Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving morning and I'm already busy cooking the meal that will take hours and hours to prepare, and minutes to scarf down. But that's no reason to make it simpler, no! Let's add extra steps! This year I've brined my turkey for 24 hours--we'll see if it actually makes a difference. I've made apple, pumpkin and pecan pies, even though there will only be eight of us at table. It's more than a little crazy.

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

Sunday Salon--Purple Hibiscus

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 am enjoying Adichie's prose style, and her descriptions of the Nigerian setting. I'm sensing I'll be in tears before the end of this one...

I am also reminded that I have to read Adichie's countryman Chinua Achebe's 1959 novel Things Fall Apart,which I have been meaning to read for some time now.

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

TLC Tour Stop--Jennie Shortridge, author of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe

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.

Here's our conversation:

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

Review--Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, by Jennie Shortridge

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.

Tomorrow come back and see my Q & A with author Jennie Shortridge, who makes a stop here on her TLC Book Tour.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Begged, Borrowed, and Stolen

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

Buying Books for the Holidays

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.

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.
So, if you're buying anything for anyone this holiday season, consider buying books :).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Booking Through Thursday--Presents!

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

Go Vote

On this election eve, I watched this and got teary.

I think it's time for a little tikkun olam, healing the world.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Salon: Modern Reading

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...