Book Reviews

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Humor is so subjective. And sometimes it's gender specific. We've tried, guys. Honestly, we have. But we just don't understand why you're so amused with the sound effects produced from every orifice and contortion of your bodies.

Women have enough body issues, thankyouverymuch, and rarely do we find anything to laugh at, even if it is slipping faster than a buffalo on a banana peel.
Here are four classic literary romps guaranteed to tickle your feminine funnybone.

Women find enough humor in the comedies that pass for our daily lives. Which is why we love Judy Blume's pre-teen classic, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Our gal suffers through all the growing pains some of us still experience: boy-girl parties, looking for religion, and wearing handknit sweaters made "expressly for you" by grandma.

Nothing sends us into gales of laughter quicker than the phrase "fix up." Our favorite matchmaker is Emma. Jane Austen's heroine is so loveably clueless and stubborn in her altruistic righteousness, we can't help but smile when she fashionably wears egg on her face once all her love schemes implode.

John McPhee is 80 years old, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965 and has written 28 books. Mr. McPhee has written about Arthur Ashe, Bill Bradley, oranges, Alaska, human-powered flight, a cattle-brands inspector and several books on geology. While factual in nature, his work has the power to draw the reader into the world of each essay’s topic like a good novel.

Reading any McPhee book is a joy but Silk Parachute is something new for him. His beautiful craftsmanship, highly detailed description and ability to turn what, at first glance, would seem mundane into a can't-put-it-down page-turner are all here. But in one significant way, it's different. He writes about himself.

The titular first essay is about his mother and things she did for him when he was young that formed his life -- taking him to the theater and the observation deck at LaGuardia to watch the DC3s land and the gift of a toy silk parachute that "always returned safely to earth". In three-and-a-half pages he calls up scores of images that leave you overflowing with admiration for this now 99-year-old woman.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131 AD) was a mathematician and philosopher at a time and place where such were highly valued fields of endeavor. His work on algebra was a pioneering effort in the discipline. Outside of Persia (modern-day Iran), Khayyam is known primarily as the author of the Rubaiyat.

During his lifetime he was not renowned for his poetry, nor was this type of poetry considered high art. It wasn't until the 19th Century, in fact, that Khayyam got his due.

It was largely thanks to Edward FitzGerald’s translation of some of these poems that the Rubaiyat is regarded a classic work today. From 1859 to 1889, FitzGerald published 5 translations (numbers 2-5 were modifications and expansions of his first attempt – the fifth translation was published posthumously).

It must be noted that FitzGerald’s translations are not strictly accurate – they owe a lot to FitzGerald’s own poetic sense. Still, they capture the spirit of Khayyam’s work, even if in a somewhat romanticized way. The title comes from the ruba’i – a Persian poetic form consisting of couplets, in which there is a rhyme scheme of AA BA in the two lines. FitzGerald cast the couplets as quatrains, with each line roughly equal to a half line in the original.

From the outset, The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale focusing on a man and his son’s quest for survival following a horrific disaster that has destroyed civilization. However, beyond these facts, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what to make of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

At least, this is how a lot of us felt after discussing the story at our recent Barista’s Book Group meeting. Some felt it was a parable about faith. Some felt it was simply a story about the love of a father and son. There were thoughts that perhaps it was a futuristic western. There were also comments that there were religious implications to the story with its focus on good and evil.

But regardless of what we thought the novel was about, we almost all agreed it was a good book. Few of us could put it down once we started reading it and most of us cried at the end.

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born, where he eats and sleeps, and where he plays for hours every day with his beloved Ma. To Ma, Room is an 11-by-11 square-foot prison where she has been confined and sexually abused for the last seven years.

Emma Donoghue’s ninth novel, Room, introduces us to Jack and Ma in a strangely uplifting story of survival, hope, and love. Completely told from the viewpoint of Jack, we learn that Ma was abducted when she was 19 years old by a man they call “Old Nick.” After kidnapping her, he threw her into a windowless, soundproof shed in his backyard and locked the door. Two years into her captivity, and after trying every possible way of escaping, she gave birth to Jack.  

If you glance through Room quickly, you might mistake it for a wannabe crime novel copied from today’s headlines. In actuality, Room focuses little on the crimes committed by “Old Nick.” Instead, it intricately examines the lives of Jack and Ma – how Ma protects Jack, and what they do to mentally and physically survive each day. Donoghue herself describes the story as being about, “the essence of confinement and captivity.”

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