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(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman

Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye (Random House, $27.00, 432 pages)

“Elemental power – a simple grandeur of conception – that sticks in the soul and finds it way to the corner of one’s smile.”

Superman: The High Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye is the story of the history behind the world’s most beloved and enduring hero.   Initially created as a villain in 1933, Superman was later revised as a hero by Jerry Siegel and drawn to resemble movie star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. by Joe Shuster (Clark Kent was molded after Harold Lloyd).

I have always liked Superman.   I still remember when my mom took me, an eight-year-old, to the big city to see Superman: The Motion Picture starring Christopher Reeve.   It was a big outing, not only the city…  but a movie!!!

I read everything I could about the movie beforehand, kept every article, studied every picture, and learned the bios of the stars and crew.   Heck, I knew what the movie was about before I even entered the theater.   But you know what?   For those two magical hours I truly believed a man could fly.   And Christopher Reeve will always be “my” Superman.

Since then, Superman has always held a magical hold over me.   I have a huge Superman collection, which I love and my wife abhors.   Lately the collection had to suffer due to kids, rent, food, etc., but at least it’s easy to buy me presents.   My son, who at the age of three and despite a constant brainwashing from his old man, decided to follow Batman (probably just for spite), has an ongoing battle with me about who is the “greatest superhero.”

I’d like to think I’m winning, but really, is there such a thing as winning an argument with a five-year-old?

I got this book from the local library.   When I took my kids there a few weeks ago my son spotted it on the “New Books” shelf, grabbed and proudly presented it to me.   You know I had to check it out.

This is Superman – the granddaddy of all superheroes, the one who started it all, the icon who is held to a higher standard in fiction and has set the standards for many of us in the nonfiction world.   It’s no wonder that the franchise is almost 80 years strong and growing stronger.

The research in the book is excellent and the book itself is fascinating.   Mr. Tye goes through the early development stages of Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, through the character’s successes and their mismanagement of their careers, the shysters, the businessmen, and the fanboys who grew up to reclaim their hero and his “parents.”   The tale continues through the years, telling of important story arcs and individuals who shaped the mythology: writers, artists, actors, and publishers.

Along the way the author reaches the conclusion that Superman is not just an American hero, but a hero to children around the world and an icon to look up to.   Especially poignant to me was the time after the death of Superman where, in the comics, heroes rose and ordinary people wore the famous emblem trying to live up to the ideal of Superman himself.

The book is a well-researched document about a beloved character and the people who made him so.   The narrative is full of wonderful anecdotes about the comics (including why many characters have a double-L in their names), the famous copyright trials, the movies and TV shows (including Smallville), and is chock-full of interviews with a cast of characters who deeply care about this mythological titan.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5 (a rating equivalent to Highly Recommended on this site).

This review was written by Man of la Book, and originally appeared on the Blogcritics Books site.   You can read more reviews by Man of la Book at his bookish blog:  http://manoflabook.com/ .

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Imperfect Birds

“Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.”   Rumi

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott is a fabulous book, one of those rare books that has you muttering “wow” to yourself once you finish it.   As soon as I read the novel’s first line, “There are so many evils that pull on our children,” I knew that I was in for a good read.   In Imperfect Birds, Lamott is telling the story of what can happen to a teenage daughter.   Having my own teenage (step) daughter, I’m constantly worried about her well-being, wondering what out there in her world is tempting her, despite the fact that she’s a good normal girl, and a scholar-athlete with a fantastic GPA.

Elizabeth Ferguson is raising her seventeen-year-old daughter Rose in a supposedly safe community in northern California, along with her second husband James.   Elizabeth is a worrier, and not without reason.   Kids die in her town from drinking and using drugs.   Her daughter has admitted to having sex, and to smoking pot, trying cocaine and drinking.   Most of this Elizabeth secretly reads in Rosie’s journals.   Elizabeth is a recovering alcoholic, suffers from mental illness, and lost her first husband many years before.

Elizabeth works and her husband James writes at home, and they’re loving parents who have very frank and honest conversations with Rosie.   Despite this, Rosie is hiding a secret.   During Rosie’s senior year she goes into a gradual slide – lying, having unprotected sex, and abusing drugs.   Yet she doesn’t think she has a problem.

Elizabeth and James struggle with Rosie as she becomes less trust-worthy and open.   Rosie is every typical teenager; she doesn’t want to hear her parents’ warnings.   She is in fact a wonderful girl – funny, bright and loving.   Yet Rosie has become a master manipulator.   While reading this novel you can actually feel the tension between Rosie and her parents.   Ms. Lamott does an excellent job reminding the reader of how hard the process of raising a daughter can be.

Imperfect Birds is a sequel to two of Anne Lamott’s prior novels, Rosie (1997) and Crooked Little Heart (1998).   Lamott does an excellent job of tapping into the teen drug culture that scares parents.   Rosie, Elizabeth and James are a family in crisis, like many other American families today.

You don’t need to be a parent or step-parent to read this book, because it appeals on so many levels.   It is a wonderful, wonderful book…   Read it, if only to feel that “ah, you too” moment.

This review was written by Ghetto Girl and used with her kind permission.   You can read more of her reviews at: http://thegirlfromtheghetto.wordpress.com/ .

 

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Potato Peel Pie

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

What a delicious read!   I love books with quirky characters and whimsical settings.   This book certainly has those.   Yet it has much, much more.   The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a story about human cruelty, hardship, tragedy, triumph against cruelty, and most of all community, love and hope.   The characters are not only quirky, but breathe life into every page of the book.  

I want to spend the day with Guernsey’s herbalist-witch, Isola.   I want to go birdwatching and beach combing with Kit and Amelia.   I would like to sit and help Juliet interview the Guernsey Islanders as she tries to understand what it was like to live for five years through the Second World War under German occupation.

I learned much about the hardships of life under occupation and about Guernsey Island.   Previously, I knew what a Guernsey cow looked like, and that it was a “Channel” Island, but I had no idea how close it is to France, nor of its occupation during WW II.   Guernsey is a tiny piece of England that’s off the coast of Normandy (France).

This book is truly, utterly brilliant.   As you may have guessed, the characters are gorgeous, three dimensional friends by the end, and the story has intrigue, romance and loss as you follow the correspondence of Juliet Ashton – an English writer – who is randomly contacted by one of the Guernsey Islanders who’s come to own an old copy of a book that she once owned.   The narrative is told through the ensuing correspondence between Juliet, her friends Sophie and Sidney, and various members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The Guernsey Islanders befriend Juliet and slowly reveal how the Society helped them to survive the hardships of war and occupation.   Juliet becomes fascinated with the Society and their efforts to survive and, as a consequence, comes to be deeply involved in their lives.

The sense of community that one gets from reading this book is overwhelming.

The surprising “Englishness” of the book given that the author and her niece (who finished the book after the author’s death) are American needs to be remarked upon.   This book is so well written, so thoroughly researched and lovingly crafted, I was convinced the author was English or had spent a great deal of time in England.   I was, thus, amazed to learn that the writers are Americans.

This is a beautiful, almost ethnographic work of fiction that I won’t hesitate to recommend to others.   It’s a feel good book;  I didn’t want it to end.   As good as chocolate!

This review was written by Amanda.   You can see more of her reviews at http://desertbookchick.com/ .

 

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Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s well-known novel Mrs. Dalloway is without a doubt a classic of English literature.   However, it has many characteristics not commonly associated with classics.   It doesn’t take ages to read.   It doesn’t distract the reader with superfluous distractions.   Most importantly, as the book is read, one is irrevocably and achingly aware and understanding of the plights of a woman, out to buy the flowers herself.

This is exactly what the book is about, or its plot at least.   Mrs. Dalloway, an upper-class London socialite goes out to buy some flowers for her big ball that evening.   On the way, she thinks about her life.   About the things that already happened, as well as the things that might happen in the future.   She remembers her old love, who she rejected simply because his passion brought out the worst in her.   She thinks about her husband, her dull, reliable husband, who she feels grounds and protects her from her true self, the unimaginable horror she feels is lurking within.   And finally, she is forced to think about a man just back from the war, a man she doesn’t even know, but who seems to be able to open her eyes with a selfish, yet heroic act of despair.

The tortured soul of Virginia Woolf provides great source for the seemingly flawless, yet sadly disturbed title character.   The stream of consciousness form of the book makes all these seemingly random scenes (yet, is anything in life truly random?) flow through the reader’s mind like a dream.   However, this dream does not tell of fairies and magical places.   It deals with the reality and such things as wars and the effect they have on individuals, as well as on the collective consciousness, the choices one has to make in life, the difference between life and death, and the lengths one is willing to go just to find a piece of mind.

RATING:   5/5

This review was written and originally published by Nikola.   You can see more reviews at Nikola’s Book Blog, http://cunninghamfan.blogspot.com/ .

 

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Take Two…

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Author Audrey Niffenegger has captured the essence of a prize-winning novel and potential blockbuster movie with this, her second effort.   The story revolves around 20-something twins Julia and Valentina whose mom is also a twin.   The girls are bequeathed an apartment in London overlooking Highgate Cemetery by mom’s twin, who dies of cancer.   The catch – they must live in the apartment for one year.

The book’s scenes are set in meticulous detail.   There is an elegant balance between the quirky and the mundane, whether it is the characters themselves, their clothes or the rooms they inhabit.   Elspeth’s apartment is a treasure trove of books and furniture, easily pictured by the reader.   The same holds true for visualizing Valentina’s creativity in fashioning the twins’ clothing.   The action goes from laboriously slow, when Martin painstakingly scrubs the floors of his flat, to breathtakingly fast when Valentina is racing around London trying desperately to become her own person.Her Fearful Symmetry 6

Anyone lucky enough to read Symmetry will thoroughly enjoy vicariously traipsing around London and will definitely come to know their way around Highgate Cemetery.   The characters experience more than their share of emotional highs and lows.   Some are well beyond the usual range for ordinary people – read that non-twins.   If ever you’ve wondered what’s considered normal, this book will bring you into a whole new dimension that is entirely plausible.

Five stars – highly recommended.   The book far exceeded this reader’s expectations.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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