Archive for ‘Book Bites’

February 2nd, 2009

The Emperor Has No Clothes [Book Review]

by Venomous Kate

Lately, I’ve been on a quest to upgrade the quality of my reading material. Sure, I still consume at least three pop fiction novels per week (I buy them by the lot to save money). But at some point last year I began to suspect that, despite my immense enjoyment, a regular literary diet of suspense/thrillers was probably rotting my brain.

After reading somewhere that author William Kennedy praised One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race”, I decided that I shouldn’t miss out.

I could not possibly agree less with Kennedy. It’s not the author’s sense of the absurd which bothered me; I’m actually a fan of “magical realism” in literature. It appeals to my existentialist side.

I even appreciated, to some extent, the circularity within the novel’s structure, the most obvious of which was the getting and begetting of so many characters named Arcadio or Aureliano that I could no longer keep them straight. After all, the author emphasizes this theme through the women in the book who repeatedly observe that time wasn’t really passing, nor were lives really changing: they were merely repeating the same thing, day after day, wearing themselves out.

But, frankly, I found nothing in the book with which to connect. Sentences rambled so tangentially they often never conveyed anything at all. Paragraphs became pages. Words, at times, seemed randomly strung together. And throughout all of it I found all of the characters so dry and inconceivable (in the sense that, due to the naming confusion, I couldn’t picture a single damn one of them) that their births, deaths and tragi-comedies left me completely and utterly unmoved.

When I’d first mentioned that I was reading this book, Craig commented that “the last paragraph… is one of the best in literature”. I agree, but probably not for the same reason.

After having spent 21 nights of misery reading this book (because I’m too stubborn to quit reading any book, no matter how much I despise it), I loved that last paragraph, too… if only because it meant I was finally done with the damned thing.

December 31st, 2008

I Just Read: Rocket Man

by Venomous Kate

Every so often, an author writes a poignant, incisive portrayal that accurately captures the disillusionment of a free-spirited rebel who grows up to find him- or herself living in the suburbs, saddled with a mortgage and trying to navigate the treacherous path of raising children without losing touch with the child within.

Rocket Man, by William Elliot Hazelgrove, is not one of those books.

The opening pages introduce us to our protagonist, Dale Hammer: a dried-up novelist who is a petty, self-absorbed ass tilting at windmills of his own creation to avoid facing the possibility his creative well may have run dry.

While fuming over his own father’s neglect throughout his childhood — an emotional wound reopened when his ne’er-do-well father moves in with him — our “hero” in turn both neglects and humiliates his own wife and child. This, miraculously, comes clear to him in a climactic scene that was predictable from the first third of the book. But is he changed by it? We’ll never know, as the book’s final scenes make clear that Dale continues to take pride in the same misconduct he’d engaged in at the start of the book.

There are, I’ve heard, some authors who possess the talent of making an irritating, ordinarily unlikeable main character somewhat endearing to readers. Unfortunately, Hazelgrove fell far short of that mark with Rocket Man. Rather than finding myself charmed by Dale Hammer, I simply wish he’d blast off.

September 23rd, 2008

Just Read: The Whiskey Rebels

by Venomous Kate

I love a good story. I particularly love a good story when it’s told by a masterful storyteller, one who knows the precise details to add without robbing me, as a reader, of the chance to bring my own imagination into play. Master storytellers capture all the right nuances: the oddly-timed facial tick, a hard-drinking character’s pause in conversation to take a nip, a liar’s fascination with the patterns of dirt on the toes of his boots. I particularly love an historical novelist who not only tells a story masterfully, but does so while populating his tale with the kinds of characters one ordinarily does not encounter in an historical novel.

For all these reasons and more, I loved David Liss’ latest novel: The Whiskey Rebels. So much so, I might add, that I’ve now read it twice in the short time since it arrived in the mail.

My first go-through was an admittedly hurried one. I was flying down to see my mother in Austin at the time, and due to the stressful nature of my life with two ailing parents these days, my stack of books to review had grown quite large. When that happens, I make it a habit to read first the books I know I’ll have to compel myself to read: the politically-oriented nonfiction and the “memoirs” written by people whose fascination with their own lives I just don’t share. When it’s done well, I savor fiction, and so I’d put Liss’ book off to read on “my time”.

Once seated on the plane, I immediately cracked open Liss’ book. By page two, I was chuckling. By page three, my face had adopted a sardonic smile that stayed in place through a lengthy layover in Memphis and the second leg of my flight from there to Austin. Because, in addition to loving it when an author tells a good tale, I love it when one breathes life into characters who are as fascinating as they are flawed. Having finished his book by the time I finally landed in Austin, I told my brother he simply must read it… then proceeded to keep my copy so I could read it again on the flight home, too. Yeah, it’s that good.

It’s just so rare that I run into one character, much less two that I so wholly enjoy. But that’s precisely how I felt about Ethan Saunders, a former spy for General Washington during the Revolutionary War who undeservedly spent 10 years debasing himself as punishment for a crime he did not commit. In counterpoint, Liss gives us a clever woman who’s not merely an anti-heroine but an anti-historical novel heroine: Joan Maycott, a woman who masterminds her own rise in society despite her own crime.

What’s truly uncanny — and I don’t think even David Liss himself would claim to have foreseen it — is how The Whiskey Rebels is set smack in the middle of a banking crisis very similar to that which we’re reading about in today’s headlines. Through Liss we see Alexander Hamilton struggling to fend off a short run on the newly formed U.S. Bank by unscrupulous and money-hungry traders.

Playing against each other, these Ethan Saunders and Joan Maycott’s are more fascinating than any real life political chess match, though — unbeknown to them — they’re both playing for the same side. But as we all know, the means to an end matter just as much as the end, and Liss delivers a satisfying affirmation of that belief.

Liss’ book will be released September 30. I’d recommend pre-ordering. It’s worth the wait.

September 7th, 2008

Just Read: Why You’re Wrong About The Right

by Venomous Kate

Ask two people — one a conservative, one a liberal — what it means to be a Republican and you’re likely to get two different answers.

The conservative will likely mention opposition to big government, a stance against the use of taxation or laws to implement social change, the importance of national security and adherence to traditional values. The liberal is likely to claim being a conservative means supporting war, being both racist and homophobic as well as opposing women’s rights, and promoting the interests of the rich over the needs of the poor.

It’s the liberal’s definition of conservatives that prevails in just about every form of media, from television shows and movies to the self-proclaimed “objective” print newpapers, and it’s these sources to which liberal individuals turn as “proof” to support claims that Republican conservatives are all cut from the same cloth.

Recently I mentioned that I’ve been reading Why You’re Wrong About The Right: Behind the Myths (The Surprising Truth About Conservatives) by by S. E. Cupp and Brett Joshpe, a book which addresses point-by-point many of the misperceptions of conservative thought. Let me just tell you, it’s been illuminating for me, which is surprising since I already consider myself a conservative.

Written by a California-born employee of The New York Times, S.E. Cupp, and a New York native attorney and Met fan, Brett Josphe — both formerly closet conservatives surrounded by some of the nation’s most rabid blue-state liberals — Why You’re Wrong About the Right tackles some of the most pervasive stereotypes of conservatives.

In doing so, the authors shatter many myths about the right in a way that even liberal readers have found informative and a helpful guide to understanding conservative thought without the typical name-calling that marks most such discussions.

The premise of the book, in Cupp’s own words, is simple: “We’d try to convince readers that Republicans are not necessarily what you’d expect them to be.” If there is a common thread among Republicans — and, indeed, among the many leading conservative thinkers and pundits interviewed by the authors — it is this: we favor individual rights over collective ones, and we distrust government policies that don’t mirror this belief.

Conservatives, the authors argue, are not racist and chauvinistic rednecked religious fanatics bent on growing rich at the expense of others while conquering the world. That’s the stereotype which Why You’re Wrong About The Right debunks point by point with well-researched arguments that show Joshpe’s deft legal skills in a humorous and intelligently-written style that bears Cupp’s literary touch.

On racism – In addition to the first Republican president Abraham Lincoln leading the Union to defeat the slave-owning Confederacy, Republicans also passed the first Civil Rights Act after the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment which granted all persons, regardless of color, due process and equal protection. Every Democrat in Congress at the time opposed it. Moreover, the authors remind us, it was the Democratic party who gave us the Confederate flag-raising George Wallace; former KKK clansman and Supreme Court justice Hugo Black and his senatorial counterpart Robert Byrd.

On sexism – Until Sarah Palin’s nomination as Vice President — which has ironically been met with cries from the Left that a working woman can’t be a good mother — one of the more common slurs against Republicans painted the party’s support of “traditional family values” as chauvinistic and sexist. In fact, defines ‘family values’ as oppression of women! Yet, as the authors note, Republican senator Harry Burn was the pivotal vote in passing the Ninteenth Amendment and it was Republicans who first introduced the Equal Rights Act in 1923 — both were met with opposition from Democrats. Likewise, the first female elected to the House of Representatives was Republican, as were the first majority leaders of both the House and Senate and the first female appointed to the Supreme Court.

On religious fanaticism – No U.S. president (Democrat or Republican) has ever been an atheist, and even though a 2008 Pew Forum poll indicates that 92% of Americans believe (with varying levels of certainty) that there is a God and 72% attend church at least a few times a year. Meanwhile, according to the Pew poll, Democrats and those who lean toward being Democrats constitute 47% of those who consider themselves religious, while Republicans and those leaning that direction amount to ony 36%. Yet it’s Republicans who are regularly portrayed as Bible-thumpers, while Democrats paint themselves as “too enlightened” for such things.

On and on, point by point, the authors don’t just shake but utterly obliterate the stereotypes and slurs against Republicans being elitist WASPs (yet simultaneously also rednecked hicks), anti-Semites (despite George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan being two of the most staunch pro-Israeli presidents in U.S. history), anti-environment (even though Republican president Theodore Roosevelt established the national park system and Republicans established the EPA, introduced the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and Al Gore himself recognized Reagan’s accomplishments in protecting the ozone), and that they’re uncharitable (when, in fact, economic analysts have found that even though Republican-headed households typically make less money than their Democratic counterparts they give nearly 30 percent more to charity).

If you’ve been looking, as I have, for a way to respond to all of those accusations leveled against your conservative beliefs by those of the liberal persuasion, Why You’re Wrong About The Right: Behind the Myths (The Surprising Truth About Conservatives) is the book for you.

Read it, highlight it, and keep it handy. The next time some brainwashed leftie accuses you of being “one of those greedy, racist, war-mongering Republicans responsible for ruining the country” you’ll be prepared to counter their arguments, and maybe even educate them in the process.

(Want to save money on shipping? Sign up for your 1 month free trial of Amazon Prime‘s unlimited free 2-day shipping today!)

August 19th, 2008

Behind On My Book Reading

by Venomous Kate

Things here have been so hectic of late that I just haven’t had time to read the books I’ve been sent to review. So tonight’s plan is to sit down with a highlighter, a martini and my copy of Why You’re Wrong About The Right: Behind the Myths (The Surprising Truth About Conservatives) by by S. E. Cupp and Brett Joshpe.

Recently, a long-time friend of mine expressed surprised when I mentioned that I’m a registered Republican. “But you read National Geographic and Smithsonian,” she said. “You have gay friends. You can’t be Republican. You’re nice.”

Cupp and Joshpe’s book arrived the very next day, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since. Unfortunately, stress over my mother and father-in-law’s health has left me a bit too frazzled to crack open the cover. But tonight that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Not that I can read such heavy fare all evening, mind you. I like to curl up with a novel at bedtime, so I’m very glad to have received an advance copy of The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss, a thriller set in the years following the Revolutionary War.

Did I mention that VH is conveniently returning home tonight from a 4-day visit with his family in Minnesota? Four long days during which I’ve been parenting solo and today watching my friend’s two kids as well as my own.

Yeah, I’m definitely having a martini while I unwind with a good book. Or two. Books, that is.

Okay, maybe two martinis, too.

Want to read along with me? Order your copy today. And if you aren’t already a member of Amazon Prime with it’s all-you-can-eat free 2-day shipping, sign up for your 1 month free trial of Amazon Prime today!

July 22nd, 2008

The Best Books You’ve Ever Read: A List

by Venomous Kate

Earlier this summer I asked for your list of “must read” books: those which a well-read person should have enjoyed at least once, books which so profoundly affected your thinking that you wouldn’t be the same person if you’d never read them. Many of you answered in the comment section, and not a day has gone by when I haven’t received an email from someone suggesting an addition to the book list.

Rather than keep that list to myself, I’ve decided to share it with you. True, it’s a bit late for those who think of reading as a summer-only past time. But if you’re like me, reading is something you do year-round — heck, I can’t even fall asleep without first spending an hour with a book.

I’ll be posting sections of the list over the next few days, beginning with today’s “Modern Fiction” recommendations. Overall, the list — which Ill post as a series — includes:

– Modern Fiction, part 1 (this entry)
– Modern Fiction, part 2
– Modern Non-Fiction
– Classic Literature
– Classic Non-Fiction
– Mysteries/Thrillers
– Biography/Memoirs
– Sci-Fi/Fantasy
– All the rest

That said, here’s Modern Fiction, part 1 of the best books you’ve ever read.

read more »

June 27th, 2008

Dear Barry

by Venomous Kate

Thank you, thank you, thank you for my birthday present!

Charlie Ayers' cookbook Food 2.0 from the chef for Google

This cookbook by Charlie Ayers, a/k/a the Chef who feed Google, is the best addition to my food porn collection in years. Thanks to your gift, Barry, I have no doubt that Chubby Mommy will be sticking around (mostly on my mid-section) for years.

Yours Venomously,

May 21st, 2008

Books On Your “Must Read” List?

by Venomous Kate

This summer the Big-Eyed Boy, whom I ordinarily spend my days homeschooling, will be attending summer day camp where he’ll get to socialize with other kids his age, go on some remarkable field trips and basically have a blast. That means I’m going to have the entire day to myself, all day long, every day for the first time in eight long years.

I’d thought at first to use that time doing projects around the house: de-cluttering closets, painting a few rooms, shampooing carpets, maybe even replacing the tile in our kitchen. Then I realized I have the Venomous Hubby for those things and, well, I’d probably resent spending the entire summer doing basically the same things I do throughout the rest of the year.

Of course, I still plan on doing some productive work — I have a few clients I’m designing websites for and plan to finish writing that novel of mine finally. But I also plan to spend some guilt-free time every day reading, and not that standard summertime fluff stuff, either. I want to broaden my mind and my self-education.

So, Venomites, what books are on your list of books a well-read, learned person should read at least once in their lifetime? Are there any books — besides the Bible, which I read daily already — that have so profoundly influenced your mind and personality that you wouldn’t have been the same person had you not read them?

Share in the comments, and feel free to explain how the book affected you. I’ll use your suggestions to put together a Sumer Must-Read List for the Well-Read Venomite on June 1.