December 17, 2010

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: Burmese Lessons: A True Love Story by Karen Connelly (2009)

  • beautifully written autobiography by a poet combines vivid physical descriptions with searing emotional honesty
  • unlike many travel writers and international activists, Connelly is aware of -- and openly discusses -- her privileged position
  • forthright depiction of lust adds lush sensuality to a complex love story


Burmese Lessons is personal, political, gorgeous and powerful. It melds so many genres -- memoir, travel writing, activist non-fiction, romance -- and turns on an excruciating question of choice. Who do you want to be? What life do you want to live? I devoured this in three days and intend to read it again soon.

p.s. to Karen Connelly: I love you.

November 19, 2010

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks (1999)

  • combines several of war literature's sub-genres: action, romance, espionage, trauma
  • a subplot that bravely follows two little boys into the Holocaust left me sobbing
  • subtle exploration of the relationship between the English and the French


Be forewarned that war literature was my primary academic thing and remains an area of immense personal and intellectual interest. That said, this is a very good read that anyone interested in war novels and/or spy novels could enjoy.

September 28, 2010

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(as recommended by E-Jo)

  • Ishiguro builds suspense with astounding grace
  • writing like glass: smooth, lucid, beautiful, shattering
  • may keep you up at night, both in the I-must-finish-this-book way and the I-find-this-disturbing way


OH MAUDE YES. Go get this right now. Go get this and start reading it tonight. Read it before you see the movie, before anyone tells you anything about the movie. READ IT NOW.

September 16, 2010

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: Dinner With Persephone: Travels in Greece
by Patricia Storace (1997)

  • insightful exploration of how history, mythology, religion, language, popular culture and geography interpenetrate in modern Greece
  • incredibly (and occasionally overly) detailed
  • thoughtful approach to the complexity of Greek female gender norms clashes with dismissive views of Turkish women who choose to wear hijab

Yes, if you have been to Greece, are going to Greece, or have some other connection to the country. Otherwise, read Karen Connelly's One Room in a Castle: Letters from Spain, France and Greece instead.

August 26, 2010

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009)

  • well-rendered classic Gothic: big fancy house in decay, family secrets, paranormal vs. psychological, mounting tension and creepiness as book progresses
  • socio-cultural analysis of changes in the British class structure immediately following the Second World War
  • surprising lack of lesbians
Definitely. Strong contemporary rendering of an old genre, very well written, hard to put down.

August 17, 2010

three-bullet book review

A long, long time ago in a classroom far, far away, my 17th-century literature professor suggested a study strategy: for each of the (many) poets we had studied during the course, identify three significant points and three important poems If you could list three important things about each poet and name three of his/her poems, you'd be able to get through the final exam. Make flash cards, he said, with the poet's name on one side and your three points and three poems on the other. This sounded reasonable until I tried it. It would be even harder now: after (many) years in English departments, I have become rather longwinded.

You knew that already, though, right?

Despite the aforementioned (many) years in English departments, I still love books. The blogtacular kingdom of Kelly in Beantown will thus include occasional posts on stuff I'm reading. In the interest of that whole brevity thing, book reviews will be three bullet points long. Unless I cheat.

Three-Bullet Book Review: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
  • requires a large grain of salt for all the blatant racism
  • considering the American Civil War from the perspective of displaced Confederate gentry: an interesting mental exercise that I would never have come to on my own
  • fantastic characters, particularly (obviously) Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, who I can only picture as Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable

Yes, if you like big juicy page-turners and have a saltshaker close at hand.

August 13, 2010

Style Advice from my Grandma

Today's post is in honour of my Grandma. She's 95, and she is the most stylish nonagenarian you'll ever meet. Today my Grandma is having major abdominal surgery to remove what is most likely a cancerous tumor. In preparation for this surgery, she bought new perfume, new nightgowns, and new teeth. That kind of sums up her approach to style: there's no reason to be sloppy, no matter what cards life deals you.

Style Advice From my Grandma:
  1. Being well-dressed is always appropriate. Grandma always looks elegant and poised. ALWAYS. Even when she was young and broke, even when she was a farm wife with two small kids, even when waiting for an ambulance.
  2. Proper grooming is important. I've only seen Grandma without makeup once, and that was the day after she broke her (second) hip. Mind you, I'm quite happy to leave the house without makeup, but I do admire her dedication to looking how she wants to look.
  3. Vanity can be dangerous. Grandma has avoided dealing with medical issues she found embarrassing. If she can get past that, so can the rest of us.
  4. At a certain point, hair dye isn't fooling anyone. Grandma went silver very early but stopped coloring her hair in her 60s. Her now-platinum hair is shiny and gorgeous.
  5. Figure out what works for you. Grandma likes jackets and blazers, so she buys a lot of them. She looks beautiful in soft colors like pink, leaf green, pale blue and cream, so that's what she buys.
  6. One of the secrets to looking younger than you are is to keep up with fashion. She actually told my Mom this, and Mom passed it on to me. Grandma still buys a few new clothes -- often the aforementioned jackets -- once or twice a year. An on-trend jacket updates the classic long skirts, straight trousers, crewnecks and turtlenecks already in her closet. She buys new glasses frames every few years.
  7. Find your perfect shopping partner. Grandma and her daughter, my Aunty P, are the original Shopping Team co-captains.
  8. Good costume jewelry has a long lifespan. My grandparents never had much money, so Grandma doesn't have a lot of "real" jewelry. She regularly wears gorgeous costume jewelry she's had for decades.
  9. Stand up straight. I bet your Grandma told you that too, didn't she?
  10. Love can change a life. That's not style per se, but it's essential to who she is. A warm and caring heart is completely beautiful.