October 31, 2009

October Reads

Another month flies by and another stack of books are devoured. Here are the four books I’ve read this October:

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. I think I can safely ascribe my ever picking up this book to an all-too-common case of book-hype. I’ve seen the novel on a slew of "best books of the year" lists, it’s been compared to The Great Gatsby, and even President Obama himself had read and praised it, so I figured I should see what all the fuss is about. Evidently, not much. The book takes place in post 9/11 New York and is told from the point of view of a wealthy Dutch financial analyst who, currently estranged from his wife and little boy, wanders about Manhattan like a ghost, haunting the city spots that remind him of happier days in his marriage. He strikes up a friendship with a savvy businessman named Chuck with whom he bonds over a shared love of cricket. And that’s it, really; there isn't a whole lot of action in the story. Although the author writes eloquently and thoughtfully on relationships and even includes a bit of historical geographical trivia, I can't say that his writing really drew me in or succeeded in making me care about the characters. I found myself growing bored whenever he drifted into childhood recollections or waxed lyrical about the beauty of cricket. Which is to say I was bored quite often. What most held my interest were the paragraphs devoted to his relationship with his wife and the dissolution and eventual reconciliation of their marriage, but even that was a little depressing. After finishing it, I came across several comments on GoodReads which suggest that you have to be a New Yorker to truly appreciate the book. Although I don’t necessarily agree with that statement (I’ve been to the city several times, so am somewhat attuned to its neighborhoods and cultural insights), being from New York probably wouldn’t hurt, either. This non-New Yorker isn’t a fan.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro’s latest is a compilation of five short stories threaded together by the ever-cohesive theme of music. “Come Rain or Come Shine”, is, to me, the true standout of the bunch. Unhappy and aimless Raymond is invited to the home of a married couple with whom he has been friends for many years. It’s not until he has arrived that he discovers that the couple’s relationship is in trouble and the husband has invited him over for the sole purpose of helping him fix his marriage. As it happens, Raymond later learns that the role he is to play in reconciling his long-time friends is insulting at best, and the antics that ensue are cringe-inducing and absolutely hilarious. I think it might just be one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. This book starts off with a killer (pun actually not intended!) opening line: "There was a knife in the darkness, and it held a knife." Pretty creepy stuff for children, no? It’s much creepier than I would have come to expect from a young adult fiction author. Echoing Kipling's The Jungle Book, The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens who flees the clutches of the man Jack who has just killed his entire family (and we don’t know why, not until the very end) one soft October night. The small toddler wanders into a graveyard and is taken in by the shadowy ghosts who inhabit the place. Years pass and the boy is accepted into the ghostly community as their very own, and eventually little Bod (short for Nobody) learns such supernatural tricks as Fading, Dreamwalking, Seeing as the dead see, and even engendering Fear, and thus embarks on a host of adventures with ghosts, ghouls, and even a vampire and werewolf. I recommend giving the audiobook version a whirl; the author himself narrates and supplies the necessary voices and pauses you would expect to find, and is highly entertaining. Interestingly enough, Gaiman mentions fellow Gothic lover and other author I’ve read this month, Audrey Niffenegger, on the acknowledgments page. Turns out these two authors and their respective books have something in common…

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. Niffenegger’s latest book is an ode to the Gothic English tradition. Twins Julia and Valentina move to London in the dead of winter after inheriting their deceased aunt’s London flat which borders the famous Highgate cemetery. The girls encounter the odd inhabitants of their apartment building and one, in particular, whose spectral presence is made known to the twins over the course of the novel. I found the choices some of the characters made foolhardy and stupid, yet was eager to read more and learn how their plans fared, however much I disapproved of them. Her Fearful Symmetry (the title comes from a William Blake poem) raises a lot of questions about our perceptions of the afterlife and the price and value of personal happiness, and would make for a great book group discussion. Although I really enjoyed the book, I couldn’t help feeling sort of bereft and pensive after turning the final page; I suppose I'm still trying to piece together all the thoughts and questions swimming in my own head. Finally, this book helped set the perfect autumnal mood in the week leading up to Halloween, and at 400 pages, was a surprisingly quick read. P.S. I keep stumbling across reviews that compare this book to Niffenegger’s hugely beloved The Time Traveler’s Wife, and my advice to you is don't compare the two. Take each book for what it is and enjoy!

I think I'll finish out this spine-chilling month with even more spooky reads as a sort of tribute to this eve of all hallows: a little classic M.R. James (writer of some of some of best-loved 20th Century ghost stories) and my personal favorite, Washington Irving’s, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. It’s a Halloween tradition.

October 24, 2009

Turning 4

My twin nieces turned four years old this week. I remember the day they were born and how tiny they once were (the above shot is from their baptism when they were two months old).

Not so tiny anymore. They're growing up so fast (didn't adults always tell you that when you were little? I'm such a boring grown-up now!) and will soon surpass their aunt in height, which isn't exactly saying much. Happy Birthday, Alex and Stephanie!

October 17, 2009

Blog Love

When I saw this wedding program of Joanna's (from the marvelous blog A Cup of Jo), I shrieked with joy. It is, quite simply, the coolest wedding program I have ever seen. I get such a kick out of the British nautical theme (it tickles the fancy of this anglophile right here) and the quirky and beautiful hand-painted illustrations (not to mention the fact that my name and birthday are on there, interestingly enough!). I love that it's custom tailored for the happy couple and even includes an excerpt from Nicole Kraus's The History of Love, which if you have ever read Joanna's blog, you know she adores. All these things are what make it so personal and original and utterly charming. Who knew a wedding program could make me so happy? I highly recommend you visiting her blog to look at more delightful details of the big day.

{Photo via A Cup of Jo}

October 10, 2009

Color Inspiration

I'm in love with this Venice Beach, California bungalow. I applaud the owner's use of rich, saturated color. I've been obsessively perusing paint colors online (especially loving the names they come up with and the images they evoke) and dreaming of painting my own apartment. A dreamy color palette such as this would make my place even that more cozy.

{Photo via Apartment Therapy}

October 9, 2009

Movies to watch

How creepy, yet eerily bewitching, is this movie tie-in book cover of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones? I read and loved and sobbed over this book years ago, but methinks a re-read is in order, especially considering the film comes out very soon (read: December). The director is the super talented Peter Jackson and the cast is pretty stellar, too: Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Mark Wahlberg, Saoirse Ronan (she is definitely one to watch; you might remember her from Atonement), and a disturbing Stanley Tucci. You can view the trailer here.

I'm also itching to see Coco Before Chanel and Bright Star. Having a bounty of interesting, well-made films to choose from is yet another reason why I adore this time of year!

October 4, 2009

Hermione all grown up

My favorite look during all of London Fashion Week has got to be the adorable Emma Watson, pictured here at the Burberry Prorsum Spring 2010 show. She looked so modern and age-appropriate and as this picture indicates, has bloomed into a lovely young lady. She looks ever-so-fierce as a Burberry model in their latest ad campaign, as well. You can see all the fabulous shots from the Spring 2010 show here.

I'm suddenly all of 12 in my love for this girl, but I can't help but also include
these Teen Vogue images of Emma as the quintessential English rose. She's such a smart role model for girls everywhere (case in point: she's taking a hiatus from acting to attend university here in the states) and, therefore, worthy of praise.

{Photos via Style.com and Teen Vogue}

October 1, 2009

September Reads

Whew, that was fast. September came and went and I've three books to show for it.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I now know more about corn than I ever thought possible (a little hint: it's in almost everything we eat). Pollan poses the seemingly simple question--"What should we have for dinner?"--with a staggeringly complicated answer about where our food really comes from. Eye-opening, riveting, and incredibly timely, Pollan's book should be read by anyone hungry (weak pun intended) to learn about what we're really eating and how to break the long-established habit of favoring what's convenient (McDonald's chicken McNuggets or a pre-packed meal) over what is infinitely healthier and more sustainable: frequenting your local farmers' markets, dining at restaurants who support said local farmers, tending a garden patch of your own. It's an eater's manifesto and seriously life-changing.

Emma by Jane Austen. It had been years since I last read this book and I had forgotten how insufferable Emma could be. Snobbish, presumptuous, pig-headed, and utterly deluded, Emma unconcernedly busies herself with fixing the lives of her small social circle while quietly wreaking havoc on them. Yet even though her misguided attempts at creating happiness for others goes woefully wrong, I can't help but feel smitten with Emma, for it is her flawed nature that makes her truly human, and therefore, relatable. Austen herself admitted that Emma is "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." That makes two of us, Jane. And did I mention how funny this book is? It's the only one of Austen's that I remember making me laugh out loud.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. Disgrace tells the story of an aging, Casanova-esque professor who, after resigning from his university post following a scandalous affair with a student, seeks refuge at his daughter's South African farm. Father and daughter struggle to understand one another, especially when an act of terrible violence is inflicted on both. There is an underlying hostility that pervades this novel between humans and animals, natives and interlopers, black and white. One of the characters makes a life choice that I simply cannot understand nor reconcile, which left me feeling very uncomfortable, yet completely enthralled. A gripping read which won the Booker Prize and earned the author a Nobel prize in Literature in 2003.

On the reading horizon: an Obama-endorsed book, a dystopian Britain, and ghost story compilations to celebrate the spooky month of October.