success to her beauty rather than to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life. Against a powerful enchantress there is no contest. Against a woman who ensnares a man in the coils of her serpentine intelligence – in her ropes of pearls – there should, at least be some kind of antidote. Cleopatra unsettles more as sage than seductress; it is less threatening to believe her fatally attractive than fatally intelligent.

***

She elicited scorn and envy in equal and equally distorting measure, her story is constructed as much of male fear as fantasy. From Plutarch descends history’s greatest love story, though Cleopatra’s life was neither as lurid nor as romantic as had been made out. And she became a femme fatale twice over . . . it is difficult to say where vengeance ends and homage begins. Her power was immediately enhanced because – for one man’s historical purposes – she needed to have reduced another to abject slavery. It is true that she was a dutiful, father loving daughter, a patriot and protector, an early nationalist, a symbol of courage, a wise ruler with nerves of steel, a master at self presentation. It is not true that she built the lighthouse of Alexandria, could manufacture gold, was the ideal woman, a martyr to love, “a silly little girl,” the mother of Christ . . . On a good day Cleopatra is said to have died for love, which is not exactly true either . . . She sent even Shakespeare over the top, eliciting from him his greatest female role, his richest poetry, a full, Antony – less act, and in the estimations of one critic, a rollicking tribute to guilt-free middle-aged adultery. Shakespeare may be as much to blame for out having lost sight of Cleopatra VII as the Alexandrian humidity, Roman propaganda, and Elizabeth Taylor’s limpid lilac eyes.

 

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This past week, I finished reading My Life in France and couldn’t have loved it more! The book is incredibly inspiring and really fascinating. It’s full of interesting things I didn’t know about Julia Child. The absolute best part of the book is the insight into her writing process. Talk about dedication! Tirelessly checking recipes, testing them, experimenting with different methods and ingredients, hiring and illustrator, laboring over instructions to make sure they are as clear as possible and not the least bit confusing! Her work ethic is awe inspiring! This book is guaranteed to make everyone want to go on a quest for that one thing they were made to do – that is if you haven’t discovered that thing yet.

I absolutely recommend this book – even if you don’t like cooking, or France, and even if you don’t care one bit about Julia Child! Her story is wonderful!

“Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food it truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile – and learn from her mistakes.”

“I simple won’t take a house that hasn’t got a wine cellar! I don’t care what they say!”

“When do you pause? When do  you paint or pant? When write family, loll on moss, hear Mozart and watch the glitter of the sea? … Clearly I am softened by the luxurious style of our Parisian life: comes Friday night in Paris and down comes that iron curtain between job and what I really life doing. Wham!, and I’m off with Julie on the flying carpet…” (letter by Paul Child to his brother Charlie)

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I am currently reading My Life In France by Julia Child. The book chronicles the years she lived in France with her husband Paul. The book is mostly in Julia’s voice composed by her grandnephew through a combination of letters written by both Julia and Paul, and recorded interviews held specifically for purposes of the book.

Let me tell you – this book is captivating. It makes me want to pack my bags and run off to France. I’m about 50% of the way through and there has never been a dull moment. It is the story of Julia going to France and just flourishing. The book is not only fascinating but also inspiring because it tells the story of how someone discovers themselves only after being taken and dropped in a completely foreign place.

I came across this book because of this book club and am so happy I took the recommendation! Like the blogger, I too saw Julie & Julia and loved it. I also tried to read the book and found myself putting it down quickly. I just didn’t find Julie Powell likable or sincere. And she cursed a lot. But My Life in France. Wonderful. Obviously so different and it really does tell the more interesting side of the story – the Julia part.

I 100% recommend this book to anyone who wants to be swept up in wanderlust, who wants to feel inspired, or who just wants to read a really great story told by a truly captivating narrator.

So go read it !!!

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I try not to jump on the book series bandwagons. Usually when I’m looking for something new to read I look at Barnes & Noble lists of upcoming books, I read some book blogs, and look at the NY Times book reviews. But I try not to jump on series bandwagons. The reason? I hopped on the Harry Potter bandwagon before it was a bandwagon and when that ended I needed something to fill the void. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I tried to fill that void with the Twilight series. Let’s skip over the poor display of judgment on my part. I quickly realized Twilight wasn’t worthy of filling the void or of occupying my time and I expressed those feelings here and here.

So at first when this whole Steig Larson thing blew up I ignored it. I ignored it completely. I didn’t care and assumed it was the media trying to latch on to another series in hopes of striking gold like it did with HP. But then I read an article in the NY Times Magazine that made me rethink my position. I was then drawn to the books by the facts of the author’s life and not the hype surrounding them. In fact, I had no idea what the hell the books were about other than that they were some kind of mystery/thriller thing. So before the bar exam I went to Target and bought the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and let it sit on my shelf until about two weeks ago.

The truth? At least after reading the first book – I’m on board with the trilogy. I don’t want to talk about the plot or characters too much in case someone who wants to read the book reads this post, but the plot did a really good job of holding my attention. The characters obviously have a lot going on, far more than what the reader is told in the first book and I can only hope their histories will unfold in the two books I have yet to finish.

While sitting in a coffee shop on Thursday, I heard someone discussing this book with the shop’s owner. The woman in the shop commented that she thought the first book was really dry and talked way too much about Sweden and Swedish things and she had a really hard time sticking with it to get to the good parts. Here is my response to this – at times, ok frequently, the book refers to places in Sweden. Obviously I have no idea where these places are because I’ve never been to Sweden. So sometimes the book made me want to pull out a map but never did it make me want to put it down because I felt like it was talking about Sweden too much. There is a difference between being dry, boring writing and starting out slow to set the stage and picking up steam along the way. I think this book does the latter. The characters are complex and it takes time to set the stage. But steadily the book picks up steam and its worth sticking out. Also, really lady in the coffee shop? We’re going to dismiss the book because it talks about Sweden too much? God forbid we read something that might teach us a bit about another country,

There is one more thing I feel I should say about this book. I’m mentioning this only because it made me take pause while reading it and it appears to be a recurring theme now that I’ve started reading The Girl who Played with Fire. That is, the books deal very heavily with violence against women. In upsetting detail sometimes. So you’re warned. Go in knowing that so you won’t be totally shocked and disturbed like I was.

Anyway, I seem to be on a pretty good streak when it comes to choosing good books. This one was a good read and the second book is shaping up to be pretty entertaining as well.

***

I’m 3/50 in to my 50 book challenge. Considering the year is almost over and I couldn’t really start the challenge until once school and the bar exam were over I’m considering setting a goal that encompasses what is left of this year and the entirety of next year because obviously I can’t read 50 books before years end. Problem is, I don’t know what would be a reasonable yet challenging number to use as my goal.

As usual, I welcome suggestions on what to read!

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This book was released in June and I was desperately waiting for the bar exam to be over so I could read it. I bought it literally three days after the bar –  I was that serious about reading thisbook.

My ultimate opinion of this book is the following – the writing wasn’t amazing and it isn’t winning any major awards anytime soon but I liked it quite a bit. It had just what I needed to satisfy my love of Audrey Hepburn and the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The book offered a lot of interesting tidbits I didn’t know before picking it up.

Mainly it was pretty neat to see how so many pieces fell into place to create something as iconic as this film – from the actors, to the director, screenwriters, the music, the clothes. This book talks a bit about all of it. I’m always interested in learning how really influential aspects of culture come about and this book explained exactly that. It takes you on the path to the movie – from the publication of the book, to the writing of the screenplay, the filming, editing, etc. giving you interesting insights along the way.

How accurate all of the information is I don’t know. The information seems to come from interviews, books, and first hand accounts of those involved in the film. There seems to be a lot of dramatization but I suppose this is the author extrapolating from the information he was able to gather from his sources. The heart of the book seems to rest in this notion that Holly was a different kind of woman – one that usually wasn’t portrayed in films as someone decent, a woman that women in the ’50s and early ’60s couldn’t be – and that she made being her kind of woman entirely ok and in doing so changed the way people thought and woman behaved.

I’m not entirely sure I buy the strength of the impact the author claims the movie had on people’s thinking. Obviously Audrey Hepburn is undeniably an enduring influence on style and an example of class and grace but I’m just not sure the movie had as much of an impact as the author claims. It is probably more likely that it was just another step in an already changing view of womanhood rather than some big event that got the ball rolling. Then again, I wasn’t alive when the movie was released so what do I know?

Basically, this book was easy to read and it was incredibly fun if you love Breakfast at Tiffany’s or really if you love classic ’50/’60s movies in general. I’d definitely recommend this one.

****

Remember, I’m looking for book recommendations for my 50 book challenge. Books 3 – 5 are already chosen but the rest of my list is wide open

Email me your recommendations!

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This book came out in 2004 and since then it has been one of those books I’ve been meaning to read. After graduating from law school this past May I promised myself that one thing I’d definitely return to would be reading and reading voraciously. Taking a step in that direction I bought this book at the airport on my way home to California.

Devil in the White City tells the story of the planning and building of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the parallel story of Dr. H.H. Holmes the serial killer who used the fair to his benefit. To say that this book is a piece of non fiction is to do the author no justice. When you read the author’s notes and footnotes at the end of the book (which I did read) you discover that he researched tirelessly, physically handled documents, and put a great deal of time and effort into immersing himself in the remaining historical documents telling the story of the fair. To that end it seems to me that it is a highly reliable source of historical information.

But Larson doesn’t deliver history to you like your normal non fiction/history piece. I generally don’t read non fiction because in a lot of cases unless the topic is one I’m very interested in, I usually find such books to be very dry. Occasionally there are those authors who, while they write non fiction, have the skill and craft of a novelist. Larson is precisely that type of writer. When you are reading this book you don’t feel like you’re reading a history piece. You feel as if this is entirely something fabricated in the mind of a truly gifted novelist. Granted, part of this is attributable to the mystique and splendor that seemed to have characterized this fair. However, when one steps away from the jaw dropping, awe inspiring historical fact that is being relayed in this book, what is left is very good writing and amazing story telling ability. Larson is an amazing writer.

I was and still am utterly entranced by this book. As someone who has spent time in Chicago and reserves a special place in her heart for the town, it was exciting to read a book about one of my favorite places in a different time – to read about Chicago when it was on the precipice of being the amazing city it is today. By far, the most wonderful part of this book was all of the fun facts I learned. The fair is often referred to as the fair that changed America, it even says so on the cover of the book. Take a look at some of these facts and maybe then you will begin to discover why  that statement is in all likelihood true.

Fun Facts I Learned from Devil in the White City:

  • Crackerjacks, shredded wheat, and juicy fruit gum were introduced at the fair
  • The fair designers wanted to beat Paris and “out Eiffel Eiffel” after France shocked the world with the 1889 World’s Fair. The result? The invention of the Ferris Wheel!
  • Walt Disney’s dad designed the furniture for the fair
  • Bellydancing was introduced to America at the fair
  • Olmstead, the landscape architect who designed the fairgrounds also designed Central Park
  • Chicago beat St. Louis, Washington DC, and NYC for the rights to host the fair.
  • Some of the architects who designed the fair were the pioneers of the City Beautiful movement
  • The fair was called “The White City” because all the buildings were constructed using a plaster facade which was painted white.
  • It was the rhetoric used by Chicagoan supporters of Chicago’s bid for the fair that earned Chicago the nickname “The Windy City.”

And this isn’t everything I learned from this book!

Oh yea. There is also the parallel plot about the insane serial killer who built the horror castle a short train ride away from the fair and used the influx of people into the city as a way of acquiring victims.

There are also several “sub plots”  operating in this book (I suppose this is the best way to refer to them) that are the stories of individual people and their involvement in the fair. These are seamlessly woven into the overall story and come together very nicely.

This book is absolutely wonderful and I recommend it to everyone regardless of whether you are familiar with Chicago. It is such an insight into a period in American history, the power of civic pride, and the perseverance of a city and the select group of men who were charged with making the fair a reality – a task which at times seemed utterly impossible.

A post script

After finishing this book I did some research to see whether any portions of the fairgrounds and the beautiful Beaux Arts style buildings still exist. Turns out ONE building remains. The building which currently houses Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry was the Palace of Fine Arts constructed for the fair. The building first housed the museum that would become the Fields Museum. When the Fields Museum moved to its current location on museum campus, the Museum of Science and Industry moved into the building after a renovation and restoration of its hidden brick facade. I visited the Museum two years ago not knowing this incredible piece of history.

Also remaining from the fair, the lagoons and the wooded island designed by Olmstead. All three are located in Jackson Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. This is a place I’ve been many times but never appreciated as much as I should have.

I can’t wait to make my way back to Chicago to rediscover all these places I’ve been before and visit other sites associated with the fair.

***

I have quite a few books I’ve purchased over the last three or four years that sadly I haven’t had the chance to read because of law school and various other moments life insanity that have kept me from my one true love. Now that the bar exam is over and I will generally have leisure time, even once I do find a job, I plan on reading a lot more. My life list includes an item that says “complete the 50 book challenge for three years in a row.” The 50 book challenge was something  I started participating in way back in college. Actually it started in 2003 so I may have been there in the beginning. For a long time I was able to meet the goal and sometimes surpass it but then life and law school got in the way. While I’m resolving to do a lot of things in my post bar life one I am definitely trying to keep to is the revival of the 50 book challenge. Occasionally I’ll post updates and mini reviews.  I used to keep a reading journal over at livejournal so this series of posts will, in a way, be a return to that. Enjoy!

Wanna help me in my pursuit to conquer the 50 book challenge in each of the next three years? Send me an email recommending a book! I love all types but generally stay away from horror and romance.

Email me your recommendations at fairlytypical [at] gmail [dot] com

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