The Sunday Salon ~ June 27th, 2010


Today I was listening to NPR’s Book Podcast for June 24th and the topic was “Summer Books That Make The Critic’s Cut” and the host wrapped things up with an interesting yet curious (to me) phrase. 

She said, “It’s summer – a great excuse to read whatever and whenever you want.” 

Well I thought that anytime was a “great excuse to read whatever and whenever you want”, especially as an adult who isn’t in school and therefore, doesn’t have homework.  The only time I’m reading something that wasn’t picked by me is when I have to read something for book club, but my rule for my book club is if you aren’t feeling it, the book isn’t grabbing you and you just can’t get through it, than by all means don’t read it.  There are too many books out there to get hung up by just one! 

What are your thoughts out there in The Sunday Salon?  You!  Over on that fabulous red velvet chaise!  Or you!  Laying in the hammock off the deck!  What does summer, or any season reading for that matter mean to you?

Book Review ~ Born On The Fourth Of July by Ron Kovic

Born on the Fourth of July

Summary from Wikipedia ~  is the best-selling autobiography of Ron Kovic, a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who became an anti-war activist. Kovic was born on July 4, 1946, and his book’s ironic title echoed a famous line from George M. Cohan’s patriotic 1904 song, “The Yankee Doodle Boy” (also known as “Yankee Doodle Dandy”). The book was adapted into a 1989 Academy Award winning film of the same name co-written by Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic, starring Tom Cruise as Kovic.

 I had been wanting to watch Born On The Fourth Of July again and for the first time in twenty years (it came out in 1989!) lately but instead I decided to read the book first and then watch the Academy Award winning movie.  I’m glad I did!  Ron Kovic retells his childhood, high school years as a competitive wrestler, his dreams and hopes of becoming a great Marine and then the transformative years he endured in the U.S. Marine Corps while fighting for his beloved country in Vietnam.  Transformative is the word I choose to describe those years Ron Kovic trained, fought, gave three-quarters of his body for his country in a war zone thirteen thousand miles from the land he loved and then fought against his fellow Americans for the respect and care he, as a Vietnam Vet, deserved but wasn’t receiving. 

Ron Kovic states in the introduction of his heartbreaking, stoic and memorable memoir that he wrote Born On The Fourth Of July in “one month, three weeks, and two days, on a forty-two-dollar manual typewriter.”  I can’t imagine how liberating, horrific, sad and therapeutic it must have been for Kovic to sit in his wheel chair and type his life onto blank pages.  Maybe he didn’t realize that thousands of readers would be looking into his soul when they read those very words one day and then years later when his life would be replayed on the silver screen by a firecracker and knock-out actor named Tom Cruise.  I’m so glad that Kovic decided to but his thoughts, memories and opinions on paper. 

The layout is nicely done with plenty of time and detail taken for each aspect of Kovic’s life.  The book is a quick read but I enjoyed savoring every word and letting the scenes play out in my imagination.   The reader gets to know Kovic as a child with patriotic dreams that blossom early in his mind and heart.  Dreams that lead him to join the U.S. Marine Corps and then to the jungles, rice fields and beaches of Vietnam.  It’s there where his adult story begins.  It may be tough to read for the weak stomach readers out there but Kovic’s descriptions of life, battle, death and pain in Vietnam are very vivid.  His use of imagery was so brilliant in my mind’s eye. 

After Kovic sustains the devastating wounds to his psyche and later to his body that leave him without the use of his body from the chest down the horrors truly begin for him.  He is sent to a VA Hospital in Bronx, NY for treatment and recovery.  The conditions in that hospital are worse than hell on earth.  The fact that Kovic’s beloved government and country weren’t supplying the funds necessary to help the wounded of a war it continually funded blew his mind.  Kovic eventually made it part of his life’s work to speak out against the ill-treatment of U.S. Veterans in VA hospitals and the conditions they were helplessly forced to endure. 

“When I got back to the tent, Michaelson told me he would see me in heaven after today.  He was to die that afternoon.  Every one of us seemed to have a funny feeling.  I kept thinking over and over that I was going to get hit – that nothing would be quite the same after this day.”

Born On The Fourth Of July unfortunately is a timeless and relative story in today’s world.  I am glad that I read Born On The Fourth Of July (I did watch it On Demand as soon as I finished the last page this morning) because it is a true life glimpse into our country’s history and into the life of a man who almost gave all to his country but continues to try to give all to his fellow citizens. 

{Rating 5 out of 5}

Book Review ~ My Fair Lazy by Jen Lancaster

My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto

Summary ~ It’s a JENaissance! The New York Times bestselling author of Pretty in Plaid gets her culture on.

Readers have followed Jen Lancaster through job loss, sucky city living, weight loss attempts, and 1980s nostalgia. Now Jen chronicles her efforts to achieve cultural enlightenment, with some hilarious missteps and genuine moments of inspiration along the way. And she does so by any means necessary: reading canonical literature, viewing classic films, attending the opera, researching artisan cheeses, and even enrolling in etiquette classes to improve her social graces.

In Jen’s corner is a crack team of experts, including Page Six socialites, gourmet chefs, an opera aficionado, and a master sommelier. She may discover that well-regarded, high-priced stinky cheese tastes exactly as bad as it smells, and that her love for Kraft American Singles is forever. But one thing’s for certain: Eliza Doolittle’s got nothing on Jen Lancaster-and failure is an option.

It’s not every day when I feel a connection to an author, pop culture icon, character or celebrity but recently I’ve had two connections that helped to remind me that I’m not crazy and have no reason to apologize for living my life the way I live it.  Friday night I related to the storyline in Sex & The City 2 that had Carrie & Big explaining to everyone and reminding each other that a life with each other was going to be plenty.  The other connection I experienced was with author Jen Lancaster and her hubby Fletch while reading her newest memoir, My Fair Lazy: A Memoir ~ One Reality Television Addict”s Attempt to Discover If Not Being a Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or a Culture-Up Manifesto.  (LOVE THAT TITLE!)  Jen & Fletch chose not to be parents to human children (for reasons known to them) but instead to be “fur parents” to a menagerie of dogs and cats.  Hubby and I are in our mid-30’s and after facing disappointment when trying to have kids, the decision was made that life with just us and our Cocker Spaniel (for now and then a dog for each of us in retirement.. earmuffs Rocky!) will be really wonderful, fulfilling and perfect for the lifestyle we lead.  Anyway, I digress.  This is supposed to be a book review right?!

My Fair Lazy is a breath of fresh air and hilarious to boot!  I have known of Jen Lancaster since 2007 when my friend Jesse and I were in Singapore at Borders Books.  We walked past an end-cap and Jesse picked up Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl’s Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me?  The title made us laugh and the inside cover drew us in but for some reason I never got around to reading anything by Lancaster until my Sis-In-Law read My Fair Lazy and reviewed it on her blog, Aliverse.  Thanks Allison for bringing Jen Lancaster to my attention all these years later!  Just like you, I adore her too.

I must admit that I would have read this book much more quickly if I hadn’t had to stop to read parts out loud to Hubby and crack up every other page or so for the first half of the book.  Highjinx ensue for Jen as she dedicates a year to incorporating culture into her reality television addicted life.  Personally I don’t think there is anything wrong with watching a ton of reality T.V.  I love those crazy bitches on The Real Housewives of NYC & New Jersey, I want to be BFF with Tori Spelling (Dean you’re a douche sometimes and I wish you would grow up), and I have spent plenty of hours over the last twenty years watching and analyzing MTV’s The Real World, America’s Next Top Model, The Amazing Race, American Idol, Dancing with The Stars, both Rockstar INXS & Supernova and many other top quality reality television shows that is fed to us through that ingenious invention, the television.  But I also have ten years of classical voice training under my belt and I like to read and watch things that are informative, enlightening, and outside of my comfort zone (I still have to review The Blue Notebook.  That book is so far out of my reality and comfort zone that I still haven’t been able to get it out of my head or write a proper review.)  Jen Lancaster fearfully jumped in fuzzy slippers first and attended live theatre, ate questionable dishes in exotic restaurants and faced a pile of stinky-ass cheese that ended up becoming her next true love.  She’s much braver with new foods than I have been in my life but I have gotten better about it.  I actually fell in love with many different asian cuisines and dishes thanks to a four-year stint in Okinawa, thank you very much!

Jen Lancaster is a wonderfully funny writer who is shameless and heart-warming in her retelling of her quest for culture.  The restaurant experiences alone have me wondering how to invite her to Washington, D.C. and join me on a restaurant field trip in our Nation’s Capital, which happens to be a massive melting pot of international cuisine.  I am so glad that I got to know Jen Lancaster just a little bit by reading her new book, My Fair Lazy, and I look forward to getting to know her that much better by reading her other New York Time’s best-selling memoirs.  Now I have to get back to watching the 2010 MTV Movie Awards.  Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez are cracking me up!

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Book Review ~ The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Summary ~ In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world’s most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling–a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths . . . all under the watchful eye of Brown’s most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.

Whew! Class is FINALLY over.  That is how I felt when I finished the last page of The Lost Symbol last night.  I felt like the story of Robert Langdon and the Ancient Mysteries could have been told in 300 pages instead of 500+.  Most of the time the “lecturing” got in the way and distracted from the somewhat suspenseful story. 

The story had some very interesting points throughout.  The idea that God is in us and that our brain is the “higher power” interest me.  As a species we are always evolving and learning about ourselves as well as the universe around us.  I took that message from The Lost Symbol but for the most part I was simply disappointed with the story.  I never felt a sense of urgency while reading about Robert Langdon trying to beat the clock in D.C. like I did with Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons.  It was pretty cool to read a book that is set in our Nation’s Capital which is only twenty-five miles north of my house.  However I continued to figure out the “secrets” that Dan Brown was filling his book with way before the secrets were divulged tot he reader.  That was frustrating for me because I kept wondering when Dan Brown was going to announce the twist and put me out of my misery.  That was not fun. 

I really wanted to like The Lost Symbol and though I did find some of the history of our founding father’s (still haven’t fact checked everything) interesting and something kept me drawn in with a desire to find out what happened to Robert Langdon, his friends and the future of the Masons.  I liked small parts of The Lost Symbol but for the most part I could have lived without reading one of the most hyped books of the last so many years.  I do look forward to filming in D.C. if Hollywood makes a movie of The Lost Symbol.  It would bring new jobs to the city as well as bring in even more tourism, which isn’t a bad thing at all.  If The Lost Symbol sparks has and continues to spark interest in America’s history than that means the book is a success.  It made me Google some things to learn more about. 

{Rating ~ 3 out of 5}