Thursday, February 26, 2009

Booking Through Thursday--Collectibles

Here's today's Booking Through Thursday question, entitled "Collectibles":
  • Hardcover? Or paperback?
  • Illustrations? Or just text?
  • First editions? Or you don’t care?
  • Signed by the author? Or not?
I don't have many collectible books. I did post about my one nice copy of Jane Eyre, from 1857, here and here. I love hardcover books, and I like first editions. I like beautiful illustrations, and I'm thrilled to get an author to sign a book. But these are just aesthetic things that I don't truly care about, when it comes down to it. I choose books because I want to read them, and if I can't find an edition that is aesthetically pleasing, I don't really mind.

That said, I'm happy to go to the Huntington Library in Pasadena and while away a couple of hours looking at the rare books and manuscripts, some of which are truly amazing. They have the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (c.1410); a Gutenberg Bible (c.1455), and a bunch of lovely early Shakespeare.

I do have some pet peeves as to cover art. For example, I'm not a big fan of the "movie" editions of books. And I'd rather have a nice, heavyweight paperback than a mass market paperback, mostly because they're more durable.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles--a review

Benjamin “Bennie” Ford, 53, the narrator of Jonathan Miles’ novel Dear American Airlines, is a middle-aged, alcoholic, erstwhile poet who now translates novels from the Polish. He is on his way from New York to Los Angeles to keep a promise to his estranged daughter, to walk her down the aisle at her commitment ceremony. But he gets stranded at O’Hare airport when a layover turns into a flight cancellation, and mere waiting turns into purgatory. Poor thing, we think—we can all relate to that kind of horrible situation, especially at the hands of a bureaucracy or a corporate giant. But Bennie has more riding on this trip than most people do—he’s counting on it for a share of redemption.

At the outset I was worried that Bennie’s tale would not hold my attention, because it was based on the gimmick of a screed to the airline, demanding a refund, and I didn’t think the angry letter gimmick was going to be sustainable, no matter how impressive the writing. But I soon found that the story stands on its own merits. Not only does the author engage us in the tale of the downward spiral of Bennie’s life till now, we also get pulled into the complementary story of the Polish novel Bennie is translating, about the post-WWII wanderings of a Polish soldier who lands in Trieste. And we get drawn into the sad but funny anecdotes about Bennie’s crazy, southern mother Miss Willa, and her misbegotten marriage to Bennie’s father, a Polish concentration camp survivor and refugee.

Bennie’s a “poor thing” in general, we realize, as he spins his tale. He speaks with appealing self-deprecation, dark humor, and brutal honesty about the many regrets he has about his fairly miserable life, and though you may not respect some of the choices he’s made, you can’t help but like the poor fellow. And by the end of the story, I was invested in discovering whether or not he would find any redemption. Without giving away the ending, I’ll say that Bennie’s journey turns out to be more than just his reflection on the wreck of his life, it shows us that, whether or not we are late for the wedding, we can still make time to make things right.

I enjoyed this book for two main reasons—the sharp, witty writing, and the engaging human story. I’ll be interested to see what Jonathan Miles does next.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Meme for a Sunday

A quick meme, via the lovely Litlove at Tales From the Reading Room:

The book that’s been on your shelves the longest.

That's a tough one. I have a bunch of books on my shelf that I got when I was in college, and some from my early childhood. Plus there are a whole bunch of books my husband had in college and they are indistinguishable from my college books. I'm not sure what's what any more.

I also have a battered 1942 hardcover copy of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' memoir Cross Creek on my bookshelf that I believe used to sit on my grandmother's bookshelf. I don't know if it is technically the book that's been on my shelf the longest, but it's been on my family's shelf for a long time. And I love the book. It takes place near where my grandmother lived and my mother grew up in Florida, and it is a really great memoir.

A book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time).

There are so many of these that it's difficult to pick. Almost every book I've read reminds me of something specific in my life. But I have a few books on my shelf from my childhood, that represent some of the earliest and best memories I have of reading, and of being immersed in a story: Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie.

A book you acquired in some interesting way.

I wrote about this in a Booking Through Thursday post, but I have a wonderful copy of Jane Eyre that my husband gave me as a gift. It is the 1847 "cheap" edition, in one volume, of Jane Eyre by "Currer Bell", Charlotte Bronte's pen name at the time. It's probably the only truly collectible book I have, and one of the best gifts I've ever gotten.

I wish I could say I'd acquired books through Bookcrossing, but that hasn't happened to me yet!

The book that’s been with you to the most places.

It would probably have to be Pride and Prejudice, as I've schlepped a copy of that most comforting read with me across many a mile.

Your current read, your last read and the book you’ll read next.

My current reads are The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich, which I am reading for my book group, and Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?, which I am reading to keep up with a friend's book group. Not that I need any more incentive to read, but a good friend of mine dropped by a week ago and left a copy of Atkinson's book, and proposed that we swap books from our respective book groups. Since we belong to two different groups, that way we can double our reading pleasure--or so the theory goes.

My last read was The Last Days of Dogtown, by Anita Diamant. It's a historical novel set in a poor area of Cape Ann, Massachusetts in the nineteenth century, and I enjoyed Diamant's descriptions of the hardships of that life.

The book I'll read next is tougher to pin down. There are several titles vying for my attention at the moment. I have three memoirs on my shelf that I've been considering: Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk, Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived, by Penelope Lively, and Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali, by Kris Holloway. Oh, and the author Rosy Thornton just sent me her new book Crossed Wires, which I've been looking forward to. Hmmm...any advice?

And feel free to play along with this meme!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Poetry reading--Mark Strand

Last night I went to a poetry reading by Mark Strand, one of America's great living poets. Full disclosure: I'm a friend of a close relative of his, so while it is unusual for me to attend a poetry reading, it is not unusual for me to attend one of his.

The reading was held at the UCLA Hammer Museum, where the house was packed, and the poet remarked to me that he had read at UCLA, for this same reading series, as a young poet some forty years ago. Now that's a reading series!

I was a little bit of a poetry-phobe before attending one of Strand's readings many years ago. But his readings--funny, moving, intelligent, always entertaining--made me eager to listen to poetry read aloud, which is the best way to experience it, if you you ask me.

Last night he read "Shooting Whales", a poem I hadn't heard him read before, and which he said was based on a true story. It can be found on this site. He also read My Mother On An Evening in Late Summer, and one of my favorites, The Continuous Life. Enjoy!

"What On a Wednesday", featuring me...

Okay, so on Wednesday I forgot it was Wednesday. That happens to me all the time, and wouldn't normally matter much, but now I'm a little late in mentioning that I was interviewed by The Book Depository this week, on their blog's "What on a Wednesday" feature.

Here is the link to my interview. I love The Book Depository because I find out about British books and authors there that I otherwise wouldn't know about, and they have this crazy "free worldwide delivery" policy, that I'm more than happy to take advantage of!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

C is for Cookie...

I belong to my public radio station's "book club", which means that along with my membership, I pay extra so that they send me their book picks every once in awhile. They recently sent me a copy of Michael Davis's book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. Okay, I love the title!

This book wasn't on my radar screen at all, but I must say I'm intrigued. I loved "Sesame Street" as a child! I love it as a parent! I can sing "Rubber Duckie" and "I Love Trash" with the best of them. I still remember scenes from Sesame Street that I saw when I must have been about four years old.

In the letter sent with the book, it says that author Michael Davis "talks about the creation and history of this pop culture landmark. From its inspiration in the civil rights movement, to Nixon's attempts to cut off its public funding, Davis explores how Sesame Street taught millions of children not just their letters and numbers, but also cooperation and fair play, tolerance and self-respect, and the importance of listening."

So my reading takes this unexpected turn, because I'll certainly give this book a try, though I doubt I would have bought it for myself.

Did you watch Sesame Street as a kid? Did you find it useful, either as a child or as a parent?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Coraline, the movie

Thanks to my fabulous friend Jen, who won some sort of contest, I got to take my 9-year-old son to a private screening of the movie "Coraline" this morning. We had a great time together, and there was swag! Here's one of the t-shirts we got--it's cute so I might actually wear it.

The movie was a visual feast, and my son and I both enjoyed it. It was perfect for a 9-year-old, but I think too scary for my 4-year-old girl, and not scary enough for my 12-year-old boy. I have not read the book, so I can't compare them, but the movie was beautifully executed. It is billed as "the first stop-motion, feature film shot in stereoscopic 3D", and you have to wear 3D glasses to watch it. According to the press materials, it was an extremely laborious process. That labor shows, as the detail is pretty spectacular. I especially enjoyed the scene of the Jumping Mouse circus and the scene of the garden coming alive.

My older son is reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book now, and I'm waiting for a Bookmooch copy of Stardust. So I'm being introduced, a little late, to Neil Gaiman's world. Does anyone have any thoughts about Coraline the book, on its own, or vs. the movie?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie--a review.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-autobiographical young adult novel by prolific poet/novelist/short story writer Sherman Alexie. The novel's plucky protagonist is Arnold Spirit, a geeky 14-year-old Spokane Indian who lives on the reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Arnold tells us that he was born with water on the brain, and barely survived his infancy, only to have seizures as a kid, and have to endure endless teasing from his peers. But Arnold is very smart, funny, and draws cartoons as a way to make sense of his life, and after a teacher begs him to go to school off the reservation, Arnold starts to attend the white school in Reardon. An outcast at home, and an outcast at his new school, Arnold joins the basketball team, where he eventually finds a measure of acceptance. But he also faces tragedy after tragedy in his family life, where alcoholism takes an ugly toll on the reservation Indians. That Arnold retains his sense of humor, and learns lessons from his extreme difficulties in life, is nearly miraculous.

I think Arnold Spirit is a wonderful character for young adult readers to identify with. He makes difficult choices, he struggles with guilt for leaving his community to try to make himself a better life, he's a fighter, and he tells it like it is. Alexie tells it like it is, too, never sugar-coating the effects of crushing poverty on the Indians on the reservation, yet leaving hope and the possibility of the triumph of the human spirit on the table.

I liked Alexie's movie Smoke Signals, and found it to be a fascinating portrait of Native American culture. I feel the same way about this book, and it makes me want to read his writing for adults.

Sherman Alexie's website is also pretty cool--check it out here.