Monday, September 27, 2010

Week 38: I Am What I Am - John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman (256 pages)

Another memoir?? Yep - I am sure it will be the final one for me in this project. This is another book given to me by my pal Lara . She asked if it would be a book that I would be interested in checking out because she knew that I am a sci-fi fan overall and a Torchwood fan specifically. See, for the uninitiated, John Barrowman plays Captain Jack Harkness on the Doctor Who and Torchwood franchises. He is a Scottish-born actor who grew up in the US. He is flamboyant and funny and brilliant at his craft. He is also a little bit crazy - as evidenced in the opening of his book. He invites us, the reader, into his home. Pointing out what we see on the walls and in the foyer, introducing us to his dogs and using at least two footnotes on page one. He is a lover of a footnote - I am not...but I soldiered on.

One of the many things I dislike about the memoir format is at equal turns, it seems both self-indulgent and self-effacing. I got plenty of both from this book, but I also found out some great insight about this man. He spends a lot of time talking about Torchwood and the way the show ended. He talks about his 15-year relationship with his partner Scott Gill. He talks about his childhood and his unending love of his Mum and Dad. There were good stories and bad ones. Some went on for too long, some I wish hadn't ended.

For folks not familiar with Barrowman, I am not sure how enjoyable this book would be. I am a pretty big fan and even I was frustrated from time to time. It is very well-written with great humor and honesty - he really holds nothing back. There were definitely parts that made me laugh out loud and there were also some pretty moving stories. But - it is not a linear tale and he jumps from story to story and that sapped some of my enjoyment. Overall Barrowman is a fun guy, and I will watch him in anything, but I'm not sure I need to read anything more about him. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 37: Sammy's Hill - Kristin Gore (400 pages)

I love to fly. I love to go to new and old places, I love hotels and I love trying foods from different parts of the country. But the main reason I love to fly is because I can get 3-5 hours of uninterrupted reading time. In that time I can complete an entire book! My project partner Lara, larasreadingroom.blogspot.comlent this book to me and when I saw it, I immediately felt like it would be a good book for the airplane and I was not disappointed. 

This book is written by the daughter of former Vice President, Al Gore. Kristin pens a fun debut novel that follows the life of a congressional staffer Sammy. Sammy is an idealistic young woman that works on Capitol Hill for the junior senator from Ohio. Though I call the book fun, there were times that it was difficult to get through. Sammy is an obsessive worrier who often plans how to survive alligator attacks, loss of limbs, and various other healthcare issues for fun. Though sometimes cute - there are so many instances of these quirks throughout the book that they grew wearisome. 

Working as a domestic policy advisor for a U.S. Senator is by no means easy, but Sammy adores her boss and works her butt off to make sure that he has the best information possible to make decisions about health care policy. Sammy is on a quest to make health care affordable for all Americans, and she will do whatever it takes to pass the necessary legislation. Pulling all-nighters fueled only by coffee and calling in weed-addled senior citizens to give testimony at Senate committee hearings are par for the course. 

When she starts dating a staff member of a rival Senator, Sammy's professional and personal lives intertwine, with occasionally disastrous consequences. With her quirky and klutzy character, Sammy is at times adorable and irritating. Who hasn't been conned into buying far-too-expensive Japanese fighting fish from a secret agent of the North Korean regime? 

The book has many chick-lit qualities, but the storyline is often too complex to fall directly into chick-lit territory. This is a solid debut effort. I understand that there is a follow up book called Sammy's House. When I am heading on my next trip, maybe I'll pick up Sammy's House to see what is happening in Sammy's world. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week 36: It's A Bird - Steven A. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen (Illustrator) (pages 138)

This week's book presented an interesting challenge for me. At first blush, it is a graphic novel tackling the Superman story - very appealing even though I am not a Superman fan. After getting into the story a bit, I find that it is a memoir...UGH! Memoirs are tough for me. I have friends that say I am just too self-centered to care and others that say I am not the least bit empathetic, making it difficult to relate. Whatever the case - reading a memoir is a less than ideal way for me me to spend my reading time. IT'S A BIRD had a lot of work to do in order to keep me engaged.

Generally I do some pretty good vetting of the books that I read for this project so that I don't run into this problem, but this book was given to me by a friend that knew that I enjoyed graphic novels, but had no knowledge of my dislike of memoirs. So, I cautiously tucked into the book and by the time I reached page four of the gorgeously illustrated (TEDDY KRISTIANSEN) novel I was sucked in and the realization that it was a memoir loomed only slightly in my peripheral vision.

IT'S A BIRD is Steve's story. Told in a mixture of flashbacks and present day, Steve is conflicted about being offered the Superman story. He has never liked the Superman story and feels as if he cannot bring anything to the story. He tries to process all of the things that Superman is supposed to represent - but all he gets is an oppressive super hero that is hiding in plain sight. Not a man to be put up on a pedestal.

Steve is also going through some very personal issues while trying to make this decision. He has a family history of Huntington's Disease and the family does not speak about it. He is obsessed with the thought that he may have the disease, but he keeps it from his friends and his live-in girlfriend. He lives in his head, creating silly scenarios and running away from his issues.

This book has many layers and there is an actual Superman story in here as well. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and I would highly recommend it to anyone that loves either memoirs or graphic novels.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Week 35: Ms. Hempel Chronicles - Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (208 pages)

This was a week where I had no idea what I was going to read. Then I happened upon this article where author Jonathan Franzen (THE CORRECTIONS) recommended four ovelooked books. I love when instances like this occur, since I was truly drawing a blank as to which book would be the winner this week.

What this "novel" winds up being is a series of short stories featuring Ms. Hempel. She is a 7th grade teacher that tries to impress on her students that the words that they use to define one another and themselves can stick. She also delves into stories of her past that have shaped her into the person and teacher that she is today. The book is at times cohesive and scattered...I find it interesting that we don't find out that the main character is Chinese until almost halfway in. It does nothing to propel or change the story, but it is interesting how we picture a character if we are given no descriptions from the author.

I believe that teachers (middle school in particular) would truly appreciate this book and those of us not in the profession can find some value in it as well. This is a well-written book that is a quick and interesting read.