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Horns by Joe Hill

My newest book club and I recently chose to read the book Horns by Joe Hill.  We have joked about how our club is really a books-that-became-movies club, and this is no exception – the movie adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe is hitting the big screen Halloween of this year!  Our book club gave Horns mixed reviews, but one thing I really enjoyed about this novel is that it is completely different from what I usually read.

Horns by Joe Hill

Horns by Joe Hill

Horns follows main character Ignatius Parrish on what has to be the most bizarre downward spiral I have ever read.  The story begins when Ig awakens from a night of drinking in response to the anniversary of his girlfriend Merrin’s brutal rape and murder – but upon waking, a  few major changes have taken place.  First, Ig notices the horns that have sprouted from his head in the night.  Then, as he goes looking for help, he notices that everyone he encounters can’t seem to help sharing their deepest darkest secrets with Ig – and you’d be amazed at how dark some of these people’s secrets are.  The story vacillates between exploring Ig and Merrin’s relationship as it first developed, right up to Merrin’s tragic end, and Ig’s hunt for the truth of where the horns are coming from, how to get rid of them, and meanwhile, how to retaliate when he discovers the identity of Merrin’s killer.

I have to give props for the story seeming very original – it was.  And it was fun to explore the connections between this fairly bizarre work of fiction and the biblical stories I heard in church as a child.  What wasn’t fun was how unrelatable most of the story was.  For example, I have a really hard time believing that people (all people) are really as dark as they are portrayed in the story.  The relationship between Ig and his parents (who secretly believe he murdered Merrin) was especially disturbing to me, because it made family ties seem so much weaker than I’ve always known them to be.

My other complaint was all the symbolism in the book.  After reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor, I was really excited to do some interpreting of the various things I was reading.  But Hill never gave the reader a chance – he very obviously spelled out every allusion, connection, and piece of symbolism for us, leaving absolutely no interpretation or heavy lifting for me!

I don’t think I’ll watch the movie, and I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this book to our readers at Of Print and Prose.  I give it 1 star.  ★

Red Devil Cocktails - not my favorite alcoholic beverage, but drinks always make book club a little more interesting!

Red Devil Cocktails – not my favorite alcoholic beverage, but drinks always make book club a little more interesting!

… but on the bright side, the discussion at book club led to some delicious themed drinking!  In honor of Ig thinking he was turning into the devil throughout the book – we mixed and drank Red Devil cocktails, which was way too much fun!

When It Happens To You by Molly Ringwald

You can probably imagine my surprise when I learned at book club that Molly Ringwald (of Pretty In Pink, Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles fame) has added ‘author’ to her resume.  I grew up watching and have a nostalgic appreciation for her movies, but truthfully, I didn’t expect much from her writing.  While When It Happens To You was not my favorite book, I have to give credit where credit is due… it was a lot better than I was expecting and it led to a book club discussion that (I felt) brought people who were mostly strangers a lot closer than any of the other monthly discussions have.

The author (above center) in one of my favorite movies from high school, Sixteen Candles.

The author (above center) in one of my favorite movies from high school, Sixteen Candles.

When It Happens To You is a novel told through a series of vignettes from the perspective of different, but loosely connected, characters (a lot like the movie Love Actually).  This part worked really well for me, and I thought Ringwald did an excellent job of subtly including the characters’ connections to each other in a way that was realistic, believable, and interesting.  The stories are all told from a female character’s perspective and cover such topics as a spouse’s death, a transgender child, and a straying spouse.  This is where I was disappointed – while the writing itself was surprisingly sophisticated at points, the interconnected plots were incredibly stale and predictable.  The idea of a book with so many character narrators – all of whom are females – is so cool.  It really disappointed me that each woman’s biggest concern seemed to be the main male in her life – whether he be dead, cheating, or questioning a gender identity.  While the novel shed light on issues that are very real and present (the chapter on a transgender child was undoubtedly my favorite), it did so in a way that every other medium does, and I would have loved to see a fresher perspective.

Nonetheless, I do appreciate a book that can get a more real conversation out of a book club of people who don’t know each other very well.  For the first time, the book club I discovered via goodreads had a much more personal discussion of our own experiences, as opposed to our typical “I liked the part where _______ happened.” discussions.  For that, Ms. Ringwald must be given credit.  If you have someone to discuss the book with, or are a huge Breakfast Club fan, give When It Happens To You a try.  Otherwise, watch another hour of Lifetime to get your “overdone and overly dramatic” fix, and keep your eye out for something a bit more novel.  (Hah, see what I did there?)  I give When It Happens To You 2.5 stars. ★★ 1/2

– Becca

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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Hello readers! As summer is drawing to a close, I wanted to share with you what may end up being my last completed book on my summer reading list – The Happiness Project. As many of you know, positive psychology has been a long-term interest of mine – I studied it in college, and wrote a master’s thesis on how to incorporate it into a classroom. That said, I don’t always use it in my own life as much as I would like to. And while the big thinkers (Seligman, Lyubomirsky, and the Dalai Lama) behind the happiness movement are brilliant… their prose often leaves a bit to be desired in a die-hard fiction fan such as myself.

Which is where The Happiness Project went so so right. The author, Gretchen Rubin, studied the scientific literature in depth, broke it down in an interesting, very read-able manner, and then shared her experiences applying the principles of happiness research to her own life. She focuses on three main questions: “What makes me feel good?” “What makes me feel bad?” and “What makes me feel right?” and uses them to make a list of concrete, attainable resolutions. Rubin then grouped the resolutions by months, and vowed to systematically make a nearly constant effort to reach them all – adding the previous months resolutions to the current one. She wrote about her journey and the thing I LOVED the most is, it was messy. She attests that she was happier in the end (and she wasn’t horrifically unhappy to begin with) but that happiness took real effort, and, as a result, wasn’t always fun. This was monumental for me, as self-improvement of any kind is rarely enjoyable, but usually (in my own experience) yields amazing results.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Reading The Happiness Project inspired me to start one of my own. I, like Gretchen Rubin, am not horrifically unhappy. However, I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past and often feel so lucky to no longer be battling those diseases on a daily basis that I don’t work to make myself happier than my current state – I just work to make myself not sick again. Thus, there’s a lot I can do to be happier, and though Rubin’s book is more of a memoir than a game plan, her website (www.gretchenrubin.com) provides an outline of the steps she took and makes it really easy for readers to design their own happiness project.

Though I’ll warn you – designing it is the easy part. It is also the fun part… because I love markers. But the implementation, like Rubin writes in her book, is not nearly as easy as you might think. Still, I am confident it is worth it. I wouldn’t recommend the book to you if I didn’t think so, and I definitely wouldn’t be incorporating Rubin’s methods into my own hectic life if I didn’t truly believe they had value.

Things that make me happy - a well-organized binder to keep track of my progress... and these adorable new throw pillows from Etsy!

Things that make me happy – a well-organized binder to keep track of my progress… and these adorable new throw pillows from Etsy!

Briefly, here are some of the goals my personal happiness project includes:

  • Letters of gratitude – I know how great I feel when people take the time to affirm and appreciate me. I’m excited to start telling the great people in my life how important they are (and hopefully giving them and me a happiness boost in the process)
  • Hosting more events at home – I just moved into my own place for the first time. I can’t wait to care for the people I love by cooking them an incredible meal as they grace me with their fantastic company and help me to see how amazing my life and relationships are.
  • Engaging in more cultural experiences – Santa Barbara has an events calendar that is crazy full. Time to take advantage of those experiences and play tourist in my own town.
  • Travel – As I mentioned, I’m in my own place for the first time in my life… so I can’t afford much travel. But when the opportunity arises, I want to be spontaneous enough to take it. After all, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
  • Remember self-care – I have a real problem during the school year of forgetting to take care of myself. Sometimes I even forget meals. So I’m making a point to pay attention to my needs and then make meeting them a priority in my life. If that means I have to spend more time getting pedicures and massages… that is a sacrifice I’m willing to take!
  • Read books I never would have considered for myself – Having a wider perspective from which I view the world can only bring good things, am I right?
  • Give faith and spirituality a chance – I’m a huge cynic. Cynics generally aren’t the happiest people. So I want to get back to a place in my life where spirituality is central to my every day movements. Research shows, the happiest people are also the most spiritual.
  • Volunteer – I know, I know. I have no time. That’s what everyone says. I’ve benefited so much from the generous, loving, giving people around me. I need to give back. Selfishly – there’s also a major dopamine surge with altruism!

If you were designing your own happiness project, what would you add? Is there anything I’ve missed?

Wishing you all a happy, healthy start to the new school year (while giving The Happiness Project 3 stars ★★★),

Becca

National Book Festival 2014 (part 2)

Hello again! I got to see and do so much at the Library of Congress National Book Festival this year, that I couldn’t possibly fit it all in one post! Today I’ll write more about the authors I saw.

E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow

I started by going to see E. L. Doctorow, who won the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction for his latest novel, Andrew’s Brain.  Instead of speaking alone, he answered questions in more of an interview format.  I was interested to learn about his inspiration for his books, specifically that he often imagines an image to begin his writing process.  (Sorry for the poor picture quality, the lighting in the conference center was a challenge.)

After that, I went to see Kai Bird, whose latest book is a biography of the CIA operative Robert Ames.  He talked about how he researched the book, which I appreciated, since a lot of the nonfiction authors just summarize their books.  This way I stay interested in reading it.  Besides, writing a biography about a spy poses some research challenges, since a lot of the information might still be confidential.  It made for an interesting talk.

 

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

I headed back to the Fiction and Mystery room to see an author who was new to me, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.  She writes a mystery series set in Cherokee country.  As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to read it, so I bought her book and went to the signing.  (I might look for the other two books so I can read them in order though.)  Someone who got up to ask a question began with, “I haven’t read the series yet, but I like you, so I know I’m going to like your books,” and that’s exactly how I felt.  I think every year I found a great new book or series through hearing an author talk, and that’s probably one of my favorite things about going to the National Book Festival.

The last author talk I attended was by Lisa See.  I read one of her books, Peony in Love, in college.  Her new novel is set in California, and I enjoyed hearing about her family’s history and her research about the history of Chinese Americans in California.  I’d like to read one of her books set in my home state!

I started my Christmas shopping by going to two more book signings.  I got a book signed by Anne Hillerman, who is continuing her father’s mystery series.  (That was a nice surprise-we’ve got some big Tony Hillerman fans in the Of Print and Prose family.  I also went to Judith Viorst’s book signing and got two Alexander books signed, one for our nephew’s Christmas gift and an extra one to donate to our mom’s third grade class.  I was especially excited that the authors had time to personalize the books this year!  Although I didn’t see their talks, I plan on watching them on the Library of Congress website.  All the talks from the festival are posted here.

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders

National Book Festival 2014 (part 1)

my program from the festival

my program from the festival

Hello everyone!  It’s Elizabeth with your annual update from the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival in Washington, DC!  If it seems a little early for that, it is!  That’s just one of the big changes at the book festival this year.  In addition to moving to Labor Day weekend, the festival also changed locations to the Washington Convention Center.  And the festival is back down to one day, instead of two, but they added some new evening programs.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the changes.  The festival didn’t attract as many big name authors this year, and I suspect it’s because some of them didn’t want to give up their long weekend!  The Convention Center is huge, which allowed them to fit more people and have more programs happening at once, but it was hard to find my way around and took a lot longer to move between locations.  On the other hand, we didn’t have to worry about weather, which is definitely a plus.

Laura and Peter Zeranski, authors of Polish Classic Desserts

Laura and Peter Zeranski, authors of Polish Classic Desserts

There were some new categories added this year, and I got to check out two of them: Science and Culinary Arts.  I had mixed feelings about the Culinary Arts section, because I love cooking but don’t really read cookbooks.  However, all of the participants were really well-chosen.  They had a mix of author talks and demonstrations by chefs, and lots of different cuisines were represented.  I saw part of Laura and Peter Zeranski’s talk.  They write award-winning Polish cookbooks.  I’d love to try a few recipes, apparently they have a good collection of traditional holiday foods.

The science talk I saw was by Eric H. Cline, about his book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.  He started his talk by showing his book trailer, a great idea.  You can see the it here.  (More authors should make book trailers!)  Cline is a field archaeologist and a professor, and his book is about the end of the Bronze Age.

After complaining about the state of the book sales tent last year, I was happy to see that it is now being hosted by a local DC bookstore, Politics and Prose.  They also had a separate gift shop which sold t-shirts and other souvenirs.  I like this idea, but once again I was disappointed that only the author’s most recent book was for sale.  When I find a new author, especially one who has written a series, I want to start at the beginning!  I would be happy for more of my book money to go to a local bookstore or support the festival, but the poor selection means more than half of my booksale-related purchases will come from Amazon.

Overall, I had an excellent time at the book festival.  Although I missed being at the mall, it was great to have more space for this popular festival!  (Plus, I appreciated the air conditioning)  If you want to know more, check out Of Print and Prose’s Twitter page.  I tweeted live updates throughout the day.  I was able to see a lot of great authors this year!  I’ll write more about them tomorrow!

-Elizabeth

How to Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster

I start my first day back at school (with students) tomorrow.  I’m excited to get back into the routine, but also lamenting the end of vacation in a pretty major way.  To get me back into the swing of teaching, it seemed fitting to review the book on my summer reading list that got me most excited to start teaching literature again!

Here’s the thing I’ve always loved about going to an English literature class in college (and keep in mind, despite being an English teacher, I was not an English major): You’re assigned a book (probably of pretty high literary acclaim and caliber).  You read it and think, wow, that’s really good.  Then you go to class, and through the professor and your classmates’ insight, you see what’s going on below the surface level of the plot.  And, 99 times out of 100, it is SO MUCH BETTER than you thought.

Here’s the thing I loved about How To Read Literature Like A Professor: The same level of insight, at a significantly reduced price tag.  Also, through Foster’s numerous and well explained examples to illustrate each point he makes, my reading list has grown substantially.  While this confirms that I will unquestionably die before I have a chance to read every book that I really want to, I don’t think that is such a bad thing.

Foster’s book is amazing – if you’re looking to analyze your literature.  If you prefer surface level plot, don’t waste your time.  But, if you want to go deeper into what you’re reading, I highly recommend this book.  It’s engaging and easy to read, written in manageable chapter lengths if you want to go slowly, and gives numerous illustrative examples for each point – so you really understand what you’re reading and could easily apply it to any number of books you happen to have on hand.  A few of the things Foster covers: every trip is a quest (think Hero’s Journey), when in doubt as to an allusion, it’s likely from Shakespeare or the Bible, the deeper meaning of rain in most literature, commonly used literary symbols, and the importance of understanding context.  The great thing about this work is its major applicability – I picked it up to help me better analyze and explain the higher level literature that I read with my classes.  And this will help with that!  But it will also help me to better enjoy the books I read for pleasure, and will definitely come in handy during my informal book club discussions with friends.

Bottom line – sometimes it’s fun to read for plot alone, and that’s totally ok.  But when you’re ready to dig a little deeper (and you control how deep you want to go!), grab this book first.  You will be glad you did!  I give the work 4 stars and know I will be coming back to it again, and again, and again during my reading (and teaching) career. ★★★★

-Becca

Mean Genes by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan

I stumbled upon this book in a rather embarrassing way. Unlike my grandmother (I am a child of the internet, after all) I never browse in the library. I decide what I want, look it up online, write down the call number and am in and out in a matter of moments. However, I also have a horrible sense of direction. So when I marched into the Santa Barbara Public Library, list of call numbers in hand, I marched to the totally wrong section (nonfiction… eek!) I didn’t want to immediately turn back so I pretended to browse for awhile. Low and behold, the bright colors of Mean Genes grabbed my attention and in turn, I grabbed Mean Genes!

I studied psychology in college, and towards the end of my degree, starting focusing pretty heavily on evolutionary psych. It’s fascinating. As such, I’m never sure if the information in Mean Genes is common knowledge to everyone, or just me. It covers information such as why we have so much trouble saving money for a rainy day, why we can never seem to eat just one potato chip, and why despite a cultural push for monogamy, so many individuals cheat. It’s because of evolution! Our ancestors didn’t save for a rainy day, because anything of value was likely food, and it went bad if you didn’t eat it right away. The same goes for our eating habits – when you’re starving, you need fat and you need a lot of it. The problem is, we’re not starving (anymore). And monogamy, while absolutely possible today, wasn’t exactly a high priority for our ancestors.

I already knew all that. Maybe you did too. So why bother reading the book? A) Because it’s really funny and I like reading funny things. B) Because it provides engaging summary and analysis of the really interesting experiments that taught us what we know about evolutionary psychology today. And C) Because the authors will provide strategies, self-help fashion, how to use your genes for good and not for evil!

As you all know, I generally steer clear of nonfiction. This is the exception. It’s engaging, funny, and helpful. It is written in such a way that it is easy to get into, and doesn’t feel like homework. I give this book 4 stars and recommend you give it a try! If you like it… Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by my brain-crush Robert Sapolsky should be your next selection. ★★★★

– Becca