I read a lot of mysteries so my head is often filled with stories about death and other gruesomeness. Every once in a while, I like to clear the palate by reading something different. Here are a couple non-mysteries I recently finished, though I can’t say they were all lightness and rainbows.

One Day by David Nicholls

Emma and Dexter meet in 1988 on their graduation day from an Edinburgh college and we follow the ups and downs of their friendship by checking in with them on the same day, July 15, every year for the next 19 years. On that first day, Emma, a feminist and academic, expresses her hopes of changing the world while making playful predictions of how Dexter, a privileged playboy, would turn out by the time he’s forty. As anyone who’s ever been an idealistic twentysomething knows, life doesn’t always work out the way you envisioned it. We witness Emma and Dexter’s disillusionment, their difficulties in relationships with other people and attempts to adjust their worldview as they mature. Through it all, their relationship remains a constant, ultimately leading to both happiness and tears.

A blurb in the front of this book likens it to When Harry Met Sally but I think that’s too convenient and lazy a comparison. I really enjoyed that movie but it’s a lark compared to this story. One Day delves much more deeply into the messiness of life and death, unfulfilled potential and unrequited feelings, how there’s a window of time to do certain things and once it closes, sometimes it’s forever. Because the book spans almost two decades, you can probably relate to it no matter where you are in your life journey. And if you’ve ever had romantic feelings for your best friend but feared you’d ruin your friendship, you know where Dexter and Emma are coming from.

I was impressed by how well Nicholls, using the third person omniscient POV, captures Emma’s inner life. I’ve had male writer friends tell me getting inside a woman’s head is one of the biggest challenges for them as a writer, but Nicholls makes Emma believably complex, not a man’s idealized or clueless version of how a woman thinks and behaves. I enjoyed her musing while on a date with a wannabe stand-up comedian who wouldn’t quit making jokes:

He’s laughing me into a stupor, she thought. I could heckle, I suppose, I could throw a bread roll at him but he’s eaten them all. She glanced at the other diners, all of them going into their act, and thought is this what it all boils down to? Romantic love, is this all it is, a talent show? Eat a meal, go to bed, fall in love with me and I promise you years and years of top notch material like this?

Dexter is less likable, with his partying and womanizing, but he recognizes Emma’s beauty long before she does so he’s not completely superficial. He resembles guys I knew in college (I’m about the same age as Dexter and Emma) who later straightened out so I could tolerate Dexter’s shallow phase and believe he’d eventually mature.

The movie version is already in production with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (21, Across the Universe) as the leads and I think they’re excellent choices. Nicholls, like he did for the screen adaptation of his novel Starter for 10, wrote the script and An Education‘s Lone Scherfig is directing. Read the book now so you can be a snob when the movie comes out.

Nerd verdict: One Day stayed with me for much longer

Buy One Day from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

Holly’s Inbox: Scandal in the City by Holly Denham

Another male author who has an impressive grasp on the female voice is Bill Surie, who uses the pseudonym Holly Denham to write his two books about, well, Holly Denham. Scandal is the sequel to last year’s Holly’s Inbox and once again, Surie uses only e-mails to tell our heroine’s adventures in her professional and love life but somehow manages to make her a multifaceted character. *Spoiler below if you haven’t read the first one.*

The novel begins with Holly being in a fairly good place: she’s up for a promotion and she and Toby are living together. Well, technically they are but Toby is always at work or out of town. Holly begins to wonder if he’s having an affair, her suspicions strengthened by a bitchy co-worker’s behavior towards Toby. Her new position also doesn’t turn out well and she gets unexpected news when she goes to the doctor. At one point, Holly hits rock bottom but with the support of her friends, she manages to bounce back in time to discover the real reason behind Toby’s absences. *End spoiler*

As with the first book, this one has more emotional impact than you might expect from a book told in a limited format. Nowadays, we probably communicate with our loved ones electronically more than any other way so it’s plausible that e-mails would divulge much about our daily lives. (I just wish there weren’t so many typos, which may resemble real e-mails but I assume this book went through copy edits.) I felt Holly’s pain and frustration in her messages, even when she tries to remain professional in dealing with a mean higher-up or brave in the face of adversity so her family wouldn’t worry too much. The format made it clear that a skilled writer doesn’t need long-winded prose to paint characters with depth. Surie eliminates unnecessary details to cut straight to Holly’s heart.

Nerd verdict: Add Scandal to your inbox

Buy Holly’s Inbox: Scandal in the City from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

What are you reading this weekend?


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  • Reply
    August 13, 2010 at 7:13 am

    I’ve seen One Day quite a bit around the Internet, but this review makes me want to pick it up. Premise sounds interesting. Happy Friday!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 13, 2010 at 8:55 pm

      I have a sneaky feeling you might be able to relate to Emma. Have a brilliant books-filled weekend!

  • Reply
    August 13, 2010 at 7:29 am

    Loved One Day and, strangely enough, was reading it on July 15. However, I’m really dismayed at the casting for the movie. Blech.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 13, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      You don’t like Hathaway? Or is Sturgess the problem? Both? Who would you have cast?

      • Reply
        August 14, 2010 at 7:52 am

        Hathaway really kinda bugs me. I thought she was great in Rachel Getting Married, though still annoying, and could KIND of take her in Get Smart. But she is NOT Emma, especially physically, at least in my mind.

        As for Sturgess, I’m ambivalent about him in general, but Dexter?! No way. He is in no way (to me, this is all subjective opinion) a good-looking, suave, playboy type. I don’t really like Jude Law, but I could see him in the role before Sturgess (age aside).

        As for who I would replace them with, I’ll have to think on that. Of course Kate Winslet leaps to mind as Emma. Hard to know what age to go with as the timespan of the movie will be so great. So maybe someone in the middle of the span would be the way to go. Would love to see Thomas Hardy as Dexter, but he also may be aged out. Dunno. Just know I’m unlikely to see it as casted.

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          August 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

          I like Hathaway and thought she did a nice job in Rachel Getting Married but did not like the movie. Have you seen Becoming Jane or Ella Enchanted?

          Can you see Carey Mulligan as Emma?

          I think Sturgess can go both ways—scruffy or suave—depending on how he’s dressed and groomed. But Jude Law as he was in The Talented Mr. Ripley would’ve made a perfect Dexter. Ooh, a younger Hardy would’ve been good, too.

          • Reply
            August 14, 2010 at 4:10 pm

            Anne Hathaway + Period Piece = No Lolo

            Yes, I can see Carey Mulligan as Emma. But then, I could probably see Carry Mulligan in just about anything.

            I don’t find Sturgess at all suave/sexy, but I suppose that’s all just personal taste. Maybe he will surprise me. And to be honest, I’m not sure Dexter was really all that “my type” anyway, so maybe Sturgess will be fine. Just a disappointing casting for me personally.

  • Reply
    August 13, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Am I getting old? I haven’t read a truly inspiring romantic movie or seen a romantic film since I don’t know when. I really related to that excerpt you threw in for One Day by David Nicholls. I’m at odds over reading it simply because of how much I agree with the character’s cynicism in the passage. Probably just a funk I am in right now. Besides, you have yet to steer me wrong, PCN, so here I go clicking on the IndieBound link. LOL!

    I actually enjoyed Holly’s Inbox more than I thought I would, so I was already looking forward to this sequel of Denhams’s, uh, Surie’s. (wonder if he wears a dress when he writes as Holly Denham as opposed to when he’s writing as Bill Surie) Wouldn’t that be weird? Okay, time for coffee.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 13, 2010 at 8:59 pm

      I don’t know if you’re getting old but suspect the problem is more about Hollywood not knowing how to make a good rom-com anymore. Thanks for clicking on the IndieBound link!

  • Reply
    August 14, 2010 at 9:58 am

    I’ll try to find ONE DAY before the movie comes out. It seems like a good way to approach the story and a compelling one in fact. Too bad my TBR pile is miles high. But perhaps the book will skip some plaes just because the movie has Hathaway in it.

    Anyway, thanks for this reviews!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 14, 2010 at 3:08 pm

      What else is in your TBR pile, Poncho? What did you think of the Crais books le0pard13 sent you?

      • Reply
        August 15, 2010 at 12:31 am

        I’m loving Crais. I’m reading one by one -with other stuff in between- so I fully appreciate them. I’m also reading the last of Larsson’s Millenium. Other than that, I have more Crais, some Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, Don Winslow, Frank Herbert, Enrique Serna, Carlos Fuentes, and much more…

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          August 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm

          Which Crais are you up to? What did you think of Girl Who Played with Fire?

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    August 14, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    I must say, I think Anne Hathaway looks very cute in that photo and can imagine the transformation that takes place over time. When I first started reading your review, When Harry Met Sally did spring to mind, so it was great to read your thoughts on that. Holly’s Inbox and its successor sound like entertaining reads.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      August 16, 2010 at 1:55 pm

      I agree—I wish I could look like Anne Hathaway in nerd mode. The Holly’s Inbox books are really quick reads if you need something light between heavier books.

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