Friday, November 25, 2011

Completed: Traffic


I really enjoyed this book. I certainly learned a lot about traffic, driving, and what makes driving so potentially dangerous.

When I picked this book up a few years ago, I read the beginning and put it down. Not that it wasn't interesting, but it reads more like a collection of longform essays on a similar topic rather than a cohesive book. Ultimately, that meant it was easy to put down at the end of a chapter and just think I would pick it back up. I'm glad I finally finished the rest.

The book is made up of several big uber-chapters, each one with smaller subtitled sections. Most of the book is very "American" focusing specifically on what it is like to drive here in the States. The author visits traffic authorities, police stations, college professors, psychologists, and anyone else who might be studying drivers or driving. The book covers a lot of interesting questions that I've had when driving: whether it's better to merge early or late? Why are cyclists safer on the road than on sidewalks? Why is driving while talking on a cell phone so dangerous?

However, the most interesting parts of the books where the ones that I hadn't ever really thought about. By far the most interesting chapter was about how drivers are different depending on the city in which they drive. He explained why pedestrians in Copenhagen are less likely to jaywalk than New Yorkers and why driving in Dehli is like nowhere else in the world. There's a whole section about parking and why it's better to take the first space you see rather than circling the lot looking for one that's close. He explained why there are traffic jams even when there doesn't seem to be a reason for an accident. He can make any topic interesting, even descriptions of where cars were most likely to have accidents and why intersections are so dangerous.

I feel like I can't really do this book justice. It was fascinating, but also complex. It's impossible to easily summarize any of the information in the book, because Vanderbilt is quite thorough in his research. Mostly, I was impressed with his writing. He manages to weave in research and verbage from government reports into his description of driving and what it's like to be behind the wheel. It's highly readable AND highly informative, which can be a difficult trick to pull off. I also liked that I could pick it up when I had a few minutes and read a section and then move on.

This would be a great book to give as a gift for someone who likes to read, but you don't know what exactly to get them. Everyone drives, and yet we spend so little time thinking about it. You get a license and off you go, but this book really did help me to think about driving in a different way. All in all a very satisfying read.

Only one more month to do. I don't know which book to pick!

PS. The author has a blog called How We Drive. I definitely plan to poke around through here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Marriage Plot


Now that you're finished, I'm very curious to hear your thoughts on the novel. Hmmm...what do I have to say about this book? I have a strange feeling that this might be one that grows on me, even though my initial response is call this a solid, but not spectacular, effort.

Surprisingly, I ended up liking Madeline, despite all of her dumb decisions. I don't know why...maybe because I remember how hard it was to transition from college-----> real life. When I was about to graduate, It seemed impossible that college was really going to end, and that I would have to make a "real life" for myself. I felt like my entire childhood was spent looking forward to college, and then--BAM!--it was over. To this day, I vividly remember something Eli Goldblatt (best. professor. ever.) said to me. He said, "College is a little like a circus. For you, the end is near. They're rolling up the tents. But for all these other kids, they're still here. It's hard to look around and see that they still have time left when your time is up." I also remember being cognizant of just how soft the landing was because of Teach For America. It was sort of like college all over again: built-in, ready-made friends all living in the same neighborhood and working the same jobs.

I saw that same confusion in Madeline. She didn't get into Yale, she had too much pride to go back home, what was she supposed to do next? (I wonder if this is just the curse of the English major?) She is compelled to do something rather than nothing, and so off she goes with Leonard. I did *cringe* when she married him. Her conviction that Leonard could be "saved" or "cured" was painful to read. I knew one too many women ready to throw themselves on the alter of fixing a man.

Mitchell's a good guy, and his search for faith and meaning was moving. However, it bothered me that the ending implies that his faith was really nothing more than unrequited love for Madeline. His interest in religion far predates his feelings for her, so I was a bit disappointed that the big revelation to him at the end is so pedestrian. He thinks he's desperately in love with her, and then, when he finally gets his shot at her, it's empty and meaningless. Yikes. But then again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Halfway through his journey to India, I really did think to myself---oh my God. Finding your faith in India---this is so cliche. This is the same as Eat, Pray, Love! The novel implies that Mitchell is just as lost as Madeline. They both suffer from the same malady: believing that love will save them and make everything whole.

When reading about illness of any kind, I always wonder how people with actual illness would respond to the fictionalized description. I'll admit that I was wary with his narration, because I wondered if Eugenides is giving a fair or accurate portrayal of manic-depression. The section where Leonard is self-medicating was hard for me to read. I was squirming with discomfort because clearly this wasn't going to end well. Either way, the section he narrates is so brief, and then he gets shown the subway door pretty ruthlessly. I didn't get what Madeline saw in him. Even at his most manic, he seemed more pretentious than loveable. But then again, when you think about it, that last sentence is true for just about every character in the book.

I don't know how believable I found the characters. Was there enough there to convince me that any of the characters were truly in love? Or is this the broader theme of the whole novel: you *think* you can know someone, but you can't. You think you can know yourself, but you don't. Interestingly, the one character who explicitly states this idea is one of the guys Michell knows in India: "Please," Rudiger said dismissively, "Let's not try to understand each other by autobiography" (313). This was an arresting idea because I think autobiography is the primary way that I know people. What other choices are there? This might be the takeaway idea of the novel for me, although I'm not exactly sure what to do with it.

The boomerang narration trick was interesting. Start somewhere (Madeline's graduation, Mitchell in India, the marriage), and then drift back a few months and explain how they got there. If I'm correct, the only narrator who doesn't employ this device is Leonard. Because of his illness, he's incapable of seeing how the pieces fit together. He is purely a force of NOW and only moves forward. I don't know how I felt about it, though. I'm left wondering if this narrative device points to another broad theme: we want instant nostalgia, we want to look back and see that all the pieces to fit. Is it that people want to believe that everything has led us to here, that where we are is inevitable, and therefore right.

However, I don't think I'm ever going to feel that he pulls off the ending. It was so rushed: Leonard's out, Michell's in, and the whole year gets a do-over? What was that all about? That's really the ending? I guess it's fairy-tale-like: it ends with a wedding, but not much of the "after."And the "After" Madeline, Leonard, and Mitchell do get is pretty miserable. Since I'm not a fan of Madeline's favorite genre and authors (we all know how much I dread the Victorians), I can't speak to whether or not this is a common trope of the marriage plot. Do those books usually end one the wedding has been achieved?

This is one of those books where although the narrative seems pretty simple, there was a lot going on under the surface. I think that's why I'm going to end up liking it more as I think about it. Definitely looking forward to hearing your thoughts! You can write a whole entry yourself, or do you prefer just adding to this one? Considering the length requirement on the comment field, I'm thinking your response will have to be a full-on post!


PS Apparently, according to Book Riot,  this is an actual billboard in Times Square. Is it not the most hilarious thing you have ever seen? I love his billowing vest---vaguely reminiscent of Leonard's billowing cape?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kelly's Book 11: Ascending Peculiarity

Dear Jenny,

I'm still working on The Book of Vice, but I thought it would be a good idea to pick November's book so that I've committed to it just as soon as I am done. I have selected this book, Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey, based solely on the fact that is is the shortest book I have remaining.

(I picked up Double Fold and then noticed that it has approximately 3,346 end notes in it. I may have to purchase the Kindle version to save myself from constantly flipping to the back of the book! [Oh, the irony for a book with the subtitle "Libraries and the assault on paper."])

I have been a fan of Edward Gorey since I was a kid, when my father introduced me to his work. I vividly remember reading and re-reading Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (written by T.S. Eliot, illustrated by Gorey) as well as a fantastic pop-up book called The Dwindling Party, which goes for around $100 now on Amazon, if you want it in good condition (and much more for mint!) I've never been able to bring myself to shell out the dough for a copy, but it excites me to see it there again, so I'm sure I will break down one day.

In college, a poster depicting The Gashlycrumb Tinies was a fixture in many a dorm room, including mine. (I just rifled through my old photos to see if I could find one from that time period that included the poster, but alas, I did not. [I did, however, find some hilarious photos of us -- we were so young!])  My favorite was always "N is for Neville who died of ennui." Amazing -- I could have a fresh copy of that poster for only $3 now.

Over the years, I have amassed quite a few of Gorey's books -- he was quite prolific (according to my old pal Wikipedia,  he created "over 100 books") -- but I know very little about the man himself (just learned from that entry that he was born in Chicago!) This book is a compendium of interviews with Gorey between the years 1973-1999.

I also have the book The Strange Case of Edward Gorey (a biography, written by a close friend) languishing here on my shelf. Perhaps this month would be a good time to read that as well and make it a Gorey-iffic month. It's a slim volume -- we'll see. I guess I should have done this in October, but November is still a rather spoooky month, now that the sun sets at 4:30 every night (Have I mentioned lately I hate the time change? If not... I do.)

I would love to go visit the Edward Gorey house. I've never been to Massachusetts -- have you? Care to join me on a trip next year? ;)


Sunday, November 6, 2011



I saw this list from Entertainment Weekly (I read this magazine religiously. Seriously. It's such a guilty pleasure!) on another blog from the Roof Beam Reader challenge (and from someone who posts comments here every once in a while!).

I'm always of mixed feelings about these lists---how is it possible to winnow down to 100 great books? How do you pick the *best* Harry Potter book? And when you do, is it REALLY better than Beloved? Hmmm...But I thought it was an interesting list. A mix of high and low, fiction and non-fiction, adult and YA.

How many of these books have you read? I'm going to put a J before it if I've read it.


[edited by Kelly to add: I've put a K before all of the ones I've ready... this doesn't mean I have to remember them, right? ;) ]

1. The Road ,Cormac McCarthy (2006)
J K 2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
J K 3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club,Mary Karr (1995)

5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)

K 6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
J K7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)

8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
J K 9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)

K 10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
J K 12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)

K 13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)

14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)

K 15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
J K 16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
J K 17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)

K 18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
JK19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
J K 20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)

K21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)

23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)

24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
J K 25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)

K 26. Neuromancer,William Gibson (1984)

K 27. Possession,A.S. Byatt (1990)

K 28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)

K 29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)

30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)

33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
J K 34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)

35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)

36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
J K 37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)

K 40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)

42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)

43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)

44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)

45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)

47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
J K48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)

K 50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)

51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
J K 52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
J K 53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)

K 54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)

55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
JK56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)

58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)

59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
J K 60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)

61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)

62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)

K 63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)

64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)

66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
J K 67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)

K68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
J K69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
JK 70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)

K 72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
J K 73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)

74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)

75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)

76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)

79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)

K 82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)

83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
J K 84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)

85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)

86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)

87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
J K 88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)

90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)

91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
JK92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
J K 93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)

94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)

95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
J K 96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)

97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)

98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
J K 99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
J K 100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jenny's Book 11: Traffic


I've decided to go with the last non-fiction book on my list for November. I read a gazillion novels every year. Knocking these non-fiction titles off the TBR piles feels great. And, of course, it enables me to buy new ones that sound interesting.

I remember buying this when it came out after reading a fantastic review of it in the New York Times. As you know, I've struggled with Road Rage in the past...but now that I drive around with a little person, I've been much better. I think it helps, too, that I'm not driving in Bay Area traffic. Chicago traffic is godawful going out to the suburbs, but I don't have to deal with those highways all that often. Most of my driving in on Lakeshore Drive. It's just so beautiful. Who can be angry looking at that every day?

I actually read 50 or 60 pages of this book before putting it down, but I've started rereading from the beginning. I'm exciting to get back at this one.

End of the Year Reading Goals
In other news: I have finished 50 *new* books so far this year, so I'm going to set a goal of reading 60 by the end of the year. It's a big jump, to complete 10 in the last 2 months, but I usually knock a few out over the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. It seems doable. Ideally, I'd like to read all 14 on my TBR list, I joined a real book club in my neighborhood, and I have an online bookclub. It could happen!

I'm already starting to think about what 14 books I'll put on my TBR list for next year. Trust me, there are *plenty* to go around. And for some crazy reason, I keep buying more. Also, sometime next month the "long list" for the Tournament of Books will be announced. I feel fairly certain that I'll have read at least a few Tournament books before it even starts next March. Both The Tiger's Wife and The Marriage Plot seem like Tournament shoe-ins. We'll see.

Speaking of The Marriage Plot
How far along are you? I'm about halfway through--Although what does that mean when you're reading the audiobook? Can you tell how far you are? Are you using Audible? I'd love to talk about it with you, but I don't want to spoil anything. Why don't you tell me where you are and then we can chat it up.

I can say this without spoiling anything. Although I'm pretty sure I read The Virgin Suicides at some point, I don't remember it. I haven't read Middlesex (This might have to go on the TBR list, because every.single.person. that has read it has sung its praises). So far, I am quite enjoying The Marriage Plot. Hard not to like a book about people who love reading. Eugenides' writing style is crisp, clean, and highly quoteable. I'm not sure how I feel about the characters---are we getting old? Because they seem so young. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll stop here.

How's your progress with The Book of Vice? And what's your November selection going to be?