Monthly Archives: August 2011

Where the old adage proves true…

I know I said I’d restrict this blog to reviews and more “professional” things, but I’ve been getting a bit personal lately, and I’m going to continue in this vain for a second, because I feel this is important to say.

So, you all know that I finished my internship two weeks ago and you all know how much I loved it. It was, honestly, one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I learned a ton and met some seriously incredible people. My last day was seriously hard.

The bright side was, I had an interview! One of the aforementioned seriously incredible people I met sent my résumé to one of the publishing houses he used to work for, and they called me in. It was an exciting position at a house that publishes a lot of books I read, and the interview process was slightly intense and challenging, but so fun. That said, I knew after my second interview that I wasn’t going to get it. This wasn’t because I did badly on the interview–I didn’t! And it wasn’t because the people were horrible–they weren’t, they were wonderful! It was just a feeling I had. And I was right.

Was I bummed? Absolutely. However, after nine months of job searching and five years of auditioning before that, one learns how to deal with disappointment. The mantra I’ve adopted is that “It will happen when it’s right.” Obviously, the reason why I didn’t get this job is because it wasn’t meant to be, and something else is waiting for me. And sure enough, within a day or two of learning that I was officially out of the running, I learned that a few other things I was waiting on were still in progress and that, in fact, all was not lost.

So, the old adage is true: one door closes, and another opens. Or, as a friend quoted from Frasier: “Every exit is but an entrance…um, to someplace else.”

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Hurricane update

Well, we got lucky over here. No flooding, no loss of power, no downed trees or electric lines. My grandparents were able to leave by the afternoon, and by the evening my mother, the dog, and I were dead on our feet.

The LIRR is still trying to get back up and running, so I’ll be mostly housebound today. Maybe it’s a sign for me to get back into my pajamas and watch bad telly.

Oh, and I breezed through The Twelfth Enchantment yesterday. I’m going to hold off writing a review, because one of my reader friends and I have a discussion planned and she always manages to say something enlightening, but I really loved it and thoroughly recommend it.

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Hurricane reading

As I’m sure everyone knows, New York is bracing itself for Hurricane Irene. We’ve stocked up with plenty of water, pasta, baked goods, and, of course, reading material. For the moments that I’m not with my family (because my grandparents evacuated to my house), I will be cozying up with the following:

  • The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss–I’ve had difficulty with finishing David Liss books in the past, but this one has been getting some amazing buzz from fellow readers and from authors I respect, so I’m excited to start it.
  • Two For Sorrow by Nicola Upson–The third installment of the Josephine Tey mystery series. I really loved the first two, and I’m curious what Josephine is going to get up to after the drama in Cornwall.
  • In the Woods by Tana French–I’m not exactly sure what to expect, but several people recommended Tana French to me, and the book is set in Dublin, which already has me intrigued.

Stay safe and dry all!

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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility was the buzz book this summer at my internship. First, Penguin ran a really clever Twitter campaign inviting followers to invent their own rules of civility (my rule: Thou shalt not walk in the streets in NYC if thou art a tourist. Because you won’t watch where you’re going. And then you’ll get hit by a cab.), then the book hit the New York Times bestseller list, and then my boss told me how much she loved it and how she thought I’d like it too. So, I took a glance at the jacket copy, and once I saw 1930s and New York City, I was sold. When it arrived at my library, I had to force myself not to crack it open immediately and finish the book I was already reading. With all the excitement, though, came wariness: would this book really live up to the hype?

Within the first ten pages, the answer was clearly yes.

Rules of Civility follows working class girl Katey Kontent through two years of climbing New York’s economic and social ladder. It begins on New Year’s Eve of 1937, and Katey and her friend Eve are at a bar in the Village, trying to stretch $3 as far as it will go. Enter Tinker Grey, a young and well-off gentleman who immediately captures the interests of both of the girls. They start spending time together, with the girls showing Tinker how they have a good time while low on cash, but all of that comes to a screeching halt when the three of them get into an accident and Eve is severely wounded. As the driver, Tinker feels responsible and nurses Eve back to health, and they begin a relationship. Katey copes with her wounded feelings by getting a new job and throwing herself into the hedonistic social scene of the idle rich. When Tinker and Eve break up, he and Katey start seeing each other again, but very soon afterwards, Katey learns that Tinker is not what he seems.

Amor Towles is a brilliant storyteller who, I felt, truly captured the New York City of the 1930s. From the jazz clubs, to the big houses on Long Island, to the Conde Nast offices, each place was so perfectly atmospheric. I was also really fascinated by the aimlessness of the characters as they made their way through their upwardly mobile lives; it was almost Gatsby-like, only a bit more accessible for me because these people were my age and going through similar things. And I loved the way Towles swung back and forth between the rich kids and the bohemian crowd; the different personalities brought such color to the story and kept me reading.

Some may be a little dissatisfied by the way things end. I admit that I would have liked a little more information about Katey’s life, post-Tinker, but as the story is really about the two of them, I can see why the author would choose not to discuss it.

I can’t wait for this book to come out in paperback. I must own it!

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Book vs. Movie: Practical Magic

With the recent theatrical release of The Help, the debate over book vs. movie has been reignited on Twitter (there’s also been some controversy over The Help, but I’m not getting into it because I haven’t read the book or seen the movie). I rarely find that a film is better than the book it’s based on; I generally feel the adaptation is on par with the book, despite the changes the scriptwriter and director had to make. Occasionally, there will be that film that makes me stare in horror as the credits roll and that will have me toying with the idea of writing an angry letter to the studio (The Other Boleyn Girl, I’m looking at you), but those are almost equally rare as those films that are better than the books.

This week, I was surprised to discover a book that I liked less than the film.

Practical Magic is one of my top five favorite movies of all time. It’s easily one of the most played DVDs in my collection (and I’ve only owned it since Christmas of last year), and even though I own the movie, I have to watch it when it’s on T.V. It’s one of those movies that is the total package for me: great setting, great story, magic, a romantic element that’s not too nauseating, and strong performances all around. When I turn it on, it immediately conjures fall weather, warm fuzzies, Halloween with friends, and all good things.

For those who have never seen Practical Magic (and if you haven’t, Netflix and/or rent it, pronto), it’s about a family of witches whose powerful ancestor put a curse on the female line that their husbands will all die. Sally and Gillian are the latest in this line of Owens witches, and they both rebel against their heritage in different ways: Gillian moves from man to man and refuses to settle down with anyone, while Sally tries to suppress her powers altogether. Eventually, Sally falls in love with someone (with a little help from Aunt Frances and Aunt Jet) and has two children, but the curse works its magic and he dies. Sally is devastated and moves back in with the aunts, and she forbids them from teaching her children magic.

Gillian gets involved with an abusive boyfriend, Jimmy, and calls Sally for help. He dies, accidentally, and rather than call the police, Gillian insists they bury him in the aunts’ backyard. Jimmy starts to haunt the family, and things get worse when a police officer, Gary Hallet, comes knocking because Jimmy is wanted for murder. Sally is horrified that she can’t lie to Gary. Things come to a head, Gillian gets possessed by Jimmy, and they have to banish his spirit. In the process, Sally owns who and what she is, and the town accepts the Owens women as well.

I can watch Practical Magic a million times and still feel the same emotions when Sally and Gillian create the bond of blood, or when the women gather together to form a coven to banish Jimmy’s spirit, or when the Owens women jump off the roof and fly.

It took me two or three viewings of the movie to see the “Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman” credit, and it took a little longer for it to click in my head that there was a book! I could read Practical Magic, and it would be even better than the movie, because that’s how these things go. The world would jump off the page and hit me just like the movie. My beloved characters would be captured as the author intended. I immediately reserved it from my library, and it came in just in time for the weekend.

It was about halfway through the book that I realized that the book and the movie were extremely different. The characters in the book were sullen or careless to the extreme, and the lighter moments of the film that came in the form of Aunt Frances and Aunt Jet were completely missing in the novel, because they were miserable too! Sally and Gillian, and then Sally’s daughters, also don’t grow up surrounded by magic. The aunts still work their love spells, but the girls aren’t learning spells, and it doesn’t feel like the home and magic go hand-in-hand. The action also moved away from the aunts’ house in the book, and the way Jimmy haunted the family was different as well. Because of all of this, one of my favorite moments, the aforementioned coven, didn’t happen. Instead, the family banished the spirit together, which had the similar effect of making the Owens women come together and acknowledge who they are once and for all, but I felt it wasn’t as powerful as the film.

When I finished the book, I couldn’t help but wonder how fans of the book reacted to the movie. There are only very vague resemblances between them; they could be two different stories. I felt more than a little wrongfooted that I didn’t like the book all that much. I thought it was well written and I liked reading Gary’s perspective of how he felt when he met Sally for the first time, but I detested the characters and I missed the sense of community that the movie did so well. When I watched the movie again on Sunday, I realized it was official: I thought the movie was better than the book.

Amazing.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is another one of those books that languished on my to-be-read list. The book is so popular that it was always out at my library. When I went to the Random House Readers Circle tea in May, they gave us the most wonderful bag of swag, and The Guernsey Literary was one of the books I took home. I finally picked it up the other day, after my library book queue had dwindled down, and I am kicking my own arse for not pushing to read it sooner. This is a beautiful story of community and love of people and of books, and I was left with a feeling of warmth that still remains with me three days later.

The book is written in epistolary form and tells the story of Juliet, an author who gained some fame during World War II by writing a darkly humorous column for a London newspaper. Just as Juliet is casting about for something new and a bit more serious to write about, she receives a letter from Dawsey, a man who lives on Guernsey and who got her old address from a used copy of essays by Charles Lamb. He mentions a literary society that he and other islanders formed during the war to help cope with the German occupation, and Juliet has to learn more. Soon, she’s communicating with practically the entire island, and when she thinks there might be able to use their experiences in her new book, Juliet decides to visit Guernsey for herself, not knowing that she’ll be thoroughly embraced by the people and that she’ll learn things about their lives during the war that will tie her to the island forever.

There is so much about this book that is so wonderful. First is the subject matter. I knew a bit about the occupation of Guernsey and Jersey, not from the numerous history classes I took for my degree, but from watching episodes of Antiques Roadshow on BBC! The authors are right that this part of history often gets lost, and they did a great job of educating readers while putting a human spin on the whole experience. There were many times where I just stopped and thought how close the Germans were to mainland England, and how frightening that was. And the passages about the bombing of the island and the evacuation of the children were heartbreaking.

Second, this book celebrates how a shared passion can get a group of people through even the darkest of times. Mary Ann Shaffer says in the acknowledgments that she intended the message to extend over all the arts, but this story is really about the power of reading, and as someone who was once a book club member and who bonds with people all over the internet with a shared love of books, AND who wants to work with books for the rest of her life, I can say that I’ve experienced that power, and it was incredible to read about it.

But the true heart of this story is the characters. These people are so different and so quirky and so real, and it’s a joy to see things through their eyes. By the end of the book, you want to know the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and you want to know how to secure a membership for yourself.

My mother did point out one thing that might frustrate readers about this book, and that is that it might end a little abruptly for some. I felt that all loose ends were tied up and that the authors revealed all they needed to reveal and that all that was left to do was finish the story, but I can see how others might wish to know a bit more.

The bittersweet note to this is that Mary Ann Shaffer passed away before she could experience the success of this book. I’m so glad that she told this story, and now I really want to make a trip to Guernsey and see the place that inspired her so much.

And, very fittingly, it was just announced today that Kenneth Branagh might direct the film!

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