Book Four: Honeymoon with My Brother

Honeymoon with My Brother, Franz Wisner

Oh boy, did I dislike this. Seriously, I really really hated this book. I can find nothing redeeming to say about it. This guy comes off as a major-league asswipe through his telling of his being dumped just days before his wedding, and I can't imagine how one could think anything but, "Thank god she left him!" And then he sets off on this extended "honeymoon" with his brother, and he tries to be a travel writer, and yet all of his observations about other cultures and countries are so trite and/or don't make you at all interested in the places he's been. Not to mention many of his stories are simply about the women he sleeps with, my favorite being the sexy "model" in Prague who tries to stick around after they have sex (apparently, ladies, this is a bad thing), which freaks him out enough to lie and say he's leaving town just to get rid of her (but not before he bemoans having to do this since the sex was so very great). Seriously, this guy lives in super yikesy-ville. Or we could discuss the fact that the premise of this book is that over the course of his travels he really gets to know his brother, but his brother still just feels like a shadow of a person with no real inner life or motivations. All I can recall about him is that he liked to run. That's all. Is this because he really didn't get to know his brother at all, or because he's simply not a good writer? Probably, it's both.

I hate to be such a hater, but I can not tell you enough how much you should not read this book.

Book Three: How to Have Your Second Child First

How to Have Your Second Child First, Kerry Colburn and Rob Sorensen

I don't even know if I can critique the advice in this book since my first child is still floating around in my belly, but I will do my best. It definitely made for a good read, seeing as how it's the only baby book I've read cover to cover so far, so points for that. It's organized in giant list format, so there's 100 points of advice about how to raise your child. I enjoyed and was enlightened by much of the advice ("You don't need to buy all that stuff," "The baby name you've chosen is perfect," "Don't fear the nighttime noises," "Changing tables are not imperative," and "You really can take a shower" were all great). The problem for me is that a lot of the advice was repetitive, and that got more apparent as the book went on. It's like they front loaded all the good stuff and when they got to number 45 or so they started stretching it a bit. It also started to get into whatever-you-do-is-okay-just-stop-worrying-about-it territory. Which is probably great advice, I'm sure, and not at all a bad thing, but the redundancy wore on me. Also, it feels like there were a few bits of contradictory advice. In one point they tell you not to overpack your baby bag with too much stuff, and then in another they tell you to load up your car with everything but the kitchen sink. Which is it? And then they tell you to hold off on making plans because you won't want to go anywhere for a while, and few pages later they tell you to get out and travel and go places and, hey, it's not that big a deal with a baby! I'm sure this all fits into the do-whatever-you-want-and-your-baby-will-be-fine theme, however as a first-time parent, I want to know what's what!

I know I'm acting like I know it all (hubris, what's that?). But clearly, I don't. That's why I'm reading books like this. Still, I would recommend it. If only for the fact that it's comforting to know you don't have to worry over every single detail and having actual, real-life parents remind you of that is a good, good thing.

Book Two: The Egg and I

The Egg and I, Betty MacDonald

Okay, I really loved this book. Everything about it pushed all my buttons. A young wife moves to the country with her husband who has a dream of starting a chicken farm. She has to help her husband with all of the farm work and also run a household including doing all the cooking, washing, baking, canning and cleaning, all without running water or power. And the country she moves to is the Olympic Peninsula, just an hour or so from where I grew up, so of course I'm a softie for that. It's a story told with such a great sense of humor by a woman who obviously disliked much of her circumstances. There's a reason this book is a classic, including the fact that it introduces the Maw and Paw Kettle, Betty MacDonald's hilarious neighbors, to the world.

However, it's just too hard to ignore the horribly racist chapter about the Pacific Northwest Native Americans, "With Bow and Arrow" (never mind the various comments sprinkled throughout the book about how much she can't stand "Indians.") I know some people can excuse this because of when it was written (1945) but this level of awfulness is just too much. Not only does she put down specific Native Americans that she meets for being drunk or lazy, but she says that "the coast Indian is squat, bowlegged, swarthy, flat-faced, broad-nosed, dirty, diseased, ignorant and tricky. There were few exceptions among the many we knew." Oh, but it gets worse. "Little red brothers or not, I didn't like Indians, and the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them."

I know, right?! I honestly think that there's no excuse for that kind of writing, no matter what the time or place. For a book that is so very funny and touching and moving, to have such a vitriol-filled chapter thrown in the middle of it, just really poops all over a great thing and leaves a bad, poopy taste in my mouth.

Book One: The Serpent's Tale

The Serpent's Tale, Ariana Franklin

Whew! It's good to know that my eyes can still scan pages and that my brain can turn letters into words and sentences that I am able to understand and make sense of. Because I seriously thought I had lost it. In my favor was the fact that this was a good old fashioned page turner, a medieval mystery with a tight plot and good characters. Yes, it's the sequel to a book that I read a couple of years ago and just looking back on that review, I'm surprised that I didn't like it more. Maybe it's better than I thought? Or better in my recollection of it? Because I was honestly excited to pick this one up and continue reading the adventures of Adelia, the Sicilian pathologist who goes to England to solve various mysteries at the behest of King Henry II. Sure, it still has its share of clunkiness, in the form of having to remind us every few pages that Adelia is a woman and that she shouldn't be practicing medicine and that people think less of her because she is a woman and isn't it awful the way women are belittled and oppressed. Okay, I get it already! Things suck for women in the 12th century! Yes, I'm proud to call myself a feminist but I don't need to be reminded of these things at every turn.

Books Fiftyseven and Fiftyeight: Oryx and Crake and A Christmas Carol

Whoa, what happened to me? Well, you can go here to read the long story, or I can just tell you that I got knocked up (and I got married... see how smart that was?) and suddenly lost all ability to read. Seriously, I don't know what happened, other than all I could do for the last three months was lie around on the couch watching television and bemoaning my queasiness. However, looking back at my long lost book blog, I did realized that I managed to finish almost two more books by the end of the year (and, in my queasiness, just neglected to write about them), bringing my yearly total up to a record-breaking 58. Secretly I had been planning on trying to read at least 62 books to make up for the 10 Sookie Stackhouse books that I disgustingly sucked up this year, but I'll be fine settling for 58. So, here's some mini reviews of what I managed to actually finish.

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

I enjoyed the majority of this novel in spite of itself, though I hated the ending. There, I said it. And then I hated it more when I read that Margaret Atwood hadn't even planned on writing a sequel. But until I got to the last few pages, I actually enjoyed the journey uncovering the mystery of what happened. And even the strange and enigmatic characters (what few there were) were enjoyable to be with. But wow, what a shitty ending.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

On the other hand, I love everything about Dickens. Now that's and ending! Sure, it's a little trite and we all know the story, but if it's written well, who cares, right? And I was happy to read a Christmas book to get me in the holiday spirit.

See, I meant it when I said "mini-reviews," because that's all you're going to get. Now, looking ahead to 2011, which I resolve to pronounce "twenty eleven" even if it kills me. Since the baby is due at the end of June, that means I'm probably going to have to buckle down and do some serious reading before then. And, even with my poor math skills, I think that means I'll have to read two books a week, right?