Sunday, April 20, 2014

A spin through Sisterland...

My sister and I are a bit odd. I say that with no malice whatever-we enjoy being odd. We are extremely close in age, only 14 months apart, and so much of our life has been spent with each other, as close to twins as one can get without actually being twins. We just always have, and likely always will, do things together. April is as close to a soul mate as I'm ever going to get.

So, both of us love, love, love to read. Where this came from, no one is sure, as my mother just hates to read. But April and I have always loved reading, and we have completely opposite tastes. April has always loved mysteries. Even when we were little, she loved Nancy Drew. Her favorite author is Mary Higgins Clark, and she loves to read series of nearly any kind-though if it features a detective, so much the better.

Now, as for me, my tastes are ecclectic at best. I rarely read everything by a certain author. I am not a fan of series in general, and I am not a fan of dectective novels at all. I have authors that I really love (KATE MORTON) but I don't particularly have a favorite author persay. I like to jump around, I like to read a lot of non-fiction, I struggle mightly with the notion that I may indeed not be able to say, someday, that I have read every novel ever. (I know in my head that I can't read every book ever written, it's just in my heart that that makes no sense.)

So, naturally, April and I decided to form a book club. Of just us. And it's not a normal book club or anything. It's just us, reading a book, and then talking about it on the phone. Like I said, we are a bit different.

April picked up the book Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld, and called me and told me to read it too. Neither of us really know why, maybe because "sister" was in the title. Anyway, she and I read it and both of us enjoyed it. I had never read anything by Sittenfeld before and I took a huge liking to her style. She writes in a constant flash forward, telling you where this is headed years in the future, which makes it a bit like a puzzle that you are piecing together. This particular story, about psychic twins, one of whom is predicting a terrible earthquake, is very well laid out. At it's heart, it's a domestic piece of fiction, and as a stay at home mom, I found many of the passages laugh out loud funny and true. Ultimately the book reaches too far for my taste, but that is a criticism that I have with many, many books.

And so, having both read and liked Sisterland, we moved on to Prep, which was Sittenfeld's first novel and the book that sent her into hipster must read territory. Sittenfeld, with this novel, arrived on the scene and staked out such a cool literary perch-I enjoyed it immensely. She writes in that fast forward, which is so satisfying with such a large work. The entire book is the high school experience of Lee, who is unlikeable in nearly every sense. Lee is so incredibly annoying as a character-she isn't smart, she isn't cool, she is just so not anything at all-and I find it brave to hang the whole book on her shoulders. April, on the other hand, really disliked Prep for that very reason. She couldn't deal with a main character that she couldn't connect to. But I found that the thing that I loved is that Sittenfeld decided, yes, this is the character and stayed true to her throughout. I felt that way about both books-Sittenfeld takes her characters to interesting places, places that I wouldn't have gone, and it makes me think, what's next?

The third book that we read was Sittenfeld's The Man of My Dreams. It was written in the wake of the sucess of Prep, and is Sittenfeld's least known work. Ultimately, I did not care for it. It is written in third person, which may have been part of my issue-it's not as inside the character as the other two. But the plot line was wanting. Where Prep is this huge novel, following Lee through every decision, Hannah (the main character in this novel) is left wanting. The main plot thread is that she is in love with a boy she barely knows, and her every life decision is based on this fact. I happen to know a lot about living a life like that. But because Sittenfeld is being so intentionally sparse, you hardly get to see where she's going. April liked this one better than Prep, because, you know, she's her and I'm me.

And lastly, we dove into American Wife, which is Sittenfeld's imagining of the life of Laura Bush. Now, on one hand, the main character is such a kindred spirit to me, I couldn't help but like her. But on the other-oy. I had a huge issue with the half-fiction, half-truth that carries the entire book. It is a large burden to overcome-do I really believe that Laura Bush could have been a liberal, agnostic, pro-choice in not just policy but life woman behind that saintly glow? No. And that makes it impossible to swallow so much of the book. All of the things that I admire in Sittenfeld's other work-her constant flash forward, her unlikeable characters, her unique character choices-they are all devoid here. That said, this was April's second favorite book after Sisterland.

I find it interesting that we both thought Sisterland was the best work, and then completely disagreed on everything else. But we intend to find a new author to delve into. All the while, she is still constantly reading her series, and I am reading anything that I can get my hands on (including rereading some old classics from my day I will do a blog post about the wonder, the all out wonder, that is The Heartbreak Cafe.)

Anyhow, I do highly recommend Sittenfeld, and Sisterland and Prep especially. And, if you are weird like April, you would probably like the other ones. Or, if you are weird like me, you won't but you will read them anyway. And then I'll think that you are cool.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

9 Years Gone...

If you know me in real life, and most especially if you knew me as a teenager, then you know that I watch too much television. Or at least I used to. I still probably watch too much TV, but I watch far, far less now than I did then. But I had thought that I had reached a happy medium last year-I even wrote a blog post about how I was finally able to enjoy TV again after years of foggy mommy brain that left me unable to remember from week to week what happened.

But this year, I'm taking things off the TiVo at an alarming rate (for Neilsen rating people anyway). And last night's How I Met Your Mother may very well have done the rest in. It didn't do them any favors.

I have truly enjoyed HIMYM. I'm not 16 with no life, so I don't know exactly how it all fit together, but I'm sure that the writers always joined things up appropriately and plugged all of the holes. I love the character of Barney and I love that if I catch an old episode of Doogie, I am amazed to remember that Neil Patrick Harris is able to play both roles so well. And believeably. And really, though I'm sure in the near future this won't seem odd, but that he was able to play this horndog character and then turn around and be so fabulously gay in real life.

To be honest, I have never cared for the girl roles on HIMYM. I always felt that they were guy fantasies of girls, especially the character of Robin. The only time that I ever really cared for Robin was in the Robin Sparkles episodes. So take that as you will.

I did, however, like the mother. Even though I did not care for this season and the neverending wedding weekend, I enjoyed the bits with the mom. I settled in with Nick this morning (we watch TV together in the mornings, as his schedule won't allow us normalcy), I was excited to see the end. For Ted or Bob Sagat or whoever to say, "This is how I met your mother." And that it was at Robin and Barney's wedding, which would therefore lend sense to the notion that he started with how me met Robin. But one hour later, I was just mad. And frustrated. And feeling like I have wasted 9 years of my life watching something only to have it end all wrong.

It is somewhat similar to my feelings about The Wonder Years. Not that I feel like I wasted that time, because they are treasured classics that are amazing and wonderful-but because, when it ended, I cried and cried and cried. It was inappropriate-I do realize that Kevin and Winnie aren't real people-but it felt like someone had crushed my heart. And even though I am a grown up now, and I realize that of course the only way to end it and have it mirror any reality was to break them up, it still sucks. And I still cry every time I watch the ending.

But I'm not going to be watching old episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Even if I had liked the ending, I never watch old episodes of anything made past 2004. There is a clear divining line there-Betsy's birth-that separates my childhood from my adult self. And it is likely very pretentious of me, but I don't like to dwell on things that came after my official adulthood descended upon me.

So there. I'd rather read anyway.