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Book Review: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone

October 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? by Mark Zwonitzer is not just the story of the Original Carter Family or the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle. It’s the story of bluegrass and hillbilly music, of the Great Depression and before, of how country music was shaped and influenced by three seemingly inconsequential people from Maces Spring, VA. They could have just been country musicians who never left Poor Valley, but instead they chose to spread their music far and wide and ended up influencing so many people from Chet Atkins to Hank Williams to obviously Johnny Cash.

Before reading this book, I didn’t know much about the history of country music. For me, it was just something that had always been around for me and my dad to listen to as we drove along. On one of our many road trips, we drove down to Bristol, VA and actually went to The Carter Family Fold to listen to the music that still gets played there. My dad had read about the Carter family, but I had pretty much zero frame of reference for the performance; the only thing that really stuck with me is that Johnny Cash had married into the family and who doesn’t like Johnny Cash?

For Christmas that year, he gave me a copy of Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? with the express instructions that I give it to him so he could read it when I was finished. I want to say that this happened within the past five years, but now that I think about it…um…I’m not 100% sure of that. It’s not that I didn’t want to read it, but that I have so many unread books that…

No, let’s not make excuses. I didn’t read it because it takes a very special nonfiction book to get me interested. Even after I started this one, it still took me over six months to get through 397 pages. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting, but I found myself reading a chapter and then, once that chapter was done, not reading another chapter for days at a time (it probably also didn’t help that I read the first book of The Stormlight Archive somewhere in there).

I’m glad I did read it, though. I feel better for it, even though I spent the whole book waiting to see where Johnny Cash shows up and he ends up appearing somewhere in the last three chapters. There’s so much history out there in the things we take for granted. It’s amazing how far country and bluegrass have gone. It went from this to this to this in just under 100 years.

And now I’ve got to get this book into the mail to my dad.

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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

I realize that “reviewing” a book that’s spent over a year on the NY Times Best Seller List is like throwing a salt shaker into the ocean and feeling like you’ve made a difference in its overall salinity, but bear with me because I’ve had a realization.

Here’s what the inside flap of my copy says:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

“Aw, hell no,” you’re thinking. “Not a book about kids with cancer.” And it is.

I knew going into it that it was going to mess me up, making me miserable and happy at the same time. It did, but probably not in the way you think. Obviously a book about anyone having cancer is going to be heartbreaking because unless you find the book in the section of the bookstore titled “Romance,” there is not going to be some kind of miracle cure–someone is going to die. That’s how cancer generally works and especially how it works in books because every book needs a conflict. Cancer wouldn’t be a good conflict if it was cured in the first chapter and the rest of the book was three hundred pages of being in remission (though if someone wants to write that book and make it interesting, by all means).

What I wasn’t prepared for, despite loving the vlogbrothers, was for it to be written so heartbreakingly beautifully. There are books that I read and think “Oh, I could have written this.” There are books that I read and think, “Wow, this is really good.”

And there are books that I read and think, “Why did I ever think that I might possibly be a writer someday? I should just give up because I could never do something this awesome.”

I mean that in the literal sense of the word awesome and not in the “Awesome Hot Dogs, Only $2.99” sense of the word.

Which isn’t to say that I’m actually going to give up, exactly. Just that I will probably never be as smart or as articulate as John Green. I’ll settle for half, though.

2013 Book List

January 29, 2014 Leave a comment

1. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley
2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World by Bryan Lee O’Malley
3. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O’Malley
4. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O’Malley
5. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley
6. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley
7. Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff
8. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
9. Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World by Vicki Leon
10. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
11. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders By VincentBugliosi
12. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
13. The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family by Dan Savage
14. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
15. The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
16. Darth Plagueis by James Luceno
17. First Light by Rebecca Stead
18. Brave New Worlds edited by John Joseph Adams
19. The Paradise Snare by A.C. Crispin
20. The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin
21. Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
22. The Humanity Project by Jean Thompson
23. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
24. Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin
25. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
26. I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman
27. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
28. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
29. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
30. American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics by Dan Savage
31. Children of the Sea, Volume 1 by Daisuke Igarashi
32. Star Wars: Tag & Bink Were Here by Kevin Rubio
33. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
34. The Shining by Stephen King
35. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Book Review: The Humanity Project

August 19, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief to start this review: I didn’t like The Humanity Project by Jean Thompson.

Which really bothers me because the person who suggested it normally gives good recommendations AND the premise of the book was really intriguing. From the blurb on the book, I thought the book was about a girl who moved halfway across the country to live with her estranged father and a rich old woman started The Humanity Project to answer the question, “Can you pay people to be good?”

What I got was an attempt by Thompson to interweave a bunch of characters together and not succeed particularly well. I also never got an answer to the question, so the entire novel felt like Thompson took a premise, then tried to write about it, but never got around to actually dissecting the problem itself–some of the characters literally stage a conference to discuss the question as a way to avoid actually trying to answer it.

A conference. What could be more boring than a conference? Well, I’m about to get spoiler-tastic after the jump, so you might find out.

Read more…

Book Review: Glory Be

August 5, 2013 Leave a comment

After I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, I wrote a strange sort of not-review of the book to try and help myself understand what was going on with people’s reactions to it. It’s a time and place in history that, as a white Yankee, I have little experience with–almost every history class I took in high school got us from Columbus landing to just after the Civil War then petered out fantastically as the weather started to turn hot. I think Junior year might have actually made it to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but…yeah…not a lot of focus.

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood was recommended to me by a friend along with a stack of others, so I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about. Once I started reading it, however, I realized that it’s a spiritual little sister of The Help–it deals with the same type of prejudice in the same kind of small town in Mississippi–but it’s for kids.

The protagonist is eleven-almost-twelve-year-old Gloriana June Hemphill (known as Glory) who is eagerly awaiting her birthday party that she always has at the Hanging Moss, MS community pool. Unfortunately for her, it’s the summer of 1964 and racist members of the community have decided that it’s better that they close the pool than have the African-American side of the town be able to use it. She befriends a Yankee girl from Ohio named Laura Lampert who has moved to town with her mother who is starting a Freedom Clinic so that the African-American people of the town can have medical care they can afford.

Ultimately, Glory writes a scathing letter to the town newspaper about why she thinks the pool shouldn’t be closed. Everyone keeps telling her that it’s closed because there are cracks in the pool that need to be fixed.

Unfortunately for Scattergood, I don’t believe that Glory could have written the letter she wrote. I mean that from a completely literary standpoint, though. Throughout the book, Glory seemed to me to not really understand what was going on–why her BFF Frankie’s dad wanted the pool closed; why Laura’s mom was helping to open the clinic; why her family’s maid, Emma, would tense up when Glory would press her about why the pool was closed; why the librarian was taking a stand by not taking seats out of the library.

She seemed so focused on insisting that there were no cracks in the pool or holes in the fence that when I actually got to the letter and it specifically said, “The people in this town dumb enough to agree to shut down a pool to keep Negroes out–and lying about it by saying it’s the pool that needs fixing–they are the fools who can’t see,” I was a little flabbergasted. It seemed completely out of character. For half the book, she seemed like a naive eleven-year-old who couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t try to just get along, then wham, blindsided by a Letter to the Editor.

At least after that, she seemed a little less naive.

It was an interesting read and I can imagine that it would be a good introduction to children about what the Civil Rights movement was all about. NPR just had it as their Backseat Book Club pick in July, so if you want to hear a better summary than then one I gave as well as some input from the author, I highly suggest giving this a listen.

My only other nagging question I have about the book is…well…if her birthday is July 4th, why is her middle name June?

Self-Checkout: A Quest for an American Savage

August 4, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ll admit it–when it comes to bookstore brand loyalty, I don’t really have any. I’ll shop wherever the book I want happens to be sold. If I don’t want it right away and it’s cheaper on Amazon, I’ll go with Amazon. However, I will also admit that I preferred to go to Borders for one simple reason: I could look up the books myself. Now that they have gone out of business, I have to ask one of the employees for assistance…and that bothers me.

Maybe it’s because I grew up as an only child or maybe it’s because I spend most of my time at home, alone with the animals, but I am definitely introverted. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy people. Sure, I’m a little shy, but I’m not an extreme case. I go to parties and bars and really huge conventions with only mild anxiety and it’s easily cured by spending some time alone.

Maybe I have some sort of bizarre fear of rejection, but on the Top Ten Things Amadei Dislikes Doing list, “interacting with employees” is probably second on the list right behind “calling places to make appointments/reservations.” Maybe I’m just more self-sufficient than other people. Or maybe I need a therapist.

But what that all that boils down to, more succinctly, is that I’m probably the person self-checkouts at the grocery store were made for.

Last Thursday, I was at the mall and thought, “Dan Savage has a new book out and every time I hear about it, I want to read it a little bit more, so I’m going to just buy it.”

I went off to the only bookstore (Barnes and Noble) that exists and, lo, I could not find the book. It wasn’t in the biography section and it wasn’t in the Gay & Lesbian Studies section. I checked every table and end-cap in the vicinity to no avail, but the website said that the store had it, so I realized, to my dismay, that I would have to ask. Ugh. Can’t I go through some sort of really painful process where they draw the thought right out of my mind?

But I did it anyway.

I went up to a cluster of employees and when one asked me if I needed help, I said, “Do you have a copy of American Savage?”

“That sounds familiar,” responded the employee, his graying ponytail flapping in the breeze. Okay, it wasn’t really flapping as there was no breeze, but it sounded better than “his graying ponytail hung lifeless down his back,” though that would be more accurate. He typed a few things on the computer and found what I was asking for because I am the 1% of bookstore patrons who do not ask for help by asking for “the blue book with the guy on the cover that was on TV this morning. You work here, I’m sure you know it.”

Upon looking at the entry that popped up, the guy said derisively, “Oh. That guy. Yeah, it’s over here.”

Of course, it’s that tone of derision, that feeling that I did something wrong by asking for this book, that keeps me from wanting to actually ask for help from employees. I don’t know what his problem with Dan Savage is. Maybe he’s a right-wing Christian who thinks Dan is a horrible person for being homosexual. Maybe most people who ask for Dan’s books are rude to him. Maybe he’s gay and Dan once snubbed him in a gay bar in Chicago. The only one who knows is that employee.

So–more, better, different? More: Not being an asshole; Better: Just show me where the book is; Different: how about his entire attitude? Yeah, he took me to the Social Sciences section (literally two feet from where I had been looking in Gay & Lesbian Studies. TWO MORE FEET AND I WOULD NOT HAVE HAD TO ASK) and put the book in my hands like a good little worker bee, but he couldn’t even hide how much he didn’t want to do it.

Which, really, is all I ask from retail employees. Just hide the fact that you hate me. I hid the fact that I hated my customers when I worked at Waldenbooks. It’s the great cycle of retail life.

light touches

One day, cranky retail employee, the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king.

Because, honestly, the more books I buy from Amazon, the closer you are to losing your job, so be nice. It costs you nothing and leaves me with less anxiety.

On a lighter note, this is what printed out with my receipt. Really? There’s nothing else in the store you could suggest? Really?

Image

You may also like The Repeating Dictionary of Repetitive Words Book of Synonyms and Thesaurus Wordbook.

The full title of that middle ones is Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America.

…which has nothing to do with anything Dan Savage or Marc Maron has written ever as far as I can figure out from its Amazon page. Must be what they’re pushing this month.

Book Review: Helter Skelter

April 24, 2013 3 comments

I’m not sure that I could say anything more about Helter Skelter that hasn’t been said since it was first published in 1974. It tells the story of the Manson Family and how Charles Manson orchestrated the murder of actress Sharon Tate, four of her friends, and the LaBiancas, a seemingly innocuous, if well-to-do, couple.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a criticism that was brought to me by a friend. I mentioned that I was reading Helter Skelter and his response was something to the effect of “Bugliosi is an asshole. Brilliant, but an asshole.” My gut reaction to this was “Alright, I’m not seeing it, but whatever,” so I started trying to look for something that would give me that feeling. The closest I got was that sometimes, while describing the actual Manson trial, he’ll make comments about how he felt that he had made a good argument or explain why he argued a point the way he did and that it worked. I suppose both of those could be indications that he thinks highly of himself, but it didn’t strike me as especially asshole-ish.

When reading the book, one has to remember that it was written right after the Manson trial and that while it’s easy for we of 2013 to think it’s ridiculous that anyone could ever have thought to acquit Manson, there was a real chance for that to happen–if there’s one thing Court TV has taught me, it’s that the jury doesn’t always get all the facts. Of course Bugliosi is going to insist that he made all the right calls just in case someone still doesn’t believe in the verdict.

Now, however, the idea of letting Manson or the three Family members tried with him–Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie van Houten, and Susan Atkins–is almost laughable.

Charles Manson was last up for parole in 2012 which he was obviously denied after he told the prison psychologist, “I am a very dangerous man.” He didn’t attend the parole hearing, as he usually does.

Patricia Krenwinkel’s last hearing was in 2011. It was denied, but part of the reason was because the LA DA’s office “suggested that if Krenwinkel was remorseful she would waive her parole hearings and accept her punishment.” So…in order to get paroled, she would need to stop wanting to be paroled? That reminds me of a certain Joseph Heller novel…

Leslie Van Houten was denied parole again in 2010 for the 17th time, much of the reason being that Sharon Tate’s sister is continuously fighting against any of the incarcerated Mason Family members from ever getting out of jail. She apparently still receives threats from Family members three or four times a year.

Susan Atkins, whose testimony bothered me the most with its horror (she confessed her involvement with great glee to a fellow inmate when she was being held for something else) was denied parole on September 2, 2009, then died of cancer only twenty-two days later, the first of those convicted of the Tate-LaBianca murders to do so. I was a little shocked to find out that she ended up marrying her attorney, which I feel exhibits a lack of judgement on his part.

Editor’s note: I originally stated that Rosemary LaBianca was the mother of Suzanne Struthers, which was the product of my brain seeing an S-name and Struthers and thinking of Sally Struthers. This was pointed out to me by a commenter who needs a lesson in tact and diplomacy.