Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season!

I didn’t mean to take such a long break from blogging, but it happened anyway! Holiday travel took it out of me, and I couldn’t get the hang of blogging away from home. Not to mention I nearly sprained my jaw from overeating. But I do love this time of year…

When people know you love to read, they try to find bookish presents for you. My husband toyed with the idea of buying me an eBook reader, but I am reluctant to go down that road, and I’m not even sure why myself. I just can't imagine reading from a screen being as satisfying as paging through a book.

My husband found this review of the Sony version on Gizmodo, a gadget blog he reads. Though I haven’t tried an ereader yet, and I’m not going to be a naysayer until I do, I had to nod with recognition at the woman’s comments:
She feels disoriented without the constant, tactile feedback of the book's thickness—that unconscious reminder of just how much of the story is left to go (are there really enough pages remaining for Mr. Darcy and Lizzie to work things out??). Sure, there are page numbers on the screen, but it's not the same.

I found her reaction simple and somewhat profound.
Gizmodo also had a post about Amazon's highly promoted "Kindle", their version of the ebook reader. I haven't read any real reviews of it, but I'd be interested to hear what people think. Do any of you have an ebook reader? If so, what type? And what do you think of it?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quite a challenge

Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza is hosting a wonderful challenge, The Japanese Literature Challenge, which runs from November 30th through January 3oth, 2008. The parameters are that you have to read three pieces of Japanese Literature, from any genre, and post your opinions on your blog.

I'm a little late in joining in, but I am going to try to do this one--though I'm not sure how far I'll get.

There are so many amazing pieces of Japanese literature out there--this is just the push I need to get reading some of them. And Bellezza is offering gorgeous prizes, by the way. So I have to urge you to join in, too!

I'm going to start by blowing the dust off something that's been on my bedside table for months: Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Then I'll see what else strikes my fancy--there are so many great books to choose from.

And if you are thinking you want to do this but aren't sure what to read, Bellezza has put together a nice list of Japanese literature on her blog.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Golden Compass, and odds and ends

Yesterday I took my sons to see the movie version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, after my eldest had raced through the three books of Pullman's series His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass). I haven't read the books, so I came to the movie without too many expectations. My son, however, had many criticisms--mostly about how the filmmakers changed things from the book--which he whispered to me in an outraged tone through the course of the film. There's nothing like an indignant 11-year-old! But most egregious to him was how the ending, he said, was cut off.

When we read about the tortuous process of making the movie (on Wikipedia), it became clear that the filmmakers had had to make many changes, in content and in theme. In theme, to appease Christian groups who were upset by the story's anti-religious themes, and in content to force the story into a movie-length one, that stands on its own but is also obviously a set-up for a sequel.

This last is what really bugged my son, and what also bugs me about film adaptations like The Lord of the Rings. I guess it has to be done if you're going to do a series of films, but the cliffhanger ending, while fine on TV, just doesn't work in a theater. Especially when you know you'll be waiting at least a year for the next installment of the story.

I haven't posted much lately, having been extremely busy with the kids. Also busy with my striking, picketing husband (see United Hollywood for updates on that crazy situation), and the holidays in general. But I'm still reading.

My book group has chosen (okay, I pushed this one) Anne Enright's Booker-winning The Gathering for our next book, and I'm very excited to read it. And I'm finishing Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, which has been a fantastic read. More on that soon.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kid Stuff

My eldest son is barreling through the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials Trilogy before the movie version of The Golden Compass comes out next week. Having an 11-year-old avid reader in the house reminds me of what reading was like for me when I was a kid. My son reads obsessively, and if he finishes something that's part of a series, he's uncomfortable until he has the next book in his hands. We practically ran to the library the other day so he could get The Subtle Knife out, after putting The Golden Compass down minutes before. It's times like this I'm glad our local branch is only three blocks away!

I haven't read The Golden Compass, but I'm planning to take the kids to the movie. My son and most of his friends are waiting impatiently for this one to come out, so we'll probably go opening day, or soon thereafter. If anyone out there has seen a sneak preview, let me know what you think!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Local stuff

I was barely coming out of a pie-induced daze, when I turned on the news and heard that there's yet another wildfire here in Los Angeles. It isn't that surprising, since it has been very dry and warm here this fall.

I had to post a link to this wild picture of today's fire in Malibu, as seen from the beach in Santa Monica. It's from local site LAist. The fire has destroyed 35 buildings, and is about 25% contained. I'm hoping they get it under control soon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Widow's War, by Sally Gunning--a review

Looking for local color during my summer vacation in Cape Cod, I went to the bookstore and picked up The Widow's War: A Novel, by Sally Gunning, which was recommended by the woman behind the counter there.

The Widow’s War is a historical novel that takes place in the very village in Cape Cod where my family stays, what used to be called Satucket, but is now Brewster. It is the story of Lyddie Berry, who is widowed when her beloved husband Edward, a whaler, drowns in Cape Cod Bay. The year is 1761, and then, in colonial New England, widows typically got their “thirds”, a third of their husband’s estate, until they remarried or died, with the rest of the estate going to the male heir. Lyddie, unhappy living with her daughter and overbearing son-in-law, challenges both the law and the customs of the time when she fights for her freedom and a house of her own.

The story is written in clean, clear prose and Gunning creates a strong and appealing main character in Lyddie Berry. I found myself truly curious about Lyddie’s fate, so I read later into the night than usual to find out what happened to her.

I read this right after finishing Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, so it was interesting to read about Lyddie’s neighbor, the Indian Sam Cowett, and his relationship to both Lyddie and the English community. Based on what I learned in Mayflower, it seemed realistic that almost one hundred years later, Gunning shows that some Indians lived separate from, but on the fringes of, the white community, and some had taken on the Christian religion, but all, whether living among or apart from the English, were considered “other” and regarded with suspicion.

Overall, I felt this was a well-researched book, and I found it both entertaining and informative.

As a bonus for me, a visitor to the area in Cape Cod where the book is set, the author gives a “tour” of the places in the novel, relating them to present-day landmarks. It was wonderful for me, since I had just been there and could picture just what Gunning wrote about. She also describes the architecture, so you get a sense of how the people lived, and again, if you’re a visitor to the area, you can see real examples of these “Cape Cod” houses that still exist. If my family returns to the spot, I’ll be sure to explore the area with the help of Gunning’s road map.

Friday, November 16, 2007


cash advance

Get a Cash Advance

Here's a little thing I got from Maggie Reads. I think they must just count up the polysyllabic words or something...but hey, I'll take it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Booking Through Thursday--Preservatives

Today's Booking Through Thursday question is entitled Preservatives:

Today’s question comes from Conspiracy-Girl:
I’m still relatively new to this meme so I’m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I'm more of a preservationist--I don't often write in books. I guess I used to when I was in college. But I do like to take notes while reading, so what I do is use an index card as a bookmark, and write notes on that. I actually have a card file I put these cards into, but I almost never look at them again. But it's somehow comforting to know that if I really wanted to, I could look up some amazing passage I remember reading in Anna Karenina.

I also dogear (is that a verb? I don't think so) books sometimes, if I don't have a notecard handy. But then I usually have no idea why I did it, and have to guess when re-reading a page what it was I thought was so worthy of looking back at.

How 'bout you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick--a review

On a historical kick this fall, I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s book Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. This book is Philbrick’s examination of the voyage of the Mayflower, the settlement of Plymouth Colony, and fifty years later, what came to be known as “King Philip’s War”, the bloody conflict that erupted between the English settlers and the Indians they displaced.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book—it was never dry, it was actually a page-turner. Philbrick is a very good storyteller, and he really makes the characters come alive. The book is a bit of a myth-buster, which is always entertaining, but Philbrick also attempts to be fair in the portrayal of both the Pilgrims’ and the Indians’ issues. This was what was so engaging and entertaining for me. I had not really read anything on this subject since learning about it in high school. So Philbrick’s examination of the Indians’ side of things, and his use of really interesting diaries and other primary sources, were eye-opening.

I think I’ll let Philbrick do the talking, as he sums up his book quite well himself. The Pilgrims, who had not been free to worship as they pleased in Restoration England, had moved to Holland, but were afraid of assimilating there, so they planned to move to America. Philbrick summarizes their early experiences, coming to an area of New England where the Indian population had recently been decimated by plague:

The Pilgrims had come to America not to conquer a continent but to re-create their modest communities in Scrooby and in Leiden. When they arrived at Plymouth in December 1620 and found it emptied of people, it seemed as if God had given them exactly what they were looking for. But as they quickly discovered during that first terrifying fall and winter, New England was far from uninhabited. There were still plenty of Native people, and to ignore or anger them was to risk annihilation. The Pilgrims’ religious beliefs played a dominant role in the decades ahead, but it was their deepening relationship with the Indians that turned them into Americans.

By forcing the English to improvise, the Indians prevented Plymouth Colony from ossifying into a monolithic cult of religious extremism. For their part, the Indians were profoundly influenced by the English and quickly created a new and dynamic culture full of Native and Western influences. For a nation that has come to recognize that one of its greatest strengths is its diversity, the first fifty years of Plymouth Colony stand as a model of what American might have been from the very beginning.

By the midpoint of the seventeenth century, however, the attitudes of many of the Indians and English had begun to change. With only a fraction of their original homeland remaining, more and more young Pokanokets claimed it was time to rid themselves of the English. The Pilgrims’ children, on the other hand, coveted what territory the Pokanokets still possessed and were already anticipating the day when the Indians had, through the continued effects of disease and poverty, ceased to exist. Both sides had begun to envision a future that did not include the other.

And so the stage is set for King Philip’s War, a war that upset the delicate balance between the English and the native peoples, and changed their relationship forever. And afterward, the English practices, while not out and out war, effectively wiped out or relocated the Indians, so that ultimately the English owned America.

Overall, I enjoyed Philbrick’s fresh take on this historical territory, and his engaging storytelling style.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Pictures from the Writer's Rally today

Yesterday I picketed with my husband (and actors Eva Longoria, Nicolette Sheridan, Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives, and William Peterson of CSI--because SAG members were out supporting the writers). My feet were killing me when I got home, but the support from passersby was amazing!

Today the WGA picketed at Fox studios only, and held a rally. There were thousands of writers there, and my husband took some pictures for me on his phone. Here they are:

And here are the actresses (Eva Longoria, Nicolette Sheridan, Marcia Cross) picketing yesterday with their showrunner, writer/producer Marc Cherry. Not such a clear photo, but that's why I'm not a paparazzo:

Booking Through Thursday: Volume

Here is this week's Booking Through Thursday question, entitled Volume:

Would you say that you read about the same amount now as when you were younger? More? Less? Why?

Here's my answer: I read less than I used to, but only because of time constraints. Being a mother of three takes up a whole lot of reading time. And worse than that, parenting young children makes you so tired that you can't read as much in bed as you'd like. I just fall asleep--I can't help it. That's why I sometimes rate books according to whether or not I could stay awake reading them.

I must say, though, that I still read as much as possible. And I read a wider variety of books. I do feel that there are so many great books out there that I haven't gotten to yet, and I'm behind the eightball, so to speak--there will never be enough time to read everything I want to read!

How about you? Do you read more or less than you did when you were younger? Why?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Writers Strike Update

As you probably know, my husband is on strike. Right now he's picketing in front of Universal Studios. He's tired when he comes home every day--picketing is physically demanding, and yet boring at the same time. But he's out there for the cause.

But just what is the cause? Well, here's a video produced by members of the Writers Guild to answer that very question, in case you're interested. There's also more info at

If you're not interested, sorry for this personal post! I'll get back to books next post, promise!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Half-finished books, a writer's strike, and a trip down memory lane

I'm stalled a bit in my reading, half way through Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, (which I'm reading for the Outmoded Authors Challenge) and half way through Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky, which I'm reading for my book group meeting (this Wednesday night--yikes!).

I'd like to blame the AMPTP (Hollywood studios). That's because my husband is a writer and is probably going on strike tomorrow. He's got his red WGA (that's Writers Guild of America) t-shirt ready to wear, and he's thinking of printing up blank signs for himself and his co-writers to carry on the picket lines. Get the joke? Writers not working=blank signs.

Needless to say, we've been on an emotional roller coaster at our house for the last couple of weeks. The strike looms, officially starting at 12:01 Monday morning. But there's word that there is some negotiating going on at this very moment, and tentative hopefulness that there is headway being made in the back rooms to avoid the picketing tomorrow. So the nail-biting continues until morning.

Maybe if the negotiations are fruitful at the last minute, I won't have to figure out how to feed my children on ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese for the next six months, after all...but I'm not holding my breath.

If anyone's interested in a more detailed (and writer-friendly) take on the whole WGA strike, visit Deadline Hollywood Daily or United Hollywood.

I also took a detour around my other reading and read two books about Scottish childhoods, in honor of my dad visiting this weekend. One, called A Childhood in Scotland, by Christian Miller, (and mentioned by Tara at Books and Cooks recently) had absolutely nothing to do with how my father grew up, but was a fascinating read anyway. It told the story of poor-little-rich-girl Miller, who grew up in a castle (that clearly cost a fortune to keep), but who was deprived of warmth and attention. Just the descriptions of the details of running the estate are worth reading, and the eccentricities of the landed gentry were by turns amusing and horrifying.

I also read The Heart is Highland: Memories of a Childhood in a Scottish Glen, by Maisie Steven. It's a charming little memoir about life in a glen near Loch Ness in the 1930s and through WWII. The prose isn't scintillating, but I found the book sweetly funny, and it took my dad, who read it through in a few hours, on a nice trip down memory lane. And fortunately for me, the memories it brought up for my dad about his childhood sparked some great conversations on our visit this weekend.

Does anyone else have a particular book that brings up (hopefully pleasant) childhood memories? I'd love to hear about it...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Blindness, by Jose Saramago--a review

I finished Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness a few weeks ago, but had put off writing about it (mostly because I’m a procrastinator). But when Southern California was hit by the wildfires last week, it made me think about Blindness again, and suddenly the novel seemed especially relevant.

Blindness is the story of a mysterious epidemic that causes a “white blindness” that descends on an unnamed city, eventually striking most of its citizens. Among the first to become blind are an opthalmologist and some of his patients, and they are quickly imprisoned by authorities in an abandoned mental institution, to quarantine them. The opthalmologist’s wife retains her sight, but wants to stay with her husband, so she pretends to be blind. And so she is witness to the horrors of the epidemic, and helps the blind where she can. As the epidemic widens and society’s institutions fail, the small band of blind people led by the doctor’s wife have to adapt quickly to survive the horrific circumstances of a world without sight.

In this beautifully written parable, Jose Saramago explores just how fragile the concept of civilization is, and how quickly society breaks down in the face of disaster. It is an amazing exercise, writing this “what if” scenario, in which the writer brings society to almost total breakdown. But in thinking about our world today, it became clear to me that human beings often face situations--war, tsunami, wildfire—that strip away the trappings of civilization, and sometimes we are left only with human beings’ baser instincts.

Saramago’s writing style, disorienting at first, perfectly suits the subject matter; Saramago writes with a lack of punctuation, quotation marks, and attribution of quotes. I haven’t read anything else Saramago has written, but I’ve heard that this is his usual style, so he didn’t just employ it to illustrate his point here. However, it does so very well—at first one feels impaired and disoriented while reading, and meaning is occluded, but then one gets one’s bearings, and the writing becomes clearer, easier to navigate.

There is also something to be said for having to slow down while reading. I found there was a page-turning quality to the book, and I read it far past my bed-time, but Saramago’s unorthodox punctuation made me slow down, so I missed less than I might have from rushing.
I really enjoyed Saramago’s writing, too, because of his considerable descriptive powers. He describes his plague-ridden world without pulling any punches, describing a world full of excrement, vomit, the bloated bodies of the unburied dead, but also beautifully describes unexpected moments of humanity, the relief of cleansing rain, the “dog of tears”, who licks the salty tears of the opthalmologist’s wife.

I have to admit that I was hesitant to pick up this book, knowing the subject matter beforehand. I don’t generally read dystopian, allegorical or phantasmagoric fiction, because, to be honest, it often makes me uncomfortable. But this novel surprised me. Yes, it is unrelenting, but it is also beautiful. It was a page-turner, and it was unexpectedly funny.

There were times when I felt that Saramago’s version of a blind world didn’t play out the way that my version would; occasional moments I had trouble suspending disbelief. But that didn’t make it a less entertaining, or meaningful read for me. I found that the beauty of the language, the vividness of the imagery, and the urgency of the narrative more than made up for any doubts I had about the particulars of Saramago’s portrait of a world falling apart.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Read With Abandon?

This week's Booking Through Thursday question intrigued me so I decided to join in.

Today’s suggestion is from Cereal Box Reader

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

I hate to abandon books, generally, because I hate to feel like I've failed. I just don't like to give up. But over the last few years I've also decided that I don't want to waste time reading something that just doesn't grab me, for whatever reason. So many books, so little time, as they say. I've always got so many other books sitting on my shelf waiting for me, beckoning to I've gotten a lot better at giving up on books that just aren't doing it for me.

Some of the (now many) books I've abandoned, and why (if I can remember):

1. The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. I know this is one of those books that people absolutely adore, but I couldn't get through it. However, I was young when I tried it, and I might like it better now.

2. Ulysses, by James Joyce. I tried to read this with an accompanying lecture-on-tape course, thinking that would help me understand it. I fell asleep reading it too many nights in a row, so I just gave up. I figure some day I'll take a real, live college course about this book. Maybe.

3. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie. I have no idea what this book is about. I got about ten pages in and gave up. And Midnight's Children is one of my all-time favorite books ever. Oh well.

4. A Whistling Woman, by A.S. Byatt. I loved Possession, and I got more than half way through this one, but it never grabbed me. Just didn't care what happened to the characters.

C'mon, tell me, what books have you given up on?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A word about the fires here in Southern California

Yesterday I went on a crazy impromptu trip to Disneyland with all three kids, because it was parent conference day and I had already met with my kids' teachers. It was such a strange day, because Orange County and San Diego Counties were ablaze with wildfires. I didn't know it at the time, or I wouldn't have driven down into the ash-laden air to spend the day outdoors. Not that it was much better up here in L.A. County. In fact, I thought I would be escaping the smoky air by heading south. But instead I was driving into even more smoke. The hot Santa Ana winds and the orange light from the smoke in the air made the day at the theme park a more surreal experience than usual.

When I got into the car to drive home, I heard on the radio that 500,000 people have had to be evacuated from their homes in San Diego County, 1300 homes and businesses have been destroyed, and two people have died. I don't know anyone personally who was evacuated, but friends and relatives of friends have had to grab a few possessions and go. What a stark contrast to our carefree day at the Magic Kingdom.

Here's hoping the winds die down soon, and the firefighters get the fires under control. The article in the L.A. Times gives a good account of what is going on, and the photo galleries in the article are worth looking at.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The 24-Hour Read-a-thon this Saturday

Dewey at The Hidden Side of a Leaf is hosting a really great event this weekend--the 24 Hour Read-a-thon. I was hoping to be a "cheerleader" for this event, but I've got many kid-related scheduling conflicts--and I'm really sorry I'll miss it.

It starts on Saturday, October 20, at @ 2pm GMT, and I encourage anyone who has any time on Saturday to check out the details and find one of the many ways to participate.

And I'd love to hear who is planning to take part, and what your experiences are like if you do!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Where Have I Been?

Really. It's a good question. I turned around and more than a week went by without blogging. How in the world could that have happened? Well, it was the kids, the darned things take up so much of my time. But I did do some reading. And a little book-buying. You know, just to keep my hand in.

Here is the most recent pile of books, some of which were mooched, some found at my mom's house, and some bought full price at my very local bookstore. I actually have an account at that bookstore, which is a very dangerous thing. I walk in, I say, "I want this book, and could you put it on my account?" And then, miracle of miracles, I walk out with said book. Feels like the fifties, no? However, the bill does arrive at the end of the month, and it sometimes comes as a very nasty surprise!

I'm also pretty far into Of Human Bondage, which is a great book. Why haven't I read this before now? Here's a quote about reading, specifically a lonely child's awakening to the magical power of reading:

One day a good fortune befell him, for he hit upon Lane's translation of The Thousand Nights and a Night. He was captured first by the illustrations, and then he began to read, to start with, the stories that dealt with magic, and then the others; and those he liked he read again and again. He could think of nothing else. He forgot the life about him. He had to be called two or three times before he would come to his dinner. Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.
Ah, reading...what power it has!

Details of the pile:
  • A Childhood in Scotland, by Christian Miller--I had read about this on a blog, and can't for the life of me find the entry again, so sorry to whoever I would have linked to! If you read this, let me know, so you can get the credit you deserve! My father grew up in Scotland, so I'm always attracted to books like this...
  • Witch Child, by Celia Rees. Another family obsession. This is a children's book that I had heard compared to The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, which I had read as a child and liked, and recently reread. So I ordered it from my son's Scholastic Book Catalog!
  • Uncensored: Views & (Re)views, by Joyce Carol Oates. I had to get this book after seeing it referenced on a blog, and again I can't find the reference. What is up with me and my memory? I remember seeing something on a blog, and then when I go back to where I thought I saw it, I can't find it. It's like the things you lose around the house, and you can picture where they are, but then you go to that spot, and there's nothing there. Arghh! Anyway, on the back it says, "In thirty-eight diverse and provocative pieces, Joyce Carol Oates freely speaks her mind on some of literature's greatest modern authors." It's supposed to be great.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Outmoded Authors Challenge

I'm finally finalizing my picks for the Outmoded Authors Challenge that Imani is hosting. I just love the tagline for the challenge--Exploring authors kicked out of the "in crowd"!

The challenge doesn't specify how many books or authors you have to read, you just have to self-regulate so you can finish by February 29, 2008. I love that, too--so I can be a little wimpy by not choosing too many books, and then maybe I'll actually finish a challenge for the first time!

I'll be reading Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, Kinds of Love, by May Sarton, and The Heart of Midlothian, by Sir Walter Scott. And if I make it through those, I'm going to reread Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart, as a little bonus, because it is one of my all-time favorites.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

C'mon, Everybody's Doing It...

I’ve seen this meme everywhere lately (Matt at A Variety of Words, Superfast Reader, Dewey, Literary Feline, pages turned) and since I’m a big LibraryThing user I had to do it. This is the list of LibraryThing’s top 106 titles tagged “unread”. The big question seems to be "why 106?", but nobody has an answer...

Feel free to join in! Bold the titles you’ve read. Italicize the titles you have on your bookshelf but haven’t read.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Everything By Design, by Alan Lapidus--a review

I received and just read an advance copy of Alan Lapidus's new memoir, Everything by Design: My Life as an Architect. Lapidus is an architect for the rich and famous, a designer of hotels, casinos, and other large buildings for the likes of Donald Trump, Aristotle Onassis, John Tishman, and the Disney corporation.

Alan Lapidus is also the son of the architect Morris Lapidus, best known for his fantasy hotels the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc in Miami. The elder Lapidus's style was loved by his consumers, but denigrated by critics as schlock. And though his son Alan worked with him for years, Morris Lapidus could only be described as difficult, as a father and as a business partner.

But even if Alan got almost no recognition from his father, he did learn valuable lessons about crowd-pleasing from him. Alan’s buildings are highly functional, and they have flair. And he is a great storyteller. You get the feeling that his friends listened to his stories about his life and work and said, “You’ve got to write a book about this.”

Lapidus doesn’t write about design per se, but he does write in a readable style about the logic he employs in designing his buildings, and how these buildings do or don’t get built. He also takes us behind the scenes in places like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Disney World, which are places that have their own logic and rules, are almost never seen by the public, and are fascinating to hear about. Also fun to read about are the personalities of the people, companies and institutions Lapidus has designed for, including Donald Trump, Bob Guccione, Michael Eisner and the rest of Disney, the CIA, and many others. He talks about the red tape he has had to cut through, the corporate cultures he’s had to navigate, and the cultural barriers he has had to straddle. It’s all very entertaining, both as a personal memoir and as a look at the foibles and excesses of the real estate world of the late twentieth century.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

And The Winner Is...

Well, I threw all your names into a kitchen colander and my eight-year-old son picked...Matt from A Guy's Moleskine Notebook! Yea, Matt! Congratulations, you have just won an all-expenses paid trip, no, wait, that's another contest. You have won a brand-new copy of The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Please email me your mailing address and I will send it off to you.

Matt, let me know what you think when you read it. Hope you like it!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Books I Now Want

I almost always read the NY Times Book Review on Sundays and find a bunch of books I want to read (I know other bloggers who do this, like Dewey, whose blog I always check to see if we're coveting the same things!).

This week there's a review of Ann Patchett's new novel Run, and you can also read the first chapter (a great feature of the Book Review). I have enjoyed everything of Patchett's that I've read, especially Bel Canto, but also The Magician's Assistant and The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel. I really enjoy her style. As the review says, "she prefers nouns and verbs to crowded flights of lyrical adjectives and adverbs, and she doesn't dally excessively over a pretty phrase...small wonder, then, that her books tend to be such solid, weight-bearing constructions. The wonder is that they so often manage to be transportingly beautiful too."

I'm also happy to hear that one of my favorite playwrights, Alan Bennett, who wrote The History Boys: A Play and Lady in the Van, has written a new novella, The Uncommon Reader: A Novella. The NY Times reviewer didn't love it, but I think I'll have to check it out. Again, you can read the first chapter here.

There is also a review, by Pico Iyer, of the Turkish writer and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk's most recent book, Other Colors: Essays and a Story, a collection of essays and one story. I've never read Pamuk, but I'd like to at some point. I may start with his fiction, however. There is one section of this book called "My Books are My Life", and the review mentions that Pamuk has a library of 12,000 books--how great is that? Makes me want to read it...

And a reminder--don't forget to let me know if you want to put your name in the hat for my drawing for a copy of Alan Weisman's book, The World Without Us, by leaving me a comment on my last post (dated Friday, September 28th) before Tuesday at midnight, Pacific time.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Book Giveaway

I just received my book club selection from my local public radio station (KPCC in Pasadena, a great station by the way), where I get their book picks for sponsoring them. This time they chose to read The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman.

Unfortunately for me, but perhaps fortunately for you, my husband already has this book--just finished reading it, in fact. So I'm giving it away, to anyone who leaves me a comment saying they'd like me to put their name into the hat for a little drawing.

Here's the blurb they sent with the book:

"Using a combination of science and history, speculation and fact, Weisman explores the possibilities of a human-free world. Within days, the New York subways would be flooded and just a short 20 years later, the streets above would turn to rivers. Citing examples of current human-free areas such as Chernobyl and Korea's Demilitarized Zone, Weisman exposes the earth's inherent power to heal itself. No matter how large the imprint we leave, Weisman argues, the earth, in time, will recover. I'm certain you will enjoy this enthralling read."

I used to be really hooked on this kind of book when I was a kid, but of course I only read fictionalized versions, like George Stewart's Earth Abides. So now that I'm a grown-up, I think I'll read this and see if the subject still holds any fascination...

So I'l send the lucky winner my extra copy--just leave me a comment to let me know if you want to be entered in my little drawing. Let's see, I guess I need a deadline--let's say Tuesday, October 2 at midnight pacific time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard, a review

I ended my summer reading Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees: A Novel on a beach in Cape Cod, which happens to be where the novel is set. I love that experience—reading about the place you’re visiting, while you’re there. That kind of reading experience can really open my eyes to a new place, making me seek out details about the place that the writer mentions, and generally enhancing my visit. This, of course, is only if the book is good.

Fortunately, The Maytrees is good.

The Maytrees is the story of the relationship between Toby Maytree and the woman he marries, Lou Bigelow. Toby is a poet whose output is small but serious, and who works in construction when he isn’t writing. Lou paints, and reads, and leads a simple, ascetic, nearly silent, life.

They are part of a bohemian group of artists and intellectuals who live in a strange place, the tip of Cape Cod, a spit of land thrusting into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by sand, sea and sky in a way that few other places are.

I love that Dillard has set the book in this place. Some might call it godforsaken--it is certainly off the beaten track--the parabolic dunes she writes of, which have been sculpted by powerful winds, look like a lunar, not an earthly, landscape. This spare yet beautiful setting perfectly match Dillard’s simple story and spare yet beautiful prose.

Before The Maytrees, the work of Annie Dillard’s that I had read, and was enchanted by, was non-fiction, but it had the same lyrical language, and the same fascination with the physical world. In An American Childhood and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it is clear that she is inseparable from her interaction with the physical world—it makes her who she is. In The Maytrees, she writes poetically and profoundly about the setting, the dunes of Provincetown, the vast ocean, the creatures who live in or near it, the night sky above it.

It did not surprise me when I found out that Dillard wrote her masters thesis on Thoreau’s Walden, focusing on the use of Walden Pond as “the central image and focal point for Thoreau's narrative movement between heaven and earth." In this book she seamlessly integrates the natural world with the characters’ emotional worlds—they are inextricable.

Together Toby and Lou have a son, Pete, who grows into more of a local than his parents, becoming a fisherman. Accidents, betrayals, and other loves intrude on Toby and Lou’s marriage. Without being a spoiler, I’ll say that in the end, Lou makes an inspired and saintly yet unsentimental choice out of love, which serves as proof of her personal growth throughout the story.

To my mind, Lou Maytree is really the main character of the book. I didn’t realize it while I was reading, but later thought that she reminded me of a nun or a monk, with her simple life, her silence, her singlemindedness. Then I realized that she was on a spiritual path, though a non-religious one. One of the novel’s main themes is maturation—in both the physical sense, as in the aging (and eventual death) of the body, and in the emotional, psychological and spiritual sense, as in the growth of a human being. At a certain point in the story, when she feels she needs to “let go”, Lou practices detachment, she learns self-mastery. But:
It took her months to learn that she could get clean for more than a minute at a time. Consciously she looked out for resentment, self-cherishing, and envy. Over years she formed the habit of deflecting them before they dug in.
Later Lou muses:
Could a person hold all people past and present in awareness? She further wondered if doing so was, by some errant chance, the point—toward what end she had no clue. Not that life required a point. But she found herself starting to sway toward eventually considering that there might be one. A point. Any point.
I love Lou’s journey, her mode of thinking, her ruminations.

Here is Lou on what living on Cape Cod does to people, making them eccentric:
Lou asked herself, yet again, What happens to people out here on the lower Cape, a mid-ocean sandspit, what happens even to intelligent and educated people, that they take to plying skies like cows in Chagall? From solid citizens they sublimed to limbless metaphysicians. Their minds grew lucent as gels. Or they slipped from supersaturation to superstition without passing through crystal. Lou decided that the lower Cape’s ratio of gases and fluids to solids must be out of whack.
The other characters are eccentric, mostly privileged, arty people, not always easy to relate to, but Dillard makes them entertaining. They have names like Reevadare Weaver, Cornelius Blue, Jane Cairo, Deary Hightoe. Dillard shows Reevadare getting more eccentric as she gets older:
--You look wonderful, Jane told Reevadare. Reevadare’s humpback, which she named Surtsey, was now almost higher than her head.
--Honey, I got enough troubles without looking good. Reevadare never used to call people honey. She was playing old age like a bass.
There are so many clever bits, so many gorgeous passages, so many beautifully crafted sentences, that I’d almost have to quote the whole book to do it justice. The writing has been described as spare, but it’s not just spare, it’s compact—it packs meaning into few words. You cannot read it quickly—but you don’t want to, either.

If you are someone who needs a really strong plot, this might not be the novel for you. Though the story heats up a little near the end, it is not a plot-driven book. But if you are in love with language, and want to see what a real stylist can do, you should give this a read.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Parenting is Exhausting

Obvious, I know. But I'm too old for this. My daughter has been "transitioning" into preschool over the last week and a half, which means I sit there in the room while she refuses to separate from me. I had forgotten how exhausting this process is. Every day I bring a book, hoping today will be the day I get to go to the "mommy cafe" (the teachers' lounge down the hall) and read, but every day she isn't quite ready for me to go more than five feet away. Good thing stubborn toddler girl eventually translates into strong woman, right?

In the meantime, I'm starting a few books, even though I'm only able to read bits and pieces here and there. I'm starting The Woman Who Waited: A Novel, by Andrei Makine, for the next Slaves of Golconda discussion, which will be on September 31, and is open to anyone. The discussions are great, so I encourage you to read along, and discuss with us.

I'm also reading an ARC of Everything by Design: My Life as an Architect, by Alan Lapidus, a memoir about his life as an architect, designing huge hotels and casinos for equally huge personalities.

I'll try to read tonight after the kids go to bed, if I'm not falling asleep myself...zzz...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Booking Through Thursday--Comfort Food

Here's today's Booking Through Thursday question. I always love these questions, and I felt compelled to answer today's. Go and check out the site and read everyone else's comments--they're really great.

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.

What do you read?

That's so easy for me to answer. I pick up Persuasion, by Jane Austen. My really ratty copy that I've read about a thousand times. And I curl up in my bed and get lost in it. And if for some reason I can't find Persuasion, I grab Pride and Prejudice. I love Jane Austen's wit, and her keen observation of the society around her. Any Jane Austen is my comfort read.

When I was a kid it would have been The Secret Garden or Anne of Green Gables. What's your comfort read?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Challenges, Challenges

It's almost autumn, the new school year has started, and it feels like change is in the air.

My first forays into the world of book challenges have not ended all that well. I tanked on the Non-Fiction Five Challenge, finishing three out of five I challenged myself to read. And I did even worse on the Southern Reading Challenge, only reading one of the three books I planned to read.

Strangely, it felt like something was working against me in both cases. For example, I lost one of the books I chose (and bought!). Yes, lost. Apparently it has disappeared in my horrendously huge pile of unshelved books. I still can't find it. That's never happened to me before. And I ordered another book from Amazon, but they delayed and finally cancelled my order. Another book disappeared from my's like the Twilight Zone around here.

But I did read some interesting books for both challenges (Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire--review here, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle--review here, and Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies--review here). So I'm ready to try again.

Now that it's almost a new season, I'm starting over. This time I'm only signing up for one challenge, the Outmoded Author's Challenge hosted by Imani. It's a challenge to read three books by three authors who have gone out of fashion, which is an intriguing premise to me. As the introduction to the challenge says: "A reading challenge for all interested in exploring authors who were kicked out of the 'in' crowd." It really made me think about what makes authors remain popular... And I have until February 29, 2008, which ought to be enough time (fingers crossed). Check out the challenge, and the amazing list of "outmoded" authors here.

I haven't finalized my list of books for this challenge yet. I'd read something by Elizabeth Bowen, but I kind of consider that to be cheating, since she's one of my favorite authors, outmoded or not.

So I've chosen to read Sir Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian (Penguin Classics), since it was already on my list.

I think I'll also read Of Human Bondage (Bantam Classics), by W. Somerset Maugham, since Maugham is someone I feel I should read, and several friends have read and recommended him lately.

Then I have to pick another author, and I'm torn between May Sarton, Janet Frame, and Sarah Orne Jewett. Oh, the choices we face...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Blog power

My friend Julie sent me an article from the New York Times about how publishers, lacking the budget to send authors on conventional book tours, are sending them on virtual book tours instead--now authors are doing the rounds of the book blogs.

It's a fairly positive article about the power of blogs, and has some interesting details about how authors and publishers can benefit from blog publicity.

But there was also an interesting quote about how the authors have to learn how to interact with bloggers and their audiences:
Although blogging is another form of writing, not all authors seem equally suited. Joshua Ferris, author of the critically acclaimed novel “Then We Came to the End,” guest-blogged for a week at the Elegant Variation, a literary blog, where he declared his fondness for the band the Hold Steady, rounded up literary news and promoted graduate writing programs. Still, at the end of the week, he apologized to readers: “I only posted late at night, and only once a day, whereas other bloggers keep you returning throughout the day. I didn’t respond to many of your comments, which seems an important part of the blogger-commenter contract.”
Interesting. I have that Joshua Ferris novel. I'll have to check out his blogging appearances before I read it...

Goodbye, Ms. L'Engle

I was saddened to hear that Madeleine L'Engle, who wrote A Wrinkle in Time, has died. She was 88. The New York Times has a really good article about her life and work.

A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books from childhood, and I have been meaning to reread it forever. Maybe now I will.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

On Chesil Beach, a review

I realized recently that my summer was bookended (excuse the pun) by two books about marriage. At the beginning of the summer I read On Chesil Beach: A Novel, by Ian McEwan, and at the end of the summer I read Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees: A Novel. One of the stories is about a marriage aborted, the other about a marriage defined and then redefined.

In this post, I’ll ramble a little about Ian McEwan’s slim book, On Chesil Beach, and I'll tackle The Maytrees later.

In what is almost certainly for most an irrelevant aside, I first want to comment on the size of this book. It’s only 203 pages long, so it’s not only slim but physically small, about 4 3/4 inches by 7 1/2 inches, but it is hardbound. There is something about a hardbound book of this size, something about how it fits in your hand and weighs so little, and it could almost fit in your pocket, that makes it elegant. I liked it for this reason even before I read it, because it reminded me of descriptions of the size of books from long ago, octavo, duodecimo, sextodecimo, which have always intrigued me.

On Chesil Beach is the story of two very young people, Edward, a student of history, and Florence, a classical musician, who were married earlier that day, and who have come to honeymoon in a hotel on the English coast. Soon they have also come to an impasse over their sexual life, but I won’t say more, so as not to be a spoiler. The novel takes place over the course of that one day in July of 1962, but of course McEwan expands on this, and we also learn about Florence and Edward’s pasts, and what brought them to this place.

McEwan’s earlier novel Saturday, which also takes place over the course of one day, and in which McEwan also skillfully interweaves past and present, is a richer novel, but On Chesil Beach, while less weighty, has some gem-like pieces of writing.

McEwan writes gorgeously about music, and appropriately, it is through her music that we get to know Florence. She is from a more sophisticated background than Edward, but she is less emotionally sophisticated than he is, perhaps because he has been tempered by personal family tragedy. But both characters are crippled by the times in which they live. They don’t have the emotional vocabulary to discuss their feelings, and they simply cannot bridge the sexual gap between them.

I don’t know why it was hard for me to put myself into that place, when intellectually I knew McEwan was taking us there. The first sentences of the novel are: “They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.” I understand that it was a different time, and a different place, but it was hard for me not to solve Florence and Edward’s problems with communication by communicating for them as I read the novel—I made up the conversations they might have had, if they could only talk about their issues.

It was easier for me to wrap my mind around the class differences that caused problems between Edward and Florence than it was to understand their problems with sexual intimacy. But ultimately I did understand, and surrendered to McEwan’s intended experience--I guess I just found it frustrating at first.

McEwan evokes the pre-sexual revolution world of 1962, and the embarrassment and fears about sex, with painful detail. He has also crafted an overwhelmingly sad story. The lost opportunities, the things left unsaid, resonated with me for a long time.

For me, the most satisfying part of the novel was its ending, in which McEwan talks about how the couple had been married that day in a world on the cusp of change, and he then describes that change. The end of the novel is a kind of meditation on what might have been, and it helped me through the sadness of the story.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

An award...for me?

The lovely Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza, who, it seems to me, is as nice as they come, has nominated me for the "Nice Matters" blog award. If she thinks so, then, wow, I'm honored! Thank you, Bellezza.

And I get to post this very pretty picture on my blog. I'm also supposed to nominate four others, but I could never narrow it down to four. You're all so darned nice!

So if you're reading this, consider yourself nominated!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Local Bookstores Make Me Happy

My family vacations on Cape Cod every year, if we can make it, and every year I make at least one trip to the local bookstore in Brewster, which is walking distance from where we stay. It's called The Brewster Book Store, and it's wonderfully eclectic, as all good local bookstores are. They have a marvelous children's section, and a solid fiction area where I can always find something to add to my vacation reading list.

When I visited on this trip, I asked Val, who works at the store, what people were reading this summer. Val (and I remembered her from summers past, though I forgot to ask her how long she's been with the store) mentioned that people are reading A Thousand Splendid Suns in hardback, and Water for Elephants: A Novel in paperback. Local book groups were reading Nicole Krauss's The History of Love: A Novel and Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Française.

And people are reading books of local interest. Many have bought Annie Dillard's bestselling The Maytrees: A Novel, which is set in Provincetown on Cape Cod. I'm sure many a Cape Cod vacationer sat on the beach with this book this summer--I know I did. I enjoyed it very much, and will write about it soon.

Another book of local interest is the perennially popular The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod, by Henry Beston, a memoir of a year spent living in a house on the beach at Eastham, on the Atlantic coast of Cape Cod, in 1926. The book is praised as a classic of natural history, and Beston is compared to Thoreau, and even to Proust, in the reviews I read. This one will have to go on my list.

Val also mentioned The Widow's War: A Novel, by Sally Gunning, as another book of local interest. It is a work of historical fiction, the story of Lyddie Berry, a whaling widow who struggles to make a life for herself in 18th century Cape Cod, when widows had few rights. Reviewers liked it and gave it high marks for thorough research and a compelling central character. I bought a copy of this one, and will let you know how I like it.

Thanks Val and the rest of the folks at the Brewster Book Store, for making my vacation reading that much more transporting.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back from vacation, but buried under piles of laundry...

We're back from our family vacation on Cape Cod, which was lovely. I managed to read The Maytrees: A Novel, by Annie Dillard, which is set mostly in Provincetown, and which I enjoyed very much. I also read a graphic novel that my sister-in-law is reading for her book club, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. More on these later. Here are a few photos from the trip...

The woods behind the place we stayed. Out here in Southern California, we don't get woods as dense as this...

The path to the beach, through the dunes.

Beach plums that grow in the dunes.

The beach where we stayed.

The general store in Brewster, MA, with penny candy and fudge. The sign in the window says, "Beach Books."

The beach near Wellfleet, on a windy day. The kids were supposed to take a surfing lesson, but it was cancelled because the waves were too big! (Surprising to those of us from California...)

The bay at Wellfleet, MA.


Me doing what I do best.