Book #3: Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

My rating: 3.5 or 4 of 5 stars
Book #3 for my!

Fact: I could only read this book with all the lights on and never right before sleep. Tonight I stayed up reading because I couldn't bear the thought of having it haunt me any longer!

Additional fact: when I described the plot to my mom, she was sure she had seen it on Lifetime at some point.  So just so you have a sense of what we're dealing with here.

To that end, it meets the definition of a good thriller: a great hook, strong pacing, and it scares the daylights out of you.  The setup reminded me a little bit of Wait Until Dark, a movie you should see if you haven't.  Same as in that film, here a woman is deprived of a main sense/function- here, her memory. Every day she learns, and every night when she sleeps, she will forget.

See what I'm talking about?!

It definitely held my interest- it's at least a solid 3.5, probably a 4.  I found myself rushing forward, needing to know just what the hell was going on!  You get points for that, people.
I should probably read this next.

I imagine it's a challenge for a novelist to write the novel of an amnesiac and not bore your reader to tears as the days are repeated; it's well done here.  Good mass market-style fiction. Oh, and try not to compare it to the movie Momento: That'll be a losing bet. 

For those of you not inclined to the literary arts, I did check and thankfully this is not a Lifetime movie (that I know of, or at least by this title). It is categorized as "in development" on IMDB.  But secretly, part of me is hoping Lifetime does make a movie even sooner.  And if it could star Nancy McKeon or Meredith Baxter Birney, all the better!  When I'm done posting this I'll write Lifetime a letter.

Anyhow, it kept me on the edge of my seat with heart palpitations for 3 days straight.  I'm considering this book my cardiovascular activity for the week!

Book #2: Knowing Your Value

Knowing Your Value: Negotiating Your Way to the Salary You Deserve by Mika Brzezinski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend recommended this to me on our Colombia trip.  Because she's a writer whose career I admire, I decided to pick it up.  But let's be clear: I wasn't really looking forward to it.  I thought of it as medicine I should take along the way for my career.  I picked up my copy at the local library (yay library!) and was impressed by the fierce woman on the cover.  And so I began... and just a few pages in, I knew this was one of those books I'd be talking about for ages to come.

Knowing Your Value should be required reading for any woman who plans on, you know, ever having a job. It isn't about putting a # on your value but on realizing that the traditional ways that women communicate and relate- which often serve us well in our daily lives - actually work very much against us in the work environment. And an important point: it's not about men vs. women, it's about women as their own worst enemy.

First of all, Mika is extremely likeable and easy to identify with. I knew nothing about her, but now have set my tv to record her show, that sort of thing. Her analysis isn't written from a patronizing point of view (memo to every other advice author) but rather from the angle of someone who has been through a lot and had to earn her lesson-learning the hard way. Her humility is engaging, and inspiring (hey, if she ends up sitting on the desk for her book cover, so could you!)

Secondly, she pulls in a pool of high profile executives who corroborate what she says in their own ways. So the book ends up feeling like a star-studded focus group, complete with Carol Bartz's foul language, or Trump admitting that if you ask him for too much he'll probably fire you anyhow. It gives what she says additional validity, and more scenarios you are likely to identify with.  What do women say that men would never say to themselves?  What do men ask for that gets them the higher salaries? What are the possible reasons for those payment disparities we always hear about?  How does motherhood affect the equation?

There were so many quotable passages in here.  I found myself constantly bringing it up in conversation as I came to terms with how obvious some of the scenarios were, and yet I'd never really noticed them. I will be buying copies and gifting this for a long time to come.

Girls, get your read on.

Book #1: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

FINALLY!  Ever since Jon and I created, a reading/movie challenge,  go figure that we got so busy administrating that we haven't gotten a moment to read. And by "we", I mean the royal We here.

The good news is that I just turned the last page of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.

Book #1, done!
The bad news: only giving it 2 of 5 stars.  This means "eh".

I have loved other Agatha Christie mysteries but this wasn't a favorite. Too many moving pieces, to begin with.  I kept flipping forward to refer to the cast of characters; only a few stood out to me and to the very end I couldn't really tell the butler from the secretary, for example.  It barreled forward throwing in details out of left field.  Somehow it skidded to a halt that was completely predictable but based on nothing I could have predicted.  Sounds odd to say, but if you read it you'll immediately know what I mean. 

I spent more of the time being confounded and retracing my steps/trying to visualize what was going on than getting to sink into the story or even have a hope of getting my own guesses going.  That said, I enjoyed her writing along the way, even in my complete confusion.

The book setup calls to mind ever-beloved Clue; a mansion, a muuuuuurder, and maps of the layout that you have to ponder over.  However, in the end it just didn't deliver for me.  That said, I believe the book is famous for introducing certain writing devices into mystery.  Click here if (and ONLY if) you want a spoiler, ok? 

Hercule Poirot is a memorable literary character with a pretty awesome name, but I'll stick to the film/tv versions of his subset of Christie tales if they're all like this. 

Will definitely be reading other Agatha Christies for the challenge, I'm sure, but this wasn't the running start I was hoping for!  Oh well, I suppose it sets the bar low- my next 49 books better deliver or else.

Resolve This.

Happy first week of the year down!

Have I mentioned how much I love making New Year's resolutions?  I LOVE MAKING NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS.  Sometimes my resolutions overlap with my bucket list, which as you know by now, I am slightly obsessed with.  I think this is all a symptom of my larger list-making obsession.  I make resolutions for the regular new year, for Persian New Year/Norooz (March) and on an ongoing basis with friends; any excuse, really.  I'm the kind of person who would put "Make new year's resolutions" on my list.

I used to put my resolutions up on my refrigerator, but one year I had "Learn to knit baby blankets" on my list because so many girlfriends were having kids and I thought they would make cute gifts.  Note to self: this is not appropriate decor when a date is over.  I had a little explaining to do.  So now I'm keeping it between me and my blog (and you, I guess). 

In past years, resolutions have included travel, going out more, drinking more water & wine than soda (I should probably revive that one), stepping it up with the fitness, keeping in better touch with people, making more girlfriends in my city, etc.  I've been pretty good about holding myself to them in the past and I hope the pattern will continue this year, but I also hope I will pick more interesting resolutions.  The key is really picking things you'll actually do.  As I like to point out, certain things are just never gonna happen. I'm not going to give up being sarcastic or quit coffee. I'm not going to magically remember to include attachments when I send emails.  So why set myself up for failure?

This year's list is working out nicely so far, although there aren't too many surprises yet:

2012 Resolutions:
1) Do more yoga.
Specifically, to learn to do a proper headstand in yoga without collapsing, knocking the wind out of me (and possibly the person next to me)

2) Don't eat standing up.
This is a symptom of my life, which is led largely on the run, like a refugee from the law but much less interesting.  So either I need to become that interesting, or I need to sit down and properly get to enjoy my meals.

3) Do
50 books, 50 movies, all new to me, to be torn through this year.  This is the resolution I am by far most excited about.  I'm all signed up- are you?  I tend to read a lot every year and in the back of my mind aim for 50 books, but haven't ever been able to nail it.  Movies, however, are a whole other story.  I've only started to become a movie fan in the past few years, and devote little to no time to it. Subresolution: to finish reading Milan Kundera's bibliography.  He's my favorite writer by far, and I've saved a few of his books to read on a rainy day (or if ever in the hospital in traction, etc. And yes, I save books for this.)  On the off chance the world ends in 2012, I need to probably get to the last few of these ;)

4) Go new places.
This is always on my list. Last year landed me in Nashville and Colombia, two of my favorite vacations, for example.  I'm excited to see what opportunities come up this year. New Orleans is definitely in the cards, but I'm worried you'll never be able to tear me out of a jazz bar once I'm seated.  I am trying to find a way to get over to Africa, specifically to Senegal.  I haven't been to some of the beautiful parks in California.  Stuff like that.   I don't know where this year will take me, but I've found that actually promising yourself to try new venues leads you to, you know, actually do it.  I'm open to suggestions if you have 'em!

5) Find somewhere new to volunteer. 
Step it up. I do volunteer communications work with Real Medicine Foundation and I support mAss Kickers Foundation, but I miss hands-on experience working with clients and seeing the first-hand effects of volunteering.  So some of that.  Perhaps this will be the year I become a Big Sister and formally pass my 80s music knowledge to the next generation? 

6) Respond to emails within 24 hours. 
This is beyond impossible, but it's nice to have goals! I heard this from an executive I work with - and he really does keep to it. Granted, his emails are to the extent of "Thanks" "Sounds good", etc. and I tend to write War and Peace: The Sequel in my emails, but I'd like to get back to people while the content of their emails is still relevant.

7) Use the phone more, email less. 
Remember back when we had personal contact? Yeah, that.

8) Entertain in the home more.
I'm constantly out, which is fun but not totally personal and, sure, expensive.  I love it but I think this year I'll try to mix it up and make use of my place more- cook dinners, gather friends, just lounge around and make it even more homey. Homie?

9) Travel guy.
I didn't even know this was a resolution for me, but we were babbling about resolutions when we hiked to the waterfall in Colombia and this one came tumbling out of my mouth.  Apparently (says my subconscious?) I want to be with a guy I am excited to travel with, and to go ahead and travel with him. Traveling well together is obviously a great way to assess how you guys fare generally, but I love travel and I realize it's something I need someone else to be into- exploring places, going beyond your limits.  From his love of travel I would apparently be able to draw sweeping generalizations about his understanding of his place in the world.  Ok, but if we're being honest, there's also the little fact that there are places I want to go that would be a lot of fun with my girlfriends, but a male bodyguard would be nice and/or necessary (for one thing).  Plus, as great of a time as we have, I have to stop accidentally going on romantic-destination vacations with my best girlfriends.  See also: Mexico, Paris, Greece, cruises, the Caribbean.  I mean, seriously.

10) Develop a new talent.
Obviously I don't know what this one is gonna be, but knowing me it will be a little off the wall. Archery, anyone?

11) Write more. 
And here we are.

fiftyfiftyme: Movie #2, Absurdistan

Ok, apparently we're living in bizarro world, because I just watched my second movie of the challenge, but have yet to finish a single book. 

I visited my sis and we popped in a random comedy we found on Netflix, Absurdistan. I assumed it was the film from the Gary Shteyngart book of the same name (which I haven't read) - turns out I'm wrong. It's a Russian flick and we went into it pretty much blind.

The premise of the movie is simple- young lovers are finally going to have their first night together, but it coincides with the women of the town going on strike against the men (read: no sex) for continuing to neglect the water shortage in the town.  So it's up to our young hero to sort out water for the village and set the gender relations back on track if he wants a night of his own. 'Tis a lot to saddle a young teen with, no?

The movie is beautifully shot- the sets are colorful and engaging, and the story is told with so little dialogue and so much facial expression.  It has the feeling of a (slightly raunchy) folk tale, and is a total escape. 

It picked up awards at a few festivals, and I can see why. While this movie takes place in a world none of us can imagine, the gender wars surpass cultural, economical, or linguistic boundaries to be both identifiable and hilarious.  My sole complaint is that I felt bad for the guy.  To the very end I wasn't entirely convinced why he liked her so much (maybe his miming was better than hers?)  I would have kicked her to the curb. But hey, that's what makes it romantic I guess!

The best thing about it, I researched later, is that it's not entirely absurd.  In fact, the movie is based on a true story!  Veit Helmer, the writer and director, was inspired by "a 2001 newspaper account of women in the Turkish village of Sirt refusing to accommodate their husbands until they fixed a broken pipeline."  

If I rated movies, this would get a B, but mostly only because I'm stingy with A's.

2 for 2, people!

My Begins! (2012)

Once upon a time, Jon had this great idea to try and watch 50 movies and read 50 books in the year 2012.  But I've already told you that part.

Fast forward to January 1st, when I watched my first movie of 2012.  I decided to set a light tone for the year and start with a romantic comedy. I got a few minutes into Love and Other Disasters, starring Brittany Murphy, and it was, true to its name, pretty disastrous, mostly in the British accent department.  I decided rather than waste time on something I'm not enjoying (hopefully a habit I will keep up throughout the year), I'd try something else.  So I started to watch TiMER, which I had saved in my Netflix queue but am not quite sure how I found it.  I tend to be willing to watch anything that's a romantic comedy. It's like candy for my little brain.  I have a million foreign films and documentaries lined up (just trying to save my street cred here, can you blame me?) but I wanted something easy to slide right into the new year.

Now, I don't remember how I came across the movie TiMER, but the concept stuck in my head- it's about a company creating chips they can implant in you that will begin counting down to when you'll meet your soulmate (once that person, too, has a chip).  I won't give you the whole synopsis, it's probably worth watching.  I identified with more of the dialogue than I expected to, and the characters were all very likeable.  But what I enjoyed most was that it had a smart sense of humor and opened up the age-old discussion of whether it's better to know your fate, good or bad, or if you should just wing it.  And is there only one person for you?

Let's be honest, it's not common for romantic comedies to get you thinking.  I found myself wondering what I would do, if I would get a bracelet, how it would change things to know that someone was/not coming into your life.  Where does timing play into your life?  What do you do when, like one character, you find out that your soulmate IS out there... but it'll be approximately 5000+ days until you guys cross paths (apparently the answer is: you sleep around).
 A lot of girls (myself included) tend to eyeball whether something is worth their time; we don't, especially in our 30s, do as much of dating because someone is interesting or just funny to be around.  We'll move on if we don't see it going somewhere.  The irony is that we end things and we don't know if, in a parallel world, it would be the person you end up with, because you close that dorr.  In the movie romance quickly becomes subjected to the timer litmus test.  In fact, the opening scene is a girl dragging her new (1 month) boyfriend in to get timers so they can figure out if this is worth their time.

I guess on some level, women already do this, blurting out questions about long-term goals and needs on first dates.  (Thanks simply to the bad advice of a dating guru whose butt landed on Oprah's couch)  Women often put out awkward feelers early on to figure out if they have the information they need to proceed (or not) with a guy they're seeing.  TiMER effectively offers the scientific scenario (hm...perhaps it should be filed under "fantasy" for women??) -- where you could just, with the press of a timer, identify if you're investing your time in the "right" person.

Ultimately the question becomes whether experience for experience's sake has any value in a world where you could move straight to point B.  With a timer it becomes about the destination, not the journey.  So pick your side.  And having the timer/not becomes somewhat of a social statement in the movie, a ready identifier of people who live by different philosophies regarding fate and romance.

Would you get a timer if they really existed?  After devoting more time to pondering a romantic comedy than I ever have or ever will again, I can safely say that I don't think I would.  I don't know that I could handle the pressure or the disappointment of its certainty.  I read the horoscope in line at the coffee shop and that's enough to rattle me, so do I really need to know the facts about my long-term future?  Nope!

Anyhow, I was excited to watch my first movie of the year and the challenge, and it got me thinking that I might explore a "sci-fi romantic comedy" major.  (Yeah, I didn't know that existed until yesterday either.)  It might end up being a minor, because there really aren't that many options.  But so far I've found another couple of movies that might fit in my sci fi romcom category, Peggy Sue Got Married (which I've never seen) and Happy Accidents (which I'd never heard of).  The key is to see how they can work comedy into it. They always throw a hot chick into sci fi movies to keep the boys entertained, so the challenge is in making it cute.

By the way, am I the only person who sees "romantic comedy" and automatically thinks "Meg Ryan"? Just wondering. 

As for Book #1, I'm slogging through The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht.  The book is covered in praise, which can be hit or miss.  Usually I'm skeptical, but right now my defenses are down because last year I read Jennifer Egan's Visit From the Goon Squad, equally decorated with accolades, and it totally delivered.  The writing in Tiger is good, but not keeping me up at night.  I'm hoping it picks up- I have lots to do!  The last time I put so many holds on books/movies at the library I was 12.  In the meantime, I will probably diversify and read something else, just so I don't, you know, lose all my enthusiasm about reading. Ok, slightly dramatic.

If you guys are fiftyfifty'ing, rest assured that I'm trawling your blogs and goodreads lists for suggestions.  The question isn't whether I'll get 50/50 done- I think I will. The key is to actually enjoy what I dive into.  I can safely say that on movies, I'm 1 for 1 so far.  Hooray!