Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wednesday Word: Nonplus

adjective: nonplussed; adjective: non-plussed; adjective: nonplused
(of a person) surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.
"he would be completely nonplussed and embarrassed at the idea"

North American informal
(of a person) not disconcerted; unperturbed.

past tense: nonplussed; past participle: nonplussed
  1. surprise and confuse (someone) so much that they are unsure how to react.
    "Diane was nonplussed by such an odd question"
late 16th century: from Latin non plus ‘not more.’ The noun originally meant ‘a state in which no more can be said or done.’
EGAD, readers! Help me, here! Do you SEE the difference in definitions 1 and 2, above? Do you note that they are exact opposites?
Here is what is happening in NORTH AMERICA: So many people are using this word incorrectly that the incorrect meaning is becoming the accepted usage!
May it never be!!
Please, for the love of linguistics! Use this word correctly and fight the tyranny of ignorance!!
This turn of events leaves me completely NONPLUSSED!!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

I was listening to a Guardian Books podcast in which Kazuo Ishiguro was interviewed. I just received a signed copy of his latest book, The Buried Giant, and I was curious to get to "know" him better.

He was asked repeatedly about the dragon in the story. So often, in fact, that he asked the moderator, Claire Armitstead, why she was so interested in the dragon. She then proceeded to talk about its allegorical nature, and what it could tell us about ourselves.

That is when Ishiguro said something very interesting.

"I want people to just read this story for what it is. I don't want people to spend their time getting distracted by saying, oh, does this stand for Bosnia or is this Milosevic? Is this General de Gaulle? You can do that if you want, but I'm not nearly that clever. The story is there. I'm offering it for what it is. It should be fairly obvious how it applies to contemporary situations."

I am guilty of the same thing Armitstead did. I read with the understanding that the author has the entire world at his fingertips. If he chooses one thing over another, that is integral to the story, I tend to think there is a reason for it.

Take, for example, the coral paperweight in Orwell's 1984. It can mean a variety of things: it is a thing of beauty and frivolity in a society where such things are illegal. It can symbolize the main character, Winston, in that he is a fragile being surrounding by a harsh and firmly-shaped society. It may characterize Winston's hopes and dreams, which are destroyed along with the paperweight.

And I think that we, as readers, are conditioned to do this. From high school English classes where teachers encourage us to find the meaning behind poetry, or discuss the allusions in a Dickens novel, we are pushed in this direction.

I don't think it's a bad thing to try to figure out the deeper meaning of the use of music in Ann Patchett's Bel Canto; however, here it would appear that the dragon is just that: a dragon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday Word: Rapscallion

noun: rapscallion; plural noun: rapscallions
  1. a mischievous person.
late 17th century: alteration of earlier rascallion, perhaps from rascal.
I actually use this word quite a bit when referring to my three boys, my cat, or the squirrels who always best me when getting to the bird feeder. It has an old-world vibe to it, like you are telling your second to hold your cloak whilst you defend life and honor against someone who has sullied your good name.
It is a playful term, and I think it would be very easy to introduce it into your normal conversation. Give it a whirl!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Severance by Robert Olen Butler

The human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and one-half minutes after decapitation. In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. Inspired by the intersection of these two seemingly unrelated concepts, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler wrote sixty-two stories, each exactly 240 words in length, capturing the flow of thoughts and feelings that go through a person's mind after their head has been severed. The characters are both real and imagined—Medusa (beheaded by Perseus, 2000 BC), Anne Boleyn (beheaded at the behest of Henry VIII, 1536), a chicken (beheaded for Sunday dinner, Alabama, 1958), and the author (decapitated, on the job, 2008). Told with the intensity of a poet and the wit of a great storyteller, these final thoughts illuminate and crystallize more about the characters' own lives and the worlds they inhabit than many writers manage to convey in full-length biographies or novels. The stories, which have appeared in literary magazines across the country, are a delightful and intriguing creative feat from one of today's most inventive writers.

My take: 5 stars

I saw this book on a cart outside Books-a-Million years and years ago. I looked through it, thought it was intriguing, and put it back. I have thought of it at various times over the years, and wished I had purchased it. Not only could I not remember the author's name, I also could not remember the title. The only thing I remembered was that each page was 240 words in length and there was no punctuation.

Fast forward to last week, when I just happened upon it online. Kismet!! It was at Half Price Books, and I ordered it immediately. Imagine my delight when it arrived signed by the author!! Of course, it is signed "To Lauren", but that matters not to me.

On with the review. First of all, the premise of this one is magnificent! The last thoughts of a freshly decapitated person (well ... almost all are people). I would have found it interesting to know what the person was thinking about their current situation, but I'll bet it would have all been the same. Kind of a "Well, crap!" trail of thought. Instead, Olen Butler writes their last thoughts as the thing they loved most in life. It may be memories of a father, a lover, or a Messiah. What they would more than likely miss most.

Taking this vantage point not only varies the stories a great deal, it also gives insight into the lives of these people. As much as 240 words can.

I also love the fact that there is no punctuation. I can imagine the rambling thoughts of a dying person being just like this, and stopping in mid-thought, as all of these do.

All-in-all, this is a brilliant little book, and highly recommended.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Look at this haul!!

I love Book Mail!! I have been on an ordering spree lately (in honor of National Library Week, of course), and it is finally starting to arrive. Allow me to summarize!

First, I have been listening to the podcast Books On The Nightstand with Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman. In podcast BOTNS #326: April Showers Bring More Questions, Michael answers a question on Batman graphic novels. Realizing that I own NO graphic novels, and listening to his answer with interest, I decided to buy the four that he summarized. Please listen to this podcast to hear, and get ready to make your own purchase!

Next, we have two books by a favorite author, Ann Patchett: Bel Canto and Patron Saint of Liars. Patron Saint was my first Patchett book, and the one that caused me to fall in love with her writing. Bel Canto is a favorite of all time of mine, and I order copies often so I can give them away to friends who not yet discovered this masterpiece. A bonus: if you buy from Parnassus Books in Nashville, which is co-owned by Ann, ALL of her books are signed!!

The last book in today's haul is a quirky book called Severance by Robert Glen Butler. I saw this book years ago on a cart at Books-a-Million, and didn't buy it. I have wanted it ever since, and when I saw it available from Half Price Books online, I jumped at it. Read the summary of this one on the Shelfari site here.

Lastly, I ordered a Mad Hatter V-neck t-shirt. A reader can never have too many bookish clothes!!

Gotta run and get reading!!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Bjorn is a compulsive, meticulous bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works--a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his co-workers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn's bizarre behavior eventually leads his co-workers to try and have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room. Debut author Jonas Karlsson doesn't leave a word out of place in this brilliant, bizarre, delightful take on how far we will go--in a world ruled by conformity--to live an individual and examined life.

My take: 3 looks
A fun little novella by a famous Swedish actor, the reviews on this one are rave. While I don't think it will change my life like it did some other readers, I did enjoy it.

Bjorn is an utterly unreliable narrator, seeing himself as far superior to his coworkers, and even his boss. He is so low in the organization that he is given tasks like making lists of phone numbers, and ensuring the printers are full of paper. However, he sees all of this as a bit of a ruse by his coworkers to surreptitiously undermine him, because of course, they are threatened by his knowledge and work ethic.

One day, Bjorn discovers a hidden room between the toilets and the lift. Inside the room, he feels relaxed, secure, efficient. He is able to look in the mirror and see himself as more handsome than he remembered, with a suit that looks fantastic on him, and his hair is perfect. In short, this room is the nirvana of Bjorn's psyche.

Once the coworkers start asking him why he is standing in a daze at the wall, he realizes that not everyone can see the room, and the story takes on a new dimension.


Listen to the NRP review of "The Room" at this link.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

 Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. She’s just turned forty—forty?! Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest ( how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

My take: 5 looks
The more I read by Liane Moriarty, the more I want to read by her. Her story construction is right up my alley, and I am always taken aback by the twists and turns that her books hold. It is edge-of-you-seat reading. And when there is a murder to be solved, this is the best formula!

The three lead women in this story are at varying states of the spectrum: Madeline is an open book, speaking her mind, not pretending to like those she doesn't, and quick with her emotions. Celeste is a beautiful woman who seams to have it all, but harbors secrets that no one knows ... or do they? Finally, Jane is all about secrets. We don't know why she has settled in this community, and there seems to be more to her than meets the eye, with the promise of a juicy story.

On the outside of the circle are fun characters which serve to round out the tale. Bonnie is an earth-mother who seems a little too good to be true; Renata is the one you love to hate; and Harper is a born sycophant.

But even the men play a part here. Ed, Nathan, and Perry all have stories of their own and play a nice counter to their strong women and strong-willed children.

In Big Little Lies, you take quite a rollercoaster ride through the pitfalls of being a competitive parent of a child in K-6. Written with wit, each chapter ends with various asides of various characters as a murder investigation takes it course. It is one of my faves of the year!

Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Do you READ or are you A READER?

What's the difference, you ask?

Years ago, my former boss mentioned a book that he was reading. "Oh!" I said. "Are you a reader?"

"Yes, I am. But I read only nonfiction."

"Then you read, but you are not a reader," was my reply. With that, I turned on my heel and didn't really discuss reading with him again. I will admit, I was a little ticked at his condescending tone that I would choose to read what he probably considered "fodder".

A reader reads it all.

A reader reads magazines, newspapers, comic books, graphic novels, fiction, nonfiction, religious texts, and anything else made of groupings of letters to form words, which form sentences, which form magic carpets to take you where ever you want to go.

You see, they all have merit.

Banned Book Week 2014 celebrated graphic novels. They put the spotlight on this much-maligned media, showcasing its worth. Simply put, a graphic novel is a long comic book. Per the website (sponsored by Drexel University), "Despite the name, not all comics are funny. Many comics and graphic novels emphasize drama, adventure, character development, striking visuals, politics, or romance over laugh-out-loud comedy."

I listen to National Public Radio quite often, and have for years. I will never forget a Wine-Talk segment in which the host, a Master Sommelier, was asked what makes a good wine. His answer was simple, and simply correct: "A good wine is one which you enjoy drinking."

That sums up reading to me. It doesn't have to be high brow, critically acclaimed, prize-winning, or otherwise in the spotlight. If you like it, it's a good book for you. Don't let anyone look down their nose at your reading choices. Instead, open their eyes to their own book discriminations.

Be a reader!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday Word: Shenanigans

  • secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering.:
    "widespread financial shenanigans had ruined the fortunes of many"
  • silly or high-spirited behavior; mischief.
LOVE this word! As you can see, it can have a very serious definition, as in behavior with definite negative consequences. OR, and of course, I prefer the second definition, it can have a playful, fun vibe of silliness.
So, today, engage in some shenanigans ... The second type, please!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Well, that was just plain rude

So, I follow this v-blog of a man who loves movies and books. I first became aware of him through his heartfelt review of "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara. I subscribe to his YouTube channel, and even though I don't watch his movie reviews, I am always interested in his book reviews.

Recently, he did a book review of Forrest Gump by Winston Groom, and hated it. He started by saying that the books from which movies are made are almost always better. However, in this case, the movie is better than the book by Groom.

I noticed that all of the comments that followed his v-blog were pandering "OMG - really?" comments, and not very thoughtful at all. So, I left this one:

Interesting perspective, and I certainly get that you are in love with the movie. However, don't you wonder why Groom portrayed his protagonist the way he did? Do you hate the book simply because it's not like the movie? For example, Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is really not much like the movie, but should be seen as two complete entities because of that. Do you think that this may be the case here? Hate the book because it's not well-written, not balanced, not complete ... but don't hate it because it doesn't meet expectations you have which were set by the cinema.

I thought it was well-said, and would incite some additional discussion on why he thinks the movie is better, and what he thinks about his view of specific shortcomings of the book.


Instead, this is what I got:

Commenter: WOW
V-Blog guy: Yes, really haha

Was I really that far off base? Are his subscribers really so shallow that they don't want to discuss these things? Am I too smart for my own good (okay, scratch that one).

Where did I go wrong here?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of  King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven  tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My take: 5 looks
Loved the story-telling in this one! I am no fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopia stories, but the way St. John Mandel writes is wonderful. The storytelling here is a breathtaking cacophony of sounds, merging together to make a beautiful musical piece. The imagining of the story was vast, and complete, and I welcomed each milestone achieved in the plot.

While on the surface, this is a story about survival, there is also a strong element of before-and-after. A sense that all we have is so incredibly fragile and temporal; that our loves and desires are grossly misplaced and pedestrian. Also moving around in this story is the notion that we all touch one another in very real and substantive ways, whether we are thousands of miles apart, or hundreds of years. Everything we decide, do, say, or discard has an impact on others that we will never know. And finally, the book begins with a death, but it soon becomes clear that, even in death, we will always live on.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

My take: 5 looks
I was, to put it frankly, devastated when this book was over. I truly loved Ove and Parvaneh, and wanted to get more acquainted with Jimmy, Adrian, and Mirsad.

Told in real-time, as well as flashbacks, the characters grew, morphed, and finally solidified to perfection as rough edges became soft, and misconceptions were repaired, and a true feeling of community emerged. Ove is a character probably found in everyone's life, whether it be a family member or a friend, this is a real man. Likewise, the no-nonsense pregnant woman who knocks Ove out of his comfort-zone-induced-stupor is likable, and I found myself moving from seeing her as a bit annoying to pulling for her every step of the way.

The periphery characters round out the story nicely, and weave a tapestry of tolerance, acceptance, community, and support. This was a feel-good book at its best, and I hope to read many more by this author.

Highly recommended