Book Ten: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

At a neighborhood party a few weeks ago, my neighbor and I were having a drunken conversation about books, and when Alexander McCall Smith came up I started raving about the Sunday Philosophy Club series and she started raving about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and neither of us had read the other. A week or so later, she showed up on our doorstep with the first few of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books for me to borrow, so I returned the favor and lent her the first couple of Sunday Philosophy Club books. Though I absolutely adore the Isabel Dalhousie novels, I've been hesitant to get into the Precious Ramotswe series because I wasn't sure if the setting really appealed to me. I mean, cold rainy Scotland is right up my alley, but hot arid Botswana kind of sounds like hell to me. But I was happy to discover that this book was super duper great and that I'm looking forward to reading the rest (discover--ha! as if I'm the first person ever to realize these are great books).

Also, I found it funny how similar the two protagonists are:

  • Both protagonists are women.
  • Both protagonists are women with an innate curiosities and penchants for detective work (though Precious is a detective by profession and Isabel is a sort-of-detective by hobby and, OK, so there's less detective stuff as the series goes on).
  • Both women love to drink tea.
  • Both women have maids who have been with them/their families for a while.
  • Both women seem to really love their countries and can't ever imagine living anywhere else.
  • Both women have a friend who acts as a sounding board and who may turn into a love interest later on...

Anyhow, Alexander McCall Smith had me with all the tea drinking. Seriously, I think someone is drinking bush tea on every other page. Now, that sounds like the good life to me.

Book Nine: Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert

Another of my book club's picks, which, I'm pleased to say, I finished far in advance of the book club meeting. Usually I'm rushing at the last minute as I finish reading the final chapters while trying to whip up a last minute dessert to bring to the meeting. But not this time--this is the new, improved Ara Jane who doesn't procrastinate who just might catch up on her book reading project in a few weeks if she keeps reading so diligently.

I honestly would never have picked this book in a million years. But I'm pretty happy to have read it. Elizabeth Gilbert at times made me infuriated with her. It's hard to not read a memoir and feel like the writer is far too self involved because is that not the nature of a memoir? I just wanted to reach across the pages and shake her and yell, "Snap out of it! Everyone's got their problems--what makes you think yours are so important and critical?" And then by the next page I sympathized with her, because I know how easy it is to get so wrapped up in your own issues that you can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak. And I think maybe that's what she's getting at here in the long run. Point proven, Ms. Gilbert.

The other thing that was difficult for me was all the God talk (actually, I think that's what's at the core of this book). While she doesn't speak particularly about one specific God or promote one religion over another, and even points out repeatedly that she doesn't believe that any one religion is correct, to someone who doesn't believe in any God at all I found it a bit too much. Why put all this effort and emotional energy into worrying about God? Who really cares? If it takes that much work and gives you that much angst, why sweat it so much? But, I found the story so interesting and her writing so simple and very funny and sweet, that in the end I didn't really mind all the other bullshit.

Book Eight: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

Boo for being sick! I was on the mend last week, and then Friday rolled around and I felt even worse than before, so I spent the entire weekend feeling too awful to even pick up a book. I filled my time with endless ANTM marathons on MTV, horribly wonderful movies that I was recently reminded of, and this evil game.

I'm not sure how much I can say about this. I mean, we all know how much Mark Twain rules, how this is a classic story, how we've all read it at some point--or were supposed to have read it. In fact, that's how I came to read this. Sitting around with Chris and two other friends, we were trying to find a classic book in common that we've all read. We couldn't come up with anything. So then we tried to come up with a classic that none of us had read. And then we all decided that we should have a book club where we all finally read said book and discuss it. Not sure how we landed on Tom Sawyer, but this will be our inaugural book for our book club. Yay!

Reading it now, I know that I recognize portions of it, but I don't think I ever read it in its entirety. The whole deal around whitewashing the fence is one of my favorite stories and I remember the stuff about getting lost in the cavern and Injun Joe's treasure, but I can't recall actually having read it. Is that true for a lot of classics--you know the story but you don't think you actually read it?

Anyhow, this was super fun to read and made me realize how much I love a good narrator. One who is a recognizable character without being an actual character in the story. Mark Twain is super good at that. He's witty and sometimes sarcastic and seems to love and understand his characters. I think that's what takes a really simple story and turns it into a really great one. Also, this edition of the book from The Mark Twain Project, is really nice. It's got all of the original illustrations and some nice helpful end notes.

Book Seven: I Love You, Beth Cooper

I Love You, Beth Cooper, Larry Doyle

Denis Cooverman, our protagonist, is class valedictorian of BGHS, and in his graduation speech he throws caution to the wind and declares, "I love you, Beth Cooper," the girl he has consistently sat behind and had an unrequited crush on through all of school. Denis is captain of the debate team, while Beth is head cheerleader, which, in the world of teen movies, means their love is not destined to be. This is the impetus for all the action in this novel that follows Denis and his possibly gay best friend, Rich, through their evening of wacky hijinks. The abundance of pop culture references in this book might have initially turned me off, but about half way through I realized I just needed to relax and enjoy this book for what it is, which is essentially the literary form of all the teen movies it references. And being a lover of teen movies, who am I to balk at that? Each chapter begins with an illustration of what our hero, Denis Cooverman, looks like at that point in the evening (drawn awesomely by cartoonist Evan Dorkin), and is accompanied by a quote from some teen movie or another. These are the quotes that I picked up on, though if I gave it even a little more thought I may have gotten more:

Ghost World
Say Anything
Napoleon Dynamite
Breakfast Club
Back to the Future
Pretty in Pink
Sixteen Candles
Fast Times at Ridgemont High

I can only guess that the ones I didn't get came from movies like Porky's, American Pie, or Weird Science. The thing that's funny is, this is a book about contemporary teens, and yet most of the references are so old, would these kids even have gotten them? Sure, Napoleon Dynamite or maybe even Rushmore, but the others? Which makes me think, am I the prime demographic for this book? Maybe change my gender and I would even be a more perfect target. But, the thing is, this is really a funny book. I laughed out loud and even read some parts to Chris. Larry Doyle has, after all, written for "The Simpsons," "Beavis and Butt-Head," and, oh hey, the film adaptation of this very book! Way to bring it all back around to its self-referential self.

Book Six: What the Dead Know

What the Dead Know, Laura Lippman

Thank god for being sick. Seriously, I've been holed up since Friday night doing nothing but reading and watching movies whilst blowing my nose, sniffling, coughing, and drinking enormous amounts of fluids. However, even if I wasn't sick, I still probably would have torn through this book at the same pace. I read this book on the recommendation of this super funny lady (aka Mindy Kaling, aka a writer for, and Kelly Kapoor from, "The Office"). I've been reading more mysteries in the last year (who am I kidding, I think before last year I had probably never read a mystery because I discounted them as trashy and simplistic), and was pleased to hear that there is a category called Mysterary. Now I can read mysteries and still be a great big snob? Ooh, fancy!

The simple setup for this amazing story is that two sisters disappeared in the 70s and until now they haven't been found and there are no clues surrounding their disappearance. But, a woman involved in a car accident is claiming that she is one of the sisters and has been missing for nearly 30 years. The novel unfolds as she slowly tells pieces of her story, but of course there are dead ends and things that still don't add up. I won't tell anymore, because I seriously want everyone to read this book!

Book Five: The Man of My Dreams

The Man of My Dreams, Curtis Sittenfeld

Everything about this book seems like such a cliche. It's about a young woman growing up, chronicling her relationships--though more often than not, lack of relationships--with men. And, of course, there is the horrible father who she has unresolved issues with, and obviously plays a part in her distorted views of men. And there's the therapist and crazy cousin and bunch of other standard characters. However, Curtis Sittenfeld is such a freaking genius, that she can make all of this, still, a really good book. (I don't even need to say how good a book Prep was, do I?) I'm not going to say that The Man of My Dreams is a great book, but it was still quite good. I think it's the moments of truth and honesty that make up for the general triteness of the plot, when you see the character do something or say something and feel that it could have been you doing or saying that. Like, how does she get inside my head like that sometimes?

On the same theme, I totally hated the cover of the book. I read the hardcover copy from the library, which was even more embarrassing and made me feel as if I was reading the worst kind of chick lit.

Book Four: Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, Sue Townsend

This was a choice for my most recent book club, but I didn't quite finish the book in time, and then I was stressed out about not having anything special to bring to the book club (I usually like to bake something that goes with the theme of the book but didn't have time this month), and then there was a party at our neighbor's house at the same time, so that all added up to me skipping book club. I am sure at some point in my young adult life I read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, though I can't really remember much about it at all now. However, that hardly meant that I couldn't enjoy this, the most recent installment in the Mole diaries. I take it this book is a bit more serious than the past ones, as Adrian's life kind of spirals out of control in terms of relationships and debt, one of his sons is sent to Iraq for the war, and he is engaged--against his will, it seems--to a women he doesn't like at all. Sometimes it was difficult to read--I mean, it's really hard to watch someone, even a fictitious someone, make horrible choices and not be capable of doing anything about it. Though it's so amazingly funny that I could get past that. The whole back and forth about the swan (Mr. Swan) with Trixie Meadows, the Neighborhood Conflict Co-ordinator, really killed me.

At this rate, I am on an even more dreadful pace than I was last year to finish 52 books. And if I'm going to be totally honest with myself, it's because I watch far too much television. I will try to remedy this, but I'm not going to feel bad if things don't go quite as perfectly as I would like them to.