Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “lefaquin”

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #11: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

In which I learn the dangers of wordpress deleting my drafts, and Hemingway gossips about writers.

I do feel like some knowledge of the Parisian literary scene in the 1920′s is needed to fully appreciate A Moveable Feast. This book really is filled with ‘sketches’ of writers and artists in Paris: many different interconnected stories about a very literary crowd at a particular moment in time. Although I found this part interesting, I think I would have liked it a lot more if I’d known more about the real dynamics between these writers. Hemingway spends a lot of time discussing Sylvia Beach, founder of then English language bookstore Shakespeare & Company, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, among other literary figures. I preferred reading about these three people the most, since I know the most about them.

Sylvia Beach is the only one of these characters who comes off in a remotely flattering light. Hemingway talks about his fondness for Beach, her willingness to extend him credit at her store/library, and how she would always lend him money. She seemed like a pretty nice lady, and an interesting woman to know. Unfortunately, Hemingway did not portray Gertrude Stein or F. Scott Fitzgerald in anything that could be regarded as a positive manner.

Read the rest of my review here…


lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #10: Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope

I saw this in my local library, hanging out on a shelf with some other recently released titles. Since I’m about to dive into some much heavier literature (and absolutely love Parks & Rec) I added it on to my (already substantial) pile of books. It was a pretty enjoyable and light read – exactly what I wanted and expected from the writers of Parks & Recreation. I read the majority of this book in large chunks before falling asleep every night, and it was a great diversionary read: funny, interesting, and easily broken down into smaller pieces.

If you like Parks & Recreation, you may like this book; if you’ve never seen the TV show, there’s really no reason to pick it up. I consider myself a pretty big fan of the show, and I didn’t find the book all that engrossing. Yeah, it was interesting to read about Pawnee and elaborations on the tidbits of weird history that make it into the show, but I would have enjoyed the book much more had it been read live by all of the characters in some sort of strange, fictionalized PBS history special.

One of the things I enjoy the most about Parks & Rec is the characters, and more importantly, the actors who portray them. Although the writing in the book (mostly short essays or lists) is extremely faithful to the character’s voices, it’s not the same as watching the same characters in the show. I think this may be an instance in which the television material is better than any sort of literature attached to the show.This is probably due to two main factors: not only the TV show was developed first, and is the original source material for the book, but also because the actual sitcom has some extremely talented actors portraying the characters that the writers develop.

Even so, I still really liked reading Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America and I laughed a lot out loud, to myself, in bed. I probably sounded like a crazy person, but how could you not laugh out loud when reading an essay entitled ‘Jean-Ralphio’s Five Hottest Clubs in Pawnee’ or stories about the truly strange and terrifying history of Pawnee? It’s pretty amazing to see what the writers of the show came up with when fleshing out the back story of the town. This isn’t a book I’m too invested in, or even would really recommend to too many people, but if you really like Parks & Rec and are looking for something both interesting and funny to read, this is a pretty safe bet.

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #9: Bossypants by Tina Fey

I got on the waiting list at my library for this book in November. I was number 136 on the list. I thought it would never come. But it finally did, and I was pretty excited. I loved it a lot, but not as much as I wanted to? I think I feel the way about this book that some people may have felt about Mindy Kaling’s book. I may just be a little outside the target demographic, and a little closer to Mindy Kaling’s. I liked it a lot, and I love Tina Fey, her sense of humor, and 30 Rock, but parts of the book didn’t resonate as much with me- I just haven’t gotten to those parts of my life (being the boss, having kids, a husband, and so on). Nonetheless, I really really enjoyed reading Bossypants, I laughed out loud while reading it, and if Tina Fey ever writes another book, I will absolutely read it.

Check out the rest of my review here.

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #8: The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

I “read” this audiobook after reading pyrajane’s review a while back. I was looking for something entertaining that would keep me company on some long car rides I had coming. The audiobook version was pretty good. I didn’t love it as much as pyrajane did, but I do agree with a caveat from her review – you’ll like this book as much as you like Sarah Silverman’s comedy.

Which is to say, I enjoyed it. I definitely laughed out loud, a lot, but in comparison to the slew of other female comedian biographies I seem to be reading (previously Mindy Kaling, but Tina Fey’sBossypants is forthcoming, and I’m currently reading the Parks and Rec book about Pawnee, which I feel fits into this category) I didn’t love this book as much as I did the others. And I think that has to do with how I feel about Sarah Silverman in general.

Check out the rest of my review here.

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #7: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

By now, I feel like a billion people have written reviews of this book, and like I’m just kind of throwing mine on top of the pile. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed readingThe Sisters Brothers, and would definitely recommend it. It’s a light read, western inspired, and I honestly felt like I was reading a movie. I could see the images so clearly and vividly, and while I don’t normally read western novels, (or really watch westerns either) I loved the gritty, dark feel of it.

If you haven’t already read the other billions of reviews, or just want to read another one, check out my review here!

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #6: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

I am well aware that this is the third food memoir I’ve read this year, so you may doubt my recommendation, but this is by far the best book I can remember ever reading about food. It transcends the world of chefs, food writers, or even foodies- this is simply a fantastic memoir that happens to be written by a chef.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at Anthony Bourdain’s review, which raves, “Hamilton packs more heart, soul, and pure power into one beautifully crafted page than I’ve accomplished in my entire writing career.”

Reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, I have come to greatly admire her- a fierce, strong woman who knows how to write and cook, is extremely opinionated and tough as hell, but is feminine, feminist, and a person I’d love to know better. In fact, she reminds me of a woman I deeply admire in my own life, one who has been an important role model and mentor. I would call Gabrielle Hamilton a badass- in the most complimentary way, but I know she wouldn’t like it. When discussing her restaurant work, and working a hellish brunch shift at 37 weeks pregnant, Hamilton writes:

“…badass is the last thing I am interested in being. Badass is a juvenile aspiration. At thirteen, when I was stealing cars and smoking cigarettes I wanted to be badass. I was cultivating badass. At sixteen, coked out of my head and slinging chili at the Lone Star Cafe, I was the understudy to badass, and I knew all her lines and cues. At twenty-five, blow-torching my way through warehouse catering kitchens, cranking out back-to-back doubles, and napping in between on the office floor with my head on a pile of aprons and checked pants, I was authentically badass. But at thirty-eight years old, hugely pregnant with my future tiny, pure, precious son, I don’t want anything to do with badass. I want to be J.Crew catalogue clean.”

After working in kitchens for years, Hamilton earned her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan. Whether her magnificent prose is a product of her education or her unique perspective on people, food, or life in general, I don’t really give a shit. What I do know is that I loved every second of this book. When reading about Hamilton’s life- the respect and love she has for food is so apparent, reading about her summers with her family and mother in law in Italy, a friend’s garden in Michigan and the feasts she cooked from it- I wanted to live inside of the pages, so I could soak up every word, every morsel of detail.

Read the rest here!


lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #4: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I finally gave in to reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. Seeing the movie trailers for both the Swedish version and the new American version tempted me into checking it out from the library, and I knew I wanted to read the book before seeing either movie. I don’t know how I managed to go into the novel without knowing anything about the plot, but all I knew was that there was a girl, Lisbeth, and it was kind of a gloomy story, and there was a mystery.

On the surface, it’s an enjoyable mystery that focuses on Blomkvist’s and Salander’s quest to solve the 40 year old disappearance of Harriet Vanger, but ties in several other stories, including Blomkvist’s personal vendetta against a corrupt Swedish businessman.  Aside from Blomkvist and Henrik Vanger, the male characters were irredeemably misogynistic and often two dimensional. Even Blomkvist, the protagonist wasn’t very well developed, and his relationship with his daughter seemed to be an afterthought. There were several different stories interwoven into the main mystery, and the resolution, while satisfying, dragged on for 60 pages longer than it should have. Nonetheless, it was entertaining and I definitely enjoyed the search for answers to a historical mystery.

Considering the length of the book, sheer number of characters, and the many plot twists, I knew nothing going in. I kind of wish somebody had warned me. Despite my undying love for Law and Order: SVU, I don’t do well with reading about violence against women.  On one hand, I thought the novel was extremely engrossing- I read it in less than 24 hours, and I thought it was an extremely detailed and bizarre mystery. I can see why the novel was adapted into two separate movies, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them.

On the other hand, I’m left with a distinctly icky feeling about the violence in this book. I know, it’s a summer beach read type novel, a quick and enjoyable mystery, but I found several parts extremely hard to read. There were several pages where I just quickly skimmed, making sure I didn’t miss anything, because I found them extremely disturbing. I understand that when depicting violence against women there will always be critics, and I have enjoyed many movies or TV shows despite extreme violence. I realize that Larsson may have been trying to make a point about sexual assault and violence in Sweden, or simply thought that it would make a good plot point, but I found it off putting.

I’m not sure who I’d recommend this book to, since most of the people I know have already completed the trilogy. I’d most likely recommend it with some reservations. It’s not great literature, but it was an enjoyable, fast-paced mystery, and now I can go watch the movies without feeling guilty for not reading the book.

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #5: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

I’ve been trying to write a review of this book for days, and I’m not really sure why I’ve been putting it off. Maybe it’s because I loved it so much I didn’t want it to be really over? Mindy Kaling’s first book is amazing. I loved it unconditionally. In the weeks coming up to the book’s release, she leaked short chapters to the internet, went on Jon Stewart and Colbert (and probably some other shows I don’t watch), and basically promoted the shit out of her book. I read several of the excerpts and was really excited to read the book in its entirety. I wasn’t disappointed.

The book is part autobiography, part collection of thoughts/lists, and part private musings on pop culture/people/beauty products/her own funeral. It’s all hilarious. If you’ve ever seen The Office, you’ve probably heard Kaling’s (pretty distinctive) voice. Throughout the book, I could hear her voice reading along in my head- Kaling writes like a friend might talk to you on the phone, chatty, friendly, inserting comments and references here and there. I laughed out loud at least once per page, and although Kaling writes, “This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink. If you’re reading this book every night for months, something is not right.” I wish I could have just kept reading, long after the book was finished.

Read More…

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #3: Bitchfest by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler

Bitchfest is a collection of different short pieces of writing published in Bitch magazine during the first ten years of its publication. It showcases many different writers through the magazines history, and the variety of writing styles, topics, and lengths lets the reader move at his or her own pace. Some pieces are one or two pages in length, and others are ten pages. The stories are organized into eight chapters, with themes ranging from gender identity and reviews of feminist theorists to feminist theory in mainstream media and representations of women in popular culture.

In many ways, Bitchfest is similar to Jezebel, Feministing, Crunk Feminist Collective, or other contemporary pop-culture infused feminist writing. However, I would argue that many of the pieces in Bitchfest are more hardcore feminist (and much less about pop culture) than the writing on Jezebel, less politically oriented than those on Feministing, and more inclusive than those on Crunk Feminist Collective (which I love, but is aimed at black women). Because Bitchfest is a collection of the work of many different writers, there are stories from many different feminist points of view – black, white, latina, asian, south-east asian, bi, queer, lesbian, trans, and many many more. I loved reading about all these different people and their views on feminism, what was important to them in their lives, and seeing the different faces of the feminist movement. I think that Bitchfest does a good job of representing a wide range of feminist views, and tried to be inclusive when considering the pieces in the collection.

Read More…

lefaquin’s #CBR4 Review #2: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Garlic & Sapphires is another set of Ruth Reichl’s autobiographical vignettes, this time set in the period during which she was the head food critic for the New York Times. Each chapter focuses on a different restaurant review, ending with the text of the original review and usually a recipe from the restaurant, or one that was integral to the story.

In order to review a restaurant, Reichl would visit the location several times, ordering different foods from the menu, going with different groups of people at different times, and often disguising herself. These disguises were necessary to hide her identity as the NY Times food critic – Reichl could not objectively evaluate the restaurant if she were receiving special treatment as part of her job title. The disguises were not so much wigs and costumes as they were complete personality makeovers. In essence, Reichl would become a completely different person, or as she liked to think, a different facet of her personality. One of the characters, Betty, was an old woman so timid she was often completely ignored by wait staff. Brenda, a loud, talkative redhead, was Reichl at her best – friendly, outgoing, adventurous, funny. However, throughout the book, there is a clear evolution and devolution of the characters and toward the end of the story, Reichl’s husband fears that she is becoming her characters. Her dedication to the position of head food critic and its necessary disguises has overtaken Reichl’s true personality.

However, the pull of this book is once again Reichl’s gift for storytelling and her ability to transport the reader to any dinner table. Reichl freely admits in all of her books that she takes great creative license, and while the major events were all part of her life, she often renames characters, changes the order of events, omits important people, and takes great liberty with conversations. This allows her to construct a linear narrative, one that is most certainly not present in ordinary life. Each collection of Reichl’s writing has overarching themes, main characters, and most importantly, excellent food writing. In Garlic & Sapphires, Reichl’s food writing is exquisite. Excerpts from relevant restaurant reviews as well as extended accounts of her many meals at each location bring the reader to the table, and her descriptions of each dish are mouthwatering.

Although Reichl has been criticized for her flowery prose (in addition to criticism of too much artistic license), I think that her writing style is particularly suited to the genre of food writing. Because we are not present at the meals described, have not been to the restaurant or countries that the author writes about, it is especially important for a food writer to describe a meal, a dish, or a restaurant with care. The same problem often appears in programs like Top Chef – how can you judge a plate of food if you can’t eat it? Through Reichl’s extraordinary writing, you can come close to eating the same food, to having the same experiences that she had. Garlic & Sapphires is by no means a perfect book, and it is not my favorite book by Reichl – Comfort Me with Apples or Tender at the Bone easily takes that prize – but it is an interesting look at the world of food writing, and Reichl’s unorthodox approach to the position of food critic at the NY Times.

To someone who loves food writing, I would give this book between 4 and 5 stars – it was a very good book, but some of Reichl’s earlier writing is much better. For the general public, I give it three stars. It’s a good book about food writing, but its appeal is not as broad as to be read universally.

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