Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Club Discussion: All About Lulu

Up for discussion this month is All About Lulu, the newly-released debut novel by Jonathan Evison. In the early pages of the book we follow Will through the death of his mother and his father's subsequent remarriage to his grief counselor, Willow. His new stepmother also brings with him the attractive-in-her-own-way Louise (nickname: Lulu). Will, with his abnormally low voice for a 9-year-old, had stopped speaking after his mother's death, and it is only through Lulu that he rediscovers his voice.

Lulu and Will forge a seemingly unbreakable friendship and eventually become pseudo-girlfriend and boyfriend. They develop their own secret language and depend on each other almost completely for friendship and understanding. That is until Lulu leaves for cheerleading camp the summer before they begin high school. Will is distraught that he won't have Lulu with him for a full month, and this turns to complete devastation when Lulu returns completely changed. She no longer responds to their secret language. She locks herself away in her room most days. And, worst of all, she acts as though Will is invisible.

Throughout the rest of the book Will seeks to figure out what caused this change in Lulu. What happened while she was away? He spends years obsessed with her (and I have to admit it got a little creepy after awhile), but finally begins putting his life together. He gets his dream job as a radio announcer and even starts his own hot dog stand business with his Russian-immigrant landlord. Everything is running smooth until the last few chapters when he learns of events in Lulu's life and is pulled back into her orbit and finally learns what it was that pushed her away from him all those years ago.

I really enjoyed this book, if only because of its loveably oddball cast of characters. First, there's Will's father and twin brothers who are all body builders. Evison takes the term "meathead" literally with these three, making light of the fact that they eat meat for just about every meal. Will, a vegetarian, laments several times that he thinks his dad believes the world is made of meat.

Then we have his Russian-immigrant neighbor, his ghost cat (Frank), and his philosophy teacher, who I particularly love because he enabled Evison to use his Sweats to Pants Ratio, of which I've always been a huge fan:

I'm developing something I call the sweats to pants ratio (SPR), by which success is measured relative to the days one spends in formal versus casual attire (formal being anything with pockets). By this measure, seven days a week in sweats is the pinnacle of success. I'm at about five-to-two right now. Pretty damn succesful.

So, what did you think of this one?

This month, in the hopes of getting more participation, I thought I'd ask some direct questions as well. Here goes:

1. Were you able to discern the secret before the end of the book?
2. What was your favorite part of the book?
3. Who were your favorite characters?
4. What did you think of Will's obsession with Lulu? Did you find it realistic?

Also, you can get a book club reading guide for this book at Jonathan Evison's site.

Oh, one last thing: Tomorrow I will be announcing the book for next month, but I haven't selected anything yet. So if you have a suggestion, leave it below. And don't forget to enter to win one of three lovely books here. Tomorrow's the last day to enter!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

I just finished Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink. I picked this one up because it was suggested reading at the end of In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan actually discusses a couple of Wansink's studies in his book and that's what really got me interested in reading Mindless Eating.

Wansink is a food psychologist (who knew this occupation even existed?!), and does tons of studies at Cornell about what we eat and why. One of my favorite studies he talks about is the bottomless soup bowl study, in which half the diners in a restaurant were given automatically refilling bowls (the bowls refilled from the bottom in such a way that diners were ignorant of the trick). People with auto-refill bowls ate 73 percent more soup than those with non-refillable bowls. The study showed that Americans base their eating behavior on outside cues - that is to say we stop eating when our bowl (plate, bag, etc.) is empty, rather than stopping when we feel full.

Wansink goes on to describe several other studies he has performed - studies that show how we react to labels, at what age we stop recognizing when we're full, what stops us from snacking throughout the day - and then he tells us how we can avoid or curb those cues to stop us from eating more than we should. He explains that diets often don't work because we're trying to make major changes, but if you just try to cut out 100 or 200 calories a day, you'll lose between 10 and 20 pounds in a year without even realizing it.

Some of his suggestions include drinking from tall skinny glasses instead of short fat glasses (unless you're drinking water). His basis for this recommendation comes from this optical illusion:

The lines are actually the same size, but for some reason our minds don't see it this way. If we have a tall, skinny glass, we will almost always pour less into it because it looks like more, whereas with a short, fat glass, we pour more because it looks like less. You can easily cut out calories this way. Similarly, using a smaller plate will make you feel fuller while eating less. This is based on another optical illusion:

Here, both blue dots are the same size, but our brain thinks the one surrounded by small dots is bigger because of what it's compared to. This translates to plates in that you'll feel like you ate much more food if it's taking up a bigger amount of the plate, even if it's the same amount of food. It's strange to think that we can trick our brains in this way, but Wansink has proven it time and again with his studies.

Even if you're not particularly interested in losing weight, this is an interesting book. I thought it was fascinating to learn about all of the behaviors we have unknowingly picked up in regard to food. Also, I'd love to know how Wansink comes up with all of these great ideas for studies.

For more information you can check out his Web site here (there's even a mindless meter where you can test your skills as a mindful eater), and I found an interview with him here.

This book has also been reviewed on:
Living to Read

Friday, July 25, 2008

It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh

I recently moved, which is a great time to get rid of stuff I don't need. I normally spend weeks before and after moving taking stuff to charities and dropping off recycling. This move was a bit easier because my boyfriend and I had thrown away just about everything we owned before we moved to Paris last year ... or so we'd thought. When we picked up our boxes from storage and our many relatives who had been holding things for us, we realized we had kept much more than we'd thought. After unpacking the bulk of the boxes I found that I still had about seven boxes that I'd just stacked in my closet because I didn't know what to do with their contents. That's where It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff by Peter Walsh came in handy.

In the beginning of this book it feels a little bit too self-helpy. The first two chapters are all about our relationship to stuff and why we keep it, along with information about how your life could be different if you were to clean up your act. I was almost prepared to chuck the book at this point, but then he got into the real meat of why I checked this book out from the library. Walsh first has you make a plan (room function chart) of what you want each room of your house to look like and what you want the room to be used for. Then he goes through each room of the house and helps you decide what to keep and what to get rid of by using the same three easy steps:

*Refer to your Room Function Chart and have everyone sign on.
*Establish zones for the different activities that take place in this space.
*Remove what doesn't belong.

He first helps you deal with the general clutter and garbage that accumulates in the houses of many hoarders, then he eases you into getting rid of the clutter you're tied to emotionally. He has you ask yourself why you're holding onto these items and helps you think of ways to display the items and give them a place of honor in your home, rather than allowing them to accumulate dust in the corner of the garage. If they aren't valuabe enough to display, they should be gotten thrown out or given to someone who will value the item.

Walsh's tone throughout the book is very conversational and makes it easy to get through. And after completing my own purge, I can see how the self-helpy part in the beginning was really necessary. There's no point in reading a book like this if you aren't going to be serious about making changes in your life. I come from a long line of hoarders (my parents have two storage sheds, a basement and a garage filled with boxes of stuff that won't fit inside their home) so I understand how difficult it can be to let go of things. It took a long time for me to break the habit myself, but I can honestly say that life is much better with less stuff and more space. As Walsh says:

My job may be all about organization and decluttering, but I cannot say enough times that it is not about the "stuff." I have been in more cluttered homes than I can count, and the one factor I see in every single situation is people whose lives hinge on what they own instead of who they are. These people have lost their way. They no longer own their stuff - their stuff owns them. I am convinced that this is more the norm than the exception in this country. At some point, we started to believe that the more we own, the better off we are. In times past and in other cultures, people believe that the worst thing that can happen is for someone to be possessed, to have a demon exercise power over you. Isn't that what being inundated with possessions is - being possessed?

I'd love to give this book to my parents if I thought it would actually help. Unfortunately it would just add to their overabundance of clutter. My siblings and I have been trying for years to help them declutter, but every time we come back for a visit there's just more stuff to go through. Peter Walsh has an amazing job - one I'd love to have. How did he get into this line of work anyway? It must feel amazing to help so many people to get out from under the weight of their possessions. Personally speaking, it has been one of the most freeing things I've ever done. And I'm glad to finally be almost to the end of that journey.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Speaking of Banned Books...

This is a pre-challenge announcement. I'm going to be hosting a Banned Books Challenge starting January 2009 (I don't think anyone else has one of these, but please let me know if you've heard of something like it. I don't want to step on any toes around here). The goal will be to read 12 banned books by the end of next year. I have already put together a site here, which includes a list of banned books, although I have yet to make buttons and a sign up sheet. This is really just to get you interested.

I know everybody signs up for tons of challenges at the beginning of the year so I thought if I put mine out there early then more people would have it in their minds to participate. This will be my first time hosting a challenge so I hope to get some good participation. I'll post about this again as it gets closer, I just wanted to let you all know it was going to be available. I'm super excited for it!

P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment here for a chance to win one of three books!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita was the second book selected by my public library for their book club's Banned Books Series. I have to admit I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it. I had read that it's one of the world's "most beautiful love stories." And I knew it was a bit illicit because of Reading Lolita in Tehran (another book I still have to read). But I had no idea it was about a pedophile who essentially kidnaps his stepdaughter and keeps her under his thumb until she's old enough and smart enough to figure out how to escape.

As I began reading this book I fully understood why some people had asked that this book be banned. After all, it kind of reads like a how-to book on pedophilia. But when the subject came up at book club, I found myself defending the book, saying that if someone read this book and thought it condoned their own behavior or it "inspired" them to do something of this sort, well they were likely to have done it anyway. I said this because I saw the reactions of the others who had read this book and all of us, whether we thought the writing was beautiful or the story interesting, were disgusted with the main character and judged him accordingly. This book isn't going to turn anybody into a pedophile who doesn't already entertain such thoughts.

The book itself is beautifully written. In the first part when Humbert Humbert is falling in love with Lolita, I was quite taken by his descriptions of her ... until I remembered that he was talking about a 12-year-old girl. I also really enjoyed the French phrases sprinkled throughout the book. I felt like each one was a little French quiz for me, especially because he offers no translation like many books do today. His descriptions of living in France and going to the Mediterranean made me think of my own time there, which is always a fun thing.

Aside from all of that though the book is really interesting and it raises a lot of questions about love and family. It also shows the inner workings (albeit fictional) of a truly deranged person and how one is able to justify what he is doing despite all evidence that it is wrong. I also thought it was quite interesting - and fitting - that Humbert Humbert often befriended other sexual deviants. I think that is probably true of that type of person in the real world.

This book drags a little in the middle and it was not an easy book to read because there are many historical and literary references throughout the text, along with the aforementioned untranslated French phrases (some Latin and German as well), so I highly recommend getting the annotated version. I didn't know there was an annotated version until I went to the book club meeting and now I feel like I need to read it all over again so I can get the inside jokes that some of the others understood better than I did.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Purge Continues...

First, I'd like to announce the winner of last week's giveaway of A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.'s list generator selected Janel as our winner. Sorry Janel, I don't have your email, so you'll have to contact me: bexadler at yahoo dot com.

For the rest of you, don't despair, there are still more books to win! This week I have three more books to giveaway.

On August 1, I will pick three winners.

The first place winner will receive a signed copy (but it's JUST his signature) of David Sedaris' new book, When You Are Engulfed In Flames.

Second place receives my ARC copy of The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden, which I reviewed here.

Third place gets my copy (paperback) of A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

I promise reviews are coming one of these days. I'm in the midst of reading four different books, but for some reason I am completely unable to finish any of them. I have no attention span these days...

OK then, don't forget to leave a comment by August 1!

P.S. Planet Books is also holding a giveaway, so jump on over there for more chances to get free books!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Purge Begins!

I feel like I've been ignoring my blogging duties lately and I apologize. I've been super busy unpacking, sorting and throwing things out, along with planting a garden, watering it and begging the little plants not to die. But I haven't disappeared. Next week things should be back to normal. I'm hoping to finish up a few books in the next couple of days so I have something to review on here. And don't forget about book club in two weeks! (In case you forgot, we're reading All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison, review to come shortly.)

In the meantime, I've decided to start purging my bookshelf. I've only got one lonely little bookshelf in my new apartment and no space on it for all of my library books and TBR books so out the old ones go. This is lucky news for YOU because it means I'll be hosting more giveaways, starting today with A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. I know most of you have probably already read it, but if you somehow missed that train, you now have the perfect opportunity to hop on board. I'll be posting some more books in a couple of days. I'm not at the apartment right now so don't have the other titles on hand.

If you'd like to win a copy of A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, leave a comment here by Midnight July 20. I'll be picking a winner Monday morning.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A book to help me declutter

I went to the library today to pick up my holds and was really excited to find It's All Too Much: An easy plan for living a richer life with less stuff by Peter Walsh. I put this book on hold about a month and a half ago, but I'm glad it came right now. It's rather serendipitous actually, as my boyfriend and I are just now beginning to unpack into our new apartment. I began the work yesterday and realized that we have way more stuff than we thought. See, a year ago he and I moved to Paris thinking we were going to be staying a couple of years, so we gave away pretty much everything we own aside from books and clothes ... and somehow a couple of boxes filled with random stuff. I began going through these boxes and managed to put away some books and office supplies that had made their way into them, but then I gave up and just dumped them together into a small box, figuring we can sort through it later. Hopefully this book will give me the courage to do just that!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More book giveaways!

I'm not giving any books away at the moment so I thought I'd tell you about a couple people who are!

Over at Hey Lady! Watcha Readin'?, Trish is giving away 14 books from Hachette Book Group. All you have to do to enter is leave her a comment and you could be the owner of 14 shiny new books!

Also, at Bookroomreview's there is a giveaway for Stephanie Meyer's new book The Host as well as Mrs. Perfect by Jane porter. Hop on over there to leave a comment too and best of luck!

P.S. Keep checking back here for more giveaways. I'll be giving away some more books pretty soon.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fifteen Minutes of Shame by Lisa Daily

This month for my real-life book club, we read Fifteen Minutes of Shame by Lisa Daily. I chose the book for us because it's a fun summer read so I was hoping more people would read it, and also because the publisher sent swag bags for everyone in my book club. Nothing like bribery to get me to read a book. The book wasn't free though. I checked it out from the library.

For those of you who haven't heard of Lisa Daily, she's a dating specialist and the founder of the Dreamgirl Academy, in which she teaches women to be their best selves so they can be better catches and find better men. She wrote the nonfiction dating guide book Stop Getting Dumped! which eventually became a bestseller. Fifteen Minutes of Shame is her first novel.

The book opens with Darby spotting her husband at a gas station down the street even though he's supposed to be on a business trip in Atlanta. From there we follow Darby through all of the freak-out modes any woman would go through if they find out they've been lied to about something that has sure signs of an affair. In the end her freak out appears to have been a big mistake. Everything seems to be in order, so she heads off on her previously-scheduled book tour...only to find out on the Today show that her husband has filed for divorce. Dating expert Darby Vaughn has just been broken up with on national television. In essence, the terribly public divorce ruins her carreer (albeit momentarily) and she is left depending on her girlfriends to help her figure out what went wrong as she navigates through the sea of divorce and strives to get custody of her stepchildren.

All in all, I really liked this book. It was a fun easy read and I loved that it didn't make "finding a man" the main point of the story. Most chick lit books irritate me because the women in them all seem to think they have no life, no matter how successful and powerful they are, if they don't have a man. In this book, we see Darby take the humiliation of a nationally televised breakup and work her way out of it within weeks. She shows strength of character and realizes that maybe all the advice she's been giving over the years (never take back a cheater, etc.) aren't quite as easy to follow when it's your own relationship on the line. The one part of the book that I didn't really buy into was her wanting to get the kids back because she loved them so much. There were a lot of touching moments with the kids in the beginning, but once they are gone with their dad and his ex-wife it seems like they're just thrown in haphazardly.

So, overall, I'd recommend this book. It's a great beach read and doesn't take too much concentration. And it had the added benefit of not making me feel completely vapid and empty after I read it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Couple of Quickies

OK, I've got a couple of non-reviewed books staring me down. For a number of reasons, I didn't feel I could do a full review on any of these so I'm clumping them together in little mini reviews for you.

First up is 1984 by George Orwell. I feel like I'm the last person on Earth (or at least the last person in America) to have read this book. I think most people are assigned it in high school. Somehow this has been on my list of books for several years and I'm finally just now getting around to it. Since most people have already read this book, I don't feel like I have to say much. Let's see, if you've ever wondered where the term Big Brother came from and haven't figured it out yet, read this book.

I'm kind of glad I waited until I was an adult to read this one because I think I caught a lot more than I would have if I'd read it when I was younger. Orwell has done a wonderful job of constructing a totalitarian world that makes the sane people feel insane for noticing the government's constant hand in the daily lives of its people. Our world may not be as dreary, but we certainly have the televisions telling us what to think and how to behave on a constant basis. This book will make you wonder where we're headed...

Oh, interesting side note: I never knew George Orwell was a pseudonym. His real name was Eric Arthur Blair. How crazy is that?

Other reviews of 1984:
Books Love Me

OK, next up is Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin. I read this book because my boyfriend's mom gave me her copy after she'd finished and I knew it would be a quick read. I personally was not a fan of this book. Not only was it typical chick lit, but the heroine of the story is sleeping with her best friend's fiance. Granted, her best friend isn't super great, but still. I don't know how you can get a heroine out of a situation like this one. In addition, I didn't feel like the main character, Rachel, grew as a person by the end of the story. I kept waiting for her to finally speak up for herself or call out her best friend on her bad behavior, but she never does. *SPOILER COMING* Even in the end when Rachel finds out her best friend had been cheating on her fiance the whole time with the guy she's supposed to have been dating, Rachel still feels bad and let's her best friend freak out at her without saying anything. This book just left me feeling empty and hating the way some women let their friends (and the rest of the world) treat them. I don't plan to pick up another Emily Giffen book anytime soon.

My last mini review is of Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams. It was a book I really enjoyed, but that I didn't think I could do justice with in a book review. Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot did a way better review, so I suggest you hop on over there and take a look at what she had to say about this one. As for me, I wish Adams was still alive so he could update this book.

Last Chance to See was written in 1990 and is about an around-the-world trip Adams took with a zooligist in search of critically endangered species. We are introduced to the white rhino, of which there were only 22 left when Adams visited, the Komodo Dragon, several species of endangered birds and a the baiji dolphin (which I'm fairly certain became extinct a couple years ago when the Yangtze, it's only known habitat, was dammed by China)

Adams uses his well-known humor to add some lightness to this heavy subject. His writing reminds me much of Bill Bryson, and made me wonder if he was one of Bryson's early influences. The book was well written and an intriguing subject. Despite its being nearly 20 years old, I think this is still a great book and important to read for those of us who are concerned about the environment and our effects on it.

More info about Last Chance to See:
A Year of Books (check this one out for updates on the animals in the book)

Things Mean A Lot (check this one out for a great review)

Another Chance to See (a blog about what's being done for these animals today)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July Selection and Interview with Jonathan Evison

As I mentioned a few weeks back, this month we'll be reading All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison. All About Lulu is a debut novel put out by Soft Skull Press, an independent publishing house in New York. The book follows the life of a boy who's mother dies of cancer when he is 7 years old. His father remarries and Will falls in love with his stepsister, Lulu. I haven't read the book yet, but it has gotten some great reviews and I'm really looking forward to it. I've been reading Evison's blogs on myspace and The Nervous Breakdown for some time and if his book is anywhere near as funny as his other writing, I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Jonathan Evison, I thought I'd give you a little introduction by way of a short e-mail interview with him:

Let's start with a few questions about you. First, what's your favorite beverage?

Unquestionably, beer. Not even close.

What are some of the job titles you've had in the past?

Syndicated talk radio host, rotten tomato sorter, road-kill-butcher-and captive-bear-feeder.


. . . for awhile I was volunteering at a wildlife refuge in Merlin, Oregon, which I totally loved because I got to be around all the animals; cougars and wolves and bears and foxes and owls and eagles and otters and beavers . . . the downside was, I got a lot of the dirty work – cleaning cages, etc. People would bring fresh roadkill in, and one of my jobs was to hack it to pieces with a machete and feed it to the bears, a job which I had neither the stomach nor the heart for, but undertook for the pleasure of the bears . . .

Tell me something about All About Lulu that I won't read in the

My wife wrote it. You’ll never read that in the press. Joking, of course. James Frey wrote it.

What have readers liked most from All About Lulu?

Will’s voice, I suppose. Or the characters. People really seem to like getting to know Gerard and Eugene and the twins.

What has been the most surprising part about the publishing process for you?

How civilized and generally nice people in the publishing industry are, compared to say, film and radio. Also, how ass-backward most publishing models are. Could there be a connection here? I’m not sure. I don’t think so.

Why did you choose to query Soft Skull publishing? What was it that attracted you to a smaller publishing house?

Two words: Richard Nash. One of the great editors working today. Richard not only has excellent taste, he’s got guts, heart, and he’s a madman— the dude e-mails me at two in the morning, sleeping baby in his arms, typing with one arm. The biggest advantage to Soft Skull, and other great indie presses, like Dzanc, or Hawthorne, or Greywolf, is that they actually concentrate on building readerships for their authors, putting all their intellectual resources and energy behind them, instead of trying to catch lightening in a bottle, like many of the corporate houses.

I've been reading your stuff on myspace for awhile now, and I was just wondering if you plan to publish a book of essays in the future (your Sketches of People I Hardly Remember)? I know you've got some other books waiting in the wings, what do you think will likely be the next thing we see from you?

Probably the next thing you’ll see from me is the big shaggy beast of a book I just finished called “West of Here,” which is either a six-hundred page world-beater, or just a very eccentric novel by a guy who should maybe watch his reefer intake on the next draft. But I do have two earlier novels that I haven’t physically burried, as well as the aforementioned “Sketches of People I Hardly Remember; A History of the World As I Found It,” all of which I would like to see go to press eventually. Or not. Who knows?

Why do you bury your books?

I don't bury all of them . . . I just bury the bad ones, which in my case meant the first three novels I wrote . . . and when I say bury, Imean literally dig a hole, salt the earth, the whole nine yards . . . I also dispose of all my rejection notices, although burning is my preferred method for this . . .confidence is indispensable to the writer if he or she is to make the right decisions . . . I don't like to have any reminders around of past failures . . .

Also, there seems to be a general buzz surrounding All About Lulu, how did the book get recognized so quickly?

A combination of things, luck being one of them. The right publisher. The right readers. The fact that Lulu is a trade paper original (which has really helped in terms of getting enthusiastic booksellers on board). And also, the book just sorta’ feels like the right book at the right time, kinda’ thing. I think a lot of people can relate to the family stuff. It’s good for group discussion, methinks. And of course, I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing advocacy and support all around me.

How do you feel about all of this (the book, the film, the recognition)?

Like a very grateful man. Incredibly grateful-- often of late, wistfully so. Like I was already lucky to have been dragging my bumper all over town all those years with no dental insurance, just because I had writing as a way of life, but now I can devote even more time to it, and make a living (sort of).

Lastly, where can readers go if they want a taste of your work?

Just about any bookstore, or Amazon, or whatever. Oh, you mean free work? Ha! There’s some personal essays archived at the— Brad Listi’s thriving literary co-op, which, as you know, is an excellent venue for dozens of great writers.

OK then, thanks so much Jonathan and I hope you make it out to Sacramento.

My pleasure, thanks to you, Becca! I also hope to get my ‘Sac on’, as it were . . .

Jonathan Evison likes rabbits. His work had appeared in Orchid, Knock, Opium, Quick Fiction, and other journals. All about Lulu is his first novel.

P.S. Check out Powell's Books for another interview with Evison.