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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've com...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't)

Betty White's If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't) is a Betty White book for sure.  It's her humor and her phrasing, and if you love her you will love this book. 

The hardest time I had with this book is it's lack of narrative and of focus.  There isn't a through line in this book--it is really a compendium of Betty's thoughts.  To me, it was similar to sitting in a room with her asking a list you have brought of random, non-sequitur, unlinear questions and receiving short but adequate answers.

The best part of this book?  The pictures.  Betty was gorgeous (and still is!).

In the Afterword, she writes:

"If you have stuck with me this far I say a big thank you.  Hope you enjoyed the trip.  If not, take comfort in the fact that I had a wonderful time.
Love,
Betty"

Amen Betty.  Keep telling your stories.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Confession

I find John Grisham to be a very compelling storyteller and a strong writer.  I have yet to read a book by him that I have not enjoyed, so my expectations were fair going into The Confession.  I have to say, though, that my expectations were blown out of the water.

A young black man, Donte Drumm, is arrested and convicted in the murder of Nicole Yarber, a white classmate of his in small-town Texas; he is sentenced to death.  The problem is the lack of evidence, including Nicole's body.  His conviction hinges upon a false confession he gave after 15 hours of interrogation.  When the real killer comes forward, will the execution be stopped in time to save Donte?  Or will no one believe the truth?

As with so many books I review here, I hesitate to give away too much information.  The case remains the same here.  I can not speak for Mr. Grisham's thoughts on the death penalty, but my reading this book comes on the heels of quite a bit of debate on the death penalty, and I have been struggling with what I believe in real life.  This book broke my heart, and it reminded me that there is not a right answer to the death penalty.  This blog isn't about my proselytizing, so my beliefs will be kept to myself.  I will say, however, that Grisham made me face my beliefs and gave me reason to both believe them further and to doubt them, and that to me is a book worth reading.

If you are a Grisham fan, a legal thriller fan, or just a good-read-in-general fan, pick this up.  I promise you won't regret it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fear of Flying

There is a long list of books I have always wanted to read, and Erica Jong's Fear of Flying is at the top.  The minute I hear that it's out in ebook format I download it as quickly as possible, then settle in for some Jong goodness.

And goodness it was.  As I have said often on this blog, I am a product of my generation.  What it means for this book in particular is that I am 40 years removed from the original publication therefore I am 40 years further into the depths of feminism and I-can-do-whatever-I-want-so-screw-you mentality of women my cohort.  We grew up not completely comprehending in a concrete way that there could have once been limits to what we want to do,  and we do what we want anyway without acceptance of these so-called limits.  That being said, I had to remove myself from the possibility of relating to Isadora, the protagonist and narrator, and instead put myself in 1971 to better understand her thoughts, feelings, and mental breakdown.

So the short version of the story is, Isadora and her (second) husband Bennett (her first husband cracked up and thought he was Jesus, which is a super interesting section of the book) hop a plane to Vienna where they will attend a convention of psychoanalysts, of which Bennett is one and Isadora has seen plenty.  While there, Isadora becomes restless beyond the realm of fantasy and falls for Adrian, a British analyst who will become the one she runs away with.  After running, though, Isadora is forced to examine herself--why she wishes to run away, why she is unhappy in her marriage, and what it is that will actually make her happy at the end of this journey.

Put into the context of when it was published and the need for women to re-examine their role in marriage and the need to search out a life of their own, this piece hits the nail on the head.  It forces the reader to look deep into their beliefs of partnership, sex, and the need for a separate identity from one's husband.  I found particularly moving the last few chapters when Isadora is alone in Paris and searching deep within to understand herself and what it is she needs.  It's not as simple as going back to New York, back to her marriage, and back to her life.  Something has to give, and it has to start with her.

I would venture in to the realm of calling this book a "history book" in the understanding of feminism in the context of the 1970's.  And we all know how much I love history.  So am I recommending this book?  Absolutely.  Do it.  You know you want to.

If you go to Open Road's Erica Jong profile, you will find a variety of retailers to get your hands in the ebook format of your choosing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Help Is Needed! (No, this is not a book title.)

Well, hello there faithful Sassy Peach book blog readers!  Today's post was originally going to be a review of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, which I have just wrapped up (along with a couple of others!).  The review will have to wait until Friday, though, because something else of great importance has come up.

For those of you who are not familiar with what I do on a day-to-day basis, I proudly serve as the Education Manager for Young Playwrights Inc.  Our mission is to develop playwrights aged 18 or under through professional presentations and mentorship; to facilitate the use of playwriting in the classroom, encouraging creative expression and improving literacy; and to support its writers through advocacy and networking in the theater community.  You can find our website here: www.youngplaywrights.org.

Early Sunday morning our offices caught fire and were essentially destroyed.  We were able to recover our backup drive, so we are able to continue our work, albeit from home and other locations when we directly serve our young writers.  However, everything that existed in real-life form was destroyed, including both hard copies of paper on our desks and person items such as shoes and coats--and most heart breaking of all for me, books.  This is where Sassy Peach Reads comes in.

Over 75 books were for sale on Half.com to bring in revenue for our company, several books and plays were my personal copies that I kept at the office, and I had seven books out from the New York Public Library that were on my desk for easy access as I eat books for breakfast.  Three of them were brand new, including Joan Didion's Blue Nights.  All in, on, and around my desk were destroyed, and those that were not are damaged by smoke and unable to be sold.  There are days where I leave my Kindle at the office, but I am thankful beyond belief that I keep it on my person when I travel.

We will rebuild and we will be stronger than ever.  No one was in the office at the time, so no one was injured.  Everything can be put back together.  Please, though, take a few minutes to read our letter below and if you can find it in your heart to donate to our rebuilding I would not be able to express my gratefulness enough.  Something as small as $5 makes a difference to us.  Please re-post this blog, forward to everyone you have ever been spammed by, or just send us your good vibes--we will take it all.  We will continue doing the great work we have been doing, and in the words of our phenomenal Literary Manager, Elizabeth:
How I get the job done is going to change, but the job is still going to get done.
Thank you, thank you, thank you--for everything.  Have a happy Thanksgiving, and don't forget to be grateful.  I know I sure am; I am grateful for my life, my health, my job, and the people who make all of it worthwhile.  And I am thankful for you, readers. 

A NOTE FROM YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS INC.
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Dear Friend,
Early Sunday morning the Young Playwrights Inc. offices were destroyed in a fire.  We've enclosed a few pictures of the aftermath.  Although we are extremely relieved that no one was hurt, the fact remains that after months of working to creatively move the organization forward, we are now facing new challenges.  We know that many of you will instantly ask "How can I help?" and we are grateful for your generosity - a couple of ways to assist are available at the end of this email.
It would be all too easy to pass along only this devastating information - we're certainly still recovering from the shock - but we think it's important to focus on the innovative ways that Young Playwrights Inc. has been working to fulfill its mission.  So, to that end, here's a bit of what we've been up to:
  • We are now recognizing our National Competition winners through weekly interviews with Elizabeth, our Literary Manager.  If you haven't been getting the emails, the articles are available on our News Desk.
     

  • Additionally, in January, we are opening up our Young Playwrights Conference Reading Series to a wider audience by using the larger space at Cherry Lane Theatre.
     

  • Nicole, our Education Program Manager, has been heading up a major project to retool our Curriculum Guide to improve usability and clarity, giving more teachers access to our curriculum even if they are not able to bring one of our workshops into their classrooms or travel to New York to train with us.
As the recovery process gets underway we hope to keep you informed with our progress. In the meantime, everyone here is committed to serving our playwrights with no interruption and we hope you will help us fulfill that mandate.  Every Tuesday, 14 young writers have been coming to our office to hone their craft in our Advanced Playwriting Workshop and, other than rescheduling this Tuesday's session, we will continue the program as promised and are in the process of seeking out friendly spaces to host us while we get back on our feet.  This January we have the eight winners of our National Playwriting Competition coming to workshop their plays and we have no intention of changing their experience in any way.  Our upcoming competitions will continue as normal and we are already working on new systems to make this process as efficient as possible under the circumstances.
Over the past 30 years our organization has weathered many storms, and there is no doubt in our minds that by working together we will bounce back stronger than ever.
With great hope,
The Young Playwrights Inc. Team:
Sheri Goldhirsch, Amanda Junco, Elizabeth Bojsza, and Nicole Lorenzetti
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Our rehearsal & workshop space.
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The origin of the fire, our copy area.
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Make A Donation

Because all of our equipment and supplies have been destroyed, what we need most is money.  To make a donation you can mail a check to our Post Office Box (address listed below) or make a donation through Paypal.
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Be A Volunteer

We know that we will need extra hands along the way. If you are interested in volunteering please email us your name and the skills you think would be most useful to us to admin@youngplaywrights.org (these do not have to be restricted to cleanup and rebuilding!)
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Post Office Box 5134 | New York, NY 10185
Phone: 212.594.5440 (please leave a message we are checking our calls remotely)
www.youngplaywrights.org

View this letter online: Young Playwrights Inc. Devastated By Fire

Monday, November 21, 2011

Le Freak

Continuing on with my love of celebrity autobiography, I picked up Nile Rodger's Le Freak after reviews came out.  I thought it would be interesting to read about the man who wrote and produced some of the biggest hits to date and some of my personal favorite records.

Interesting it was.  Do you know the band Chic? I imagine 90% of you won't.  But you do know "Le Freak (Freak Out)," don't you? "Ahhhhhhhhh, freak out!"  Yeah you do.  It turns out Nile and his bandmate Bernard wrote this little ditty after being denied entry to Studio 54.  There was another phrase that started it, which you can surmise on your own.  Chic--the most well-known unknown band of the disco era.

As Nile moved forward as a producer he brought to the world such classics as David Bowie's Let's Dance and Madonna's seminal Like A Virgin, both of which are the respective artists biggest hits to date.  This memoir is fascinating as a history lesson in contemporary pop, and a little juicy to boot.

If you are even remotely close to calling yourself a music nerd, this is a book you should pick up and revel in.  Nile is a product of his era and it is fascinating to hear him tell his tales of how he ended ip here today, being in the right place and time for where his talents lied (not unlike Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at the dawn of the technological era, which occurred to me often while reading this book).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hellhound On His Trail

I love books, and I love history, so books about history are some of my favorite things ever.  And books about pursuit of famous killers rank up there as primo entertainment.  So Hellhound On His Trail: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History by Hampton Sides was a must-read the moment I found out about it.

The book follows Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his murder, James Earl Ray (with several aliases) from the few days prior to MLK's assassination to the weeks after as the FBI pursues Ray through the USA, to Canada, and finally to Europe. 

Full of detail, this book read like fiction and kept me engaged throughout.  As I said, I love historical non-fiction especially when it reads like a novel, and I found it here.  I was able to explore MLK's last hours, and I went on the run with James Earl Ray.  I had no clue that JER escaped from prison a year prior to shooting MLK, and I was surprised to find that JER stayed at a rooming house that was down the street from my old apartment, meaning that my former neighborhood had historical significance.  Included in this book is also a history of Atlanta, my beloved hometown--locations and people both.  I understand the significance of street names far more now than I did prior to picking up this book, and I now have a deeper respect for the tributes.

Sides went to great lengths researching this book and the quality shows.  It's a hefty piece but worth every page. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kris Jenner...and All Things Kardashian

I own it.  I checked it out from the library and relished every last tidbit of my book-candy-celebrity-autobiography.  I have no shame--I read a wide spectrum.  But I loooooove mid-grade reality TV and the stars that go with it.  So I hear Kris Jenner has a book coming out, Kris Jenner...and All Things Kardashian, and you best believe I get myself on the list to check it out immediately.

And immediately I did, and I reveled in the juiciness. To be honest, the book is not well-written if we are talking literature; the sentences are perfunctory and clipped with very little flair and expansion.  But to be fair, it's a celebrity autobiography.  It doesn't have to be well-written to be thoroughly enjoyed.

I reveled in her telling of how her family got to where they are and how hard she works, but the reason to pick up this book is Nicole Brown Simpson.  One of her best friends, Nicole and Kris were scheduled to have lunch the day after the now-infamous murders.  Kris was very close to OJ prior to the murders, and as we are all well aware, Kris's ex-husband Robert was one of OJ's defense attorneys.  The center section of this book is about the friendship and the loss, and I found this to be the most important, and most interesting, part of the book. 

Is it worth reading?  If you love reality tv, if you love celebrity autobiography, if you love a fun and juicy read, then absolutely, without-a-doubt-yes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Zone One

Upfront: I am a Colson Whitehead fan, but I am not a zombie fan.  This confluence of events might color the following review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One.

In post-apocalyptic Manhattan, survivors of a plague sweep Zone One, the area of Manhattan below Canal, to rid it of plague-ridden zombies.  The plague has either killed or turned most of the country into "skels"--zombies that attack and eat human flesh (like, humans that are alive and the zombies kill them by eating them...yummy).  Buffalo, which is now the head of the country, hopes that by sweeping this area they can repopulate Manhattan then move on to other major cities.  Mark Spitz is one of his three-member team who is responsible for such work in Zone One.

Colson (we are on a first name basis, I have decided just now) throws sentences on a page the way Jackson Pollack throws paint on a canvas--you may not understand how he does it, but it works, and the beauty is just astounding.  I stuck around with this book not because I am into zombies/vampires/werewolves/any-science-fiction-in-general, but because the way Colson weaves a sentence together leaves me feeling a little tingly inside.  I can't say I entirely understand why, but if you love the art of the sentence then Colson is your man.

I found the story intriguing, and Colson has whipped together a super interesting and intricate plot for this novel.  The details are similar to a well-crafted doll house; no matter which direction you look in he has thought of everything.  No corner is left undecorated--no questions are left dangling.  He has spooked me (I mean, what IF there were a plague that turned us into these awful creatures???) and has boggled my mind a little bit.  So I would highly recommend that you let him boggle yours.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Committed

I will be the first person to tell you that I am the 1%.  The 1% of people that strongly disliked Eat, Pray, Love and not out of EPL backlash--but because I felt that the book was self-pittying and whiny. 

I will be the first person also to tell you that I read this book only because it was available through the library for my Kindle.  And I thought, "Why the hell not?"  And thank goodness I did, because I was surprised at how much this book affected me.

Commited by Elizabeth Gilbert was departure from EPL and a return to her research writing that makes her intelligence and inquiry come clear for the reader.  She uses her impending marriage with her Brazilian boyfriend, thanks to Homeland Security,  as a catalyst for understanding what makes marriage what it is--how to make it work and how to keep it from falling apart.  As a person who is skeptical of the institution myself, I was eternally grateful for Gilbert's questions and investigations and her process for understanding what she was about to enter into.

I agree with one reviewer on Goodreads who responded to the backlash to this book (more so than EPL!) when she said that how much you enjoyed this book and took out of it was directly correlated to your expectations going in.  (I paraphrased that and put it in my own words, by the way.)  People who were expecting the soul-searching, life-is-rough, if-I-dig-deep-it-will-come ethos that pervaded EPL then you will deeply disappointed.  But if you go into this book with an open mind and really open yourself up to understand what Gilbert is trying to figure out, which is what makes marriage work, then you will leave with an understanding that there is no answer, and that's ok too.

In conclusion, I think you should give this book a chance.  With an open mind, of course.  Particularly if you are not yet married and/or are struggling with whether or not it's something you want--now or ever.  If you come in with an open mind, you will leave with your horizons expanded.  And it's worth it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Marriage Plot

While I have not yet read The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex (both of which are currently in my library queue), The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides seemed a good a place as any to start on the road to completion of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Eugenides library.  Also, it came available from the library first, so there you go.

In short (and it is very hard to summarize this book, for reasons you will read below), it's the story of Madeleine and her bipolar boyfriend Leonard--but also about Mitchell, Madeleine's friend who makes up the third corner in this love triangle.  The book follows them through their senior year in college (which happens to be in the early 1980's) and beyond.

The reviews that I read prior to cracking open this almost-new book were mixed, and that is enough for me to pick up a book.  Curiosity killed the cat, or so I hear.  I will always be honest with you, dear review readers--and today is no exception.  This book was better marketed than it was structured.  I was originally going to say, "...than it was written," but that's not the case.  Eugenides constructs strong sentences and writes clear prose--it's not the writing.  My issue is with the story structure and it's length.

Overall there is nothing really wrong with the book--but there is nothing exciting about it either.  I felt the plot was so diffuse that I couldn't understand how it was all going to tie together.  I had no sympathy at all for the main female character (stop your whining! was what I wanted to scream at her while shaking some sense into her), and I couldn't understand why the author was covering so much ground in what I was not aware (prior to reading) was an epic novel.

If you are fan of the previous two books mentioned above, by all means, don't hesitate to pick up The Marriage Plot.  This is only my opinion after reading and I strongly encourage my readers to make their own assessment of literature.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wendy And The Lost Boys

I am madly in love with Wendy Wasserstein in that oh-em-gee-your-plays-rock-my-world kind of way, so reading Wendy and the Lost Boys by Julie Salamon was a no-brainer.  I should give you a bit of background first...

About six months ago I realized that I was seeing a lot of shows but not reading many plays, so I took it upon myself to start reading one play a week to pick up on a large chunk of work that I was unfamiliar with.  To simplify my process, I choose one playwright at a time and read their whole cannon before proceeding, and I am working on alternating males and females while mixing up race as well.  I started with August Wilson's Century Cycle, then moved on to Wendy Wasserstein since the theatre I work for had a long-standing relationship with her, and my boss knew her well.  I thought it was appropriate.  (I know you don't care, but I am on Harold Pinter right now.  What this means is, you would have an additional book review each week if I were reviewing the plays--but I digress.)

I fell in love with Wendy and her characters.  I relate to her work and I am moved by seeing her in all of her characters--the search for oneself and the longing for the unattainably perfect life we were told we could have, or, even worse, the life our parents want us to have without regard for what we want.  Wendy and I might be separated by a few decades in age, but I relate to her work so deeply.  Reading Wendy and the Lost Boys was an incredibly enjoyable experience.

On top of getting down and dirty with Wendy's family (what a clan!), this book also added another chapter to the "History of Off-Broadway" cannon.  You can't have a history of Off-Broadway without a history of it's people, and this book is no exception.  It joins Free For All: Joe Papp, The Public, and The Greatest Theater Story Ever Told by Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp as one of my favorite theatre history books.

I have no doubt that there are some inaccuracies as people claim--Wendy passed away over 5 years ago and was an incredibly private person anyhow when alive--but I appreciate the story as a whole and love the tribute that this book is to her and to her work, the work that I admire so deeply.