Sunday, February 24, 2008

What are you reading?

My friend Breeni of Breeni Books tagged me for the What are you reading? meme.

I'm supposed to -
Turn to page 123 of the nearest book, go to the fifth sentence and post the next three! Then tag five more people.

I'll cheat and do this for the two books that I'm most actively reading at the moment and not tag five people.

First -
Tobacco particulate thickens the air.
A shelf of books: Auden, Veblen, Spengler, Steinbeck, Dos Passos. Tropic of Cancer, out in plain view, it must have been smuggled.
That's from Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, which I am reading in preparation for our book club discussion on Wednesday.

Second -
I went eagerly into it. Then we took a sharp left, and the road changed, we crunched over dirt. There was a car parked at the end of the lane, and the hard black of a building through the overhanging branches, and we got out and walked towards it, around a corner, and now there was a single bulb above a door.
That's from Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra. I got a lovely hardcover copy of this book last weekend for $2 at Russell's new favorite used book store. I'm not supposed to be adding books to Mt. TBR - but I'd heard really good things about this book and the protagonist is a Sikh - so I've decided to read it before it can make it to one of our book cases (so it'll never technically by on Mt. TBR). I'm on page 181 of 900.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The focus of this short novel is a conversation between a bearded Pakistani man and an American man he has just met, which takes place during the course of one evening in a Lahore café. In his mesmerizing monologue, Changez describes his life: education at Princeton, job at a high-powered finance firm in New York, the love of his life, and what brought him back to Pakistan.

A unique post-9/11 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a page-turner without resorting to plot devices. Well-written and thought-provoking, the novel is more subtle than its title suggests, dealing less with the political, religious, and sociological reasons behind Islamic fundamentalism than with the disillusionment of youth and issues of cultural identity.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Mohsin Hamid grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. His first novel, Moth Smoke, was a PEN/Hemingway Award finalist and New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

~ ~ ~

Starting this month I'm going a Book of the Month feature on one of our library blogs to highlight some of our holdings. My plan is to alternate between fiction and nonfiction every month. I think I'll have to be strict about that because otherwise I'd tend to choose fiction much more often than nonfiction.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the first book I chose for this feature mostly because it was featured in Recent Acquisitions on the front page of the library website for the better part of December and that made the book gathering dust on Mt. TBR quite unbearable.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day

I'm really not a huge fan of Valentine's Day, commercial holiday such as it is, but I did manage to share some books this year.

Russell and I weren't going exchange any gifts, but then I decided that I needed to have a sock kit from Wool Girl. So, when he found I book he's wanted for a while -- Perestroika!: Raucous Rebellion in Political Science by Kristen Renwick Monroe -- at a good price on, I got it for him.

My sister, who is not a big reader, and I usually exchange gifts. Since I'm always trying to find a book that'll get her to read, I decided to sneak The Royal Treatment, the first book in the Alaskan Royals series, in with her gift. Eureka! She loved it (we exchanged gifts early). She's already requested the other two books in the series and asked if I thought she'd like other books by MaryJanice Davidson.

more recent reading

Witch Child by Celia Rees
The year is 1659, a time of fear and lies. For Mary Newbury, it is a time of desperation. While she watches, unable to intervene, her wise and beloved grandmother is falsely condemned, tortured, and hanged as a witch. Soon the relentless crowd may turn upon Mary.
When a mysterious stranger offers her a way out--safe passage to America--she knows she must go. But she doesn't know that the turbulent voyage will bring her to yet another society where differences are feared and defiance is deadly. To survive, Mary pretends to be a pious Puritan girl. But when witch frenzy begins to tear apart the community, Mary must finally choose between the precarious safety of her disguise and her own true nature.

The time period and subject matter are both of great interest to me and I thought this book was very well done. I particularly liked the archival aspect of it - the fact that the bulk of the book was Mary's diary that she hid in a quilt and was only discovered 400+ years later.

I found Mary's character quite sympathetic and ended the book hoping that she'd met up with Jaybird and lived happily-ever-after with his tribe. Now that I know there is a sequel (Sorceress), I've put in on my wishlist.

The Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld series by Alexander McCall Smith
Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances (all published in 2003).

I feel the end to harken back to something I wrote about The Sunday Philosophy Club, the first book in another AMS series:
One thing that occurred to me as I was listening to the book is how different Isabel is from Precious Rambotswe (star of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books). Not that I expected them to be similar, but I found it interesting that while McCall Smith's core audience probably has the least in common with Precious, she may very well be his most sympathetic protagonist (I don't know anything about the 44 Scotland Street series, though, so I could be completely off base).
Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld is if anything less sympathetic than Isabel Dalhousie. He's a quirky, clueless, self-important academic who manages to get himself into very Bridget Jones-y situations. I did, however, like the books (though the over-the-top situation in At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances may have put me off reading more books in the series if there were any). They are very tongue-in-cheek and because I know more about German culture than the average American (and more than I probably care to know about academe), I was able to appreciate a lot of what AMS was going with the books.

The highlight of the series, however, has to be the case of mistaken identity in The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs. I was so amused (though, again, AMS carried it a bit too far later in the novel).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - But, Enough About Books

What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time? Walk the dog? Knit? Run marathons? Construct grandfather clocks? Collect eggshells?

I do knit (I started last year), though I try to combine the two hobbies by knitting while listening to audio books and reading knitting books. I adore Ravelry and think it is a fantastic resource.

I'm also into BookCrossing, a book tracking site (here's my bookshelf). I do lots of BookCrossing-related stuff and attend meet-ups in Oakville, ON (monthly) and Rochester, NY (occasionally).

Russell and I play lots of board games, particularly eurogames. We're on Board Game Geek where you can see our game collection (the war games are all Russell's). We also cycle when the weather is good and participate in the Ride for Roswell every year.

I also volunteer for Youth for Understanding, the exchange organization through which I went to Germany when I was in high school. I support international students, do interviews of American students applying to the program and potential host families, and I just became certified to give specialized training to other volunteers.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

some recent reading

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, read by Steven Crossley
High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother. He is angry and alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in his imagination, he finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a land that is a strange reflection of his own world, populated by heroes and monsters, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book...The Book of Lost Things.

I had heard good things about this book, but didn't remember much about it. Listening to the book, I thought it was very well done, but it was much darker than I expected. I liked how Connolly incorporated fairy tales into the story and gave them a twist to serve his needs though in most cases they ended up darker and more menacing than even the usual not-so-nice versions of fairy tales.

In some ways this book reminded me of Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy, which I read last year. It is very different, but I loved Gruber's take on the fairy tales.

I though Crossley was a wonderful reader, especially in how he brought the different characters to life through his voice.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman's face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the searing pain of peer rejection and the paralyzing fear of never being loved.

I picked up Autobiography of a Face and Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty around the same time after hearing that they were both fantastic books and should be read together.

I have yet to read Truth and Beauty, but it seems to me that it is impossible to read Autobiography of a Face and not be curious about Grealy's life beyond the part described in the memoir. In doing that supplemental reading, I discovered the tension between the two books and the fact that Suellen Grealy, Lucy's older sister, came out against Truth and Beauty in The Guardian.

Autobiography of a Face wasn't the easiest to read, but Grealy wrote about her life and struggles eloquently and with great honesty. The saddest part of her story, however, is the cause of her untimely death in 2002.* After I learned about her death, I began to see Grealy as much more of a tragic character than I did when I finished the book.

I'll be reading Truth and Beauty soon. I understand Suellen Grealy's concerns, but I know that each of the books only contains a version of the truth and, for better or for worse, Patchett, by writing Truth and Beauty has brought Grealy and Autobiography of a Face much more exposure than they would have had otherwise.

* Apparently she became addicted to prescription painkillers after her last reconstructive surgery (similar to the brief codeine addiction she describes in the book), which served as a gateway to heroine and her eventual accidental overdose.