Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cannonball Read #7: New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer

There is nothing I can say about this book that this brilliant stick figure cartoon already hasn't.

Plot summary:

Sparkle, sparkle, 18th birthday, whatever shall I do now that I'm a people year older than my non-sexual boyfriend, sparkle, sparkle, presents whee!, bleeding eee!, Edward bye, mope, numb, overreact, mope, Jacob's cute, Jacob's just my friend, but Jacob's so sweet, Jacob's just my friend, PRETTY SATIN CURTAINS HAIR, cocktease, cocktease, I LIVE FOR DANGER, mope, disembodied voice of Edward, mope, Italy, suicide by excessive sparkling, whine, make me a vampire!!, whine, The End.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How I Spent My Sunday, aka Hangover Day, aka DAY OF THE SUPERGATOR

8:30: Wake up. Curse god, my lack of self control, and the toolbox who discovered fermentation's effect on grapes.

8:31: Also curse the Comcast music channels' taste in videos. Because this?

Is not of the lord. This causes four drunken girls to dance around screaming "A licky boom boom down" and then me waking up with it playing in a loop in my head.

9:15: Run to corner store to buy some Advil. Get asked by David the owner if I had a late night. Regret wearing my glasses and pajama pants out in public.

9:17: Go back to bed. When oh when will death come?

11:00: Wake back up. Swallow two more Advil and try not to die.

11:02: It's not working.

11:15: Watch 30 Rock. Allow the sweet sounds of Werewolf Bar Mitzvah wash away the pain.

3:00: Emerge from my bat cave.

5:00: Jess comes home bearing a gift from a student which, while a very kind gesture, can only be described as My God What IS That? The label says "fashion jewelry," but Jess' face says "I will only put this on to make my roommate laugh."


After much debating, and despite my tearful pleas that she wear it as a necklace, it is determined that it's a belt. Balls.

7:00: While watching football, stumble upon the WORLD'S BEST MOVIE on SciFi during a commericial break....Supergator! Starring Kelly "Oh Maverick, fill me with your dangerseed" McGillis!

7:01: Jess and I squeal in joy and immediately declare ourselves on team Supergator. The plot? A, uh, super gator occupies the same vicinity of vacationers and scientists in Hawaii. Chaos ensues. Glorious, delicious, blood splattered chaos.

7:13: Two random women appear, wearing the shortest short shorts in the history of Daisy Duke. As one of them smiles, her makeup cracks. Jess: "Gah! Now I know how old she is!"

7:14: Dub the aforementioned ladies "Asscheeks" and "Too Old For Pigtails."

7:18: Jess: "Did Kelly McGillis' face melt?" Me: "She's morphing into Rick Rossovich!"

7:20: Asscheeks and Too Old For Pigtails become a mid morning snack. Mourn by eating Christmas cookies and drinking wine. NO, I NEVER LEARN.

7:42: Kelly McGillis gets swallowed whole. Cue raucuous cheering. Me: "You haven't failed me yet, Supercroc!" Jess: "SuperGATOR." Me: "Apologies."

7:50: I manage to capture the best still from the movie yet:

Oh random fisherman, it's a travesty you had to die with that 'stache.

8:04: I fucking finally get a shot of the Supergator. He's part velocicraptor, part Yoshi.

8:06: Enjoy your hip shaking now, Hawaiians. Soon you shall be the tasty suckling pig of the supergator's luau!!

8:15: Forget what I said before. Supergator has likely spent time in the Hellmouth, since he's obviously related to the Mayor. The only way to bring him down is to chase him away with an empty box with "Ebola" written all over it.

"That's a spunky little girl you've raised. I'm going to eat her."

8:23: Supergator go boom. Jess and I sob uncontrollably into our bowls of eggnog ice cream and Bailey's.

8:30: Consider drowning grief by watching SciFi's next feature, Sharks in Venice. "Even Great Whites know that Italians make the best meal." Pass out from the awesomeness of the tagline.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cannonball Read #6: Don't Get Too Comfortable, by David Rakoff

I read this collection of essays about a month ago, so forgive me if this review is brief-ah procrastination, you've plagued me my entire life (note to self: return library book from the 5th grade, other people would like to read the Garfield Treasury #5 as well). I've delved into Rakoff before, via his collection Fraud, and I actually preferred that to Don't Get Too Comfortable. The wit here was a bit dryer, and a little too subtle for my tastes, but still enjoyable enough for a trolley ride home. Thematically, the essays center on Americans and our culture of self-indulgence. As a native Canadian who has spent much of his life living in the U.S., Rakoff manages to be both derisive and analytical as an outsider, but also self-deprecating regarding his adopted home and his American identity. The first essay was actually my favorite: Rakoff, determined to cast his vote against George W. Bush in the 2004, finally applies for U.S. citizenship. It's a fascinating and funny commentary on the electoral process that's also bittersweet. Rakoff ruminates on the repercussions of his decision...what does he have to give up, if anything, now that he is an American? Is his Canadianoscity lessened? Does he have to trade moose for bald eagle? That last question may be one I asked myself in my head.

Another two that I enjoyed revolved around resorts and vacationing in general. Rakoff visits Belize and is witness to a Playboy shoot. I'm a huge fan of gay perspectives of the female form and its alleged sexiness...it's probably why my best friend cracks me up so often, he loves to mock my lady parts and their lack of appeal. The shoot's description just makes me sad, it's comprised of young silicone enhanced women writhing on chaises as the cameraman listlessly monotones directions to spread their legs. Tis The Sexy. In a later essay Rakoff moonlights at a swanky resort as, I believe, a towel boy? A professional smiler? I forget, he's supposed to make the vacationers feel happy and taken care of. Instead of dissecting the privileged's view of those who work in the service industry as I expected, Rakoff instead details just how damned BORING the job was. Once, just once he longs to be told to fuck off, but alas it never happens. Rakoff is sarcastic and unrelentingly observant like Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, and I always enjoy his work, though the guffaws don't come quite as often as when I read Me Talk Pretty One Day and Assassination Vaction. But via Hooter Airlines and detoxing diets, he offers a fresh look at the decadence and absurdity found in today's society.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cannonball Read #5: Severance Package, by Duane Swierczynski

I grabbed this off the shelf at the library because I recognized Swierczynski as the former editor of the Philadelphia City Paper. Yes the title blows and the lame ass tag line makes me cringe, but I was dying for a fun thriller damn it, and this didn't let me down. Reading Severance Package (groan) is akin to reading a screenplay written by the coke-addled spawn of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino.

Unabashedly shallow, the book begins with short introductions to a number of characters, all who work together at a high rise in Center City. And BALLS, I already forget what the company was called and I stupidly returned the novel...well, it's a front for a sort of special ops/assassins training division of the government. In true Alias fashion, only a few of the employees know the truth about the people they work for. David, the head of the company, sets up a meeting on an early Saturday morning, only to reveal to the eight people there that all of them have been terminated. And not in the "Oh hell, now I need to relearn the art of cover letters" sort of way, but in the "Surprise! You work for the government, now drink this poisoned mimosa or I'll shoot your ass" way. What happens next is a frenetic exercise in survival, with the employees desperately trying to evade a super assassin while attempting to escape the building.

And that's about it. My true opinion of this book? Fun as hell. There's almost no character development to speak of, so when people start to die (in awesomely gory fashion) it's hard to care since there was never a chance of becoming emotionally involved with any of them. But the plot moves quickly, and there's a decent amount of humor, and I DON'T CARE it's cold out and I wanted to read about people being filleted alive by a wee Russian lady.

There was a recurring annoyance in Severance Package that at times made me want to set fire to Independence Hall. The author is a Philadelphia native, and though I always get a thrill when I see anything related to my beloved hometown, Swierczynski tosses out so many gratuitous Philly references that even I started to curse the land of Billy Penn. Within the first 50 pages he mentioned Market Street, Chestnut Street, Rittenhouse Square, Manayunk, the Liberty Bell, the Gallery, The Continental and various other restaurants, Liberty One, Liberty Two, the Eagles, and OH MY GOD WE GET IT YOU'RE FROM PHILLY, GAAAAAAH!!! A character brings cannolis to the meeting, but they can't just be anonymous cannolis, they have to be cannolis from The Reading Terminal Market. He even mentions The Khyber, my happy hour haven and unofficial Pajiban meeting place.

Despite the rampant homerism, this was a well-paced book that had me hooked early and didn't let up until the final page. And oddly enough, this is one of those rare novels that had me thinking "Hmm...I'd love to see a movie based on this."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cannonball Read #4: Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

I hate myself. The only cuddly vampire I want to associate with is this one:

Sarah already did an excellent and scathing review of Twilight, and honestly I don't feel like writing one. I was curious and masochistic. I was embarrassed to read it on the subway. And I stayed up until 3:00am on a WORK NIGHT so I could finish. I found Bella to be a spineless pushover, Edward to be creepy, and the writing to be shallow. And still I needed to know what happened next.


The plot? Mope, shiver, complain, ooh he's pretty, mope, stare, pine, his eyes are like topaz, perfect body, perfect hair, sparkle, almost kiss, sparkle, run really fast, mmm tasty people blood, order Bella around, obey, watch her sleep, inexplicable lack of restraining orders, CHISLED PERFECT PRETTY CHEST, sparkle, smell, run, fight, sparkle, prom.

The end. Now excuse me while I borrow the next one.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cannonball Read #3: A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, by Jeanine Cummins

This book was written to honor two beloved young women who were brutally murdered, and yet it took me a while to come to that realization. At first I couldn't stop harping on how the writing style was basic and repetitive; I spent the first hundred pages wondering how this was published in the first place. Then I got the fuck over myself. The book was written because Cummins needed it to be written, for herself and for her family. It's a loving tribute to the cousins she lost and an honest look at the media and its effect on the families of the fallen.

The backstory is as horrifying as one can imagine. Cummins' two female cousins, 19 year-old Robin Kelly, her sister 20 year-old Julie Kelly, and Cummins' her older brother Tom spent the final night of their vacation together on an abandoned bridge in St. Louis. Four young men, between the ages of 15 and 19, also chose to spend that night on the very same spot. After initially befriending the trio, the group decided to turn back and rob the family members, seeing that they were in the mood "to hurt someone." As Tom is pinned to the ground by the youngest of the attackers, the sisters are savagely gang raped by the other three. Following their assault, the girls and Tom are taken by gunpoint and lined up on the edge of the bridge. And in a moment that I can not stop visualizing, both Robin and Julie are pushed off, plumetting 50-60 feet below into the raging Mississippi. Told that his options were to join them or be shot, Tom jumped off behind them. Both girls drown. Tom survives and eventually makes his way to the shore to flag down help.

Nauseating. And yet the ordeal doesn't end with the murders. As anyone who has had a loved one die a public death knows, the media are absolute vultures when it comes to grabbing that perfect moment on camera-the grieving the mother, the heartbreaking statements. I lost a friend in a highly publicized car accident in college (publicized because there were over 20 cars involved)-she and two young men in another car burned to death on the Schuylkill Expressway. The news stations flooded my small college, and only an hour after they identified her body the newscasters were asking anyone in their path how they felt and did they see the video of the fire? They came to the funeral, they tried to get a statement from her mother, they interviewed witnesses who discussed how they could hear her screaming in her car. Thanks you callous fucks, there goes any hope for her mother that she was unconscious before the fire. The press are an intrusion in every stage of your agony. The Kelly and Cummins family had to deal with their grief in the eye of the public, and later they had to witness the vilification of Tom after he was initially charged with the crime. Later, after the culprits are found and sentenced, the press focused on the attackers' stories rather than the two girls who spents their last moments in terror. The trial, the editorials written, the Ricki fucking Lake special, the documentary...all provoked sympathy for the murderers while nearly ignoring the victims, and further inflamed the anger and the anguish of an already broken family.

Cummins may not be the most seasoned writer but she imbues her memoir with honesty and candor that provides an intimate, almost voyeuristic look into her family's devastation. She shows a surprising amount of...well, not compassion, but a levelheadedness when describing the four teenagers who killed her cousins. She refrains from making sweeping generalizations about their character, and acknowledges their upbringing and social backgrounds that may have led to their unjustifiable behavior. I've never been able to get into the mind of someone who can commit an act of such brutality. How does that disconnect occur, when you can use a woman's body as a receptacle, commit the most invasive act on another person...and then kill them? Where are the thoughts of their feelings, their pain, what their families are about to go through? I don't get it. How do you rape a woman...and then laugh about it to her sobbing cousin? It makes my blood run cold. Cummins somehow addresses these questions without resorting to name calling and emotional outbursts, and these were her cousins... her friends. Her book could have been a public letter berating the assailants, and instead it's a well-executed dissection of the media and an opportunity to share the memories of two girls who were never given the time to make their mark on the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cannonball Read #2: Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safron Foer

Distraction can prove to be such a cruel bitch while I'm reading a novel. I'm a pretty fast reader, but I go through periods where almost anything can keep me from turning the page...people-watching on the trolley, current anxieties, imagining what life would be like as a piece of fruit (for the record? DELICIOUS). It took me a month to get through this one, despite my enjoyment...but I found myself actually distracted by the story itself. I couldn't stop imagining Foer's writing process. What made him name a character after himself, how did he get into the mind of Alex so well, did he research life in shtetls, etc etc. Foer has a knack for diving head first into his characterizations with a self assurance and buoyancy that is admirable in a writer so young. I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close a few months ago and was blown away by little Oscar and his heavy boots, so I was more than thrilled to finally read this, his debut novel.

Alex Perchov is a young Ukrainian translator hired by Jonathan Safron Foer to assist him in his journey to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Searching the desolate regions of the country for a place called Trachimbrod, they're accompanied by Perchov's grandfather, an old man tortured by his personal experiences of the war and the loss of his wife, and Sammy Davis Jr Jr, their equally beloved and reviled vodka drinking dog. The book is a story within a story within a story, but Foer manages to avoid alienating his readers by writing with a fluidity that effectively binds the different narratives.

The journey of the four travellers is recounted by Alex, while the rest of the book is written as excerpts of Jonathan's novel that conveys the life of his ancestors in the small shtetl. Tying these together are Alex's letters to Jonathan that act as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting and sometimes reproaching him for his writing style. Alex is a desperate-to-be-loved young man whose dialogue is a hilarious and often affecting mix of broken English and malapropisms. He was undeniably my favorite character; his honesty (which often bordered on lack of modesty) is punctuated with a sense of humor and an unfortunate grasp of the language that provides the novel's funniest moments. Declarations such as:

"If you want to know why so many girls want to be with me, it is because I am a very premium person to be with. I am homely, and also severely funny, and these are winning things. "


"I am unequivocally tall. I do not know any women who are taller than me. The women I know who are taller than me are lesbians, for whom 1969 was a very momentous year. "

had me choking with laughter on the subway. What was greatest about Alex is that through his letters you can witness him growing...as his language improves his innocence wears away. Best of all is his personal investment in the story of both Jonathan's great-great-I-forget-how-many-greats Grandmother Brod and his Grandfather Safran. It gives the book its heart and nearly echoed my own feelings toward the story. Everything is Illuminated is so rich with colorful characters and written with such grace and poetry that I was moved to tears more than once. Extremely Loud is still my favorite, but this book cements my belief that Foer is one of the most talented and exciting authors in recent memory. I can not wait to see what he does next.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Go Phils.
That is all.

Cannonball Read #1: Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

It's a testament to Joe Hill's talent that within a chapter or two I stopped comparing his debut novel to some of my favorites written by his father, Stephen King. There are definite similarities to their writing...slow pacing that eventually leads to a thunderous climax (as all good things should), a proclivity towards tossing out (sometimes gratuitous) pop culture references, thoughtful descriptions of even the slightest of characters. But all of this gets lost once you're deeply invested in the story; one which, once I read the slight blurb on the jacket, I was immediately wary.

Judas Coyne is an aging musician, a guitar god ghoulishly similar to Ozzy Osbourne without all the batshit-crazy bat-snacking battiness. He has an obsession with collecting the grotesque, a long list that includes such items as a snuff film, a hangman's noose, and probably my fifth grade picture. Early on his assistant receives an email that offers a one-of-a-kind, catch-it-or-you'll-regret it, oh-you're-really-going-to-regret-it, dance-puppet-DANCE! type of deal. For only $1,000 Jude can buy a ghost, a ghost who is forever linked to the suit he died in. That's right. The fundamental plot of this story is some rock star buys a ghost off the fucking internet.

Except that's only the beginning. From the moment the suit arrives in the mail Hill creates not only an atmosphere of dread but an unwavering sense of urgency. The ghost is tied to someone from Jude's past, and he is looking for the worst kind of revenge. He's not only going to murder his ass, he's going to separate him from everyone who cares about him, most notably his current girlfriend Marybeth. Death is scary, but isolation is unfathomable. What's so fascinating about this book is that the ghost becomes not just the central villain, but the catalyst for changing Jude's entire outlook on his career, his relationships, on the way he handles his guilt. There's an emotional current throughout the novel that sets it apart from your typical ghost story. Empathy is hard to find when you view the protagonists with loathing, or worse yet indifference. Marybeth could have been another derivative version of a young groupie tied to a successful musician...she's a former stripper, she's goth, she's immature. And yet Hill manages to paint her with so much depth and consideration that I found myself completely infatuated.

I won't go into any more of the plot, except to say that this book in no way turned out to be the chain rattling ghost story I expected. The author dedicated his book to his father, whom he declares to be "one of the good ones." I think that Hill is on his way to be one as well.

I can't believe I've only read one god-damned book so far.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I have to have a blog now? Fuck. Me. Upside down.

Yet I couldn't resist the lure of a reading contest, one that I am sorely losing. Bring it bitches, English Major Julie is coming at you swinging her unabridged collected works of Shakespeare.