Friday, May 09, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Remember when I used to do these "What I've Been Reading" posts every month or two? What happened? Yeesh! Bits and pieces of this one have been sitting in my blog's draft folder since LAST August! Might as well publish 'em already, am I right?

Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk
I tend to enjoy "a year of doing whatever" type of books and blogs, so I had to check this one out. It wasn't as great as it could have been, but was still an interesting read. As you can probably guess from the title, the author spent the year taking all of Oprah's suggestions. It's a great idea, but would have benefited from the author going a little deeper into the feelings that doing so provoked, the things she learned, the insecurities it brought up, etc. Basically, it needed a little more analysis to go with the "here's what I did" side of it.

One thing I found interesting was how many contradictions she came across: for example - an episode of the Oprah show about de-cluttering your closet, soon followed by another episode about 10 clothing items you MUST own, which sent the author shopping. We get SO many contradictory messages like that from the media, it's nice to have it pointed out here. (Reminds me of the image that's been circulating on social media that shows two recent covers of a certain magazine, one which promises to tell you how to drop weight super fast, the other questioning the safety of a celeb losing weight too fast.)

One bit of frustration - I read the e-book version of this, which contained a few links to specific posts on the original Living Oprah blog that she chronicled the year on before it became a book. However, the blog seems to have since been taken down. A total shame, since it would have been fun to access for more info.

Even though it could have been better, I do appreciate that this book exists. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking "Wow, if I could just do all of the things that tv/magazines/lifestyle websites/pinterest/etc say I should, my life would be really great." It's nice to have someone test the theory and find that no, not all of those suggestions are as great as they sound.

Fringe Florida: Travels among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles

Florida is a weird state. That's part of what I love about it. However, this book made me wonder if maybe I'm too much of a Floridian because none of the unconventional people discussed seemed that odd to me. The first chapter was about people with exotic pets like monkeys and snakes... but don't we all know someone with a weird pet or two? The second chapter was about a famous strip club owner in Tampa. Interesting, but still not really odd. Strip clubs are pretty conventional these days, so it's not like we're peeking into some deeply mysterious place here.

I think that the main reason this one fell a little flat for me is that the author doesn't offer up much in terms of her own opinions. It's a style that works great for something like a newspaper article - there's a lot of setting the atmosphere for the story, some related history, and a bit of interviewing people involved with each chapter's subject - but a lot of  it lacks that personal touch that should come with reporting from inside an event. The difference is obvious in sections like the fetish convention chapter, where the author tries on a pony play bridle and is then able to share how it really felt. More "doing" vs. just "reporting" would have made the book come to life.

There are stretches of writing where the author totally hits her groove and the words flow well and suck you in. There are other areas where the writing is weaker, and the occasional sentence that left me thinking "Wow, there had to be better ways of saying that." An example: "They [the women in the group] are as diverse in age and profession as the vegetable garden beside Jenn's pool." Um, doesn't the way that is worded imply that the vegetables are also diverse in age and profession? I think most vegetables are just professional plants. (Maybe things like this were corrected in editing before the book was officially published? I got my copy in advance via NetGalley, so anything is possible.)

Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir

I'm going to start out by telling you that I never got around to finishing this book. I had like 60 days to read it before the ebook that Net Galley sent me expired, but between going to Florida for 2 weeks and general life craziness at the time, I only made it through a few hundred pages. Alison Weir writes a ton of both fiction and nonfiction books about this general era of history, and I mostly picked this book up because I remember enjoying her book about the wives of Henry VIII a year or so ago.

The main problem that I encountered in reading this (and that she probably had when writing it) is that not all that much is really known about Elizabeth of York. Yes, she was Henry Tudor's wife and Henry VIII's mother, but that doesn't tell us much about the woman herself. There are a few personal letters that help a lot, but so much of the "information" is speculation. The first 200-ish pages of the book barely contain Elizabeth herself, they're mostly setting the scene of what was happening politically at the time, how she may have been educated, and other general "what life might have been like for her" types of things. You can't blame Weir for the lack of abundant info - finding real info about women throughout most of history is just plain hard.

For events where the details and motives are shady at best, Weir does a great job of presenting a solid argument for her stance on what happened, and I always enjoy reading through her reasoning even if I don't always necessarily agree with her theories. The thing is that Weir's conclusions are drawn via excellent logic, but... how often do we act according to logic? Sure, maybe person A did something horrible to person B because it would benefit them politically... but maybe they didn't have a real agenda and were just having a bad morning? Maybe they woke up with a headache and kind of hated everyone that day. Maybe person B reminds them of that cousin they hate. Maybe person B kissed person A's girlfriend when they were 10 years old, and A has never forgiven them. I know that's not the clearest example, but hopefully it illustrates my point - even historical figures are human, and just because something is the most logical conclusion doesn't mean it's the right one. More often than not, we're acting on impulse or craving or total random chance than on solid logic.

I'd definitely recommend this one if you're curious about this era of British history and don't know much about it yet, but if you are already pretty familiar and are just looking for extra details about Elizabeth herself, you may not find as much as you're hoping for.

 Why You No Scream Viva?
This is a very quick read, which I think a lot of us are a fan of in the summer when we're hanging out at the pool or the beach more often. It's less than 200 pages long... actually a lot less since most of the 46 chapters are only a couple of pages long, and there's about half a page of blank space after each one. It's the story of the author's experiences traveling in and then moving to Mexico after a divorce. The writing style is very informal - think blog post or email from your friend telling you about their vacation - but it's fun to read. Perfect to keep you entertained on a couple hour flight to your own vacation, but nothing life changing. (It's been a couple of months since I read it now and I wanted to expand on this review before I posted it, but I really can't remember much.)

*Note: This post contains some affiliate links, which means that if you purchase the book via those links I will receive a windfall of multiple pennies! But hey, I'll take all the spar change I can get, so thanks if you do use them!

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