Posts Tagged ‘jelinas’

Cannonball 33: They Call Me Coach by John Wooden with Jack Tobin

They Call Me CoachThey Call Me Coach by John Wooden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Wooden is the winningest coach in NCAA history, and a legend in the world of basketball. I spotted his autobiography on a friend’s bookshelf and asked to borrow it. She also insisted that I take The Zookeeper’s Wife. Suffice it to say that I thought this book was the better of the two.

There were three big things that I was left with at the end of the book:

One of the things that really struck me about this book was the way in which he described his former players. He speaks of them with genuine affection and care, and years after they’ve struck out on their own, you can tell that he still thinks about them and loves them. Wooden wasn’t shy about using the word “love” in regard to his players.

Another thing that stuck out to me was his devotion to his wife. He absolutely doted on her, and the way he talked about her was beautiful to see. Nellie Wooden passed away in 1985, but Wooden remained faithful to her memory for the rest of his life. That’s a rare love.

The last thing about Wooden that really made an impression on me was his love for God. He talks about his beliefs with not only conviction and passion, but with much love and affection for his Lord as well. He doesn’t make any apologies for his faith, and he also doesn’t try to make it the focus of the book. But it’s as much a part of the book as it was a part of him.

My only criticism of the book was that it seemed a little disorganized at times. It was written with Jack Tobin, who writes for Sports Illustrated</a<, so I was a little surprised that Tobin didn't rein in his subject a little.

But as far as sports books go, this is a great one, and a must-read for all fans of basketball, sportsmanship, and heroes.

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Cannonball 31: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal HistoryThe Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Discomfort Zone is author Jonathan Franzen’s personal memoir. In the book, he covers stories of growing up in a Midwestern, Protestant town with Midwestern, Protestant values.

The beginning chapters of the book really shine. They’re engaging and beautifully written. But, for me, Franzen starts to lose steam after the second chapter, and the book ends with a bit of a whimper.

Still, those first two chapters alone make the entire book worth reading. Given the chance, I’d love to drown in those words again.

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Cannonball 22: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's KeySarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A friend of mine recently observed: “You’re so funny when you don’t like stuff!” She’d just listened to me lambast the Lakers as they lost Game Two to the Mavs, and I was merciless in my assessment of their lazy passing and sloppy ball-handling (IMO, the Mavs didn’t win the series as much as the Lakers lost it). But the first thing she ever heard me lay into was this book.

We read Sarah’s Key for our book club. I was excited to read it; a Holocaust story? That’s like a free throw. If you miss that shot while standing still with no one defending you, then you have no one to blame with yourself.

Well, Tatiana de Rosnay’s shooting percentage must be awful because Sarah’s Key, a book that should’ve been an emotional slam dunk with de Rosnay hanging off the rim, mad-dogging the shattered reader she just posterized, was instead an airball that sailed into the crowd and beaned the reader right in the face.

kobe poster

Kobe Bryant posterizing Dwight Howard back in 2009. Those were happier times.

There are two main storylines in the plot. The first one is about Sarah, a young Jewish girl living in Paris during the German occupation. The second concerns Julia, an American expat journalist who discovers Sarah’s story. I like to call them “Vaguely Interesting” and “Rage-Inducingly Idiotic,” respectively.

Each chapter alternates between telling Sarah’s and Julia’s stories. Once again, the Sarah part of the book was tolerable; if the book had been entirely about Sarah, it might have merited as high as three stars out of five. But, no: about a third of the way into the book, the author inexplicably decides that Sarah’s story is finished, and the latter part of the book is all about Julia.

Just so you can get a flavor of Sarah’s story, let me sum it up for you. She and her family are rounded up by French police in the infamous Vel d’Hiv Roundup, in which thousands of Parisian Jews were held in the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor bicycling track, and detained for several days without food or water. Before Sarah and her parents are hustled out the door, her brother Michel refuses to leave, so Sarah locks him into a hidden cabinet behind a wall panel. Because she doesn’t believe they’ll be there for long, she promises him that she’ll come back and let him out when it’s all over.

hiding

Of course, it’s not over for a long time. Sarah is separated from her parents, but she is able to sneak out of the Vel d’Hiv with another little girl. They wander around for a while until they’re taken in by an elderly French couple living outside Paris. But, all the while, Sarah remains determined to keep her promise to her brother. I’ll give you three guesses how that turns out, since it’s a Holocaust book and Sarah’s story ends in the first third of the book.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Ehay iesday inyay ethay abinetcay ecausebay eshay ouldn’tcay etlay imhay outyay inyay imetay.

That part of the book was decent.

It was the Julia part of the story that I really couldn’t stand. Julia’s been living in Paris for many years, and she’s married to a Frenchman and they have an eleven-year-old daughter. Their marriage is rather rocky, and the most emotionally mature person in the family is, of course, the eleven-year-old daughter. I mean, come on.

But what’s really infuriating about Julia is that she is one of the stupidest characters ever committed to the printed page. She supposedly speaks perfect, accentless French, and complains that her in-laws still refer to her as “l’Americaine.” What do you expect them to call you? The Native Frenchwoman? Because you’re not, you know.

marie catoinette

When she finds out about the Vel d’Hiv Roundup, she excitedly chatters to her husband (with whom she already has a rather strained relationship) about how she can’t believe how the French covered this up and how she can’t understand why no one wants to talk about it with her. Um, maybe it’s because you’re an American writing a a news story about this shameful event in French history and it’s going to make them look bad. And, also, maybe it’s because your husband wasn’t even born when it happened and he really doesn’t know much about it.

Julia is the stereotype of the obnoxious American, always asking inappropriately probing questions and kicking in figurative doors without knocking first and then demanding that the occupants explain why they’re so upset with her as she tap-dances on their battered door.

And, somehow, she manages to make Sarah’s story all about her. Sarah’s story deeply moves her, and she demands that everyone else care about it just as much as she does just because she does. Look, I love the Lakers, but if you don’t, then we can talk about something else. I’m not going to force you to love what I love and then judge you for not loving it as much as I do (especially considering what a crapper their postseason was). But Julia insists that everyone around her obsess about what she’s obsessed with and then complains when people find that off-putting.

Tatiana de Rosnay is French, and she says that she has a lot of expat friends. Well, her friends must be serious bores if this is de Rosnay’s depiction of American women. Don’t do us any favors, Mme. de Rosnay. I may find the need to write a book about snooty French authors who think they can understand what it’s like to be an American expat in France who thinks that she knows what it’s like to be French. If I were friends with Mme. de Rosnay and I read this book, we would have a serious falling out in full “Jersey Shore” fashion with fingers in faces and shoving in high heels after I read this book.

lolcat jersey shore

Hint: I'm the dog.

Only slightly less annoying is de Rosnay’s portrayal of Julia’s eleven-year-old daughter, Zoë. Zoë is always there to comfort her mother and to reason with her and encourage her. She’s always calm. When she finds out that her parents are (SPOILER!!) ettinggay ivorcedday, she responds with understanding and reassures her mother that it’s the right thing to do. No eleven-year-old I know, no matter how precocious, would respond this calmly to this kind of news. Sounds to me like she’s a sociopath. I’m guessing that, when she’s not comforting her mother, she’s burning holes into her dolls’ eyes and torturing kittens.

Ultimately, I disliked the book because it was supposed to be a Holocaust story, and it wound up being about a whiny, self-absorbed American instead. It’s been a long time since I was this angry at a main character.

By the way, de Rosnay seems especially fond of a very thin trope in which she doesn’t tells us the names of people until it’s “naturally” revealed by others. We don’t even see Sarah called “Sarah” directly until the third or fourth chapter about her. “The girl” does this and “the girl” does that, and her identity is supposed to be a mystery, but it’s like, come on, the book is called Sarah’s Key. Obviously, her name is Sarah, so can we stop pretending we don’t know who she is and move on, already? I don’t know if de Rosnay was trying to make the book more mysterious or what, but, either way: FAIL.

fail

Writing a compelling Holocaust story: FAIL.
Moving the plot along effortlessly: FAIL.
Subtly revealing various facts about the characters: FAIL.
Writing a sympathetic main character: EPIC FAIL.
Book as a whole: You tell me what you think I’m going to say. If you’re a fan of de Rosnay’s you’re probably going to string me along without telling me what you really think before answering a completely different question that I didn’t even ask.

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Cannonball #21: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first went to check this book out of the library, I was surprised to find it in the Teen section. I’d seen the movie, and I though that some of the subject matter was a little mature for teens.

But after reading it, I can kind of understand why it was in the Teen section of my library. Some of the scenes are, in my opinion, not appropriate for teens, but the writing had an oddly YA vibe to it.

If you don’t know the premise of the book itself, then maybe you ought to put the book down and watch TV for an hour a day to get caught up on the world of pop culture. A nameless insomniac meets a mysterious guy named Tyler Durden, and they start a secret club in which men beat each other within an inch of their lives in order to vent their daily frustrations. Through his friendship with Tyler, his life gets a lot more exciting: he participates in fights, and starts getting the respect he’s always wanted from his association with Tyler. But hanging with Tyler has a price, and, after a while, the protagonist begins to wonder if Tyler isn’t taking things too far.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton as The Narrator in the film version of the book. If you didn't recognize the image immediately, go get yourself an infusion of pop culture, STAT.

The premise of the book is certainly intriguing. The writing, to me anyway, had a definite YA flavor to it, but it was an engaging read, and the characters were all fascinating. The major plot twist was certainly groundbreaking in its time, and the book is well-paced and well-conceived.

But I do feel the need to close by saying that Chuck Palahniuk is a total arrogant tool. In the edition of the book I got from the library, there was an afterword from the author. The entire afterword could basically be summarized as follows:

“People claim that I stole this idea, but I totally didn’t because I am an original genius and anyone who disagrees is in denial. My ideas are so fresh and original, and I can’t believe how influential I am! I am so relevant, and my ideas are shaping our culture. I am important, people, so don’t you dare imply that I am anything but a literary genius that deserves your awe. Bow before me, peasants.”

So, I liked the book, but I totally hate the author after that ridiculous, self-important afterword.

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Cannonball 19: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw (A Norton Critical Edition)The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession: My sister and I attend a monthly “Opera Talk” at our local library. This talk is mostly peopled with white-haired old ladies, so when my sister and I first walked in, they loved us immediately; we’re young, Asian, and immediately made them feel culturally relevant and diverse.

At first “Opera Talk” we ever attended, a dude from the Opera League of Los Angeles gave a talk about Benjamin Britten’s operatic version of The Turn of the Screw. I didn’t think I’d like it because I hadn’t thought much of the book when I read it in my freshman year of college, and the opera was twentieth century and English. But as the dude (not to be confused with The Dude) explained Britten’s use of themes and twelve-tone row, I was surprised to find myself genuinely interested in the opera.

There are some truly creepy songs in this opera. We watched clips of the opera in a darkened room, and my skin was absolutely crawling during some of the songs. We learned that Britten used the celesta to signal the presence of one of the ghosts, and as he played the clip, I realized where I’d heard a celesta before.

The “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” theme song will never be the same for me after this.

After this little lecture on Britten’s Turn, I went home and immediately pulled out my old copy of Henry James’ novella.

The story concerns a nameless governess who picks up a gig caring for two children in the English countryside, eight-year-old Miles and six-year-old Flora. Both children are sweet and adorable, and the governess feels an instant connection with precocious, young Miles.

Miles is supposed to be at boarding school, but he’s expelled for some mysterious reason. The governess can’t understand what a boy as angelic as Miles could possibly have done to get expelled so suddenly and irrevocably, but soon decides to let the matter drop.

innocent

As she watches the children one day, she notices a man watching them from afar. He frightens her for some reason, and she discovers from the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, that this specter matches the description of the master’s old valet, Peter Quint. The governess soon begins to see another ghost: Miss Jessel, her predecessor. The governess discovers that Quint and Miss Jessel had an affair, and that both died mysteriously. She also learns that the two may have had an inappropriate relationship with the children.

She begins to suspect that the children can see the ghosts, too, and that the ghosts are out to corrupt the children somehow. But she can’t catch the children communicating with the ghosts. She vows to save them from these spectral predators from beyond the grave.

The version of the book I read also came with a lot of reviews and analysis of the story. There has been a fierce debate over the years about whether the ghosts are real or the governess is losing her mind. But the theory that most intrigued me was the one that posited that the true villain of the story might be Mrs. Grose. It’s possible that Mrs. Grose, disgruntled at losing her place as the children’s primary caretaker with the arrival of the governess, slowly drives the governess to madness by planting creepy ideas in her head.

As far as the story itself is concerned, I think it doesn’t have quite the same shock value it probably had when it was first written, but it’s still pretty creepy. If you like ghost stories, this one’s a classic that you can’t miss.

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Cannonball 15: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t read many comic books as a kid. Growing up, my parents bought us tons of books to encourage us to read, but they never bought us comic books, which they didn’t think had any educational value. Yes, I’m Asian. Why do you ask?

By the time I as old enough to make my own decisions about reading material, I was too old to be interested in visiting a comic book store. I never did end up getting into comics, although I thoroughly enjoyed watching TV shows and movies adapted from comic books.

As a result of my childhood deprivation of comic books, I was initially leery of graphic novels, thinking of them as glorified comic books.

I read Watchmen a few years ago after hearing so much hype about it. I thought it was overrated, but was able to appreciate the graphic novel as a literary medium.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is my second foray into the world of graphic novels, and it was an interesting one.

The novel opens on an aged Bruce Wayne. He’s fifty-five and retired from his superhero duties. But his life is empty without his crime-fighting, and he’s really just staving off boredom while the city around him goes to seed.

Commissioner James Gordon, his old ally, is retiring, and the new commissioner that they’re bringing in is firmly of the opinion that Batman is a dangerous vigilante who needs to be brought to justice.

In the meantime, the city is being overrun by a gang known as the Mutants, a ruthless group of “droog”-like thugs (think A Clockwork Orange) whose anonymous leader has been making death threats against both Gordon and Batman.

batman and robin

Batman and the new Robin, Carrie Kelly.

Finally fed up with the state of things in Gotham, Wayne suits up. At first he goes it alone, but he’s soon joined by a new Robin: thirteen-year-old Carrie Kelly. He still carries a lot of guilt over the death of Jason Todd, who was killed by the Joker in A Death in the Family (incidentally, one of the two comic books I’d read as a kid. The other was The Death of Superman. I was fascinated by death as a kid).

This graphic novel explored an interesting question: what happens to a superhero when he’s no longer super? The novel dealt with Batman’s aging, as well as with a cynicism borne of having fought crime for so many years to little avail. It explored Batman’s motivations and even brought in familiar characters from other comics from the DC world without making it seem gimmicky.

I do think that graphic novel tend to get a bit cheesy when it comes to introspection, but I suppose it’s par for the medium. I did thoroughly enjoy the story, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Miller’s work.

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