Monthly Archives: July 2010

Molly Recommends


A regular feature in which my dog recommends a book or two.
What's that? Oh, how can a dog recommend a book (that's ridiculous!)?

I'm glad you asked, so I can tell you that you ask
too many goddamn questions. Suffice it to say that Molly's overwhelming
cuteness, her shnugglewussity if you will, deserves an outlet. And this is the
least creepy one I could think of. The last thing any of us want is for my dog
to have to wear a bunny costume in this hot, hot weather.

And I'M SORRY I don't have Photoshop.

This time around Molly is recommending Muriel Spark's
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a novel which she considers to be a mean,
hilarious classic, and Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country, which is a melancholy
meditation on wasted love. She thinks these are two flavors that would taste better together. She's probably wrong. She once ate a box of cookies. 

No…the actual box.


200-Word Book Review: Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time


Yes. I am reading an enormous, déclassé fantasy
series. These books are probably, on average, 700 pages long, and there’s
fourteen of them, and when I first noticed I thought ‘Whatever, I read
Suitable Boy
. I read Tolstoy. I can handle this nonsense.’ I was wrong, because
I’m on book five now, and I’m exhausted.

The good: A fully realized world very much in the
spirit of Lord of the Rings, so it’s perfect if you’re looking to relive
your childhood. You should probably not attempt to relive your childhood.

The bad: I’ve read about 3000 pages and one measly
year has passed in the story. The characters are flat. SO flat. And dense to
the point of stupidity. That’s ok for the first book, but by book four, you
wonder why these people can’t seem to have more than about five different
thoughts, which are:

-“Is Rand going mad?”

-“Light, no! [description of something already
described 57 times before in the exact same words]”

-“Who understands women/men?”

-“I will keep this vital fact a secret from everyone,
thereby extending the plot by a completely unnecessary 300 pages.”

-“I am tired.”

Me too, guys! Me. Too.

10 Great Children’s Books


In the spirit of Lizzie Skurknick’s dearly departed Fine Lines feature on Jezebel, a list of 10 great books I loved before I turned 13:




Robin McKinley’s Beauty 

I still love this book. I own it and reread it every time I get sick or sad. I loved, as a little girl, that the heroine starts out being extremely plain, intelligent, and bookish, and that those are the reasons people like her. Everyone appreciates irony! I can’t actually remember the first time I read this, but I do remember that afterwards I wanted every book I read to be exactly like it. Cynthia Voigt’s On Fortune’s Wheel came close. And maybe Catherine, Called Birdy.

Although the character is interesting and independent, she isn’t sassy. There’s no you-go-girl thing getting shoved down your throat, maybe because no one ever tells Beauty what to do or not do because she’s a girl. There’s not much of anyone telling her what to do, period. By and large, she quietly keeps her own counsel. The story isn’t about empowering little girls; it’s about a good, brave person becoming heroic in the face of some tough circumstances (of course, in this case, those circumstances are: hairy monster extorts father…but still).


Roald Dahl's The Twits

I mean, if I have to pick only one Roald Dahl book, it’s obviously going to be the mean-spirited one.


Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Montecristo

Is this a children’s book? No. Should children read it? Hell yeah. Why? VENGEANCE. Ok, so maybe this book is not made of sunshine and rainbows, but whatever. It’s important to learn when it’s appropriate to hit people back. My parents let me read pretty much whatever I wanted (I read the largely-inappropriate Baltasar and Blimunda when I was 14, to the consternation of my poor aunt, who was like, “uuuummm, guys, you know there’s a lot of sex in that right?”) and I turned out fine. 

Anyway, The Count of Montecristo isn’t about sex. It is about Edmund Dantes being a BAMF and Fernand Mondego being driven to suicide for our cathartic entertainment. It’s totally wholesome. 

My grandpa bought this for me when I was 11, along with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I guess he figured that since I’d been watching telenovelas with my Abuela since birth, a little pregnancy-faking lover-having spouse-murdering drama was hardly going to shock me. He would have been right, except for Mrs. Danvers: the human equivalent of a large spider crawling out from under your pillow. I didn’t sleep soundly for a month. My parents were…grateful. 


Lois Lowry's The Giver

Sob. That is all.

Well, not really. Lois Lowry won the Newberry Medal twice. Once for this, and once for Number the Stars and I remember staying up way, way late to finish both books. I used to sleep in an overly air-conditioned room and I have this memory of laying there flipping pages, in my cold, cold pink sheets, trying to move as little as possible so I would stay warm. And my bedside lamp gave off only a small orb of light, so it always felt like night and sleep were pressing in on you. Still, I stayed up reading. They’re not even adventure books! Lois Lowry can have my first-born.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Yeah, there’s Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown and whathaveyou, but it was Sherlock Holmes who made me into a lifelong mystery reader. I used to take the most awkward train ride possible on the MTA (that’s a lot to say) in order to visit the Mysterious Bookshop when I lived in NY. I loved Sherlock before Hercule Poirot, who, I’ll be honest, I loved more. It’s funny that both of these characters got killed off at some point. I was so devastated when I read Curtain, that I could never enjoy a Poirot mystery again.  

Bonus: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes is the best TV you've never seen or heard of.

L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables

There is absolutely nothing anyone can say about Anne that hasn’t already been said. I wish I had red hair. I’m sorry. Auburn.

Scott O'Dell's Black Star, Bright Dawn

I think I have the distinction of having read every novel Scott O’Dell ever wrote. I should probably list my favorite as Island of the Blue Dolphins, because I absolutely ganked that whole plot when I was 9 for writing class (oooh, plagiarism), but I’m going to go with the one about the girl who competes in the Iditarod. Grueling! Plus, being from a tropical island, the setting was more novel.

Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials Trilogy)

Look: I like a sort of heartbreaking ending in a children’s book. Life is heartbreaking. Things don’t work out all the time. On this alone, The Golden Compass has Harry Potter soundly beaten. But, this isn’t a competition between children’s fantasy novels. I loved Harry and I loved Lyra, and I loved the Pevensies. I was so disappointed with the lack of success the movie adaptation of this book found. It’s a beautiful piece of writing at any age: it takes on serious ideas without condescending to its audience or becoming leaden and clumsy (I’m looking at you, Sophie’s World).

And, as with most of my favorite kid-friendly books, women be havin’ adventures. There’s flying and witches and warrior bears. Lyra is as unflinching a girl as you’ll ever find in fiction. And she has, basically, an animal familiar. I have always wanted an animal familiar. It would probably be a hedgehog, though. That would be embarrassing.

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time

Remember how much you loved Wrinkle, and how increasingly weird things got in the sequels until suddenly we were talking about Noah, and WHAT?

LOVED IT. Don’t you ever say anything bad about Madeleine L’Engle. She’s crazy. She’ll do anything.

I think it’s important to note that I totally had a crush on Sandy and Dennis. From the book jacket of Many Waters. I looked at it just now though and I was like, “ugh, totally not my type”. I bet they grew up to look like Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Not good.

Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game

This is a puzzle-book. One that I was totally bewildered by. I’m not smart that way, so I was lost right there with the characters at all times. What makes this novel great is those characters. And there’s so many of them! Turtle is the only one I remember clearly, because she was a habitual shin-kicker. I think I took this up for a while? But my little brother was already too big to put up with it? Maybe that’s why he tried to stab me with that pen that time?

If you didn’t nearly kill your sibling, you probably don’t really like him.

Here are 45 more books you should have read as a child/teenager, but now you won't because you're OLD.

P.D. James at 90

I love P.D.
James, the British mystery writer. I know Adam Dalgliesh is everyone's
favorite, but I wish she'd written more than just the two Cordelia Gray
mysteries (An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
 and The Skull Beneath the Skin). Cordelia Gray is like
Nancy Drew, with sordid sex crimes. That sounds unpleasant, but it's actually a
really good combination.

P.D. James solved the mystery of living a full life.

200 Word Review: David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet



The good: David Mitchell is awesome. He makes up some really crazy, cool shit, and his language is often
superb. His stories are like the stories you wanted to write when you were in the third grade and you really wanted to be an adventurer/pearl diver (what? that's a career), but all grown up…

The bad: …but when he poops the bed, it’s kind of
embarrassing for all of us. The villain would not have been out of place in one of those Schumacher Batman movies. I think he even monologues before he offs someone?

Speaking of which, he talks A LOT about poop and piss and 18th century stuff like gout with the verbosity of a man who has
spent six months holed up, alone, in a musty library reading books possibly
called things like “Tropiqual Maladyes of a Curios Nature”. Also, I kept
thinking things like “As a woman, I am ashamed a man is making me feel this
uncomfortable about childbirth” and “Ew”.

So, I like this book, but of his three most recent
works, I’d place it last. Sorry, David Mitchell. You’re still one of my
favorite writers. I tell people to read you all the time. No one listens
though. That’s on me.

200 Word Review: Amazon Kindle

The good: It won’t give you a glare headache and the
battery lasts (for me) for about five or six hundred pages. You can get your
books anywhere [that I have tried, which now includes the Dominican Republic
and China, as well as the US] and it’s really handy for checking your email
where ATT fails you or is prohibitively expensive (so, everywhere). And the
internet is free for now! So you can look up things like “what is the
difference between ceramic and porcelain?” from some obscure museum in
Hangzhou, while your father gets yelled at for touching things.

The bad: Not in color. A little slow to respond to
buttons. If you love love books, you’ll find it frustrating that a lot of
modern classics aren’t available yet. Like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”
(reeeeeally, rights holder?). However, you will also scroll through your dozens
of books, which you can haul with you absolutely anywhere, and practically
explode with delight. So, it’s a mixed bag.

A pinata is also a mixed bag, and nobody doesn't like those