the wonderful world of veena.

24 October 2014

veen on the road: the books.

Come on, you know you weren't going to get through a road trip update without hearing about the books I read and listened to along the way. In total I read two-and-a-half books [I started Americanah right before wedding weekend but didn't get fully immersed in it until after I returned from my trip] and listened to four more while on the road, and today I share my thoughts on each with you.

The Graveyard Book [written and read by Neil Gaiman]. We all know how much I love me some Neil Gaiman audiobooks. I love what his voice brings to his stories, I love some of the added inflections, and I especially love the musical accompaniments that are included between chapters. For the start of my 5-week road trip I began with The Graveyard Book on audio, and I finished it somewhere between Fallston and Greensboro, NC.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of Nobody Owens - affectionately known as Bod - who wanders into the graveyard as a toddler on the night his parents and elder sister are murdered, unknowingly escaping The Man Jack who wants to kill him as well. Bod is able to communicate with both the living and the dead in his graveyard, and as a baby he is granted the freedom of the graveyard but is not allowed outside its gates, where his life is sill in danger.

Bod is officially raised by Master and Mistress Owens, long-time residents of the graveyard, but it is from Silas, his guardian and a Hound of God, that he gains his knowledge. Silas sees to it that he is fed and protected and educated, and he answers Bod's questions about his history and the world around him as simply and as honestly as he can.

As Bod grows into a teenager, it becomes more and more apparent that The Man Jack is still out there, seeking to find and kill Bod. With each chapter, the climax of the story inches closer and closer, and with Gaiman's storytelling, it's both suspenseful and exciting. I loved listening to this one, and I would love to read the book itself somewhere down the line.

Real Happy Family [Caeli Wolfson Widger]. As an Amazon Prime member and Kindle owner, I get a free download at the beginning of every month of a book that is slated to be released the following month. It's a really cool offer, but there have been very few books that I've actually downloaded. I got this one a few months ago, mostly because it was free, and read it while I was in Winston-Salem and Charlotte. I didn't love it, but it was a fast read.

The story of a wannabe actress and model who thinks she's more talented than she is, her overbearing mother who is trying to relive her youth through her daughter, her father who is just trying to get through life, and her brother and sister-in-law who are trying to help but have their own problems to deal with shows you the seedier and less rosy side to Hollywood, where it's tough to break into the limelight, and it's often who you know rather than how talented - or not talented - you are. Because of the setting, most of the characters, especially Lorelei and her mother, are shallow and rather vapid. Not really my scene.

If you're looking for a fast, mindless read, check this one out, but it's not going to set the world on fire. I very likely would not have read it if it hadn't been free.

Bossypants [written and read by Tina Fey]. I read Tina Fey's book a few years ago while I was living in Little Rock, but I downloaded the audio version for my drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I am so glad that I did. Fey reads the book herself, and hearing her voice read those stories of her awkward childhood left a pretty steady grin on my face throughout the entire book.

Fey talks about growing up in Pennsylvania, fighting for a spot with the Second City troupe in Chicago, becoming Saturday Night Live's first female writer, and eventually pitching her own show to NBC, and through all of her stories her originality and humor shine through. I loved listening to this book, and it inspired me to re-watch all of 30 Rock [I just finished in mid-September. what a great show]. I very highly recommend this as a read or a listen, or even both. I promise you won't be disappointed.

This Is Where I Leave You [Jonathan Tropper]. I picked this one up on a whim after seeing the trailer for the movie full of a cast I am mildly obsessed with, and I read it while I was in Richmond and Chattanooga. It was a quick read, and I sped through it in about a week, which is coincidentally the amount of time in which the book takes place.

Narrated by Judd [played by Jason Bateman in the movie], This is Where I Leave You tells the story of the Foxman family [changed to "Altman" in the film]. The mother and 4 children reunite following the father's death, and all are required to stay with each other under the same roof for 7 days as per the old man's dying wish. Dysfunctional doesn't even begin to cover this family, and as we move through the days of the Foxman family learning to live together again and like each other, Judd also fills in the backstory of how they all ended up the way they are.

The book is at turns funny and dramatic, and it always has the underlying tone that no matter how far you go, you can never quite escape your family or where you came from. I liked the book on the whole, but it was a rare case of the book actually diluting my interest for seeing the film, rather than the other way around. From reading the book and then re-watching the trailer for the film, it appears that while it loosely follows the book, there are lots of things that are changed around. Also, the book involves quite a lot of Judd's inner monologue as he explores his own life [wife cheated on him with his boss; he quit his job; living in a basement apartment; etc] and struggles to rediscover his place in the world, and I'm unsure of how that will translate to film.

Let's be honest, I will probably still see the film, because I love that cast, but I am trying very hard to distance the film from the book so that I can judge them as two separate entities. Wish me luck, and perhaps I will let you all know what I think of the movie once I see it.

The Secret of the Old Clock [written by Carolyn Keene; read by Laura Linney]. I straight up loved Nancy Drew when I was a kid. I loved following her mysteries and trying to solve the puzzles right along with her, and I am now building collections of her books for Evelyn in Nashville and for Nilah and Evika in Bangalore so they can enjoy them as well. It's made me a little nostalgic for the stories of my childhood, so I decided to listen to one of the books while I was on the road.

The Secret of the Old Clock is the first of the original mysteries, and in it we meet Nancy Drew, all-around awesome 16-year-old who has a great penchant for solving mysteries. In this particular story, she is on the hunt for a hidden will so that a man's rightful heirs can have access to his estate. We follow Nancy as she meets characters both nice and evil, hunts down clues that will lead to the will, and eventually solves the case.

It was definitely interesting to re-visit this series as an adult. I still love the stories, and I still get just as caught up in them as I used to, but there are lots of little quirks that I couldn't help but giggle at. The language, for one, as well as the descriptions of the clothes and hair. Additionally, I couldn't help but marvel at some of the things Nancy does in the name of sleuthing, including trespassing, breaking and entering, and some pretty obvious obstruction of justice. Now, I know these were written in the 1930s and reworked in the 50s, so these were not necessarily concerns at the time of publication, but I definitely picked up on little things like that as an adult in 2014. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my little jaunt down memory lane and have since listened to the next two books in the series. At only 3 hours each, they go by quickly.

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls [written and read by David Sedaris]. I have read and loved all of David Sedaris' books over the years, but this one brought a slight departure for me: rather than read it, I listened to it while on the road. Because Sedaris reads the stories himself, they take on an entirely new shape, and I love the dimension that it adds. His voice sounds pretty much exactly how I always thought it would, and to hear him tell the stories of his childhood or his travels is truly a delight.

This is the general Sedaris tome, full of stories of his dysfunctional family and his life traveling and living with his partner Hugh, but to hear him tell it makes it even more poignant and entertaining.

An added element that I loved: for a few of the stories, rather than playing the studio version, it was a recording of Sedaris reading the story in front of an audience. It was great to feel like I was a part of the audience and to laugh along with them, and I liked that it was always a surprise when one of the stories was presented in that way.

So there you have it. Have you read or listened to any of these books? I rather like the idea of listening to fun books like Tina Fey's after I've read them in print, and I am generally always a fan of the author reading his or her own work.

Any new book recommendations floating around out there for me?

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