Thursday, September 22, 2011

Booking Through Thursday--In Public

Here's this week's Booking Through Thursday question:

Do you carry books with you when you’re out and about in the world?

And, do you ever try to hide the covers?

I do carry books with me, in my voluminous, Hermione Granger-style purse. Either that or I carry my iPad, which always has a book or two on it. I hate to be without reading material in case I get stuck somewhere, in a doctor's office, waiting for someone to show up, on a runway, whatever.

I never try to hide the covers. I used to hide the covers of Harlequin Romances when I read them as a young teenager. Embarrassing! But if anything, I'm usually happy to share the title of whatever I'm reading at the moment with whoever might want to know. Probably a little too willing to share my thoughts, as well.

How about you? Do you carry books with you?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Back To School

The end of our summer was a little nuts. We sailed past Lady Liberty on our way out of New York Harbor on a cruise to Nova Scotia. It was a lovely trip, but...

...the last night of our cruise was a race with a hurricane into port. With the airports closed by the storm and Mayor Bloomberg, we were unable to return home to California on schedule. Stuck at my father-in-law's house, which is a lovely place to be, was still stuck.

Evacuated to a hotel because of the hurricane, but never in any danger, we returned to find a very large tree had fallen onto my father-in-law's garage roof.

We were on generator power for about a day while power was restored in the neighborhood, but other neighborhoods nearby lacked power for days, and others had flooded.

Four days later, we finally left for the west coast. By then the boys had missed almost the whole first week of school.

But now we're back in the swing of things, the rhythm of the school year reestablished.

I found I didn't read as much as I would have liked while cruising. But to be honest, I didn't really expect to finish all the books I downloaded onto the Kindle.

There was just too much to eat.

Now I'm back to reading. I've gotten about 100 pages into Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall, and I'm enjoying the voice. I love me a historical novel, and I'm liking the new angle on what I already know about Henry VIII and his cronies.

Just picked up Tom Perrotta's new one, The Leftovers, on the recommendation of a well-read cousin. It's about suburbia after the rapture, and what happens to those who are left behind. Sounds quirky and entertaining--I'll let you know.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vacation Travel Reading: The East Coast

Well, I'm finally back to blogging after a summer off. It was unplanned, but it turned out that my kids were so busy this summer, I spent my time driving them around Los Angeles (even during "Carmageddon"!) instead of blogging.

My summer reading this summer has suffered from a general lack of time to laze at the beach or by the pool, but next week my family is taking it's first-ever cruise, and I'm loading up the suitcase with books! We are sailing out of Brooklyn, New York (who knew?) up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then down the east coast, stopping in St. John, Bar Harbor, Portland, Boston, and Newport before heading back to New York. When I travel, I like to immerse myself in the literature of the place, so I have found some New England literature to read while sailing down its coast.

On my very first visit to Maine, I'm planning to read Sarah Orne Jewett’s classic novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs, first published in 1896, for a look at what life in coastal Maine was like at the turn of the twentieth century. People praise Jewett as one of the great American writers that nobody reads any more, and I'm eager to take in her characters and the atmosphere of the rocky coast of Maine.

One of my favorite books in recent years, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, is also set in Maine, but the Maine of the present, not the past. A set of interconnected stories that make up a novel, it's about ornery Maine woman Olive who looks back on her life and relationships in her small town, and it has an amazing sense of place.

There's so much good writing set in Boston that it's hard to choose one book. For non-fiction, I'd like to read David Hackett Fischer's book Paul Revere's Ride, which I've heard is an amazing piece of narrative history, and a compelling read.

I've also had a Boston novel, John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley, which won the author a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1938, on my to-read list for a long time. It is supposed to be another hidden gem by an author who fell out of favor in the 1960s, which satirizes the life and manners of the "Boston Brahmins" in pre-World War II Beacon Hill.

But when we round Cape Cod, I'm going to get out my old copy of Henry David Thoreau's book Cape Cod, an account of his meditative, beach-combing walking trips to Cape Cod in the 1850s, told with his trademark reverence for nature. The Cape is a wondrous place, and Thoreau's travelogue is satisfying a mixture of its folklore and natural history.

Another of my favorite books of all time is set on Cape Cod, Annie Dillard's The Maytrees. It is the chronicle of the ups and downs of a marriage over many years, set in the parabolic dunes of the very tip of the Cape, at Provincetown. I read it while sitting on a Cape beach one summer, and was captivated by Dillard's lyrical language and quirky characters.

We won't be visiting Providence, Rhode Island, this year, but it's a great city, and I was intrigued when I heard that its former mayor wrote a book about his exploits there. Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale is a memoir by former Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy’’ Cianci, and I hear it's as colorful and controversial as the man himself.

When we hit the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, I plan to pick up Thornton Wilder’s fictionalized memoir, Theophilus North. It tells the tale of a young man who spends the summer of 1926 in Newport, teaching tennis to the rich, and getting caught up in their travails, narrated by the elderly North from a distance of 50 years.

I've heard good things about John Casey’s book Spartina, winner of the National Book Award in 1989. It's about Rhode Island fisherman and boat-builder Dick Pierce, his difficult family problems, and his life among the salt marshes and crab fishermen of South County, RI.

What vacation reading have you done this summer? Has any of it reflected the places you visited? What was your favorite summer read?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Salon--and the list grows...

The Sunday

I've been slowly making my way through Andre Dubus III's memoir Townie. It's admirably honest about his dysfunctional family and what it was like to grow up in poverty-stricken eastern mill towns in the 1970s. Dubus is a little older than I am, but the stuff about childhood in the 1970s struck a chord with me, and the details he provides about life in that time and place are fascinating to me. I loved the writing in House of Sand and Fog, so when I heard from my cousin that this memoir was really great, that and curiosity about Dubus's childhood made me pick this up. I'm happy to say that I'm again enjoying Dubus's style.

And I'm about to start a different kind of memoir for my book group, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton. This is another kind of memoir that I like--one that immerses you in a world you know very little about. It tells the story of owner and chef of New York's popular Prune restaurant, and her unusual path to becoming a chef. She tells of her childhood on a farm, her eccentric parents' divorce, and her struggles working in the food world. My book group once read (and enjoyed) Bill Buford's book Heat, about a journalist who immerses himself in the food and restaurant worlds. So I'm interested to read a memoir from a chef who came to it reluctantly.

What have you been reading this weekend?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Booking Through Thursday--Age Inappropriate

Here are last week's and this week's Booking Through Thursday questions, because they go hand in hand, and I didn't answer last week:

Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?

In contrast to last week’s question–What do you think of censoring books BECAUSE of their intended age? Say, books too “old” for your kids to read?

Last week's answer: When I was a kid, I reveled in reading things that were too "old" for me. I liked reading things that I thought were mature, that might teach me something I didn't already know about the adult world, that might unlock some adult secrets.

Now that I'm grown, I will sometimes read a young adult book, because I've heard it's fantastic, or because it reminds me of the very satisfying reading I did as a kid. I read picture books because I've got kids, and I've got no choice.

For this week's answer: I don't really censor books in my house. I figure that if you're going to learn something that's too "old" for you, the gentlest and most forgiving way to learn it is in the pages of a book. Not, say, in the graphic imagery of a movie or even a video game. And we don't have anything on our shelves that I think would be too shocking or would scar my kids for life. Except there might be an old copy of The Joy of Sex lurking somewhere around here, with those hilarious 1970s drawn illustrations. That might freak out the kids a little.

But I have a soft spot for the idea of a kid sneaking off to read Lolita or something she's heard is titillating. I think it's a rite of passage for readers.

What do you think?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Poetry: Spread the Word

My good friend Greg Pincus, whose poetry blog GottaBook was one of the first I ever followed, has a great new project where he is bringing poetry into schools. I've supported him, and I'm hoping others will do the same. Check it out:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Super Sad I Won't Be Able To Go To This...

I love our public library here in Los Angeles. The downtown branch is huge, historic, and really lovely. It's only a ten-minute drive from my house (sans traffic, of course), and the parking is easy. Plus they have ALOUD, a great lecture series that gets really good writers and other cultural figures to speak, and they're often interviewed by other really good writers and cultural figures. Plus the lectures are usually free.

On May 12, Gary Shteyngart is speaking, but the event was already full by the time I got the email. Somehow that always seems to happen to me--I'm not sure how these things fill up before I even hear about them. Clearly I'm getting some sort of second-class email notification.

It's too bad, because I just finished Shteyngart's book Super Sad True Love Story, and I'd love to hear him speak about it. If anyone goes, you'll have to let me know how it is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring Break Is Almost Over

Blogging has gone by the wayside again around here. It's springtime, and I've been gardening, traveling and keeping my kids entertained through two back-to-back, two-week-long spring breaks instead. So happy school starts up again Monday!

Spring comes mighty early in the southland. Strawberries are almost ripe already.

I've managed to fit some reading in. For my book group, I finished The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht. I wanted to dislike this book merely because the writer is young, good-looking and accomplished. But I'm bigger than that, really. So I allowed myself to enjoy it quite a bit.

I've never read anything set in the Balkans before, and I found the setting rich and the novel an interesting mix of modern life and folklore. I was a little disappointed that the modern tale wasn't more filled out, but enjoyed the writer's weaving together of mythic elements and modern ones, and would happily read her next book.

Blackberries are getting there, too.

I'm almost finished reading Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, which I'm enjoying as a romp through a dystopian America in the near future. I'm entertained but not mesmerized; however, I'm a tough audience for dystopia, as it almost never grabs me emotionally.

And here are some future lemons. I have no idea when these guys will be ripe. But it's my first fruit from this young tree, so I can't wait!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Salon--Donating, and reading

The Sunday

Living here in earthquake country, we've all been following the story of last week's horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Here's a link to the Red Cross donation page, to donate directly to Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief, if you're so inclined. And here's a link to the Red Cross web page about disaster preparedness for your home and family. If it's not earthquakes, there's always some sort of natural disaster lurking, so best to be prepared!

I'm definitely reading up on this, and we are replenishing what we call our "earthquake supplies." One of the hard things is to store the one gallon of water per person, for three days, that is recommended to keep handy. The Red Cross list is a good one, and reminds me of the things we're missing in our family's personal disaster preparedness.

This weekend, when not glued to the internet looking at news out of Japan, I've read some of The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman, and I made a batch of blood orange marmalade. Yum. The Imperfectionists has been a roller-coaster ride of characters, some that I like and others I dislike, some I respect and others I don't, some I want to give a good talking-to, and others I'd like to hug. Another book made up of linked stories, each from a different character's point of view, I'm finding it a pretty compelling read.

Hope you have a peaceful, disaster-free weekend, and that you find some time to read.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Booking Through Thursday--Multi-tasking

Here's today's Booking Through Thursday question:

Do you multi-task when you read? Do other things like stirring things on the stove, brushing your teeth, watching television, knitting, walking, et cetera?

Or is it just me, and you sit and do nothing but focus on what you’re reading?

(Or, if you do both, why, when, and which do you prefer?)

I don't truly multi-task when I read. I can't watch TV and read at the same time, because I find myself focusing on only one thing, either the book or the TV. Every time I've tried to walk and read, I bump into something. I do, however, take a book everywhere, so that in every spare minute in the doctor's waiting room or carpool line, I read.

I can't imagine knitting and reading--I can barely knit, so I'm either squinting at the yarn and the needles, or at the knitting pattern. Watching TV while knitting is hard enough, I can't imagine reading and knitting.

For me, books shut everything else out. That's why I started reading in the first place, to be carried away from real life. Even if I try to do something else while reading, I can't really focus, and most often find myself only reading.

How about you?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Next Up In Group

My book group is reading Frederick Reiken's novel Day for Night for our next meeting. I hadn't heard of the book before the group picked it, but reviews call Reiken's prose "elegant"--always a plus--and mentions that the novel is like a group of linked stories. Our last book, Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, was also a group of linked stories, each featuring a different character. Thinking about it, I realize I like this construction. Olive Kitteridge was also linked stories, and I liked it very much. And Joan Silber's Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories was (obviously, from the subtitle) constructed that way, and I enjoyed that, too.

Reviews of Day For Night also mention the underwater imagery employed by the writer. Makes sense, looking at the cover. One of the great things about belonging to a book group is the exposure to books you might not have found otherwise. This wasn't on my radar, but reading about it, I'm happy I've been pushed to pick it up.

What is your book group reading now? Did your book group ever find a gem you might not have found otherwise?

Friday, March 4, 2011

I'm Hooked

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

Thanks, Liz and Alysoun, for getting me hooked on Downton Abbey. I know, I missed the bandwagon on this, as it was initially broadcast in January on Masterpiece Classic, but on your recommendation I bought it on iTunes. (Then, of course, it came out on Netflix--grrr.)

I am one happy British-drama-watching camper. I am totally hooked. Someone, please unplug my Netflix so I can get something done around here...

And guess what's up next on Masterpiece Classic? A remake of Upstairs, Downstairs, coming in April.

Anybody else a fan?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Salon--Oscar day in LA

The Sunday

Here in Hollywood, the Academy Awards takes over for almost a week. The Kodak Theater, where the award ceremony is held, is really close to my kids' school. They block off the streets nearby for days beforehand, for security reasons I suppose, and also because they have to build red carpet and bleachers and all sorts of temporary structures for the event. So my kid carpooling is messed up for about a week, grrrr.

This year they put up all sorts of extra tents around the theater, as we have been having really cold and rainy weather, for LA. Gotta protect those celebs from the rain. Last night, there were actual flakes of snow falling in the hillier areas around town. This prompted a flurry of Facebook posts about the snow, if you'll excuse the pun--there were probably more pictures of hail and snow on Facebook than there were actual snowflakes.

I sound like a curmudgeon about it, but I actually really enjoy watching the Oscars on TV. It's the only award show I like--most of the others seem like johnny-come-latelys to me. I like to throw popcorn at the dresses I don't like, and at the bad plastic surgery. I love it when someone rambles on in an acceptance speech, or even better, when they cry, and I hate it when the powers that be cut them off with that annoying music. Ah, the Oscars. TV doesn't get much better than that.

This morning, while picking up two kids from sleepovers, I saw three limos, one a Hummer. Prepping for tonight, I suppose.

My prep for tonight includes getting the snacks ready, and reading. It's a wonderful day to stay inside and read. I don't need to get stuck in all that limo traffic anyway.

I'm almost finished with Dave Eggers' novel What Is the What, about a Sudanese "lost boy" caught up in the violence of a civil war. I've enjoyed the voice of the novel, and admire Eggers' talent. Reviewers have come down on the book because it is a fictionalized memoir, but I haven't been bothered by that--I think it's a well-told and powerful story, and it has made me want to read more on the subject.

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Booking Through Thursday--Something Old, Something New

Here's today's Booking Through Thursday question:

All other things being equal–do you prefer used books? Or new books? (The physical speciman, that is, not the title.) Does your preference differentiate between a standard kind of used book, and a pristine, leather-bound copy?

Hmmm...I guess if I'm honest with myself, I prefer new books--and pristine, leather-bound copies--to battered used books. But that being said, I really don't have anything against used books.

I like cracking open a brand new book, but there is also something to be said for reading someone else's much-loved used book, and wondering where else it has been. And there is also something wonderful about beautiful old books, the aforementioned pristine, leather-bound copies, especially of favorite classics.

The only kind of used book I really don't like is one where the condition renders it difficult to read--the binding is cracking and pages are falling out, or where it's clear the whole book has been submerged in water at some point, and it's now warped and brittle. I don't mind a used book, as long as it's in good condition.

How about you? Would you rather have a new book or used?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Post Valentine's Day Reading Update

We don't really celebrate Valentine's Day much around here. I gave my husband a funny card, and he brought me a beautiful bunch of tulips. I gave the kids chocolate, and forced them to share.

I finished the anti-Valentine book on Valentine's day. I bought The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, by Brian Moore, because I was looking through the recent releases of NYRB classics and the description was intriguing--and the NYRB Classics catalogue is a great resource for interesting books. This is a novel about a spinster in 1950 Belfast, and her sad and steady decline, and while I enjoyed the writing, the book was a little depressing for the traditional day of love. So I ate some chocolate.

I also recently finished Jennifer Egan's novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, for my book group, which meets next week. This is the first of Egan's work that I've read, though I've been meaning to read The Keep forever. I really enjoyed her writing. This book is a linked group of short stories that make up a novel, centered around two characters, record producer Benny Salazar, and his assistant Sasha. The book skips around in time and place, among loosely-linked characters, and the writer deftly switches up styles and voices. The big theme here is growing up, getting old, facing mortality--as time is the goon mentioned in the title. I wish I liked the characters better, or rather, was more able to immerse myself in their lives, but I found the book to be an enjoyable read. I'm looking forward to discussing this one with my book group. And eating more chocolate.

Did you read anything special for Valentine's Day? Did you eat any chocolate?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Room, by Emma Donoghue--a review

Room, by Emma Donoghue, was one of those books I was afraid to pick up because I had heard just a tidbit about it: the book was about a five-year-old boy locked up in a single room, and it was from the boy's point of view. I have a rule about not reading books or seeing movies that feature children in peril. The subject is just too disturbing for me, so that's my rule.

However, I kept hearing about Room--that it was a wonderful book, that it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and that it was really original. So I broke my rule and bought it (on the iPad--the first book I've read in that format, by the way).

I'm happy I broke my rule, because I really enjoyed reading Room. The novel tells the story of 5-year-old Jack, who lives in one room with his mother, Ma. The reason they live there is that Ma was kidnapped when she was nineteen, and has been held prisoner in a specially-designed 12-foot-square back-yard shed by her captor, Old Nick.

I was wowed by Donoghue’s ability to effectively communicate the feelings, language and world of a five-year-old who was born and raised in captivity, cut off from society. I was drawn in, not just by the tension I felt about the danger Ma and Jack were in, but also by the intricacies of their world.

Spoiler alert—I’m sorry, I found I just couldn’t talk about this book without revealing some major plot points. If you really don't want to know what happens in the book, read no further. But I don't think knowing what happens spoils the book, so...

The first part of the book is about Jack and Ma’s captivity, and the tension and sense of dread builds really well as Ma realizes, and we realize, that there is no way mother and child will continue to survive in this situation as it is, and they have to attempt a daring escape plan. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a major portion of the story takes place after their dramatic escape, when they have to adjust to “Outside”.

While I was fascinated by the way Ma had created a routine that kept her sane and her son safe and healthy inside Room, I was even more interested in their life after captivity. I was so happy that Donoghue didn’t end the book when Jack and Ma escaped, but rather went on to explore what it meant for Jack to enter a huge, frenetic, bewildering world at the age of five, and how hard it was for Ma to reenter that world after seven years of being held prisoner.

Donoghue is spot on with the voices—obviously of Jack and the immensely sympathetic Ma, but also with Ma’s doctor, nurse, mother, brother, sister-in-law, father, and new stepfather. Each of these minor characters adds layers to the complexity of Jack’s adaptation to the big world outside, and to Ma’s difficulty dealing with her feelings of guilt and sadness.

I was pleasantly surprised by Room. I'm glad I got over my difficulties with the subject matter and went ahead and read it. It was an intense read, but very rewarding. It was one of those books I just couldn't put down--I know I stayed up far past my bedtime to finish it, and that's a rare thing for me these days. I'm looking forward to reading more of Emma Donoghue's work.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Virginia Woolf's birthday...

Hello again! It's been months, I know. I've been busy with...just everything, and I neglected this poor blog. I guess I needed a vacation from something, so blogging took a backseat.

But it's Virginia Woolf's birthday, so I thought I'd post a link to the 59 Things You Didn't Know About Virginia Woolf on flavorwire. I didn't know any of these facts, and many are disturbing or just plain sad. But I can relate to number 14: "Woolf delighted in the physical act of writing words on paper. From the age of 11, she was continually experimenting with different kinds of pens in hope of finding one that would provide the perfect sensation." Also, number 27 made me laugh: "After getting married, Woolf thought she should learn some domestic skills, so she enrolled in a school of cookery. Shortly after, she accidentally baked her wedding ring in a suet pudding." Poor Virginia!

I'm also rushing to finish Room, by Emma Donoghue (which is short-listed for the Booker Prize, I believe). I was scared to pick this one up, due to the subject matter, but it's not hard to read--just the opposite, in fact. It's a riveting page-turner, and I'm almost finished...

Anybody else reading any page-turners?