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Sunday Salon: The Roadtrip Post

March 22, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comAs you read this, my mom and I are out on the open road, in my convertible (my old car got totalled in that accident back in December…so now I have a used Camaro Convertible…it’s champagne gold and has a power roof, and it makes me deeply, deeply happy-I’ll upload a pic when I get back) on our way to a place where it’s already in the 80s, and delicious tacos cost 99 cents. Yep-it’s the annual pilgrimage to San Antonio (to see my sister and niece). I’m very much a Texas girl, and it hurts to not live there, so I’m always excited for vacation time! :) I’m not sure what my internet access will be like, but it’s only for a week, so I’ve pre-scheduled my posts…if you don’t see me commenting, it’s because my laptop and my sister’s internet didn’t play nicely.

Now on to my reading! I read a lot this week, some really good books, and a couple that left me with mixed feelings.

talesfromoutersuburbiaFirst, I finished Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin. This was complete page-turning nonfiction for me; I couldn’t put it down until I was done! I’ve already written up my review of it (and the other two books I read about Burma for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge), and you’ll see that later this week. :) I also couldn’t resist Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia for very long! I loved his wordless picture-book-for-adults, impossible-to-classify-without-a-bunch-of-hyphens The Arrival, so as soon as I heard about this short story collection, I put it on hold. It didn’t disappoint: the stories (there are words this time) are quirky and delightful and challenging all at once. The art is ridiculously beautiful. I tried to ration myself, to make the book last longer (it’s only 96 pages long), but instead I ended up reading it twice. :) Even though many of the stories are so short they classify as micro, there’s something about the way Tan sees the world that is simply haunting and mesmerising and all of those other over-used adjectives. I highly, highly recommend this one!

usconstitutionThen, I finished The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. I read it for the Latin American Challenge, so it’ll be getting its own review, but let me just say now it was magical and fascinating, and I simply devoured the last two hundred pages because I had to find out what happens right now. And even cooler, the main character, Teresita, is based on the author’s great-aunt! Now I love my great aunt-she’s a bingo queen as well as knows all the best nature walks, but she doesn’t talk to God. ;) Next up was The United States Constitution: a Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell. I’m torn about this one. I really liked the text, although it definitely had a very strong bias (I’d say Hennessey is more of a Howard Zinn kind of guy than, say, O’Reilly), but I loathed the drawings. The colour scheme was really weird, and each of the government branches is represented a a person in a suit, with the appropriate building for a head. However, the bodies are all male bodies, which was kind of annoying (I might be more sensitive to this than usual since I’ve been reading for Women’s History Month!). McConnell is obviously a good artist, it just wasn’t to my taste at all, which made me enoy the book less than I had imagined. Still, it was a good refresher on constitutional history! And while I didn’t like the drawings, some of them are seared into my memory, so it might be very helpful for people studying for tests. :)

queenofscotsAfter that, I finally finished John Guy’s Queen of Scots: the True Life of Mary Stuart. I say finally because I bought this book off the Barnes & Noble bargain table right before my flight home from visiting my grandparents, got to page 124, and even though I was enjoying it, managed to forget about it. I thought Women’s History Month was a good reason to pull it back off the shelves (it’s a big book-500 pages of text). I’m a fan of Mary, so it was fascinating to watch Guy go through the historical record, challenging some of the accusations made about her, while affirming others. The first three hundred pages read like a standard biography, but then Guy switches modes and studies the historical documents and other evidence to try to find out whether Mary was involved in the assassination of her second husband. It was like a detective novel, only non-fiction, which justified trying to read sixteenth century English! All in all, I’d say this is an accessible (I only took one history class in college, and it was a 100 level!), scholarly biography that, while it has its dry moments, is for the most part quite compelling.

secondhandchicI just realised that I read quite a bit of nonfiction this week! Next up was Secondhand Chic: Finding Fabulous Fashion at Consignment, Vintage, and Thrift Shops by Christa Weil. This book was so awesome; it exceeded all of my expectations. I really didn’t know what to expect from it, but Weil’s goal is to teach readers how to recognise quality clothing. There are chapters about fabric, garment construction, how to ‘try the senses,’ what can and can’t be tailored, the various designer labels, and even how to launder your clothes properly. It’s an information-packed book, but it’s a really fun read at the same time. I’m not sure how Weil managed it, but kudos to her! Even if you don’t shop secondhand (and there’s a funny section on ‘arguments to convince your sister to do so’), most of the book is just as applicable to retail stores (there are specific chapters at the end addressing consignment, vintage, and thrift stores individually-there’re the only ones that don’t have cross-over appeal). If you love your clothes, and love shopping, or reading about clothes and shopping, you’ll love this book!

countofmontecristoFunny story-on Monday, I noticed that Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo was due on Wednesday. I had started it a couple weeks ago, but my mom ‘borrowed’ it to prop up her laptop power cord (that was being fussy) and wouldn’t let me take it back. So I was only about three hundred pages in. No problem: that’s what renewals are for, right? Well, someone had a hold on it! I figured I had a day’s grace (since my library doesn’t start acrueing fines for a couple days), so I started power-reading and had it returned to the library, completed, in time. Unfortunately, I’m going to shock everyone and come right out and say it: I didn’t enjoy the book. I don’t think it’s that good. And I certainly don’t think it justifies over 1200 pages. The first thirty chapters, in which Dantes gets imprisoned and meets his mentor, were good-I enjoyed them. But after his escape, Dumas doesn’t create one three-dimensional, likeable character. Not one. In 900 pages. Moreover, all of the little plots Dantes creates to get back at these people weren’t triumphant…I didn’t get any sense of rejoicing. I just felt a little dirty (even though the characters deserve what they get). One of the storylines felt like it was plucked from Les Mis, except I cared a lot more about Marius and Cosette than about Valentine and Morrel. There was an interesting hint of lesbianism/transgendered women (that little story line felt like Tipping the Velvet-a daughter pretends to be a boy and runs away with her opera singer best friend…the daughter has dressed up as a boy before, and detests all men), but it was tiny. I really had to drag myself through the pages, once I got to around 800 and realised it wasn’t going to get any better. To me, the beauty of a book that comes in at 1,000+ pages is the richness of humanity. I loved War and Peace and Les Mis: they were on a grand scale. The Count of Monte Cristo, unfortunately, felt like petty and rather pointless. There’s no examination of life, of the human condition, of our myriad of emotions. There’s just one silly little plot after another, getting steadily more ridiculous. And Dantes himself comes off as an ass; he has a slave that he brags would be killed if orders were ever messed up, he throws around money for no reason, magically speaks every language ever fluently, and it’s all just too juvenile for me. (For the record, I enjoyed The Three Muskateers, which was also a childish adventure story…so it’s not like I hate Dumas. I just didn’t like this book at all.) I saw the movie a few years ago, and even though it changed the storyline a lot, I think it made it better! (I almost never say that.)

alligatorsold-minkandnew-moneyIn between sessions of Monte Cristo, my treat was to read a chapter or two from Alligators, Old Mink and New Money: One Woman’s Adventures in Vintage Clothing by Alison and Melissa Houtte. It’s Alison’s memoir, so I assume her sister (who’s a journalist) did the writing-she never appears in the actual book. Alison was a model, but except for the beginning of her career, this isn’t dwelt on (and there’s never any ‘Whee! I was a model! I’m special!’ attitude). Instead, she writes of her vintage clothing store in Brooklyn, where she keeps the prices reasonable (I even thought so!), loves the merchandise, and chats with customers. There are stories of her going on hunts for merchandise, stories about specific clothes, and discussions of style in general. It’s what I’d call intelligent fluff, and I enjoyed almost every page of it. That being said, for more sensitive vegetarians, the title should give you a clue…Houtte deals in fur and loves vintage alligator skin purses. She never mentions the animal rights issue (except for a brief anecdote when a vegetarian customer and a woman buying an alligator purse had a bit of a tiff…and you can tell she’s not on the vegetarian’s side, lol), which might bother you. I’m a pretty laid-back vegetarian, so although I’m strongly, strongly morally opposed to fur, I can read about another woman’s fur coat without getting upset. Anyway, the book was definitely a treat for me!

girlcultureAfter that, I read two photography books side-by-side: Women by Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag and Girl Culture by Lauren Greenfield. Women included portraits of various women Leibovitz has taken over the years, from celebreties and performing artists to everyday women at gas stations. The book was almost perfect-I would have wished for more everyday women in various careers and not so many performance artists, as well as a bit more narrative text, but as I’m sure you know Leibovitz is a stunning photographer, so at the end of the day any of her books is going to be gorgeous! And there is a great variety of ages, body types, etc. that was fascinating to look at. One I’ll definitely go through a couple more times before I have to return it. Girl Culture on the other hand, was a bit too editorial for me. Greenfield has an obvious agenda-our society makes girls obsessed with sex, their appearance, and material things, and this is very bad. Some of the pictures are accompanied by the girls’ stories, and almost all of them are negative. It just felt too one-sided to be convincing: yes, there are a lot of difficulties in being a girl, but there’s a lot of joy too. Even with all of the inequalities, I’d rather be a woman. I didn’t see any sense of the fun or wonder in the book…and while I’m sure Greenfield took sexualising pictures to show how girls are objectified, it felt a touch exploitative. I’m really starting to enjoy photography books: can anyone recommend any other cool photography books? A librarian I was chatting with said there’s a book of the pictures to go along with the documentary Born Into Brothels, so that one is next on my list!

womenAlong with the photography books, I also started reading Courtney Martin’s Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. I expected to love it, but in the end I have very mixed feelings about it. So I’m going save them all for a seperate post-that way I don’t have to worry about explaining my questions in a little paragraph! Freak Show by James St. James, the next book I finished, will also get its own post, since it was one of my Dewey’s Books selections. But I have no mixed feelings about it-it was crazy but fun! :)

Amd there you go; I had planned to finish up Dark Banquet by today, but packing too longer than I thought; I will say, though, that I’m two-thirds of the way through and it’s a fun, fascinating little science book. It’s also put together gorgeously-lots of line drawings, heavy crimson paper dividers for each section, the little details that show quality.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2009 6:26 am

    Wow, but you’ve been busy. I’m going to look into Tales From Outer Suburbia – it sounds like an interesting concept. I hope you have a great time on your trip!

  2. Katie permalink
    March 22, 2009 6:43 am

    Wow, what a great week of reading!

    I used to work at a trendy consignment shop, and I have to say that more people need to consider shopping second hand. It’s really not all trash, it’s quite the opposite. I love that you read & reviewed this; I hope it gets more people shopping consignment! It’s really a great way to go in this economy too!

    Enjoy San Antonio!

  3. March 22, 2009 6:45 am

    Hope you have a wonderful, wonderful trip, Eva! (99 cent delicious tacos would be enough to make that trip worthwhile for me…but of course, even better, will be time spent with your niece and your sister.)

    LOL…I didn’t like the building heads either, but I did really like the birds.

  4. March 22, 2009 6:55 am

    Have a great trip, and enjoy the time with your family – mom, sister, and niece … a super combo for Women’s History Month!

    Yes, post a pic of your new (to you!) car when you can; sounds like a fun ride.

  5. March 22, 2009 8:01 am

    I loved The Count but I’m sure it’s not for everyone. Have a fun in Texas. I’m a Texas “girl” myself, so I can understand how you’d miss it.

  6. March 22, 2009 8:03 am

    99cent tacos.. I envy you! I can eat Mexican food everyday, seriously. Hope your trip is wonderful!

    And as for reading.. you really are amazing. I wish I could read as much as you in a week. I haven’t even finished one book this week yet (but I will in an hour). :D

  7. March 22, 2009 8:23 am

    Have a wonderful trip! I am a Texas girl myself, and I miss it every day. Say hello for me, please!

  8. March 22, 2009 8:32 am

    This was a big reading week for you! That’s lots and lots of good books!

  9. March 22, 2009 8:43 am

    Wow … what an incredible reading week!

  10. March 22, 2009 10:04 am

    Have a great trip and enjoy your family time!

  11. March 22, 2009 10:49 am

    The book by Alison and Melissa Houtte sounds like a very enjoyable read and I had to add it to my TBR list. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on Starving Girls as just the title itself interests me. Have fun on your vacation!

  12. March 22, 2009 12:46 pm

    I loved The Arrival so much, but haven’t yet made an effort to get Tales from Outer Suburbia. I have put in a request this morning at the library.

  13. March 22, 2009 1:03 pm

    About 10 years ago, I read a 500 pages book of The Count (thinking it was the entire thing) — and loved it. Then about 5 years ago a book group was going to read it, so I picked it up again. And was surprised to find that it was an abridgment. I had to hunt down the original.

    Yours is the second review in a week of The Count saying it’s not so good. I don’t recall the details from the second half, but I certainly agree that the beginning was most interesting. I guess I’ll never reread it! The abridgment was mostly the beginning story. I guess I know what it was abridged. It sounds like you really enjoyed Three Musketeers, so maybe I should check out that one sometime.

    You’re other books sounds good too! The Shaun Tan one sounds particularly interesting to me.

  14. March 22, 2009 1:46 pm

    I can’t wait to read the new Tan book! As you know, I’m a huge fan of his and have been wanting that one ever since I heard of it. I know exactly what you mean…he has a fantastic way of looking at the world. I just love it. And his art is just amazing. Sadly, my library doesn’t have it and I can’t find it in bookstores…I may have to order it.

    I like the idea of photography books too! I was way into them in my teens and would really like to start checking them out again. Looking forward to what else you read!

    And your new car sounds awesome!!! I had a friend who had a camaro when I was 16/17 and I loved riding in that car…so much fun. Enjoy!

  15. March 22, 2009 2:05 pm

    Eva, your weekly reading is astounding. You must devour words at the speed of light!

    Enjoy your road trip…you and your mom sound a bit like Thelma and Louise headin’ cross country in that muscle car! (I used to drive a Trans Am, and they are fun on the open road ;)

  16. March 22, 2009 2:56 pm

    You read amazingly fast!

  17. March 22, 2009 4:22 pm

    I just bought Finding George Orwell in Burma on an impulse (I needed to get to more than $25 for free Amazon shipping) because I remember reading about it for your challenge post. I’m so glad you liked it, that means I probably will too!

    Have a great road trip!

  18. March 22, 2009 4:38 pm

    Ooh, I love the sound of SECONDHAND CHIC. Definitely another one to add to the list.

    Have a safe trip!

  19. March 22, 2009 10:59 pm

    I felt exactly the same way about Monte Cristo. If I ever pick it up for a reread I will only read to the point where he excapes from jail. The rest was terrible.

  20. March 22, 2009 11:38 pm

    Hope you have a lovely visit Eva. I would love to see what color champagne gold is :)

  21. lena permalink
    March 23, 2009 7:08 am

    Have a fun trip, Eva! :)

  22. March 23, 2009 7:40 am

    Peter Menzel’s books are some of my favorite photography books. The most recent is Hungry Planet, about what people around the world eat and spend on food, also amazing are Material World and Women in the Material World, both about families around the world. Really amazing stuff.

  23. March 23, 2009 7:41 am

    ps here’s a link

  24. March 24, 2009 2:14 pm

    Have you read Shaun Tan’s book Grandfather’s Journey? It a wonderful one with beautiful illustrations that brought tears to my eyes.

    I also loved Freak Show. What fun!!!


  1. Sunday Salon: The Roadtrip Post « A Striped Armchair | PrinceAttire.Com
  2. Month in Review: March 2009 « Related Reading
  3. Tales From Outer Suburbia « A High and Hidden Place
  4. Women Unbound: a New Reading Challenge « A Striped Armchair
  5. Challenge Wrap-Ups: Chunkster and Novella « A Striped Armchair
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  8. Tales From Outer Suburbia | Capricious Reader
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