Saturday, March 28, 2009

Still Woman Enough (2002)

I just love Loretta Lynn. Her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough a sort-of sequel to the wildly popular Coal Miner's Daughter (1976), is a little silly in the way that all celebrity autobiographies are silly, but Lynn's sincerity shines through and makes this a very readable look into her life.

In Still Woman Enough, Lynn goes back through parts of her life that she wrote about in her first autobiography, picking up stories that she forgot to tell the first time around, and adding details that she didn't feel she could write about before when her mother, husband, and other friends and family were still alive. Lynn then takes us to the point in the movie-version of Coal Miner's Daughter when she and her husband, Doo, "walk off into the sunset" and lets us know what happened after that. Lynn comes off as a women with a lot of love for the people around her, and a huge capacity for forgiveness, particularly for her husband -- often abusive, often drunk, often cheating, but never dropped by Loretta. It's kind of like a country song...

The book is often humorous, telling funny stories about Lynn's family, her celebrity fans, and most of all, Lynn herself, who she often casts as the butt of a "country bumpkin in the big city" joke. When the jokes stop and tragedy begins to hit -- including the drowning death of Lynn's adult son out at their ranch, and the long illness and death of her husband -- Lynn almost falls apart completely, but is held together by her strong will and her good friends.

The folksy diction used throughout the book is occasionally distracting, but if you have ever heard a recording of Loretta Lynn telling a story (like the "Little Red Shoes" track on her 2004 album Van Lear Rose, a story which she also tells in this book), the narrative voice fits right in.

My two criticisms of the book: 1) Loretta Lynn, why do you like the Bush family so much? 2) There should have been more pictures in the middle. Otherwise, this is fun read for anyone who is a fan of this legendary country music star.

Monday, March 23, 2009

American Rust (2009)

My latest read from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program is Philipp Meyer's American Rust (2009). Wow. The advance reading copies of books I've gotten through EarlyReviewers have been a little hit or miss, but American Rust is a hit all the way -- absolutely the best one I've read so far.

The novel takes place in present-day Buell, Pennsylvania -- a steel mill town where the mill closed down twenty years ago and things still haven't really bounced back. Surrounded by rusting factories and beautiful scenery, Isaac English and Billy Poe coast through post-high-school life with the inertia of a small town. Isaac has always been the smartest kid in the town, with the exception of his older sister Lee who fled Buell for Yale and marriage. With the idea of riding the rails to California and escaping the responsibilities of caring for his ailing father, Isaac steals $4000 from his dad's desk drawer and hits the road. Billy, the former star of the high school football team, who is quick to get into a fight and bad at holding a job, is Isaac's best friend. He agrees to accompany him on the start of his journey, but after an encounter with some homeless men in an abandoned machine shop during a rainstorm, one man is left dead and the two friends return to Buell to regroup. The aftermath of the killing brings us deeper into the lives of Isaac, Billy and their families with the chapters alternating perspective between the two young men, Isaac's sister and father, Billy's mother, and the local police chief.

Meyer is able to give each of his characters a strong and consistent voice, and the realism and depth of the characterization is highlighted by the stream of consciousness style of the narrative. This is a very engrossing, sad, rich and ultimately slightly hopeful novel about friendship, honor, isolation, family, selfishness, and responsibility. American Rust is Meyer's first novel, and much of it was written during his residency as a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers at UT. I can't wait to read what he does next.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We go as late as I want to take it

Secret boyfriend update!

William Petersen has always appealed to me on CSI, but never really crossed into full blown secret boyfriend territory. Not until I watched Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986), starring Petersen as the FBI agent who brought down Hannibal Lector, had a breakdown, and was called back in to solve the case of the Tooth Fairy serial murderer (who prefers to be known as the Red Dragon).

He has all the necessary SB trademarks:

1. Smokes cigarettes.

2. Has a beard.

3. Is often shirtless. In fact, he even makes these totally dumb purple shorts look attractive.

This particular scene got me all worked up last night, especially the effective use of cussing about 2 minutes in:

That's right, William Peterson, you just tell us when it's too fucking late.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (2005)

So, I probably shouldn't have read this book. I'm already satisfied with my reading life and I don't like self-help books. But when I ordered a refill for my day planner from Levenger (the Circa system is awesome, by the way), they threw in a free copy of CEO Steve Leveen's The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life (2005), and my personal reading system is that I will read basically anything that presents itself, so here we are.

I really didn't like this book that much, but I want to be fair to it: if you are a middle-aged rich person who hasn't read much in the past, really wants to read more, and likes a lot of hand-holding advice, then this is the book for you! Okay, that sounded snotty. Here are some things about the book that I liked:

1. The quotes from other authors who have written about reading were extensive and nicely chosen.

2. It reminded me of the SQ3R method for reading comprehension, which gave me some nostalgic glee (although I have never ever had the patience to apply this method to anything).

3. He has some interesting hints here and there, particularly about annotating your books.

4. The idea is good, and Leveen is obviously an earnest guy who really is excited about reading -- and if it gets other people to read more, then I'm all for it.


1. Listening to an audio book does not count as reading the book. Not even if it is unabridged and you really really like the actor who is reading it. No. I am firm on this. They have their place, but they are not the same as reading. (And Leveen devotes an entire chapter to books-on-tape! And tells us that "in some cases the author's ideas can reach us more directly and powerfully through audiobooks than through the intermediary of print," using William Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston as examples! And then claims that reading books is actually less true to the story than listening to them because the Iliad was passed on through an oral tradition so we should all listen to books!)

2. He invents words like "bookography" (an annotated list of the books you've read, the idea of which I love, but the word for which I hate), and "ristening" (a word for the practice of "reading" books by listening to them [a practice which I denounce]).

3. He makes statements about young adults in their 20s and 30s not being able to read for fun because they are too busy reading trade publications and professional literature and building their career (look around at your friends -- does this actually apply to anyone you know?). And later talks about how young mothers join book clubs "after stepping out of active careers to raise young children." But what about all of us who aren't workaholics and/or can't quit our jobs when we have kids? And still like to read?

So, I wanted to like this book more than I did, and I feel kind of like a reading snob for being so hard on it. The biggest problem with it, for me, is probably the self-helpy tone. I just don't like to be told what to do.

So, here's my number one tip for enhancing your well-read life: Turn off the TV. Move away from the computer. Sit down in a comfortable chair with good light. Then open the book and start reading. Which is what I'm going to do right now...

[And if you want a taste of Leveen's book for yourself, you can find it right here.]

Monday, March 16, 2009


1. Watch this awesome video that my friends made as an entry in this contest.

2. Comment on the video to increase their chances of winning.

3. Watch it again! Just try to get the catchy song out of your head.

4. Send the video to all your friends.

5. Dance sequence!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Llana of Gathol (1948)

I think that by publicly admitting that I've read a book named Llana of Gathol, I have officially become a science fiction mega-nerd. But, since it was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, published serially in 1941 (and published as a novel in 1948, the last of the Mars books to be published during Burroughs' lifetime), and most importantly since it was loaned to me 10,000 years ago by the lovely Choo (sorry about the late return!), I believe my nerdiness has been vindicated.

This book is composed of four inter-related stories in which our immortal hero, John Carter, travels all over the red planet alternately rescuing and losing his beautiful granddaughter, Llana of Gathol. Along the way, Carter and his friends awaken a city's-worth of ancient nobles who were boxed up underground in a state of suspended animation; foil the plans of a despot who keeps everyone in line using a powerful machine that can kill any of the citizens with the touch of a button; discover a million-man army that is kept frozen in the Martian arctic until called on by its leader; and are captured by a group of invisible warriors who can only be seen under certain special lights. In each story Carter has, then loses Llana; becomes trapped in a place from which no one can possibly escape; successfully hides his identity (even though he is the only white guy on Mars and the only person who has super powers of strength and can jump thirty feet in the air); fights at least one duel in which he completely destroys his opponent (who was invariably hailed as the best swordsman on Barsoom); and then manages to escape and save Llana and a few other friends and acquaintances.

It, my friends, is an action-packed book. And that is exactly why I love Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Gay Place (1961)

Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place (1961) is the latest DAFFODILS selection (that is the Devilishly Affable Friendly Friends Optional-Drinking Invitational Literary Society, aka the best book club in the world), and like I do with every bookclub book, I got excited and read it way too early since we aren't meeting for at least another three weeks. Luckily The Gay Place is such a strong book that I don't think I'll have any trouble coming up with things to say a month from now.

The Gay Place consists of three interlocking novels that dip in and out of the lives of a group of Texas state legislators, one very junior senator, a series of wives, girlfriends, students, and journalists, and a very LBJ-like governor named Arthur "Goddamn" Fenstemaker. And the book is amazing. Brammer draws a picture of late 1950s Austin and the rising tide of young liberals in Texas politics with a keen eye and a light touch. Although some characters have a tendency to be clichéd, they are clichéd in exactly the way that politicians (and especially Texas politicians) work their cliché-magic. Even more than the politics, Brammer gives us an engrossing story of complicated men and women who drink too much, fall into bed too easily, and fail over and over again to attain the ideals they set for themselves, but somehow keep forgiving each other and trying all over again. And yet, even though depressing things happen all the time, the book as a whole isn't depressing at all. The writing is strong and varied, the dialogue spot-on, and the characters and plot have kept me thinking about this book for days and days.

I've already said more than I wanted to about The Gay Place, since I want to save something for the lovely DAFFODILS, so I'll leave it with this: Read this book.

[And if you have any interest in Brammer and The Gay Place at all, you should check out this Texas Monthly article. It doesn't give away too much about the book, if you haven't read it yet, but it does give a lot of context and detail about Brammer's life that makes the book even more complicated and interesting.]

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Miss Elizabeth's pants

You may think the best part of Wrestlemania VII was the gulf war era patriotic decorations; the Undertaker's first fight at a Wrestlemania; the union of Marla Maples, Alex Trebek, and Regis Philbin as celebrity guest hosts; or the career-ending match between the Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage. All of these things were, of course, really great, but the very best part of all (and possibly the best moment of any Wrestlemania ever) was the reunion of Randy Savage and the lovely Miss Elizabeth, featuring Miss Elizabeth's shiny pants.

They don't show up all that well in the picture above, but take a minute to watch some of this video and bask in their shiny-ness. I would never wear shiny pants, but I think Miss Elizabeth wears them well. And as a bonus, you can delve into the conflicted mind of the Macho King who has just ended his career but won back the woman he loves.

The actual reunion (along with the end of the match) featured here for context -- shiny pants excitement starts at about 3:33, but watch at least until 6:17 to see the most awesome tears ever captured on video]. I got a little teary, myself...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

An Incomplete Revenge (2008)

An Incomplete Revenge (2008) is Jacqueline Winspear's fifth book in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series. I haven't read any of the others, but I got this one free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to jump in at the middle. An Incomplete Revenge works great as a stand alone novel, but the character of Maisie Dobbs is so interesting and well-drawn, that I really want to go back and read the previous books in the series.

The book takes place about a decade after World War I in England, and Maisie Dobbs is a "psychologist and investigator" running her own firm in London. Maisie served as a nurse in the war, an experience which still affects her daily, particularly because her great love, a doctor with her in the War, was seriously injured during a bombing raid and is still languishing, unresponsive, in a convalescent hospital. Maisie takes a job investigating a series of petty crimes and annual unreported fires in a village near the estate where her father works as a groomsman. Her father's employer wants to buy the brickworks and associated land near the village, but wants her to figure out what is behind the mysterious crime spree before he signs the check. Maisie heads out there during "hopping" season with the other Londoners that spend their summer getting out of the city and picking hops in the fields at the big estates. In addition to all the Londoners, a group of gypsies is also working the fields, and tensions run high between the mysteriously silent villagers, the London interlopers, and the close-knit gypsies. Maisie's skills of observation and her sensitivity to other people allow her to seamlessly move between these three groups as she unravels the terrible secret of the town and solves her case.

The mystery here is excellent, and Winspear gives the reader enough clues to figure out most of what is going on just before she reveals it, and saves a nice twist for the end that is surprising without leaving the reader feeling cheated. Intertwined with the mystery is the character of Maisie herself -- complex, sympathetic, and constantly growing.

As you might have noticed, I don't read that many contemporary mystery novels, and tend to be more of a hard-boiled pulpy type. However, I'd make an exception for the Maisie Dobbs novels, and I can't wait to read them all.