Thursday, July 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Beginnings

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

For me, there is one truly memorable first line:
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
- One Hundred Years of Solitude
It is one first line that really sticks with me.

It was also the first line of one of my college application essays. When I was applying to college, one of the essay options for the University of Chicago was an improv piece. We were given a number of different things that we had to incorporate into the essay (I can't remember them all off the top of my head, but one was The Complete Works of Shakespeare) including that line. It was a wonderful challenge and the fact that the school had an essay option like that left no doubt in my mind that Chicago was my first choice school.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

book clubbing in July

This month's book club selection was Good Omens (The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch) by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I didn't do such a good job with my genre distribution this time around since we've had two zany British books in the past three months,* but no matter.

I'd heard really good things about Good Omens, but I have to admit that I'm a bit ambivalent about the novel. I like the concept and, yes, I did laugh out loud at some points, but I never really got into it and I definitely felt that it dragged a bit. I probably wasn't in the right mood for the book.

Surprisingly, the other book clubbers were equally ambivalent (though to be fair, there were a few people who didn't actually read the book). Previously we'd read Gaiman's Neverwhere (read post) and we didn't feel that Good Omens was all that different. We discussed its similarities to Dogma, but those of us who had both seen the movie and read the book decided that we liked Dogma better (where Dogma gets into the knitty-gritty, Good Omens is much more superficial in its look at good and evil and the players involved).

We talked about Good Omens for a while, but then we wandered to other topics. It wasn't the most successful choice for us, but none of us regretted having read it.

* May's selection was The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Forgetting Room

The Forgetting Room by Nick Bantock

I hadn't read Nick Bantock before. I'd heard interesting things about his work, but The Forgetting Room was my first Nick Bantock book.

To some extent, it defies explanation. On the surface, The Forgetting Room is the story of a Massachusetts-based bookbinder named Armon, who inherits a family home in Ronda, Spain after the death of his grandfather, and his trip to Spain in order to settle the estate.

Of course, the fact that artist Rafael Hurtago's will actually says "to my grandson, Armon Hurt, I leave my house in Ronda, Spain and the uncertainty of its contents. May he discover his belonging" is the first clue that the story is more than it seems. Though the novel is short (a mere 106 pages), it contains an entire creative universe. There are tales within tales. A puzzle leads to self-discovery and nine days in Ronda have the potential to change the protagonist's life.

Reading Bantock's work is a sensory experience. The Forgetting Room is gorgeously illustrated. The art is integral to the story and the scrapbook-like nature of the book allows for the reader to interact with the narrative and participate in the story.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Reading outside the box

Recently I took part in a "New to me" exchange, in which participants to send their partner a book from a genre that they don't normally read. Of course, the real point is to turn each other on to new genres so the trick is to try to pick a book that your partner will actually enjoy reading.

I sent my partner, who doesn't read literary fiction, Disobedience by Naomi Alderman (you can read my comments on the book here). My partner sent me How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard. The description sounds great, but it's definitely not something I would have picked out myself (I don't usually read nonfiction and I probably would have been turned off by the title and not even bothered to read the description).

Similarly Russell and I occasionally swap reading challenges. We have very different tastes so we rarely read the same books. We hadn't done one of these swaps for quite some time so we decided to do one this summer. I'm making him read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I'm reading it now and am reminded how much I like the series (I got the fifth book, The Fiery Cross as an audio for a car trip years ago) and I legitimately think he'll enjoy it. He's making me read Exodus by Leon Uris, which he could have probably gotten me to read outside of the challenge.

Of course both of these books will show up on the blog (later this summer or in the fall) so you'll be able to see what I think of them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Vacation Spots

Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?
Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?
What/Where are they?

An interesting set of questions. Do I buy books while on vacation? Yes, sometimes. Usually when I run out of things to read on my trip. When that happens I'll buy wherever I can (big box stores, airport bookshops, etc). I do like to browse independent and used book stores when I happen across them while I'm on vacation, but those visits are usually spur-of-the-moment rather than planned.

That being said, one of my favorite bookstores is the Seminary Co-op in Hyde Park (home of University of Chicago, my alma mater). I'm still a member and I try to visit every time I go to Chicago.

travel reads

Summer reading is often synonymous with travel or vacation reading. I haven't been posting much lately because I've been busy (why is it that summer ends up being the busiest time of year?). I had a bit of a trip last week so I thought I'd post about the books I decided to bring with me.

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters
~ Audiobook read by Barbara Rosenblat

Banned forever from the eastern end of the Valley of the Kings, eminent Egyptologist Radcliffe Emerson's desperate attempt to regain digging rights backfires— and his dream of unearthing the tomb of the little-known king Tutankhamon is dashed. Now Emerson, his archaeologist wife, Amelia Peabody, and their family must watch from the sidelines as Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter discover the greatest Egyptian treasure of all time.
But the Emersons' own less impressive excavations are interrupted when father and son Ramses are lured into a trap by a strange group of villains ominously demanding answers to a question neither man comprehends. And it will fall to the ever-intrepid Amelia to protect her endangered family— and perhaps her nemesis as well— from a devastating truth hidden uncomfortably close to home... and from a nefarious plot that threatens the peace of the entire region.

I needed an audiobook since I knew I'd be doing a good deal of driving. Browsing the discount bookstore, I came up with Tomb of the Golden Bird, Elizabeth Peters' 18th Amelia Peabody Mystery. it was sufficiently long (14 hours) and unabridged. I knew that it was a recent installment in a series, but had no idea how many books were in the series. Luckily for me, the book does stand on its own and readers can follow the action without needing to know the backstories of all the various characters.

I didn't find the novel particularly suspenseful, but the story (and how it relates to the actual discovery of King Tut's tomb) was interesting. The story gets bogged down in the details, I think. Amelia Peabody is an interesting character as are many of the individuals in her sphere. It is Peters' gift for characterization that makes the novel engaging. Additionally, the reader, Barbara Rosenblat, does a wonderful job rendering the individual characters with very distinctive voices for many of the main characters.

Carnevale by M R Lovric

1782: the 13-year old daughter of a Venetian merchant family is lured naked from her bath by a stray cat and finds herself in the arms of Casanova. Twenty-five years later, her renown as a painter is eclipsed only by her reputation as his last lover. Then a young poet named Byron enters her life.

I'd previously read Lovric's The Floating Book, which I really enjoyed. I love historical fiction and I love Venice. I also love art historical ficiton, but for some reason I just could not get into Carnevale. I gave the book until page 100 and then I decided that I should let it go and try again at some other point.

Casanova is undoubtedly interesting, but there's only so much that I want to hear about him in a story about someone else. Cecilia is an interesting character, but her story definitely gets bogged down in the narration of Casanova's personal history. I might have stuck with it, but the glimpse we get of Byron at the very beginning of the novel did nothing to whet my appetite for the rest of the novel.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Belated Booking Through Thursday - Doomsday

This week's question:
One of my favorite bookstores burned down last weekend, and while I only got to visit there while I was on vacation, it made me stop and think.
What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?
Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop... what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

I haven't been buying (or checking out from the library) very many books simply because I have accumulated such a cache of to-be-read books since I joined BookCrossing in 2005. So, this question, isn't terribly relevant to me at the moment: I'd simply go on reading the books I have already (and that'd keep me busy for quite a while). I do enjoy browsing in bookstores and I do buy books as presents, but usually I've been buying from places online (Amazon, or in local used or discount bookstores when I have had to buy books for gifts or as must-haves.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult

To the outside world, they seem to have it all. Cassie Barrett, a renowned anthropologist, and Alex Rivers, one of Hollywood's hottest actors, met on the set of a motion picture in Africa. They shared childhood tales, toasted the future, and declared their love in a fairy-tale wedding. But when they return to California, something alters the picture of their perfect marriage. A frightening pattern is taking shape-a cycle of hurt, denial, and promises, thinly veiled by glamor. Torn between fear and something that resembles love, Cassie wrestles with questions she never dreamed she would face: How can she leave? Then again, how can she stay?

I don't know what it is about Jodi Picoult. Her writing is compelling. After discovering her you always want to read more. Even if you come across one of her books that you really don't like, you still want to read her others. BUT it seems like the books you read subsequently never measure up to the first one (for me that was Plain Truth). At this point I have read the majority of her novels, but my first exposure to Picoult remains my favorite of her books.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, Picoult writes what I call "issue fiction". Her books can sometimes be unbearably depressing. Despite the issue of this book being one that I find particularly difficult to handle (and the death of the childhood best friend hitting a bit too close to home), Picture Perfect isn't one of her more depressing books. The characters are all pretty well-drawn and believable (even Ophelia is realistic in her self-absorption). For most of the main characters there is redemption. The ending is more realistic than those of some of Picoult's other books (and more hard-won). Picoult incorporates other cultures into the narrative (as she does with some of the other novels) with success, I think.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Holidays

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple–What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

These are the books that I'm currently reading: I'll probably read a bit of most of them over the weekend and maybe even finish one or two. I also have Happy for No Reason, a self-helpy type book that I requested through interlibary loan. I'll probably skim through it this weekend as well.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Books Read January-June 2008 (2 of 2)

93. Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
92. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
91. Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead
90. Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead
89. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
88. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
87. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
86. Firestorm by Rachel Caine
85. Windfall by Rachel Caine
84. Chill Factor by Rachel Caine
83. Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine
82. Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng
81. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
80. Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
79. The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce
78. Knit Two Together by Connie Lane
77. Terrier (Beka Cooper) by Tamora Pierce
76. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
75. Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
74. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
73. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
72. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
71. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchell
70. The Bride Stripped Bare, Anonymous
69. The Illustrated Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte/Dame Darcy
68. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
67. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
66. The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards
65. Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
64. On a Day Like This by Peter Stamm
63. The Gospel of Judas by Simon Mawer
62. The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman
61. A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory
60. The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman
59. Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
58. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
57. The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman
56. Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
55. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
54. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
53. Sugar and Spice by Leda Swann
52. Grave Surpise by Charlaine Harris
51. Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Books Read January-June 2008 (1 of 2)

As promised, here's the first part of list of books read so far this year. The ones I liked best are italicized.

50. Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy
49. The Eye of the Leopard by Henning Mankell
48. Ghosthunters and the Muddy Monster of Doom by Cornelia Funke
47. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
46. Ghosthunters and the Totally Moldy Baroness by Cornelia Funke
45. Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
44. Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lighting Ghost by Cornelia Funke
43. Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost by Cornelia Funke
42. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
41. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
40. Stravaganza: City of Flowers by Mary Hoffman
39. Stravaganza: City of Stars by Mary Hoffman
38. All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris
37. Sophie and the Rising Sun by Augusta Trobaugh
36. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
35. LionBoy: The Chase by Zizou Corder
34. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
33. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
32. Sacred Ground by Mercedes Lackey
31. Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
30. Nemesis by Agatha Christie
29. A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
28. A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie
27. Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
26. Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
25. Life Safari by John Strelecky
24. The Royal Mess by MaryJanice Davidson
23. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
22. The Villa of Reduced Circumstances by A. McCall Smith
21. The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by A. McCall Smith
20. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
19. Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith
18. Honey Tongues by Helene Uri
17. Witch Child by Celia Rees
16. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
15. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
14. The Royal Pain by MaryJanice Davidson
13. Butter Chicken in Ludhiana by Pankaj Mishra
12. I am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen
11. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
10. Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
9. Looking for Alaska by John Green
8. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
7. Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
6. Madame Zee by Pearl Luke
5. 3rd Degree by James Patterson
4. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
2. An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
1. The Doublet Affair by Fiona Buckley