Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book 24: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Book 24, another audio book.  I loved Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Part of the reason I liked that one was that I was so familiar with the story of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that it was a neat experience to see how Zombies were woven into the story.  I was a little apprehensive on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter because I wasn't sure how on earth the story of President Lincoln would translate into some Vampire story.  Would it be too much like Buffy?

Still, I downloaded it from and have been listening to it over the last few weeks during my commute.  I really enjoyed the listen.  I like the historical perspective. There was so much to Abe Lincoln's life that is glossed over or completely eliminated from school books,and  I've never read a standalone biography.  But really, he had quite a remarkable life.

But how on earth would vampires fit into the story of a young Abe Lincoln, and eventually into the White House?  I don't want to give too much away, but what if the Civil War had been about more than slavery and states' rights? What if the South had really been led by vampires intent on enslaving the entire country?  And what other historical events might have been perpetrated by Vampires?  I think you get the gist of the  novel's plot at this point.

That being said, I want to focus a bit now on the listening experience.  Scott Holst is a great narrator. His voice commands the ear the same way a respected orator would.  Clocking in at just over eleven hours to listen, this is perfect for a commute or a good road trip. The story moves quickly, from Lincoln's early childhood, through his presidency and assassination, and then his legacy.  A nice addition to the end of the novel is a brief interview with the author.

So, Seth Grahame-Smith is two for two in  my book. I can't wait to find out what he is writing next!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book 23: Best Friends Forever

Yes, yes. Book 23 was supposed to be the Biography of Mark Twain.  I will eventually finish it.  But, I had a crazy week, and I suddenly wanted Fiction. Part of the reason I'm reading these 52 books is to go through ones I had bought and not finished yet.  Yesterday was rainy and dreary and just cried out for a good story.  Jennifer Weiner's Best Friends Forever fit the bill.

The thing I like about Jennifer Weiner is that she writes about real women. Women who aren't the epitome of beauty as defined by any number of magazines. But also women with real insecurities, a real sense of humor, with things they love and hate about themselves. Women with gumption.

I've had the same best friend since I was 15 years old. While the adventures in Best Friends Forever feel somewhat surreal and beyond anything I can imagine experiencing with my own best friend, the authenticity underlying the friendship between Addie and Val is striking. The sense that there is nothing that can destroy your friendship. The sense of that one person who is there for you, no matter what.   

In this story, Addie and Val's friendship suffered for 15 years, after Val betrayed Addie in high school.  Their lives took very different paths, and on the night of their high school reunion, an accident brings them back together.  Despite the hurt feelings, and despite the betrayal, despite fears about what might happen, Addie and Val are able to resume their friendship and set off on an quirky adventure.

That's the kicker for me.  I have that kind of best friend. I've mentioned her before in other posts, and we've never had an incident between us like the one that ripped Addie and Val's friendship.  Still, there's the comfort in that relationship, that even when we go months between visits, this friend is still the one I first want to tell happy and exciting news. Or the one I want to talk to when I need additional insight somewhere.

That sense of enduring friendship, is, I think, one of life's greatest treasures. I love an opportunity to read any book that celebrates that kind of relationship.

By the way, Good in Bed and In Her Shoes are also excellent reads by Jennifer Weiner.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Progress Now: Book 23

Technically, Book 23 is in progress. I say technically because I've decided what book 23 will be, but in parallel, I am reading three (I think? maybe four?) other books that I think eventually will make it in here but I'm not sure.  For example, I'm reading Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads because I wanted some new quick and easy meal and snack ideas. But I'm not sure I want to count that as a book that I blog about.

I'm also reading Misquoting Jesus, which is very interesting, but I am reading that at night, usually, right before bed, a few pages at a time. At this pace, it might be a while before I finish it.

I'm reading a really interesting one called The Seance that I am loving.  Except, like all good gothic horrors, it is creepy.  In a good way, yes, but not so good if it gives me weird dreams or makes me wonder if I really did hear something downstairs when the house should be asleep. In other words, I have to be careful when I read that one so that it doesn't mess with my head when I'm trying to sleep.  
The other book in progress is an academic look at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I'm also reading that piecemeal, but I want to read Deathly Hallows again before Part 1 of the movie comes out in November.   I likely will blog on that, but I don't want this to turn into the Harry Potter Book Blog. There are already web sites for that.

I'm also not going to blog on the Project Management Book of Knowledge, which I am using to prepare for the PMP exam this summer.   No one wants to read thoughts on that. Trust me.

So, I may just create a list of the "Other Titles Finished" that I read throughout the year, so I can truly see how many books I am able to get through.

Book 23 is a biography of Mark Twain. It is over 700 pages, so it will take a bit of time to read.  I've recently become fascinated with Mr. Twain as he's been referenced in other things that I've read. It made me curious.  And I think that is the differentiator with what makes it into the blog.  It is the books that I can't read just a few pages of at night before I go to bed.  It is the books I carry around with me for when I have a few minutes to spare. Books that either take me into another world or make me go, Wow! I really didn't know that and I want to know more.  And that's why I'm doing this.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book 22: Promises Kept

Selecting book 22 was a challenge for me. I didn't particularly crave a fiction read, but I wanted to take a break from some of the other types of non-fiction I've been reading. So, I started going through the bookcases in the house, and came across Promises Kept.

I was able to meet the author, Dr. Jerald Watts, last year, and I'm lucky enough to own an autographed copy of Promises Kept, a memoir appropriately subtitled "A Southern Surgeon's reflections of mid-twentieth century medicine." Dr. Watts charmingly recounts his journey from eager student to senior resident in Atlanta in the 1950's and 1960's. Most of the reflections are simple essays, a page or two long, that provide a glimpse into the not so distant past of a young doctor and his work with Emory and Grady Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Watts has no agenda in recounting these stories. As an aspiring and later, practicing, surgeon, he made a promise to his patients beyond the Hippocratic Oath- he promised he would treat them with dignity and respect and do the best he could do for them. Having grown up and lived most of my life in the south, and several years in the Atlanta area, I found this memoir, this journey with Dr. Watts, and his professors, colleagues, and patients, to be fascinating. Watts remembers driving out to areas hard to access, which today would be a quick twenty minute trip on an expressway, to treat patients in their homes.

I love how this book doesn't gloss over the history of the south. I'm going to recount here a brief bit of the Grady History provided by Dr. Watts at the start of the book. Grady opened in 1892, the "first public, non-religion-affiliated, charity hospital," with separate, segregated facilities that became known colloquially as "The Gradys" (pp xxi). Today, Grady Hospital is a known landmark on the Downtown Connector, even defining part of the downtown corridor as "The Grady Curve". While the physicians treated all patients to the best of their ability, regardless of race, Watts recalls how a resident from an Ivy league school came to Grady in the 60's and insisted that on his watch, all patients would be addressed "by their last names and a proper salutation, a dignity they all deserve (p 195)" This was of course, common practice in the white section of Grady, but not with other patients. With this simple edict, this resident awakened a sense of social justice in the staff.

As I was reading this book, I thought about how so many television medical dramas try to make things so exciting, embellishing relatively innocuous injuries, creating drama between the staff. You know you are watching something that someone wrote to entertain you. I watched- and enjoyed- a lot of ER. But I liked Promises Kept better because of its authenticity. I felt Dr. Watts' sincerity in dealing with his patients. Grady was a charity hospital. He was not a physician there to earn money. He was there to help people who needed it, to the best of his abilities. He gives us glimpses into his fears, his mistakes, his challenges, and his victories. But he remains human and humble through all of them.

His style is straightforward. He uses medical terms, but provides a context for them to help a lay reader understand what's going on. As I was reading, I felt as though I could be just sitting across from Dr. Watts, listening to him share his memories. There's no pretension, no goal of using fifty cent words just to prove he knows them.

I used this word earlier, but I'm going to use it again. Promises Kept really is a charming read.

Note: The author of Promises Kept was kind enough to read this posting, and in a very gracious note to me, commented that he "wrote Promises, not so much as a memoir but as a story of the Gradys and those folks with whom I worked and the admirable service that Grady has provided for the indigent and those who had no place to go for their care."

As you can see, Dr. Watts is truly a special man- doing what is right, simply because it is right.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book 21: The Dark Path

My first technology inspired book! When I created the blog, I created a Twitter account under the name mybookfetish (, Luke Romyn, the author of book 21, The Dark Path, followed me. Since he and I are Twitter buds, I decided that I had to read his book.

Now, a quick disclaimer before I get much further. I’m writing this post on my PC rather than my Mac, and when I do that, the format tends to get a little off. Which I hate, but which I also don’t feel like spending hours diagnosing, so if it looks odd, I apologize in advance.

I don’t want to tell you much about the plot of The Dark Path because I don’t want to give anything away. But I do want to touch on a few of its great questions and themes. Since that’s the deeper part of what I’ll be touching on, I’ll first elaborate on a few things about Romyn’s writing style that I liked.

Romyn uses some subtle humor. The way he has characters say some things, I found myself snickering, thinking “that sounds just like I would say that.” No matter how complex his main, conflicted characters, I found myself identifying with some part of them. His writing is accessible, and despite the mythic characters running rampant, there are also characters you identify with. Having some familiarity with the Christian story of the fall of Lucifer and the apocalypse is helpful in the story, but not essential.

Now, on to the themes. I didn’t see these coming when I started the story. I thought I would be entertained, of course, else I wouldn’t have read it. But, I was pleasantly surprised to see a deeper layer of complexity here. For example, if you are considered evil incarnate, an indiscriminate killer, is it possible for you to feel love and compassion?

Is it really possible that what you put out into the world is what you get back? Can a person be moral without religion to guide them? This passage struck me as I was reading, in a discussion about what life is: “When you look around, you should not see what is wrong with your life, but what is right about it. Whether you believe in God or not is immaterial. All that is important is that you look upon every breath you take, and every vision that greets your eyes with joy, and when you deal with others, you should try to impart some small piece of this joy into their lives….”

Seems odd, and quite timely that as I am figuring out, in other facets of my life, what this life is really all about, that I find a thought like this in a book where I completely didn’t expect to see it. But that becomes the theme of the whole story. Can someone who appears irredeemable be, in fact redeemed? And when faced with the opportunity for immense power, can this same person do what is right instead of what is easy? To Romyn’s credit, he wraps up a few things nicely in the epilogue. But then, just when you’re expecting another neatly wrapped package, he throws a twist, so that you wonder again and still, about this conundrum.

So, for anyone with a taste for fantasy, demons, angels, epic battles of wit against circumstance and good against evil, check out The Dark Path. You can find your own copy here:

I look forward to reading more by Luke Romyn.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book 20: The Happiness Project

Book 20! Already! I like nice round numbers and feel a sense of accomplishment at getting to say I'm blogging book 20! Of course, I'm not even half way to my goal yet, and let's face it, I've got a lot of reading left to do this year, but I'll consider this my first little milestone.
I was flying back from Ohio last week, and my seat mate and I made a few minutes of conversation during take off and landing. While we were discussing the merits of the Kindle for iPhone app, the subject of this blog came up. My seat mate happened to be reading The Happiness Project and recommended it to me. I took a look at the book. With my recent interest in Finding Your Own North Star and some things going on in my personal life, I made a note of the book's title and author.
Saturday, I stopped by Barnes and Noble and got my own copy. Sunday, I sat outside on the patio, enjoying a gorgeous sunny spring day and cracked open the book. I read a few pages. Then I got up, went inside, and grabbed a pen. Yes, this is another book where I underlined key passages and made notes in the margins. I was so inspired by author Gretchen Rubin's Secrets of Adulthood passage, that I made a list of my own. By eleven Sunday night, I had finished the book. And, as I said via my Twitter feed, I came away thinking this book was phenomenal, life changing.
Sitting on a bus in New York City one rainy afternoon, Gretchen Rubin realized that she might just be wasting her life. Like most of us, what she wanted most out of life was to be happy. But then, it struck her that she didn't know exactly how to define happy. So, in a method very similar to one I could see myself employing, Rubin studied a lot about what it means to be happy. Who knew there were so many schools of thought on happiness? It's true, though. Everyone's definition will be a little different. I couldn't read fast enough. I felt like shouting, "she's talking about ME! How does she know?"
Once she had studied on the subject, Rubin began her year long happiness project. She set twelve commandments for herself. While I like them all, it is her first that resonates the most with me: Be Gretchen. She then wrote down her Secrets of Adulthood, where she documented what she has found to be fundamental truths in her own life. As I mentioned, I was inspired enough to write my own. They are very different from Rubin's, and that is OK. It was the exercise itself that was so interesting to do.
Gretchen also determined twelve resolutions, one per month, touching all facets of her life, where she could make small and not-so-small changes that could impact her happiness. She tracked her progress, adjusted as necessary, wasn't afraid to fail, and evaluated her own happiness periodically. The outcome? Her successful blog ( and the book.
Rubin recounts a Buddhist saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." It was another YES! moment I had reading the book. I've been on my own happiness project of sorts the last few months, without even realizing it. Picking up this book, exactly when I did, perfectly melded with other things going on in my life right now. Folded in perfectly. You see, one of the key points of Rubin's experience, and what I'm learning in my other activities, is that I can control only myself and my reactions. Be deciding to do things to figure out what makes me happy, by BEING ME, I'll be a better person for the people around me.
Like I said, this can be one of those books to transform your life. Some of it may sound like just common sense, but so many of us need a good dose of common sense handed to us. We get so busy, we forget to notice that this life? It is the one we get. And we can spend it just drifting through, or we can create our best life. We can take chances, we can learn new things, we can make sure that the people we love know that we do.
For anyone who is looking to enhance their life, to embark on a journey to discover their own happiness, I highly recommend The Happiness Project.
I plan on putting what I read here into practice.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I've learned more than I thought I would

When I set out on this quest, I thought I'd read 52 books, post my thoughts, and maybe my Mom and one other person would ever bother to take a look at this. In other words, my original motivation was to do this for myself, as a hobby of sorts, and save what I learned by reading the actual books, I didn't really expect to learn anything else through this experience. I was wrong.
First, I don't think my Mother's read the blog. At all. Because she'd certainly have something to say about my opinions on a few of the books I've read if she had.
Second, this little quest I've set out on is great for conversation. It is something different, and when you're around other bibliophiles, it makes for very interesting conversations. It has even opened the door to a few new friendships. And, equally as important, it has opened the door to so many recommendations of books I'd never heard of and expanded my network of other readers and writers beyond what I anticipated.
One way that has happened is through Twitter. I created a Twitter profile to be all about the blog. In following some authors and book lists that interest me, I've seen references to other profiles I would have known nothing about otherwise. Some of the books I'm reading are from the authors I'm following in this little virtual world.
But not everything I've learned has been fluffiness and light. I've learned that sometimes, I'd rather spend time with the characters in the novels than the characters in my real life. That can be a bit disturbing, and indicate a need to get rid of some dead weight in my life, or figure out why I prefer fiction to reality.
Second, I've been drawn to a great deal more non-fiction than I expected. This is showing me that there is an area of my life I think needs focus. So I love reading about it but it just makes me wish there were more hours in the day... to read more, to play more, to think more.
As an update, I'm currently reading 3 books. I don't know which one will become Book 20, although I suspect it will be Luke Romyn's "The Dark Path" as I will have much opportunity for using the eReader in the coming days. Also in contention are "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin- which came to me via one of those random conversations I mentioned earlier- and Jon Harwood's "The Seance." I'm really enjoying both, but I have to be careful when I read "The Seance" because it is creepy in a good way, but also has the potential to disturb my ability to sleep peacefully.
It is a gorgeous day outside here.... I'm off to do some more reading.