Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Firespell

Until recently Chloe Neill was not on my radar screen. She first popped up while I was doing my holiday shopping. One of my friends had Some Girls Bite, the first of Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series, on her wishlist. When I read the description, I had to buy it for her.
A couple of days ago when I was browsing eNYPL for reading material for my Nook, another of Neill's books, Firespell, was available so I decided to check it out.

Firespell by Chloe Neill

When her parents are offered a two-year research sabbatical in Germany, Lily Parker finds herself enrolled in St. Sophia's, an exclusive Chicago boarding school for her final two years of high school. As if missing her parents, adjusting to life in the big city (after upstate New York) and school uniforms weren't enough, things aren't quite what they seem at St. Sophia's. Lily finds her suitemate sneaking out at night, the principal drops hints about the Parkers past lives, and there's something decidedly strange behind the door in the school's basement.

Firespell is the first book in Neill's Dark Elite series (the second book, Hexbound, comes out in January). It was a quick read, I enjoyed it, and I'd read the next book in the series, but I wouldn't list it among the best of paranormal YA books.

Many of the relationships between the various characters lacked any kind of depth. I also don't think Neill's portrayal of boarding school is authentic (I didn't go to boarding school myself, but my sister did). It seems like Neill came up with what seemed like some semi-realistic boarding school rules, but then not only allowed her characters to ignore them (which is to be expected), but neglected to include the necessary authority figures to enforce them (why don't the girls have a house mother of some sort?).

thoughts on The Economist's best books of 2010

Russell subscribes to The Economist. I don't read it regularly, but will flip through an issue from time to time. Yesterday Russell pointed me to the "Books and arts" section of volume 397, issue 8711 (December 4, 2010) thinking that I'd like to see which titles the magazine had decided to include in their listing of the best books of 2010.

As expected I jumped straight to their picks for fiction where I noticed something quite strange. Seven books (Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, To the End of the Land by David Grossman, Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris, Mr Peanut by Adam Ross, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, and Selected Stories by William Trevor), all written by men.
Now, I don't always keep on top of all the new releases, but I know that there were were at least a few outstanding offerings from female authors this year. After all, five of the fourteen books on the Man Booker Prize longlist were written by women.

My perusal of the rest of the lists yielded only three titles obviously written by women. There were quite a few authors with ambiguous names, though, so I did a little digging today. Here's how it played out:
Politics and current affairs: 10 books, 1 female author
Biography and memoir: 4 books, 1 female author
History: 8 books, 2 female authors
Economics and business: 3 books, 0 female authors
Science and technology: 6 books, 0 female authors
Culture, society and travel: 4 books, 0 female authors
Fiction: 7 books, 0 female authors
Poetry, 2 books, 0 female authors
That's 44 books: 40 written by men and 4 written by women. Really? really?!

Well, congratulations to Rachel Polonsky (Molotov's Magic Lantern), Lyndall Gordon (Lives Like Loaded Guns), Amanda Foreman (A World on Fire), and Isabel Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns) for beating the odds to get onto The Economist's decidedly gender-biased best-books-of-2010 list.

Monday, December 27, 2010

library books on the nook

I got a Nook for Christmas! The 3G/WiFi one, which is what I wanted since we don't have wireless at home, with the Alice in Wonderland case. I am a very lucky girl.

When I wrote about the Nook earlier this month (see post), I mentioned that library ebook-friendliness was one of its biggest benefits. I have to admit that I had a bit of trouble getting library ebooks to work on my Nook (it's quite easy if you do everything in the right order, but if not, it's a huge headache) so I thought I'd post about what I did wrong and how I fixed it for the benefit of future new users frantically searching the internet for a solution to their problem.

OK, first you need to know that even though you are getting a PDF or EPUB book from the library, the file will most likely end with ACSM. You can just drag those files onto your nook "my documents" folder like you could if you wanted to load a normal PDF on the Nook. ACSM stands for "Adobe Content System Message" - rather than being the ebook itself, it is your authorization for access to the book. You need to use Adobe Digital Editions (which handles rights management) as a middleman. Here's a video from nooktalk that goes over this and how to setup ADE for use with your Nook. As I mentioned above, follow the instructions in order and you will have no problem.

Here's what I did wrong. Before I worried about library books I decided to try getting a GoogleBook onto my Nook. You need ADE for that so when I get up ADE on my computer I used an AdobeID associated with my blogging gmail account (which is NOT the email address I use for my Barnes and Noble account). I've read that having your Adobe ADE authorization account information match your B&N account information isn't necessary, but (at least in my experience) it is.

With my ADE set up and authorized to that gmail account, I could get the library books downloaded and onto the Nook, but when I tried to read them I would get a "user not activated" error. After wasting a huge amount of time on the internet trying to figure out the solution (as well as multiple un- and re-installs of ADE), I determined that 3 things were necessary to fix the problem.
  1. 1. Update my AdobeID to match my B&N account -
    I didn't need to create a new account, once you are logged into Adobe you can change the email address used as your login)
  2. Get my ADE to associate with the new AdobeID -
    the magic combination is Control-Shift-D, hit those keys while ADE is open and you can deauthorize your ADE and then authorize using the correct AdobeID
  3. Get my Nook to "forget" its Adobe-authorization -
    Figuring out this problem (and then its solution) was my big hangup. When the Nook is connected to your computer and you can access its drive, delete these two folders (contents and all): "Digital Editions" and ".adobe-digital-editions". Don't worry, the only thing you'll lose are the files you can't access anyway (all your other stuff is stored in different folders). Once they are gone, the next time ADE will meet the Nook as if for the first time and let you authorize the Nook to the proper AdobeID. Ta da!
Hope this helps.

Friday, December 24, 2010

24 december

Have you been procrastinating?
Here's another great gift idea for the book lover in your life. They'll never know you didn't plan ahead.

Indiespensable Subscription



Indiespensable is a subscription club from Powell's that "delivers the best new books, with special attention to independent publishers. Signed first editions. Inventive, original sets. Exclusive printings.... Every six weeks, another installment to read and admire." Sounds great, right? $39.95 per shipment (includes shipping with the US)

If you'd like to get a better idea of what's included in the shipments, Powell's has a list of the contents of all their previous shipments.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

23 december

If I'm ever put in charge of decorations for our holiday party, I'll do something like this....

A bookish Christmas tree

NUC Christmas Tree 2010_04

The National Union Catalog Christmas tree at USF's Gleeson Library.
Photo by Shawn (shawncalhoun), more available in his 2010 NUC Christmas Tree album.

word: hubris

hubris
- Presumption, originally towards the gods; pride, excessive self-confidence. (per the OED)

I've been reading The Passage by Justin Cronin, but I decided to take a break from it last night because I haven't been sleeping all that well lately (because of the book? who knows). The Passage is described as "postapocalyptic vampire fantasy," but I think that's false advertising. I'm around page 200 now (it's a monster of a book, edging 800 pages). I wouldn't describe it as fantasy (more like near-future scifi). I'd say "dystopian future" rather than "postapocalyptic," but maybe the Apocalypse is forthcoming? In any case it is very dark and as the story progresses it keeps revealing all these horrible things that have happened to the characters. I'm persevering because the novel is supposed to be really good and I want to see where it's going, but I needed a bit of a break from it.

In any case, I decided to read the second Percy Jackson and the Olympians book, The Sea of Monsters (see my post on book 1). In it, Annabeth (one of the secondary characters) learns that hubris is her fatal flaw. In explaining hubris to Percy (who confused hubris with hummus), she says: "Don't you ever feel that way? Like you could do a better job if you ran the world?" (200). While I don't see myself in the dictionary definition of hubris, I can definitely relate to Annabeth.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

22 december

Remember this book? Gnomes by Wil Huygen, illustrated by Rien Poortvliet (1977).

My parents have a set of little plastic book-shaped Christmas light covers with Poortvliet's gnome illustrations on them. It's not a huge set, just enough for a short string, but it went up on our Christmas tree every year.

I'm a bit disappointed that my web-searching hasn't yielded an image to share because these light covers are so charming. Just thinking about them makes me happy as I'm reminded of tree-trimming and holiday preparations.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

21 december

People who love to read tend to gravitate to the same kinds of books. It's not that they aren't open to trying out something different, it's just that they know what they like.

If you are still looking for a gift for someone that you know loves to read, I'd suggest getting them a book that they wouldn't pick out for themselves. It doesn't need to be something drastically different than what they'd choose. Don't get a Regency romance for your Adrian Goldsworthy fan, but maybe something from Bernard Cornwell.

The most important thing is that the book you give should be one that you've enjoyed yourself or that has been given a good review by someone whose taste you trust. Why? Because if your bookish giftee receives a book in which they can see no redeeming value, they'll never trust your recommendation again.

Not sold on this idea yet? Think about your favorite books and authors, I bet you were introduced to at least one of them by a friend, family member, or colleague. No? well, bah humbug to you. Here's my final attempt at proof of concept: When I was visiting my parents for the Thanksgiving holiday I ran out of the reading material I brought from home. My parents' house is full of books so I had plenty of options, but I ended up starting a book that my father had set aside for me: Old Man's War by John Scalzi. He was reading one of the sequels and assured me that it was a great series. I would have never picked up this book on my own being as it was mass market scifi with an unappealing (to me) title. I liked it!

Monday, December 20, 2010

20 december

A stocking suffer suggestion.

Olive Editions



Harper Perennial puts out limited-edition, pocket-sized editions of classics and contemporary classics as Olive Editions (list price $10). The cover art is minimal, but quite nice (check out this blog post to see the spines). I'm a bit of a sucker for series and having sets that match. If I'd known about these when Olive Editions debuted I'd probably have started collecting them all, but having only come across them this year, I don't think I'll both since they are limited and I assume that tracking down copies of some of the early ones would be a case in frustration.*

This year's Olive Editions are Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (great book - I should reread it), Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (I can't remember if I've read this one, which means I should get a copy from the library tout de suite), and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (this was our book club selection for September, but apparently I never got around to posting about it).

* but if anyone has an Olive Edition of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (2008) they want to rehome, I'm your (wo)man.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

book clubbing in December

The title of the library book club's December selection is a bit of a mouthful.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


In the wake of WWII, London journalist Juliet Ashton receives an intriguing letter from the current owner of a book that was once part of her personal library: The Selected Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb. Dawsey Adams, a farmer from Guernsey, mentions belonging to a group intriguingly named "the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" that was formed during the war. When Juliet is asked to write an article about "the philosophical value of reading," she thinks that the Society might provide some fodder for her story. Through Dawsey, Juliet is introduced to other members of the Society, who pen missives to her about themselves, their reading interests, Guernsey, and the Occupation as diverse as the individuals themselves.

While I tend to enjoy both historical fiction and epistolary novels, I have to admit that I wasn't really looking forward to reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'd heard from so many different people how good it was that I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype. And, while the novel and I had a bit of a rocky start (Charles Lamb? I've never read Charles Lamb), I found that the longer I spent with the story, the more compelling it became.

Juliet is charming, cheeky, and wholly real. When Amelia Maugery (one of the founding members of the Society) questions Juliet's intentions in writing about the Society, Juliet responds:
Since you ask to know something about me, I have asked the Reverend Simon Simpless [...] to write to you. He has known me since I was a child and is fond of me. I have asked Lady Bella Taunton to provide a reference for me too. We were fire wardens together during the Blitz and she wholeheartedly dislikes me. Between the two of them, you may get a fair picture of my character. (35-36)
Absolutely perfect.

The novel's secondary characters are also well-wrought. The letter-writers each have a distinctive voice and even those who do not write leave a very clear impression (though I have to admit that nearly all of us book clubbers thought Dawsey was older than he actually was).

I think The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those books that will stick with you. I think I will not "say" anymore for fear of accidentally including spoilers in babble. Suffice it to say that I think you should read this book if you haven't already.

19 december

Today's gift suggestion is another Etsy find.

Custom Bookshelf Painting



Get the reader in your life a voucher for a painting from The Ideal Bookshelf. The image above is from one of the etsy listings, which includes images of other custom paintings she's done for people.

There are four basic options for custom paintings
- 8x8 inches featuring up to 7 books for $160
- 8x10 featuring up to 10 books for $220
- 8x10 featuring up to 15 books for $300
- 9x12 featuring up to 22 books for $400
and the artist is open to special requests.

If you like the idea, but can't afford the custom price tag, there are lots of prints ($20-$60) available in the etsy shop. I particularly like Ideal Bookshelf 97: IS, Ideal Bookshelf 8: ST, and Ideal Bookshelf 56: JT (love the addition of the hat!).

You can read more about the artist and why she likes painting books on her website.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

18 december

Subtitled "delectable recipes for scones, cakes, sandwiches, and more from New York's most whimsical tea spot," this book (which came out in October) would be a great gift (especially paired with some nice tea).

Alice's Tea Cup by Haley and Lauren Fox

For almost ten years, Alice's Tea Cup [the restaurant] has been a destination in New York City for locals and tourists alike who crave a scrumptious afternoon tea without airs or pretension. Haley and Lauren Fox learned at an early age that tea was more than just a beverage—it was an event to be shared and protected—and they divulge their tea-making philosophy and dozens of delectable recipes in this beautiful cookbook.

Embodying the mantra "tea turned on its ear," Alice's Tea Cup [the book] serves up unique twists to traditional Victorian tea fare, including:
Savories — Lapsang Souchong Smoked Chicken Salad and Cucumber Watercress Sandwiches with Lemon Chive Butter
Baked goods — Banana Nutella Cake and Mint Black Bottom Cupcakes
Sweet treats — Alice'S'mores and Queen of Tarts
Tea selections — from African Dew to Rooibos Bourbon
Specialty drinks — Alice's Tea-jito and Ginger Mar-tea-ni
And of course Alice's world-famous tender, moist scones—including nineteen versions, from pumpkin to peanut butter and jelly to ham and cheese

Haley and Lauren also show you how to throw a personalized "Curiouser and Curiouser" tea party with household props and offer lots of other ways to celebrate with tea and festive food. From salads to scones, pancakes to cupcakes, afternoon tea to evening mar-tea-nis, this fabulous cookbook lets you enjoy Alice's mouthwatering recipes without leaving home.

Friday, December 17, 2010

17 december

Another, but completely different kind of book lamp that I happened across at Uncommon Goods. (I featured a book lamp on the 9th)

Book Rest Lamp


If you feel right at home in a good book, then this is the lamp for you! Designed with the simple, geometric outline of a house, the lamp's low-heat internal CFL bulb provides your favorite reading spot with a warm glow. When you have to tear yourself away from your book, simply lay it face down on the lamp and it becomes a literary rooftop--and instant night light. Not only does it save your page, but it playfully incorporates your love of reading right into your room’s decor.

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is a trouble magnet. He suffers from both dyslexia and ADHD and is about to be kicked out of his sixth school in as many years. He's not a bad kid, though, and doesn't intentionally cause problems. He's just always getting blamed for all the inexplicable things that happen around him.

When Percy discovers that he's a half god and half human and joins Camp Half-Blood, things start beginning to make sense. Now his biggest problem should be figuring out who his father is--Hermes? Zeus? Poseidon? Hades?--except that Zeus' lightning bolt has been stolen and he's the prime suspect. There's only way to prove his innocence, and advert war between the gods: Percy is sent on a quest (with only a satyr and a twelve-year-old daughter of Athena as help-meets) to find the lightning bolt.

The Lightning Thief is the first book in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

I liked how Riordan used switched things up by making things that are usually considered negative (dyslexia and ADHD) into indicators of inhuman gifts (I expect that if kids who suffer for one or both of these issues come across this series, it might help them feel a little bit better about themselves). I also appreciated how fully Greek mythology was incorporated into the story. The novel isn't perfect and there are a few aspects of the plot that don't quite add up, but overall I think The Lightning Thief is a very promising beginning to a new series.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

16 december

Knitting for a reader...

Aemelia Book Cover



Named after Aemilia Lanyer, a 17th Century English poet, the book cover is perfect for hiding the covers of mass market titles we aren't always willing to admit that we read.

I've wanted to knit this pattern from the moment I first saw a photo on the designer's blog in October. It was published in the Holiday Gifts issue of Interview Knits. Now, I subscribe to Interview, but Holiday Knits is a special issue that's not included in the subscription so I had to run off to Jo-Ann (armed with a coupon) to get myself a copy.

I wanted to knit one for my mom. And when my lunchtime knitting group decided to do a secret exchange I thought it was just the thing that my partner would like. Today was our lunch and gift exchange so I can finally post about Aemelia (my mom doesn't read this blog so I'm not worried about accidentally spoiling anything for her).

Aemelia is a quick knit (love the decorative panel!), but swatching and blocking are imperative. More of my notes on the pattern (and project photos) are available on Ravelry.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

15 december

I love to have hardcover copies of books that I really like and am planning to keep longterm. Many people have enjoyed these books so a boxed set might be just the thing.

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy

I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (see post) over the summer. I haven't continued with the series because The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is our book club selection for January, but I plan to start The Girl Who Played with Fire right after our book club meeting next month.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

14 december

Know someone who likes to read in bed?

Reading Wedge Pillow



I have to admit that I love The Company Store. Their stuff is really high quality and they often offer their linens in fun prints.

People who read in bed will love their reading wedge pillow (I have a large-sized one with a lime green cover). As an added bonus the pillow (oriented with tall side on the bottom) is great for elevating your head for sleep when you are sick.

Monday, December 13, 2010

13 december

I happened across this set today. It'd be a great gift for someone interested in book design or a reader who likes to send notes to other readers.

Postcards from Penguin



A collection of 100 postcards, each featuring a different and iconic Penguin book jacket. From classics to crime, here are over seventy years of quintessentially British design in one box.
In 1935 Allen Lane stood on a platform at Exeter railway station, looking for a good book for the journey to London. His disappointment at the poor range of paperbacks on offer led him to found Penguin Books. The quality paperback had arrived.
Declaring that 'good design is no more expensive than bad', Lane was adamant that his Penguin paperbacks should cost no more than a packet of cigarettes, but that they should always look distinctive.
Ever since then, from their original - now world-famous - look featuring three bold horizontal stripes, through many different stylish, inventive and iconic cover designs, Penguin's paperback jackets have been a constantly evolving part of Britain's culture. And whether they're for classics, crime, reference or prize-winning novels, they still follow Allen Lane's original design mantra.


Flickr user Alan Trotter has a great set of shots featuring the set.

Available from Penguin and Amazon.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

12 december

Today's post isn't to share a gift idea, but rather a reminder that not to forget the importance of kindness and compassion in the midst of stress and shopping this holiday season.

Random Acts of Kindness

Sheri, proprietress of The Loopy Ewe, encourages readers of her blog to commit random acts of kindness during the month of December. Of course there are lots of places on the web where people can share random kindness done by and for them, but Sheri's blog is where I get my fix during the holidays. Each Friday she has her readers share something they've done during the past week in the comments of one of her posts. These random-acts-of-kindness posts warm my heart.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

11 december

While this television series isn't for everyone (I'll admit that it took me a bit to warm up to it), it could make the perfect gift for the right person.

The Complete Black Books

Black Books (2000-2004) centers around the foul tempered and wildly eccentric bookshop owner Bernard Black (Dylan Moran). Bernard's devotion to the twin pleasures of drunkenness and willful antagonism deepens and enriches both his life and that of Manny (Bill Bailey), his assistant. Bearded, gentle, sweet and good, Manny is everything that Bernard isn't and is punished by Bernard relentlessly just for the crime of existing. They depend on each other for meaning as Fran (Tamsin Greig), their oldest friend, depends on them for distraction. Black Books is a haven of books, wine and conversation, the only threat to the group's peace and prosperity is their own limitless stupidity.

Available at Amazon, BestBuy, or your favorite DVD retailer.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Persuasion

My online book club is discussing Persuasion this month. It was great to have an excuse to reread it.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

First of all I should say that I have read Persuasion before, but not for at least ten years. It was so nice to rediscover it because I’d forgotten how much I liked it. Other Austen novels like Pride & Prejudice and Emma pop up so much in popular culture that I feel like they are never far from my mind, Persuasion, though, was a dim memory.

My copy of Persuasion is in a box in the attic of my parents’ house so I listened to one of the versions available through Librivox (version 5, read by Madame Tusk), which I quite enjoyed.

Ok, let’s begin with Anne. I’m sure there is some inaccurate Facebook quiz that will determine which Austen heroine you are, but I think I can easily cast myself as Anne. I am often overlooked even (and especially) when I am the voice of reason. And like with Anne, those who do recognize my worth, appreciate my good judgment and abilities. I am often overpowered by my sister and her strong personality. I dislike (and am not particularly good at) confrontation and (especially at work) often find myself being the person tasked with calming the waves and keeping the place from falling apart when others can’t seem to get along with each other.

One of the discussion questions centered around the fact that Austen once described Anne Elliot as "almost too good for me." I don't find Anne to be too good to be true (of course I've just admitted that I relate to Anne). Yes, I think she is a good person, but she is by no means perfect in her goodness. While she is outwardly good to most everyone, her inner thoughts about certain people are not always charitable. She is at least a bit selfish and occasionally disgruntled about being overlooked and taken for granted. So, perfect she is not, though she may be more "good" than Austen's other heroines.

I was also taken by some of the questions regarding Captain Benwick and his role in Persuasion. Why is Benwick in the story? Well obviously Louisa needed someone to get her unstuck on Captain Wentworth. Even if I hadn't read Persuasion before I wouldn't have been expecting things to progress far with Benwick because Anne was so clearly destined for Captain Wentworth. I think Benwick and Anne were drawn together because of mutual sadness over love lost (and the commonality of being misunderstood by others). I suppose Anne's role was to draw Benwick out enough that he was able to make a connection with Louisa. It also didn't hurt for Wentworth to see Anne giving attention to and getting attention from another man. I think it is telling that Anne suggests to Benwick that he read more prose. Reading the kind of poetry Benwick is drawn to allows him to dwell in and nurture his melancholy rather than begin to get over the death his fiancée and get on with his life.

Of additional interest is Lady Russell and how she was able to persuade Anne to give up Wentworth. The fact that Lady Russell was able to influence Anne shows passivity on Anne's part. I'm not sure whether we can definitely say it was good judgment or not. At least Anne is persuaded by advice from someone worthy of her trust.

At the end of the novel, Anne says that despite the fact that Lady Russell's advice caused her to be separated from Wentworth, she (Anne) was right to have taken it. I'm not sure if Anne would have felt the same way with Wentworth had married someone else though. Hindsight through rose-colored glasses? Though there is also that whole argument against long engagements to help Anne in feeling like she made the right decision at the time.

This all gets to the central question of persuasion. Louisa obviously suffered from her inability to be dissuaded from recklessness so I can't say that anyone could hold her dedication as a model. Early in the novel persuadability seems to be a character flaw, but as it progresses it becomes something that is quite important in moderation.

10 december

A book for the knitters on your list...

Knit Sock Love by Cookie A.

I loved Sock Innovation (post) so I was really pleased to hear that Cookie A. had another book out.

Knit Sock Love contains 19 patterns, including 7 brand-new designs. The photography by Laura Kicey looks gorgeous.

You buy the book directly from Cookie A.'s website or from Amazon.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

9 december

I discovered Etsy seller, Typewriter Boneyard, when one of his book lamps was featured on Etsy's front page. I was charmed. The best thing about these is that the bottoms of each are flat so you can put it on top of a pile of books if you wish. I imagine one of these on my bedside stand.


I particularly like the one pictured (The Nymph and the Lamp) because of the combination of the round knob-like bulb and the door fittings.

my life is cold and dark and dreary

"The Rainy" Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
from Ballads and Other Poems
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

8 december

I bought my mom something like this a few years ago and she uses it all the time.

umbra aquala bathtub caddy



The ultimate accessory for rest and relaxation. Made from bamboo, a highly renewable resource, this expandable bathtub caddy has a built in wine glass holder and fold away book support.

umbra is sold all over. You can get this at Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond (link it to a slightly different version), Macy's, and tons of other places.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

7 december

My father had a friend and business associate named Phil who used to give the best holiday gifts. Rather than desk trinkets or gourmet goodies he'd find interesting and unique books, which he'd present with an attached ribbon bookmark that had his name on it. Books like Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. I always looked forward to seeing what gem he'd find for us. While I (obviously) was not the intended recipient of his business gifts, I treasured them. In fact I actually have one of his books (The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by E D Hirsch) here in our apartment.

This fall, I saw the following book in a catalog. I was intrigued by it right away, but it took me a bit to realize why. It's the kind of book I think Phil might have chosen for his holiday gifting. Maybe he did...

An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't by William Wilson

When it was originally published in 1987, An Incomplete Education became a surprise bestseller. Now this instant classic has been completely updated, outfitted with a whole new arsenal of indispensable knowledge on global affairs, popular culture, economic trends, scientific principles, and modern arts. Here's your chance to brush up on all those subjects you slept through in school, reacquaint yourself with all the facts you once knew (then promptly forgot), catch up on major developments in the world today, and become the Renaissance man or woman you always knew you could be!

As delightful as it is illuminating, An Incomplete Education packs ten thousand years of culture into a single superbly readable volume. This is a book to celebrate, to share, to give and receive, to pore over and browse through, and to return to again and again.
(this is just the first and last paragraphs of the very long publisher's blurb)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Incarceron

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Set in a world where progress has been effectively and artificially halted at late medieval period in order to protect society from the evils of technology, Incarceron follows two teens from the most divergent of circumstances.

Finn is a 17 year-old living inside Incarceron, a vast intelligent prison that has been sealed for more than a century. Intended to be a utopia for the unsavory elements of society (criminals, madmen, the poor), Incarceron is nothing like those outside believe it to be: more hell than paradise. Though Finn is believed to be cell-born (born of the prison, which recycles everything including organic matter), Finn has no memory older than three years.

Claudia is the cossetted daughter of the cold and remote Warden of Incarceron. A bright girl who rebels against the restrictions society (and her father) places on her, Claudia is doing everything she can to delay her marriage to the unsavory crown prince.

I finally finished Incarceron. It took me a long time because I had to get back onto the waiting list for the e-audiobook when I didn't finish the book during my first check-out period. I didn't know much about the novel before I started listening to it and I have to admit that I was disoriented at first (Fisher really throws readers right into the middle of things). As the two stories progressed, however, I became invested in both of the protagonists. I'm already on the waiting list for the sequel, Sapphique.

6 december

Another Etsy find.



Etsy seller COGnitive Creations has quite a few items that would be perfect gifts for readers. I particularly like the Defining the Life of a Reader Artful Hardware Bracelet (pictured above; see also the necklace version). A few other gems from the Artful Hardware line: English Garden Reader Necklace, Steampunk Writer's Quill Hair Fork, and Treasures of Wonderland Necklace.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

5 december

I discovered this item when it was mentioned as a gift idea for knitters in a newsletter from Y2Knit. It might be a good gift for the reader in your life as well, particularly if they like to read in bed or while traveling.

eGear LED Ear Light

The eGear LED Ear Light weighs only one ounce and fits snugly behind your ear, illuminating your work or your reading without disturbing others. The angle of the beam adjusts easily so that you can point the light where it's needed. Energy-efficient LEDs are unbreakable and don't need replacing. Two lithium cell batteries provide approximately 16 hours of light and are easy to replace when needed. The light can be easily and comfortably worn even when wearing eyeglasses.

You can get it from Y2Knit, as well as quite a number of other places (according to Google) including Amazon, Essential Gear, and REI.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

4 december

This suggestion is inspired by a gift that I'm going to be getting for Russell and myself for the holidays.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan is the first book in Scott Westerfeld's steampunk YA series. Russell and I really enjoyed it (see post) and have been looking forward to getting our hands on the second installment in the series.

Behemoth came out in October and is currently in my Amazon cart (what can I say, I'm a sucker for free shipping). I plan on rereading Levianthan before Christmas so the story is fresh in my mind before I begin Behemoth. I'm sure I'll enjoy it just as much as my first read.

Friday, December 03, 2010

3 december

Last month I heard the author being interviewed about this book on NPR (Morning Edition interview). While cancer usually isn't a topic I'd enjoy reading about I thought the book sounded fascinating and I immediately thought of two people I'd recommend it to.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee


Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist's precision, a historian's perspective, and a biographer's passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with — and perished from — for more than five thousand years. The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception.

Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out war against cancer. The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist.

From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the nineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee's own leukemia patient, Carla, The Emperor of All Maladies is about the people who have soldiered through fiercely demanding regimens in order to survive — and to increase our understanding of this iconic disease. Riveting, urgent, and surprising, The Emperor of All Maladies provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments. It is an illuminating book that provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

2 december

I'm a huge fan of Etsy, a site where users can sell handmade and vintage items.

Artist Lisa Snellings has an etsy shop named Strangestudios, where she sells (among other things) collectible statuettes called "poppets."


Pictured is one of her custom (reading) poppets. Right now she also has a set of poppets inspired by Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (which I haven't yet read) and a poppet reading Dr. Suess (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which I have read).

My personal favorites (of those available right now) are not reading-related. They are Bah Humbug (perfect for the grinch on your list!), Clouds get in my way, and Winter play.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

1 december

I think a Nook would be a great gift. In fact it is one of the items on my wishlist this year.

The Nook is Barnes and Noble's ebook reader. From my perspective it's better than Amazon's Kindle because it's library ebook-friendly. The Nook is compatible with various ebook formats including EPUB, PDB, and PDF. Being able to get library ebooks is important to me because I'm resistant to buying ebooks. At this point in my life, I'm only buying books (for myself) that I know that I'll want to read again. Because I'm an archivist I'm especially sensitive to concerns about the lifespan of electronic files (will the Nook or any of the other readers be around 20 years from now? will these file formats be supported on whatever new technology we have at that point? etc).

I have to admit that I hadn't seriously considered getting an ebook reader until this year. I like reading books. I like the experience of reading books, the feel of the paper, the weight and heft of the monograph. When reading PDFs, I prefer to print them out so I can underline the text and make notes in the margins. I have, however, slowly come around to the idea of an ebook reader. I see the benefits--great for travel, easier to read when cats are harassing you, etc--and I've gotten to see a few different readers in person.

The Nook also has this wonderful Alice in Wonderland case.

advent

For some reason this year I am really feeling the lack of a fancy chocolate advent calendar (Moonstruck did one one year, I didn't get it, but I wanted it pretty badly) or some other way to focus on the fun, happy, and joyous aspects of the holiday season rather than the stressful ones.

Inspired by this post at Mila's Daydreams, I decided I should try to do some kind of advent series on my blog. Because this blog is focused on books and reading, I think I'll feature books and reading-related items that I think would make great holiday gifts (an extra excuse to window shop). This feature may morph a bit as the month progresses, but that's the plan right now.

The first post is coming up shortly...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

comfort reading

We all have a few books that we hold dear to our hearts. Books that we make sure to keep close at hand, but are careful not to reread too often. Books that we want to share with others, but do so almost reluctantly because we'd be devastated if we learned that others hated them.

All We Know of Love by Katie Schneider is one of my books. For some reason it just speaks to me. I happened across it at a big box book store in 2003. It's cover design is calm and beautiful, the back-cover blurb made the story sound promising so I picked it up. I loved it. I gave away my paperback and when our discount book store had them briefly, I bought out all the copies they had so I'd have more copies to share. I procured a hardcover for myself.

The image I've included in the post is Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna, which is part of the Uffizi's collection and features prominently in the novel, which I've just reread because I wanted some comfort reading.

Loneliness

I'll admit that historically I have not always read my Chicago alumni magazine regularly, but lately I have been. The most recent issue included an article about professor John Cacioppo, a social neuroscientist whose research has lately been focused on loneliness.

So often the research being done at universities seems disconnected from everyday life (at least to those not involved in the research or knowledgeable about the field), Cacioppo's research on loneliness is not.

Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John Cacioppo

University of Chicago social neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo unveils his pioneering research on the startling effects of loneliness: a sense of isolation or social rejection disrupts not only our thinking abilities and will power but also our immune systems, and can be as damaging as obesity or smoking. A blend of biological and social science, this book demonstrates that, as individuals and as a society, we have everything to gain, and everything to lose, in how well or how poorly we manage our need for social bonds.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Book of Beginnings and Endings

I had a hard time coming up with a book to feature as the book of the month for the student services blog this month. Because I used The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa last month (see post) I couldn't justify fiction for November. I had two books checked out because they sounded interesting (one was a comparative cultural history of dreams, another about women in the Middle East), but when I started reading them I found them less than compelling. The newer nonfiction titles I thought would be perfect (like The Emperor of All Maladies) weren't (yet) part of the libraries' collections.

I had another idea. I wanted to feature The Book of Beginnings and Endings, but I couldn't find the book on the shelf. Now I can't recall how I came across The Book of Beginnings and Endings, but the description I read somewhere was compelling enough to make me dig around in the stacks on numerous occasions over the course of the month searching all the logical places the book could have been misfiled. Eventually I admitted defeat and brought a print-out of the book's catalog record over to those more familiar with the collection than myself. Guess what? The book was in the stacks on the shelf where it belonged, it had just slipped behind the other books housed on the shelf.

The Book of Beginnings and Endings: Essays
by Jenny Boully


Poet and essayist Jenny Boully is known for her eloquent and innovative writing. Her 2002 The Body: An Essay, for example, consists only of footnotes, leaving the body of the text to the reader's imagination.

The Book of Beginnings and Endings is compromised of twenty-six essays. Each is two pages long: the first page is a beginning and the second, an ending (the final page of the narrative), the middle (the bulk of the text), left out. The beginnings, however, don't always seem to match the endings leaving the reader to wonder whether they are the first and last pages of two different works.

This all sounds quite complicated, but in practice it is both strange and beautiful much like the image on the book's cover (a photograph of White Cabinet and White Table a sculpture by Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, held by MoMA). While the book can be seen as an author's exploration of form and of what it means for something to be complete, reading The Book of Beginnings and Endings is a very personal experience. The beginnings and endings highlight the missing middles and the reader doesn't interpret the text so much as imagine it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bitter is the New Black

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

The book's subtitle--Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office--should give any potential reader at least a taste of what the narrative will be like. Lancaster's books always seem to have these crazy subtitles that are very her (as they say).

Bitter is the New Black was the November selection for the library book club. It's Lancaster's first book, a memoir about being laid off from her cushy sales job and how the experience changed her life. One of the things she does under her unemployment is start a blog. That blog, which no longer exists, kept her from getting at least one of the jobs she applied for, but it eventually led to finding a literary agent and publishing Bitter is the New Black. (her current blog is Jennsylvania)

Lancaster is very smart and very snarky. She has no illusions about herself and is very open about her various faults. At the beginning of Bitter is the New Black (before her layoff) I wasn't sure I was going to like Lancaster because her overcritical overconfidence really turned me off (more than her fashion obsession or her attitude toward money). Over the course of the book, though, she becomes much more sympathetic because she mellows (the wind was definitely knocked out of her sails) and we as readers get to know her better.

Everyone seemed to like the book even though a couple of us didn't manage to finish it in time for the meeting. We all agreed that Lancaster's boyfriend-turned-husband is a saint for putting up with her (one of the times that I appreciated Lancaster's excess of chutzpah was when she wouldn't take no for an answer when Fletch needed something). We also found her trip to the convention center to pick up a friend's registration packet for the Chicago marathon to be the most revealing episode recounted in the book.

It seems to me that this book should be getting a lot of attention right now with so many people struggling with unemployment. Even though readers may not always be able to relate to Lancaster, Bitter is the New Black is a good reminder that others have gone and are going through the same situation.

I have a copy of her third book, Such a Pretty Fat (One Narcissist's Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, or Why Pie Is Not the Answer), and I plan to read it sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

inspired to read Agatha

I have to admit that I haven't read much of Agatha Christie's work. I know I've read Murder on the Orient Express and that I've listened to a few others on audio, but I really haven't made a dent. She was quite prolific after all.

While driving today I heard an interview with actor David Suchet on Talk of the Nation (NPR). Suchet has played Agatha Christie's most famous sleuth, the eccentric Hercule Poirot, in the aptly named British television series Agatha Christie's Poirot since 1989. Hearing Suchet talk about Poirot and the challenges inherent in bringing the character to life made me want to read more of Christie's work.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Doctor

Book Doctor by Esther Cohen

Arlette Rosen is the titular character of Book Doctor. As a book doctor, she is part psychologist and part editor, helping her clients put their ideas onto the page and reigning in unruly manuscripts. On the subject of fees, Arlette is quite philosophical:
My fees, first of all, are yours. I receive what you get per hour. [...] I am providing a service that is hard to evaluate financially [...] What is a novel worth? One dollar? One million dollars? Somewhere in between? What is it worth to you to write your novel? Fifty dollars? Three thousand? I'm afraid the way I resolve this question for myself and for my clients is to suggest that my work is equivalent in value to theirs. (28-29)
Peppered with often-eccentric inquiry letters from potential clients, Book Doctor chronicles Arlette's relationship with an unexpectedly enigmatic literary novitiate and how it changes her work and her life.

The novel's secondary protagonist is Harbinger Singh, a tax lawyer wants to write a book to compensate for the demise of his marriage. To his first meeting with Arlette, Harbinger wears a seasonably inappropriate wool suit (because he likes the color and how it plays off the color of his skin). While his occupation, choice of attire, and naïveté about how "simple" writing a book are strikes against him, the more time Arlette spends with Harbinger the more she sees his hidden depths and the more his unconventional modi operandi begin to effect her.

I like Book Doctor for the concept behind it and the author's writing, rather than for the story it tells. I didn't find the story particularly compelling nor the characters particularly sympathetic (to me, they were curious rather than relatable). I did, however, appreciate the composition and found myself making note of quotes that struck me forcefully. I shared one is in an earlier post. Here are a couple of others:
There was a time a while ago when I wrote letters all the time. [...] I stopped writing letters for a few reasons, I guess. I stopped being sure of what I wanted to say. Once I didn't have the easy material that being away provided, I really felt at a loss. (91-92)
~~~
I love to read. Love the endless stories. I like the hopefulness in stories, the romance and wariness and all the narrative past. What we remember, and how those memories become who we are. [...] 'There is no human being who does not carry a treasure in his soul; a moment of insight, a memory of love, a dream of excellence, a call to worship.' For me, that's what writing really is. Any writing. (62-63)
On a side note, while reading Book Doctor I found myself wondering whether (and to what extent) it might be autobiographical.

Monday, November 15, 2010

giveaway

srah at srah blah blah is giving away a copy of Sandition by Jane Austen and "another lady."

Synopsis: When Charlotte Heywood accepts an invitation to visit the newly fashionable resort of Sanditon, she is introduced to a full range of polite society, from the local reigning dowager Lady Denham and her impoverished ward Clara, to the handsome, feckless Sidney Parker and his amusing, if hypochondriacal, sisters. A heroine whose clearsighted common sense is often at war with romance, Charlotte cannot help observing around her both folly and passion in many guises. But can the levelheaded Charlotte herself resist the attractions of the heart?
Publisher comments: "Out of print for more than 20 years, this novel--an 11-chapter fragment at Austen's death completed with seamless artistry by an Austen aficionado and novelist--is a wonderful addition to Austen's beloved books."

Head over to srah blah blah to enter.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Hunger Games series

I really loved Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series so much so that it inspired me to create my first treasury list on Etsy (the image in this post is a sneak peek).

If you haven't read the series yet, I'd strongly recommend that you give the first book, Hunger Games, a try. The target audience is young adult, but I know many adults who have enjoyed the series. I'll admit that the concept sounds horrific, but trust me when I say that the books are extremely compelling. I'm going to be giving my sister (who doesn't read this blog and doesn't particularly enjoy reading books) a copy of the audio for Christmas.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Garden of Eve

The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going

I read and enjoyed Going's Printz Award-winning Fat Kid Rules the World. The Garden of Eve is for a younger audience, but it is just as good. The novel deals with death and the grief of those left behind, but the issue and its take-away is incorporated so fully into the story that it never feels heavy-handed.

After the death of her mother, single-child Evie Adler is unmoored. While she loves her serious and hardworking father, she has always been closest to her loving, whimsical mother. When her father inexplicably decides to relocate the family from Michigan to New York, the family has the opportunity for a fresh start. Their new home, however, is decidedly strange. People of Beaumont stay far away from the Adler's farm and the trees in the apple orchard haven't born fruit in years. Evie meets a ghost in the cemetery next to the farm. The last owner of the farm left Evie gift, but the box only contained a seed. Though it seems strange, with this seed Evie may be able to save the farm and bring peace to her ghost.

I'll be giving one of my nieces a copy of The Garden of Eve. She's the same age as Evie and she loves to read so I'm sure she'll enjoy the book.

Friday, November 12, 2010

hiding in the bookshelves #5

When looking through one of our partially-obscured bedroom bookshelves I came across Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson. With it I found Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. Not paying much attention to the cover of Mama Day, I assumed it was one of Hopkinson's novels since I remember trying to get my hands on more than one of them after reading The New Moon's Arms (see post). I simply read the synopses from the back covers of both books to decide which one I'd post about. It wasn't until I was at the computer looking up the book's online to create links for this post that I realized that Mama Day was by a different author.

I don't doubt that those who read the book descriptions posted below will wonder how I could possibly confuse the authorship, assuming these two very different novels were written by the same person. The answer is quite simple. While Hopkinson's early work is very much in the realm of science fiction, her more recent novels feel different, like southern fiction with a dash of magical realism (like, if I may be so bold, Gloria Naylor's novel). Both women have had their work described as being in the tradition of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. So, now that I've explained that, I feel a little less silly about my mistake.

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

The Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint celebrates Carnival in traditional fashion, and Tan-Tan, a young reveler, is masked as the Midnight Robber, Trinidad's answer to Robin Hood. But after her father commits a deadly crime, he flees with her to the brutal New Half Way Tree, a planet inhabited by violent human outcasts and monstrous creatures known only through folklore. Here, Tan-Tan is forced to reach into the heart of myth and become the legendary heroine herself, for only the Robber Queen's powers can save Tan-Tan from such a savage world.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

The bestselling new novel from the American Book Award-winning author is set in a world that is timeless yet indelibly authentic - the Georgia sea island of Willow Springs, where people still practice herbal medicine and honor ancestors who came over as slaves. On Willow Springs lives Mama Day, a matriarch who can call up lightning storms and see secrets in her dreams. But all of Mama Day’s powers are tested by her great-niece, Cocoa, a stubbornly emancipated woman whose life and very soul are now in danger from the island’s darker forces. Mama Day is a powerful generational saga at once tender and suspenseful, overflowing with magic and common sense.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Playing for Pizza

At my last Rochester bookcrossing meetup, I picked up two books that aren't my usual fare. I tend to collect books that fall into the categories that I like and read most, but I love variety so when I manage to procure unusual (for me) books I sometimes end up reading them right away.

I'll write about one of the books. The other book I picked up was Hold Tight by Harlan Coben. I'm not going to write anything substantive about it because I found it forgettable (thrillers shouldn't be forgettable should they?). I didn't even remember what it was about until I peeked at the synopsis when I was preparing the link for this post. I read both of these books in late September or early October.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

While I know that Grisham has branched out, I have to admit that I associate him exclusively with the legal thriller genre. Not that legal thrillers are bad (I read a bunch of Grisham's early novels when I was a teen), but I don't find myself drawn to them. I picked up Playing for Pizza because the title, cover art, and synopsis were enough to help me get past the author's name.

Following quarterback Rick Dockery during his most successful season as a professional athlete, Playing for Pizza is the story of a delayed coming of age.

Dockery's NFL three-season career has been an unmitigated disaster. After he blows the AFC championship game for his team by throwing three interceptions in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter he is blacklisted by every single NFL team. The only team willing to take a chance on Dockery is the Panthers, the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football League. Though he isn't keen on the idea, Dockery heads to Italy because he needs to get as far away from Cleveland (home of his ex-team, the Browns) as possible.

Both Parma and the Panthers are nothing like Dockery expects. Once he decides to give the country, the city, and the team a chance, his life begins to change. The longer he stays, the more he realizes what is truly important in life. He becomes more curious and less selfish and finally is able to think about what life will be like after his professional career is done.

I have to admit that I liked Playing for Pizza more than I thought I would. It's relatively short, but light and charming. As Dockery develops over the course of the novel he becomes a truly sympathetic character. And, while the novel is about football, it isn't so heavy on the jargon that it will put off readers who don't know much about the game.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

an update

I haven't been posting much lately. I've been busy and overwhelmed. I have been reading and I do have quite a few half-written posts here, there, and everywhere. I need to get back into the habit of posting regularly (even if my posts are short and imperfect) and that's my short-term goal.

To that end, I thought that I'd share a quote from Esther Cohen's The Book Doctor, which I'm reading right now:
She closed her eyes, and tried to imagine the glass contained an actual potion that could, in minutes, transform her into a chain-smoking Czechoslovakian novelist whose novels revealed a faith in love, in county, and in human kindness in the face of ever-increasing political disillusionment. Black and engaging. (127)
Love that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Storyteller

October's book of the month for the student services blog...

The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa

Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature for “his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat” (prize committee). Vargas Llosa is a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction; 25 of his books exist in English translation. His The Storyteller has been one of my favorite novels since I first read it in the late 1990s.

The Storyteller begins with a Peruvian writer touring Florence. He stumbles upon an exhibit entitled “Natives of the Amazon Forest” at a small gallery. In that exhibit he sees a photo of a tribal storyteller and is overcome by a sense of recognition.

It then begins to tell the story of the writer’s school friend Saúl Zuratas (known as Mascarita, mask face, on account of birthmark covering most of the right side of his face). Brilliant, but alienated, Zuratas is an outsider because of the birthmark, his Jewishness, and his inability to live the life his family wants for him. He decides to leave urban Lima to study the Machiguenga tribe deep in the Amazon. He goes native, eventually becoming a central figure in the tribe. As hablador (storyteller), Zuratas is responsible for preserving and sharing the history and mythology of the tribe.

Zuratas’ storytelling is interspersed throughout the narrative. While the Machiguenga stories are interesting in their own right, what is most fascinating is how elements Zuratas’ own history, experiences, and belief system begin to creep into their stories.

The Storyteller is about storytelling and identity, memory and truth. It questions the attempts of anthropologists and ethnologists to preserve native societies and the benefits and disadvantages of hybridism. The novel is multilayered and builds to a thought-provoking conclusion.

Friday, September 17, 2010

97 Orchard

While browsing through the library's list of recent acquisitions for ideas for September's book of the month, I came across one that sounded absolutely fascinating...

97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman
An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement


Today 97 Orchard Street is the site of New York City's Tenement Museum. For many years, though, it was but one of the thousands of tenements housing working-class immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

97 Orchard tells the story of five families who lived at that address between 1863 and 1935, focusing specifically on their culinary lives. While 97 Orchard is more about the foods eaten in the Lower East Side than the families themselves, it is still a fascinating read.

How various immigrant groups were subsumed into and helped to redefine American culture is the overarching theme of 97 Orchard. By using food as the means to explore the topic, author Jane Ziegelman highlights the relationship between our culinary heritage and American identity.

For more information on the book and its subject, listen to Guy Raz of NPR's All Things Considered, interview the author or visit the Tenement Museum's virtual tour of 97 Orchard Street.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

giveaway

One of my online friends is giving away a $25 gift certificate for TheLiteracySite's online gift shop.

TheLiteracySite is a click-every-day site dedicated to funding free books for children. Per their website: "On average, over 80,000 individuals from around the world visit the site each day to click the "Click Here to Give - it's FREE" button. To date, more than 87 million visitors have helped provide more than 2.5 million books to children who need them the most."

All you need to do to enter the drawing for the gift certificate is go to her blog, Shaunie's Happy Place and comment on this post (including the title of one of your favorite books in the post) by October 10th.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Golden

Golden by Jennifer Lyn Barnes

When Lissy James moves from California to Oklahoma, she finds herself in the middle of a teenage nightmare: a social scene to rival a Hollywood movie. And if understanding the hierarchy of the Goldens vs. the Nons isn't hard enough, Lissy's ever growing Aura Vision is getting harder and harder to hide, and if shes not careful, shes going to become a Non faster than you can say "freak."
But its becoming clear that Emory High has a few secrets of its own. Around the halls, the term "special powers" goes way beyond ones ability to attract the opposite sex, and there may be something more evil than the A-crowd lurking in the classrooms. Lissy can see a lot more than the average girl, but shes about to learn the hard way that things aren't always as they appear and you can't always judge a girl by her lip gloss.


I happened across Golden this week when I was in need of a new audiobook. I was somewhat intrigued by the book description, but I didn't have particularly high expectations. Despite my fondness for YA fiction, I have to admit that many books geared toward teens are not particularly good.

I have to say, though, that Golden was better than I expected. The novel deals with the normal trials and tribulations of being an American teen trying to fit in at a new school. Lissy is in many ways a typical teenager (with an annoying little sister and a huge crush on a male friend). Before she moved to OK, she wasn't one of the popular kids, but she wasn't a social reject either. She has a special ability, but she's always been able to keep it from making her life difficult.

I do think that Barnes tried to do a bit too much in this (her first) novel. The paranormal element (especially the myriad ways it expressed itself in Lissy's family) is overcomplicated. At first it seemed liked maybe Oklahoma was going to be portrayed as a paranormal hot-spot, but when it becomes obvious that all gifted people don't come from the area, questions arise (at least for me). While I realize that Lissy's powers strengthened over time, it seems unrealistic that she wouldn't have noticed certain things* when she was still living in California. I'm also not crazy about how Barnes handles some of the relationships* in the novel. Personally I don't think that romantic predestination is appropriate for teen fiction.

* I'm trying to be vague here in order to avoid spoilers.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Haunting Jordan

Haunting Jordan by P.J. Alderman

The first in a new series of cozy mysteries, Haunting Jordan features Jordan Marsh, an LA psychologist buys a rundown mansion in a seaside village in Oregon or Washington (incidentally she was in the middle of a divorce when her husband was murdered and she's the prime suspect). She's planning on giving up the LA life and restoring the house (of course she has no idea what she's doing, doesn't even own a hammer). It turns out, though, that the house is haunted by the ghosts of two women who lived there in the late 1800s. They befriend her because they want her to solve a murder. She has to dig up old diaries and go to the historical society to research...

My friend Janelle (her blog is Eclectic Closet) gave me Haunting Jordan when I saw her last weekend. She thought I'd enjoy it and I have to say that I did. I especially liked the fact that the historical murder was in the forefront rather than the contemporary one (and that the narrative flipped between Jordan and Hattie, c. 1890).

I'm definitely interested in reading further entries in the series (Port Chapman mysteries) once they are available. Jordan is a sympathetic character. I found both the setting and premise of the series compelling, and the paranormal elements were not too over the top. And, maybe most importantly, the identity of the two murders wasn't obvious until the point they were revealed.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Knowledge of Angels

Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh

Set on an island very similar to Majorca in a time reminiscent of the 15th century, Knowledge of Angels is an exploration of morality and intolerance. The novel's action centers around the islanders' relation to two outsiders, who each by their very presence of each draws into question the status quo.

Palinor is a foreign nobleman who washed up on the shores of Grandinsula after a boating accident. While he wants nothing more than to travel home, but officials are unable to issue Palinor the necessary paperwork because he will not indicate a religious affiliation. When Palinor refuses to sway from his atheistic position, a notated theologian and educator is brought in to convince him of the existence of God.

Amara is a preadolescent girl who was raised by wolves. Discovered by shepherds in the mountains, Amara is displayed as a novelty to those who would pay to see the wolf child until she is rescued by a devout teenage boy worried about the state of her unbaptized soul. After Amara is baptized by the cardinal (to satisfy the boy), she is consigned to a community of mendicants. Since Amara has never been exposed to religious teaching, the cardinal hopes to learn from her whether or not the knowledge of God is innate. The nuns are ordered to care for her physical needs and to civilize her, but never to mention God in her presence.

Though the two outsiders never meet, their stories are linked by a chain that solidifies when an inquisitor appears on the scene, causing problems not just for Palinor and his apologist friend, but for the island's religious head as well.

As is usually the case with novels that have more than one storyline, I was more interested in one (Amara's) than the other and sometimes found myself skimming through the dense philosophical debates of Palinor's sections to get back to Amara and the nuns more quickly.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, Knowledge of Angels is extremely thought-provoking. With many questions raised and few answered, readers can't help but continue to ponder the novel long after they close its covers.