Monday, December 29, 2008
I had a lovely surprise waiting for me when I returned from my holiday trip. A bag of books addressed to G. Reader, from S. Claus. I don't know who my secret Santa was, but I really appreciate the gift! Here's a photo of my new stack of books, thanks to Santa's generosity.
I was planning to do a year-end round up of my favorites from 2008, but...I'm too lazy. Instead I've formed a resolution for 2009. I would like to try to do what Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm is doing (I've been a long-time lurker and fan of her blog), but I'm not as resolute as she is. She is going to try not to buy any new books this year, and get through her piles instead. I won't go that far, but I will say that I'm going to try to get as far into 2009 as I can without buying any new books. That's because, as I've mentioned ad nauseum here, I'm drowning in books. And they're all good books, books that I plan to read. Some day. My problem is that I keep getting distracted by the interesting books that I read about on my dear friends' blogs, or hear about from my sister-in-law, my cousin-in-law, or my book groupers.
So I'm resolving to get some badly-needed focus in my life, and to read my way through my piles and piles of books.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Everyone was so lovely when I asked for advice about what to buy for my 12-year-old son for the holidays (we do a little Chanukah and a little Christmas in our family--Chrismukah? With a visit from Chanuklaus?). Thank you, everyone! Now I have a wonderful list that will hold us for the next few gift-giving occasions, at least.
Friday, December 12, 2008
The ladies at Coffee Chat With 1000 Wise Women have another way to help out--a contest! It's called Easy as 1-2-3: Money for your Favorite Charity, and I'm clicking over there now to nominate my favorite charity so it will be in the running to receive the $100 that the site will donate to the lucky winner!
They're also adding $1 for every comment posted through December 31 in support of the charity that wins.
Sounds like a good way to support a good cause this holiday season. Hope you'll join me.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Today's Booking Through Thursday question is:
1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read? (I’m guessing #1 is an easy question for everyone?)
2. If you had (magically) more time to read–what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?
Yes, number one is easy to answer. No, I don't get to read as much as I want to. I don't know a single soul who thinks he or she has enough time to read. If you meet that person, let me know--because I want his or her life! As it is, I try to sneak reading time into crazy places like the carpool line...
As for question two, I'd say that if I had more time, I would read more of the books on the pile that is threatening to take over my room. I have an enormous TBR pile, so I'd tackle that first, with all that extra reading time the reading fairy is magically giving me. Then I'd go and read all the classics I didn't read in college. Then I'd just keep finding more...there are just so many interesting books out there.
I wonder how much time would really be enough? How much time do you have to read? How much more would you like?
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I always loved the quote she had posted that inspired her blog's title:
"Birth, life, and death -- each took place on the hidden side of a leaf." Toni Morrison
We will miss you, Dewey.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I'm committed to buying books for the holidays, as I've mentioned before, and I'm rarely at a loss for books to buy for any occasion. But I need a little help from you creative reader/blogger friends--I need suggestions for books for my son. He's 12 years old, and a good reader (thank goodness), but he has already read or outgrown many of the YA books I know.
He really loved the Harry Potter series, and Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider books. He also read all of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. He likes fantasy, and adventure, though I've had a hard time getting him to read the classics that I loved, like Treasure Island, White Fang, and the like.
I think he's ready for something a little more mature, but I'm not sure exactly what to get for him. My husband thinks he's ready for Stephen King, and he did read and get creeped out by The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
So, wise ones, what do you suggest?
Thursday, November 27, 2008
This year I feel both more thankful than usual and less conviction that I need an excessive meal to demonstrate it. But I do always enjoy the day, as a holiday of reflection (and hard work in the kitchen). And to assuage my guilt about the gluttony, I've packed a big bag of non-perishable food for the local food bank, which I've noticed has longer lines in front of it lately.
Last night I stayed up later than usual to finish Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and, as predicted, wiped away a tear. It's a coming of age story, more personal and less sweeping than her later book, Half of a Yellow Sun, but also benefitting from the rich setting of Nigeria during a time of turmoil. Maybe when I'm done cooking I'll have a chance to write a review...
Happy Thanksgiving to all, and hope you all get a little extra reading time in!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Today is my birthday and I'm, hrmmm...oh, never mind how old I am. I'm at the age where I don't want to remember how old I am. One of the things I asked for for my birthday is a little reading time. And I actually got an early start on it yesterday. I'm reading too many books at the moment, which seems to be my M.O. lately. But in spite of that fact, I decided to start Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is partly because I so enjoyed her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which I read last year. And partly because I get credit for my Orange Prize Project challenge, of which I have been a pathetic participant.
I also was able to sneak off to the movies today, and enjoyed the roller coaster ride that is Jonathan Demme's film about family dysfunction, Rachel Getting Married. Not only is it an emotional roller coaster ride, it was shot entirely with hand-held cameras, so it is a visual roller coaster ride, too. But it didn't make me motion-sick, so I enjoyed my birthday popcorn very much!
Monday, November 17, 2008
I am honored to be joined by novelist Jennie Shortridge, whose third novel, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, is out in paperback (and which I review in yesterday's post). Her earlier two novels are Riding with the Queen and Eating Heaven, and she also has a new novel coming out next year, entitled When She Flew. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me.
First, let me say that Jennie has already answered many good questions on her website, where there is lots of interesting information about her background, and about the genesis of her writing career. So if you’re curious about how Jennie got started writing, or just want to read more about her, check out her site here.
Jennie also has some great guest posts at Books on the Brain, one an open letter to book bloggers, readers and book clubbers, and another entitled The Power of Women Who Read.
GR: Reading about you on your website, I see that you had a band as a teenager, wrote songs, and formed an acoustic duo with your husband Matt. This, of course, reminds me of Mira’s rebellious musician daughter Thea, which made me wonder how much of you is in that character. I personally found myself relating very much to Mira, as a wife, as a mother, and as a woman of a certain age. So my question is, how do you relate to both Thea and Mira?
JS: I love to write about music and musicians, as I did in my first novel, Riding with the Queen. I was so glad to be able to again in Love and Biology. I think I probably relate more to Lannie, the former rock and roller, than Thea. I have a niece who is Thea’s age and very musical, and I only realized after finishing the book that I was probably channeling her for Thea! I also relate to Mira, even though I’m not a mom. I set out to write about this crazy-making period of life called peri-menopause, and the things we do to get through it!
GR: The settings in your book are so real that they are really almost characters in themselves. The small coastal Oregon town Mira escapes from, Pacifica, and the place she escapes to, the Fremont section of Seattle, are both quirky and beautifully drawn. I know you live in Seattle, and have lived in Portland, Oregon, but what made you choose these particular settings, and what kind of research did you do to make them come alive?
JS: I’d been spending a lot of time on the Oregon coast, writing at the Oregon Writers Colony house, and I really love everything about it. I wanted Mira to be from a small town, and they’re ALL small down there. Plus it’s just so beautiful and idyllic there. It would take a lot to make someone leave it. When I started this book, I lived in Portland, and I thought Mira would end up there, but then I moved to Seattle, so Mira did too! She discovered Fremont pretty much as I did, because I live on a hillside looking down on it, and I hear that little bridge rise ever so often and watch the seaplane drone by from my home office window. I often go down there to take breaks, stroll around, have a coffee at one of the many coffee shops. I wish there really were a Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe, but there are several others that are wonderful.
GR: One of my favorite things about this book is your exploration of the family dynamics, the relationships between mother and daughter, grandmother and granddaughter, father and daughter, and even between best friends. What is your favorite relationship in the book, and why did you enjoy writing about it?
JS: Well, that’s hard to pin down, because I love them all. I particularly love the relationship with the grandmother, and how it changes just enough by the end to know that in spite of her strict rules, Nonna has a human side, too. And I love the relationship between Lannie and Mira, and Lannie and Thea. I think we’d all like a friend like Lannie, who can just be there for us, and still be totally her own woman (which is quite a woman).
GR: After I finished this book, I realized it was really about a successful midlife crisis, and I really admired the way Mira came to terms with her past, stopped living in denial, and came to a more accepting place. Have you had any sort of midlife crisis? If so, how did you resolve it?
JS: I absolutely love that description, a successful midlife crisis! I will borrow that, if you don’t mind. ☺ I am definitely in the throes of midlife, and I’m sure I’ve done many crazy things because of it, but nothing so dramatic. I think that by writing about it, I get to do it vicariously through Mira. (For which my husband is grateful.)
GR: I love to ask writers about their practice of writing. What is your writing routine?
JS: Every weekday morning, I’m at my desk with my second cup of coffee first thing, and I write (on a Mac) until I feel done, usually around lunchtime. Then I edit or do other book-related tasks (there are MANY) in the afternoons. Or I volunteer with kids at 826 Seattle, helping them with their writing.
GR: Do you have a plan for your next book, and can you tell us about it?
JS: I’m just finishing the new book, When She Flew, which will be released in November 2009. It’s a bit of a departure for me, in that I fictionalized a true story about a father and daughter found living in the woods near Portland, Oregon. In my VERY fictional version, I write from the point of view of the 13-year-old girl and the policewoman who breaks all the rules to try to keep her out of foster care and reunite her with her father.
GR: One final question: coffee or tea?
JS: Triple tall nonfat latte! Hey, I live in Seattle—it’s essential.
Thank you so much, Jennie Shortridge, for stopping by, and TLC Book Tours for letting me join in. Here is the schedule for Jennie Shortridge's TLC Book Tour Stops:
Saturday, November 1st: Estella’s Revenge e-zine
Monday, November 3rd: Booking Mama
Tuesday, November 4th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, November 5th: She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, November 7th: Curly Wurly Gurly
Monday, November 10th: Fizzy Thoughts
Wednesday, November 12th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, November 14th: Literarily
Monday, November 17th: Shelf Life
Wednesday, November 19th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Friday, November 21st: Bookshipper
Monday, November 24th: Minds Alive on the Shelves
Wednesday, November 26th: Book Addiction
Sunday, November 30th: B & b ex libris
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Mira Serafino is living what seems to be a perfect life, fulfilled in her career as a teacher, happy as a wife to her college sweetheart, and busy with her family and friends in her small, coastal Oregon hometown. She adores her only daughter, Thea, though she does not find it easy to parent her now that Thea has chosen to forego college and pursue the life of a musician. Then Mira’s life is turned upside down when she finds out her husband Parker is seeing another woman. Unable to face the scrutiny of her family and the busybodies of her small town, Mira bolts from her life, driving north until she hits Seattle. There she finds the Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe, owned by Gus, who is more interested in surfing and skiing than owning a coffee shop, and staffed by a motley crew of inefficient young people. Mira steps in to help run the place, and in the meantime, she picks up the pieces of her life, and begins to find a new version of herself.
I found Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe to be warm and witty, and also wise. The author’s style is down-to-earth and readable, and the characters are wonderfully fallible and real. Main character Mira comes from a large Italian family that, it turns out, holds many secrets. When her life starts falling apart around her, she basically leaves it behind, and this gives her the perspective she needs to change her bad habits and rethink what she wants and needs out of life. I was intrigued by Mira’s transformation from a perfectionist to someone who, in her daughter Thea’s words, “didn’t seem so worried about everything. She was just kinda going with the flow of whatever was happening, not making anybody do anything, not overplanning and stressing out, not making Thea feel guilty about anything.” Mira has learned to just be, in the moment.
Being near Mira’s age (and veteran of 14 years of marriage, and parenting a child who is approaching the teen years) I couldn’t help reading this without a bit of fantasizing—what would it be like to start life over now? There’s sexual freedom and freedom from constrictive responsibilities and freedom to redefine oneself, balanced against the pain of the loss of love and the severing of lifelong relationships. Shortridge doesn’t sugar-coat Mira’s experience—though she tells the story with plenty of humor--and she explores the good and the bad in Mira’s situation equally.
The relationships in the book were rich and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the relationship between Mira and her controlling, strict grandmother, juxtaposed with the relationship between Mira and her rebellious daughter. And I thought even the smaller relationships—Mira’s relationship with her best friend Lannie, and with her estranged brother Fonso--were insightfully written. The only character I wanted to get to know better was Mira’s husband Parker—we get into the heads of some of the other characters besides Mira, including Thea and Mira’s grandmother Nonna--but the portrayal of Parker left me wanting a little more.
I’m not always seduced by a happy ending, but here it was totally appropriate that Mira’s life is in some way healed by her experiences. I enjoyed reading about Mira’s adventures, and I also loved that they both made me think and made me laugh. I look forward to reading Jennie Shortridge’s next book.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Okay, I didn't beg, borrow, or steal these books. But I didn't pay for them, either! I'm trying not to actually acquire books at the moment, because the piles next to my bed are threatening to engulf me while I sleep. And I figure I'll save my book-buying for the holidays (see last post), so I'd better start saving some money now. So the books on this pile are either from a publisher or a gift...oh yeah, one is actually borrowed. So the pile grows...
The Blind Assassin: A Novel, by Margaret Atwood--on my list for a long time, I borrowed this to read for the Orange Prize Project challenge.
Purple Hibiscus: A Novel, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie--I loved her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, so I thought I'd read this for the Orange Prize Project challenge, too.
Who by Fire: A Novel (P.S.), by Diana Spechler--I thought the family that this book is about sounded extremely dysfunctional and would make me feel much better about my own family.
To Catch the Lightning: A Novel of American Dreaming, by Alan Cheuse--I decided to take this review copy partly because I like NPR commentator Alan Cheuse's on-air book reviews, partly because I was intrigued by the idea of a novel based on the life of photographer Edward Curtis.
Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting!, by Sandra Tsing Loh--Loh is a local writer, performance artist and radio personality here, and she's often quite funny, so I'm looking forward to laughing while reading this unusual mommy memoir. I'm also looking forward to feeling less alone as a parent. I hear you don't have to have kids to appreciate this book...
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I love this idea! Amy, who was the mastermind behind Book Blogger Awareness Week, has a new project, called "I'm Buying Books for the Holidays".
Here's what Amy has to say about the project:
Have you been reading the book news lately? It's not pretty. I feel like everyday I'm hearing about plummeting profits, massive lay-offs, book stores and libraries (!!) closing. We are living in dark and difficult book times.So, if you're buying anything for anyone this holiday season, consider buying books :).
Shortly after BBAW (Book Blogger Appreciation Week), when I started to recover from that massive effort, my mind started working again...I thought...what if we could unite and energize this fantastic community of book bloggers and readers to make a conscious effort to "when possible, buy books" for the holidays. It would be a small contribution that we could make to show our appreciation to the people who bring us books, to give back to the industry that we love, and to help save books.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The “gift aura?”
My husband gave me a wonderful book as a gift. It is an 1857 edition of Jane Eyre, the first "cheap edition", I believe. I never would have bought it for myself. It's small and bound in leather, and there were personal reasons he chose it for me. I really love it, both for the reasons it was given, and for the physical book itself. I wonder who else read this copy in its 151 years...I wish it could tell me its story.
What is the best book you ever got as a gift?
Monday, November 3, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
This morning my husband sat down, as he does on a Sunday, to read The New York Times, cup of tea by his side, and I sat at the computer, as I do, to read The New York Times, cup of coffee by mine. Okay, I wasn't actually reading The New York Times only. I had linked over from The Huffington Post, one of the many stops on the twice or thrice daily scans of the political blogs I make in my pre-election madness. I linked to an article in The Times by Frank Rich, a columnist whose opinion I often consult, because the title, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?", intrigued me.
I read through the article, which is about how far we as a nation have (or have not) come in our perceptions of race, as we are (hopefully) on the brink of electing a black man as President. And not only was I engaged with the content of the article, I found myself thinking that even The New York Times has begun to use the web in the way bloggers do. The article was full of links, and not only to other Times articles. Rich's article had many links to explicate his points, and they were from previous articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Gallup Poll site, The Washington Post, the Pew Research Center site, Findlaw for legal professionals (a site to look up court cases), Time Magazine, and even The Huffington Post.
As we both read the same article, I was struck by how different were my husband's and my reading experiences. My husband had his experience reading this op-ed piece the old-fashioned way, turning the pages, smelling the newsprint, and reading this essay in the way I'm sure it was meant to be read, in one long, fluid reading. I read the piece in the modern way, pausing to follow links, the reading itself perhaps fractured or disjointed, but enriched by the links to even more information.
In this political season, I have stopped getting my news from the TV, as it feels like the pundits are merely screaming their party lines at me. And I've stopped reading the physical daily newspaper, as it feels like old news by the time it lands on my doorstep in the morning. But on Sundays I do like my New York Times in the tactile form, as what it lacks in immediacy it makes up for in quality in writing, reporting, and opining.
As for my fiction reading, I still go about it the old-fashioned way. That's partly because for me, reading is more than just absorbing the words on the page. I like to curl up in a comfortable place, have a cup of coffee or some chocolate at hand, physically turn the pages, make notes in the margins, and make reading into a pleasurable experience on more than one level.
But I am thinking about buying a Kindle...
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I've been so distracted by the approaching presidential election that I have been neglecting my blog. That may be because the only reading I'm doing is on the political blogs. Late at night. Like a junkie. I'm not a math person, but I can rattle off polling numbers like an old pro...I can't wait for next Tuesday so I can resume some semblance of a normal life!
The other distraction from blogging at this time of year is Halloween. I happen to live in a neighborhood that pulls trick-or-treaters from all over, so Halloween around here is absolutely insane. No joke, I have to buy at least 1000 pieces of candy. And I don't go for the cheapo stuff, I like to give out what I like to eat--chocolate! So I spend the greater part of the week before Halloween at the discount store, picking up just one more bag of Halloween candy or decoration for the house, or last-minute flourish for the kids' costumes.
If you're an Obama supporter wanting to get into the Halloween spirit, there's a great website you need to check out: Yes We Carve. It has stencils! If you are a McCain supporter, not sure where you can go for Halloween inspiration...
As far as bookish links, here are a couple from boingboing provided by my friend Julie:
"How to make a purse out of a stack of old books."
"Tales of cranky booksellers."
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Two from Austen:
Monica suggested this one:
Got this idea from Literary Feline during her recent contest:
I love a good literary couple. Literary relationships are almost always so much neater than real life relationships. Or if they're messy, it's in a good, literary way.
“Name a favorite literary couple and tell me why they are a favorite. If you cannot choose just one, that is okay too. Name as many as you like–sometimes narrowing down a list can be extremely difficult and painful. Or maybe that’s just me.”
My answers are fairly obvious and upon reading other BTT answers, I find they are completely unoriginal, but here they are:
Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy
Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth
From the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery:
Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe
From The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Miland Kundera:
Tereza and Tomas
From Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing:
Beatrice and Benedick
From Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier:
Ada and Inman
Do you have a favorite literary couple?
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
While I am not an official member of the grammar police, I do notice grammatically offensive signs all around town.
I came across a blog that makes fun of all those signs, and that really made me laugh, so I thought I'd share it with you. Here's the link: The "Blog" of Unnecessary "Quotation" Marks.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I really fell out of the blogging groove last week, partly because it was a really busy week for the kids, and partly because I was too busy obsessing over the upcoming election, and glued to the political blogs I've become addicted to. I'm not going to get (very) political here, but let's say I'm hoping this election brings big changes.
I was very happy to open the mail yesterday, because with it came a copy of UK poet Roger McGough's The Way Things Are that I WON in a giveaway at The Octogon. Leah also sent me a lovely magnetic calendar which I will put on my fridge come 2009. Thanks so much, Leah! I never win anything, so this really made my week!
As many of you already know, Dewey is hosting the semi-annual 24 Hour Read-a-thon again this weekend. I have always wanted to participate in this event, and I've never been able to, as my youngest is too young to foist on anyone for that long, and I'm chauffeuring my middle one and eldest to football games, swim meets, bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, etc. on the weekends. But I'm looking forward to the day I can read for 24 hours, as you might imagine. So I'll be sending my best wishes to all the readers who participate--go, team, go!
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The year is 1976, and as the U.S. celebrates its bicentennial, Daniel Truitt moves from the midwest to Washington, D.C., center of the excitement about the celebration, and about the upcoming election. Daniel's father Pete, a teacher, has been fired from yet another job, and he's got a crazy idea to start an alternative school. Pete's mother Valerie is not so keen on the idea, but she agrees to give it a try. So Pete calls in a favor from an old friend, who rents them a ramshackle mansion in an iffy D.C. neighborhood. Daniel's hippie uncle, his wife, and her lover come to live with them and serve as teachers, and "Our House", a school where the learning is student-directed, is born. Daniel's parents struggle to attract students to the school, but they end up with a ragtag group of kids who don't fit in anywhere else, and the experiment gets under way. But almost as soon as it has begun, outside forces work against the school, and even Daniel's family is in danger of falling apart.
The author definitely brought me back in time to 1976 and my old corduroys and culottes! His descriptions of things I remember often made me smile. I also enjoyed the characters very much. I thought the writer handled Daniel's coming-of-age deftly. He did a good job portraying the difficulties young people have when they realize the adults around them are just as confused and imperfect as they are. There were a few missteps, as when Daniel doesn't go to his parents with some information that will definitely make a difference in their lives--it's not necessarily not believable that Daniel keeps the information to himself, as it's clear that Daniel's trust with his father has been broken, but it was still a little frustrating for me. But overall, the author writes convincingly about a boy's coming of age in a confusing time and coming to terms with an unconventional family.
Monday, October 6, 2008
"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."
"I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars."
"Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him."
I remember reading A Passage to India in high school, and finding it transformative. Now I'm reading Howard's End, and loving every page.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Here's today's Booking Through Thursday question:
What, in your opinion, is the best book that you haven’t liked? Mind you, I don’t mean your most-hated book–oh, no. I mean the most accomplished, skilled, well-written, impressive book that you just simply didn’t like.
Like, for movies–I can acknowledge that Citizen Kane is a tour de force and is all sorts of wonderful, cinematically speaking, but . . . I just don’t like it. I find it impressive and quite an accomplishment, but it’s not my cup of tea.So . . . what book (or books) is your Citizen Kane?
Oooh, interesting question. And my answer is...
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Or as my husband calls it, Wooooothering Heights. I'm a big fan of Emily Bronte's poetry, and I love the other Bronte sisters' novels. I know Wuthering Heights is supposed to be romantic and gothic, but I just found the writing overblown, the characters unbelievable, and the whole thing depressing overall. I like Charlotte's and Anne's more down-to-earth writing better.
What's your least favorite "good" book?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
The other night I sat in bed and read David Sedaris's newest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, in one big gulp. Like his earlier books, this is a series of essays about Sedaris's life--in fact, though he admits that his work is only "realish" and "97 percent true", his body of work feels like it adds up to one long memoir. This book was also hilarious, as all of Sedaris's books are. I kept laughing aloud, which made my husband look up from his book and say, "What?", which meant I had to read the paragraph to him. But it was okay, because the jokes were often better the second time around, and spoken aloud.
Sedaris's books often make me laugh out loud, but I'll admit the laughter is sometimes uncomfortable. This is because Sedaris is not just self-deprecating, he is unrelentingly honest. He says the stuff the rest of us are afraid to say, or at least to say out loud. And he has a finely-tuned sense of the absurdity of human nature. His observations often reveal his acceptance of the dark side of humanity, too. Yep, dark and absurd, that's what we people are, and Sedaris doesn't shy away from showing it.
Sedaris is the ultimate outsider. He writes about his painful and painfully funny childhood, his adolescence, his parents, his addiction to drugs, his homosexuality, his marginal jobs, his life as an expat, and it feels as though all of this has created an outsider in Sedaris, or it all comes from Sedaris feeling like an outsider originally. It's chicken and egg, I suppose, but that outsider's viewpoint is what makes Sedaris so funny and so sad. It's a wonderful perspective for a diarist to have, and while Sedaris's writing is self-aware and sometimes a little depressing, it's never bitter.
This book is also about mid-life, as Sedaris is approaching 50. He is obsessed with death and dying, and his mid-life crisis also includes his attempt to quit smoking. The end of the book is devoted to the three months Sedaris and his partner Hugh Hamrick spent in Japan while Sedaris was trying to quit smoking. Again, his outsider's perspective spears the absurdities of Japanese culture, but he also spears himself, as a westerner trying to learn the language and failing miserably, and trying but never succeeding in understanding Japan.
The outsider in me loved this book and will always like Sedaris's work. It's not a comforting read for anyone approaching middle age, but it will make you laugh.
Litlove! You win a fabulous new paperback copy of Joshua Henkin's novel Matrimony, signed by the author. I'll be contacting you via email with the details...
Everyone, thanks for playing! I hope to have more giveaways in the future, so stay tuned!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
It is finally my turn to give away a copy of the new paperback release of Joshua Henkin's novel Matrimony! The author has kindly offered to inscribe the book for my lucky winner!
Matrimony, a New York Times Notable Book for 2007, is a really lovely story about relationships, and how they change and grow over the years. I reviewed it here, and there are also reviews at some of my favorite blogs:
Bookfoolery and Babble
The Literate Housewife
She is Too Fond of Books
Books and Cooks
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
A Reader's Journal
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Also, you can read author Joshua Henkin's guest posts on these blogs:
Books on the Brain
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Elegant Variation (several posts)
If you want to put your name in the hat for an inscribed copy of Matrimony, just leave me a comment on this post. I'll be conducting the drawing, in my very scientific way (letting one of the kids draw a name out of a colander) this Friday, September 26, after 8pm Pacific Time.
I wanted to let you know about a special time-bound offer that my publisher, Vintage, is making to book groups. Sign up by midnight September 30 and Vintage will set up a phone chat for your book group with me to discuss MATRIMONY. Normally, only five book groups are chosen among the entrants, but I have agreed to talk to all book groups that sign up. Here's the link to learn more, and to sign up: Randon House book group offer. I would be delighted to talk to your book group.What a nice guy!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I have to admit, I am challenge challenged. I have joined several reading challenges over the last year or so, but have yet to actually finish one. I don't think it's the pressure of the challenges that shuts me down. I think it's just that I don't like to follow any sort of reading plan. I like to pick up my next book on a whim, and I'm easily distracted by the next exciting thing that I hear about. Or it could just be that I have the attention span of a gnat.
I've been resisting joining in, but I'm starting to hear the siren song of the challenges once again. This time I think I need to be very particular, and pick some challenges that I have a shot at finishing. Or if I don't finish, at least the attempt will be satisfying.
First of all, I've signed up for The Orange Prize Project, hosted by Wendy. It's "a reading challenge which challenges participants to read all the winners and shortlisted authors honored by the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers."
It's probably too darned ambitious for me: the ultimate goal is to read all the Orange Prize winners and the books shortlisted for the prize..but hey, there's no time limit! You can see the guidelines here, and you can peruse the lists: the Award for New Writers winners and short list, the Orange Prize Fiction Winners and short list, and the Fiction Prize long lists.
At the heart of it, I decided to join up because so many of the books on the lists are books I already want to read. And it gives me a chance to talk about a bunch of books that I have already read, that I liked very much. So off I go...
My first few reads will be, in no particular order:
Purple Hibiscus: A Novel, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
Unless: A Novel, by Carol Shields
More on my new challenges later...
Monday, September 15, 2008
The Book Blogger Awareness Week festivities have begun! Hosted by My Friend Amy, this week features book blogger awards and many, many book giveaways.
There are too many raffles and giveaways for me to mention them all here. But My Friend Amy is giving away books and chocolate today--a winning combination, if you ask me. Head on over My Friend Amy to check out the action!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I was sent a copy of Perri Klass's novel The Mercy Rule by the publisher. I hadn't read her work before, but I had heard good things about her. I also was intrigued by the fact that Klass is a practicing physician as well as a novelist. I thought that would bring an interesting perspective to her work, and I was right.
I recognized so many of the parenting challenges that Klass details in the book. Lucy has two difficult children, a girl going from tween to adolescent, and a 7-year-old boy who is eccentric, to put it kindly. Klass wisely resists "diagnosing" or labeling the kids, but they definitely have some issues. And, like Lucy, we all face bewildering issues as parents, even if they aren't exactly the same as the ones Lucy faces, and we all wish we could smooth the way for our children and help them navigate every awkward social situation, even though we know we shouldn't.
While I enjoyed the parts about Lucy's family life, I was also completely drawn into the parts about Lucy's professional life. The interaction between Lucy and the families of her patients was fascinating, and I would have liked to see even more of this. My problem with the book was that it lacked a clear story. Yes, many things happen, but there is no arc to the story--it's made up of a series of episodes, but it doesn't quite have a cohesive plot. However, since I found the episodes compelling, the lack of plot wasn't a major problem for me--it's more just an observation about the style, and a warning for those who don't like books that aren't story-driven.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how involving I found this warts-and-all look at parenting, and how much I related to its main character, a modern woman trying to balance work and family, and sometimes just barely hanging on to both.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I grew up reading Judy Blume's books, especially those written with girls in mind. I started with Are You There God? Its Me, Margaret, and I worked my way through them up to Forever . . ., which was titillating and much talked about, mostly because the teenage protagonist had sex. I didn't read her novels for adults, and I didn't read the Fudge books until I had kids of my own to read them to. But now I love Fudge, too.
But Judy Blume had a profound effect on me as a tween girl, because her books talked frankly about all the things we girls thought about, but were sometimes too embarrassed or afraid to talk about openly. Of course, this is probably why her books were sometimes banned--how crazy is that?
When I was in the fifth grade, my soon-to-be sixth grade teacher (an amazing teacher, I still remember how great sixth grade was) handed me a copy of a book by Judy Blume called Deenie. It was about a girl with scoliosis who has to wear a brace on her back. I, too, had scoliosis and had just gotten my back brace, so it was amazing for me to receive a book written about my very situation--especially since I knew exactly zero people who wore back braces at that point, and had no idea what I was in for.
So when I opened my email the other day, I was excited to see this flyer telling me that Jill Soloway, a hilarious writer and comedienne, is participating in this tribute to Judy Blume (full disclosure--I know Jill and she's fabulous). Looks like it's a night of "readings, performances and reflections" about Judy Blume's books. What a great idea, wish I'd thought of it myself. Anyone in the L.A. area--should be a great event.
Judy Blume has a great website, by the way. It has resources for kids who are doing reports, her thoughts about censorship, her advice about writing, and a blog. Definitely worth visiting!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Author Guy Fraser-Sampson approached me with the news that he has written a new book in a very popular old series--the Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson. He is reviving Lucia, the beloved fictional social leader of the small English town of Riseholme, and her friend Miss Mapp, from the town of Tilling, written about by author E.F. Benson in the 1920s and 30s. I read some of the books in this series long ago--Queen Lucia and Lucia in London--and loved their wonderful, eccentric English atmosphere.
The new book, published by Troubadour, and endorsed by E.F. Benson's estate, has just been released. Author Fraser-Sampson says that the new Mapp and Lucia book will be called Major Benjy, and it "fills in the chronological gap between Miss Mapp and Mapp and Lucia, that is to say that it is set in the earlier part of the summer that Lucia and Georgie first arrive in Tilling."
I'm sure Benson has been compared to Wodehouse, and certainly, like Wodehouse, he created memorable, charmingly idiosyncratic characters. I'm glad Fraser-Sampson has been able to continue the series, and look forward to reading his offering.
Here is a quote from Queen Lucia that gives a humorous glimpse into the main character:
Though [Lucia was] essentially autocratic, her subjects were allowed and even encouraged to develop their own minds on their own lines, provided always that those lines met at the junction where she was stationmaster.The Troubador site has more information about the book (and a place to buy it), and here is a link to the author's website. He also has a literary blog!
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I remember reading and liking Strout's first novel, Amy and Isabelle, around the time that it came out. But Strout's new book, Olive Kitteridge: Fiction, made a much bigger impact on me. Olive Kitteridge is not a novel, but a book of thirteen short stories, linked by the character of Olive Kitteridge, a cranky middle school math teacher in a small town in Maine. Some of the stories are from Olive's point of view, others are about other characters in the town who have some relationship, large or small, with Olive, and the stories span a time period from Olive's youth to her old age.
I really admire Strout's writing--it's economical, yet gorgeous, and she has real insight into the human condition. She uses small details to create scenes of great emotional power. Her characters are complicated, and though they live small-town lives, they deal with all the big issues--suicide, addiction, loss, bad marriages, miscommunication--really, the gamut of human issues.
Strout paints us a nuanced picture of Olive, and of the community she lives in, by telling us stories that center not just on Olive, but on the people around Olive; her husband, son, and neighbors. We see Olive's misanthropic, difficult, angry side, and we also see how, as a strong woman and teacher, she has strengthened those around her. Olive is a great character because we both love and hate her; we identify with her and yet abhor many of her actions. And what's brilliant about this book is that the small, seemingly disparate portions add up to a vibrant whole--for example, a particular story may only have a tiny bit about Olive in it, but that tiny incident will inform some action of Olive's later in the book.
The book is definitely dark. It deals with a foiled suicide attempt, anorexia, adultery, prostitution, illness and death. Small town Maine, as depicted here, seems to be a world that knows the dark side, though it is not without hope. But the sadness feels emotionally honest, and I know many such stories really exist in small towns, as elsewhere. And even though the book was sad, it was compelling, and I really enjoyed every page, and highly recommend it. I'll definitely put Strout's earlier novel, Abide With Me, on my TBR list.
Friday, August 29, 2008
I like anything that encourages people to write.
If you want a taste of some really good writing that appeared on the site, read the essay by the first contest winner, Murr Brewster, who, it would appear, is a postal worker with a heart of gold and a way with words. It's really good.
I think this could even encourage me to write...
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Over at My Friend Amy, Amy has decided that we book bloggers need some appreciation, so she has created Book Blogger Appreciation Week. To fully celebrate book bloggers, she has also created awards, so you can nominate your favorite book blogs.
Here's the text of her post about the awards:
It's time to open nominations for Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008! Listed below are the categories of awards. There are many. You may not have a nomination for each award. It doesn't matter. Nominate up to two blogs per category and send an email to BbawawardsATgmailDOTcom with your choices. You DO NOT have to have a blog to make nominations. Comments left on this post will NOT be accepted as nominations. Each category will be narrowed to the top five blogs by number of nominations received, so don't be shy!!! Support your favorite blogs and bloggers! Nominations will close on August 31st. And the categories for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008 are:
Best General Book Blog
Best Kidlit Blog
Best Christian/Inspirational Fiction Blog
Best Literary Fiction Blog
Best Book Club Blog
Best Romance Blog
Best Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense Blog
Best Non-fiction Blog
Best Young Adult Lit Blog
Best Book/Publishing Industry Blog
Best Challenge Host
Best Community Builder
Best Cookbook Blog
Best History/Historical Fiction Blog
Most Eclectic Taste
Best Name for a Blog
Best Published Author Blog
Best Book published in 2008
Most Extravagant Giveaways
Best Book Community site
Write In--think we missed something? Write in your category and nomination and if there are enough other write-ins of the same category it will be added!
So go ahead, nominate your favorite blogs for an award. I'm sure they deserve it!
And thanks to Amy for all the appreciation!
Here are the rules:
I am going to list three categories of books. 3 MUST Read Books, 3 Keep Your Eyes on These, and 3 Look For These Soon. Keeping with the theme, I am going to tag at least 3 bloggers. They should put these same lists on their blog but SUBTRACT one book from each list and ADD one of their own. Then they should tag at least 3 more bloggers. It will be fun to see how the lists change as they go around the blogosphere. Please come back to this post and leave a comment so I can see how the lists are changing. Since this is Book Buzz…please keep your lists to titles released in 2007-2009.
So, here goes…
[Stars are next to my additions]
3 MUST Read Books:
When We Were Romans, by Matthew Kneale3 Keep Your Eyes on These:
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly
*Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell
Monique and the Mango Rains, by Kris Holloway
Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill
*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer
3 Look For These Soon:
Home, by Marilynne Robinson
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
*Indignation, by Philip Roth
3 Tags to keep this meme going:
Bybee at Naked Without Books!
Lisa at Books on the Brain
Tara at Books and Cooks
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
As I've said many times, good characters really make a book for me, and Henkin's characters are very well realized. Carter, Julian's best friend/rival, was a character I enjoyed disliking. He has a huge chip on his shoulder and has a hard time growing up--he's flawed, like real people are--and his development throughout the story felt real.
Not only did I relate to the main characters, I also enjoyed the colorful minor characters, especially curmudgeonly (or maybe it's long-suffering) Professor Chesterfield, Julian's first writing teacher. His commandments about writing made me laugh: "Thou shalt never use pass-the-salt dialogue, Thou shalt populate your stories with homo sapiens, Thou shalt not confuse a short story with a Rubik's Cube." All good advice, I'm sure! In fact, Chesterfield gives a nugget of writing advice that is among the best I've ever heard, and gets around the old adage that you should only write what you know: "...you should write what you know about what you don't know or what you don't know about what you know. Keep it close enough to home that your heart is in it but far enough away that the imagination can take over." I read this to my husband, who occasionally teaches screenwriting, and he said, "Ooh, that's a good way to say it," and wrote it down.
The novel also has a wonderful sense of place. I happen to know many of the places Henkin describes, which made the book feel familiar and comfortable. But even the places I've never been felt familiar; to me that's a sign that Henkin's descriptions really ring true.
I've rounded up some information for you regarding this book. Author Joshua Henkin has a great website you should visit, and he did a really interesting interview about book groups on Lisa's blog, Books on the Brain.
Matrimony, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 2007, is being released in paperback this month.
And now for the BONUS:
In honor of this book's release in paperback, I'll be holding a drawing for a brand spanking new copy of the paperback edition of Matrimony during the week of September 22nd. More details then!
Isn't the new paperback cover nice?
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I'm back from a week on Cape Cod, where we get together with my husband's family every summer. We had gorgeous weather, and I had lots of time to read on the beach and at the pool, which was a little slice of heaven. However, there were pitfalls, too, including several plagues--lice and a vicious stomach virus. We managed to stay uninfected until the day we were leaving, when my littlest one came down with the stomach virus, and vomited cross-country on the plane ride. Sorry for the grisly details, but really, it was a trial for me. I don't like plane travel at the best of times, and this was a little slice of hell. However, we are home, and my small one has her appetite back--at last!
All in all, a great vacation for reading! (Mostly because my kids were totally engaged with their cousins and I barely saw them!) What have you read on vacation this year?