Book Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

bazaar of bad dreams.jpgTitle: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Hardcover: 495 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Even though Stephen King is known for being prolific and creating monstrosities of books, I was surprised to find that his short stories are really, quite good. Some of them are ridiculously sad and terrible, but for the most part, I loved the eerie atmosphere he provides in these stories that are usually more spooky and unsettling in this collection rather than outright “scary.”

I like short stories, as I’ve said before. They’re nice for the satisfaction and closure they can give in such a short amount of time. Instead of only being able to get through a portion of a novel during my 20 minute lunch break, I’m able to read a full short story or two, which is a nice change of pace. This collection is wonderfully cohesive and intriguing, but I did find myself needing a break from reading it. I can’t deal with reading too many terrible things at once, so it was nice to be able to set it aside for a bit without worrying about losing track of characters or plots, and then picking it right back up again.

The stories that shone for me in this collection were “Afterlife” and “Ur.” King is a master at mixing fantastical elements with horror and tragedy, and these stories were perfect examples of this. “Ur” is the story King wrote to promote the Kindle, so I feel almost bad liking a promotional story (even though I love the Kindle!), but it was probably my favorite story in this collection. It just proves what a wonderful imagination King has and his ability to not flinch when his mind takes a darker turn with a “what-if.”

Overall, I enjoyed this. I didn’t hate any story, though the first one really got to me emotionally and made me have to take a break right away. But, even after taking breaks from the difficult stuff, I went right back to this book to see what else King’s mind could come up with. If you’re at all a King fan or like darker sort of stories, I recommend you check this one out.

Book Review: My Father and Atticus Finch by Joseph Madison Beck

 

My Father and Atticus Finch.jpg
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Title: My Father and Atticus Finch
Author: Joseph Madison Beck
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover: 240 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

As a child, Joseph Beck heard the stories—when other lawyers came up with excuses, his father courageously defended a black man charged with raping a white woman.

Now a lawyer himself, Beck reconstructs his father’s role in State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias, a trial that was much publicized when Harper Lee was twelve years old.

On the day of Foster Beck’s client’s arrest, the leading local newspaper reported, under a page-one headline, that “a wandering negro fortune teller giving the name Charles White” had “volunteered a detailed confession of the attack” of a local white girl. However, Foster Beck concluded that the confession was coerced. The same article claimed that “the negro accomplished his dastardly purpose,” but as in To Kill a Mockingbird, there was evidence at the trial to the contrary. Throughout the proceedings, the defendant had to be escorted from the courthouse to a distant prison “for safekeeping,” and the courthouse itself was surrounded by a detachment of sixteen Alabama highway patrolmen.

The saga captivated the community with its dramatic testimonies and emotional outcome. It would take an immense toll on those involved, including Foster Beck, who worried that his reputation had cast a shadow over his lively, intelligent, and supportive fiancé, Bertha, who had her own social battles to fight.

This riveting memoir, steeped in time and place, seeks to understand how race relations, class, and the memory of southern defeat in the Civil War produced such a haunting distortion of justice, and how it may figure into our literary imagination.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was incredibly excited when I saw this book, since it combines a couple of my favorite things: To Kill a Mockingbird and non-fiction.  I teach To Kill a Mockingbird every year, and I am constantly looking for companion pieces to go along with it.  I was really hopeful last year when Go Set a Watchman came out that it would finally be the ideal book for this purpose.  While I have a lot of thoughts about Go Set a Watchman (most of which boil down to it would be an excellent book if it did not use the same characters as Mockingbird), suffice it to say it was not quite what I was looking for in terms of a pairing.

This brings me to my thoughts on My Father and Atticus Finch.  I think this book is outstanding in terms of giving an example of a historical case similar to the Tom Robinson trial in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I often have a very hard time trying to get students prepared for the novel, especially teaching in the 21st century in a northern state.  What I most often do is talk about the Scottsboro Boys trial.  This helps to give students some background information; however, there are a lot of things that are not similar (multiple defendants, the Northern lawyer, the fact that it took place earlier and set precedents for the Tom Robinson trial, etc.).  While I do not think that this book would wholesale replace it, I do think that portions of it could be used very effectively for pre-reading and that students who have an interest in the trial and in history would benefit enormously from reading this book.

I also think that the book does a nice job laying out the idea that Atticus Finch is not based on his father even though there are a lot of similarities (and only tries to push the idea he might have been at the end).  It reads as a very interesting and important story in its own right independent of its connection to Harper Lee’s works.  That being said, one of the most interesting things to me in the book outside of the trial was the discussion of the author’s father and his grandfather.  Perhaps because I enjoy overanalyzing things, I found the differences on white-black race relations fascinating and felt like it almost broke down as his father was like Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird and his grandfather had more of an opinion like Atticus in Go Set a Watchman in terms of his paternal approach.  As such, I think that along with being something that adds to the experience of To Kill a Mockingbird this book also made me retroactively enjoy Go Set a Watchman more.

The only criticism I have of the book is that it can at times get a little slow and bogged down in family history (this is entirely fair as the book is ostensibly about his father).  I found myself as I got further into the meat of the book getting a little annoyed with the chapters that dealt with the minutia of the family or the town as opposed to things directly related to culture or the trial itself.  This is a minute complaint however and the book overall was a page turner the whole way through (in large part due to the very narrative approach taken by Beck).

In conclusion, I think this book is a must read for people who love To Kill a Mockingbird or have an interest in history.  I plan on having at least one copy in my classroom library to recommend/lend out to students.

Book Review: The Erotic Poems by Ovid, tranlsated by Peter Green

Erotic PoemsTitle: The Erotic Poems
Author: Ovid
Translator: Peter Green
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 464 pages
Source: Own
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

This collection of Ovid’s poems deals with the whole spectrum of sexual desire, ranging from deeply emotional declarations of eternal devotion to flippant arguments for promiscuity. In the “Amores”, Ovid addresses himself in a series of elegies to Corinna, his beautiful, elusive mistress. The intimate and vulnerable nature of the poet revealed in these early poems vanishes in the notorious Art of Love, in which he provides a knowing and witty guide to sexual conquest – a work whose alleged obscenity led to Ovid’s banishment from Rome in AD 8. This volume also includes the “Cures for Love”, with instructions on how to terminate a love affair, and “On Facial Treatment for Ladies”, an incomplete poem on the art of cosmetics.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I started reading this collection a long, long time ago back in the days of college, but other things came up and since I wasn’t assigned to read the whole thing for college, I didn’t end up finishing it. Finally, it came up on my reading list, so finally, I got around to reading the whole thing.

A few things struck me while reading this. I admit, I was biased to look for it, because the whole point as to why excerpts from it were assigned in college is that a lot of what Ovid talks about is still so relevant to today’s world. Even while the same laws aren’t in place, similar concepts remain constant. For example, a lot of his writing tries to assure the reader that he is not giving them advice for committing adultery or having a liaison with a highborn woman — while we are a bit more free with our views, or are at least jaded enough to accept that adultery happens, if someone were to publish a book with advice for how to successfully commit adultery, they would be heavily criticized in our society (especially America). So, while we don’t really have laws against it here, it’s still taboo, which is an interesting thing to talk about.

Another thing I loved about this particular version is the translation. Green is a hero. He is so good at translating not only just the words but the flavor of them in English that we can understand. Pop culture phrasing and literary devices are used with skill what he feels is Ovid’s attitude, which I found to be wonderful. This version is one of the most readable translations I’ve read of this particular collection because of that, and I immensely appreciated it.

I understand that some might find this collection a tough read, with the formal language and numerous mythological allusions, but even with my rudimentary understanding of mythology, I was able to grasp the basic allusions and still enjoy his language and storytelling. If you’re into classics, for sure read this one. It’s an interesting look at Roman culture during Ovid’s time, and Green does a fantastic job in giving an easily readable translation and enough background history for the reader to understand the context in which it was written. I admit that it won’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

Audiobook Review: The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial by Peter Goodchild

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial.jpgTitle: The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial
Author: Peter Goodchild
Publisher: LA Theatre Works
Running Time: 1 h 55 min
Source: Audiobook Sync
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The Scopes Trial, over the right to teach evolution in public schools, reaffirmed the importance of intellectual freedom as codified in the Bill of Rights. The trial, in a small-town Tennessee courtroom in 1925, set the stage for ongoing debates over the separation of Church and State in a democratic society – debates that continue to this day.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Edward Asner, Bill Brochtrup, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Matthew Patrick Davis, John de Lancie, James Gleason, Harry Groener, Jerry Hardin, Geoffrey Lower, Marnie Mosiman and Kenneth Alan Williams.

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

©2006 L.A. Theatre Works (P)2006 L.A. Theatre Works

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m not really sure how I feel about this play, to be quite honest. It’s an interesting subject, and full cast audios are the best, especially when they’re by LA Theatre Works and the actors are actually performing. However, simply based on the fact that it’s supposed to represent a historical event, I just didn’t like that I wasn’t sure which parts were dramatized and which were truly taken from the court records, especially when it came to dialogue. There were some parts that I feel like might have been added simply for entertainment/humor value, but if they weren’t, then that would have interested me in a completely different way, but I was never sure if any/all of it was true or made up.

Besides that, it’s an interesting case that’s worth further study and thought. Since Andrew’s a teacher, and I studied education for my Master’s, the way law and social norms influence how and what we teach is incredibly interesting to me, so that helped a lot for pulling me into the story in general. This case also foreshadows a lot of the textbook wars we have present-day, so it’s fascinating to hear some of these first arguments for/against teaching evolution/religion. Very cool.

However, I think it’d be better to actually see the play or read the book. It was hard for me to keep all the characters straight, and within the trial, I think it’s important to know who is speaking and who is making what argument (even though after a while, you can figure it out). Admittedly, I’m not the best when it comes to remembering details when I’m only getting information through audio, so if audio is your strong suit, then it might not be a problem for you.

Overall, however, I think it was a good dramatization of the trial and it presented a lot of interesting factors that (like the description says) we’re still debating today, especially within education. I just think that I would have much preferred to read this than to listen to it, even with the full cast.

Alton Brown Adventures: Meatloaf

I have a confession to make: I’ve never had meatloaf before. It just wasn’t a thing in my household. Hamburgers? Totally. Steak? Yup. But meatloaf? My mom just didn’t make it. She and my dad both had horrible experiences eating tasteless, dried up meatloaf, so they chose never to subject themselves and their children to it ever. So, when Andrew told me that he was craving meatloaf, I was a little taken a back. He was craving that terrible food my parents always complained about, really? But, he swore it was good, so I believed him.

As always, we turned to Alton Brown to see if he had a recipe we could use, and he sure did.

It wasn’t Andrew’s favorite, but I personally really liked Alton Brown’s meatloaf recipe. As someone who grew up hearing about the horrors of dried up, unflavored meat, I was really nervous going into this, but the sauce and spices he use are absolutely wonderful and create a flavorful crust around the loaf that just can’t be beat. I’m a huge fan. But, the reasons for me liking it are the reasons for Andrew not liking it so much — it has a little too much flavor for what he likes in meatloaf. So, I guess it depends on personal preference and taste, as always.

In terms of making it, the process itself was fairly easy and it wasn’t a huge time investment. It also held up well for leftovers, which you know if you’ve read one of these food posts before, is huge for us. We love taking our homemade food for lunch. All in all, I recommend it, but not if you’re looking for something mildly, simply flavored.

Want the recipe? Find it on Alton Brown’s Website.

Places We Like: Pleasant House Bakery

Pleasant House Bakery

964 W 31st St
Chicago, IL 60608
b/t Farrell St & Morgan St
Bridgeport

Saturday, Andrew and I had doctor’s appointments in the morning, and we didn’t eat breakfast just in case we had blood work done, so when we got back home, we were STARVING. Nothing by the doctor’s office really appealed to us, leading us to return to a favorite of ours: Pleasant House Bakery. Sadly, we found out when we walked in that they’re planning to move to a new location that is definitely out of walking distance for us, so it might have been the last time we actually visit this place in person. 😦

This is really sad, because this is the place we take people who are visiting Bridgeport — it’s just the best. Their menu is fairly simple, but it’s surprisingly good. The pies are amazing. My favorite is the chicken balti with the chutney sauce. And even though I know that I’m going to be full and not be able to finish everything, I always get a side of chips with it. In true British style, they offer vinegar for the chips as well. Andrew’s favorite is the mushroom and kale, which I can’t attest to because I don’t like mushrooms, but he generally has very good taste.

mushroom and kale pie
Andrew’s favorite – Mushroom and Kale

I’ve also had the steak and ale pie, which is very good if what you want is meat and potatoes. I wouldn’t call it bland, but it’s quite simple. Usually, I’m in the mood for a little bit of spice, which is why the chicken pie is perfect.

On this particular Saturday, though, I finally tried their fish and chips, and I have to say, it wasn’t my favorite. It’s not that it wasn’t good (though, Andrew didn’t like it very much), but their pies are SO much better. If we end up visiting again at any point in the future, I’m going to stick with my Chicken Balti pie.

chicken balti pie
Oh, Chicken Balti, how I missed you on Saturday

As for the atmosphere, it’s perfect. It’s BYOB with a liquor store right next door, so it’s a perfect place to grab a beer and hang out with friends for a bit. The inside is a bit small, but they have an outdoor seating area which is perfect for large groups on a day with mild weather. We’ll see what happens when they move locations, though.

Book Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisTitle: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Publisher: LittleBrown and Company
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

David Sedaris’ move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that “every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section”.

His family is another inspiration. You Can’t Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This has been on my to-read list for way too  long, and I’ve been trying to wait until the audiobook’s availability on OverDrive and my available free time to listen to an audiobook reached a happy meeting point, but it never did. So, I checked out a printed version of this collection, and I have to admit I regret it just a little bit.

There is nothing like hearing David Sedaris read his own essays — the intonation and life he gives to them is astounding, and I live for listening to his audiobooks. I think this is the first time I’ve actually ever read his essays in print, and to be fair, it wasn’t as disappointing as I thought it would be. Even without his voice to clue me in on his sarcasm, his essays were still pretty funny.

With that said, I think this collection is sadder than most. My favorite collection of his is still When You Are Engulfed in Flames. While this one has funny moments, I found a lot of it to be depressing, hence my rating. But, the ones I did enjoy, I really enjoyed. The speech therapy story is ridiculous and perfect and has everything about school that I hated. There are also a few stories about him trying to acclimate himself to France and learn the French language. His essays about living in France from When You Are Engulfed in Flames are among my favorite from that collection, and it’s no different from this collection. There’s just something wonderfully hysterical about how Sedaris looks at his own experiences of adapting to a new culture and new language.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. If you’re at all into humorous creative non-fiction essays, then I’d say you should give these a shot. I think I’m going to put a hold on the audiobook for Me Talk Pretty One Day to see if I enjoy it anymore. I particularly want to hear Sedaris read his speech therapy story.