First, I would like to point out that if you are going to have a book take place in Britain, with characters from Britain, consisting of the letters that these British characters from Britain are writing to other British Britains, then you bloody well spell “honour” with a U, dammit! I’m not sure who is to blame for this, the publishers, the editors, or the authors, but come. on.
As for the actual story itself? Well, I found it endearing. Of course, it was incredibly cutesy (like Stars Hollow on rainbows), and most of the main characters lacked any actual human flaws. Also, and this is a common problem in epistolary novels, most of the many different characters’ letters – male and female, old and young, educated/literary and not – read suspiciously like they were written by the exact same person. I’m sure developing a unique voice for 10+ original characters is a difficult job, but them’s the breaks if you choose to structure your novel through letter.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society reminded me of nothing so much as The Secret Garden – so, so sickeningly sweet, and everyone is ridiculously wonderful, but you don’t really care because sometimes people really can be like that, and it works. There’s room in the world for books like this (and room for books like The Big Sleep, equally).
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Unfortunately, while the main mystery was somewhat intriguing, there wasn’t really much else for me to enjoy. I found it boring, and most of the similes laughable (the bad kind). The prose wasn’t good or original or magical enough to make the lack of any enjoyable or interesting characters worth suffering through.
But most of all, I didn’t like, nor was I interested in, any of the characters – Philip Marlowe was a dick (the bad kind), his client was a crank, his colleagues were personality-free, and the women. Oh, the women. There were three somewhat major female characters in The Big Sleep and not one of them was portrayed in an even slightly favourable light. I know a lot of classics from, well, any era prior to this one are written by and for the good old Boy’s Club, but there’s a difference between not having any interest in, or understanding of, women, and outright hate of them. Good grief, I’ve never read so much disdain in the description of a woman’s tiny, glistening, shark-like teeth before.
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I’ve read a lot of reviews that criticized Moran’s condemnation of the word “fat” while simultaneously calling people “retards” and making outlandish comparisons between that darned patriarchy and, for example, starving orphans, and I’m not sure this is entirely fair. For one thing, I didn’t read the “fat” chapter as an order to stop using the word, but more of a caution raising the awareness of what it can do to people. And for another, having scanned some reviews on Goodreads, it seems that the version I’m reading has been edited for the States, and I may be missing some of the more offensive phrasing.
However, even when I disagreed with Moran’s points or conclusions, the tone of the book is friendly and conversational. I think part of what irritates people is the fact that her manner tends to suggest that her thoughts and opinions are the be-all and end-all, but I talk like that too, and that doesn’t mean I think that my word is the final word – it’s just a manner of speaking. We think it makes us sound funnier. So I’m less inclined to get my back up about the things I disagree with.
Really, How To Be a Woman succeeded far more as a funny memoir in the vein of Jenny Lawson‘s, and less as a feminist screed, but Moran has a lot of interesting things to say, and is fearless in saying them. Whether you agree with her or not, she gives you a lot to think about, and new ways to think about it. If you’re looking for something to read the next time you’re snowed in the house, you could do a lot worse.
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I, Mona Lisa is an alternative history of 15th and early 16th century Italy, centering around the character of Lisa Gherardini, also known as the Mona Lisa herself. The story follows Lisa’s life and the creation of the famous painting, and weaves it neatly into the tumultuous events occurring in and around Florence at the time. Kalogridis does take some incredible liberties with history and what we know of the Mona Lisa, but I’m actually not sure how much of that is her fault – the book was published in 2006 (therefore presumably written in 2004/2005), and a lot of what we know of the Mona Lisa came to light in 2005 (see the above link). At any rate, I’ve decided it would be helpful to read books like this with one hand on the keyboard and one eye on Google. That way, the author can draw you into history with intrigue (murder! sex! sword fights!) and atmosphere, and you can be sure not to replace recorded history with half-remembered fictions from some book you once read.
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I’ve read all of A.J. Jacobs’ “stunt” memoirs. The Year of Living Biblically was my favourite by far, but his first, The Know-It-All is pretty damn good, too*. My Life As A Guinea Pig is fine – it’s a collection of articles written for Esquire following the Jacobs’ theme of experimenting on himself.
Drop Dead Healthy is just as good as Biblically. I spent the entire week I was reading this book reading quotes out loud to everyone around me, and making notes to improve my own healthiness.
It’s not your average self-help diet and exercise book, there isn’t one simple program that he hawks. It’s a fairly broad overview of all that healthy living has to offer, told with minimal judgement (a tone I call “respectful skepticism”) – a lot like Mary Roach. It’s not surprising that I’m always reading endorsement quotes from one on the jacket flaps of the other. There are the expected chapters on exercise and diet (encompassing everything from mindful eating, caveman living, and the veggie smoothie diet), but, as usual, Jacobs goes several steps further; you’ll also find chapters on ear health, back health, hand health, and more.
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