July 30, 2012

three-bullet book review

The Time In Between by David Bergen (2006)

  • emphasizes that visiting a place does not mean you know that place
  • beautifully explores the unmappable spaces of grief and loss
  • combines intellectual inquiry (memory, trauma, mourning) with lush, tactile description (a typhoon, fresh bread, thin wrists)

Yes. Despite dealing with painful subjects (war and death), The Time in Between is a smooth, fluid read. It hits all the notes: family, love, sex, travel, war, politics. It's a solid summer holiday book, if you want something lovely but not fluffy, though be forewarned that this book is full of moisture and will make you crave Vietnamese food. Best read in a dry climate or with help from an air conditioner, somewhere with easy striking distance of pho, bun and strong coffee.

May 14, 2012

three-bullet book review

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst (2011)

  • Follows fictional First World War poet Cecil Valance through juvenilia, initial fame, early death, canonization, standardization, neglect and revival.
  • Casts aspersions on the intent, utility and reliability of literary history, especially biographical criticism and literary memoir.
  • Hollinghurst's fictional reconstructions of English queer history neatly maps the closet's shifting borders, though I find I still prefer Sarah Waters. 


Yes, if the basic premise intrigues you. I liked it much better than his previous books which, though well written, failed to make me care about affluent white gay young men in Thatcherite England. In addition to being more up my alley -- war literature! memory! cameos by poets and critics I've studied! -- this has a richer cast of characters, more complex structure, broader scope than his previous books. Even if you don't read it, please enjoy this rather perfect bit: "after quite a lot of drinks you didn't care so much about good manners" (165). True enough.

April 27, 2011

three-bullet book review

A neighbor offered up boxes of used books. I dug through and found a copy of Elizabeth Taylor's Liz Takes Off (1988), the book she wrote about her weight loss. I love Elizabeth Taylor. So talented, so gorgeous, so very much exactly who she was. Unapologetically unconventional, forthright, intelligent. Fabulous. I wasn't looking for a weight-loss program, but the aforementioned fabulousness made me think this might be a fun read.

I would wear all of this. Right now. Especially the sunglasses.

  • respect: she approaches weight loss and exercise in terms of working toward your ideal weight and shape rather than an ideal weight and shape
  • says things you wouldn't think she'd say (examples: studios pumping Judy Garland full of pills, her disdain for her role in Butterfield 8 even though it won her an Oscar)
  • good attitude towards aging, considering what a celebrated beauty and sex bomb she was: "all the surgeries and all the diets in the world will not make you look eighteen again, so stop trying."

Yes, but more for Taylor's whip-smart, deeply personal and often very funny writing than for the diet and exercise information. I didn't read that part and thus cannot evaluate it. Maybe her autobiography would be an equally fun read, without the recipes? On the other other hand, don't you kind of want recipes from Elizabeth Taylor?

I shall now use this three-bullet book review as an excuse to post a shot from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. If you've never seen this, do so as soon as possible. She's absolutely astounding in this film. (As is Paul Newman. Ahem. Whew! Almost too much hotness in one movie, truth be told. Don't say you weren't warned.)

April 8, 2011

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: CanLit Double-Double

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
  • accolades, awards, "Have you read A Fine Balance? Oh, you really should."
  • meandering narrative eased by smooth writing that lets you go with the flow
  • very interesting historical setting


No. Despite the rave reviews, I have now abandoned this novel twice. The first time I tried to read it, I got about 60 pages in and then let in languish. This time I read almost 300 pages and still didn't really care about the characters. I used to feel a responsibility to finish books once I'd started them, but life's too short and there are too many other good books to read.

The Birth House by Ami McKay (2006)
  • thoughtful exploration of the history of childbirth, particularly the shift from female-centric traditional midwifery to male-dominated obstetrics
  • lovely phrase for booze-spiked tea: "tea with mitts!"
  • strong portrayal of the power of female friendship, female community


Definitely. The first time I read this, it made me want to go to the Bay of Fundy (one of my favorite spots on the planet), hang out with fantastic women and have a baby. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it a second time as well, even though the novel's ending feels a bit rushed.

March 11, 2011

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon (2009)

  • captivating portrayal of a historical prelude to major change: the years when Aristotle was Alexander the Great's teacher, just before Alexander conquered the known world
  • subtle exploration of teaching / mentoring, including its potential and limitations
  • humanizes major historical figures by revealing their complexities


Definitely, even if you're not a Classics nerd like me. Lyon's writing is smooth and dextrous, with lush attention to sensual detail. Historical fiction's necessarily predetermined endings can sometimes limit its allure for me, but Lyon's strong characters and gorgeous writing kept me coming back.

February 14, 2011

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe (2002)

  • Good writing, but sloooowwwwww pace.
  • Thoughtful portrayal of Canadian Native and Metis cultures as distinct entities rather than as foils for Anglo-European culture.
  • Rape and murder of teenage girl as plot device: overplayed.
Not really. This sat on my shelf for years before I got to it for good reason, it seems. If you're particularly keen on the 19th century West this may be right up your alley, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

January 26, 2011

Promises to My Daughter

This is a long-delayed followup to a post about my relationship to my toddler daughter's clothes and grooming. And my complicity in her indoctrination into compulsory femininity. And my intention to get her on Toddlers and Tiaras as soon as possible.
Uh, no. (via tlc.com)

I promise that in addition to telling you that you are beautiful, I will tell you that you are strong, smart, brave and generally amazing.

I promise to tell you are beautiful even when you respond, "You're my mother! You have to say that!"

I promise never to tell you to remove your body hair, pluck your eyebrows or wear makeup.

I promise that if you ask me about doing these things, I will teach you how in an informed and age-appropriate way.

I promise to let you wear your hair however you want.

Uh, sure, but you'll need to help pay for it out of your allowance / birthday money / babysitting wages (via sodahead.com).

Though since my hair was short and partly royal blue when E was born she'll likely rebel with long sausage curls and subtle blond highlights.

I promise to nag you about flossing, sunscreen, and cleaning under your fingernails.

I promise to continue to avoid talking about my body and/or face in negative ways in front of you. I don't want you to learn the sentences "I'm so fat," "My skin looks like a topographical map of Mars," or "I am as hairy as a Yeti" from me.

I promise to let you wear what you want, within reason, though I absolutely insist on retaining veto power.
Uh, also no. (via badmouthbaby.com)

I promise to teach you about gender's multiplicity and fluidity, both in general and in relation to appearance.

I promise to continually undercut the misogyny woven into ladymags and advertising campaigns.

I promise to keep trying to keep these promises, even when I screw things up.