The Quest of An Everyday Soccer Mom to Read the Modern Library's 100 Best Fiction Books of the 20th Century.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Surviving the Soccer Season...and Reading

Tonight is our final soccer game of the summer season....WOOOO HOOOO!

I wanted to give an update on the absolutely fantastic read I've been working through: the wonderful A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul. This is a big, chunky read but it is so engrossing. It is about one man's quest to be self-sufficient and obtain (for him) the end-all, be-all of independence...a house he can call his own. Unfortunately, this quest is thwarted by his very controlling and communist in-laws, the Tulsis, who are a Trinidadian version of the Kennedys. Luckily Mr Biswas keeps his sense of humor and his wits about him, and finds small ways to rebel against their emotional terrorism. There are some very humorous parts, and the repartee between Mr Biswas and his wife Shama I find very humorous, as neither will back down from the other. I've also enjoyed reading about the Tulsi family and their very weird ways. They make my in-laws look tame, which (trust me) is a tough gig.

I'm a little over 2/3 of the way through it (the book weighs in at 564 pages) but it's gone very quickly. Should have a review for you soon.

Monday, June 21, 2010


I'm knee deep in soccer right now, as we just spent an entire weekend down in Rochester for a tournament (we got 2nd place!) and Aves has four games this week plus another tourney next weekend. But no worries! I am on the sidelines and chillin' in the hotel room happily devouring V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. I feel a good review comin' on!

Hope everyone else is staying busy and enjoying their summers!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

#73...The Day of the Locust

"But either way she would come out all right. Nothing could hurt her. She was like a cork. No matter how rough the sea got, she would go dancing over the same waves that sank iron ships and tore away piers of reinforced concrete. He pictured her riding a tremendous sea. Wave after wave reared its ton on ton of solid water and crashed down only to have her spin gaily away."

In the celebrity-obsessed society we have become in the last near-century, I am sure today's movie stars long for the days before paparazzi cameras relentlessly followed them into Starbucks to get their no-fat caramel latte in their sweatpants, or People magazine showed them busting out the cellulite in a too-small bikini on some remote island. I have always struggled to understand how people can wrench enjoyment from watching people's privacy get invaded, but I think most of us would agree that celebrities exist on a different plane than the rest of us. You make 50 million dollars a movie? You pay the price in other ways. Losing your privacy is just one of them.

For every famous actor or actress in Hollywood, you know there have to be somewhere in the vicinity of hundreds of people who don't make it, whose only aspiration is to be on TMZ in their underwear. In case you ever wondered what all of these unfortunate wanna-be actors and actresses do in their spare time to keep busy and/or how they cope with their disappointment, Nathanael West helps us out with that in his gritty, macabre novella, The Day of the Locust. West began his career as a novel writer, but when that didn't work out so well, he turned to Hollywood and screenwriting before his untimely death in 1940. West was therefore in a privileged position to see what happened to those unlucky folks who made it out to the promised land with their dreams in their hands, but then were chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine. Like West, Tod Hackett is a screenwriter and sometime painter in Hollywood. His particular interest is searching for people who "had come to California to die"--people who came to Hollywood for fame and fortune but didn't make it and became embittered and angry because of it. Tod wants to paint them into his masterpiece which depicts angry mobs and the burning of Los Angeles. When he's not out scoping for subjects (and I guess screenwriting, although it's never really mentioned) Tod hangs out with the wanna-be starlet Faye Greener, whom he secretly dreams of violently raping since she won't give it up to him. What a class act, right?

Well, in terms of stand-up human beings, Tod's not alone in Locust. West's novel overflows with the underbelly of society....dirty, violent, and angry characters, like the belligerent midget Abe Kusich, the cockfighting Mexican Miguel, and the cowboy with suppressed rage, Earle Shoop. All of the men lust after Faye, who sleeps with a couple of them and refuses to sleep with the others. Only one character stands out as somewhat decent; the goodhearted Homer Simpson, who comes to California because of his health, but ends up going crazy after his involvement with Faye and her weird collection of friends. The book ends with starstruck fans lined up at a movie premiere losing it and forming the mob that Tod has envisioned from nearly page one of the book.

This book, to me, was wall-to-wall crap. I have no idea what this book is doing on a list of the 100 best books. It's too horrible to even be on a list of the 100 worst books. It was dark, dirty and depressing, and I hated every page of it. I hated the cockfighting sequence so much I almost didn't finish the book (you know how I get with animal cruelty). I cared nothing for any of the characters, even Homer, whose character was the Biggest Doormat of All Time and therefore unworthy of respect or even sympathy. I kept waiting for something important to happen, like someone getting some self-esteem and deciding they needed better friends than that sorry group of people, or getting famous and getting a life, or one of them going psycho and killing everyone, but no one did. I guess I've never really been curious about what these wanna-be actors did to keep busy while they were waiting for their big break, or what they did once it became clear their big break would never come. Unfortunately, now I know.

The best thing going for it was that it was a quick read, only 202 pages. All I have to say is, thank God!!! If reading about what happens to people and how they cope after their dreams get crushed underfoot is your thing, you will love this book. I didn't.

Grade: D-

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

#74...A Farewell To Arms

"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

Ernest Hemingway (that's him on the left) brings his real-life experience as an Italian ambulance driver in WWI to life in A Farewell to Arms, a bittersweet story about love and war. Frederic Henry (we don't even find out his name until page 84!) is an American fighting with the Italians in the mountains of Italy. His doctor friend Rinaldi introduces him to Catherine Barkley, a British war aide, and they immediately fall in love. When Henry is wounded in the leg by shrapnel during an attack, he is sent away from the front for convalescence, and Catherine is there to help him after the knee surgery. She becomes pregnant with his child, but refuses to marry him, insisting that they are already married to each other in spirit.

When Henry recovers and is sent back to the front, the Italian war effort is weakening. During a retreat from the Austrians and Germans, Henry becomes separated from his unit (he is a lieutenant). When the Italian army begins to turn on itself and starts assassinating its officers for 'deserting their units' out of fear that the Germans have infiltrated their army, Henry escapes the firing squad, deserts the army, finds Catherine, and they take off for neutral Switzerland by boat, where they remain happily awaiting the birth of their child. Unfortunately, Catherine and the baby both die in childbirth, and Henry is left alone.

I did not expect to like this book. In fact, I was fully prepared to hate every page for the reasons I elucidated in my last posting about Hemingway. That being said, I was completely shocked and awed by how good this book was. It wasn't the most upbeat story in the world, but what it lacked in a happy ending, it made up for in momentum. It just rolled downhill like a rock, and like I said last night, I could not stop reading. I just knew there was going to be a bad ending, though. It's foreshadowed throughout the entire book. It feels like we spend nine months in the autumn/winter rain and cold; I was at a loss to remember any time in the book where it was sunny. Many characters close to Henry die or get hurt, and he ruminates often on death and what it means, which makes complete sense in a novel about war.

I was also shocked about how much drinking went on in this novel. Wine, vermouth, whiskey, you name it. Nurses sneaking alcohol up to patients in the hospital? Catherine drinking during her entire pregnancy? Ambulance drivers and soldiers drinking? Seriously, people! I guess Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and DWI's weren't hot topics back in the 1910's. As I mentioned in my last posting, I was also not pleased with Hemingway's wimpy female characters, except maybe Fergy, who really gave it to Henry about getting Catherine pregnant. While I can appreciate the role of women back in that era, it makes me very glad those days are over.

A great book and one I am glad that I read.

Grade: A

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My first blog award!!!

Many thanks to Ilona over at The Friande for passing along to me my very first blogger award! I am so excited!!!

There are some quid-pro-quos for getting this award. They are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave you this award
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic!
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about the award

So in addition to displaying my horrible bookshelves last week to all of you, I need to come up with seven more unknown facts about myself that hopefully won't embarrass me too much. Here we go.

1)I met my husband on EHarmony five years ago. Those sites really do work!

2)I have lived in 13 of the 50 states.

3)I have a bachelor's degree in Biology from UNC, and a master's degree in Audiology from the U of Utah.

4)I have an incurable fear of flying, drowning, and clowns.

5)In my erstwhile teenage years I once drove into a cornfield. Don't ask.

6)My 12 year-old daughter is actually taller than me already.

7)I am a sports fanatic. I love to watch football, baseball and professional soccer.

So here are the lucky sites I have grown to know and love over the past 9 months I feel are worthy of such an honor. I'll be adding more as I discover more sites that I love. Keep it up guys!

Kristin's Book Blog

The Modern Library List of Books

Our Year in Books

100 Books

Dead White Guys

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


"He sat at the table, stood up, sat down again, stared gloomily at the wall for some minutes, lit his pipe, and then, laboriously, with a single first finger and his heart heavy with misgiving, he typed the first news story of his meteoric career. No one observing that sluggish and hesitant composition could have guessed that this was a moment of history--of legend, to be handed down among the great traditions of his trade, told and retold over the reeking bars of Fleet Street, quoted in books of reminiscence, held up as a model to aspiring pupils of Correspondence Schools of Profitable Writing, perennially fresh in the jaded memories of a hundred editors; the moment when Boot began to make good."

Have you guys ever seen the Naked Gun movies with Leslie Nielsen, where he plays the bumbling cop Frank Drebin? Drebin is the worst cop imaginable, but somehow he always seems to be in the right place at the right time, catches the bad guys almost by accident, and comes out looking like the hero at the end. The Naked Gun movies are exactly what Evelyn Waugh's Scoop reminded me of when I began reading it. Waugh's hilarious and goofy hero, William Boot, wants nothing more than to live quietly in the country with his extended eccentric family and servants at his home, Boot Magna, writing a small nature column nobody reads called Lush Places. When another writer named John Courtney Boot's name is dropped by a local politician for a foreign correspondent job at the Beast, the job is mistakenly given to William, who only takes the job because he figures it is his punishment for the mistakes he made in his last article. Hilarity ensues as the clueless, gullible Boot is sent off to war-torn Ishmaelia, a fictional country in Africa. Arriving in Ishmaelia with a herd of seasoned foreign journalists and a hysterical mound of luggage, he is the only one of the journalists to resist being sent out of the Ishmaeli city of Jacksonburg on a wild goose chase and is therefore in the right place at the right time to get the uncontested scoop on the Soviet military coup no one saw coming. Suddenly William Boot's name is on everyone's tongue...but the last thing William wants is to be famous.

I thoroughly expected to plow through another dry Waugh book like Brideshead Revisited (see my review here), but was completely and happily disappointed in this when I read Scoop. I loved it. As he did in Brideshead Revisited, Waugh peoples his story with unforgettably unique characters, like the gold-digging Katchen, the stuffy, self-important Lord Copper, the obnoxious Uncle Theodore, and the passive-aggressive editor Salter. The part where Salter goes to Boot Magna in an attempt to drag the reticent William back to London for his award banquet is about the funniest thing I have read in a long time. The book wraps up with a section dedicated to the future of all of the characters, which was also quite humorous.

After the dark comedy of Jean Brodie and the nonsensical ramblings of the Wake, this book was much appreciated, and much enjoyed.

Grade: A-

May '10's Literary Dirtbag

Since I have no idea if there were actually people in Finnegans Wake (and I was tempted to nominate James Joyce, believe me!!!), this month's Modern Library Literary Dirtbag Award goes to Teddy Lloyd from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Mr Lloyd definitely goes above and beyond all of the the required dirtbag qualities: married with kids, but having an affair with Miss Brodie and then having an affair with one of his teenage students. Plus I didn't like when he told Sandy she was ugly. I bet one of his past mistresses cut off his missing arm. :)