Monday, June 30, 2008

The Big Read

I received the following in an email forward. I thought it might be an interesting addition to the blog.

The Big Read, an initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts, has estimated that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed. How do you do?

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.

[A quick note on Dickens before I start. I haven't read Dickens in a long time and I honestly can't remember which of his books I have read (besides A Christmas Carol) so I am not marking them as read]

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (I've already confessed, on multiple occasions, that I never got very far into Fellowship before I gave up)
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
(I loved this book when I read it in high school)
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50. Atonement - Ian McEwan (I have this one on Mt. TBR)
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon (on Mt. TBR)
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt (on Mt. TBR)
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac (on Mt. TBR)
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt (on Mt. TBR)
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (on Mt. TBR)
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker (on Mt. TBR)
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (on Mt. TBR)
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte's Web - EB White

88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
(read in translation as well as in the original French)
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas (I haven't read an unabridged version)
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare (as shocking as this may seem, I don't think I've actually ever read Hamlet)
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Friday, June 27, 2008


Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, Disobedience is the story of Ronit Krushka, a 32-year-old financial analyst living in New York City. A strong, independent woman, Ronit has been blazing her own path since her teens. When her father, a leader of Orthodox Jewish community in London, dies, Ronit feels a strong urge to return home. Reentering the stifling environment of her youth, Ronit is forced to confront her past.

The story is narrated in turn by Ronit (with a fantastic interior monologue that refers frequently to her psychiatrist back in NY) and a third-person omniscient narrator and each chapter begins with a quote from the Torah or other Talmudic text. Highlighting both the similarities and differences between the religious community of Hendon and the secular world in which most of us live, Disobedience is indeed about the tendency to disobedience that is inherent in each of us.

My favorite chapter in seven. I loved how the chapter begins with "Our sages warn us often against the perils of gossip: lashon hara, which means, literally, an evil tongue" (109) and an explanation of why gossip is so bad and then continues to follow all the orthodox women in the neighborhood self-consciously gossiping about Ronit and Esti. Alderman handles this masterfully:
Mrs. Berditcher drew breath. She might know something. Just a little piece of news. The bread slicer clattered, its comb-blades flickering up and down as the women drew closer. Wat? What did Mrs. Berditcher know? Mrs. Berditcher shook her head. It would not be right to speak of such things. She and Mr. Berditcher thought they might have seen something on their walk home after Shabbat the previous evening. But they could not be sure. It had been dark. They had been very far away. Their eyes may have deceived them. Although, seeing Ronit so different, her hair so short, her demeanor so assertive and still unmarried at thirty-two, well, there seemed a kind of sense to it. But what? What had been seen? The break slicer roared to life again, a limp-haired assistant by its side feeding it four large, square white loaves. Mrs. Berditcher demurred. It would certainly be lashon hara to speak the words, and lashon hara is a thing of evil, as they had learned many years before. Mrs. Stone and Mrs. Abramson heard, as through from far away, a faint and calming voice telling them to desist. Move on, it said, go on with your shopping. Buy bages and kichels and rugelach. But nearer at hand they felt a quickening pulse at their temples. Go on, they pressed, go one. Mrs. Berditcher hesitate and, in a low voice, went on. (114-115)
And it just gets better.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Booking Through Thursday -

This week's question:
What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is?... Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

This isn't something I spend a lot of time pondering, but I guess my definition isn't terribly specific. A reader to me is one who reads, irregardless of what they read or how often. The OED says "one who reads or peruses" (2.a.). That seems spot-on to me.

Last week's question:
Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books... what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not?

I don't think there is one specific thing that makes me love one book over another. I like different books for different reasons. For example, I like Jasper Fforde (author of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes books) because I am in awe of his imagination, while I love The God of Small Things because of Roy's writing (among other things) and Zahrah the Windseeker because of its story and how the world the author created relates to and illuminates our own. Some books I like because of how atmospheric they are, others I like because of the story itself, still others because I relate so well to the protagonist. I like some books because they distract me from my everyday life and others because they seem authentic. I like some books because of their exotic settings and others because I feel at home in their stories. So, really, it depends.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Book clubbing in June

This month's book club selection wass the 2008 Caldecott Medal winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

Though it is 500+ pages, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a very quick read. It's not a graphic novel, but rather a novel that takes a cue from film and uses image sequences (in the form of detailed line drawings, also by the author) to further the plot.

I don't really want to get into plot since the story itself isn't very long. Selznick clearly put a good deal of thought and time into the book. It's very clever and there's a wonderful sense of interconnectedness to it.

One of the book club members checked an audio version out of the library (in the audio version the image sequences are replaced by realistic sound sequences) that came a bonus DVD. We watched part of it and had a chance to listen to the Selznick discuss about the book, how he came up with the idea(s) for it, and a lot of the historical background to it and that really did give most of us a new appreciation for the book.

As a group we thought that The Invention of Hugo Cabret was equally appropriate for children/YA and for adults. We appreciated the fact that the story revolved around a historical personage and how it taught us as readers about the history of film without being too obvious about it.

My only complaint is that the story itself was so short. I wished it would have been a bit meatier, taken a bit longer to read.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

literary movements and whatnot

At their request I recently wrote a little article on literary movements for Readers' Advisor News.

Here's the intro:
While readers' advisors often use genre designations and appeal features to help guide readers, it is easy to overlook other reading interests that may not be as obvious. Literary movements are a perfect example. While literary movements can be both nebulous and intimidating to readers, given a well-placed recommendation, books that fit into those categories may appeal to readers who don't normally think in these terms.

Care to read the rest?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Subtitled "One Woman's Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia", Eat, Pray, Love is a candid memoir that focuses particularly on one year in the life of the author. After finalizing a bitter, seemingly never-ending divorce, Gilbert takes a year off to indulge her wanderlust and discover who is she outside of the confines of her life in the states.

She first goes to Italy, where she soaks up the Italian language like a sponge all the while savoring each meal that comes her way. Next to rural India, where she cloisters herself in her guru's ashram. And, finally, to Bali where she seems to find balance and, in the end, love.

I'll be the first to admit that I had a hard time getting into this book. The Italy section, particularly at the beginning, is so focused on the problems Gilbert had before embarking on the journey that it wasn't an easy read. Then once I'm finally feeling comfortable, she's off to India and there's a completely different (and in some ways less-relatable) focus to the narrative. The Balinese part seemed to me the shortest. It's the most balanced, probably because Gilbert at this point is finally feeling things come together in terms of her overarching self-discovery journey.

While I didn't think that Eat, Pray, Love was as fantastic as I'd heard it'd be (it seemed at times much too detailed and at others not detailed enough), I'm definitely be interested in reading Gilbert's follow-up memoir (Weddings and Evictions) just to find out more about how things turned out with "Felipe".

Friday, June 20, 2008


Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Set on a Laguna Pueblo reservation in New Mexico, Ceremony follows Tayo, a World War II veteran struggling to pull together the pieces of his life. Frighteningly real ancient Laguna stories are interwoven with Tayo’s, illuminating his life and our own.

Short, but complex, Ceremony is more than the story of one man’s alienation. In subtle ways the author illuminates paradoxes inherent in the relationship between native peoples and the United States, explores identity, and challenges assumptions.

Of particular interest is the novel’s explanation of the origins of the European settlers.

More on the Student Services blog...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On a Day like This

Here's a peek at a review that appeared in Library Journal this month.

On a Day Like This by Peter Stamm

Swiss author Peter Stamm's latest novel describes a few months in the life of Andreas, a secondary school teacher and confirmed bachelor. This glimpse at one man's midlife crisis is a mediation on what it means to be lonely. Sitting in a doctor's office awaiting the results of a biopsy, Andreas has an epiphany. Dissatisfied with the banality of his life, he decides to quit his job, sell his apartment, end his romantic affairs, and leave Paris for good. He heads to his childhood home in Switzerland and an ill-fated reunion with his first love. Andreas's completely unrealistic self-perception (illustrated with subtle irony by his language-teaching materials) makes up for his being far from sympathetic as a protagonist. Stamm's narrative is both insightful and dreamy, his fluid prose rendered adeptly by award-winning translator Michael Hofmann. And while the novel's ending is unexpected (and, some might argue, inappropriate), it is not unwelcome.

See the full review at Library Journal (temporarily) or Barnes and Noble under "editorial reviews" (it should be there shortly).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Booking Through Thursday to Friday - Clubbing

A day late...

Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose the next book and who would lead discussion?

Yes! I'd always wanted to be in a book club so I helped found a book club at work in 2006. We don't have one set person who leads our discussions each month. I usually try to get us started talking and then just let the discussion run its course. As for choosing books, we vote. I pull together a large voting list, divided by genre, based on suggestions from book club members, then I open up the voting to all library staff members (since everyone is welcome to come). Using the results of the voting, I schedule the books so that we read a different genre each month. Making a concerted effort to read a variety of genres is good for all of us. It helps us to branch out and it also makes the club a bit more inclusive and occasionally we do have someone come to a meeting just because we are reading a genre or book s/he is interested in.

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

I don't think that the fact that a book is "assigned" (whether for book club or school or review) makes me more or less likely to appreciate it. In fact, I think that I force myself to be even more open-minded with assigned books (since in many cases I may be reading books I wouldn't chose on my own). I do think I probably do pay a bit more attention to assigned books, read them more thoughtfully, because I know I'll be having to discuss or write about them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Weather Warden

Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series

So far I've read the first three books -- Ill Wind, Heat Stroke, and Chill Factor -- and am in the process of reading the fourth, Windfall.

I read Ill Wind last summer.
Ill Wind was a quick read, but very enjoyable. It took me a little while to really get into the world Caine is describing, but after that point I was hooked. I loved the twist at the end and am looking forward to reading the other books in the series (as soon as I get my hands on them!).
- 31 July 2007 journal entry
I'd been slowly accumulating the other books in the series (I had books 3-5), but finally broke down and bought Heat Stroke last month so that I could get on with reading the series (and passing the books on to another reader).

Now that I have read more of the series, I have a better idea of Caine's intent. The series, and Caine's world, get more complex with each addition to the story. Sometimes things do seem a bit too complex and there seems to be too much action, too many twists. Caine's protagonist, Joanne, however is very sympathetic (though at times her focus on fashion and cars seems a bit forced) and Caine puts her through a heck of a lot in such a short period of time.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Trends

Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?

Like most people, I go through phases, but let me try to think of some generalities.

When I was younger, living with my parents, I read a lot more fantasy than I do now. That's because my dad is a huge fantasy reader so I had easy access to both his books and his recommendations.

I read more nonfiction now than I have in the past (not including assigned readings in college and grad school). Part of that is because I live with a nonfiction reader and get must-read recommendations from him and part of that is because I make more of an effort to read nonfiction for pleasure (like making sure that every other "book of the month" is nonfiction).

At the end of the month I'll post a list of all the books I've read so far this calendar year (if you are dying to know sooner rather than later, you can see the list on my bookcrossing profile page). But in general it seems that I naturally try to balance more serious and literary reads with lighter (dare I say "fluffy") reads.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My Name is Red

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

At once a fiendishly devious mystery, a beguiling love story, and a brilliant symposium on the power of art, My Name is Red is a transporting tale set amid the splendor and religious intrigue of sixteenth-century Istanbul, from one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish writers.

The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed. The ruling elite therefore mustn't know the full scope or nature of the project, and panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears. The only clue to the mystery — or crime? — lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, My Name is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex, and power.

My Name is Red has been sitting on Mt. TBR since Tuesday, August 29, 2006. I've really wanted to read it so my train-travel weekend (8.5 hours down, 8 hours back) seemed like a perfect opportunity. So, into my bag, I threw it and The Floating Brothel (which I never even got around to starting).

I enjoyed My Name is Red, but I have to say that it was not the right selection at all for this trip. My overtired brain just couldn't fully appreciate the novel with its detailed storyline and all Pamuk's interesting narrative devices. I slogged through it, a chapter to two at a time, never getting into a real groove with my reading even when I had a huge chunk of time to devote to it. I have to say that My Name is Red is definitely a book that I'll want to reread. I know that I'll have a completely different experience reading it next time and that I'll enjoy it more being able to immerse myself completely in the story and its complexities.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

travel, envy, and escapist reading

When I got in to work this morning, a copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was on my chair. Last week at our staff recognition luncheon I chatted with a colleague who had recently finished the book, had good things to say about it, and offered to loan it to me.

Getting this book on the heels of a weekend spent with 78 high schoolers who'll be leaving this summer on exchange (I think I've mentioned before that I volunteer for Youth for Understanding) made me think about our collective love of books written by people who take a break from their lives, travel, and then write about the experience. (When I say "our collective love" I'm referring to the fact that these books end up on bestseller lists)

I wonder why we like these books so much. Yes, we all enjoy armchair traveling to some extent, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that we read these books because we want to live vicariously through these authors and their stories. I bet many of us are secretly jealous of those people who had the courage to do such things (yes, some people do things we'd never even consider doing, but I'm not referring to them) and fantasize about being able to take a break from our own humdrum lives.

I know I do. Being around all those teenagers last weekend as they prepared themselves to go to Japan and Finland and a whole host of other foreign lands, I couldn't help but get nostalgic and a teensy bit jealous.