Tag Archives: hoarders

Starry Starry Night

Objects of My Affection: A Novel by Jill Smolinski (Touchstone, $24.99, 307 pages)

It is very easy to be drawn into this little story with a big message.   The narrator, Lucy Bloom, could be any single mom you know.   She cares deeply about her teenage son who has become a drug user.   As is her pattern in life, Lucy springs to action a little too late.   She sells her house to pay for his drug rehab stay in Florida.   Lucy, who wrote a book about organizing (Things Are Not People), happens to be out of work.   In a move to keep herself fed, she takes on the job of clearing the home of a hoarder.   The hoarder is approaching her 65th birthday and wants to put her home in order before the birthdate arrives.   Lucy has about eight weeks to accomplish the daunting task.

Both Lucy and the hoarder are mothers who have vastly differing views of life.   Each has a son and the sons seem to be similar in their self-centeredness.   While this novel is poignant from the perspective of each of the main characters, it also carries the message that being a mother does not mean losing yourself.   This reviewer found the message encouraging for parents.   It seems to say that realizing you own role in life as well as those around you is very important for each of us.

Author Jill Smolinski’s narrator, Lucy Bloom, is best summed up as self-effacing, yet not a total loser.   Lucy’s newly-found skills learned the hard way while clearing out the jam-packed house, include the value of recognizing true friendship and going after what matters most to her.   There is enough drama and suspense to keep the reader engaged and the dialogue is snappy without becoming a parody of the sensitive characters that populate this tale.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Simultaneously breezy yet thought provoking, this is a fun read that stays with you.”   Sarah Pekkanen, author of These Girls and The Opposite of Me.

 

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A review of Objects of My Affection: A Novel by Jill Smolinski.

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You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Random House, $28.00, 400 pages)

Charles Duhigg is a highly educated (Harvard and Yale) business reporter (The New York Times), who is the epitome of the thorough investigative reporter.   In past weeks, Duhigg and his publicist have been circulating a flurry of teaser articles and Twitter posts that include excerpts from his just-released book.   The teasers are eye-catching because most folks in the USA shop at Target, buy household air fresheners (unless they are featured on A&E’s Hoarders) and like to think that the choices they make are acts of free will.   He has also been travelling on an aggressive cross-country tour of major media outlets.

As to whether folks really have the ability to make their own choices, not really, according to Duhigg.   His book supports a hypothesis that most, if not all, daily activities are the result of a habit loop consisting of a cue, routine and reward.   This behavior loop is applicable at the personal as well as organizational and societal levels.   Granted, the author has met and exceeded the burden of proof imposed by such a strong theme; however, too much of a good thing is not always the most pleasing event.

This reviewer was immediately interested in the book after reading an excerpt that focused on Target stores and the extensive shopper profiling that takes place thanks to a sophisticated computer program that slices and dices purchasing data.   A quick glance at my to-be-read shelf revealed an advance reader’s edition (ARE) of this very book.   A few chapters into the book, a familiar feeling arose.   It was similar to the one you get after watching a movie that had fabulous trailers/coming attractions but left little for the actual theater experience.   That’s how this reviewer felt – a bit let down, after reading The Power of Habit.   All the catchy and engaging information was in the teaser articles.   Absent these elements, the book became a traditional survey (overview) of the force of habit.

The sonorous, heavy tone of the text may have been lightened with the final editing process.   It’s doubtful that the notes and sources section was reduced.   It occupies nearly 20% of the book!   Hopefully, the charming diagrams made it to the release version.

Recommended for readers who are extremely curious about the force of habit.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Power of Habit was released on February 28, 2012.   The original title on the ARE was The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change It. 

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Homer and Langely

Home & Langely: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow

“I am telling you what I know – words have music and if you are a musician you will write to hear them.”

I believe it was John Updike who said, “Review the book, not the reputation.”   E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime, has a great reputation as a writer and it is well deserved.   In Homer & Langely, he writes beautifully – in a style that often calls to mind Audrey Niffenegger – but there’s simply so little story to be told that the words are wasted.   It’s as if a musician were given a score to play that hid all of his strengths and talents.

This is a 208-page novella that runs on too long; the basic tale could well have been told as a 30- to 40-page short story.   Two brothers, wealthy by birth, become hermits while they’re living in a mansion across the street from New York City’s Central Park.   One brother is blind and the other is either bizarre or mentally ill.   This is not only a summary of the plot, but of almost everything that happens in H&L.   The most interesting scenes come when the brothers are visited by a tribe of hippies.

Doctorow’s latest was, for this reader, a novella that was far too easy to put down.

Random House, $26.00, 208 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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