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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Vacation reading

I find myself compulsively reading Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I'm staying up too late to read it, which is one of my measuring sticks for books--will I forgo sleep for it? The answer here is yes, because this is an intense book, and I never seem to be at a restful place to stop. How does this young woman write so confidently about the horrors of the Nigerian civil war?

I'm also getting ready to go on our family vacation for the summer, to Cape Cod. This year there is a great book to bring, and my sister-in-law and I had the same idea. We're both going to try to read Annie Dillard's The Maytrees: A Novel, which is set on the Cape. I'm hoping to have that meta experience of reading about the place I'm going to be.

Last time I was on the Cape, I bought Thoreau's book Cape Cod (Nature Library, Penguin), but it intimidated me, and I was much too lazy to open it. It would probably be wishful thinking to drag it along with me again, since we'll only be there a week.

Over at The Books of My Numberless Dreams, the wonderful Imani recently did a meme that I've seen floating around a lot, in different forms. I think I'll do it this time, so thanks for tagging me (and everyone), Imani!


I’ve read it
I want to read it
I’ve seen the movie*
I’m indifferent
I have it on DVD+
I want to marry the leading man/lady!

The list:

1 Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, 1847

2 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813*+

3 Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 1597*

4 Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 1847*

5 Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936*

6 The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje, 1992*

7 Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, 1938*

8 Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, 1957*

9 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence, 1928

10 Far from The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy, 1874

11 My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner, 1956*

12 The African Queen, CS Forester, 1935*

13 The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

14 Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, 1811*

15 The Way We Were, Arthur Laurents, 1972*

16 War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, 1865

17 Frenchman’s Creek, Daphne du Maurier, 1942

18 Persuasion, Jane Austen, 1818*+

19 Take a Girl Like You, Kingsley Amis, 1960

20 Daniel Deronda, George Eliot, 1876

21 Maurice, E.M. Forester, 1971 (posth.)*

22 The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion, Ford Madox Ford, 1915

Tag, you’re it!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Elaine Dundy reads in LA on 8/14, and a brief review of The Dud Avocado

It's a little last minute, but I just got a heads up that Elaine Dundy is reading at one of our great local bookstores, Book Soup, Tuesday night (8/14) at 7pm.

At the Book Soup website entry for this event, it says:
ELAINE DUNDY, with film critic KEVIN THOMAS, discuss and sign copies of THE DUD AVOCADO
The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about the American girl abroad, but it was Elaine Dundy' s Sally Jay Gorce who told us what she was really thinking.
Charming, sexy, and hilarious, The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living. (NYRB)

My fabulous book group picked The Dud Avocado (New York Review Books Classics)as one of our summer reads, and I really enjoyed it. Someone had pitched it to me as Breakfast at Tiffany's in Paris, and that's not too far off the mark. I found the book's narrator, 21-year-old Sally Jay Gorce, to be a witty force of nature, by turns naive and knowing, and her adventures are very entertaining. I laughed out loud, which, for me, is high praise for any book. And the writing is not just funny, it's smart. I also was fascinated to read a little bit about the author's life in the afterword. I'd love to hear her speak, so if I can get a babysitter, I'll be there.

Findings, by Kathleen Jamie--a review

I read the poet Kathleen Jamie's book of essays, Findings, at the same time I was reading Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, and though the books were nothing alike, I was struck by how observant both writers are. Both writers managed to make poetry out of the mundane details of life.

Kathleen Jamie is a poet and a lecturer in creative writing at St. Andrews University. When I read about her book on someone's blog (sorry, but I can't find the post again, so I can't give credit where it is definitely due), I was intrigued. She lives in the part of Scotland my father hails from, and her essays describe parts of Scotland I've been to or hope to visit some day.

In the first essay, from a dark, northern mid-December, "the still point of the turning year", Jamie contemplates the meaning of "Darkness and Light". Jamie visits the neolithic ruins of Maes Howe on Orkney, to see the once-a-year occurrence of a single beam of winter solstice sun shining inside a burial chamber. Of the darkness, she writes:
Pity the dark: we're so concerned to overcome and banish it, it's crammed full of all that's devilish, like some grim cupboard under the stair. But dark is good. We are conceived and carried in the darkness, are we not? When my son was born, a midwinter child, he cried pitifully at the ward's lights, and only settled to sleep when he was laid in a big pram with a black hood under a black umbrella. Our vocabulary ebbs with the daylight, closes down with the cones of our retinas. I mean, I looked up "darkness" on the Web--and was offered Christian ministries offering to lead me to salvation. And there is always death. We say death is darkness; and darkness death.

Jamie watches for peregrines near her house, she combs Scotland's outer islands for all sorts of "findings", and she observes things on the streets of Edinburgh, turning her keen eye on the inner and outer worlds and in small strokes, painting a picture of life in modern Scotland.

While exploring a remote Hebridean island, Jamie and her companions find all sorts of detritus, both natural and man-made. A doll's head is particularly striking, but Jamie collects a whale's vertebra and an orb of quartz:
The islands are a twenty-first century midden of aerosols and plastic bottles, and I was thinking about what we'd valued enough to keep. It seemed that what we chose to take--the orb of quartz, the whalebones--were not the things that endured, but those that had been transformed by death or weather...we pick and choose, and I wondered if it's still possible to value that which endures, if durability is still a virtue, when we have invented plastic, and the doll's head with her tufts of hair and rolling eyes may well persist after our own have cleaned back down to bone.

I was moved by this quiet book, with its essays about the small details of life. I didn't know Kathleen Jamie was a poet when I first picked up this book, but it makes sense now--her careful eye for detail, her way of describing the natural world and relating it to humanity, her lyrical yet somehow unromantic style, all speak of poetry. I appreciated Kathleen Jamie's clear-eyed vision in these essays, and will now seek out her poems.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Only In L.A., Charles Bukowski Week

I was flipping through a very local paper and saw that on August 15th, there is a meeting to discuss Charles Bukowski's novel post office: A Novelheld by the "Nobody Reads in L.A." book club. Gotta love the name! I'm not a big Bukowski fan, but in light of the name, great book to choose, the cult classic about a boozy gambler who stumbles through his job at the downtown L.A. post office.

The Nobody Reads in L.A. site says: "Nobody Reads In LA is a loose-knit group of individuals striving to create a stronger cultural, literary and historical sense of downtown Los Angeles." Looks like they will be discussing several other downtown L.A. classics, including James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce, Reyner Banham's The Architecture of Four Ecologies, and Nathanael West's Day of the Locust.

If anyone's in town, the meeting is at 7pm at Charlie O's Bar in the Alexandria Hotel at 501 South Spring Street.

I found that the organizers include a whole group dedicated to honoring Bukowski during his birthday week, August 15-19. They're at

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bits and Pieces

The Slaves of Golconda have picked their new book--actually the lovely litlove, of Tales from the Reading Room, did the honors this time, and chose Andrei Makine's The Woman Who Waited: A Novel (after generously getting input from her readers). The Slaves will discuss Makine's book on September 31st, and you're welcome to join in.

When I saw Makine's name, it looked familiar to me, though I admit I didn't know why. Then I remembered that I have another of his books on my shelf, Dreams Of My Russian Summers: A Novel. This has sat, or I should say languished, on my TBR pile for so long that I had completely forgotten it. And worse, it was a gift from a close friend (sorry J, if you're reading this).

I happen to hate it when I give someone a book and they never mention it again. Of course, I know that the recipient didn't ask for the book, and it might not be anything they're even interested in, but still, I put some thought into my book gift-giving, and I'm hoping for some serious feedback.

And here I am, the biggest offender. So some five years later, I'm finally going to read Dreams of My Russian Summers. I will try to redeem myself. I'll report back to you on this, J.

I have a few more new books on the pile, all windfalls. I always forget that I belong to my local public radio station's (KPCC Pasadena) "book club", meaning I pay for the books they choose, as part of a membership deal. It's nice because books just show up on my doorstep every couple of months. This time the selection is Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, which I definitely would not have chosen for myself. In fact, I think so far it's only non-fiction, so it's really more of a book club for my husband, but I may read this one. We'll see...

And I mooched two books by Penelope Fitzgerald, one of which has shown up already. I got Human Voices in the mail the other day, and The Blue Flower is on its way. Love that BookMooch.

Fitzgerald is one of those writers that I have heard a lot about over the years, but haven't read. Looking forward to reading these two.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

I'm Suffering From Low Motivation

I don't know if it's the heat, or what, but I haven't been able to motivate myself to write reviews of the last few things I've finished reading. I'm sure I'll get to them, but I might have to lock myself in a room with a laptop to do it. It may also be that the kids are done with day camp, and have no organized activities to keep them busy, so I've had to be camp director around here lately.

I finished On Chesil Beach: A Novel, by Ian McEwan, and mostly enjoyed it. I read Lorrie Moore's first novel, Anagrams, and cried a little. I read a book called Findings, by Kathleen Jamie, a Scottish lecturer in creative writing who lives near where my dad grew up. And I blew through Water for Elephants: A Novel, by Sara Gruen. And The Dud Avocado (New York Review Books Classics), by Elaine Dundy, yet another selection from the NYRB Classics series, made me laugh. But I haven't written about any of them yet.

My son and I are about to read The Kite Rider (no, not "runner"), by Geraldine Mccaughrean, for part of his summer reading project. He has to read a piece of literature set in Asia, and this was one of the suggestions. It is a young adult novel set in 13th century China, and centered around a poor young boy who becomes a circus kite rider, which sounded interesting, so I'm going to read it too. Has anyone heard of this one?

Okay, another reason I haven't written a word lately is that my parents are visiting. My dad picked up my copy of The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls, and was completely engrossed within minutes. Later, he was sitting reading it in public, and no less than three women stopped to tell him that they had loved the book. Which proves my theory that a man with a book is mighty attractive.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

In Poetry News...

Charles Simic was just named the 15th Poet Laureate of the United States! Woot! Love his work!

Here's an article from Reuters. Here's one in The Guardian.

Check him out at You can read several of his poems there.

I also like his 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning The World Doesn't End

The Care and Feeding of Your Books

This article at called Care and Feeding of Your Books made me laugh, so I thought I'd share.

Maybe it's because we lovers of the written word adore, nay, worship, our books, so we just don't need this kind of advice. We don't keep damp boxes of books in the basement or garage...oh wait, I think my husband actually does have a damp box or two out there. Strike that. But still, most of my books are in warm, cozy bookshelves, or large, toppling piles next to the bed. Or dustier piles in the den. Or...okay, maybe I do need some help so that I don't inadvertently mistreat my precious books.

I particularly like the graphic of "A Nicely Packed Box."