Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Audio: Unbearable Lightness

I've been meaning to post about this book since my list with my ten favorite books so far this year! Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi is about the author/actress's struggles with an eating disorder and coming out to the public as a gay actress. I listened to the Simon & Schuster audio version narrated by the author, Portia de Rossi.

(picture from Goodreads)

First Impression: Rather than focusing on actions and events in her life, the author's primary focus is on her emotions and thought processes, which I find an appropriate approach to her story. The writing has a "quiet" quality to it that conveys the underlying menace of the author's struggles. I find this somewhat unsettling and perfect for the nature of the book. Also, Portia narrating the story makes the whole thing feel more personal.

(picture from a Portia de Rossi fanpage:

Conclusion: The most interesting facet of de Rossi's story is that she had no intention of becoming anorexic when she started the journey down. She had a professional nutritionist and an eating plan geared toward helping her lose weight and stay healthy. With constant shows, interviews, and photo shoots, she found herself constantly worried that she wasn't losing enough weight to keep up with the rest of Hollywood. Bit by bit, she did more exercise and ate less every day until she got below 90 pounds and began to feel excruciating pain with any movement of her body. I love that de Rossi displays her progression from a young girl who just wants to be appreciated and noticed as something special to a woman who understands that happiness is the key to health. My favorite part is the epilogue, where she ties everything together and discusses the importance of her story. It especially resonates with me when she states why she no longer believes in diets or weighing herself: she says that without the psychological pressure of always eating "good foods," resisting "bad foods," and losing weight, our body will tell us what it needs when it needs it and each of us will be the healthy weight we were meant to be.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Club: Blood Feud

Sorry I've left you guys hanging lately! I've been on vacation! But now I'm back with a bunch of content for you all, so hopefully I can keep it flowing a little more steadily. Here's a picture to show that the wait was worth it:

 (my son, Gabe--sixteen months)

Gabe had such a good time at that birthday party! He's all about balloons now. But, on to more serious pursuits--reading non-fiction!

The full title of the book for this post is Blood Feud: The Hatfields & the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder & Vengeance by Lisa Alther. It's quite a mouthful. And so is the book itself, actually. An eyeful, I guess I should say. The title and description of Alther's book portray a relation of the events surrounding the Hatfield v. McCoy feud in Tug Fork Valley, which only takes up about 60% of the book in reality. I had never heard the entire story of the feud laid out piece-by-piece, so I really enjoyed reading about the topic more thoroughly. Alther does a good job putting the events into a timeline that we can understand and referring back to that timeline when she introduces a lesser known character in the book. She also seems to relate all of the facts to the best of her ability, even though some of the information is muddled through years of reality mixing with legend in the Hatfield and McCoy families. I will say that every once in a while she projects an emotion onto one of the feud members, and I'm not convinced that they felt the same way she seems to about everything. She does make it clear that these are her guesses or assumptions, though, so at least she's not just telling a falsehood. I found the brutality of events and stubbornness of feud members difficult to understand--it just was not necessary in any sense of the word. Given an understanding of the two families' way of life, however, I can understand how this feud came to take place. Below are pictures of the two feud leaders, Ranel McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield, which I found on Photobucket.

Randolph (Ranel) McCoy

William (Devil Anse) Hatfield
 After her discussion of the Hatfield v. McCoy Feud, Alther talks about several other feuds that did not garner as much attention from the public (for various reasons). I never realized there were so many, so this was an especially interesting section to me. I am not a big fan of the last chapter of the book, however, where Alther talks about the McCoys' and Hatfields' genetic disposition to be feudists and her own fears (of the Cumberland Mountains and their inhabitants) "inherited" from her grandmother. She starts to cross into an area with which I don't quite agree, so the end of the book drags for me. Nevertheless, this is a good read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Appalachian feuds of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

P&P Challenge/Book Club: Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James is set six years after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is the night before the annual Lady Anne's Ball at Pemberley, and Elizabeth has spent the day preparing for the ball with the servants. She and Darcy are wrapping up the evening with some of the guests staying with them when a carriage flies up the lane, releasing a hysteric Lydia. When she is inside and sane enough to accuse Elizabeth of mistreatment (for not actually being invited to the ball), she recounts her story: On her way in the stormy night to "crash the Pemberley party" so-to-speak, Wickham and Captain Denny leave her in the carriage and stalk into the forest, where the sounds of gunshots emerge after a few minutes. Convinced that Denny has killed Wickham, Lydia rushes on to Pemberley and insists that a search party be sent out immediately.

First Impression: I've never read anything by P. D. James before, so I'm not sure if the book reflects how she usually writes or just the time period which she is referencing. Either way, I'm enjoying it. There is all of the formality without the stiffness of someone who shouldn't be writing about the 19th century. James definitely knows what she's doing. The book is set six years or so after Jane and Elizabeth married Bingley and Darcy, which leaves a good amount of time for all of the characters to be comfortable in their settled lives without the unnecessary romantic scenes that might interfere with the mystery that's coming. While it's good that James refers to what takes place in Pride and Prejudice, I don't think she needs to do the scene repeats that she does in the first chapter. Maybe it's for the benefit of those who haven't read the book--that would make sense--or maybe it's just to set the stage. I hope it doesn't continue as the book goes on. Side note: I expect that Kitty and Georgiana will have plans for marriage by the end of the book. So far I'm enjoying the novel.

Conclusion: I don't like how James changes the characters. It seems like she keeps half of their original characters in tact and the other halves she changes to help her story along. Also, it doesn't seem right that Elizabeth and Darcy question their domestic bliss so much after six years of marriage. I could understand Elizabeth sometimes questioning if she did the right thing for Darcy. However, I could never see her re-addressing her actions toward Wickham after she knew his true character, and I would never EVER think of her wondering if money factored into her choice of a husband. It was made evident through her first refusal of Darcy and her general attitude toward riches in Pride and Prejudice that she wasn't motivated by money when considering her future. In fact, that was a common personality trait in all of Austen's heroines.

This book was very well-written. I like P.D. James's writing style for this genre--formal but not too stiff. I also like her interpretation of Darcy. He takes care of his family and friends while maintaining his responsibilities and sensitivities as master, husband, and father. Colonel Fitzwilliam was a big disappointment for me. In Austen's novel, the Colonel is warm, friendly, and lovable. In Death Comes to Pemberley, he is solitary and serious. There are reasons given for this transformation, but I find them inadequate for the extreme differences in the core of his personality. Also, I am surprised not to find a lot of mystery in this mystery. There are many secrets kept throughout the book (and then unloaded on the reader all at once toward the end of the novel), which gives the appearance of mystery, but there really isn't a lot of study given to who committed the murder and how. The epilogue adds nothing to the book, in my opinion. It seems to provide a chance for James to express her thoughts on P&P without wrapping-up anything from this novel (with the exception of Georgiana's romantic interests). At the end, I feel calm, as though I've been doing yoga rather than waiting breathlessly to hear the conclusion to a murder mystery, but it's a pleasant peace. I'm curious how someone who hasn't read Pride and Prejudice might react to Death Comes to Pemberley. Have any of you read it?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bitsy View: Berries, Puppies, and Apple Pie

Jamberry by Bruce Degen   
     --Summary: A bear and a little boy travel across a world made of food (marshmallow weeds, biscuit lilypads, etc), collecting and eating several types of berries as they go.
     --Writing Style: rhyming poetry (board book)
     --Highlight: The bear and the little boy fall down a waterfall holding their canoe over their heads as blueberries rain down just behind/above them. The illustration of this leaves an exciting, adventurous impression.
     --Afterthought: The illustrations are really fun and they reflect the friendly, adventurous spirit of the rhymes.

Where's Spot by Eric Hill   
     --Summary: Sally, Spot the puppy's mom, is looking for him at suppertime and finds several other animals in the process.
     --Writing Style: question/answer, lift-the-flap (board book)
     --Highlight: Just when Sally thinks she's found Spot, it turns out to be a turtle under the rug. The turtle says, "Try the basket."
     --Afterthought: This is really fun for kids who like surprises and playing peekaboo. Make sure your child is careful enough for a lift-the-flap book. When I first bought this, Gabe ripped one of the flaps off, so I had to set it aside for a while. But now he can read it just fine, only bending the little flaps slightly as they open.

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray   
     --Summary: A dog hangs around while his owner, a little girl, makes an apple pie and eats some, and then he tries to get some pie for himself.
     --Writing Style: alphabetical phrases (board book)
     --Highlight: The puppy pulls the tablecloth and the whole pie comes down on the floor, which he then grabs and quickly runs away.
     --Afterthought: The pictures in this are simple but eye-catching, and the puppy makes a very sweet, pitiable character while trying to get some pie.