Monday, December 7, 2009

S-LYB Awesome Bookstore Series Installment #1: Eljay's Used Books (Pittsburgh, PA)

Posted By: Elle Ewok

Eljay's Used Books
1309 East Carson Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

The Semi-Literate Yinzer Bookclub members are very lucky in that we collectively travel a good deal. We always make a point to research whatever interesting bookstores a particular city or town has to offer and visit once we get there. In this series, we will review some of our favorite bookstores located all around the country and even abroad.

However, there is no place like home so we will start right here in our favorite city EVER: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Usually, unique bookstores are heavily advertised as must-see cultural amenities in most towns. I was recently in an amazing independant used bookstore in Asheville, N.C. (which was proudly advertised by the town tourist board) and lamenting Pittsburgh's lack of such a wonderful place. Except I was wrong. Pittsburgh DOES indeed have such a wonderful bookstore, in fact we have many. Everytime I think Pittsburgh cannot get anymore awesome IT DOES. The thing about Pittsburgh is (much like the city itself) our hidden treasures are ... well, hidden. Not because they are hard to find but because our tourist board doesn't advertise this type of stuff in any type of mass-commercial manner (nor anyone else for that matter). Let me give you an example, I was in Seattle last month and Spudbabe and I went on a "foodie" tasing tour of Belltown, Seattle. All I could think was how Pittsburgh should have such a foodie tour, particularly of the Strip District. Well a short jaunt on google and I find out Pittsburgh DOES have foodie tours, in fact we have more than Seattle. []

The moral of this story is Pittsburgh has everything (including stuff alert locals don't know about) and is wonderful and better than everywhere else. Moving on...

So I have driven past Eljay's Used Books on Carson Street in the South Side many times but never stopped because finding parking in the South Side turns me into a monster and makes me want to hurt people. However, this Saturday afternoon I stopped because I promised a friend who is in town working on the new Russell Crow movie that I would take her to some great bookstores. Since she lives in LA I wanted to show her Pittsburgh's funky side, which unfortunately mandates stopping in the South Side and dealing with parking.

Eljay's is narrow and dark with highbookshelves. It smells like an attic and is cluttered. In short, it is everything a used bookstore is supposed to be. The books you ask? Beautiful. All hardcover, all in wonderful condition and all interesting editions. There are only three or four long rows of books but they are jam packed with treasures. There is only one paperback section of fantasy/sci-fi and it is well stocked and has a good selection. Almost, everything else is hardcover. There are also bizarre sections of medical books, ufo-ology, psychiatry, occult etc.

Highlights: The fiction section is amazing. Interesting editions in hardback of classics and contemporary fiction and everything in between. I could have spent all day in the fiction section alone. There is also a huge Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of hardback books as well which made me very very happy. The poetry section looked fairly impressive as well although I didn't check it out in any depth. The Military History Section was great, Boyfriend would have lost it (books seperated by war seems to lack nuance but I liked it).

Lowlights: The Children's section was not too impressive in size nor content which is too bad because strangely enough it is in the Children's section where you can find the most interesting stuff in used bookstores. Also, I didn't come across any Folklore section (if it was there it was so small I missed it) which was disappointing. Of course, as with any establishment in the South Side, the worst thing is the parking situation.

So what did I buy? I got a hardcover 1987 edition of Beloved by Toni Morrison. Cost = $6 (the same edition retails on Random House for $29.95).

Eljay's Used Books is independant and funky and located in a "cool" neighborhood (which will please the hipsters) but also has substance and selection in the major literary disciplines (which will please taxpaying squares like myself). I would count it among Pittsburgh's many unadvertised assets.

You can visit Eljay's Used Books facebook Page at:

Monday, October 19, 2009

What Dreams May Come, Richard Matheson (1978)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok

Rating: 4 Piergoies

Review: People who know me are familiar with my... let's call it "acute interest"... in anything related to the afterlife and the paranormal. When I go to a new city my first stop is usually its main urban cemetary. When Boyfriend and I go to the Half-Price Bookstore on the weekend he heads to the Miltary History section and you will always find me in the Metaphysical aisle. I own more books than I care to admit written by psychics, mediums (yes, they are different), near-death experiences, ghost hunters and paranormal investigators. I own books about cemetaries, volumes of ghost stories and everything written by George Anderson. If you read enough of such things you start to see certain patterns and similarities emerge among what the various mediums and psychics teach and report. I call it "Alt-Spirituality", Boyfriend calls it "Blasphemy" and "One-Way Ticket to Hell." Regardless, most of these "Alt-Spirituralists" agree that (1) our souls are here on earth to learn and to further our spiritual evolution; (2) that we choose our lives in order to further whatever purpose we have in coming here; (3) that spiritual evolution happens faster on earth because of all the hardship and strife that must be endured; and (4) that our souls are eternal. Now whether you agree with them or not, this message is certainly comforting and it seems to make sense out of alot of the seemingly senseless pain and suffering that exists in the world.

After reading one of George Anderson's books last week (he is a very famous medium) I thought back to that 1998 Robin William's movie "What Dreams May Come." It won an academy award for uh ..... something and was celebrated at the time for its groundbreaking cinematography and beautiful presentation of heaven and the afterlife. I netflixed it last week and even though it is super-dramatic and emotionally overwrought to the point of ridiculousness it was successful in making me cry 6 separate times. I was running on the treadmill and crying like an idiot. It struck me how this movie is basically a full out color demonstration of the "Alt-Spiritual" teachings I described above. As desribed aptly by Cuba Gooding Jr:

So I decided to read the book. I read it in one sitting and it only took a couple of hours to complete. This book is not particularly well-written, I would not call it literature - but the story is fantasic.

Richard Matheson claims in the introduction that although the characters are fiction everything else is "true" - (based on research regarding death and the afterlife - obviously you can take that for what it is worth although he includes a bibliography at the end). The story is about a man named Chris who dies in a car accident and discovers that his soul is indeed immortal. He endures much hardship at first as his soul is not able to leave earth's plane of existence due to the suffering of his wife. Eventually, he does find heaven though (called "Summerland") and there he learns that a person's existence in the afterlife is completely self-imposed and created by the efforts of the individual mind (your dreams). As such, while there may be no hell in the conventional sense there surely is a space of terror and dispair in the afterlife for those who have done wrong and messed up the purpose of their life. Indeed, when Chris's wife committs suicide Chris literally leaves heaven and travels through hell to find her. Chris's wife is sent to a hell of confusion, loneliness and emotional/mental torment of her own making for the 24 years that she had remaining in her natural life which her suicide deprived her of living. Basically, she has to work out the same exact issues she would have had to deal with on earth, only under much worse circumstances. The lesson being of course, that suicide it not the escape some people hope for. You can not avoid learning the lessons you must for your soul to evolve.

The story is certainly romantic although I found Chris's wife to be co-dependant and annoying so I didn't really care much for their romance. I was kind of rooting for Chris not to find his wife because, frankly, I think these codependant people need some time apart and she definitely deserves/needs to deal with the consequences of actions.

Although I really didn't care for the characters all that much the graphic and complete description of the "Alt-Spirituality" conception of the afterlife in context was wonderful. Additionally, the ending of the book was much better than that of the movie. Obviously, the movie wanted the emotionally gratifying ending, but the book's ending was much more true to the spiritual philosophy of the book.

Reading this book may cause someone to look at the purpose of life and death in a different way. You may not believe it but there is always value in listening to different perspectives. At its core this is a very hopeful story. I think anyone who has experienced a loss and death in their lives would be comforted very much by this book.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie (2008)

Reviewer: Spudbabe

Rating: 2.5 Pierogies

Review: Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence takes place in sixteenth century India and Florence, Italy. It is the tale of a young man named Uccello of Florence (later changed to Mogor dell’Amore) who has arrived to tell a story to the Mughal of India that will either bring him fortune or cost him his life. He represents himself as the ambassador of Queen Elizabeth I. The Emperor Akbar is skeptical, but is drawn into the stranger’s captivating story of Qara Koz, the enchantress of Florence, who he claims is his mother.

I have never read any Salman Rushdie before, but I always felt like I should. Instead of starting with the famous and controversial Satanic Verses, I chose the novel with sorcery and magic! I think I made a mistake. I was very encouraged when I began because I hadn’t read such beautiful prose in a long time. Rushdie can certainly write. But then I got bored and confused by the plot. He has a lot going on here. He is mingling history with fiction, magic, and romance. But it was really a long love letter to story tellers. Story tellers are the creators of our world you know. Their work is dangerous and invaluable. He gives the highest amount of reverence to this skill and so should we. I’m willing to go there with you Salman, but the story better be good.

There are three separate stories that are intertwined. I’m using the word "intertwined" here solely because it’s prettier than "mashed", "jammed", or "forced". The ideas floating around in these stories would have been great if given the proper attention. For example, the theme of art becoming reality, and life transforming into art, could have been beautiful and interesting. In fact, Rushdie pulled it off at times. I loved the conclusion of part I. The painter Dashwanth became so enchanted with his masterpiece of the fantastic beauty, Qara Köz, that he entered the painting to be with her and was never seen again. It was unique, beautifully written, and romantic. Everything I thought this book would be. But then Part II started and I became bored again.

A constant theme throughout these stories is that women have only the power of enchantment at their disposal. This wouldn’t have bothered me given the historical context—beauty and sex probably were a woman’s only real power in the 16th century. It only bothered me because it was uninteresting, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that his divorce from former model Padma Lakshmi a year earlier was a major influence. Padma is significantly younger, gorgeous, and makes a living by eating delicious food and crushing dreams on Top Chef. An enchantress? I think so.

Rushdie has said this was his most researched novel. It shows and is very impressive in certain ways. But I think he should have spent less time forcing his research into the story, and more time creating an interesting plot. Great ideas, poor execution. So now I’m torn on whether or not to read more of his work. On one hand his writing is striking and there were flashes of brilliance scattered throughout. But on the other hand, the novel was predominantly boring and also had flashes of self-indulgence. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but I also wouldn’t attempt to dissuade anyone from reading it. Basically, my entire reading experience went something like this:

Wow, this is beautiful. Ok, I’m getting bored. I’m gonna stop reading now. Wait! BRILLIANCE! Alright, now we’re getting somewhere! Damn, I’m getting bored and confused again. I’m stopping for real this time. BRILLIANCE! Ok Salman! I’m back on board and ready for this ending! That was the end? Sigh.

So if you are a patient and active reader, this might be worth it to you for those few really wonderful parts. If you are a reader who prefers pure entertainment and finds sentences that go on for an entire page to be tedious, this might not be the one for you.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin (1997)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok

Rating: 3 Pierogies

Review: Now that our countdown to the 5th Installment of A Song of Ice & Fire is down to less than a year, I thought it would be nice for the Yinzer Bookclub to review the four books that have been published to date.

First up is A Game of Thrones. I feel supremely dishonest only giving this book 3 Pierogies because the truth is I could not put it down and immediately went out and bought then next book in the series. This book is ridiculously entertaining. It is a fantasy novel although in reality, the series thus far is much more oriented with political intrigue than anything else and is very Rated R. There are numerous plots lines going at once, tons of characters with great development, multiple perspectives and a very unconventional blur between good/evil. This book is also awesomely unpredictable. Unlike most authors who would feel compelled to keep characters that their readers have bonded with around, George R.R. Martin is perfectly content to cut your hero's head off out of nowhere and throw it in your lap. It is actually kind of awesome.

The plot revolves around a realm called the 7 Kingdoms. Various ruling families control the various kingdoms with absolute power consolidated with "The Iron Throne." The plotline is based on England during the War of the Roses with the Stark family representing the Yorks and the Lannister family representing the Lancasters. In A Game of Thrones, the main conflict is between the Stark and the Lannisters as both families attempt to seize control of the Iron Throne. A secondary plotline revolves around a mysterious and cold realm north of the 7 Kingdoms and separated there from by an ancient wall. The wall is necessary as barbarians and supernatural vampire/wraiths roam the northern lands...and it seems they are on the move. A third plotline follows the princess of dragons, whose father sat the Iron Throne before being deposed years earlier. She loves among pillaging horse nomads apart from the 7 Kingdoms and begins to plan her family's reconquest of the Iron Throne.

Now to explain why I am giving this book 3 Pierogies. Well, the reason is the author is clearly a pervert and needs to be punished by getting less pieorgies than he should. Considering how chubby he is I think this is a severe punishment. There are some seriously graphic sex scenes in this book - with strange gratutious detail. Now that in of itself is not so bad, although personally I really don't like graphic sex scenes in books. The problem is that the sex scenes almost all involve a 13 year old girl and to say she is being statutorily raped by an adult stranger is about the most generous spin you can put on it. Now unless you are Roman Polanski, or one of those "enlightened" & "propressive" Hollywood morons defending him, chances are reading about the forcible deflowering of a child in graphic detail is going to make you want to puke.

Another problem I had with the book was the constant rape and violence towards women. I realize rape and misogyny are part of the world (and fantasy worlds apparently), particularly in times of war, but the amount and detail was hard to stomach. While the male characters, both good and bad, generally die or get injured bravely in battle the women are systemically humiliated before dying unceremoniously. They aren't just raped, they are gang raped. And not only are they gang raped but Martin loves to give you the unnecessary, gratuitous and humiliating details. If you can believe it, things get even worse in the second book.

This hyper-sexual violence towards women combined with the constant womanizing of the main characters, the constant put downs related to the worth of women relative to men and after a while it makes you start to wonder; has Martin created a world filled with systemic female degradation because he is laying the foundation for an ultimate commentary on oppression, violence and human dignity? Or has he created a world filled with female degradation because that is what he likes writing about? I haven't finished the series yet but I have a suspicion it is the latter which is where the icky feeling I have towards this book comes from. Hopefully, it turns out I am wrong although subsequent books have done little to relax my suspicions.

Even though this book left a bad taste in my mouth in some respects, it is otherwise totally engaging and entertaining. Indeed, HBO is supposedly turning these books into a series. Hopefully, child pornography laws will prevent them from interpreting this book too literally.

UPDATE: Rumors are circulating that Sean Bean (Boromir from LOTR) has been cast as Ned Stark. I'm very pleased with this casting decision as is, presumably, every other woman on the planet.
"I would have followed you, my brother....My captain.... My King" LAME!! I forgive you Sean Bean.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Lovely Bones Movie (2010)

Posted By: Elle Ewok

The Lovely Bones movie based on Alice Sebold's 2002 best selling novel of the same name is set to be released on January 15, 2010. It stars Marky Mark (who replaced Ryan Gosling) sans the Funky Bunch playing something other than a cop for a change [see: We Own the Night, The Departed, Max Payne, The Other Guys (2010)] and a bunch of other actors I don't care about. Maybe if these other actors would rap in their underpants once in awhile people would notice when they are in movies.

This movie elicits alot of mixed and complicated emotions personally. I have very very bad feelings towards the novel. I absolutely loved the first 75% of the book which I thought was unique and painfully sweet. Although the book is based on the rape and murder of a 14 year old girl it is not emotionally manipulative at all which is amazing. HOWEVER, the ending was SO BAD in comparison to the rest of the novel that was a huge disappointment. I was actually offended by the end which is amazing considering I am xenophobic yinzer who finds ultra-politically correct attempts to find offense in everything to be insufferable. I would tell you exactly what I find offensive about the end but Trixie Beldon is a ridiculously hyper-sensitive lunatic regarding spoilers. The "spoiler" could be completely irrevelant to the plotline and Trixie could have no intention of ever reading the book, but if I divulge ANYTHING she acts like I purposely ran over her cats and I can't handle that emotional guilt-trip right now.

Anyway, although I hate this book so so much, I feel I must see this movie because it is directed by Peter Jackson. For giving me the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the best movies of all time, I feel morally obliged to patronize all Peter Jackson movies in demonstration of my eternal gratitude. Plus, I would love to see Peter Jackson's conception of heaven. So, yes, I will be seeing this movie. Hopefully, the stupid ending will be revised, reworked, rewritten or re-something because it is just so bad.

I can't post to the trailer, but you can watch it here:

Friday, August 28, 2009

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok

Rating: 4 Pierogies

Review: I recently realized that I have a huge gaping hole in my formal and informal literary education. I have virutally no exposure to American writers from the South, particulary those associated with the Southern Gothic literary style including William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Wolfe, Tennessee Williams etc.

On a recent trip to New Orleans I endeavored to remedy this deficiency and I stopped by Faulkner House Books and asked the woman who worked there (who is an expert in all things Faulkner) which of his books I should read first. She handed my a copy of As I Lay Dying with a big smile. This choice was not a suprising one, As I Lay Dying is considered Faulkner's most accessible novel and is the usually recommended as the best starting point for new readers to Faulker's body of work.

I confess to being extremely frustrated with the beginning several chapters of As I Lay Dying. The rural dialect was difficult to understand. Additionally, the stream of conscious narrative was confusing. Each chapter is narrated from the point of view of a different character. The character narrarating the chapter would refer to "him" "her" or "it" and you had no idea who or what was being referenced since stream of conscious writing necessarily eliminates exposition. My frustration lifted after several chapters though and I began to enjoy the book immensely. The rural dialect seemed more accessible and the people and objects who were unidentified in previous chapters eventually become known in later chapters.

This is not a book where you can put your brain on autopilot and enjoy the ride - it requires what I call "active reading" - Faulkner forces you to put the pieces together and you have to pay attention to understand the narrative. However, when you eventually figure that issue or event that was confused and unclear eariler in the novel it is extremely satisfying - like finishing a sukodu puzzle or eating nachos.

There has been much discussion and scholarship about the themes of As I Lay Dying: subjective truth vs. objective truth, social definitions of normalcy, personal isolation, limitations and pride associated with poverty, and the ugly nature of physical processes. However, it is not the novel's themes or social commentary that have stayed with me since I finished this book. Stripped away of all themes, symbols and motifs, this book at its core, in my opinion, is a very dark comedy - and I like dark comedies.

The basic plot line revolves around a family of ignorant rural hillbillies who are taking the decomposing corpse of the family matriarch to a town 30 miles away for burial. What makes it really dark is that it takes them several days to get started so that the body is badly decomposing and reeking throughout the ardous journey under the hot Mississippi sun. Their wagon is followed by buzzards and they bring disgust and inconvenience upon every person or town unfortunate enough to cross their path. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic either, for although they claim to be transporting the body out of respect for the dead woman's wishes in reality they all have their own selfish motivations for the trip whether it be to obtain false teeth or an abortion. That said, there are several characters that I did find myself warming up to and kept me emotional invested in the story; Darl and Cash in particular.

In the end it was the clever writing (one which offered reward after challenging readers) and the deliciously evil and darkly comical plot line that won me over. I look forward to reading more of Faulkner's work.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (2008)

Reviewer: Trixie Belden

Rating: 5 Pierogies

The Hunger Games is one of those books that when you finish, you feel sad because the story is over and you will never be able to read it for the first time again. I read this book in two days and I am now disappointed in myself for not having slowed down to savor it. Let this be a warning for future readers of The Hunger Games – do not allow yourself to speed-read through this book or you will regret it later!

I am happy to report that The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic America and the main character – Katniss – is from an area that was once known as Appalachia. The main industry in her poor region is coal mining. Based on these clues, I decided that Katniss was probably from Pittsburgh – no wonder she was a smart, strong, and compassionate girl! Suzanne Collins’s nod to Pittsburgh (at least in my imagination) definitely set me up to love the book.

In the Hunger Games, 24 children are taken by the government every year and forced to participate in a reality television show where they fight to the death, leaving one child alive and victorious. After the government randomly selects Katniss’s little sister to participate, Katniss makes the ultimate sacrifice and volunteers to take her place in the game.

While playing, underdog Katniss must “outplay, outsmart, and outlast” her competitors. I loved the premise of this novel and learning about how Katniss played the game – her strategies, friendships, alliances, etc. Suzanne Collins succeeded in being descriptive, but not too descriptive in a way that would have interrupted the fast pace of this novel.

I found The Hunger Games to be extremely engaging and addictive. I highly recommend it as an entertaining and thought-provoking read. I also note that while this book is categorized as young adult, I found that it easily crosses over to an adult audience. Its sequel, Catching Fire, comes out September 1, and I plan to be at Barnes and Nobel first thing in the morning on September 1 to pick it up.

Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog, John Grogan (2005)

Editor's Note: We were recently informed by a reader and friend that the books featured on Yinzer Bookclub are "snooty" - this review seeks to remedy this problem. Indeed, we are often quite responsive to literary fads and mass commercialization. Harry Potter Theme Park anyone? WOO HOO!

Reviewer: Spudbabe

Rating: 2 Overcooked Pierogies

Review: John Grogan is a journalist who wrote such a touching eulogy for his dog in the newspaper, he was encouraged to write an autobiographical book about his family’s relationship with their dog, Marley. The story was apprently so compelling that it was a New York Times bestseller and inspired a movie starring Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, and Dylan Henry.

Marley is an adorable, but badly behaved Labrador Retriever who was adopted by the Grogan’s shortly after they were married. He is with them through their ups and downs, and all the stages of this young family. They are inevitably taught about themselves, life, and love. Awwwwww!

I am an animal lover who can relate completely to the story of a family’s love for their dog. Some parts were truly touching and sweet. One or two were funny-ish, and the end made me cry like an infant. The problem I had were the stories about the family. I found many of their choices that set up these supposedly hilarious stories to be stupid and annoying. I thought John Grogan was totally unlikable, and quite frankly, I don’t need to know how they conceived their children. I guess the appeal is supposed to be fact that they are an ordinary family. But I don’t really want to read 304 pages about a boring family that I don’t like.

The bottom line is that this should have been a 100 page novella focused solely on the dog. I think it could have been very tender and moving. Instead, John Grogan forced us to read way too much about him and it was incredibly cheesy. I also found it to be emotionally manipulative at times, which I do not appreciate.

I would say this is a good light read, but it’s not that good, and it’s too upsetting to be considered light. So I guess if you like to cry hysterically over something that isn’t very good and find tedious journalists to be fascinating, this is the book for you!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Asheville N.C.

Posted By: Elle Ewok

On a recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina I visited the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. It is his mother's old boarding house, Old Kentucky Home, which was immortalized as "Dixieland" in his largely autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929). It is preserved as it existed in the early 1900s.

The visit would have been more meaningful had I read Look Homeward, Angel prior to the tour but it was still interesting historically and has provided a context for my imagination as I read the novel now (I picked up a copy in the gift shop). The best part of the tour was when the elderly tour guide caught my bored mother trying to escape early and made her stay. I can't take her anywhere!

For Thomas Wolfe fans who haven't made it to Asheville, I have posted some pictures I took of Old Kentucky Home. Included is a picture of Julia Wolfe's bedroom (Eliza Gant in Look Homeward, Angel) with her personal belongings still scattered about the room. The other picture is of the early 20th century kitchen.

The memorial is located at 52 North Market Street in Asheville and the admission fee is only $1.

Yinzer Cats Are Really Cute & Literate

Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo (2007)

Reviewer: Trixie Belden

Rating: 2 Pierogies

I read Bridge of Sighs because it was the monthly selection of my book club. According to members of the club, Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls, is a beautiful writer and they surmised that Bridge of Sighs would be a great read. After reading the novel, I agree that Richard Russo can write beautifully, however, it fell short on all other requirements for a good book.

Bridge of Sighs tells the story of a man named Louis C. Lynch (nicknamed Lucy after an unfortunate roll calling incident in kindergarten) who is writing his life story starting from the age of five. And my god, his story is detailed. Just from reading pages 1-200 (and let’s not talk about pages 201-600), I could practically recite the weather and what Lucy had for lunch every day until he reached high school, not to mention every slight, sneer, or smile directed his way. One would assume that Richard Russo had an editor, but I saw no sign of one while reading this book.

In short (and let this be a lesson to you Richard Russo), Lucy was an awkward child who had no friends, except for a neighbor boy named Bobby Marconi. Bobby, however, does not consider Lucy to be a friend because he finds him to be pathetically needy (I mostly shared this sentiment). Their lives are contrasted throughout the novel as Lucy’s parents are “good” and Bobby’s parents are “bad”. In high school, Lucy’s father buys a perpetually failing corner store and Lucy, Bobby, and Lucy’s girlfriend Sarah find their lives revolving around the store and each other.

In addition to my complaints about the lack of editing (it was all I could do to make it past page 300), I had quite a few other complaints about this book.

First, for most of the book, I did not find the central characters to be appealing. For instance, Lucy was a weak boy who could not handle the rigors of childhood. I know that kids are mean, but I have no more sympathy for Lucy than I do for any other kid going through elementary school and middle school. Growing up is hard, yes, but we all do it and we all move on without fixating on our childhood problems for over 200 pages. It was just too much character development. For other reasons, I also did not like Lucy’s parents or Bobby. Although the characters grew on me towards the end, it felt like too little, too late.

I also found Richard Russo’s portrayal of the main female characters to be off-putting. Both Lucy’s mother and Sarah were talented and smart women who chose to marry their spouses for stability and devotion rather than for true love. The author contrasted their choices with the choices of Sarah’s mother and Bobby’s mother who married men that were exciting to them, but who ended up treating them badly. My problem with this portrayal is that it suggests that women have no control over their own destinies – that they must blindly succumb to the personality of the man that they marry and give up their futures to the whim of their spouse. Richard Russo also fails to acknowledge that not all men (and women) fall into his black and white categories. Not all smart, educated men are selfish and cruel and not all simple men are kind. Similarly, not all smart women are willing to sacrifice their dreams for stability.

While the book picked up its pace in the last 200 pages, I was left with a feeling of dislike towards the characters. And that made me feel bad about myself - that I am not as kind-hearted and open-minded towards people less fortunate or less ambitious than myself as I should be. In conclusion, while it may be a good thing that this book made me more aware of my own faults, I can’t help feeling that I wasted too much time (600+ pages) learning this lesson.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Dance With Dragons, George R.R. Martin (2010)

Release Date: September 28, 2010

Posted By: Elle Ewok

Mark your calendars, according to Amazon, A Dance With Dragons will be released next September 2010. Well, it seems the old perv is finally making some progress!

A Dance With Dragons is the highly anticipated 5th book of the incomparable series A Song of Ice and Fire. Its release date has been pushed back repeatedly. The first book of this seven book series was published in 1996 and readers have become rather impatient with the slow publication of the remainder of the series. By the time A Dance With Dragons is published next year it will have been five years between the fourth and fifth books. I know some of you will say that these are long books with detailed plots and that patience is a virtue. To you I say, SHUT THE HELL UP! This is America 2009 - the Golden Age of Narcassistic Entitlement. As such, George R.R. Martin needs to get his pudgy rear in gear and convert his blood, sweat and tears into a product for our consumption NOW. Then the government should give us copies for free. LITERACY IS A RIGHT! GIVE US FREE SHIT!

I affectionately refer to Mr. Martin as a perv because of the disturbing and ridiculously gratuitous sexual violence directed towards women and the bizarre, detailed, hyper-sexual content revolving around a 13 year old girl in the first two books of the series. However, due to desensitization and the unparalleled entertainment value otherwise present in the books, I have always recommend this series enthusiastically.

The POV characters for A Dance With Dragons have been released (YAY!): Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth, Bran Stark, Arya Stark, Asha Greyjoy, Theon Greyjoy, Quentyn Martell, Varamyr Sixskins and one further yet to be revealed character.

It is wonderful to see that some of the best characters will be coming back, I've missed them.

At 61 years old and a chubster many are fearful that Mr. Martin will not live long enough to complete his masterpiece at this pace. The Yinzer Book Club wishes Mr. Martin continued good health and a good yinzer work ethic.

Yinzer Smackdown: Spudbabe v. Trixie

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova (2005)

Literary Piece of Gold or Literary Piece of Poo? You Decide!

For years now Spudbabe and Trixie have argued the merits of Kostova's 2005's bestseller.

Trixie: "The Historian is like The DaVinci Code on crack – beautifully written and well researched, it captivated me with its complex story of a father and daughter unraveling a horrifying mystery leading to Dracula. I devoured this book like none other – thank you Elizabeth Kostova!!!"

Spudbabe: "If I had to sum up this book in one sentence it would be: The Vampire Da Vinci Code minus everything good. The whole time I read this I kept thinking 'this has to get better, it's a mystery about vampires!' Spoiler alert: it didn't. So if you like unimaginative and boring vampire stories with unlikable characters, read the Twilight saga. If you want to read something slightly less terrible and embarrassing, read the Historian. I give it two soggy pierogies."

Elle Ewok: "I don't know, I only read 30 pages and then threw it against the wall. I guess that means I don't like it. Considering I will watch or read anything having to do with Vampires this is bad - I mean I continue to watch TRUE BLOOD for God's sake."

We have decided to resolve this contentious Yinzer Bookclub debate by turing it over to all three of our readers. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn (1989)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok

Rating: 2 Pierogies

Review: I believe originality is a virtue that should be recognized and celebrated and Geek Love excels in this regard. If you are one of those people, like myself, who watch the TLC shows about the quests of the morbidly obese to get laid, the tree man, the woman with 200 pound legs and people with disfiguring tumors this book may have a certain appeal. Typically, after indulging my sick curiosities by watching a TLC show documenting the misery of another human being, I inevitably feel an overwhelming weight of shame which is pretty much how I felt upon completing Geek Love. The premise of Geek Love involves a couple who purposely conceive children with physical deformities in order to populate the freak show of their traveling carnival. Clearly this premise is disturbing and twisted but Dunn somehow managed to make it feel realistic and natural in context at first. I actually really enjoyed the first half of the book describing Fabulon and the Binewski siblings' childhood because it was well-written, imaginative and managed to have some heart and sweetness despite the sick context in a bizarre sort of way.

About halfway through the book everything changed. I was laying on the couch reading when Boyfriend asked me how I was doing and I nearly bit his head off. Why? Well, I realized that Geek Love had transformed into a toxic piece of poo that had seeped into my circulatory system thus polluting my heart and mind. Dunn had commenced piling on one cruel and disgusting event on top of another; truly sick stuff that did not seem to have a greater purpose other than to challenge the reader's gag reflex. I couldn't shake the feeling that the Dunn was more interested in demonstrating her daring and how far she was willing to go to rather than writing a good story. Pushing the envelope can be great if it is done with purpose in a thought provoking and carefully crafted manner. However, it is a fine line and if you go too far too often the shock value is gone, the goodwill is gone and you are just left with a huge pile of garbage. Pain is a major theme through the book and if Dunn's intention was to inflict as much pain on her readers as possible she may be a genius afterall but I still want to punch her in the face. She is undeniably a very imaginative and talented writer. Technically the book was more than competent; but the content of this book became truly nauseating.

At first I was shocked and appalled to learn that Geek Love was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989 then I realized that the National Book Award is probably awarded by a committee of godforsaken pretentious hippies so it makes sense. From me this book gets 2 Perogies, a bottle of dramamine and trip to the Confessional.