Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Title: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Author: Ayelet Waldman

Short Summary:
Emilia is a young New York woman who married a co-worker, Jack, who left his wife to be with her. Along with the marriage comes Jack’s son, William. This child is a know-it-all who Emilia has a very difficult time dealing with, especially while she is mourning the loss of her daughter who died after only a few days of life. This book follows the ups and downs of life as a new wife, step-mother, and woman trying to figure it all out.

My Thoughts:
It’s now been some time since I’ve read this book and before looking through it again, I couldn’t remember too much about it. Obviously, it did not leave a huge impression on me. This was somewhat disappointing since I absolutely adored Waldman’s Daughter’s Keeper.

I found the characters in this book very difficult to like. While I could sympathize with Emilia at times, other times I just wanted to scream at her. William, unlike Emilia, was very difficult to sympathize with. It did not feel like I was reading about a five year old at all. I work with children and can never imagine even the most intelligent five year old say some of the things that came out of this child’s mouth. There were even times when he reminded me of Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is disturbing. He turned out to be not nearly as terrible as Kevin, but he still sometimes made my skin crawl.

Although the characters were not always the most pleasant to read, there were redeeming qualities of this book. The book was written with wit and comic relief that often brought a smile to my lips. I also really enjoyed the details and descriptions of New York. I often enjoy when a location plays such an important role in a story, and this one brought New York to life.

I know from IMDB.com (internet movie database) that there is a movie based on this book staring Natalie Portman as Emilia. I can’t seem to find it on Amazon or Netflix, and am not sure where it was released. I would be curious to see how the story plays out on film.

This book fell a little bit more into the chick-lit category than I was expecting. Although it was not my favorite book, I would still recommend it as a quick, light read with some quirky characters and heartfelt moments to lovers of chick lit.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Movie

I recently read and reviewed Stieg Larssson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, originally titled Män Som Hatar Kvinnor; Men who Hate Women. This past weekend I had the privilege of seeing the movie. The book was translated to English, but the movie was in Stieg’s native language, Swedish, with English subtitles.

More times than not I am disappointed by a film version of a book I have read. There is often no way to translate much of what happened on the pages to the screen. I am happy to say that this film was an exception. It was excellent!

The casting was spot on when it came to Salander. Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth brought the character to life. Her performance was very much how I envisioned the character in my head while reading. She was dark, mysterious, and haunting. Michael Nykqvist also did a respectable job as Mikael, the journalist at Millenium investigating the disappearance of Harriet Vanger.

It is virtually impossible to have every detail of a book take place in the movie version. That being said, this film held true to the book. There were details downplayed or eliminated, such as Blomkvist’s relationship with Erika Berger, but nothing significant enough to detract from the story.

There are rumors that another version of this film is going to be made in the US. I think this is completely unnecessary. This version was excellent and the fact that it was in Swedish added to the authenticity of the story. It was a great foreign film and watching it with subtitles did not bother me in the least.

I’m not sure how many theaters around the country are showing this version. I saw it at Landmark Theaters which often plays indie or foreign films. If this is playing near you, go see it!

Grad School Books Worth Reading

It’s been a little bit of a slow week in terms of reading. I’m not sure how wide the news coverage is nation wide, but here in Illinois, teacher jobs are being cut left and right due to lack of government funding. Unfortunately, I’ve been affected by this and have had a hard time focusing on reading or audio books because there is so much else on my mind.

Since I’ve been distracted from reading, I thought I would take an entry to revisit some books I’ve read in the past. I had to read plenty for grad school, mostly boring articles and text books. I did, however, have a few opportunities to read some excellent books that I never would have read had they not been assigned to me. I got my masters in Special Education, but these books are worth the read for anyone interested in reading about culture, literacy, overcoming hardship, and forming relationships.  Here are mini reviews of a few of them:

Push by Sapphire

Way before all the hype came along for the movie Precious (which I have not seen), my untraditional grad school teacher assigned us this book for my critical literacy class. This was a class about giving a voice to those who usually don’t have one. Push is that kind of book. It is about a girl named Precious who has been sexually abused by both her parents and has one baby by her father and another on the way. With a little help she gets into a program and meets a teacher who teaches her not only how to read and write, but how to express and empower herself by doing so. Although hard to stomach at time, it was also inspirational and showed the true power of an education.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Ann Fadiman

I can’t actually remember which class I read this one for, but the book and the discussions my class had on it have stuck with me. Lia Lee, a Hmong child living in California, is diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Hmongs living in America are refugees from Laos. I have actually never heard of this group of people until I did my student teaching in Madison, WI where there is a large Hmong population and there were a few Hmong students in my class. In the book, Lia’s family clash with the doctors trying to care for Lia in terms of cultural ideas and what is best for her. The book alternates, every other chapter being about Lia’s situation and the others about Hmong culture in general. This book was truly an educational experience for me, helped me to learn about a different culture, and how damaging a clash in cultures, even ones with a common goal, can be.

One Child by Torey Hayden

This book was haunting, especially since it is a true story. Just like Push, it was hard to read at times, but turned out to be worth the read. Sheila was a child that nobody wanted. She was abandoned by her parents and committed an act of violence that many would think unforgivable. Sheila was placed in a class of special education students with teacher Torey Hayden. Very slowly she opened up to Torey and came out of her shell. This did not happen overnight and it was certainly not an easy transition. Torey’s patience for this child is beyond commendable. She took on a child that nobody in the world would go near, and got her to open her heart and slowly start to move beyond her horrific past. Torey saw something in Sheila that nobody else took the time to see, and it turned out that Sheila was full of potential.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

I’ve mentioned this in my blog before, right after the earthquake in Haiti took place. In this book Tracy Kidder follows Paul Farmer, a doctor who has devoted his life to bringing assistance and medicine to poor nations. He travels to places such as Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia. In these places, Farmer meets the people and helps to change their practices and views of medicine. Partners in Health is the organization that Farmer has helped to found, and it has been a huge fundraiser in this time of great need for Haiti. This book was assigned to me for a research class and was meant to show  how qualitative and quantitative methods of research were used in the book, but I won’t bore you with more of that. Basically, it was just a good book, so read it!

So there you have it. I would definitely be lying if I told you I enjoyed grad school, but at least I got to read a few good books.

In other news, I love the NCAA tournament and am running the pool at my school for the fourth year in a row. The Wisconsin Badgers have one their first game and hopefully will go all the way. (Maybe wishful thinking, but not impossible!)

Go Badgers!

Bucky Badger!

Giveaway Reminder and My Avatar!

Just a quick reminder to everyone that the giveaway for Cutting for Stone ends March 21st, so don’t forget to enter HERE.

And, just for fun, I thought I would share a photo of my Na’vi form, done in Photoshop. Pretty cool, yet a little bit creepy, right?

Julie as a Na'vi

Have a great week everyone!

Writers on the Record Featuring Lionel Shriver

On Thursday night I made my way to Harold Washington Library, a gorgeous library by the way, to hear one of my favorite authors, Lionel Shriver, speak. She was interviewed by Victoria Lautman who does a radio show called Writers on the Record. The audience got to hear the live taping of this show.

Lionel was pretty similar to how I imagined her to be. Extremely witty and brutally honest. Plus, she was wearing some kick ass red boots that I loved! Victoria described her as a “smartypants” which she took as a great compliment!

The majority of the interview was spent talking about Shriver’s new release, So Much For That. This is a novel that deals with sickness, how it affects families, and the role the American Health Care System plays in it all. I found it interesting to learn that Shriver wrote this book due to personal experience with a best friend who suffered from mesothelioma, the same sickness a main character in the book suffers from.  She did two readings from the book, talked about where the ideas came from, and about the characters reactions in the story. It was really interesting to hear the back story before actually reading the book.

One point she wanted to get across in the book is the role that health care now plays in our lives and affects our decisions. I can relate. My dream is to own an independent book store one day and be self employed, but needing health care as badly as I do makes that dream seem unrealistic.

She also talked a little bit about past books such as We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World. She confirmed that We Need To Talk about Kevin is officially being made into a MOVIE staring John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton! I’ll definitely be curious to see that one. She admited that she is married to a man very similar to “Ramsey” in The Post-Birthday World, although Ramsey played Snooker while her husband plays jazz drums. She also said that she is not working on another book at the moment, but the next topic she hopes to tackle is immigration.

Just a quick reminder to everyone that the giveaway for Cutting for Stoneends March 21st, so don’t forget to enter HERE.

The hour long interview was very entertaining and often times extremely funny. It was the first author talk I’ve heard in a very long time and it made me want to go to more! I ended up buying So Much For That and got it signed. My other reading plans will be put on hold til I read this one!

This interview will be accessible as a podcast on Victoria Lautman’s Website. She has interviewed a number of distinguished authors for her Writers on the Record Series which is in its last season. Audrey Niffenegger, Elizabeth Strout, Augusten Burroughs, and Ann Packer are just a few examples. Go have a listen!

February in Review

Wow, February really flew by this year, but it was an exciting month for me in terms of my blog! I read 4 books and listened to 3, making my total February book count 7. Here are the books read/listened to in February:

There were many great books in this list, but The Art of Racing in the Rain was my favorite. Review coming soon…

This month I also saw a bunch of great movies, two of which have been reviewed on this blog. I am excited to announce William Guth as a guest contributor who posted a wonderful review of one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, An Education. He also co-authored the review for A Single Man. Expect more movie and book reviews from him in the future.

Another thing that happened this month was my switch from blogspot to wordpress. So far I’ve been very happy with the change and am excited about all the possibilities there are on wordpress.

In March I will finally be reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, which has been on my radar for quite some time now. I’m also starting a new audio book by Anita Shreve called A Change in Altitude, as well as reading a nonfiction choice, Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin. There is a movie based on this book currently playing on HBO called Temple Grandin.

I also hope to do my first giveaway in March. Look for that coming up soon! Stay tuned…

An Education

Somehow in the last 3 months I’ve managed to see 5 of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture and IMO, this movie was really something special

Plot Summary: The film takes place in 1960’s London (or specifically the suburb of Twickenham).  Sixteen year old Jenny lives with her parents. On her father’s wishes, everything that Jenny does is in the sole pursuit of being accepted into Oxford, as he wants a better life for her than he had.  Jenny Moller is bright, pretty, hard working but also naturally gifted.  Her life changes after she meets David Goldman, a man over twice her age; who goes out of his way to show Jenny and her family that his interest in her is not improper. He solely wants to expose her to cultural activities, which she enjoys. Jenny quickly gets accustomed to the life to which David and his constant companions, Danny and Helen, have shown her, and their relationship becomes a romantic one.  Jenny, however, slowly learns more about David, and by association Danny and Helen, and how specifically they make their money. Jenny has to decide if what she learns about them and leading such a life is worth forgoing her plans of higher education at Oxford.

My take on it:

And the award for Best Picture goes to (drum roll please!) . . . . . ‘An Education.’

Based on Lynn Barber’s memoir ‘An Education*,’ the twenty four year old Carey Mulligan absolutely jumps off the page as sixteen year old Jenny Mellor, who despite her bright future, can’t help wondering if all her efforts aren’t for nothing in the end.  Daughters beware, this film may well prove that your parents Continue reading