Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mini Book Reviews

I've been very remiss in writing book reviews lately. And if any of you have been paying attention, you will have noticed that the Books Read This Year collage on my sidebar has grown quite a bit. Suddenly, I've reading up a storm and have finished several books recently. Only two are worth recommending, but I thought I'd do something different this time and write "mini reviews" for a few of those books.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok: This is a book unlike any I've read of the Asian experience (and I've read a lot of books with Asian protagonists). This book presents a very authentic view of the life of a mother and young daughter who emigrate to NY from Hong Kong. It's not the typical struggle between mother and daughter over traditional vs. American ways. It is the story of how these two people struggle to survive under harsh circumstances. How they work together to better themselves. And how Kimberly, an eleven year old girl, works hard at school all day and then spends her evenings in a sweat shop helping her mother meet her quota. Only to go back to their condemned apartment, which is infested with roaches and has no heat. Eventually, Kimberly wins a place a prestigious private school ,and with the blessing of her mother, enrolls there knowing this is her only way to lift herself and her mother out of their dire circumstances. All the while continuing to work at the sweat shop and hiding her dual life from her friends and from the school authorities. Surprisingly, this is not a dark and depressing story. Not at all. It the story of triumph over hardship. Of determination, support and love. I highly recommend it. One of the best books I've read so far this year. I gave Girl in Translation 4 Stars - I really liked it.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost: Are any of you as fascinated as I am by the TV show Hoarders? The organizational side of my personality (which is, admittedly, a bit overdeveloped) loves this show. I sit here and talk to the screen and cringe at the mess. Itching to get in there and clean the place up. And throw away all that "stuff". I'm the antithesis of a pack rat (much to the chagrin of my husband, who has some mild hoarding tendencies, based on the information in this book). Anyway, this book was less of a voyeuristic peak into the lives of hoarders than it is an explanation of how hoarders think and how this mindset makes it nearly impossible for anyone to "help" them or for them to change. It was really eye-opening and it did give me a bit more sympathy for hoarders. I'm a little less likely to judge them now when I watch the show. Fascinating, though not riveting reading. If this topic interests you, I think you'll like it. If you are just curious about hoarders for the curiosity factor E. L. Doctorow's novel, Homer and Langley, is probably a better choice. I gave Stuff 3 STARS - I liked it.

Tinkers by Paul Harding: This book was a major disappointment. You might remember that I blogged about it a few months ago when it won the 2010 Pulitzer for Fiction. An event that was a surprise to most everyone. I chose this book for the book club I run at the library. And while it did generate some good discussion, the book itself was a difficult read. There are parts that were interesting and told in the usual way. You know, a story with a beginning a middle and and end. But there were large portions that were told as the wandering, disjointed hallucinations of a dying man. Long unintelligible sections that left me scratching my head, wondering what the heck was going on. Pretty much everyone in the book club felt the same way, though some disliked the book more than others. Though, as happens occasionally, after discussing the book and sharing some research on it (which was written by a woman with a PhD in comparative literature), we all agreed that we liked the book more after the discussion and that it might warrant a second reading. Well, not me. I don't reread books. Especially books I didn't like the first time around. I would recommend this one to all you PhDs in comparative literature. The rest of you, I would suggest you pass on this one. I gave Tinkers 2 stars - it was OK.

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel: Another disappointment, though I can't say I was surprised. After reading Martel's fascinating and amazing Life of Pi a few years ago, I was thrilled to see he had written a new book. I had read that his newest book was an allegory with two animals, a donkey and a monkey, as main characters. Right there I was sceptical. I don't like allegories. Mostly because I don't understand them. I'm a very literal reader (and person, for that matter). But, considering the fact that Life of Pi also cleverly used animals as characters, I thought I would give it a try, even though I'd read very mixed reviews of the book. I am happy to report that I understood the allegory perfectly. It was very obvious. So that's a plus. The story itself was not very interesting, however. If you are interested in reading something by Yann Martel, I'd recommend Life of Pi. If you loved Life of Pi and can't resist, I won't dissuade you. Beatrice and Virgil is a quick and easy read, which is not something I can say about most allegories. So there isn't much to lose if you want to see for yourself. I gave Beatrice and Virgil 2 stars - it was OK.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan: I had never heard of this slim book until it showed up on this year's Reading Across Rhode Island nomination list (yes, I'm participating again this year). I really enjoyed this simple, yet thoughtful book about the general manager of a Red Lobster as he prepares for and works through the final shift of "his" restaurant before corporate shuts its doors for good. It's a story of pride in one's work, of ethics, of doing the right thing and of reinventing yourself. I could really relate to Manny as he navigated the last night that his restaurant would be open. A timely book that I recommend. I gave Last Night at the Lobster 4 stars - I really liked it.

So, how about you? What have you read lately? Anything you would recommend? I'd love to hear all about it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Musing Mondays

This week’s musing asks…

What do you think of books that receive a lot of hype? (think of the “Twilight” saga, or “Harry Potter”, or “The Da Vinci Code”). Do you read them? Why, or why not?

This is a good question and one that I was recently discussing with Sandy of It's a Jungle Out There. For the most part, I use the same criteria for "hyped" books that I do for all others. If the topic sounds interesting, I will read it. However, there are very rare times when someone who's opinion I trust recommends a hyped book to me and I will read it. However, I never read super-hyped, "franchised" books (like Twilight and Harry Potter). Like movies, once a book goes into serialization it usually isn't very good. And books that are series right from the start are usually too commercial for my taste. In keeping with the DVD analogy, these are like movies that go straight to DVD. I can promise you that I will NEVER read the Twilight series. No matter who recommends it (with sincere apologies to all you Twi-hards out there).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Introducing...New England Bloggers

For awhile now I've been a member of blogging group called New England Bloggers which was started by Elizabeth of Thoughts of an Evil Overlord as a way for NE bloggers to find each other. Right now New England Bloggers is hosting a blog carnival called Introducing... New England Bloggers, where members visit another NE Blogger and then introduce them on their own blogs. I've never participated in a blog carnival before, but it sounded like fun. It was very easy to decide which member to introduce here on Pam's Perspective. Her blog title says it all. So without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Jem from A Reading Journal.

As her title suggests, Jem blogs about books and other book, library and literature related topics! What's not to love? She lives in Nashua, NH, is a member of several book clubs (both in person and online) and she studied literature in college. I'm so jealous. Why didn't I think of that when I was a college student? Think of all the time I wasted not reading and learning about great books.

Anyway, back to Jem. She has two very cool lists on her sidebar. One consists of links to photos she has taken of various libraries around the country. Who knew I wasn't the only person who obsessively takes photos of libraries when I travel to new places. The other list consists of posts she has written about her "Literary Excursions", which include visits to the homes of Robert Frost, Edith Wharton and Louisa May Alcott. How cool is that? This is something I've been meaning to do for a while now and my personal book club was just discussing this very thing as a way to celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2012. I think it was serendipity that I found Jem and A Reading Journal. But that's not all, she is also participating in a reading challenge. And not just any reading challenge, but an Art History Reading Challenge. Really? This is uncanny. I just spent the last 9 months taking an Art History Workshop at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum! I think Jem just might be my long lost twin.

In addition to all that, she also writes very concise and informative book reviews. And the books she's reads are fascinating. They are not your standard "hot" books that are on every list from Oprah to the NYT. She finds interesting and amazing books that I'm not familiar with ( and I work in two libraries and am surrounded by books). Amazing. Her newest post is the fictionalized account of a real life legal case of unintentional bigamy that takes place in the late 1800s. It sounds fascinating.

Needless to say, I've added A Reading Journal to my blog roll and a few books to my tbr list. I think that all you bookworms would love Jem's blog as well. If you do visit her, let her know you're visiting compliments of the NE Bloggers Blog Carnival.

Interested in visiting other NE Bloggers? Here's the complete Blog Carnival List. Maybe you'll find a blog or two that speaks to you, too.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Warning: Mom brag session coming up. And it's LONG! Sorry, but you've been warned.

I'm finally finding the time to catch my breath after the whirlwind that was the final two weeks of Katie's HS career. It was an amazingly wonderful two weeks and a fabulous finish to HS. The two weeks leading up to graduation were filled with banquets, chorus concerts and awards nights. Unfortunately, I didn't get a single picture from all those events, but I promise I made up for it with the actual graduation activities. Many of these events took place in early June, but I'll do my best to remember all the details.

The first event took place on June 1 in the HS cafeteria. It was the annual Music Department Banquet. I must say that the people in charge did a wonderful job of transforming the cafeteria into a beautiful setting for this fun evening of honoring and roasting the seniors. The tables were covered in linen table cloths, there were potted plants on all the tables, balloons in the school colors and even music themed fabric serving as runners on the tables. The event was catered and the food was plentiful and delicious. Each and every senior was honored by their classmates and gently roasted to much laughter and applause. And each senior was given a very nice beach towel embroidered with the words "BHS Music Department" and some musical notes - again in the school colors. Katie had a wonderful time and she felt honored by the kind words spoken about her as she was "roasted".

Next up on our calendar of events was the HS Awards Night. We had received a letter a while ago stating that Katie had achieved a GPA that would allow her to be inducted into the RI Secondary Schools Honor Society and that the awards would be presented on June 2 at the HS. We were so proud of her and looked forwarded to attending the ceremony. What we didn't realize was that many other awards, honors and scholarships would be presented that night. Many of them unbeknownst to the recipient or their families. Awards were given by all the academic departments at the HS, by the athletic department, by many organizations in the community and by various other school, community and memorial societies. Imagine our surprise when the Student Council Advisor got up to award the Citizen of the Year Award and mentioned that the recipient was a student leader who was involved in more activities and clubs than she had ever witnessed and that this person was extremely humble. The members of the Student Council all vote on who in the senior class best explemplifies the qualities of good Citizenship and they chose Katie! Geoff and I were flabbergasted. And so was Katie. The look on her face was priceless. To be honored by her peers and recognized by the school that way meant so much to her. I don't think she thought that her peers really noticed her, let alone all that she has done for the school over the past four years. It was, without at doubt, our proudest moment. But that's not all. She was also honored by the local Elks with their Leadership Award for "americanism, cooperation, citizenship, leadership, patriotism and participation". We were stunned. We could not believe that Katie was honored with yet another award recognizing her active participation in school and her quiet leadership role. She looked positively shocked as well. The final awards of the night were the very heartfelt memorial awards given in memory of local HS students who have died over the years. Some died long ago, some more recently, some unexpectedly, some after illnesses, but all tragically. Many of these awards were presented by members of the memorialized student's family. Like many towns, our town has been touched by more than its fair share of teen deaths in the last several years. One such person was Katie Brown, who was murdered on her front lawn by her boyfriend in 2001. After this tragic death the Katie Brown Education Program was created and it now works diligently educating young people in RI about dating violence. Apparently, they also award a scholarship each year to the HS senior who epitomizes the qualities that Katie Brown herself demonstrated - kindness, caring and compassion. Well, guess who the school honored with this scholarship? My Katie! We were all floored and so honored. Sitting in that auditorium, my eyes filled with tears of joy and my heart swelled with pride. I can't think of three more valuable honors to have been awarded - citizenship, leadership and kindness, caring and compassion. Katie may not be the smartest, most athletic or most popular student in her HS class, but to be recognized by both her fellow students and the faculty for the strength of her character is an honor beyond compare. She left that awards ceremony feeling so proud of herself. And she deserves to feel that way.

The very next night, June 3, was the final Chorus Performance of Katie's HS career (and possibly ever). Each year the Choral Ensemble (which Katie is not a part of) performs at a local historic site, Linden Place. At this final concert Mrs. LaParle, the chorus director, invites the senior Chorus students (Katie being one) to perform with the ensemble. She then introduces each of the seniors to the audience, presents them with a flower and shares an anecdote about that student. It was a very elegant evening.

The following night, was the Senior Banquet, an event for seniors only. The students received their yearbooks and had a chance to get everyone to sign them. This was a dress up event and we were able to find a dress that Katie loved. She had a wonderful time with her friends. And I did manage to get photos of that!

Katie and Me

Katie, Kayla and Kelsey

The following week, we attended Katie's two day Freshman Orientation (that's a whole 'nother blog post), she had a day of exams and then FINALLY we celebrated Katie's Graduation Weekend on June 12th and 13th. The festivities started Saturday afternoon with Friendship Service. Friendship service is an event for the graduates and their family and friends. It is a bit less formal than the graduation, but it does involve student and faculty speakers. The graduates wear their caps and gowns and the student jazz ensemble plays and the senior chorus students sing. And that is when I lost it. I had a clear view of Katie singing. They sang "You'll Be in My Heart" from The Lion King. I realized in that moment that this would be one of the last times I would see Katie sing in a chorus concert. All the concerts I've attended from 4th grade till that moment flooded my memory. I'm tearing up now just thinking about it. Later than night one of Katie's friends, Sara, hosted a party at her house for students and their families. It was a wonderful end to a really nice day.

Katie (center) entering the gymnasium

Madeleine, Geoff, Katie and Me after the Friendship Service

The Graduates and Friends

Earlier that afternoon Katie asked me if I would go with her to the local craft store to buy some supplies to decorate her graduation cap. I can't tell you how much this meant to me. She hasn't really wanted to have too much to do with me for the last couple of years and it touched me that she wanted to include me in this project. The plan had been for all the kids to decorate their caps during the party at Sara's house. However, in the excitement of the party, cap decorating was forgotten and when Katie came home from the party (we had left earlier), she asked me if I would help her. As tired as I was (I was just getting into bed when she came home), I jumped at the chance. She and I had the most wonderful time designing and decorating her cap. It was magical.

The next day, Sunday, June 13th was Graduation. It was, without a doubt, one of my favorite days ever. Everything went smoothly, there was no tension or stress and everyone was happy. Especially Katie. I've never seen her happier. The day started with a couple of surprises I had planned for her. Katie mentioned to me about a month ago that she likes Precious Moments figurines. I had no idea. It just so happens that when I graduated from HS, my mom gave me a Precious Moments Graduation figurine. I knew I still had it packed away in a box in the basement somewhere. I dug it out and had it next to Katie's plate when she came down for breakfast. I also decorated her car with a Class of '10 flag and lots of graduation window decals, which she thought was great (that was a risky move. There was a good chance she would hate it). She happily (and patiently) posed for lots of pre-graduation pictures (which is very unusual for her).

The graduation itself was wonderful and even though it had to be held inside (due to the threat of rain), I had a good view of her as she waited in line to get her diploma, though not when the seniors sang. I cried anyway.

After the Graduation ceremony, we took lots of pictures outside the school. And, once again, Katie was patient and willingly posed for picture after picture. (Here's a small sample.)

Madeleine and Katie

Our family

Good friends

Pearl and Katie

The proud graduate

After the graduation it was back to our house for a celebration! We invited our family and our closest family friends to celebrate with us. Many of Katie's friends and classmates also stopped by during the traditional post-graduation "party hop". It was simply the best day ever.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Quick Update

I know I've been MIA from Pam's Perspective and from all of your blogs for quite awhile. It's been a combination of being super busy, feeling uninspired and (occasionally) pure laziness. But I haven't completely forgotten about blogging. I do have "guilt" about not updating and visiting. Is that crazy or what? I guess I'm at a point of reevaluation. Anyway, here's a quick update:

I read a really great book last month for the book club I run at the library. It's called The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian. It was well liked by all the club members. The story is about two octogenarians who are suffering from health issues. Ella has cancer and her husband, John, has Alzheimer's. Ella narrates the story and her voice is incredibly funny and charming. Against the advice of their children and doctors, Ella and John embark on a cross country road trip in their RV - the Leisure Seeker. Along the way they reminisce about their long marriage, past family vacations, good friends and life journey. It's a wonderful story full of laughter and love. On the surface it appears to be a light read, but it is full of deeper truths and wisdom. I loved it!

I've also been busy with the upcoming Graduation of my daughter Katie and all the end of year events that that entails. It's been a lot of fun, but exhausting. In the last week, we've attended a Chorus Banquet, an Awards Night, a special Chorus Performance (our last one), the HS Graduation of our dear friends from a nearby HS AND Katie's two-day Freshman Orientation. Phew! And this weekend is Katie's Friendship Service (whatever that is) on Saturday and Graduation on Sunday followed by a party in our backyard (now they are predicting rain. Ugh!) As I said, I've been busy!

I promise to post photos and more details after Graduation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

WWW Wednesdays

This week I came across an interesting new book meme. It's called WWW Wednesdays and it's hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

* What are you currently reading?
* What did you recently finish reading?
* What do you think you’ll read next

My answers:

What are you currently reading?

I'm almost finished with Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin. It's a wonderfully written story about 3 generations of women who attend the same girl's school in North Carolina.

What did your recently finish reading?

The last novel I finished was The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian. A heartwarming and heartbreaking story of life and love. I hope to review it here soon.

I also read a terrific short story, "Heavy Weather", by Helen Simpson. It's a fantastic depiction of new motherhood.

And lastly, I perused a wonderful book of photos of modern day Geishas - Geisha by Jodi Cobb.

What do you think you'll read next?

I will be reading Based on Availability by Alix Strauss. I received this book from the publisher and will be posting a review for TLC book tours on June 16th. I better get cracking!

How about you?

If you'd like to play along, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT and link your own WWW Wednesdays post at Should Be Reading.


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