Friday, August 26, 2011

Getting In: Bill Paul

My mom shared this book with me many years ago, a couple years after I'd gone through the college admissions process.  Through high school, I always viewed getting in to college as a very important game.  I knew what "winning" meant to me, and I had a pretty good idea of what I needed to do to ensure I got the admissions letters I wanted.  I strategized from the beginning of my freshmen year - I knew what classes I needed to take, what sports I wanted to play, and what other activities I would enjoy, but would also make the biggest impact on my application.  Getting In follows four similarly driven high-school students who dream of going to Princeton.  The author also interviews the Dean of Admissions at Princeton, Fred Hargadon, at length.  I am fascinated by the admissions process, and the grueling hours the admissions officers put in to review and re-review applications.  While I'm sure they sometimes make "mistakes," this book makes clear that they are meticulous in their duties, and that while certain types of people (legacies and athletes in particular) may receive preferential treatment in the process to some extent, it is most certainly a game - and you need to play your cards right to win. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Closers - Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #11)

It's been awhile since I read a Harry Bosch novel...and I'm glad I took the break.  I'm not sure if The Closers is the best one so far (though I did skip a couple given library availability), but I found myself tied to it more strongly than the previous novels in the series.  Part of it is that my attention span isn't what it used to be - and this one was pretty easy to follow.  Connelly didn't get carried away with too many false leads or crazy side stories.  The beginning of this one finds Bosch back on the force after a short retirement.  He's assigned to a cold-case unit with his old partner and they're given a case in which a DNA match has been made potentially solving the murder of a bi-racial high school girl.  Of course, the match can't possibly be the killer - that would be too easy - but finding the match will possibly lead them to the right guy.  But, not without complications and sinister police department involvement.  As usual, Bosch is irreverant and can't quite bring himself to be a complete team player with his partner, but post-retirement, he did seem a bit more Zen, and a lot more likeable. 

The Reading Promise - Alice Ozma

Alice Ozma's school librarian father always read to her.  She can't remember a time when he didn't.  But, things do sometimes get in the way, and so there were, of course, nights when the were too tired to read.  Or Alice was sick.  Or they just got caught up in other things.  But, when Alice is 8 or 9 years old, father and daughter made a promise to each other that they would read together every single night, without fail.  And so The Streak began.  As Alice grew older, her mother left the house.  Her sister went off to college.  Alice entered high school, where it wasn't exactly "cool" to read with your father every evening.  But, still The Streak continued.  I like the concept of this memoir - Alice's recollection of how things were with her father, and the important of reading out loud, even after she was clearly old enough to read to herself.  But there is much in this book that goes without explanation.  Her mother moves out, and there is a hint that mental illness played a role, but there is no real exploration of how that impacted Alice's upbringing.  Her father seems to have some odd intimacy issues, and despite being a clearly devoted father, can't quite seem to hold real conversations with his youngest child.  While this is hinted at - in particular in a chapter in which her father reads Dicey's Song to her, again, there's no explanation of how this truly affected the relationship.  It's as if there is so much distance and discomfort between the two - but that it is erased for those minutes and hours during the day when they're reading together.  I'm not sure if I feel like that is a wonderful thing, or a charade.  Eventually, of course, The Streak has to end, but it is amazing in its endurance - and Alice and her father do have an amazing relationship that made me both laugh and cry.  There were times when the book definitely got off course, and Alice spoke more about her own thoughts and self than about the books themselves.  I get that it's not really about the books, but I still would have liked a little more reflection about why they chose the books they did and what they meant to her at the time.  Despite my reservations about the actual book itself, I did still find it inspiring, and have made a committment to read every day to my son - something that I hope will turn into a tradition of our own and hopefully help him develop a love of books himself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Widow Clicquot - Tilar Mazzeo

My favorite cocktail is a kir royale.  I can't say I'm sophisticated enough to have a preference in the champagne or sparkling wine that is used to make it - but I know that there is something special about that bottle in the simple orange box.  I also don't much care for stories about how any type of alcohol is made.  It's kind of why I'm not hugely impressed by tours of wineries (unless the buildings are architecturally interesting or the vineyards are particularly beautiful).  My enjoyment comes from the drinking of the drink itself, not really knowing where it's from.  But, for some reason, I thought a book about the widow who cultivated the Veuve Clicquot empire might be interesting.  It wasn't really, except for the general story about a woman growing up in the shadow of the French Revolution becoming a rich and powerful businesswoman.  An accomplishment almost unheard of today (well obviously the French Revolution part), but even more rare centuries ago.  The book is a good balance between the life of the widow, Barbe-Nicole, and the making of the champagne that made her famous.  It's clear the book was meticulously research, but as might be expected, this can make for dry reading.  The author attempts to add suspense to the story by ending each chapter with a foreshadowing cliffhanger - along the lines of "but that wouldn't be the last time Barbe-Nicole found herself on the bring of financial failure."  I kept hearing an overly dramatic voice-over in my head and the whole thing came across a little cheesy.  But, clearly, she was an amazing woman, and even though a bottle of her bubbly will run me quite a bit more than Prosecco, knowing her background and being the feminist that I am, I think this probably will encourage me to continue to support the on-going success of her empire.