Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

A chronically bored boy goes on a fantastical adventure in a land of words and numbers.

This 1961 children's novel makes a lot of "best of" lists of children's literature, so I decided to see what I'd been missing. It's a little odd, in that it's a fable about grammar, spelling, logic and math.

In some ways, it reminds me of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll in that there's a lot for an adult reader to comprehend that may be lost on kids. (I'm thinking, for example, the caucus race in Alice, and the Which's tale of the banishment of Rhyme and Reason in Tollbooth). They're both the kind of books that gain new appreciations with rereading - especially if you've aged, learned, matured, or experienced more in the intervening time.

I listened to the first half of the book as an audiobook, then read the second half in paper. I enjoyed both forms, but you miss out on Jules Feiffer's renowned illustrations if you don't have the book. Of course, with the book you miss out on dramatic characterization (my audio version was with Norman Dietz, but there's also a version ready by David Hyde Pierce). Either way you win some and lose some.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Mental illness isn't funny ... unless maybe when it's Jenny Lawson writing about it.

Lawson is the internet-famous The Bloggess - a profane, hilarious, honest bright spot in the world. This is her second book, and I believe it's less autobiographical and more inspirational than her first. In the first book, Lawson told about growing up, about her marriage, and about their struggle to have a family. In this one, she discusses her medical records and what the myriad diagnoses mean to her everyday life. She talks about the dark times where creating physical pain is the only way to tamp down the emotional pain. She talks about the events she cannot attend due to her extreme anxiety.

And while that sounds dark and sad, this is still Lawson's typically laugh-out-loud, snorting kind of funny, too.

She tells about experiencing Australia as an official tourism visitor - and how you can't just go around hugging koala, apparently. And boomerangs don't always come back, so it's not really stealing if you throw one from the gift shop door and it doesn't return - you're just helping to weed out the defective products.

This book is truly a rollercoaster of emotions that gets to the heart of human existence - we're all just trying to get by. But what a wonderful world it is with Jenny Lawson in it.

And here I note that I listened to the audiobook READ BY THE AUTHOR and it does not not not get any better than this. Period.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Two week's vacation with family - or even friends - can be a lot of time together, and the fractured relationships in the Post family make their big Spanish adventure to the island of Mallorca a memory they'll never forget.

Everyone on this trip is at some turning point in their lives: Jim has been unceremoniously "retired" from his job, Franny isn't ready to forgive Jim his sins against their marriage, daughter Sylvia is about to leave for college, older son Bobby is in a serious financial crisis - and Bobby's girlfriend has doubts about their whole relationship, plus Franny's life-long best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence are awaiting the call to start a family.

This is a great vacation book filled with sun and lots of beaches ... and way too many people, in way too little space, with way too much drama in their lives. I loved it, and I really enjoyed the various storylines - the fact they're all at different places in their lives, but everyone's experiencing change.

Actually, I can imagine this novel as a fantastic movie, too!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle

With 160 (or more) recorded sniper kills, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle became the epitome of post-9/11 American heroism. What makes a guy like that tick?

It takes all kinds to make the world go around, and I'm glad I don't have to do Kyle's job (also - glad not to be his wife). It boils down to this: Kyle seems like a pretty regular guy who thinks differently than I do. I found it an interesting story - quite captivating.

We chose this book for the library's book discussion because it was OverDrive's "Big Library Read" and for a limited time they made it available as an immediate download with no holds waiting. Also, it seemed like a genre we hadn't touched on much in the past.

Despite the fact it's all about war, this isn't an overly graphic book. He's pretty matter-of-fact about his work and the things he's seen; while he's proud of his talents, the book doesn't come off as braggadocious or self-serving. It's also uniquely apolitical.

Since the book was published, Kyle died in a tragic civilian incident, his wife wrote her own book, and Clint Eastwood directed an Oscar-nominated film starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle. I'm curious to know more, and I will be checking into Taya's book and the film.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Paula Vauss is a tough-as-nails divorce lawyer with no time for personal relations. So when a didn't-know-he-existed college-aged half-brother appears in her office one day, it sets off a chain of events that lead Paula to redemption, love, and more family than she'd ever thought possible,

I absolutely adore Joshilyn Jackson's writing and will greedily snatch up anything she publishes. Like her other novels, this is a contemporary fiction with a slightly broken female protagonist: Paula's had a rough life, and her tough exterior hides a scared, lonely little girl. She pushes off all forms of personal relations because she's scared to get hurt.

There's a lot of Hindu mysticism mixed in - Paula's mother was a storyteller who twisted tales to her own needs. But as Paula researches the past 25 years of history she thought she knew, she discovers Kai's stories had more subtext woven in than she'd ever suspected.