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Wiki says: A southern belle (derived from the French word belle, ‘beautiful’) is an archetype for a young woman of the AmericanOld South’s upper class.

RoadTrip Success!

Well maybe the definition of a Southern Belle is a little archaic and superficial, but I plan to become more intimately acquainted with those states who once made up a Confederacy.

For better or worse, Michigan has always been my home.  Although I often detested and felt limited by the small town I was raised in, heading back to MI from college, Chicago, and then NYC was always a trip that I looked forward to.  There’s a feeling of calm when you’re heading back to a world so recognizable – knowing every street, where the creaky floor board is, how to sneakily turn up the heat on the pool just enough that your dad won’t notice, and being able to walk to the bathroom in the dark without tripping and no fumbling for lightswitches, since hell, you’ve been in the same house you entire life (well, except for the first eight months but who’s counting).

Well as of last week, the life I knew has changed by… 692.77 miles and an 11 hour drive (Mapquest).

That’s right, folks, my parents, Northerner’s born and bred, have relocated to Tunica, Mississippi!  You may be familiar with the city (no judgments here) because it is the third most popular gambling destination in the United States, behind Vegas and Atlantic City!  My Dad is not a professional poker player and I doubt my mom will ever wear the costume of a cocktail waitress, but they will live a mere ten minutes from the lights of the casinos.

My mom and I road-tripped down to Tunica last week for the final move – the two of us, Skippy the dog, and a load of my mom’s favorite plants (the “greenhouse” had much more room than poor Skippy and I who had to share the front seat!).  Tunica is a very cute little town overflowing with nice, friendly southerners.  I got my hair done (note to self: always get hair done in South; much better pricing than NYC extravagance!) and in that two hours, was given a brief lesson in Southern etiquette and history.

Dad in front of the Tunica Times newspaper

But I need to know more.  The South truly is a different world. Not only do people have accents  (which is #1 on my Southern Belle list – I hope to pick mine up over the Christmas holidays) but a different history than what I grew up with.  So while I’m searching for all the light switches in our new house next time I visit (when I left after my stay, there were outdoor lights on that we had no idea how they came on, or how to turn off!), I plan to be educating myself on the life from my perch in NYC.

My Southern Book List:

Mom & Skippy in the MS living room pre-moving truck arrival

I wouldn’t even know where to begin to make this a Southern Belle Challenge, but I would love to hear if anyone wanted to dive in to the deep south with me!  Also, I’m sure I’m missing valuable southern literature so please y’all, feel free to make suggestions.

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There is endless entertainment to be found in the incorrectly, humorously translated signs featured in the “Strange Signs from Abroad” article on the NYT:

I found myself laughing in the obvious, and for the most part harmless, confusion on display as language barriers turn toilets into fishing ponds and the occasional crude translation.

But it also makes me think to my own confusion (and I admit, occasional irritation) as I try to order take out from the delicious Thailand Cafe (for you NYC’ers, make note they open their front windows and have $5 pineapple lychee mojito specials) down Second Ave, and I look at my iPhone in confusion, wondering is my voice breaking up? It says I have full service so why are they not understanding that I want pad thai and cashew chicken with brown rice?  So I speak louder, thinking if only I can enunciate enough it will be understood, and my order won’t incorrectly be beef chow-mein or spicy noodles.

Obviously, the problem isn’t my phone (though seriously, AT&T if you’re reading this, do something about my dropped calls pleasssssssssssssse) but the language barrier between my English and the order-taker’s non.  I’m not ignorant though – I only speak one language (and I think to think I speak it well, but still – single language speaker here) as opposed to these people crossing oceans and coming not understanding a single word spoken and somehow picking it up… which is just incredible.

My thoughts seem to be all over the place, but really my point is to suggest that you read GIRL IN TRANSLATION, the amazing debut novel from Jean Kwok.  A Riverhead title, I first read this book in manuscript form on my patio last year and was instantly hooked.  I could feel the pain of protagonist Kimberly Chang as she and her mother immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn and lost everything along the way.  History, tradition, language… everything was gone, and replaced with poverty and sweatshops and a freezing cold apartment during NYC winters.

What really struck me about this novel is how Kwok was able to capture the confusion of languages.  She explains how Chinese sounds to outsiders, and her mother’s struggle at understand the English language.  And in this situation, when it really is life, it’s not funny like the signs shown above.  Also incredible is how Kimberly measures cost by how many skirts she and her mother would have to clean at the sweat shop:  “…the jackets cost at least 20,000 skirts each.” – it gives a whole new value to the dollar.

So my point to  you (and a reminder to myself) is to have tolerance and patience.  My intention is not to make this book sound like a downer – it’s a lovely summer read and definitely one you can share with your mom, sister, and any YA reader in you life.  In fact, I suggest you do share it with them; it will give you lots of discussion and things for which to be thankful!

Remember the last time I talked about the potential for disappointment vs. choosing ignorance?  Well, maybe that’s not exactly what I said, but I did admit to being scared to try something new that slightly deviates from a known, and enjoyed, thing.  Ex: my love of the REBA TV show on Lifetime does not translate to her music, and when I tried to indulge in some of Reba’s greatest hits, it made me gag the next time I tried to watch her show.  My actual point was related to  Joanne Rendell’s wonderful HuffPo writing and my fear of being disappointed in her book, CROSSING WASHINGTON SQUARE, which she thoughtfully sent me and proved me totally WRONG (terrible article synopsis, please read full “Reading: Hobby or Lifestyle ” .  But, that book review is a glowing post for another day.

Kerri and me

NOW on for my totally unrelated comparison.  I’ve probably mentioned a time or two that I’m from a tiny town in Michigan, where you know the same people growing up through the years.  Kerri and I were inseparable throughout most of our childhood, when one of her favorite hobbies would be to stare out her kitchen window and watching the activity of the cute, older neighbor boys (I always just wanted to play fairies with wings and wands of colored paper).  One of them happened to be a very talented basketball player, so her creepy window watching culminated into a more mature crush around 8th grade.

Imagine her euphoria when just last week over Thanksgiving, the two were reunited at long last (and I do mean long; we’ve been out of high school for years).  After several very cheap drinks, some coy smiles and hair flipping, he didn’t know what had come over him.

Now, nothing inappropriate happened of course (there is no scene from Nora Roberts to be played out here), but let’s just say Kerri said that real life was impossible to live up to her eighth grade dreaming.

And there you go, Kerri, at your request a post dedicated to you!  Now pack those bags and come visit.

xoxo-

Lydia

Cover Blurb:  “Treat yourself to this book, please–I can’t recommend it highly enough.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society BookSweet but never boring.  Intense but never overdone.  Inspiring but never preaching.  Loving but never raunchy.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a rare novel, one that comes into our life without a sound, but leaves having made an imprint on our soul.

Such an odd, cumbersome title, and one that may have never appealed to me personally except Random House professionals, Susan Kamil, SVP, Editor-in-Chief, and Jane Von Mehren, VP, Publisher, Trade Paperbacks, came to my NYU SPI class to share their experience and the road to success.  This title is globally recognized as this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List since publication in 2008 (read the inside story of how it achieved such fame in my column on Beneath the Cover, “The Making of a Bestseller”).  Small in stature (the trade paperback a mere 274 pages), this book may initially be cast-off as a whimsical historical fiction novel until you try to put it down… I dare you to leave it untouched for a full 24-hours once you’ve begun.

The characters are lively, quirky, and lovable as they communicate via hand-written letters in 1946, as they rediscover themselves and their world post the trauma and impact of World War II.  You find yourself wanting novelist Juliet Ashton as your own pen pal and quiet Dawsey Adams as a neighbor.  Twists and turns are discrete and natural so that you almost don’t realize when a revelation occurs and the impact in the character’s life.

This novel celebrates people who love books and the written word.  Text, language and history are embraced within remarkable friendships.

Though the era has passed, issues of love, hope, and the kindness of the human spirit will always be timeless and this book (I wager) is destined to become a classic alongside the titles of the authors celebrated in the text, including the Brontes, Austen, Shakespeare, etc… This book  appeals to a wide audience, as it is told from multiple perspectives allowing a glimpse into different psyches.  I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote, above, to give yourself the gift of this book.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A
  • Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Publisher: Random House

As I finally got around to uploading photos from January to current on Facebook, I realized that 2009 has already been a year to remember (although I don’t look photogenic in any of the moments!).

Yes, it’s true I have joined the ranks of the unemployed, but I’ve also been motivated and inspired to follow my dreams of launching a career in book publishing, started this blog which has become quite an enjoyable hobby, begun to really appreciate Chicago and all it offers, been to my first Bulls game, Cocokey Resort with three of my best friends, had the #1 bracket in my pool as of NOW (sorry, MSU, I bet correctly that UNC would pull off the win), started a volunteer relationship with a worthwhile organization (<3 to you, Open Books), been blessed with a baby nephew, and been lucky enough to have the love, support and enjoyment of a wonderful family and system of friends.

Alright, fine, I may be a little tipsy from watching the pathetic game that MSU just played, but I am thankful for all this year has already brought (I cannot believe Easter is this Sunday – time has flown by) and all it promises in the future.  I hope you all enjoyed my Miller Lite induced ramblings (potentially found some inspiration yourself?), but hopefully this little nugget will serve as a reminder for the important things next time I get frustrated when job searching or waiting for spring to come to  Chicago.

Heading home on the train tomorrow, looking forward to some quality MI time with the family and good books, while curled up in my favorite chair!  Hopefully book reviews to come shortly… Hitting the “publish” button before I can overthink and delete this…

One of the joys of not being employed full-time is the freedom I have with my days… Sunday, Monday, Thursday – they tend to be more open for me (of course I have my” blogations”, the news, keeping up on the latest trends, yoga…), and this freedom is really convenient in the event of a monumental event, like the birth of my new baby nephew, Alton Isaac! So, blessed that I am, I was able to travel a couple states away to meet the little critter yesterday.

That little set up is just to give you some perspective on my emotional state when I read the book I’m about to review (not just for you all to congratulate me on being an AUNT!), but I think I was feeling a little less stoic than usual.

Since Randy Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture” presentation on September

The Pausch family

The Pausch family

18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon, his advice and adages have swept the media, leading to a best-selling book.  Presented after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, his focus is on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”

First off, I am very impressed that he really did achieve his childhood dreams – from the Nasa-esque “zero gravity” to working for Disney.  It’s hard for me to even remember what I used to “dream”, other than living in a big city so I guess at least I accomplished something (along with the other 9.5MM people so I guess I’m not all that special).  Regardless, in this book of advice on how to lead my life, the things that hit home with me were the more family-oriented musings, from winning the “parent lottery” (I completely relate to this one, as Pausch says, “I already had this incredible leg up in life because I had a mother and father who got so many things right.”) to his worry of how to convey his love to his young children after his death.

I found this book interesting, but wasn’t nearly as enamored with the message as I had planned to be.  I harbor no doubts that Randy Pausch was a good man and a beloved husband and father (and teared up many times, but please refer back to paragraph 1 on my emotional state!), but I don’t think his advice was ground-breaking and doubt the impact would have been nearly the same had he not been terminally ill.  He seemed a little full of himself (to be fair, he does acknowledge he tends to be a know-it-all), and mentions his salary more than I thought was appropriate, but he also seemed like an optimistic, friendly guy who was making the most of an awful death sentence.

Read this if: You’re in the “family” sort of mood, and are looking for a reminder to appreciate the people who love you and you love in return, and the time you have together.

Avoid this if: You have no interest in yet another “life lesson” book.  In my opinion, “The Little Prince” is much more valuable.the-last-lecture2

  • Title: The Last Lecture
  • Author: Randy Pausch
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B-

RIP Randy Pausch, July 25, 2008

Book vs. Movie

By now, who isn’t familiar with this term?  If you haven’t read the book, at the very least you’ve seen the trailers for the movie, currently in theaters, featuring a multitude of celebrities: Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Justin Long, Drew Barrymore, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Connelly and Kevin Connolly make up the all-star cast

I’m sure authors Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (both contributing writershjntiy-book to the smash success “Sex & the City) had no idea the effect their book, aka “The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys,” would have on the world.  I remember first reading “He’s Just Not That Into You” (HJNTIY) back when it came out in 2004 and was on it’s way to becoming some sort of a classic.  I was a naive and somewhat innocent college sophomore, and thought that the book was a more amusing and informational form of the Bible.

Though my Advanced Composition teacher ended up stealing the book (Ms. Laura Elizabeth, you disappeared with my “Bible” and my portfolio!) I still have quite a vivid recollection of the empowerment I felt upon completion.  Although I’ve never found myself in a terribly unhealthy relationship (some are less happy to remember than others…), I have definitely been blind to the reality of any given situation.  Told with humorous examples, comedic banter and the ability to make you smile through your tears of humiliation (you wonder how you missed that obvious hint!), the book is a feel-good tool to encourage every woman to go out there and find the relationship she deserves, not just one she’s stuck with.

Since I really did enjoy the book, appreciate the message and was able to occasionally relate to the situations with self-deprecating laughter, I had high expectations for the movie.

Let me admit, I am not a movie person.  I am terrible at sitting still, rarely captivated by what is happening on screen and I don’t even like popcorn (though I looooove the icees at theaters!).  I think books are a much more effective and enjoyable way to portray a story, although a movie is much less effort.  Anyways, I was prepared to really enjoy HJNTIY, as it had been receiving mostly rave reviews.

hesjustnotthatintoyou_000My movie partner was a guy I’m casually seeing, and he only went to the movie since he lost a bet (lesson to be learned, never bet me on random historical facts!).  He complained about going, but I think ended up liking it and laughing more than me.  It was your stereotypical romantic comedy with a little bit more humor, I didn’t think it had nearly the powerful and positive message that the book shared with it’s audience.  The movie poses the question:

“are you the exception… or are you the rule?”

The movie follows different characters through life in Maryland (totally random, right?), and it’s almost one of those six-degrees of separation examples, how everyone is inextricably linked without knowing.  It’s interesting to see how all the lives tie together, but painful at times to watch as Gigi (Goodwin) is pathetically desperate to date someone, anyone, or as Janine’s (Connelly) husband enters into an affair.

It wasn’t a bad movie, but I did leave feeling as if something were missing.  Oh, right, it’s the idea that things don’t always turn out as you planned, and the guy doesn’t always realize that you’re the greatest woman in the world for him (though I’m sure you are), and that sometimes, relationships are disappointing and people aren’t meant to be together and it doesn’t work out (and I swear I’m not even bitter or cynical!). I guess one marriage does dissolve through the course of the movie, but in the current state where affairs and divorces are commonplace, it would be almost more satisfying (less stereotypical, at least) had the woman been responsible, or at minimum, in control, of the relationship!  I definitely think the uplifting lesson conveyed in the book is somehow lost with the on-screen adaptation.

Read the book if: You need motivation, inspiration, or optimism in your relationship or life in general.  Pass the book to a friend if you can see they’re stuck in a dead end relationship and a third-party unbiased source yelling at them could help realization dawn.

Avoid the book if: You like losers, and accept you’re stuck with them.  No no kidding, read the book.

Watch the movie if: You like happy endings, stereotypical romantic comedies, pathetic women, cheating men, and some laughter along the way.  Though I suggest you wait until it comes out on DVD and make a wine night out of it, much better use of $$$$.

Avoid the movie if: You’re looking for a movie with a lasting impact.

  • Title: He’s Just Not That Into You
  • Author(s): Greg Behrendt & Liz Tuccillo
  • Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment
  • NovelWhore’s Grade (Book): A-
  • NovelWhore’s Grade (Movie): C+

**As usual, the book is much better than the movie!

"Summer of George" book club taking a break from intellectual discussion

"Summer of George" book club taking a break from intellectual discussion

I don’t knit (though I wish I could), but I do belong to a semi-monthly book club, a concept that also sounds rather old lady-ish.  “Summer of George” (named after a random Seinfeld episode, no one seems to be able to remember why we call ourselves that) has been together since last November, and in the four months since have managed to find time to in our busy lives to get together and have intellectual discussions.

In reality, I think the eight of us (missing two from the picture above) gather together to eat freshly baked goods, drink wine, catch up on each others live, gossip (the media really needs to leave Jessica Simpson alone on her weight issue), and then manage to find time to discuss our latest book, aka intellectual discussion.

The January-February novel we tackled was a pretty heavy choice – “Blindness” by Jose Saramago, the 1998 winner of the Nobel prize, the highest award in literature.  Before reading the book, I was remembering how when I was younger my friends and I used to play “blind” – where we would take turns putting on a blindfold and leading each other around a store, house, etc. to see what it would be like.  That innocent attempt at living without sight seems so trivial when faced with a book that brings up an unspeakable epidemic.

I am struggling with how to review this book – it is an epic novel and an extraordinary view on humanity, both from the aspect of just how low people can stoop, as well as the ability to survive against all odds.  Saramago takes us to a place full of horror and the degradation of society.  While even in the midst of the loss of all dignity and material things, generosity and finding beauty in the spirit of others still manages to exist.

Taking place in an unnamed city, country, that could feasibly be anywhere, one man is suddenly struck by a “white blindness. ” Opposite the idea of darkness typically associated with the blind, this affliction leaves leaves people with whiteness, as if they “were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea.”  The government tries to contain this epidemic by putting the first few hundred people struck blind into an ancient mental asylum facility to fend for themselves, with no leadership, health care or seeing eyes – except one.  The reader is aware that the “doctor’s wife” still has her sight (beyond all reason), though she claimed blindness to be quarantined with her husband.  This knowledge is privy to few, and eventually to a sort of rag-tag family unit that she leads out of quarantine, into a city in which every other person is blind, searching for food in the midst of human excretement and utter filth.

There are bonds forged in this novel, between characters who are never named or given much in the way of physical descriptions.  Through the shared humiliation of rape by a gang of blind renegade men, to the sharing of what little food is had, to the loss of life that was known before, the characters survive in an example of camaraderie and survival not to be rivaled by many other stories. The people are turned into animals by circumstance.

This was not an easy book to read.  It gets very dense in the middle, discussing survival and the more tactile problems like overflowing bathrooms (this book mentions bodily functions more than necessary, I believe) and simply all the menial aspects that become so important when unable to see.  I also tend to be a stickler for traditional grammar, and Saramago throws the MLA book out the window.  Run-on sentences with few dialogue indicators make this a book you have to stay actively involved with and can’t just ingest without putting forth intense focus and concentration.

I almost wonder if I am not a deep enough person to truly understand and appreciate this book.  While not a page turner that I was compelled to finish in one night, I have found myself reflecting on this novel in the days since I read it.   I would suggest this be a book you read with a discussion outlet available, I appreciated it more with the feedback from the other book club girls.

Alright my mini book report here needs to come to an end.  I will come back and edit this post as soon as I get around to watching the movie-tie in that just came out on DVD – Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore are in it, so pretty big names means it must be a decent movie?  I am curious as to how all the filth and violence will be portrayed, not to mention the struggles the actors must have faces pretending to be blind.blindness

  • Title: Blindness
  • Author: Jose Saramago
  • Publisher: Harcourt
  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Reading Enjoyment: C
  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Memorability & Impact: A

Ironically, after posting about “The Little Prince” yesterday I visited another of my favorite websites this morning, http://www.postsecret.com, and discovered I’m not alone in my adoration of this book.

Though I like to think I learned  more during my four years at the University of Dayton (I think my parents would kill me if I told them my private-school education could be replaced with this $10 book!), I do offer this further proof of the powerful and inspirational message in the story.

I encourage all of you reading this to visit http://www.postsecret.com and find pieces of yourself in the secrets shared by others.  The site is updated every Sunday.

Thank you for sharing, PostSecret!

Wow, I feel this blog is like a tattoo – once you get started it becomes addicting and you want to add more and more (while I have no tattoos myself, I’ve been told this is true…). I would like to send a big thank you to both Nick and Jaxibella, while I have no idea how each of you discovered my blog I am so excited you did!

As I sit here drinking coffee in my pajamas looking at the foggy day out my window, in awe of the www (world wide web), I think about what else I am willing to share.  What immediately comes to mind is the sketch drawing I’ve been meaning to frame and hang on my wall for inspiration from Antoine De Saint Exupery’s “The Little Prince.”

My advice to you (and I tend to give decent advice, at least when my beer goggles aren’t in place at 2am) is to get out and buy this book.  An even $10 at any book store (though I suggest supporting your local independent seller) it will change your life.  A mere 85 pages, with pictures included, this is a story that will stick with you.

A life fable wrapped up in a cute fairy tale, this story encourages you to never just accept things at first glance and to always look deeper, both at the object and within yourself. Similar to Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” (we’ll look at that book another time), it encourages the reader to follow dreams and reminds each person to “never fully become a grown up” – quote courtesy of an old friend.

From the back of “The Little Prince”: “And the pilot realizes that when life’s events are too difficult to understand, there is no choice but to succumb to their mysteries.”

The Little Prince, enlightening on an abysmal Chicago day

The Little Prince, enlightening on an abysmal Chicago day

  • Title: The Little Prince
  • Author: Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  • Publisher: A Harvest Book, an imprint of Harcourt, Inc.
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A

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