Julia P · Non-Fiction

One Perfect Day | by Rebecca Mead

One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding
by Rebecca Mead
(Penguin, 2007, 245 pages)

In One Perfect Day Rebecca Mead takes an in-depth look at the American wedding industry, trying to figure out how the Bridezilla phenomenon has come to the forefront as a more or less acceptable approach to weddings.  Given that I’m in the midst of planning my own wedding, I thought this would be an insightful read.  It was definitely interesting and I learned a lot.  Even though it’s a given that the wedding industry knows they can take advantage of the bride who wants it all, Mead’s investigative journalism provides direct quotes from industry journals and message boards attesting to the fact.  The goal of any and all people involved in the wedding industry is to get as much money as possible by trying to convince the bride they can provide her with the innumerable things she needs in order to have the “perfect” wedding.

Mead walks the reader through every possible aspect of the wedding: wedding planners, the dress, registering, officiants, wedding venues, religious vs. non-religious ceremonies, honeymoons. . .  I walked away from the book feeling like I had thrown a bunch of money to the wind based on the plans I’d already made for my own wedding.  But it offered a great deal of insight into how I can approach things from now on.  The epilogue summarizes a conversation Mead had with a group of New York brides, all of whom said the same thing: they’d never planned on becoming THAT bride.  And yet they all got sucked into the wedding whirlwind because the wedding industry knows how to play off the emotions of brides and they really have ultimate control over what we have come to believe weddings should be.

I’d definitely recommend this for anyone with an interest in weddings or anyone who might be getting married in the near future.  It puts things in perspective and helps get you out of the wedding planning haze you so quickly fall into.  The American wedding industry is worth about $160 billion per year.  The bride is told (by way of wedding magazines) that the average wedding costs $28,000.  With this figure in mind many brides are convinced that they need to spend this amount, whether they (or their parents) can afford to, or not.  The wedding industry is about making money – Mead makes you stop to take this all in and then reflect on what weddings are actually supposed to mean for those participating in them.

Edie C · Fiction · In the Library · Quick Read! · Short Stories

You Know When the Men Are Gone | by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
(Putnam’s Sons, 2011, 226 pages)

You Know When the Men Are Gone is a collection of short stories relating the lives of army wives left behind in Fort Hood, Texas while their husbands are deployed in Iraq.  Each story feels so real that it makes the reader wonder if this is truly a work of fiction or if there were some personal experiences by the author that prompted each story. Author Siobhan Fallon also lived in Fort Hood while her husband was deployed to Iraq.  I had the uneasy feeling that these could be actual stories about real live soldiers and their wives.  This book relates the fact that the families of our heroic American soldiers are also heroes in their own right.

Edie C · In the Library · Poetry · Quick Read!

Selected Poems | by Carl Sandburg

Selected Poems by Carl Sandburg
(Gramercy Books, 1992, 192 pages)

I had just  finished a book and was up in the night with nothing to read.  I wandered over to the bookshelf and began searching through my Mom’s older books.  She was a tremendous fan of Carl Sandburg’s poetry but I must admit I had never read any of his work.  Carl Sandburg was born in Illinois and was awarded the Pulitzer Price for poetry in 1951.  That alone should be enough for me to want to check it out, so I did.  Interesting reading!!  I expected to read some rhyming prose, or poetry that had some sweetness to it, but was pleasantly surprised by the way Sandburg wrote.  It was real and down to earth.  Each poem is more like a short story – I mean REALLY short – some only three or four lines total!  But I could relate and actually feel his meaning.  What a plesant surprise from a book that has been on my shelf at home for over 20 years.  One that I will definitely go back to and now I imagine I’ll have to check out a few more of Mom’s books 🙂

Bob G · Fiction · In the Library

The Sea Wolf | by Jack London

The Sea Wolf by Jack London
(Oxford University Press, 1992, 375 pages)

Literature is filled with stories of ordinary people getting thrown into extraordinary circumstances.  Such is the case with The Sea Wolf, a novel written by Jack London and first published in Century Magazine in 1904.  Having read Call of the Wild as a teenager, I was familiar somewhat with London’s approach to writing but was unprepared for the deep psychological issues of this seafaring tale.

Basically, the book tells the tale of an effete, literary lion named Humphrey Van Weyden who is thrown overboard from a sinking San Francisco ferry boat and fished out by an outgoing seal hunting vessel “The Ghost.”  Instead of depositing the soggy writer ashore before leaving port, the captain of the ship, Wolf Larsen, shanghais him and forces him into servitude, replacing a recently deceased crew member.

During the voyage, Van Weyden is transformed from a weak, intellectual “gentleman” to a capable full member of the crew and it is this change that gives the book its compelling interest.  At first, Van Weyden becomes simply “Hump” the cabin boy, which is the lowliest position in the rigid hierarchy of a sailing ship crew.  Having never done any meaningful labor in his life, he was unprepared for the grueling, repetitive and often demeaning work required of him by Larsen and the crew.  Eventually, as sailors die and desert the ship, Van Weyden learns to function as a capable sailor and is established as the first mate, second in command to the captain.

The Sea Wolf, however, is not really just about Van Weyden, even though he is the narrator of the tale.  The most compelling character in the story is Wolf Larsen, a contradicted figure whose brutality and selfishness balance out his interest in literature and human psychology (he was played by Edward G. Robinson in the 1941 movie).  Although Larsen does not hesitate to kill and kidnap to further his own interests, he seems fascinated by the ordered, rational world represented by his new cabin boy.  Long discussions about human nature ensue as Larsen extols his Social Darwinist philosophy and criticizes Hump’s view of the noble aspirations of human beings.

After a terrible storm, the vessel takes on two additional shipwrecked castaways, including a beautiful female poet named Maud Brewster.  The female presence wreaks havoc in the all-male world of a sailing ship and both Van Weyden and Larsen fall under her spell.  Shielding Maud from Larsen’s brutish behavior as much as possible, Hump eventually talks her into escaping with him in a small boat.  Their journey eventually lands them on a deserted island where they are destined to confront Wolf Larsen and “The Ghost” one last time.

Jack London served himself on a sailing schooner and The Sea Wolf, although not autobiographical, contained characters and settings he had witnessed in his travels.  He captures the claustrophobic boredom of shipboard life as well as any writer and his knowledge of navigation, seamanship and the handling of sails and rigging is detailed and realistic.  Although the book relies on a number of improbable events, the reader never feels like the narrative is particularly contrived and is carried into the adventure willingly as events unfold.

All in all, The Sea Wolf is an entertaining read that takes you into an unfamiliar world, one with no shortage of thrilling moments and psychological standoffs.  The forces of rationality and nobleness, represented by Van Weyden, are constantly pitted against the brute force, intimidation and subjugation of his main protagonist, Wolf Larsen.  The struggle, as old as humanity itself, makes for a novel you won’t soon forget.

Fiction · Mystery · Theresa F

The Ice House | by Minette Walters

The Ice House by Minette Walters
(St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1993, 306 pages)

I love Minette Walters’ crime novels!  Unlike many crime writers, she does not write series with the same characters, each book is really very different from the others so reading her mysteries doesn’t become repetitive.  Of course I also love British mystery writers so she wins for me on that score as well.  The first book I read of hers was The Shape of Snakes and it continues to be my favorite, but I have also read Fox Evil, The Breaker, and The Sculptress, all really good.

The Ice House was her first novel and so I decided to see what it was like compared to the others.  The Ice House is not as sophisticated as some of her later novels, but it’s still an enjoyable psychological mystery.  Set on an English estate in Hampshire, a decomposed body is found in the old ice house and of course everyone wonders if it is Phoebe Maybury’s missing husband, who she was suspected of murdering ten years ago.

Minette Walters is great at grey areas.  Her characters are very realistic and so no one is completely innocent or guilty.  She includes a quote from the poem by Robert Burns called “To a Louse”:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.

Edie C · Fiction · Page-Turner

The Art of Racing in the Rain | by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
(Harper, 2009, 336 pages)

The Art of Racing in the Rain is like reading the diary of a family dog.  As I read this book I felt like I was looking into the heart and soul of Enzo, the dog.  His faithfulness to his master, Danny, as well as his patience and understanding in the midst of a family in crisis.  Enzo tells his story with the honesty and humility of a soul in love with family.  This novel will pull on the reader’s heart strings.  Did It make me cry???  Many times.  A book I couldn’t put down until I had finished it.  The author writes in an amazing way – I will definitely be looking for other books by Garth Stein.

Edie C · Food! · Non-Fiction

Pasta and Noodles | edited by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane Baker

Pasta and Noodles edited by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane Baker
(Dial Publishing, 1996, 128 pages)

What a fun pasta book!  Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes and this book describes them all.  Not only is there a section describing each type and shape, but there is also a section with pointers on how to cook pasta properly. This book includes over 150 recipes contributed by food editors from across North America.   There are chapters full of recipes on Vegetables and Herbs, Soups and Salads, Fish and Seafood, Meats and Poultry, and many more.  There is even a chapter on our favorite American comfort food, Macaroni and Cheese.  My favorite part of this book is the remarks by the food editors about each recipe they have submitted and yes, the recipes are YUMMY!  Even with me as the chef 🙂