The Rosie Project (CBR6 #25)

The problem with reading books quickly is that I am often left with little to say when review time comes around, because I haven’t spent days or in the cases of some books – weeks, thinking about my feelings and reactions to the work. Instead, I’m going to make arguments against the detractions I’ve read about The Rosie Project which will hopefully help illuminate for you why it is a four star book for me.

As this book is pretty well reviewed  If you’re not familiar with the basic plot, here’s the two sentence summary: Thirty-nine year old Australian geneticist Don Tillman, and likely someone who would’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s if he was coming of age now, decides to attack the problem of finding a life partner in the same manner he would attack solving a science problem. Until a completely incompatible but irresistible woman enters his life with a problem.

It doesn’t necessarily sound like it should be the kind of book to pull you in for marathon reading sessions, but it absolutely is, and that all lines up with wanting to spend time with the protagonist. I’m on the record as saying that not all well written characters are also good protagonists, but in this case I found Don Tillman to be both a well written and good protagonist. I was interested in seeing the world through Don’s eyes, learning about how he coped with the world around him, and hearing him explain his motivations for deviating from his normal schedule, which was at the very core of how he coped with the world around him.

And Rosie ain’t half bad herself.

Some of the detractions I’ve seen in other reviews of this book (not here at CBR HQ) is that the book was written “quickly” and that Mr. Simsion chose to make it a comedy. First, the “quickly” problem: in his acknowledgements Mr. Simsion refers to having written what became The Rosie Project fairly quickly, but notes that it was still 6-7 years from beginning to publication. This is not actually quick. And the basic idea coming together quickly versus the work it takes to get the idea into both a workable novel and in the case of The Rosie Project a screenplay are highly different things. The second issue people have mentioned is wishing that Mr. Simsion chose to make this novel a comedy, and horror of all horrors, something that might be considered a romantic comedy. How dare he! How dare he choose to write something that is genuine and heartfelt and a statement and also funny! We should hang him from the rafters for that!

But to be perfectly serious for just a second this was, to me, a stroke of absolute genius. In the character of Don Tillman we have someone who knows that the way he processes the world around him is different and this difference often causes those around him, the normal folk, to find humor in his actions. So, as the coping mechanism of a highly intelligent person Don latches onto this and in his teens decides to act the clown, to choose the action most likely to cause a laugh, so that the laughter he is causing is his choice. By having the protagonist make this choice, and still be humorous to the reader outside of this coping mechanism ,Mr. Simsion has crafted a piece of work that is both accessible to the reader and makes a statement about what we ask others to do by assuming that we’re the norm. Mr. Simsion didn’t have to write a “serious” book to make this serious point.

All that said to say – read this book. It’s a lovely, funny, thoughtful look at what love is and what love does from an angle you may not have previously looked at it from

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

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I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From (CBR6 #24)

I actually began writing this review before I had finished the book. I have been having a WEEK, one where the photo of Louis C.K. giving himself the finger in the mirror about sums it up, and when I got the email from the library that I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From was waiting for me to come pick it up from the waitlist I rushed over to take it home for some reading therapy. I put down the book I was currently reading, ignored the one I was planning to read instead as a quick read, and dove right in.

This was a decision that I completely and totally believe was correct in every way. I finished two thirds of the book in that first sitting, and bounded through the last third quickly thereafter. I didn’t know much about Judy Greer personally when I picked up the book. I knew where I had first seen her (The David Schwimmer/Jason Lee comedy Kissing a Fool) and where else I had seen/heard her along the way that would likely qualify as the “where I know her from” (The Wedding Planner, 27 Dresses, Mad Love, Archer, The Descendants) but I knew practically nothing about Judy as a person. By dividing her book up into three sections Ms. Greer introduces us to who she is, what her career is like, and what it means to be a working actress and have a personal life that attempts to look like everyone else’s normal life.

And, she’s funny to boot. This certainly doesn’t hurt when you’re reading for pleasure. And that is exactly what this book is, a pleasure read. Is it going to change your life or make you a better human? Probably not. Is it going to give you new insight into the life of a working actor? Maybe. Is it going to offer up fun quirks of a life that’s not yours? Yep. I think my favorite tidbit is that Judy Greer is best friends with Sean Gunn who played Kirk on Gilmore Girls. My pet peeves for this book? Greer’s consistent references to IMDb (I love the website, but she refers to it no less than 5 times in a book that barely registers over 250 pages) and her misspelling of Jason Lee’s name (seriously editors? It’s not Leigh, its LEE a fact easily checked on the aforementioned IMDb). That aside, I couldn’t recommend this book enough for a quick, happy pleasure read this summer.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

 

Why We Suck (CBR6 #23)

This is likely going to be a very short review, because I just don’t have much to say about the book. I knew about half way through reading The Night Circus that it was going to be a tough book for anything to live up to, so I decided that my next selection needed to be something very different. For that goal, Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Lazy, and Stupid accomplishes being on the other end of the spectrum from Erin Morgenstern’s work.

I like Denis Leary’s comedy. I’ve seen his specials and loved them and I’ve always laughed uproariously when he is a guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. So, this is a humor that I get and which has been proven to work for me.  I did occasionally find myself laughing out loud at the book, but it was inconsistent, and rare.

I’m not sure if I would’ve done better listening to an audio version of this, or perhaps just reading it closer to its actual publication (it was published in 2008, a fact I didn’t realize until I was well in to the first chapter of the book). For whatever reason, the grand majority of the humor fell flat. In the case of many of the chapters it was a slog, not an enjoyment.

Now, there were things that were funny. Particularly the chapter about Oprah, and how Denis fell in love with her and her show while trying to research how there wasn’t room in Oprah’s media empire for men to love Oprah. Priceless. Also, anytime he quoted his mother.  But, there were also many, many things which just didn’t land. Or worse, were offensive. (there was backlash against the portion of the book in which he discusses the rise in Autism diagnosis, and his opinion, that it is over diagnosed to children with parents looking for an ‘excuse’ for their underperforming children. I skipped this section completely when I came across it, and was unaware of its existence before reading).

So, what’s my overall feeling? Skip it. Go back and re-watch one of his specials or television performances. All this book did for me is remind me that I never did get around to watching Rescue Me and should probably add it to the list of shows to catch up on.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Night Circus (CBR6 #22)

Thank goodness for the Cannonball Book Exchange! I received this wondrous book from the lovely Allibaba77 who not only sent me books, but chocolate as well.

This book has been on my radar for years. I added it to my To-Read list way back in the spring of 2012. I kept looking for it at my library, but the wait list was simply insane. At my library if there is a wait list you can be assured the book is worth your time, and my oh my, is this book worth your time. It is simply a stunning work. Layers of time, narrative, perspectives, magic, love… It’s all here.

The basic plot is rather unassuming, given what the reader will uncover as they go. There are two magicians who have been competing with each other for longer than either care to remember. They do not compete head to head; instead they train young magicians to compete against each other. The young magicians are bound to the competition, and unbeknownst to them, only one can survive. The Night Circus chronicles the competition between Celia and Marco as they create an ever more elaborate and intricate circus, Le Cirque des Rêves.

The finest, most lovely part of this novel is the characters. They are simply a fascinating lot to spend time with and the structure of the book, moving between groups of characters all while building a world where magic is both possible and historic. And the magic is handled so deftly that as a reader I was swept up in it, I was told enough that it all felt plausible, but not so much as to limit my own imagination. This novel is also littered with some of the most sumptuous but simultaneously accessible language I have read in some time.  This book is simply stunning.

And with all that said, what really won me over and kept me up at night reading, was the layering of the story. In much of the beginning third of the book the action takes place in linear fashion, bringing the reader through the early training of Celia and Marco and the eventual creation of Le Cirque des Rêves. After these basic plot points are established, Ms. Morgenstern begins to play with both the timeline, moving fluidly from 1902 to 1896 and everywhere in between, and layers in additional characters that initially seem destined to remain on the periphery, become integral to the story of Celia and Marco’s competition, but also their love. But even in the early stages of the book there are interspersed descriptions of the various attributes of the circus itself – its color scheme, its acts – and the observations of one of my favorite characters, Herr Thiessen. By providing access points to the overall narrative from so many different vantage points Ms. Morgenstern created a novel that almost anyone can fall in love with it. Which seems to have worked well as it is a New York Times Bestseller.

If you have not read this book yet I say run to your nearest book peddler and read, read, read!

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Between Two Homelands: Letters Across the Borders of Nazi Germany (CBR6 #21)

I was granted an ARC of this book via NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review. This book’s expected publication date is June 29, 2014.

There are lots of books out there about Nazi Germany and World War II. Literally thousands and thousands. But there are few that bring the realities of day to day life which Germans were experiencing to light for the modern reader. By choosing to share the cache of letters she found in her family home, Hedda Kalshoven brings one such slice of life to us. And we are the better for it.

The correspondence discovered by Hedda focuses around her mother Irmgard Brester, nee Gebensleben, who was born in Germany in 1907. Immo, as she was known to family and friends, took part in the War Children Transport which took children from war-torn Germany to the Netherlands in 1920 following the Great War. Immo would stay in touch with her foster family and write and visit them often in the following years, eventually falling in love and marrying the youngest son of her Dutch foster family. She and August Brester returned to the Netherlands to live. Immo was therefore separated from her birth family in Germany by 400 km, and eventually the Nazi border. Immo’s letters during the Second World War provide for the reader the experience of the occupied.

Through the letters to and from Immo and four generation of her extended family over nearly thirty years, the rise and eventual fall of Hitler are chronicled as is the daily life of both civilians and service persons.  Originally published over a decade ago, the discovery of Hedda’s uncle Eberhard’s diary chronicling his time as a soldier in the Wehrmacht has provided an additional dimension to one family’s tale, highlighting what one soldier experienced on various fronts of the war, and what he was willing to share with his family.

Edited by Hedda, it is her annotations which  places the accounts you are reading into the overall chronology of events of the conflict. This worked to a great degree with the Preface written by Peter Fritzsche which introduces the work to us, the American readers of this work now available to us.  The extended Gebensleben/van Alten/Brester clan are well spoken, cultured, educated, and on all sides and extremes of the incoming Nazi regime and eventual war. While I found the editing job well done, highlighting different family members over different periods, it did still drag a little in the middle of the book when we are reading almost exclusively from Immo’s mother Elisabeth. But that may be because to the eyes of this reader she was a true believer in the National Socialist movement. It’s easy to understand the reasoning she held; the fear of the incoming Bolshevism from Russia, knowing what we know it is often difficult to accept her positions.

An interesting and insightful read. If you are interested in this time period and are looking for a wealth of primary source material highlighting the average citizen both within the Nazi borders and the occupied Netherlands I recommend it.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.