Book Report: Office Girl by Joe Meno

Office Girl by Joe Meno

Office Girl by Joe Meno
June 2012
Publisher: Akashic Books
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No one dies in Office Girl. Nobody talks about the international political situation. There is no mention of any economic collapse. Nothing takes place during a World War.

Instead, this novel is about young people doing interesting things in the final moments of the last century. Odile is a lovely twenty-three-year-old art-school dropout, a minor vandal, and a hopeless dreamer. Jack is a twenty-five-year-old shirker who’s most happy capturing the endless noises of the city on his out-of-date tape recorder. Together they decide to start their own art movement in defiance of a contemporary culture made dull by both the tedious and the obvious. Set in February 1999—just before the end of one world and the beginning of another—Office Girl is the story of two people caught between the uncertainty of their futures and the all-too-brief moments of modern life.

Joe Meno’s latest novel also features black-and-white illustrations by renowned artist Cody Hudson and photographs by visionary photographer Todd Baxter.


My Thoughts

It’s easy to write a review about the books that I adore and would encourage every single person in the universe to read. It’s even easier to write a review for a book that I loathe. But the stuff in the middle? The books that were decent but otherwise didn’t conjure up any emotions? Those reviews are the hardest to write. Such is the case with Joe Meno’s Office Girl.

Office Girl is a short novel about a romance that came and went. Most of the stuff in the middle is about Jack and Odile falling for each other while Odile subsequently tries “sticking it to the man” with her art projects. Maybe this is amusing you’re a fan of guerrilla art, but it left me feeling indifferent. For me, most of the book falls into the realm of mediocrity, though I did find the ending to be redeeming. I don’t mean that in a snarky sense either. I really do mean the ending was perfect. It doesn’t suffer from a case of the rom-coms, where everything is pieced together and wrapped up in a pleasant little bow. It seemed realistic, and despite its bittersweet-ness, it left me feeling positive and fulfilled.

I figured Office Girl was one of those books that has to be read by a certain age so it can resonate with the reader. Kind of like Catcher in the Rye, maybe. And considering I am around the same age as the characters in the book, I figured Office Girl would be the same kind of mind-blowing amazing that was Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned back when I was in high school. Office Girl wasn’t though. Mostly I just found the characters to be kind of annoying and whiny and too angsty to be 24 years old. Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh on Jack. He was actually a pretty interesting character, but Odile was too much of a hipster for me to appreciate. She caused me to suffer eye strain as a result of massive eye rolls.

I’m not saying I hated Office Girl. I’m not even saying I disliked the book. I just didn’t think it was as good as some of Meno’s works that I was introduced to prior. Had I not approached Office Girl with expectations, I may have enjoyed it more.

Book Report: Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

Shakespeare: the World as Stage

Shakespeare: the World as Stage by Bill Bryson
November 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins
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At first glance, Bill Bryson seems an odd choice to write this addition to the Eminent Lives series.

The author of ‘The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’ isn’t, after all, a Shakespeare scholar, a playwright, or even a biographer.

Reading ‘Shakespeare The World As Stage’, however, one gets the sense that this eclectic Iowan is exactly the type of person the Bard himself would have selected for the task.

The man who gave us ‘The Mother Tongue’ and ‘A Walk in the Woods’ approaches Shakespeare with the same freedom of spirit and curiosity that made those books such reader favorites. A refreshing take on an elusive literary master.

My Thoughts

If you’re not a fan of biographies, I challenge you to read Shakespeare by Bill Bryson. Bryson’s witty writing makes this book a fun and fast read. Well, that and the fact this book is less than 200 pages long. It may seem strange that a biography on one of the world’s greatest playwrights is so short; however, there are few records about Shakespeare and how he lived his life, and Bryson really emphasizes this point. He writes, “We are lucky to know as much as we do. Shakespeare was born just at the time when records were first being kept with some fidelity”.

Bryson explores the handful of times “Shakespeare” (or “Shakp” or “Shaksper” or “Shakspe” etc.) pops up in Elizabethan records. These records are legal records regarding fines owed, land ownership, or wills as well as the occasional dedication in pamphlets and Quatro editions of his plays. But, a name, a date, and a place hardly shine insight onto a person’s life. For the most part, Shakespeare by Bill Bryson is book filled with well-drawn assumptions rather than deeply rooted facts about the playwright’s life. For example, there is actually no record of Shakespeare ever attending school, yet it would be hard to believe that someone with a great control over the English language never received any formal education. So, Bryson shows what Shakespeare’s life as a grammar school student was probably like from the subjects he probably studied (reading, writing, reciting Latin) to what discipline was probably like (Bryson writes, “A standard part of a teacher’s training…was how to give a flogging”).

It doesn’t stop there of course. Bryson discusses how Shakespeare would have first gotten involved in both performing and writing plays. He discusses the famed Globe Theater, and how plays would have been performed there. He discusses Shakespeare’s relationship with wife, Anne Hathaway, from why they may have married and why Shakespeare only left her his “second best bed” in his will. Bryson also dives into a handful of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, although these chapters tend to read dryly compared to the chapters about Shakespeare’s lifestyle. And, no biography of Shakespeare is complete without a chapter that delves into the controversy over whether or not Shakespeare was really the author of the famous plays and sonnets. Some scholar’s declarations of who they believe to be the “real” Shakespeare may surprise you!

Interestingly, the parts of the book that interested me the most were the parts that focused the least on Shakespeare. I enjoyed reading about the tension between the Catholics and the Protestants during Shakespeare’s life. And I found Bryson’s descriptions of the layout of London as well as city life so vivid. Both of these set the tone, the scene for Shakespeare’s life and his plays.

My biggest complaint about this book is about the number of “five-point” vocabulary words Bryson used so frequently. I am glad I read this book on my Nook, which has a built-in dictionary. It made looking up handfuls of words every few paragraphs easy. If I owned a tangible copy of this book, I would have probably been annoyed by how often I would have to put the book down to leaf through a dictionary.

I enjoyed this book, but it didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know (okay, maybe a few vocabulary words). But that’s because I’ve had the pleasure of taking two classes about Shakespeare– one in high school and one in college. It is good to know that neither of my teachers led me astray! Still, Shakespeare by Bill Bryson is worlds more interesting than the textbook excerpts I read in either of those classes. Why couldn’t my teachers assign this book instead?

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

I’ve put off writing this review for so long because I haven’t figured out what to say about this book.  Still.  Really!  I went into Never Knowing prepared to dislike it.  It’s not my preferred genre, and on top of that I started reading this book at work; these days, work turns me into such a curmudgeon.  But, about a chapter in, I was hooked.

I don’t know how else to say it, but this book left me feeling like an emotional wreck.  Each character was equally lovable and frustrating.  One moment I’m rooting for them; the next I am disgusted by the words they say and their actions (or lack thereof).  On one hand, Sarah is so wonderful for wanting to lend a helping hand.  On another hand, how dare she lend a helping hand knowing her child’s life is at risk.  Who does that?!  How wonderful, Sarah’s adoptive mother is for loving Sarah so immensely, but how dare she not stick up for Sarah when her father is being so hateful.  Each character in the story is like this from innocent little Ally to the cruel serial killer.  Stevens succeeds in creating tension between characters as well as blurring the boundaries between good and evil.

Stevens also has a unique way of telling Sarah’s story.  The book is fairly fast-paced with new tensions, twists, and secrets revealed on every other page.  But, each chapter begins with Sarah talking to her psychologist.  She reflects on the events that happened just a few days ago, sometimes just a few hours ago, before launching into a vivid retelling of the often horrific event.  It allows the reader to catch a deeper glimpse into Sarah’s psyche.

Overall, Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens was a pleasant surprise for me.  Rarely do I get so emotionally involved in stories, but time and time again I found myself getting angry at characters.  I found myself feeling relieved whenever something positive happened to the characters.  I found myself hoping that such-and-such would be alright in the end.  Never Knowing is a suspenseful book worth reading!

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Released: January 2011
Genre: Mystery
Age Group: Adult

[goodreads | indiebound]

All her life, Sara Gallagher has wondered about her birth parents. As an adopted child with two sisters who were born naturally to her parents, Sara’s home life was not ideal. The question of why she was given up for adoption has always haunted her. Finally, she is ready to take steps and find closure.

But some questions are better left unanswered.

After months of research, Sara locates her birth mother—only to be met with horror and rejection. Then she discovers the devastating truth: her mother was the only victim ever to escape a killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out about her father is him finding out about her.

Textual Healing by Eric Smith

First, there is Andrew Conner, or as he prefers, Ace. He was once a best-selling author, but now he suffers from a drought of inspiration. He’s neither the hyper-masculine brute nor the silent, brooding type that seems to plague too many novels (of the romantic sort). He’s dorky and quirky and witty and well-read, and even at his lowest, Ace still elicits some smiles—even a few chuckles. Then there is Hannah, a spunky gal from Montana, who makes me wonder why can’t more heroines be like her. She has an insatiable case of wanderlust, and she speaks her mind. She just might be the cure for Ace’s writer’s block. We have a setup for a story that I’m guaranteed to love.

Even though I was a total sucker for Ace and Hannah, my actual favorite characters are the wonderfully written secondary characters. On one hand, I connected with Valerie, a young woman working in Ace’s bookshop. She’s shy, teetering on socially awkward, and she always has her nose buried in a book or her homework. But! She has a secret, which is revealed in time. On the other hand, I loved the Orchid, the ninja who owns the flower shop across from Ace’s bookstore. She only speaks in haikus and she (almost literally) kicks ass. I say almost literally because I don’t think she actually kicked anyone in the rump; she does tie up “evil-doers” though, and she chucks shuriken at people

This only scratches the surface of all the incredible characters readers meet in Smith’s Textual Healing. I was in book heaven since I’m one of those people who crave well-written characters over intriguing plot and world-building and…other stuff.

There were several pop culture references, which might be distracting to some readers. I thought they were tastefully done though and often hilarious. I especially loved the nod to the epic pirate vs. ninja debate. And, although often laugh-out-loud hilarious (seriously, it was), some of the humor was a little…overkill? For the most part though, Smith knew where to draw the line.

I typically avoid romantic comedies/romance novels, but Textual Healing offered a fresh approach to a plotline that can easily become clichéd and full of one-dimensional characters. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

Textual Healing by Eric Smith

Textual Healing by Eric Smith

Released: November 2010
Genre: Romance
Age Group: Adult


Few people have to deal with a haiku-speaking flower-shop-owning ninja every day on their way to work. Unfortunately for Andrew Connor, he is one of those people. And poor Andrew, his week has been a rough one. His former bestseller, Chasing Fireflies, is on clearance at Barnes & Noble for $1.37, his girlfriend left him for a corporate America action figure, and he’s been tricked into joining Textual Healing, a support group for writers who can’t seem to write anymore. Dealing with his employees at his failing used bookshop, a strange new love interest from the Midwest, and a pet sugar-glider that has somehow managed to destroy his entire apartment… when will he ever find the time to put pen to paper again?

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

I’ve never met a book by Joe Meno that I didn’t like, and The Great Perhaps is no different. The novel, with it’s lyrical and darkly funny prose, rotates between members of the Casper family– each chapter digging into their quirks and revealing a family on the verge of a breakdown.

This is what I liked:

  • Meno showcases his experimental storytelling once more by mixing prose with illustrations, transcripts from old radio serials, and declassified government documents.
  • Realistic teenage dialogue and insight that he has more than perfected in his past novels (Hairstyles of the Damned, The Boy Detective Fails)
  • In my personal experience, the characters evoked an array of emotions.  Just when I begin to think, “Wow, I’m glad I don’t know people like this,” another side of their humanity is revealed, and I couldn’t help feeling sympathetic.

This is what I didn’t like

  • Albeit interesting, I felt the grandfather’s narrative was uninspired compared to the other family members’.
  • Absolutely, under no circumstances read The Great Perhaps on an e-reader (at least not the Nook; I can’t vouch for other e-readers).  The price tag of $2.59 is alluring, but there is a reason for that.  The e-reader version lacks the illustrations found in the print version.  Regretfully, I found this out the hard way.

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

Released: January 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
Age Group: Adult

[add to goodreads | IndieBound]

From GoodReads:

Jonathan, a paleontologist, is searching in vain for a prehistoric giant squid; his wife, Madeline, an animal behaviorist, cannot explain her failing experiment; their daughter Amelia is a disappointed teenage revolutionary; her younger sister, Thisbe, is on a frustrating search for God; and their grandfather, Henry, wants to disappear, limiting himself to eleven words a day, then ten, then nine – one less each day until he will speak no more. Each fears uncertainty and the possibilities that accompany it. When Jonathan and Madeline suddenly decide to separate, this nuclear family is split and forced to confront its cowardice, finally coming to appreciate the cloudiness of this modern age.