Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shopgirl is a Quiet Pleasure

Shopgirl: A NovellaShopgirl by Steve Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's confirmed. I have a bit of a crush on Steve Martin.

Sensory descriptions like this make me weak in the knees:
...the various scents that have been sprayed throughout the day onto waiting customers have collected into strata in the department store air.  So Mirabelle, at five-six, always smells Chanel number 5, while someone at five-two is always treated to the heavier Chanel number 19.
I love that I can almost visualize the strata, and I immediately imagine walking through that store with girlfriends of different heights and each of us thinking that the store smells like something different.

Mirabelle (played by Claire Danes in the movie, which is coming up on my Netflix queue as soon as I catch up on Downton Abbey!) is a salesgirl in the nearly deserted gloves department of an upscale department store in southern California. Shopgirl is primarily the story of Mirabelle and two men: one a slacker type (played by Jason Schwartzman) with whom Mirabelle becomes passively involved, the other an older and wealthier businessman (played by Martin himself) with whom Mirabelle finds herself in an unexpectedly deep relationship. The former is described thusly:
He never complicates a desire by overthinking it, unlike Mirabelle, who spins a cocoon around an idea until it is immobile.
The pupa
This moth is really an immobilized desire.  
 That kind of pithy insight into his characters' emotions is one of Martin's great strengths as a writer.

You know how sometimes you look up from a book, or work, or a good conversation, and realize it's gotten dark outside without you realizing it? In other words, a dramatic change has occurred, but so gradually that you can't pinpoint when it happened.  The unfolding of the characters was like that for me; by the end of the book I felt that I fiercely understood Mirablle, but I still can't point to a specific moment when I began to understand her motivations.  And I thoroughly enjoyed the characters' journey, though at times it seemed largely a passive one.

I withheld a star because of the ending. Whereas the rest of this novella was marked by the slow, quiet progress of three characters' lives, the last several pages were composed of clipped summaries that spanned months and years in just a few short paragraphs. It felt rushed and abridged after the patient pace of the rest of the book, and left me feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. Still, I liked the rest of it so much that I recommend Shopgirl rather highly if you're in need of a short book that is mostly sweet but has a thread of melancholy. But if you have time for something longer, pick up Martin's An Object of Beauty instead.

An Object of Beauty

Monday, December 3, 2012

November Giveaway Winner: Ashley!

Congratulations to the winner of the November Giveaway!  Ashley's winning entry was a tweet about Brave New Bookshelves.  She'll receive the BNB copy of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  Thanks to everyone who submitted their entries!

Suri's Burn Book Doesn't Quite Burn -- It's Just Uncomfortably Warm

Suri's Burn Book: Well-Dressed Commentary from Hollywood's Little SweetheartSuri's Burn Book: Well-Dressed Commentary from Hollywood's Little Sweetheart by Allie Hagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you aren't familiar with the tumblr that inspired this book, stop reading this review and go there immediately. If you laugh out loud, or at least giggle quietly to yourself, within the first thirty seconds, then this book is for you.

Suri's Burn Book

The book is something between an overview and a recap of the tumblr. Rather than comment on specific photos for the most part, the book goes through the prominent families of Hollywood and gives "Suri" the chance to give her take on the fashion choices and social value of celebrity offspring. Being under two is not -- I repeat, not -- an excuse for being seen barefoot in public.

But the level of snark is a little underwhelming without the photos to inspire outfit-specific commentary. There are still photos in the book, but roughly one or two per target. Unfortunately, on the Kindle, the photos are black-and-white and lose a lot of their punch.  Still, it made enough of an impression that I fashioned the following quiz as my Facebook status the next day:

If you read Suri Cruise's Burn Book before bed, you will:

  • (a) dream that you are listening to Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck fight in the hallway, then wake up and realize there is a real argument occurring in the stairwell that adjoins your apartment;
  • (b) go back to bed and dream that you are Tom Cruise;
  • (c) wake up with serious tension knots in your shoulders because being a celebrity is stressful; or
  • (d) all of the above.

On the whole, this is great if you need some quick, easy, portable entertainment, but if you're sitting at home... save some money and just go hang out on tumblr for awhile.

Or, leave your best burn-book-style caption for this humbling photo of yours truly.  Can you imagine Suri's horror?