Monthly Archives: June 2015

Rory Gilmore Update Number Five

Doing the Rory Gilmore reading challenge means reading works that are almost impossible to read, or works that you may not have a great deal to write about. So here I have three short reviews of my experiences with books from the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.

TimeTraveler'sWifeAudrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)
I read this book in high school at a time when every I knew loved it. I remember parts of it, but I don’t remember being in love with it as much as the rest of my peers were. It’s a pretty typical love story and I had thought that the time travel element would be really cool, but I was wrong. The time traveling was pretty depressing and, spoiler alert, the ending is sad. It was written well, and a good story if you’re into that kind of thing, but tragic modern day romances just aren’t really my thing.

Dan Brown – The Da Vinci Code (2003)DaVinciCode
Oh Dan Brown. I don’t even really want to talk about this book anymore I read it so long ago and there was so much hype surrounding it. It really is an interesting premise and a very suspenseful read, but it is also a work of fiction. All these people who got up in arms over the plot and themes of this book really just need to chill. It’s a murder mystery that uses some historical elements (some very well researched and some totally fabricated) to move the plot forward. Add in an Indiana Jones-esq historian and a sexy sidekick looking for vengeance and of course this book is going to end up on the New York Times Best Seller List.

GobletofFireJ.K Rowling – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
Only two Harry Potter Books appear on the Rory Gilmore reading challenge, the first one and this one. Like everyone else in the world I love the Harry Potter series, but this book was not my favourite. It is however, the pivotal book in the series. It is in this book that the story gains an edge and loses some of that whimsical-fantastical-ness and really becomes about the fight between good and evil. While it starts out innocently enough, school is basically cancelled due to a inter-school tournament, at the end Cedric, an innocent bystander dies, and we’re all brought back to Harry’s reality. Life is not all about Quidditch and Butterbeer, Voldemort is now a real threat, not just a part of a ghost story. While books One, Two and Three, are almost standalone books, The Goblet of Fire does not have a neatly packaged conclusion. It is the beginning of the end which will be drawn out over the next three books (and four movies).

Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell – Empty Mansions (2013)

EmptyMansionsHugette Clark is a name that I have come across a handful of times; a name used when talking about wealthy eccentric reclusive women. When I saw that this book was about the Gilded Age as well as the Clark family I was intrigued and excited to read it. Unfortunately I had much higher hopes that Dedman and Newell were unable to deliver on.

First off Paul Clark Newell is a distant relation of Hugette Clark, and so in this book she is portrayed in a very flattering light. I’m not saying that I think she’s a terrible person. There is no evidence to that, nor is there actually much about her out there. But I do think that the writers of this book are way more than willing to view Hugette as a victim, who has been taken advantage of by the people around her, most notably the hospitals in which she lived out the end of her days.

I was really hoping that the book would provide a bit more information about the Gilded Age, the great families living on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and the total displays of wealth that accompanied their lifestyles. There is a bit of this at the beginning of the book. In fact a menu from one of Hugette’s father’s dinner parties is included which I obviously found fascinating (I will be attempting to make something off of this menu in the coming weeks). Still, the last two thirds of the book were all about family history and trying to discern the kind of person Hugette was.

In short the book was mediocre for me. Nothing really stood out. I was expecting a grand narrative of New York in the Gilded Age and instead got a pieced together family history. Some of the anecdotes were amusing and there were some interesting facts strewn about, but overall the book just fell flat for me.

Pattie Boyd – Wonderful Tonight (2007)

WonderfulTonightFor those unfamiliar with Pattie Boyd, she is most famous for being both the wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, inspiring a slew of famous songs in her wake (Something, Layla, Wonderful Tonight). In her memoirs she tells of her experiences with both men in her own words.

Obviously there are always different sides to different stories regarding what actually transpired. Pattie Boyd was probably slammed in the media for leaving George Harrison for Eric Clapton, and here in her own writing, Boyd has the chance to justify her actions, not that they need justification to begin with.

While Boyd is writing in a way that puts her in a slightly better light, I think that everyone has to acknowledge that being in a relationship with such creative people would not be an easy task. She details how difficult life was married to George, a member of the most influential rock band, and then with Eric Clapton. While sometimes the book can be a little too “woe is me,” I don’t think that Boyd is overstating the challenges she faced in her relationship with both these men.

What I liked the most about this book was the fact that even though Pattie Boyd was the inspiration behind so many famous songs, she does not take the credit for them and states quite openly that the songs were only written due to the immense talent that both these men possessed.

Overall I liked her writing and it provides a good insight into the world of the 1960s-1970s British rock scene.

Rebecca Solnit – Men Explain Things to Me (2014)

MenExplainThingsToMeRebecca Solnit’s book, published in 2014 has been has been lauded as having “become a touchstone of the feminist movement.” As I find with many collections of essays, some are a hit, while others miss the mark. Most however are strong, well thought out and provoke heated debates.

Her first essay, the titular “Men Explain Things to Me,” is so on point it’s hard to believe that no one had really vocalized this before. Basically Solnit details her experiences with various men who patronize women and “Mansplain” things. In fact this piece is credited with launching the term “mansplaining,” which has found its way into popular vernacular.

Her essays dealing with rape culture and sexual violence as well as the notions of gender equality are no less important, and she carefully balances thought provoking arguments with hard facts in an emotional plea for justice. She reiterates a widely held perception; that we live in a world that teaches don’t get raped instead of don’t rape, something that needs to change. In one of her more nuanced pieces, Solnit challenges opponents to gay marriage stating that such opponents do not want to preserve traditional marriage, but rather traditional gender roles. A same-sex marriage is a union between equals, and that is more threatening to right wing conservatives than simply the idea of “gay” marriage.

Solnit however is hopeful. She writes about the ways in which rape culture is being dismantled on college campuses and does acknowledges that she knows many kind, gentle, and decent men. Still her essays are important for showing us not only how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.

Ken Follett – Edge of Eternity (2014)

EdgeOfEternitySo mixed regarding how I feel about this book. I liked it, but I liked it because I like the history behind it, not because I think Ken Follett is a good writer.

This is the third book in Follett’s trilogy and for me, after the first one, they kind of went downhill. The first book was great, the characters were somewhat original and the idea of tracing five different families through the First World War was compelling and done well. The second book was OK, but I think its harder to write about the Second World War without falling into the same tired clichés and character types.

I heard a rumour that Follett didn’t even want to write this book, and it really showed. He started off strong telling the story of a young Black lawyer on a Freedom Ride through the Southern United States, and his chapter detailing the events of JFK’s assassination was done really well, as you see how every character stationed in different areas around the world reacts to the news. He should have just ended there, but obviously couldn’t, needing to tie up everyone’s stories with the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991.

Following the JFK assassination the book becomes almost unbearable, the dialogue is so banal and so many of the events are just unbelievable. It makes me wonder if Follett himself has ever actually experienced anything! I’ve written before about how I don’t like his female characters as they all come off as very one-dimensional, and this book was no different. The female characters all serve the goals of the men, and none of them have their own interesting storylines.

Despite the fact that I did not love this book, for some reason I still cried during the epilogue when Follett describes the African American family, the family of the Freedom Rider protagonist, sitting around a TV watching was Barak Obama is sworn into office. That’s more about me being a suck though, than Follett’s writing, as overall, the book was not memorable.

Hillary Clinton – Hard Choices (2014)

hard-choicesI finished reading this just as Hillary Clinton announced her bid for the 2016 Presidential election. While I am thrilled with Hillary’s announcement and wish her all the best, her book, published last year, was clearly meant as a means to this end.

I hate political memoirs, I just find that there is something so disingenuous about them. They lack the passion that I hope to find in my reading and I normally avoid them at all costs. I made the exception here because A) I do admire Hillary Clinton a great deal, and B) She was doing a book signing at the Indigo around the corner so I had to buy the book.

Essentially the book serves as a way for Hillary to talk about, and justify, all the Hard Choices she had to make while Secretary of State. There were parts where her humour and passion come out, such as when talking about her friendships with various European leaders, (she talks about Nikolai Sarkozy as though he is her gay best friend), and the close bond she established with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician and human rights activist.

In addition the chapters spent talking about human rights, specifically for women and girls around the world were the most enjoyable as these are clearly causes that Clinton cares about. While the book had its shining moments, overall it was quite boring; just another political memoir to add in a candidate’s bid for Presidency.

Psyche Williams-Forson – Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs (2006)

BuildingHousesOutofChickenLegsWhile I was expecting this book to be more in line with the “food writing” that I like reading, it contained much more cultural/race/gender theory than I was expecting, and quite frankly, could handle.

Williams-Forson starts off very strong, asking the important questions of why it is often assumed that African Americans love fried chicken and the damage that this stereotype does to African Americans, particularly women. She outlines the history of African American’s perceived attachment to chicken and traces this view from the height of slavery, when it was assumed that all slaves were chicken thieves, up to Chris Rock’s stand-up routines.

The stereotype is damaging to African Americans, especially women, who are often seen as the producers of fried chicken, but Williams-Forson does mention cases where African American women use fried chicken to empower themselves. She moves past the image of the “Mammy” that many are familiar with and instead explores how women, especially while preparing food for Church gatherings, reclaimed their role as the providers of food.

The first chapters, the ones outlining the history of African American’s perceived ties to fried chicken appealed to me the most. They were the most straightforward, and, for me as someone who studies history, easy to follow. Williams-Forson then wades through some difficult concepts and does her best to show the reader how damanging sterotypes can be, and how African American’s, especially women, attempt to move past them. Unfortunatley a lot of her main points were lost on me, especially when she began to talk about the work of Kara Walker. Still I believe that this is an important book, not necessarily for scholars of food history, but for anyone studying African American history, or histories of race and gender.