Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Book of Dust Volume I: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

First, I have to say that it was fantastic to be back in Lyra's Oxford once again. I read His Dark Materials about 15 years ago and was blown away by the trilogy. It was like the best version of all the fantastical novels from my childhood. The worlds, themes, and personal journeys -- all excellent.

To be welcomed back with a prequel was very exciting. Finding out how Lyra got to Jordan College to grow up (a bit) in safety was not the story I thought it would be. The circuitous route she took to travel a few blocks is full of adventure, navigated by two very brave children devoted to the infant Lyra. 

Both passionate and overwhelmingly determined, Malcolm and Alice stare down the dangers of a massive flood, perilous magic, and one crazy mad man to safely deliver Lyra to her future.

When Lyra is brought to stay with the nuns next door to the Trout Hotel, young Malcolm is curious. Her origins are a hot topic for gossip and Malcolm's observant nature ultimately ties his fate to hers. Things heat up as more and more people come looking for and asking about the baby. As a natural judge of character and a pursuer of the truth, Malcolm assesses who's on the side of good just in time. An epic, somewhat supernatural flood descends on England forcing Malcolm to initiate a rescue mission in his canoe, La Belle Sauvage, with Lyra and his friend Alice.

With their combined wits and bravery the two children, with Lyra in tow, navigate a long journey that takes them through the flood waters of Oxford straight on to London. Natural and supernatural dangers fill their path, but they're not without friends to offer support. All forces push them onward in a fast-paced, intense journey full of battles, rescues, and an awakening into adulthood that Pullman frequently explores.

Fans of His Dark Materials will be happily convinced Pullman hasn't lost his connection to this world with his latest book. Newcomers can dive in here as well without any confusion. It's another enthralling piece to Lyra's story. Read it!

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Big Oyster: History of the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky

Second book club book #7

I'm getting a little ahead of myself for book club, but that's mostly because so many library books I have on hold are about to become available. It's a crazy cycle, but I'm so thankful for our public library system.

This book is nothing if not straightforward. Among recipes, famous first-hand experiences, and a slow move through history, we're treated to the life of the NYC oyster. Once a plentiful and popular food for the masses, this sad tale concludes with the oyster's departure. The driving force -- pseudo spoiler alert -- is pollution, and humanity's lack of foresight when it came to dumping just about anything categorized as waste into our waterways.

A thorough account, what's most interesting is that oysters have only been the decadent indulgence we know today for a short time. For a longer line in history, oysters were a food that united classes. It was just as easily stewed and placed on a poor family's table as it was served raw in a fancy, French-inspired restaurant. 

Beginning with colonization, man's connection to the oyster is tighter than you'd expect, so it's interesting to learn more about the evolution of that relationship, narrowed down within one area, New York City. It also turns out, oysters are pretty fascinating creatures in their own right. Kurlansky does a good job of weaving unique oyster characteristics into the history of an emerging New York City.

It's an interesting journey for such a small animal and such a quick bite of food, so it's also an interesting read. But, if you're not a foodie, history buff, or New York enthusiast, it might not be the book for you. There were definite moments where you felt like you were reading a Melville novel, bogged down by the latin classifications for these shelled delights (only Melville does it with whales -- Thar she blows!) Overall, this was an enjoyable read, and I learned a lot about something I knew absolutely nothing about.

Monday, December 9, 2019

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps

I love a good storyteller. This shouldn't really surprise anyone, but mostly, I love people who can make up a good story. I find, often, that people fall a little short when they're retelling their own stories. This hasn't stopped me from gulping down a memoir every now and again. Mostly by a celebrity, mostly be a female. Even if the storytelling isn't amazing, the insight into a life completely not my own is entertaining. But, this book is different. Busy Philipps is an incredible storyteller, and a lot of her life doesn't feel so foreign. If I can't connect it to my own life, I see similarities between the experiences of people within my own circle.

The unique thing about Busy is that she's not afraid to tell you about all of it. She's a real, three-dimensional person in her memoir, hiding nothing. Her insecurities, her struggles, her doubts -- all are displayed in an artfully rambling style that gets you from late childhood to yesterday. It's fantastic. With a style that's all her own, you get to see a real person who's struggling to find work, be a mom, have a meaningful marriage, all while working in TV and movies now and again. Her celebrity is second to her emotional journey. Her acting credentials, a minor component of what makes her an interesting and complex person with a story to tell.

I have to admit that I picked up this book after having watched a few episodes of her talk show, Busy Tonight. The tone was different and I wanted to see if the book could capture that. Busy just seemed unapologetic and so confident. Not having Instagram, I had no idea about her presence there, but I liked what I saw on screen. Now, I like her even more after learning about her journey to this exact spot.

In my rudimentary estimation, Busy is a cool chic who's done a lot and seen even more. Her approach to the world, hardships and all, comes with a special clarity that gives her great cred to be a fantastic storyteller. This is a read I'd highly recommend.