Saturday, March 22, 2008

Shakespeare: The World as Stage - Bill Bryson

The Basics: Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson, 2007, 208 pages, hard cover

How I found it: This book was on a bunch of bestseller lists for a while. I'm not a huge Shakespeare fan, but I did study his works a whole bunch. As well, I've read most of Bryson's work and enjoyed it.

What's it about?: This is a biography of Shakespeare for the lay person, written in Bryson's joking style. The book exposes how little is actually know about Shakespeare's life, and at times is a bit more about life in London in Shakespeare's time than about the man himself. The book also briefly delves into the controversy surrounding whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote some or all of his works.

Did I like it?: I found this book to be a quick and easy read. I learned a lot about what we know and don't know about Shakespeare's life, and about the wild speculation a lot of scholars have engaged in over the years. However, I wasn't that into this book, despite how easy it was to read since I just didn't find the content that interesting. I did find Bryson's argument about what might and might not be true about Shakespeare's life to be quite convincing, however.

Will you like it?: I think this is a must read for casual fans of Shakespeare, especially if you don't know anything about the man behind the literature. However, if you're not into Shakespeare, perhaps you won't find this book that interesting.

But don't take my word for it: The usual product info and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from the UK's The Telegraph, a review from the blog ShakespeareGeek, another one from another blog (ricklibrarian), and finally one from the Times Online.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Model Summer - Paulina Porizkova

The Basics: A Model Summer, Paulina Porizkova, 2007, 324 pages, hardcover

How I found it: As regular readers of this blog may know, one of my guilty pleasures is the crap-tastic America's Next Top Model. This season 80s supermodel Paulina Porizkova is a judge. She has recently written a novel about being a teenage model in the 80s, and it sounded intriguing.

What's it about?: This novel is about 15 year old Jirina, a Swede of Czech origin (like Paulina) who travels to Paris for the summer following the lure of a modeling career. She has to grow up fast and overcome her naivete as she is faced with issues she has never dealt with before, including abortion, drugs, and sex. Of course, she also deals with the everyday aspects of modeling, such as go-sees (auditions/castings), photo shoots, and squabbles with other models.

Did I like it?: Like Top Model, this book is a guilty pleasure. The writing isn't spectacular, but it is capable. From what I know of the modeling industry, Jirina's experience is fairly typical. The plot was fairly predictable, but for me, that didn't make it any less enjoyable.

Will you like it?: I would recommend this book as a beach book or vacation book, or some other light reading. However, I don't know if I would advise spending money on it - borrow it from the library then try not to drop it in the pool.

But don't take my word for it: The usual publishers blurbs from Amazon, a review from the blog Memphis Reads, one from the New York Times, and another from the blog Impatient Reader.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's - John Elder Robison

The Basics: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, John Elder Robison, 2007, 288 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I don't remember how I heard about this book (maybe a bestseller list?) but I know I wanted to read it because I am interested in people with Asperger's Syndrome having known a few of them growing up, and having spent a lot of time with people who work as computer programmers.

What's it about?: This book is a memoir about Robison's life. He is the brother of Augusten Burroghs, who wrote his own memoir, Running with Scissors (which I haven't read), which mentions Robison. Both kids had exceptionally bad childhoods, and Robison does touch on that. However, most of the book focuses on Robison describing what it is like to have Asperger's Syndrome (a type of high functioning Austism spectrum disorder). He does a great job of logically explaining how his thought process is different than that of the average person while reflecting, with great hindsight, on how his alternative way of thinking has affected his life and interactions with others. All of this would make for an interesting book, but in addition to being different, Robison has led a rather spectacular life. He toured with Kiss while working on their stage effects, and for a time worked as an electronic toy designer.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down. It was fascinating to read about how people with Asperger's think and as I said, Roision has had a rather interesting life. People often assume that those with Asperger's are robotic and don't really have feelings. Robison dispels this myth, and then some, by giving various anecdotes about his life and how these events have affected him.

Will you like it?: I found this book to be a great read. It will appeal to readers of both fiction and non-fiction since it has a plot-like structure. I think its also a great book to read to better understand people with autism spectrum disorder since most of us have no idea what life is like for them.

But don't take my word for it: The usual blurbs and reader reviews (all of which are positive 5 start reviews - highly unusual) from Amazon, a review from Entertainment Weekly, one from the blog Framed and Booked, another from The A.V. Club, one from the Times Online, and finally, the author's website.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Girls of Riyadh - Rajaa Alsanea

The Basics: Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea, 2007, 304 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I believe it was on a list of new and noteworthy fiction at my local public library.

What's it about?: This novel tells the story of four female friends coming of age, attending university, and attempting to find love in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The woman are part of Riyadh's 'velvet class' and live privileged lives. Although they live in a Muslim country, the girls have progressive ideas of love, dating and the role of women in society. However, for the most part, these girls still strive to live with their religion as their guide. This book is a bit like a watered-down Muslim Sex in the City: four friends who are quite different, living 'liberated' lives, dating various men, including one man who is the Saudi equivalent of "Mr. Big". The book was originally written in Arabic, but obviously, I read the English translation.

Did I like it?: This book is in no way 'literature', however it is a good pulpy read. I enjoyed reading it and actually learned a lot about the lives of women living under Muslim law (although I guess I only learned about the lives of rich women). The women themselves are quite likable, although to me their lives seem a bit far fetched and they seem a bit spoiled. It's a bit like the premise of Gossip Girl - that we want to read about the rich privileged people we wish we could be. The idea of attempting to date in a country that has religious police, where women must keep their faces partially hidden, and where dating takes place in secret, and only the phone, was completely foreign to me, and actually quite fascinating. Apparently this book was a bit controversial in the Middle East for its frank discussions of sex and dating, and the fact that its author is a 25 year old female university student. It was even banned in Saudi Arabia and that seems to add to its allure.

Will you like it?: If you liked Sex in the City, you'll like this book. It's a slightly more intelligent beach book and might actually teach you things about the lives of women in the Muslim world that you won't hear on North American television. However, don't expect great literature or any deep thoughts about politics or other hard topics, as this book is pure fluff, and good fluff at that.

But don't take my word for it: The usual publisher-approved blurbs from Amazon, a review from the website Arab View, another review from Homan, Iran's gay and lesbian resource site, one from the UK's Independent, an article from Forbes (cheekily entitled "Saudi Girls Gone Wild") and a summary from the author's web page.