Book Review: I Heart New York

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I first heard about I Heart New York, by Lindsey Kelk, from Becky’s review on her blog, which stated it as chick-lit fluff and fun. Was I up for fluff and fun? Was I ever. This is the final week of semester people.

Despite being with her fiancee for basically forever, Angela still finds him cheating on her with another woman…and at her best friend’s wedding. Even worse, apparently everyone (including said best friend) but Angela knew he’d been having an affair. Cue tantrum, a hastily packed suitcase and a one-way ticket to New York…Angela’s starting afresh.

Luckily for Angela, as soon as she lands in New York she makes friends with the receptionist at the hotel she’s staying at…a receptionist that, upon hearing about the break up, decides that the best thing for Angela to do is have a make-up and spend quite literally months of mortgage on clothes and makeup. Even luckier for Angela, through her connections she gets a job writing a column for an online magazine, which is just SUPER handy considering she’s not dating one, but TWO hot men and thus has to discuss with her fans who to choose.

Of course, things aren’t perfect for Angela in New York. I mean, first she has to decide: will she pick the famous musician to be her boyfriend, or the Black Amex-carrying banker who thinks a trip to Tiffany’s on the second date is perfectly normal (and not at all capitalistic, might I add). Second, she has to make the heart-breaking decision of choosing to stay in New York, where she gets paid to write about fuck all (Carrie style), or go back to London, where she’s just been offered a job on a magazine to write about fuck all. LIFE’S HARD GUYS.

I Heart New York went against basically every principle that I have, particularly in regards to feminism. First off, Kelk has written a novel about a woman who apparently spends all her time buying clothes and make up and trying to decide which man to date. Fine, whatever, it’s a chick lit. But the thing that irked me most of all was that it felt like a bit of a slap across the face to anyone who has moved overseas, tried to get a job or, I dunno, worked and studied for the better part of their life to get a job as an editor. Yet, Angela somehow swans in and becomes an online celebrity in, would you believe, the space of a week. And then she’s offered the job of a senior editor for a major magazine….because of the fact that she’s spent quite literally, one week, writing about her love life.

Then there’s the issue about where all her money is coming from. Is she a secret millionaire? How can she afford a hotel in Manhattan, then rent an apartment in Manhattan, all while buying the better part of Barney’s? Even if I suspend belief (which I can usually do in regards to chick lit), it still sounds scarily familiar to the plot of Sex and the City. Which boyfriend do I choose? Oh, I dunno, how about I deliberate it while writing my column about sex and going shoe shopping? Only thing is, Sex and the City manages to portray this storyline in a way that is far wittier, iconic and ground-breaking.

The writing isn’t particularly great in I Heart New York, and the editing is particularly woeful. Aside from the serious typos and grammatically errors throughout the novel, somehow phrases like ‘the unnecessarily fat man’ got through the editing stage. Unnecessarily fat? Does that mean there is a fat that is necessary? And throughout are plot developments conceived by Kelk to get the story moving, but they read as though a 15 year old, coming up with a daydream about her crush, would envision. Though I like la-la land, it seemed a tad too ridiculous that within 15 minutes of arriving in New York, Angela had a best friend, a make-over and a whole slew of girls who were keen to hang out with her and alas, move in with her after a week! Sorry, but people generally are not that nice.

However, despite the horrendous writing, terrible story telling and absolute shit on feminism, this book was quite fun to read. It took me two days and approximately six brain cells, and with deadlines looming, that is exactly what I was after. Will I go on to read the sequels? Hell no. Would I like Kelk to come up with a storyline that actually involves SOME sort of problem? Ideally, yes. But at the same time, it was light, it was fluffy, and at no stage did it pretend to be anything else. In saying that, if you can’t stand chick lit, poorly written work, a shaky storyline or excessive amounts of pink, then please, don’t pick up I Heart New York.

 

Have you read I Heart New York or anything by Lindsey Kelk? What did you think?

i heart new york by lindsey kelk

I Heart New York – (image taken from http://www.gr-assets.com)

Book Review: Summer Crossing

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Summer Crossing, also known as Truman Capote’s first novel, was lost for almost half a decade after Capote cast it aside to work on other things. Though it may have been his first work, the themes that he explores in later novels (notably Breakfast at Tiffany’s) are still present: those of longing, forbidden love and the classes.

Grady McNeil is a beautiful 17 year old living in New York City during the 1940s. In the summer of 1945, with money, opportunities and the highest social standing behind her, Grady is left to her own devices while her parents sail across to Europe. Although she has the affections of Peter Bell, who has both money and the same high social stature as herself, she clings onto Clyde, a Jewish parking lot attendant. Despite the differences in goals, money and social ranking, Grady falls deeply in love with Clyde. However, her rash decisions end up having huge consequences, and suddenly first love looks like it won’t conquer all.

From what I’ve read of Truman Capote, I actually have to say that I prefer his fiction over his non-fiction. Though he revolutionised storytelling with his ‘non-fiction fiction’ with In Cold Blood (an impressive feat of investigative journalism and storytelling), I find his oddly sweet, simple fiction far more compelling.

Summer Crossings, in its essence, is a very simple novel: it’s about first love, and how it can blind us from everything that is rational. Though this is a story that has been told time and again by authors, Capote turns it slightly on its head – although Grady has everything going for her, looks, money and class, she is oddly a rather unsavoury protagonist. Rather than align us with her thoughts and feelings, as a reader I felt strangely distanced by her, largely due to a combination of her elitist ways and, strangely enough, her gullibility. Despite, or perhaps because of, her ‘perfect’ life, Grady assumes that she will get her way with Clyde…although she quickly realises (although far too late), that money and class cannot solve everything.

Capote also has a brilliant skill of setting a scene with the (apparent) greatest of ease: although he doesn’t use particularly descriptive writing, big words or flowery, long-winded descriptions, he somehow conveys the mood and feelings of a time and place. Even though it was written over half a decade a go, I still felt as though I was besides Grady in the summer of 1945, watching with horror as she starts to slide down the slippery slope of circumstance.

Perfect as a summer read or a book to while away time in the park, Summer Crossing is an example of simple, clean writing at its finest. Whether you’re in New York at the ‘scene of the crime’ so to speak, or on the other side of the world (like me!), you will get a sense of joy and completeness from this short novel by Truman Capote.

 

Are you a fan of Summer Crossing? Have you read anything by Truman Capote, fiction or non-fiction? Let me know!

summer crossing by truman capote

Summer Crossing – (image taken from http://www.upload.wikimedia.org)

Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl

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Lena Dunham’s autobiography, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”, is what some would call ‘highly anticipated’. The writer, director and star of the phenomenally successful TV show, Girls, Dunham was paid a whooping $3.5 million advance for her book on essays about herself. Now, if only I can find a way to get someone to pay me $3.5 million to write a book about myself…

Not That Kind of Girl is the autobiography of Lena, but mostly it deals with issues that a lot of women face, regardless of where they live. Lena discusses her OCD, urge to lose her virginity, fear of not fitting in and problems with trying to be someone that she isn’t – both in looks and personality. While her writing is funny yet honest, the best bit about Not That Kind of Girl is that it wraps the reader in and makes them go ‘Oh! I know what that feels like! I’ve been there!’. And while there are some truly harrowing moments that Lena recounts (such as the time she was raped), she recounts them in a way that is neither shocking nor attention seeking: rather, she tells it in a way that says ‘if you’ve been in this situation too, that’s OK. You’re not a bad person and you’re definitely not a weirdo’.

If I’m completely honest with you, about 50% of me bought this book because it was cheap for a hardback and I really liked the look of it. While I’ve seen episodes of Girls and I like how Lena Dunham is an ‘out and proud’ feminist, I also haven’t paid a great deal of attention to her. As a result, I was happily surprised not only by the stories that she had to told, but the open and witty way that she went about telling them. Even though Not That Kind of Girl is essentially a group of essays, they didn’t read like one. Instead, throughout the book I kept thinking ‘that’s me! I’ve been there!’ and I was left with the feeling that perhaps I wasn’t as odd as everyone keeps telling me I am. (Seriously guys, I swear I’m not that weird.)

One issue that really shouldn’t be an issue about Dunham though was that I was kinda disappointed by Dunham’s background. For someone who titles her autobiography ‘Not That Kind of Girl’, in a lot of ways, she really is. While I think she’s great, there was a part of me that was kinda frustrated by the absolute cliche of her life – grew up in New York to successful arty parents, used her connections, spent most of her time bludging at uni and them BAM! released a successful television series about a girl and her friends living in New York. I mean, really? While none of this is of course Lena’s FAULT, for someone who grew up in a country town, population 6000, and who would love to be a writer who lived in New York City, it did cut a little deep. Despite how phenomenally successful and talented Lena may be, she still probably got there because of who she knows. So, damnit.

Aside from that, admittedly selfish, rant, overall Not That Kind of Girl is a highly enjoyable read. Lena Dunham’s writing is self-deprecating (so unusual for an American), witty, insightful and inclusive. While she is discussing issues about her life (obviously, it’s an autobiography), at no stage does she come across as self-absorbed, but rather it’s as though she is presenting her life events in a way that says ‘take one. I know you’ve been in my position too, so let’s just hang together’. And while it is targeted for a young female audience because out of everyone we’re the ones who will resonate with it most, I still think it would be valid for a lot of other people.

Have you read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl? Are you a fan of Girls? Do you know anyone who would be willing to give me a $3.5 million book advance? To all of the above, please let me know!

not that kind of girl by lena dunham

Book Review: Junky

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The Beat Generation in the US generally brings to mind three iconic authors: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, each famous for their revealing insights and thought-provoking texts into what it meant to be a ‘beatnik’ in the 1950s.

Without a doubt, of these three, Jack Kerouac (he of On The Road fame) is by far the most well-known. Then there is Allen Ginsberg, who is lauded as the writer of Howl, a bizarre poem that I haven’t read. (Although, during a James Franco-obsessed stage in my life, I did watch the film, which recounts the poem entirely. Does that count?)

Then there’s William S. Burroughs who, despite writing Naked Lunch, is the least famous of the three. Which to me, particularly after reading Junky, seems kinda outrageous. Not only is Junky far less self-absorbed than On The Road, but Burroughs led a pretty incredible life. He was addicted to heroin, arrested multiple times, fled to Mexico and killed his wife during a game of William Tell (the ol’ ‘shoot the apple off the top of someone’s head’ game. Yes, apparently that does go wrong sometimes). Seriously, why isn’t this guy more well-known??

Junky is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows Burroughs and his addiction to heroin in the 1950s. While it starts off as the typical ‘experimentation’ stage of drugs that so many people go through, quickly Burroughs goes from shooting up morphine to becoming a full-blown addict to heroin. While he does take himself off heroin multiple times, Burroughs always ends up going back for more, for that last hit – leading him to getting arrested, prison and eventually, Mexico.

Believe it or not, I’m not a heroin addict, so reading Junky was insightful yet also appalling. Told in first person perspective it provided me with an outlook that I would never have considered, particularly since the most addictive substance I’ve tried is chocolate. And while Junky was once considered ‘unpublishable’ because of its content, I found it incredibly gripping to be in the mind of a drug addict and honestly couldn’t get enough of it (how ironic, considering the subject matter).

What amazed me about Junky and Burrough’s writing  though was that it wasn’t self-absorbed, whiny or even superior – Burrough’s just delivered the hard facts of an addiction, both good and bad. And while Kerouac’s On The Road frustrated me because it glamourised a selfish, seedy lifestyle, Burrough’s does anything but – he emphasises that while getting high is great in the moment, it’s not what anyone aspires for.

Overall, Junky was a surprisingly enjoyable, thought-provoking read that gave an insight into the Beat Generation and a drug addiction in the 1950s. Though I can see why it was so controversial when it was first released, I would still recommend Junky for anyone who wants to view things from an entirely different perspective. Which is kinda the point of books, right?

 

Have you read Junky or anything by William S. Burroughs? Are you a fan of the Beat Generation? Let me know!

junky by william s. burroughs

Junky – (image taken from http://www.penguin.com.au)

 

Book Review: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace, king of the hipsters and literary fans the world over. Bearing that in mind, from now on he shall be known as DFW, partially because that’s what all the ‘cool kids’ do in their blogs, but mostly because I can’t be bothered writing his name multiple times.

Brief Interviews is a collection of stories, often titled Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, about people who are essentially…well, not great. Sometimes they are in first person perspective, occasionally they are third, and with the Brief Interviews themselves, they are a series of interviews where the question has been reduced to a simple Q, and the reader has to determine what they asked based off of the interviewee’s answers.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men wasn’t a particularly easy read, but I can understand why people are in love with DFW’s writing. If the name David Foster Wallace sounds familiar to you, it’s because he is the author who wrote Infinite Jest – the holy grail of books if you are either an intellectual or a hipster. (Side note: Are hipsters a thing overseas? They’re huge in Melbourne and every second man in the inner suburbs has either a sleeve of tattoos or a bushy beard. Is that common overseas too, or am I just banging on about hipsters and you guys have no idea what I’m on about? Best to let me know.) And while I would love to tick off Infinite Jest on my ‘to read’ list, it’s about 1000 pages long…and DFW isn’t a big fan of page breaks.

I decided to read Brief Interviews for two reasons: the first is that a friend lent it to me and well, free book, and secondly, because I wanted to taste DFW’s writing before I attempted the beast that is Infinite Jest. The conclusion? While I enjoyed his writing, I don’t think I could read a 1000 pages of DWF all at once.

DWF’s writing seems particularly tricky because he does away with the conventional norms that most of us associate with fiction. Frequently, his short stories don’t have a particularly strong narrative, so it’s easy to get lost in the ‘point’ of the story. His characters, at least in these short stories, were mostly abhorrent and when I spent too much time ‘in their head’ so to speak, I felt distinctly icky. He frequently has incredibly long sentences that are grammatically correct, and surprisingly not too hard to read, but it does mean that entire pages go by before a new paragraph or a chance to have a break from the words. Lastly, he is a fan of footnotes, which is usually fine, but at times the footnotes were longer than the actual story. Eek!

However, for anyone who is a fan of literature that breaks the norms of what is expected, and tests the English language in different ways (that still makes sense), then I would recommend Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. In a way, DFW reminds me of a harder version of Dave Eggers – same style of ‘doing something different’, but slightly less reward at the end of it.

 

Have you read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men? Have you read Infinite Jest or heard of David Foster Wallace? What do you think of his books and his reputation? Let me know!

brief interviews with hideous men by david foster wallace

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – (image taken from http://www.wikimedia.org)

Film Review: Gone Girl

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It’s an interesting feeling when a book that you loved goes viral in its film version. On the one hand, it’s great that it wasn’t an utter failure, but on the other…well, now others are in on the secret, and they didn’t even go through the process of reading the book. This was the conundrum I faced with the movie adaptation of Gone Girl - a film so popular that I couldn’t even get a seat next to Paul in the cinema (Instead, I sat next to a man who fell asleep part way through. Bless).

Gone Girl follows the lives of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a seemingly perfect couple who live in Missouri. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy has gone missing, apparently abducted, and the lies start to come out from the woodwork. Nick and Amy aren’t happily married: she’s resentful for moving to Missouri from New York; he’s cheating on her with a 20 year old student from his class.

As pressure mounts, Nick’s charming appearance during the search makes him come across as a sociopath, and as the days tick by, the media start to lampoon him as the killer. Yet, nothing is as it seems in this movie, and the usual discourse of husband and wife will be flipped upside down and re-examined. After all – nothing you see on TV is real, right?

While I don’t want to give away any spoilers to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie or read the book and wants to, I do want to address one issue that has come up in numerous articles in regards to Gone Girl. Many people have argued that Gone Girl encourages both misogyny and misandry, and I flat out disagree on both counts. For anyone who has read previous posts, I’m a strong believer in feminism, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe that Gone Girl encourages men and women to hate another one – to be honest, I felt stupid even writing that sentence just then. Without getting into the finer details, I’ll just write this – Gone Girl is a fictional movie, as in, not real. Fiction allows anything to happen – for anyone to be good or bad, and for any actions, no matter how deplorable they may seem, to be done. Regardless of sex, motivation or personality traits. Aside from anything else, in the same way with the book, I applaud Gone Girl for creating a story that is different and unusual from the usual story lines that we’re fed by Hollywood.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. Though Gone Girl is quite lengthy – at approximately two and a half hours – the movie flew past, which has to be a combination of the directing efforts of David Fincher, the screenplay by Gillian Flynn (who wrote the novel) and the acting by the two main characters. Which, for me, is saying a lot, because I’m really, really not a fan of Ben Affleck. I think it’s his chin.

Gone Girl could easily have been a novel that wouldn’t have worked onscreen with the duality of narrators and the constant shifting in past, present and ‘make believe’. Yet it works. For fans of the novel, it stays true to the story line and overall ‘feel’ of the book, and for first-timers, it is a strong thriller that also seems scarily accurate. Lastly, the film’s adaptation, while still being highly entertaining, doesn’t detract from Flynn’s overall messages of the novel – that of the influence of the media, the shallowness of appearances and of audience’s expectations.

 

Have you read or seen Gone Girl? Were you a fan of the movie or of the book? What did you think of the ending? If you’ve seen it or read it, let me know in the comments, as I’d love to talk about the spoilers!

Book Review: The Rosie Effect

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I’ve been meaning to write this review for weeks. For WEEKS, I tell you! When The Rosie Effect first came out I had to have it immediately – and not only because the first editions were signed by the author, Graeme Simsion. I had to have it, and to consume it, as soon as possible because I absolutely adored its predecessor, The Rosie Project. Apparently, gauging from conversations with friends, they had to have (and consume!) The Rosie Effect straight away too – since all of them had read it by the time I was finished.

For anyone who isn’t in the loop, The Rosie Project was a novel written and released last year by Graeme Simsion, an Australian author who up until then was a professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Generally, though it is a bit harsh to say, Australian authors aren’t outrageously successful on ‘the big stage’ (i.e. everywhere else in the world). Despite the fact that we produce some excellent writers, who even go on to win the Man Booker prize, it is unusual for us to produce mammoth bestsellers.

Well, The Rosie Project changed all of that. Not only did everyone in Australia seem to have read it (from my sister, to Paul’s Mum, to my step-mum, to my university friend…), considering it has sold literally MILLIONS of copies, it appears that everyone else overseas has read it too. Thus, you can see my excitement about the sequel coming out.

(Side note: While it is fantastic for Graeme Simsion and overall the Australian writing community that he’s been so successful, it does make it tough when I get in arguments with Paul, who has decided that our best ‘get rich quick’ scheme is for me to simply ‘write a book’. When I try to explain to him that, umm, writing a book is actually incredibly difficult, let alone one that actually makes any money, he responds with ‘What about that guy who wrote the Rosie Project? He’d be a millionaire now. Just write a book like he did’. Sigh.).

So, The Rosie Effect is set approximately two years since the end of The Rosie Project, and Rosie and Don Tillman are married and living in New York. Don, who takes planning and organisation to the next level, is happily content living with Rosie while she completes her second year of med school at Columbia University.

Then Rosie, unexpectedly, gets pregnant. Suddenly Don, who is not only a planner extraordinaire but also a genius (practically) learns everything there is to know about babies – what Rosie should be eating, how the baby is growing and the health benefits of ‘swapping babies’ during breastfeeding time. Unfortunately, it’s the emotional stuff that Don is having a bit of trouble getting a handle on, and Rosie, fiercely independent Rosie, thinks that maybe Don is a little too weird to be a father to her baby.

The Rosie Effect is a laugh out loud romantic comedy with endearing characters that you want to cheer for right until the very last sentence. Furthermore though, despite being wrapped up in the fairy floss disguise of a rom com, Don Tillman and The Rosie Effect (just like The Rosie Project) teach you that it’s OK to be a bit different, to be a bit odd. Sure, it may mean getting arrested for simply doing ‘baby research’ and it can lead to being accused of being a terrorist, but as long as you’re friendly, kind and true to yourself, it usually works out just fine.

Though The Rosie Effect is definitely silly in scenes, it has a strong message throughout and I think it is this same strong message that appealed to so many readers with The Rosie Project. That its OK to not want to hug strangers (amen Don Tillman!). That its OK to make mistakes. That its OK to lecture a pregnant woman about the amount (or lack thereof) of tofu she has been consuming…actually no, that last one apparently isn’t OK.

The only problem that I have about The Rosie Effect, which other friends have said also, is that it falls into the trap that so many rom coms fall into – that the plot is centred around a problem that could largely be rectified with a single conversation. In The Rosie Effect, this is largely Rosie’s reaction to how Don feels about being a father – her belief is that he is too weird and doesn’t want to be a father, yet she fails to actually have an in-depth discussion with him about it, which seems extra weird considering she married a man who doesn’t do well with social cues. As a result, the plot sometimes gets a bit frustrating, leaving me with the overwhelming desire to scream to Rosie and Don to just TALK to one another.

Aside from that though, I loved The Rosie Effect. It is smart, quick-witted, heart-warming and overall, just a general lark of a book. You will get frustrated reading it, you will get the giggles, and you will applaud a generally lovely character who deserves to have his happy ending.

Have you read The Rosie Project? Have you read The Rosie Effect yet? What did you think of the two books? Let me know!

the rosie effect by graeme simsion

The Rosie Effect – (image taken from http://www.images-amazon.com)

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