Monday, March 22, 2010

Big Book Read #9

Stephen Fry in America by Stephen Fry

309 Pages

After finishing his memoir Moab is My Washpot, I guess I was in the mood for a little more Fry. So, I quickly plowed through his book Stephen Fry in America, the companion book to his BBC Special (also airing on PBS apparently). From September 2007 to May 2008 Fry traveled to every state in the Union. Yep, all 50. I only know two people that have done that, my grandparents. I myself have only been to about eleven, and ten of those are on the east coast. I was interested in this book not only because I’m curious about the states but also because Fry is British (some say the quintessential Briton) and it would be interesting to read about my own country through the eyes of a foreigner.

I of course was very interested to read about his visit to my state of New Hampshire. I was very disappointed. Not because he wrote negatively about it but because he unfortunately went there during the lead up to the Primary and spent all his time following someone from the Mitt Romney campaign around. Although he did manage a trip to the top of Mt. Washington on a gorgeously clear day, which is something I have not even done.

Overall his trip through the states was highly entertaining and quite informative. It certainly made me more interested in visiting some of the states in which I had no previous interest (I’m looking at you Utah). The best thing about this book is that I bought it from a book merchant in the UK, so it has British English spellings and is geared towards the British reader so there were many explanations on proper pronunciation and size comparisons (Alaska can hold thirteen Englands!).

There were just a few things that needled me about the book. Being from New England I was not pleased with Mr. Fry when he stated that there are seven states in New England. I found myself rather disturbed by this mistake and said out loud to my husband, “He better not be including NEW YORK in the count! Ugh!” I then made a plan to write a very stern, yet polite tweet to the man informing him that New England has only six states and that even Connecticut is only included out of courtesy.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes travel writing. It’s funny, informative and is full of beautiful pictures of this beautiful country. It has certainly increased my feelings of Wanderlust (something which I did not think was possible) and I am determined to embark on my very own American road trip soon…well, someday.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Big Book Read #8

Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

436 Pages

To me Stephen Fry (Jeeves & Wooster, Wilde, A Bit of Fry and Laurie) has always seemed like an astoundingly intelligent, witty man, the product no doubt of a well-to-do family and a very expensive Oxbridge education, nothing that I could relate to. What I did not know about Fry is that his childhood, though decades before my own, seemed awfully familiar; full of the ups and downs of navigating a school’s social hierarchy, making trouble (in his case A LOT of trouble), angsty arguments with parents and first loves.

In this memoir, Fry chronicles his first twenty years in a very honest way. Most of the memoir discusses his years in boarding school and the hilarity and heartbreak that made him the person he is today. Knowing from an early age that he was gay made for some rather poignant and emotional stories as he struggled to fit in. He was not a model child as the tales of the strap, other punishments and a stint in prison at the age of eighteen will attest.

Fry writes just as he speaks, which means that this book is absolutely charming. If you don’t mind the odd naughty word or some frank discussions of sex you will really enjoy this book. I was quite disappointed at the end when I realized I had run out of pages. If only he’d write another about the next twenty years!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Big Book Read #7

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson

348 Pages

Fans of The Late Late Show will know that recently Scottish-born host Craig Ferguson became an American citizen; a moment he says was many years in the making. American on Purpose is a memoir of Ferguson’s life leading up to his naturalization. I couldn’t put this book down. It’s a funny, brutally honest memoir.

Ferguson writes about his childhood growing up in Glasgow, Scotland; a city he describes as both beautiful and hard. The stories from his childhood are both amusing and painfully awkward; stories which I know most readers can identify with in some way. He also describes the night that, as a teenager, he got drunk for the first time, resulting in him waking up with a black eye and a very angry mother. This story also foreshadows a good portion of the rest of the book.

Alcohol played a big part of Ferguson’s life from his late teens until he was nearly thirty. As the grip of chronic alcoholism took hold of his life he drifted from one job to another and one girl to another. He very funnily and painfully describes how his life unraveled and how he was helpless to stop it. Ultimately, alcohol cost him friends, two marriages and his sanity.

I’m surprised Ferguson was able to remember so many events from his life while drinking so much. Despite his alcoholism he managed to develop a respected stand-up career and grab small acting jobs in television and film though he is very quick to give his supportive friends the credit for most of these opportunities.

The last part of the book follows Ferguson as he comes back to the US to look for work and fulfill his dream of living in the States. It’s the story of how he cleaned up and made something of himself, but not without failing a million times before. He wanted his own “American dream”; to find success through hard work and determination in the only place in the world where he knew that was possible. And as we all know, that dream came true.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Big Book Read #6

Big Book Read #6

Faith of the Fallen by Terry Goodkind

785 Pages

Whew! I made it through another book in the Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind. The sixth book of the series, Faith of the Fallen begins right where Soul of the Fire left off; with Richard and Cara taken a seriously wounded Kahlan into Richard’s home of Westland to heal in secret. Meanwhile, Jagang and his Imperial Order are running wild through the Midlands.

Richard is quickly captured and it looks as if he and Kahlan will never see each other again. He is taken off “into oblivion” and held prisoner by an old enemy while Kahlan is left to lead the D’Haran troops in defending the people off the Midlands against a must larger and must stronger Order.

Goodkind gets a bit preachy for my taste in Faith of the Fallen. Throughout the long book, and especially in the last third, he hammers his philosophy of reason over faith into the reader. The world under the Imperial Order in Goodkind’s work appears to be some really screwed up mixture of Communism and religious fundamentalism. It’s a world where everyone must be equal and no one can work too hard for fear of outshining someone less able. You’re hit with several images of bread lines, rampant unemployment, political purges and torture. Additionally, the “Brothers of the Order” are skulking about reminding the people that they are worthless creatures and can only be saved in the afterlife by suffering in the present and only through despair can they live fully in the light of their creator after death. It’s all very depressing.

The good bits of the book, in my opinion, are those concerning Kahlan. She has been separated from Richard and is now left to lead the people of the Midlands in his place while knowing full well that it’s a futile effort. Despite her sadness and the hard living and violence of traveling with the army she shows herself to be a strong and capable leader and a fierce warrior in her own right. It’s nice to come across a female character that has to go rescue the man for a change.

This wasn’t my favorite book of the series but I enjoyed the greater focus on the two main characters in contrast to Soul of the Fire, which focused on too many characters. It was exciting, emotional and violent; a big old adventure that was a pleasure to read.