Year 4, Book 33

33. Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss
Seriously this a book all about punctuation. If you’ve never heard of it, it was wildly popular for some reason right after it came out, which was when I was working at Barnes and Noble. I always meant to read it to find out what all the fuss was about because who knew a book about punctuation would be so popular. I for some reason never read it, but finally decided to pick it up while I was waiting for the books for my 2 book clubs to come into the public library. Since it’s a short book I figured I could finish it in a few days and be ready to start on my other books when they arrived.

I did enjoy the book, but because I’m a dork like that. It’s something that might appeal to me even if it hadn’t been such a bestseller. It is a witty little book with some humor and a writing style that doesn’t make punctuation a dry subject matter. However, I have to wonder how many of the copies of this book that were sold were actually read. First of all it turns out it’s written by a British author and isn’t even about American punctuation, but British punctuation, which is mostly the same but not completely. I didn’t know that before I read it. And secondly, I’m betting a lot of people picked up the book because it was being talked about so much and then sat down to read it only to discover that “oh man” this really is about punctuation, and then never finished it. If you’re into that kind of thing I’d recommend it. If you don’t care, and don’t find humor in punctuation mishaps then skip it. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 32

32. Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters by Debra Gwartney
I started reading this book and thought man this story sounds awfully familiar. Turns out I had actually heard it on a segment of This American Life. Of course the book goes into much more detail than they could cover in a 20 minute radio segment, so it wasn’t as if reading it was a complete waste of time.

I actually really enjoyed the book, although it made me sad. The story is basically about a family with 4 daughters, the older 2 of whom run away from home. The book is written by the mother basically about her life with her daughters after her divorce from their father, specifically concentrating on the fact that her two oldest daughters eventually run away from home.

The story is really interesting, if not heartbreaking. You really get a sense of how the girls got to be so rebellious, but you can also relate to the mother who is trying to hold onto her children even though she should probably just let them go because she is barely keeping it together, and she still has two other daughters who need her. The mother seems to finally come to some realization about the things she did to get her family where it winds up, at least she writes as if she has some insight. Although I never really get the sense that her actions truly change.

It’s actually kind of amazing that with everything this family went through that all 4 of the daughters seem to have eventually turned out well. I’m actually shocked that the younger 2 daughters didn’t wind up mental cases like their older sisters with living in the situation caught between their mother and sisters as they did.

It’s an engaging book and the mother really does a good job of not just presenting her side of the story. Although I really do wonder what makes sleeping on the streets a better alternative for some kids than a home that may not be perfect, but certainly isn’t abusive. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 31

31. Self-Made Man:One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent
I heard a lot about this book when it first came out, but never really felt compelled to pick it up until I read Vincent’s more recent book Voluntary Madness. I enjoyed that book, and she referred to Self-Made Man in it and how her experiences writing that book lead her into the depression she was experiencing during her writing of Voluntary Madness. So I decided to check it out.

Basically Vincent spends 18 months impersonating a man and inserting herself into situations that she deemed extremely male in nature to in order to see how she could fit in as a man and to learn about what it’s like to be male. She spent time on a bowling league, working in an extremely brash male dominated sales job, living in a monastery, patronizing strip clubs, and joining a men’s group based on John Bly’s Iron Man. She also entered the dating scene. She eventually revealed herself to many of the people she interacted with including her bowling team, some of the monks, some of the people she interacted with at the strip club, and a few of the women she dated.

I had a hard time with this book mostly because I couldn’t get past all the people I felt like she was betraying. Pretty much all of the people she eventually told about her experiment (all the name of writing a book I might add) seemed to be okay with it. Although that’s coming from her mouth and may or may not accurately portray their true feelings. Three of the women she dated even slept with her after she told them the truth even though they were self-professed heterosexuals (Vincent is actually a lesbian). I took issue with that only because the book is dedicated to her beloved wife and I have to assume she was at least in some sort of committed relationship during the time that all this was going on.

She attempts to absolve herself at the beginning of the book saying that all that she suffered spiraling back into a depression, which she claims is a result of the cognitive dissonance she experienced while being a woman living as man, is far more horrible than any deception of the people she was interacting with.

Also I’m not sure that she found out anything all that relavatory in the process. I don’t think she told me one thing about being a guy that I didn’t already know, so I’m not sure that this book was worth all the pain she caused herself or others even if she doesn’t want to own up to that.

That being said it wasn’t a bad book. Vincent is a good writer. If you decide to read it just don’t expect any great revelations and be prepared to feel a bit icky about her betrayal of the people she is interacting with. Particularly in the dating section. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 30

30. Songs from a Lead-Lined Room: Notes–High and Low–from my Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation by Suzanne Strempek Shea
This is the third book I’ve read by this author. She is also a fiction writer, although I haven’t read any of those books. From what I can tell this book is her first foray into non-fiction, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the later two books that I read. It may be because this is her first attempt at non-fiction and she didn’t quite have the feel for it yet, or perhaps because the book was crafted out of a diary she kept while undergoing radiation for breast cancer. I just had a hard time getting into the book at all, and even though it follows a certain timeline and revolves around a common theme it seemed a bit disjointed to me. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 29

29. Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
I read this book for one of my book clubs. It’s kind of comprised of two stories. The first half of the book is about a family of 2 sisters and their father plus the farmhand who grew up with them after his parents were killed when he was 4 years old. The second half of the book is the story of some French writer who one of the sisters researches. The first story cuts off pretty abruptly and never got picked back up, which rather annoyed me. I also didn’t care that much for the story of the writer and really felt that the author should have stuck to the original story and explored it more as there were lots of unanswered questions. I give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 28

28. Captain Freedom: A Superhero’s Quest for Truth, Justice, and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves by Xavier G. Robillard
I really wanted to like this book better than I did. It’s kind of clever in premise, but I found it’s execution kind of lacking. It’s the story of Captain Freedom obviously. It kind of crosses the third wall in that he is a superhero who works for the comic book that writes of his superhero adventures except that he really lives them out but also has his own will so that he is not just doing stuff that people are writing him to do. His actions eventually get him fired from Gotham Comics and most of the book is his backstory about how he got to where he ended up. As I mentioned the concept is kind of clever, but the writing isn’t that good in my opinion and the book relies way too heavily on pop culture references, which can be kind of amusing but will make it so that in a couple years no one will get the jokes. I give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 27

27. Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
The story takes place in a small town in North Dakota named Owl. It’s a very character driven story with not much plot, which I don’t mind at all if an author paints an engaging picture of his characters. That is the case with this book. It follows mainly 3 characters who live in the town a high school boy, a teacher, and a senior citizen. Their lives don’t really interconnect all though, which I found surprising for a book like this especially since it takes place in such a small town. I’m actually scheduled to read this for one of my book clubs in August, but I jumped the gun and read it several months ahead of time. I’m looking forward to discussing it. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 26

26. McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland by Pete McCarthy
I decided to pick up this book because I had recently read McCarthy’s newer book and enjoyed it. I didn’t like this book quite as much and it also wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Based on his description of this book in his other book and the blurb on the back of the book I literally thought that he traveled around Ireland looking for bars bearing the name McCarthy and that the book would basically be about drinking at those bars. It’s really more of a travel writing book about Ireland itself. Although he does stop into bars along the way with the name McCarthy in the title. However, he doesn’t run into these nearly as much as one might expect based on the title of the book, and he drinks at plenty of bars not bearing his name. I found it kind of disjointed as well at times. I never really felt like there was a purpose to the book not even one as simple as I’m going to travel around Ireland. It was an okay book. If you really like travel writing you’ll probably enjoy it. I liked his second book better though. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 25

25. Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
I have really enjoyed some of Jodi Picoult’s books, but like Jenny I haven’t really enjoyed the last few very much. I think the reason is that they are getting very rote. Every book seems to be the same thing. Some child has some horrible thing happen to him or her be it some horrible disease or some bad event that somehow winds up creating a law suit that introduces a lawyer who has some deep dark secret haunting him or her. And also the law suit will wind up tearing apart the parents of said child. The small details are different. In this book it’s a daughter born with osteogenesis imperfecta (i.e. brittle bone disease), the mother winding up suing her obstetrician who was also her best friend for wrongful birth, the husband disagreeing with the suit so causing major tension in their marriage, and a lawyer looking for her birth mother and dealing with her own feelings about being an unwanted child. It’s pretty much like reading the same book over and over again. Unless her next book appears to follow a completely different ruberic I think I’ll probably skip it. I give this one a 4 out of 10.

Year 4, Book 24

24. While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky
I really didn’t like this book. I didn’t like any of the characters. The story revolves around a family who owns some famous nursery in New England where they all work except for the oldest daughter who is a famous runner training for the Olympics. She winds up having a heart attack while running which causes severe brain damage. The story basically involves the family members coming to terms with what happened as well as with each other. The characters are painted in such broad strokes that they really are just one note characters and then they manage to change way too easy at the end of the book so that everything ends happily. I give it a 3 out of 10.