Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed

I did not love Wild. I read it quickly, because Olivia's favorite nap location is "on Mom," but I did not love it. In fact, I had a journal open next to me the whole time so I could keep track of my gripes with it. Not a good sign for the book, but it ended up coming in handy for this post! If only I were so organized all the time...

My biggest problem with this memoir is that it's told in the wrong order. Strayed opens her story by diving straight into the "action," i.e. the events that pushed her to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. I get the logic; it's a pretty common writer's trick to hook the reader. In this case, however, she only succeeds in introducing herself as an out-of-control twenty-something who trashed a good marriage and needed an intervention about her new heroin habit, all because her mother died too young. For full disclosure, I haven't lost a parent, so I can only imagine the pain and sense of dislocation that would follow this kind of tragedy. Still, I've watched other people close to me go through this loss without totally self-destructing, so I couldn't figure out what caused Strayed to fly so far off the handle. It's not until halfway through the book, when she's already out on the trail, that we learn more about her background, including the fact that her mom was essentially her one lifeline in a tumultuous childhood first featuring an abusive father and later a chain of not-so-worthy replacements. At that point, things started making more sense, and I found some true sympathy for her. So my question is, why did she wait so long to lay that foundation for the reader? As it is, she runs the risk of alienating a lot of readers right from the start. I toyed with the idea of giving up before she even hit the trail, because I was so annoyed by the fact that she struck me as someone who'd rather use her problems as an excuse to act like an ass than work on actually solving them. I felt like I'd been put in her mother's position, forced to watch her act like an infuriating teenager.

Once I started to feel sympathetic, I did find other ways to connect with her, too. Her whole approach to hitting the trail felt exactly like a plan I might concoct; I too am often overly confident that pure determination can make up for whatever I lack in physical skill or knowledge about a situation. Take off on a serious thousand-mile hiking trip just to get away? That's a decision process I recognize. Stubborn but sometimes dumb.

Connecting with her allowed me to finish the book, and I really did enjoy the trail itself and the people she met along the way. I have to see those mountains someday (although I'd be perfectly happy with a couple of day-long hikes instead of several months on the trail!). Overall, though, I wouldn't recommend this one. Those first hundred pages or so are just too choppy and the narrator too grating for my taste.

I followed it up with Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, which was small enough for me to start and finish in one evening. Not too deep and definitely chuckle-inducing, it was a good palate-cleanser before I start the next book. If you find yourself in need of a laugh, this one's worth reading!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Syfy's The Magicians

I've been sitting around the past couple of days wondering what my next post should cover, since I've been finding it difficult to read and nurse at the same time. The little munchkin likes to punch the book and lose my page, so it's slow going. Then I realized what I've been doing for the past two weeks - binge-watching good TV! Bryan and I are finally making our way through The West Wing at a respectable pace, pretending to keep up with current events via Stephen Colbert and The Daily Show, and devouring Syfy's small screen adaptation of Lev Grossman's trilogy The Magicians.

Let's talk about The Magicians. The first three episodes are streaming for free here, and the fourth airs tonight at 9/8c. I am in love. I've lost track of the number of times I've watched the first three episodes at this point, because it's too hard to wait a week to see the next one. (Why wasn't this a Netflix original series?! I need them all now!) I'm feeling the need to read the books again, too, so I've definitely got to figure out that skill ASAP. The show is nowhere near a perfect replica of the books, but to me, that's okay. As Bryan pointed out, it's like the movie they made for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - not an exact match in content or tone to the source material, but lovable all the same. It stands alone.

Aside from the superb writing that went into it, this show works because of the talented, diverse cast the producers pulled together. There aren't many recognizable names involved, but for me, that just means that I'm totally sucked into the universe. I'm not distracted by watching some big deal pretend to be Quentin; Jason Ralph simply is Quentin at this point. To be honest, very few of the actors look anything like what I imagined (a little more glamorous than the nerds described in the books), but they all handle their roles well. In my mind, there are two absolutely perfect casting choices: Hale Appleman is Eliot through and through, and I didn't even need to wait for anyone to say her name to know that when Olivia Taylor Dudley showed up on screen, she was playing Alice. It took some convincing for me to accept the rest of the cast, but once I saw how well they worked together, I was hooked.

One small note, for anyone who wants to dive into this show: watch the first two episodes back-to-back. They're essentially one gigantic episode, and without its second half, the pilot is a bit choppy. That shouldn't be hard to manage, though - once The Beast shows up at the end of the first episode, it's almost impossible not to find out what happens next.

A last update before I conclude: I do not get a list of email addresses associated with the mailing list. So, if you want to stay updated on posts, rest assured that your information is as secure as anything else powered by Google!

The Shadow Land - Elizabeth Kostova

I've written about Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian  previously - I loved that book. I'm going to ignore the fact that her sec...