The temp agency’s application was only four pages long, but somehow Bev hadn’t managed to fill it out.

New York City: A place that's shitty.

New York City: A place that’s shitty.

Emily Gould is a rather controversial figure. She is the co-founder of the e-bookstore, Emily Books, and the former co-editor of popular online news site Gawker. Her infamous interview with Jimmy Kimmel, explaining the “Gawker Stalker Maps” as a form of celebrity-fan friendly sightings, was criticized by Kimmel as actual stalking and taking away privacy from celebrities. But regardless of her past, I became most interested in Gould when I saw she had written her first novel, Friendship, this year.

Friendship is a story about two late twenty-something girls, Bev and Amy, in New York City. Both struggling financially and existentially, Bev and Amy are at a crossroads about their futures; their only stability is their stalwart  friendship. Bev, a Midwesterner without any sense of career direction, left New York with her boyfriend several years ago, only to return alone, heartbroken, deep in MFA debt, and unemployed. Amy, an ambitious young woman who was shamed and scandalized by her previous job as an online gossip columnist, is now working for a mindless online blog which enables her to sit online and do nothing all day long. Both women slog through their lives incredibly unhappy with their choices but unable to see a brighter future.

And then the universe throws them some lemons. Bev, after a terrible one night stand with an asshole from the office she temps for, finds herself pregnant. Amy, in a foreseeable argument with her boss, quits her job without a savings or another plan to fall back on. Together, the girls attempt to make lemonade with their unfortunate situations. But Amy is selfish and unyielding. She expects too much from Bev, and Bev has other problems that her friendship with Amy to deal with. The two friends begin to realize that maybe friendship isn’t forever after all.

Short and quick, I finished Friendship over the span of two hours. While Gould writes fiction like reality and the novel had a Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. quality to it (if you haven’t read Adelle Waldman’s breakout novel, do so immediately). It is refreshingly honest about the twenty-something’s experience in the grand city of New York, with a hint of more struggle than success. But while Gould paints a rather bleak, albeit realistic picture, I found it hard to appreciate the characters’ hardships. Similar to watching the HBO show GIRLS, I wanted to throw something at these two young women, urging them (maybe violence is a bad idea, so maybe not throw) to do something. As Bev begins to take more initiative in her own life, I wanted to cheer, but in the end, I still felt wildly disappointed by her character.

The book is a great insight into the world in which we live, where people disappoint, jobs can be frustrating or boring, and friendships begin to fade. But the story felt as though it was missing something, some empathetic world view that explores the idea that yes, the world can suck but yes I will carry on, not just because I leave NYC or change my life circumstances, but because I want to be happy.

So overall, it’s a good read but not entirely satisfying. Take a few hours, read it, and let me know what you think.

The velvet curtains parted, and Maddy watched Steven Weller step into the room, his girlfriend on his arm.

If you're good enough, acting isn't just your job: it's your life.

If you’re good enough, acting isn’t just your job: it’s your life.

 

Book Review: The Actress by Amy Sohn

I picked up this book because of all the buzz it has generated this summer. A novel based loosely (very, very loosely) on the romantic story of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise? Seems like a good beach read to me.

Maddy Freed is in Colorado for a film festival. She starred in and co-wrote a screenplay with her ambitious, rather elitist boyfriend and here they are: ready to take the film industry by storm. Maddy, a breakout star, begins to attract the eye of managers, agents, and Steven Weller, a famous actor who has recently begun taking more dramatic roles.

Shocked and thrilled by her success, Maddy is seduced by the beautiful feeling of fame and fortune. She is seduced by something else, too. The handsome and mysterious Steven Weller finds her mesmerizing. Together, they sign on for the same film, overseen by their manager, Bridget, who has great plans for Maddy — or so she says.

Almost immediately, Maddy and Steven abandon their individual personal lives and become a famous Hollywood couple. Completely smitten, Maddy is head over heels in love with her new boyfriend and with her burgeoning success. But as her career skyrockets and she begins taking roles that lead to Golden Globe nominations, her personal life begins to waver — and Maddy is not sure who is being real and who is acting anymore.

A tale about discovery and emotional stamina, The Actress is like a juicy tabloid that lasts almost four hundred pages. Sohn crafts a novel that is easy to devour but hard to digest. While Maddy slowly begins to unravel the unnerving truth of her life, the reader is left feeling frustrated by her naivete.

The story is interesting enough, but the characters seem rather mindless. Perhaps Sohn is attempting to provide true Hollywood insight, but it comes off as rather underdeveloped. Maddy, a young woman who is seeking love and attention, still depressed by the early death of her father, could be so complex. But instead, she is veiled and unable to experience pain and reasoning like most. I was disappointed by the lack of depth and expression that Maddy was able to emote.

In the end, Sohn writes a solid beach read but nothing spectacular. I recommend for a quick and painless experience, but don’t expect anything particularly special to come from it.

It’s time to begin again.

I’m back!

I’ve been toying with the idea of returning to this blog for awhile now but with work and life getting in the way, I thought it would be too challenging. But I’ve been reading too many good books and I have too many thoughts to share, so I’m back!

I plan to continue in the same vein as I last left: first sentence as the title of the blog post and a brief review explaining the story and my thoughts.

Now that I am out of school, I am striving to read for education as much as engagement. Novels will continue to be the main theme of the blog, as they are my favorite, but I will also be including some non-fiction titles. Additionally, this summer I have explored more books within the memoir genre and had quite a good time with them. So you may see some memoirs pop up now and then.

It must be noted that this blog is my own. All the thoughts and opinions published here are mine and mine alone. This blog is separate from my work and will remain so always. I will not review titles that are published by my imprint.

I look forward to continuing this blog and I’m excited to be back! I hope everyone is enjoying the summer sunshine!

From inside her apartment, Claire could hear the neighbor kids in the hall.

It may not seem smart, but sometimes you just need to figure yourself out.

It may not seem smart, but sometimes you just need to figure yourself out.

Book Review: The Smart One by Jennifer Close

I can’t believe I haven’t posted in almost a month! It has been a whirlwind time, to say the least, and I’m hoping I will now be able to get back on track with my reading and posting. This month has brought drastic changes to my world: I moved to Brooklyn, got a job, started that job, and have finally begun to settle into a new, post-college way of life. Although challenging at times, the past few weeks have been incredibly rewarding and exciting.

As though it was meant to be, I picked up Jennifer Close’s newest novel The Smart One before anything had begun. After reading (twice, by accident!) her best-selling novel Girls in White Dresses, I was interested to see if I would enjoy Close’s next book as much. Girls in White Dresses is an engaging tale about young women in their 20s moving to new cities and learning how to cope with the drastic adult changes that began to affect their group of friends. I figured even though Close’s next novel was geared more towards family, she would still have insightful advice to share about new beginnings.

The novel follows the storyline of four family members who find themselves disappointed, frustrated, unearthed, and amazed by the new experiences of their lives. Claire, who recently broke off her engagement to her live-in boyfriend, feels unsheltered and in danger of collapse. Deeply in debt and lonely, Claire decides to quit her job and move back home while she figures things out. Her older sister, Martha, who also lives at home, is unnerved by her lack of enjoyment at her job. Although she went to school to become a nurse, Martha gave up her profession early on and became a store manager at JCrew. Martha finally decides she’s had enough, she believes it’s time to return to nursing and follow her earlier dreams.

When her two older daughters drastically upheave their lives, their mother, Weezy is only slightly concerned. Excited to have both her daughters home under her roof, Weezy feels as though she has a chance to mother again. Until she remembers how torturous it was the first time around. Caught between trying to be supportive and angered by how miserably her daughters fight and treat her, Weezy is wondering when Claire and Martha (now reaching their 30s) will figure their lives out.

At the heart of it all, Weezy’s youngest, Max, in college and dating the beautiful Cleo, begins to have problems of his own. As graduation approaches, it seems that Max and Cleo may be destined for Weezy’s basement as well.

In the end, The Smart One becomes a gripping tale about finding who you truly want to be and surviving the tough times while you make your discovery. Claire, Martha, Max, Cleo, and Weezy spend most of the novel unhappy with their choices until they are able to understand the rewards they reap at the end. It is a novel about finding your bearings and discovering how strong you can be, just by relinquishing your ego for a little while.

I truly enjoyed The Smart One, especially at a time in my life when I am finding out just how strong I can be, Close accurately depicts the trials and tribulations of the makings of success. If you are at a place in your life where you are looking for something else, I recommend giving The Smart One a quick read.

How angry am I?

A room with a cynical view.

A room with a cynical view.

Book Review: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

The Boston Globe recently declared Claire Messud as one of 2013’s most influential Bostonians. She was recognized as an author who was fearless enough to write about a character who readers wouldn’t/shouldn’t or couldn’t love. Her controversial new novel, The Woman Upstairs, was praised for its ingenuity and recklessness.

I read this small blurb in the Globe while I was in the middle of The Woman Upstairs. At that point, I hadn’t made a clear decision about how I felt about Nora Eldridge, the elementary school teacher who lives a single, almost isolated life in retaliation of her mother’s subsuming marriage. Eldridge, strongly affected by her mother’s inability to become her own person, lost to the duties and responsibilities of being a wife and mother, was decidedly single, pressured to enjoy the freedom of spinsterdom after her mother’s death.

But Nora’s decision holds many consequences. She views the ability to take care of her mother, father, and Aunt Baby in their old age as a privilege, spending the holidays with her father and Aunt Baby, quiet or gossiping about old friends. While the rest of her generation is spending time with their children, their spouses, and their family friends, Nora is generous with her time.

But this “Woman Upstairs” is not satisfied by her life of supposed freedom. When a young boy in her class, Reza, is terrorized by other children in the school, Nora’s entire life changes. The Shahid family is a welcome exposure into a world that Nora has spent little time in. Simultaneously, she falls in love with each member of the small family; the mother, Sirena, an Italian artist, brings Nora back into her beloved world of art, Reza, the curious young boy enables her to appreciate the attentive, quiet solitude of early childhood, and finally, Skandar, the handsome husband is an engaging speaker, discussing the cyclical patterns of historical ethics.

Nora is blown out of proportion. She is extremely happy now, teaching Reza and his classmates during the day and spending evenings with Sirena in their shared art studio. After long dinners together, Skandar walks her home. Nora’s life becomes fresh with exciting possibilities–living out a life with a beautiful family who is interested in her.

But slowly, this visiting family (only in the United States for Skandar’s year lectures) begins to pull away from Nora. Her love for them has her clinging to a lifestyle that she cannot maintain. Her anger and frustration at the world is both cynical and reasonable.

The story begins with her anger and ends with her fury. It is understandable that readers did not love her. She has a right to be angry. Frustrated by the role of her mother’s generation, the wife, Nora claims independence and singlehood, and then she is lost to a world of being an outsider. Although Nora is not loveable or simple, her complications are sympathetic. She is of a growing world of women who cannot gain a handle on her role in society.

The novel is refreshing and unsettling. Messud develops a world of imaginary experiences paralleled with reality. She argues that life is not simply what you make of it, instead, life can and will throw you lemons and you may not be able to make lemonade. Don’t read this book if you are looking for a lighthearted story. But I think Messud is making a beautiful point and its time we take it seriously.

I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written.

It leaves a mark...in the shape of a spot.

It leaves a mark…in the shape of a spot.

Book Review: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

I hated going to bed when I was reading Kristopher Jansma’s The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. Fast-paced, intriguing, and highly entertaining, it was almost impossible to put the book down. The narrator, an unknown author who frequently “loses” his writing, is a sarcastic, intense, and searching man who writes the story of his life…sort of.

The novel focuses on themes of truth within fiction. The novel’s fictional author is a writer with great expectations, and is told in college to slant the truth. For much of his life, the writer has always been able to lie about his background, his name, his interests, and even his whole identity. The novel explores the separation between truth and fiction and leaves the reader wondering if they are almost interchangeable: if fiction is filled with elements of truth and reality is bogged down by fiction.

While in college, the narrator becomes introduced to “Julian,” another aspiring writer whose work is constantly in competition with the narrator’s own. Julian is clearly a man lost amid his own genius, unable to look too far beyond his own ego. Julian’s friend from youth, Evelyn, a beautiful actress with cold, blank eyes, becomes the narrator’s great love interest, his ideal heroine–the star of many of the stories he begins to write throughout his life.

The novel is chaotic; the narrator, caught between the truth and fiction, misleads the reader several times. But perhaps that’s the magic, each page is a great story and author Jansma is a wonderful storyteller. Each chapter is a snapshot of the narrator’s life at different points, beginning with early childhood at the North Carolina airport to life in college and post-grad life in New York, eventually ending in a couple chapters that are similar to a travel journal, cataloging his travels and his friendships on the road.

Overall, it’s almost hard to describe how unique and almost unsettling the novel is. You’ll have to find out for yourself, I guess. But don’t let strangeness alarm you: this book is honestly one of the best I’ve read in awhile. So check it out, and let me know what you think!

 

International baggage claim in the Brussels airport was large and airy, with multiple carousels circling endlessly.

TV shows are the new books...

TV shows are the new books…

Book Review: Orange is the New Black

I was living in New York this summer when suddenly every subway advertisement featured the characters on the new Netflix TV show “Orange is the New Black.” Although not my type of show, I began to hear great reviews–everyone who saw told me that it was great. It was not until November, when I went to the Random House Open House, that I learned the TV show was based off a memoir that had been published almost three years earlier.

I picked the book up in the midst of finals preparation. I thought it would be appropriate to read a book about prison and hardship while sloughing through my four never-ending papers. But what I didn’t know was how effortlessly inspiring the novel would become, and how it truly appreciative I would learn to become at the end of it.

Piper Kerman graduated from Smith College (shout out to the Seven Sisters!) without a specific career goal in mind. She stayed around Northampton, continuing to enjoy life in the Pioneer Valley and searching for herself. When Nora, Kerman’s girlfriend who also happens to be a drug dealer, invites her to travel around the world with her, Kerman jumps at the chance. Young, naive, and completely insensitive to consequences, Kerman spends time with Nora and eventually delivers a suitcase of drugs herself, becoming a part of the illegal ring. After only one frightening experience, Kerman decides to break things off with Nora and leave the dangerous world she had only recently entered.

Almost ten years later, Kerman,engaged and happily living her life in New York among friends and family, is brought up on drug charges from her past. She is sentenced to 13 months in prison and shipped to Danbury, CT, her new home.

Orange is the New Black is an insightful memoir about making mistakes and owning up to them. Kerman never acts as though the system played her unfairly, instead, she accepts her sentence, pleads guilty, and lives without complaint in Danbury. Luckily, Kerman’s attitude enables her to observe Danbury and her new inmates in an unbiased, fairly non-judgmental way.

The women she meets at the prison are a wide range of different personalities, socioeconomic statuses, and behaviors. But slowly, as time passes, Kerman learns that each one of those women have something to offer. Orange is the New Black is truly a story of female relationships, filled with heartbreak and love. Kerman explores the terrible world of the U.S. prison system and shares her findings in an honest and reflective way.

The book made me frustrated with the U.S. prison system and frustrated by crime. Most of the woman locked up with Kerman were brought in on drug charges that posed little to no threat to society. Many were young girls who were looking at years behind bars simply for being the wrong place at the wrong time or dating the wrong boyfriend. I cannot profess to know much about the prison system but I appreciated Kerman’s experience as an insightful look into the personal opinions of someone who has spent some time among women whose lives become a closed book to society.

Apparently the TV show does not strictly follow the book. I’m still not sure if I’ll give it a try, but I highly recommend reading the memoir. Take a couple of hours to think about life outside your own, life in a world that you (probably, hopefully) will never know. It’s a great learning experience.