Book Review: High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

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If I had known that Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, by Nick HornbyHigh Fidelity was made into a movie starring John Cusack as the main character, I probably wouldn’t have read it, but I’m glad I did.

Sidenote 1: I really do live under a rock when it comes to movies, I had no idea this had been made into a movie 13 years ago.

Sidenote 2: Not really sure why I dislike John Cusack. He’s a fine actor, I just don’t care for the movies he’s in (except for Being John Malkovic, I like that one).

Anyway. Now that I know John Cusack was Rob, I can’t get that out of my head, but I did enjoy the book. High Fidelity is about a 3osomething music junkie named Rob who has just been dumped by his long-time, live-in girlfriend. He likes making lists, so a fair amount of the narrative is broken into, well, list-form. He rehashes previous relationships in lists, he assesses potential matches via their lists of favorite records and musicians, and he spends one particularly mopey night by reorganizing his extensive record collection in order of purchase. Just reading that bit made my spreadsheet-loving-heart go pitter patter.

I hadn’t read anything by Nick Hornby before High Fidelity, but I decided I was a fan of his writing style. It’s not quite stream-of-consciousness, but it’s conversational. Even though I didn’t understand half of the music references, that doesn’t detract from the story (I didn’t understand half of the music references in Gilmore Girls but it didn’t matter with the Gilmores either). While a fair amount of the book is about sex and relationships from a man’s point of view, it isn’t over-the-top and it doesn’t make me hate men the way I imagine reading Tucker Max would. And mixed in with all of the sadness and confused romance is a good deal of quotable insight.

Even though the characters in the story are all in their thirties, it still has the feel of a coming-of-age story. Rob has created his own destiny and now he has to deal with the consequences. He’s newly single with a dead-end job and a lack of interest in anything besides his music collection. It’s about time for him to get up, get out, and do something, and figure out what sort of purpose his life should have. It’s a struggle that many teenagers and 20somethings deal with, I feel like once a month I hear about another friend or friend-of-a-friend that’s dropping everything to start a new career, or moving across the country to get out of their comfort zone. Deep down past the sexual frustration and obscure music references, it’s downright relatable.

Favorite Quote:

“My friends don’t seem to be friends at all but people whose phone numbers I haven’t lost.”

All those pertinent details:

  • Title: High Fidelity
  • Author: Nick Hornby
  • Length: 323 pages (paperback)
  • Genre: fiction, humor, contemporary
  • Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Buy it on Amazon here.

Book Review: The Tigress of Forli, by Elizabeth Lev

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Tigress of Forli, by Elizabeth LevI’m watching Tom Fontana’s series Borgia: Faith and Fear, and can’t help but wish they’d get around to the Sforza family. I know they must, sooner or later, but I’m impatient. Ever since I finished Showtime’s The Borgias, I’m on a major Sforza kick. So when I saw that there was a biography about Caterina Sforza, I didn’t hesitate to download Elizabeth Lev’s The Tigress of Forli.

Gina McKee played Caterine Sforza on the Showtime series, and I fell in love with her character. She was strong and passionate, but to a fault. She was portrayed as the enemy (the show focuses on the Borgias, after all), but also with sympathy. I was looking forward to reading her biography to see how the writing of her character stacked up. The answer: for what they covered, it was pretty good.

Caterina Sforza was a strong, independent woman in a time where women were rarely strong and independent (sort of like The Widow Clicquot, I must have a thing for ladies-before-their-time). While, throughout her life, her family used her as a political pawn, she was determined to create her own destiny, and that’s the theme that runs through The Tigress of Forli.

Gina McKee as Caterina Sforza

McKee as Caterina Sforza.

Lev may emphasize her strength and skills, but she doesn’t shy away from her faults either: extensive parts are devoted to her shortsightedness, and the consequences of following her heart rather than her head. For this reason in particular, the biography seems pretty objective. Unlike Clicquot, whose early life is almost a mystery, Caterina Sforza was a force to be reckoned with from an early age; her correspondence, movements and relationships are well documented and Lev is generous with the source material.

Before reading The Tigress of Forli, I didn’t know much about Sforza except for her brush with Pope Alexander. After? Gosh, I think I appreciate her even more. Sure, she made some mistakes, but her strength, wit, intelligence and horseback-riding skills make her pretty admirable. Even though Lev doesn’t necessarily aim to make her a sympathetic heroine, Sforza’s actions are enough to speak on their own.

It’s not a long read, and it moves fairly quickly as Sforza’s life rarely provided dull moments to trudge through. If you enjoy biographies, the Renaissance, or plain old-fashioned girl-power, it’s worth checking out.

All those pertinent details:

  • Title: The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici
  • Author: Elizabeth Lev
  • Length: 349 pages (Kindle, including endnotes)
  • Genre: nonfiction, biography, historical
  • Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Buy it on Amazon here.

 

The Psychology of Abandonment – Why do you abandon books?

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The Psychology of Abandonment - Why do you abandon books?

In lieu of today’s book review, which still sits unfinished on my computer, here is a fun infographic from Goodreads. I think the top reason I’ve abandoned books is certainly boredom, although an unlikable main character doesn’t help!

Bookflix: The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1934

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After seeing a Buzzfeed post about books you need to read before their movie adaptations come out*, I was inspired to start a new series on Mark It Read about movies based on books. I am a terrible movie-watcher; I don’t see many movies in theaters and I’ve never seen many movies that would be considered must-see. But I have Netflix, so I’m working on it! With D on vacation last week, I had time to get some DVDs of movies that you couldn’t pay him to watch. I started with a real doozy: the 1934 (un-remastered!) version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I first read The Scarlet Pimpernel last year, and it quickly became one of my favorite books. I loved it so much that I devoured six other books in the Scarlet Pimpernel series, and have at least one more on my Kindle waiting to be read. It’s like The Princess Bride, it has everything: action, drama, romance, politics and humor. Baroness Orczy really balances all of those elements to create a book deserving of the “classic” label. I was a little worried that the movie would fall short like so many other adaptations do. And perhaps in a shallow way, I was worried I wouldn’t think the main character was charming and handsome enough. Yes, I know, that sounds ridiculous. But when you talk about how devilishly handsome your hero is, the casting department better live up to the words on the paper.

In case you’re wondering, Leslie Howard is fairly handsome in a 1930’s way, so it was okay. And his ability to switch personas from Blakeney to the Scarlet Pimpernel (sometimes even in the same scene) is marvelous.

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Raymond Massey and Leslie Howard as Chauvelin and Sir Percy

Once you get over the subpar sound quality and graininess that comes with any old movie no one has taken the time to remaster, it’s pretty good. It stays true to the book, maintaining most of the original details. The novel isn’t very long or complicated, so I would have been surprised if it drifted too far away from Orczy’s story. I had read so many of the Pimpernel adventures that I forgot the first one isn’t as action-packed as the later ones, and does more service in establishing characters and historical context than in having actual physical altercations between the good and bad guys.

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Merle Oberon and Howard

The acting is great. Lady Blakeney tended to be a little melodramatic in the novels but Merle Oberon does a fine job at being a little more subtle. Her character has a valid argument: her husband used to be a good man and spouse, but lately he’s seemed distant and superficial (with good reason, he’s trying to keep his secret identity from being revealed!). Her frustration and regret come through in both gesture and dialogue. And she’s beautiful, to boot!

I’m not going to waste your time by reviewing the entire movie, but if you like old black and white films and you like the book, this version of The Scarlet Pimpernel is worth watching. It’s short (barely 90 minutes) and it’s entertaining.

*While I am lukewarm about a lot of books on that list, I’m so so excited that The Monuments Men is being made into a movie. I watched the documentary The Rape of Europa, which was also based on the book, and it’s been on my to-read list for months. The documentary is excellent, but it doesn’t have Clooney and Damon in it, so I think I’ll need to see the movie too.

Flavorwire’s 50 Books Everyone Needs to Read, 1963-2013

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Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret AtwoodWhat is it about the internet that makes everyone love lists so much? No one ever liked lists before. It’s like when you go to college and all of a sudden this urge to play frisbee overtakes you, but leaves you as soon as your life on the quad is over. But I digress. Today, the list in question is Flavorwire’s 50 Books Everyone Needs to Read, where they picked the best book of the year from the last 50 years. Of course, they say that part of it is their own personal taste, so they put “runners up” for each year as well.

I’m always curious to see how I stack up against the “must reads”, although most of the time there are at least a few books on those lists that I have absolutely no interest in tackling. This one was pretty much the same.

Below is the list in full. In italics are the ones I’ve read. 4 out of 50? I guess I have some work to do, although in my defense, I’ve read a lot more of the runners up they mentioned. How many have you read?

50 Books Everyone Needs to Read, 1963 – 2013

  • 1963 – The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  • 1964 – Herzog, Saul Bellow
  • 1965 – The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
  • 1966 – Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag
  • 1967 – The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
  • 1968 – Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  • 1969 – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  • 1970 – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
  • 1971 – The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
  • 1972 – Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
  • 1973 – Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
  • 1974 – The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
  • 1975 – The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux
  • 1976 – Speedboat, Renata Adler
  • 1977 – The Shining, Steven King
  • 1978 – The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
  • 1979 – The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter
  • 1980 – Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  • 1981 – Outside Over There, Maurice Sendak
  • 1982 – The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  • 1983 – Cathedral, Raymond Carver
  • 1984 – Money, Martin Amis
  • 1985 – The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • 1986 – Maus, Art Spiegelman
  • 1987 – Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • 1988 – Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
  • 1989 – Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
  • 1990 – The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  • 1991 – Possession, A.S. Byatt
  • 1992 – The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  • 1993 – The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
  • 1994 – The Ice Storm, Rick Moody
  • 1995 – Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
  • 1996 – Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  • 1997 – Underworld, Don DeLillo
  • 1998 – Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
  • 1999 – Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  • 2000 – Pastoralia, George Saunders
  • 2001 – Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald
  • 2002 – Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • 2003 – The Known World, Edward P. Jones
  • 2004 – The Epicure’s Lament, Kate Christensen
  • 2005 – Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link
  • 2006 – The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  • 2007 – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz
  • 2008 – Dangerous Laughter, Steven Millhauser
  • 2009 – Lit: A Memoir, Mary Karr
  • 2010 – A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
  • 2011 – Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan
  • 2012 – Building Stories, Chris Ware
  • 2013 – The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner