Books read in August

Probably the best month of fiction reading I’ve had all year long. The nonfiction was good too.


Manhood for Amateurs
Michael Chabon
It was interesting reading this directly after finishing Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. I love Michael Chabon’s writing just as much as I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s. His paragraph-long sentences are delightful and most of this book I wanted to read out loud to someone. The opening essay “The Loser’s Club” was heartbreaking, and the rest was gleefully, beautifully written. When Ira Glass talks about us living in a time of “giants” of nonfiction storytelling, he is talking about Michael Chabon. I want to photocopy some of the essay just to possess them.

A Drink Before the War.
Dennis Lehane
New book in the series coming out November 30th. Time for a re-read.

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure
Matthew Algeo
True story of Harry Truman’s post-Presidency road trip from Independence Missouri to the East Coast. The author retraces the route and discusses the original trip and how the sites have changed. This was a somewhat interesting book, though in places I felt it was not very well written.

Faithful Place
Tana French
After really loving Tana French’s previous books, I was excited to read this one. Like the other two I shirked responsibilities to tear through this one. Unlike the other two I figured out the “who” and they “why” about a quarter of the way through the book. As I am generally very slow on the uptake with mysteries, I would guess that this was a pretty obvious plot, which was disappointing. Still, I did devour the book, for whatever that is worth.

This Charming Man
Marian Keys
Ever since Olivia Goldsmith died–breaking my heart, by the way–I have been pining for someone who wrote the special class of books she did. On the surface, they were frothy “wronged woman finds love and vindication” sort of thick novels perfectly suited for a beach read. However, most all of her books had a strong, thoughtful social justice undercurrent that was very hard to miss. Near the end of this book I wondered if Marian Keys might just be my new Olivia Goldsmith.

This is the first book I’ve read by Marian Keys, whom I discovered through my friend Jan. I was initially put off by the narration of the lead character, and contemplated putting the book down because of it. I persevered, however and soon fell in love with her. This was a great, Goldsmith-style book that I was happy to spend the day with. Indeed, I couldn’t put it down. My thought of “I’ll get out of bed at 9:00” was moved to 11, then 1 and then I just gave up and kept reading until I finished around 4:00 in the afternoon. I’m interested to explore other Marian Keyes books and see if she can indeed engage me like Olivia Goldsmith once did.

What I Saw & How I Lied
Judy Blundell
This is a fairly engrossing YA book set in 1947. It’s a good exploration of the gray areas around telling the truth.

Looking For Alaska
John Green
Thanks to my current obsession, the Vlogbrothers, I now have three novels to read by John Green. This was a good YA novel that captured confusing parts of adolescence such as pining for someone you cannot have and identity formation.

Can’t Wait to Get To Heaven
Fannie Flagg
I have always enjoyed Fannie Flagg’s books, but this was incredibly saccharine. It was so sweet, I almost didn’t finish it. The plot is obvious, the mystery is haphazard and fleshed out/solved in the last few pages of the book and the characters are annoying. Overall, a disappointing read.

One Day
David Nicholls
Supposedly this will be made into a movie. The plot device–popping in annually on the same day to see what characters are up to–was pretty ingenious and kept me reading. I enjoyed the characters and their flaws and I think the best part about this book is how it captures so many life passages. I particularly loved the description of “third wave” weddings and also the thought process of a childless woman in her thirties. A very well done “romantic comedy” of a book.

The Motel Life
Willie Vlautin
I’m not such a big Raymond Carver fan and since Carver’s name is invoked in one of the many blurbs–along with Flannary O’Connor and also, Steinbeck, McMurtry, Johnson, McGuane–I was not such a fan of the book. Vlautin has a very crisp writing style which has an edge of desperation and hopelessness and humor. The book is a quick read and has great illustrations. I’m happy I’ve read it, but I don’t know if I need to read another by him.

Put Your Life on a Diet
Gregory Johnson
Tiny book written by a man who lives in 140 square feet. It’s full of good tips about how to reduce your footprint. My favorite: when downsizing, rather than agonizing about getting rid of things, just put everything in storage first, and take only the basic things you will need. After a year or two, you will not be as attached to many of the items and can easily give them away. The ones that still mean something to you are worth keeping. The book also includes a lot of resources.

Dies the Fire
S.M. Sterling.
Hey what if a strange event happened and suddenly all mechanical things did not work? Not even guns? Whose expertise would we need? It turns out that nerdy people who are involved in the SCA and other medieval/Renaissance recreation groups do come in handy after all. Who else today knows how to fight with a broadsword? Or make crossbows?

This was an engrossing distopian novel, though the Wicca exclamations (Lord and Lady!) of one of the main characters never ceased to annoy me, even after 500 pages. After awhile the fight scenes became repetitive, so I’m contemplating not continuing with the series.

An Abundance of Katherines
John Green.
It has footnotes! In a novel! And math! But not in an intrusive way! This was a great story, very funny, and the child prodigy reminds me of someone I know. A clever story and a great read, very recommended.

Started and did not finish.
Food drying with an attitude.
Mary T. Bell
I skimmed this for ideas, because after all, pretty much the drying world consists of the following recipe: slice, season, dry, store. There were some good ideas and I never would have thought of drying pickles, but you can bet your sweet bippy I will now, thanks to this book. One strength: there were a lot of recipes incorporating the dried food which comes in handy for anyone who ever wonders what the heck they are going to do with a bunch of dried zucchini.

Three sentence movie reviews: Brick

Recommended to me by the lovely Jan when I mentioned how much I like having discovered Joseph Gordon-Levitt, now I can recommend it to you. It’s a total film noir, hard-boiled detective 40’s-esqe film but set in a modern Southern California high school. Complex, entertaining, very well done and not at all violent or bloody. (read: Sara approved.)

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Three sentence movie reviews: The Bridges of Madison County

Nicely acted but so incredibly boring. I’ve read that book and it lit me on fire–I was 18 at the time–whereas watching this movie I was on the Internet reading its reviews and also the trivia about it on IMDB before I had even finished watching it. Did you know that the farmhouse had been abandoned for decades and the crew totally refurbished it?

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Full court press

Do I know what a full court press is? Something to do with Basketball? Perhaps offensive? What does the dictionary say? Hmmmm.

Full-court press

1. Basketball. a tactic of harassing, close-guarding defense in which the team without the ball pressures the opponent man-to-man the entire length of the court in order to disrupt dribbling or passing and force a turnover: Suddenly behind by eighteen points, they went to a full-court press.

2. a vigorous attack or offensive.

Okay, that’s interesting. Definition one says it’s a defensive tactic, while definition two says it’s offensive. That makes no sense to non-spectator-sport me.

At any rate! I’m here to tell you that I’m going to vigorously attack my horribly behind blogs between now and the start of PSU school. My class this fall, I’m excited about, but it is taught by a professor I’ve had before and she requires massive amounts of work. So, even more important that I catch up before that begins, as once I catch up there will be FIRM RULES about posting so this never happens again.


From yesterday until September 29, I will post–actually physically post, not just write–TWO POSTS PER DAY! That will be 82 post posted between yesterday and then. I have no idea if that will catch me up, but it should make a very good dent. I have printed a check off sheet with two check offs already made and here I go. Of course, you won’t read this for awhile as I need to make my way to late August from mid-April, but just know that I’m on my way.

Three sentence movie reviews: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

It seems I’ve crossed some great divide where watching a movie that begins at 10:00 pm is difficult because I have trouble staying awake. Despite my sleepiness, I can tell you that this was a very clever movie which anyone who played (or listened to her brother’s endless playing of) video games in the 1980s will enjoy. Funny and packed full of great actors who were in elementary school when I finished collage, this was worth staying awake for.

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Requiem: college-era tape player.

I bought this tape player at BEST–a store that seems not to exist anymore–right before I left for college. I was excited at the duo tape and the high speed dubbing. Many, many mix tapes were made on this player. Over the years the radio has started to fade out and I rarely listen to my tapes, so it was time for this to go to the great electronics recycler in the sky.

Red Rosie is gone

I just sold my road bike.

It needed to be done. I’ve got the blue bike, the workhorse, and the road bike was taking up space I don’t have. I put her up on Craigslist at 4:00 and she was gone before 8:30. I’m $125.00 richer, which is nice, and I hope that the woman who bought her likes her as much as I did.

I bought her in the winter of 2002-2003, when I was getting serious about long distance road biking. I wanted a lighter frame than my mountain bike, and also toe clips and to be bent over the handlebars, like a serious long distance biker. We went on a lot of long rides around Portland, while I was increasing my distance. I named her Red Rosie as we rode over the St. John’s Bridge and the first time I saw the Kenton Neighborhood, I was with her. We were resting on a bench on a beautiful day in a park and I looked around and thought, “There are some nice houses here. It would be really nice to live here.” The park was Kenton Park which is just down the street from my house and I walk by that bench all the time.

I loved how clean her lines were, how light she was and how she had that old school Trek logo on the front. I loved how I felt fast when I rode her and how she continued the tradition of my owning and loving Trek bicycles. I love that she had old-school down tube shifters, because she reminded me of a bike my dad had growing up, and it was like she was something that was handed down to me, rather than bought, shiny new–though I actually did buy her at City Bikes.

She hung in my studio downtown, in the apartment Matt and I shared, and most lately in our house, where she had her own shed. She took me all over Southwest Portland when I trained for the triathalon and then 18 miles during the triathalon and I can still remember how good I felt when I conquered Hillsdale and Multnomah Village’s steep grades early one morning while training before work. When I first bought her I walked two blocks to an incredibly boring job, but when I went to graduate school, I rode her every day to my two student teaching placements. First we traveled just over the Hawthorne Bridge to Environmental Middle School, then farther across the Broadway Bridge to Grant High School. I looked at her longingly when I had my post graduate school boring job–too far away to bike commute–and we were happily reunited when I rode the one and a half miles each way to The Emerson School, and then 4 miles each way to from the new house.

In the end, she was just a little bit too big for me. When I rode her my neck was at an angle that was just a little bit wrong and I ended up with chronic pain. During those last few months, it was hard to ride her at all, both because it hurt and because she needed a tuneup. We were both in need of something new. I hope she likes her new owner and the new owner likes her. I will miss her.

Three sentence movie reviews: The Other Guys

This was hilarious–I knew Will Ferrell was funny, and now I know he also makes a very good straight man. But who knew Mark Wahlberg was so funny? This movie also includes a very clever take on the “drink all night” scene as well as the best role I’ve seen Michael Keaton play in years.

ps: watch all the credits. You will get a good education about what financial reform bought us.

pps: Even if you only watch the opening scene you will laugh. The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson make excellent over-the-top buddy cops.

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