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Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Kid Table by Andrea Seigel

Premise: cousins share a “kid table” at every family occasion (Fourth of July, New Year’s, an adult relative’s bar mitzvah). They enjoy each other’s company – for the most part – but resent the table, scheming of ways to join the adults. This is where we meet our narrator, Ingrid, as she shares the indignity of sitting at the kid table while also resenting the fact that her slightly older cousin – Brianne – somehow managed to make it out.

Ingrid’s relationship with Brianne wasn’t the best to begin with. But when Brianne uses her burgeoning knowledge of Psychology to diagnose Ingrid as psychopath, things go from bad to worse. Now the rest of the family is watching her every move out of the corner of their eyes for confirmation of this diagnosis. Great. And her favorite, Cricket, is looking suspiciously skinny and gets panicky around food. Fantastic. And that really attractive guy (Trevor) who was flirting with her a little earlier? Yea, he’s Brianne’s new college boyfriend. Could get things get any better? Why, of course. Dom is still calling everything “gay” as a way of hinting to his nuclear and extended family that he is same-sex oriented. And Micah can’t seem to keep his clothes on! What is happening?

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I know what you’re thinking: “Middlesex? What is this, 2001?”  And to that I have to say, don’t sass me. I don’t get around to reading all the cool books when they come out. But this one remained in the back of my mind ever since I heard the first sentence: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan.” H-wah? How does that…? I don’t even…

And such was the incentive for reading this book. I heard murmurings around the interwebs that it had something to do with hermaphrodites or sex-changes or something, but generally tried to stay away from spoilers. And boy am I kinda glad that I did. But only kind of.

Calliope Stephanides was born twice. But before she tells you the exact circumstance of her births, she gives the most detailed back story since the Bible. No, not the Bible. Since…my high school U.S. History textbook. (Ask me how tall President Polk was. Go ahead.). But there is a reason for all this detail. Jeffrey Eugenides wants this story to be educational, heart-wrenching, and endearing. Eugenides can’t accomplish this by simply throwing the reader into an opening scene similar to The Hangover, where everything is in chaos and lacks explanation. If Eugenides does that, then the story becomes more about entertainment. Eugenides doesn’t want to entertain. He wants to change minds.

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The Death of a Bookstore

The Death of a BookstoreIf you never worked at Borders, you may have already acknowledged the company’s sad passing and moved on.  If you spent several years of your life selling books and are still seeking other employment, however, it’s a bit harder to let go.  We know.

Today we would like to highlight a piece written by Tom Schwider, who worked at the beautiful Michigan Avenue store in Chicago (store 58, for those of us who identify by store number).  Store 58 was already scheduled to close long before the company declared bankruptcy, but got a one year extension that made the closing date fall only a month before the bankruptcy filing.  Tom highlights the death throes of a bookstore in honest, yet poignant, vignettes about people and experiences in those final days.

It’s a long read, but well worth it.  Settle in and give yourself some time with this one.  It gives a truer glimpse into the world of corporate bookselling and bookstore liquidation than anything else I have read.  A bittersweet memorial to the job we loved, and hated and, in the end, loved anyway.

Special thanks to Tom for sharing his words and allowing us to pass them along to you.

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Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Other Writing

 

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Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman

Why We Broke UpI read this book in one night instead of sleeping.

Things you should know: Daniel Handler also writes children’s books as Lemony Snicket, best known for A Series Of Unfortunate Events.  Maira Kalman is an artist who has published books of her own work along with illustrating books written by other people.  (We previously reviewed one of her picture books here.)  Together they create a physically beautiful book, with glossy pages, full color illustrations, and gorgeous endpapers.  There was basically no chance I wouldn’t buy myself a copy.

The story itself is a letter from a teenage girl, Min, to her boyfriend-for-six-weeks, Ed.  It starts with a box of things that symbolize the relationship to her, which she is unceremoniously dumping on his doorstep.  Each chapter starts with a full-page illustration of an item from the box, followed by a somewhat stream-of-consciousness retelling of how it became important.

If a six-week relationship seems insignificant to you, and definitely not worth being heartbroken over, you may be an adult with a very bad memory of what it’s like to be a teenager.  Min and Ed’s story is full of firsts and lasts, at times painfully awkward while otherwise being perfectly sweet.  Mistakes are made, lessons learned the hard way – and yet, from an outside perspective, the experience gained in six weeks of Min’s Junior year is invaluable.

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The Girl With The Crooked Nose by Ted Botha

The Girl With The Crooked NoseI watch a lot of NCIS, where 40 minutes and one amazingly talented forensic scientist are enough to solve even the most horrific of crimes.  Real life, however, takes longer and doesn’t always yield such clear-cut results.

Enter Frank Bender.  He came upon his calling as a forensic artist almost accidentally, when he attended an autopsy in lieu of taking an anatomy course to help with his sculpting.  In the storage room, there was a body of a woman who had not been identified – he was told, “We have no idea what she might have looked like.”  Looking at her skull, however, Bender realized that he did know what she looked like.  And he asked permission to sculpt a bust of her face.

Five months after he completed her bust, the woman was identified as Anna Duval, a missing persons case from Arizona.

With a successful ID came more skulls needing faces.  Bender learned more about forensic reconstruction and streamlined his technique.  He visited the Mütter Museum to study differences in skulls (and later exhibited some of his completed busts there – leading to the identification of yet another victim).  He set up a studio for his unusual hobby.  And when the Mexican government asked the U.S. for help in identifying some of the more than 400 women killed since 1993, Bender was a natural choice for the task at hand.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?Everyone should go find a copy of this book if for no other reason than just to see the picture of Ms. Kaling as a child. I literally lol’d when I saw it. Aside from the innate hilarity of the picture, it shows just what lengths Mkale is willing to go to in order to make people laugh. And that’s kind of the theme of this book.

Mindy Kaling loves comedy. Like, seriously. When we were spending our times watching inane cartoons, collecting stickers, playing video games/sports, or ogling the guys in the latest issue of Seventeen, Kaling was putting on skits that she co-wrote with her weekend-friend (Oh, it’s a thing. Read the book.) for her family.

There are two chapters in the book that I absolutely loved. The first one is titled, “Chubby for Life,” where Kaling discusses her weight. According to her, she’s always been chubby except for two periods in her life: 1) when a middle school classmate embarrassed her into eating less and 2) when she exercised regularly in college with the help of an incredibly generous friend who seemed to have a lot of time on her hands. Otherwise, Mindy Kaling = Chubby. And she’s okay with that. Really. The point of this chapter is to show how unsupportive Hollywood is. I know what you’re thinking: duh. But Kaling explains it like this: in Hollywood, it’s okay for people to be skinny or fat. But if you are somewhere in between, you’re frustrating. Stylists don’t know how to dress you and people have a hard time casting you. Mindy gets around this problem by writing her own characters (e.g. Kelly Kapoor in The Office).

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