Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reading update

You wouldn't know it from this blog, but I've been reading a ton of books lately. I just haven't found time to write posts for each book. So here's a quick re-cap.

Boomsday, Christopher Buckley - I decided to give his fiction a try after hearing him talk about endorsing Obama. I also really liked the movie "Thank You For Smoking." I tried to find that book at the library, but it was checked out, so I settled for this one. I'm generally not the biggest fan of modern fiction, but I loved this book. The plot was kind of silly, and like Hiaason, whom he quotes, he has too many characters, but the story zipped right along. Best of all, Buckley can write! I usually read books and grimace at errors or awkward sentence structure, but not this time. It was a pleasure to read such good writing.

Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean - I like Orlean's articles in The New Yorker, and I really liked this book, upon which the movie "Adaptation" is based. I was particularly interested in the history of orchid collecting. Victorian orchid hunters wiped out entire species of orchids by collecting every specimen they could find to take back to England with them. I only wish the book had pictures of the orchids Orleans describes.

Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux - This is the third travel book of Theroux's that I've read, and it's the first that has made me want to take a similar trip. The book is an account of Theroux's trip, clockwise, around the coast of England, Wales, Norther Ireland, and Scotland. He walks much of the trip, travelling on paths that connect seaside villages. When there aren't paths, he takes buses or branch-line trains. The trip sounds just lovely, especially in Scotland. My goal is to someday visit England and walk some of the paths.

When You Lunch with the Emperor, Ludwig Bemelmans - Yes, that Ludwig Bemelmans of the Madeline books. It's a somewhat fictitious account of his life, from his childhood in a small German town to his life working at the Hotel Splendide (really the Ritz-Carlton) in New York to his travels, often with his young daughter in tow. The books is one of the most charming I've read in a long time, and Bemelmans' little illustrations only add to the charm.

The Migraine Brain, Carolyn Bernstein, M.D. - My mom sent it to me, and I started reading it with a grain of salt. I was diagnosed with migraines 13 years ago and have done lots of reading and research about triggers and treatments, so I figured there wasn't much more I could learn. But once I got past all the self affirmation-style writing - "Migraines are real!" "Migraines aren't your fault." "You can improve your life." - I did learn a fair amount. I think I took away some tips that will help me - like staying hydrated and getting enough sleep and other food triggers to watch out for. The book also gave me some questions that I can ask my doctor on my next visit. I highly recommend the book for anyone who gets migraines. I'll be sending it along to my sister next.

To Have and to Kill, John Glatt - I'm a sucker for true-life crime stories like those on 20/20 and by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly. I picked this book up when trolling the aisles of the drug store waiting for a prescription for B after one of his neck surgeries. The book is about the murder of William McGuire, whose body was found floating in Chesapeake Bay in three waterlogged suitcases. The writing is terrible, and the storyline is sometimes confusing, but I couldn't put the book down. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I read the thing.

Free-Range Knitter, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee - Mom sent me the book after she had finished it, and it's a charming little thing. Definitely only for knitters.

Wow - seven books. That's more than I thought I had read. Right now I'm reading a book about the first climber to explore the Alps and a book about Marco Polo. Plus there's this week's New Yorker, which looks like one I'll read cover-to-cover.

The Duchess

This is the book that the Keira Knightly movie is based on, and I picked it up expecting it to be a dishy historical novel. Instead, it's a serious biography about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The Duchess, as it turns out, was far more than the tabloid scandal parts of her life - the gambling debts, the affairs, the illegitimate child, the best friend who was also her husband's mistress.

She was the leader of both the fashionable and political world in London for decades. She was involved in politics at a time when women weren't supposed to be involved in such things, and she drew lots of scorn and derision for her campaigning on behalf of candidates for Parliament.

I was surprised by both the book and the woman.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Telegraph Days

I'm not a fan of the Western genre, and the only other Larry McMurtry book I've read is Lonesome Dove, but I couldn't put this book down. It's been in my bookshelf for years, a hand-me-down from my mother, but I'd never gotten the urge to read it. Then late one night last month, while I was up with the baby, I grabbed it, desperate for something to read.

The story is told by a young woman living in the Texas/Arkansas/Oklahoma area of the wild west. She comes into contact with Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, and the Earp brothers, among others during her lifetime.

It's a quick, entertaining read.

Franklin and Lucy

This was the book I wanted to read when I checked FDR and Lucy out of the library, and it's a far better biography. It's exactly the type of biography I prefer to read - one about the people themselves. Countless volumes have been written on FDR's political life and presidency, but those aren't the parts of FDR's life I'm interested in. I'd rather learn about the person, not the politician, and the book definitely delivers.

The book thoroughly explores FDR and his relationships with women, from his mother to his wife Eleanor to his several mistresses. Specifically it looks at his long-term relationship with Lucy Rutherfurd, whom he met when she worked as a social secretary for Eleanor.

When Eleanor discovered evidence of FDR's relationship with Rutherfurd, she offered him a divorce, but Sara Delano, FDR's mother, threatened to cut off her financial support, which was significant, if FDR left his wife. Eleanor made FDR promise to not see or contact Rutherfurd again, but he didn't honor his word. Lucy visited FDR at the White House when Eleanor was away, and she was his frequent guest at Warm Springs. She was even there the day FDR died. Her presence was kept from the press and from Eleanor, but she eventually found out that Lucy and FDR had been seeing each other, often with the help of Anna Roosevelt, FDR and Eleanor's daughter.

The book is a fascinating look at the private side of FDR, one that most people never knew existed.