Monthly Archives: July 2008

Armchair Travel

Some of my favorite reads of all time fall into the “armchair travel” category. Check out the July issue of Women’s Adventure Magazine newsletter for my review of Rita Gelman’s Tales of a Female Nomad: Living Large in the World and Jamie Zeppa’s Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan.

If you want to get monthly book reviews – and other news about new products, gear, events, travel, etc. – sign up for their monthly newsletter.

And, for any writers and photographers out there, definitely check out their September Magazine Conference, which is focused on travel writing & photography. On a whim, I attended their Magazine Writers Conference earlier this summer and absolutely loved it… keynote from Pam Houston, networking with fellow writers (all at different stages of their writing adventures), insight from freelance writers and editors, and excellent hands-on writing workshops!

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Beijing Bound…

It’s official. We leave for Beijing in just over a month! The first three weeks of our trip will be working with the US Paralympics (the elite event for athletes with physical disabilities, which follows the Olympics), followed by 10 days in Japan (… a true vacation? We’ll see!)

Yesterday’s NYT book review featured Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: a Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by BBC Reporter Fuchsia Dunlop. In general, I do love food and I love experimenting with new tastes and flavors. But admittedly, I am not looking forward to the food in China. I’ve definitely added this book to my pre-China-trip list in hopes of changing my bad attitude and embracing my inner omnivore!

I also recently started reading a great blog, called “Behind the Lens at the Beijing Olympics“, which my photographer husband turned me on to. In a recent post, Zach Honig writes:

Chinese Food: Flexibility is Key

I admit — I’m a picky eater. I don’t know why I don’t like onions, but until I came to Beijing, I’d pick them out like I was performing microsurgery. Beijing helped me learn to be flexible — and to just eat the darn onions. A couple friends traveling with me were vegetarians before they came, and they’ve learned to be much more flexible as well. When it comes to dining out in Beijing, there are a couple things to keep in mind…

Thank you Zach and Fuchsia. I – and my tummy – are working on our sense of culinary adventure!

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Bright Shiny Morning

About two weeks ago, I finished James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning, a novel that follows a myriad of characters to and in LA. I’ve delayed writing a review because I’m conflicted about it. Let me explain…

 

In one sense, I loved the writing and was lulled into the rhythm of the rambling prose (akin to A Million Little Pieces), and tore through the book in just a couple of days. It was addictive to read, the equivalent of a reality TV show you casually flip to, and then end up getting sucked into, watching hours on end (am I the only one who does that?!)

 

On the other hand, it fell flat in imaginative fiction. There wasn’t enough distinction between the voices of the different characters, many of whom came across as cliches. Frey’s own voice – his commentary, struggles and perspective – was too prevalent in the characters themselves. 

 

In one passage, Frey writes:

“Scandal, mothf*ers, everybody loves a scandal. Even if you try to turn away, you can’t, when you try to ignore it, you find it impossible. You know why? Because it’s awesome, hilarious, awful, it’s a f*ing mess, and it almost always make you feel better about yourself. So admit, you love and your friends love and your family loves everyone you know loves a scandal, the bigger the better, the uglier the more fun, the more devastation the better you feel.”

 

This is quintessential Frey. Angry, frustrated, brutally honesty. A possible shout-out to his own struggles when he was outed for peppering his memoir with fiction, or lies (depending on your perspective.) This style was the backbone of the author’s initial success, but in Bright Shiny Morning, this same stream of consciousness and liberal use of F bombs don’t work.

 

For me, there are two main characters in this book:  the first is LA itself, in all of its pain and grime, love and disappointment, drugs, violence, confusion. The second is James Frey, whose distaste for the current social hierarchy seeps through the fragile shells of the characters he’s created.

 

Would it have worked somehow as nonfiction? I can’t answer that.

 

The novel is disjointed, lacks character depth, and too often veers from the most interesting storylines with random flashes of data, e.g. lists of different ethnic gangs in LA, a timeline of southern Calif. natural disasters. (By the way, what ever happened to the mini-golf guy?!)

 

I wasn’t sure what style I was reading. While I would have preferred complete transparency back with his memoir, in the case of this novel, the lack of genre and tangible presence of the author’s voice were a distraction.

 

When the A Million Little Pieces controversy first broke, I was among the disappointed and angry population of readers. However, as I’ve learned more about the publishing industry and the pressures on authors, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was the publishing house and not Frey himself who was at fault for the dishonest, commercial metamorphosis of novel into true memoir.

 

I wanted to love Bright Shiny Morning, but for its merit as a novel, I didn’t. But (and this is a big But!), I do look forward to whatever he has to write next. There’s something about Frey that is so real (despite the “truthiness” scandal), readable (despite the lack of genre) and insightful (despite his cliches.)

 

When I figure out what that is, I’ll let you know!

 

Until then, I probably won’t stop thinking about this book…

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Bass & Books

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You know what I love most about striper fishing? All the reading I get done!

In May, my husband Joe and I went back east to visit family in NY, CT and NJ. One of the main reasons for the timing of our vacation is the striper run. Yes, it’s a big deal, and it only lasts for a couple of weeks. During this past trip, we spent most of our time fishing on The Hudson, because that’s where they were biting.

For me, the beauty of surf fishing is that I can hang out in a camp chair and read. When you fish from the shore, you bait the hook, cast the line, put the rod in its holder, which is anchored in the sand. Then you sit back. And watch. And wait. When the tip of the rod snaps back and forth, you run and grab the rod, in hopes of a big striper bite. (While most of the Kusumoto clan is better about holding the rod and watching attentively, I toggle between watching for bites and  reading!)

Despite my focus on the page rather than the line, I actually did catch one: a 28″ striper that I didn’t think I’d be able to reel in on my own. We thought it was a huge catch, until  my sister in law (my “fish-tah” Vikki) showed me up with a 31″ (she always does that!) ( :

A week later, Joe brought in the big doozy – a 39″ striper – that now holds the Kusumoto family record.

I love fishing back east. Armed with Italian subs, chips (that eventually get all wormed up with everyone poking their dirty, bait-smeared hands in the bags!) and my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, we spend hours by the water… fishing, waiting, relaxing and reading. 

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If you love fishing for striped bass, here’s a must read that fisher-people love: On the Run: An Angler’s Journey Down the Striper Coast (David Dibenedetto.)

And while I’m on the topic, here’s a list of reads I polished off in May, all of which I’d recommend:

Out Stealing Horses (Per Peterson)

On Beauty (Zadie Smith)

Mountains beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder)

Imperial Life in Emerald City (Rajiv Chandrasekaran)

Mister Pip (Lloyd Jones)

Loving Frank (Nancy Horan)

No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy)

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