Tuesday, May 31, 2011

book buying

I'm feeling so virtuous after my massive book weeding project and successful personal library organization (see post) that I allowed myself to purchase a few books with my Amazon-gift-card balance.

Ghost Ship by P.J. Alderman,
the second Port Chapman mystery (sequel to Haunting Jordan, see post).

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook.
I put this one on my wish list after reading this post.

Soulless by Gail Carriger, the first Parasol Protectorate book.
I've heard good things about this series (and the outfits on the covers are from Clockwork Couture).

I'm perfectly okay with breaking my book-acquisition ban, but I suspect I may run into problems tomorrow. I'm going to be within spitting distance of the Strand tomorrow and I can't not pop in for a visit.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows

Examining the choices made by a line of women, Mothers and Daughters charts the secret history of one family. The story is told from three different perspectives, focused on the present day and the turn of the century.

Sam is a ceramic artist and new mother who is struggling with the idea of going back to work and worry about how motherhood will affect her creative output. Her mother, Iris, has come to terms with the fact that she's dying of cancer, but has yet to pass that acquiescence on to her children. 100+ years earlier, eleven-year-old Violet is running wild on the streets of New York City, her mother unable to care for her.

Mothers and Daughters deals with two meaty subjects: motherhood (and the sacrifices inherent therein) and the orphan train movement. But, while the novel was well-structured, it was too short to do justice to each of its three protagonists. On reaching the novel's final page, I was unsatisfied in spite of the fitting final chapter. Mothers and Daughters lacked the depth I expected from a novel exploring these themes.

Iris in particular was given short shrift. For me, Iris was no more substantial than Lilibeth (Violet's mother) despite being one of the novel's protagonists. On reflection, I think it might have been better for the novel as a whole to let Iris remain a secondary character and have her story revealed by her mother and daughter.

Violet and Sam are much more fully-drawn that Iris (though in my opinion Iris is a more interesting character than Sam). Violet is definitely the star of the novel. Her story is the most compelling.

While readers learn about the lives of Violet and Iris, Sam really doesn't. The box of mementos she receives from Iris via her brother is enough to show Sam that there is much that she doesn't know about her mother and grandmother, but we don't know how much she'll ever be able to learn about them.

Mothers and Daughters is not a bad novel, or a poorly written one. It just could have been so much better.

I'm not all that keen on the cover art for Mothers and Daughters. It's not bad, but it doesn't match the novel. Its technicolor pop seems out of character with the story and the butterfly wings on the child are whimsical (I suppose they are supposed to represent the innocence and imagination of childhood) where the novel is not. The advanced reader copy I received from the publisher had the cover pictured above, but was encased as pictured to the left. The wooden-box design is a direct reference to the box that Sam receives filled with Iris' mementos. I can't help but think that someone at the publisher must have realized too late that the cover art was a bit off.
disclosure: As should be obvious from the above, I received an advanced reader copy of Mothers and Daughters from Henry Holt.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

on weeding our book collection (post 3 of ?)

OK, I'll admit it. I gave up on weeding after a while and focused exclusively on the puzzle of fitting books into my book cases. I finished this morning. And I still have room!

Russell has accused me of gloating (he's not Russell isn't quite as far along, primarily because he's so resistant to doing additional weeding), but I'm just so pleased with myself for managing to fit everything in. It has occurred to me to raid the outgoing book boxes, but I think that might set a bad precedent so I will hold off for now.

There's no organizational scheme for my book cases as placement was based on size more than anything else (even series books aren't housed together unless if their dimensions vary). I'm going to have to spend some quality time updating my book collection on LibraryThing with location information for individual titles so that I'll be able to find books when I want to read them. I'm quite sure I'll end up weeding some more while I'm doing that.

So, without further ado, here are my book cases:

And, Russell's, which as I mentioned before are still works in progress:

I just finished the last of our book-only shelves (we have a couple of small bookcases with filled with video games and movies; CDs live elsewhere). It was to be for knitting books and paraphernalia, but it adopted first the cookbooks and then the majority of the religious books (Russell's shelves have a bit more free space than in the photos because I took those books off him) so now it is completely full. (photo later)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

adaptation: No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I've been watching the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency television show on DVD.

I'm not usually a huge fan of adaptations1, but I quite like this series. While I'm sure that it's not 100% true to the books (I don't remember the character of BK from the books, for example), it is close. And more importantly, it has the same spirit as the novels. Jill Scott is wonderful as Precious Ramotswe. For some reason I always imagined Precious as older than Scott seems to be on screen, but I think that's my error. Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose) and JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati) are also perfectly cast.

In the Poison episode, Precious says, "You know, when I see those children together, I can hardly believe there's anything wrong in the world." Watching the show (and reading the books) gives one a bit of that same feeling. They are feel-good in the best sense of the phrase. They make one feel that there is hope for the world, that one can make the world a better place by being a good person, forgiving others, giving to those less fortunate, and sticking up what's right.

Apparently the series was canceled due to poor ratings. How disappointing. I guess I'll just have to pull out the books again.
  1. There are a few adaptations that I like better than the original (Bridget Jones's Diary comes to mind), but my track record with others is so bad that I usually avoid any and all adaptations like the plague. Austen is an exception, though. My tolerance for Austen remakes is quite high... though not high enough to allow for such atrocities as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Friday, May 27, 2011

follow friday question

My second week for this meme.

How many books do you read in a week? And in what format do you read them, or listen to them?

I don't have a hard and fast answer to the number of books I typically read in a week. I can read a book a day, but there are times when I might only finish one book during the course of a week.

At the moment it seems like I'm doing most of my reading on my Nook, though the majority of the books (the ones I'm reading just a little bit at a time) I have in progress are physical books. While I do listen to audiobooks, I don't have one going right now.

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, welcome! This is Karen. I'm a librarian and archivist and I've been writing this blog since 2006. Some of my favorite books are All We Know of Love (schneider), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (kundera), The God of Small Things (roy), The Handmaid's Tale (atwood), Pride and Prejudice (austen), The Storyteller (vargas llosa), and Zahrah the Windseeker (okorafor-mbachu).

Here are my posts since last Follow Friday last week:Any questions? Feel free to ask.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Goddess Test

The Goddess Test by Aimée Carter

Aimée Carter's debut novel, The Goddess Test, is a "modern-day sequel" to the myth of Persephone.1

Highschooler Kate Winters2 moves from New York City to Eden, Michigan so that her mother, who is dying of cancer, can spend her last few months in her hometown. When disaster befalls one of her new schoolmates, help materializes in the form of Henry (aka Hades). Henry who will bring the girl back from the dead provided Kate promises him one thing. Kate will have to reread the myth of Persephone to find out just what she's agreed to do.

I loved the concept behind The Goddess Test and was eager to read it. Both the title and the book description led me to think that the plot of the novel would be much more focused on the test than it actually was. I also assumed that the readers would know about the individual tests as they were happening even if Kate didn't. The fact that they were kept secret until the end wasn't exactly a disappointment, but it was surprising.

Kate is a sympathetic character, Henry is enigmatic (attractive in that tortured-genius way), but the other characters are mostly one-dimensional. I liked the fact that the novel included a key to the characters at the end. While some of the alter egos were obvious, but the identification of others required a solid grounding in Greek mythology and for one to have paid very close attention to details throughout the course of the novel. Even then you might not make the connections, I know I didn't. Then again Carter's versions of the Olympians are significantly nicer and more subdued than those depicted in Greek mythology (maybe she's saying that they've mellowed over time?),23 which is something that impedes identification and may irritate some readers.

Overall, while I enjoyed The Goddess Test, I was disappointed in Carter's inexplicable Christianization of the Olympians (Rick Riordan does a much better job of modernizing the gods in his Percy Jackson books).

Apparently The Goddess Test is the first in a trilogy. The second title, Goddess Interrupted, is already in the works.

As for the cover art, I quite like the fake Greek font for the title, but I'm not keen on it's placement or all the text on the top (yes, I know they want that Clare quote to draw in Mortal Instruments readers, but if they were going to place it where the did, they might have dropped the "New York Times bestselling [...]" bit for the sake of the overall look of the cover since her readers obviously know who she is). The images work well together, but I would have preferred a bit less of a come-hither look on the model's face.
  1. Carter's Frequently-asked-questions page.
  2. Did you catch that reference?
  3. Actually, better might be the right adjective; better as in more virtuous.
ETA disclosure: I received a review copy of The Goddess Test (which I requested after reading a review of the book on WORD for Teens) from Harlequin Teen via NetGalley.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

word: mellifluous

All day I've had the word mellifluous stuck in my head like a song.
What a lovely word with which to spend the day.

mellifluous (adj.)
smoothly flowing; sweet-sounding
It can also mean flowing with honey or sweet (as in sweetened with honey).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Siri Hustvedt

Powells' blog has an interesting interview with Siri Hustvedt, who has a new book out, The Summer without Men, her fifth novel. While I have to admit that I enjoy some of the typical author-interview questions (like "what are you reading now?"), I'm pleased that Jill Owens cultivated a substantive conversation with Hustvedt.

Now, I've been meaning to read Siri Hustvedt for some time. She's married to Paul Auster (brilliance by association?) and a former coworker with very good taste in books recommended her to me.

I don't think I want to start with The Summer without Men though despite the fact that I'm particularly intrigued by the character Mr. Nobody and with Mia's synesthesia after reading this interview. Maybe What I Loved or The Sorrows of an American? The Enchantment of Lily Dahl? And The Shaking Woman (not a novel) is supposed to be good.
Any suggestions, dear readers?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

"That's who we were: the last colonials to arrive in Trinidad, before things changed for good" (202).

I took my time reading this book and it seems that I've taken my time writing up this review. As for the writing, I'll admit it, I've been procrastinating. Every time I sit down to write about The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, the prospect seems daunting and I'm not quite sure why.

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle isn't necessarily an enjoyable book (the opening scene: four corrupt policemen bring a teenager out to the wilderness and beat him nearly to death because he reported one of them for stealing his cellular phone), but it is compelling. Roffey's atmospheric writing evokes Trinidad in all its lush, steamy, corrupt and gritty glory.

Covering a fifty year period, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle follows the history of a marriage and growing pains of a young nation. Its story begins in January 1956 when Sabine and George Harwood arrive in Trinidad as newlyweds and Eric Williams launches his People's National Movement. The narrative, however, begins in 2006, tarrying there for 190 pages before returning to 1956. Roffey doesn't explain the frequently used word steupse1 until page 220 giving the reader a small taste of the disorientation Sabine must have felt when she arrived in Trinidad.

One of the things I liked most about the novel is that Trinidad herself is a character. She is as real to Sabine as Eric Williams is (e.g. "every morning Sabine recognized her competition. This island flexed its charms, laughed in her face as she withered," pp.121-122).

I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about Trinidad's history before I read The White Woman on the Green Bicycle so the novel was a bit of an education to me. I particularly appreciated the fact that Roffey is able to come across as objective. She doesn't simplifying things by laying the blame for Trinidad's mismanagement or the Harwood's martial problems on any one person. And, even though both Sabine and George horribly flawed and unlikable, Roffey lets us see them at moments when one can't help by sympathize with them.

What I didn't particularly like was the novel's ending. I understand why Roffey ended The White Woman on the Green Bicycle when and how she did, but there was at least one thing left unresolved that plagues me.2 (I did quite like how the 2006 part of the novel ended, unexpected and powerful)

There is so much more that I could say about this novel, but I think I will simply share a passage that I bookmarked:
I loved to ride past the big mansions there, the former estate houses of the cocoa barons. Most stood empty, one was a school [...] The house on the corner looked like a Rhineland castle, another like an eccentric gunboat, all spires and cupolas and oval windows. One was like a wedding cake made of coral. Another looked like a French chateau. All mimicked bygone European architecture; all seemed ludicrous rather than stately. A castle on the savannah? A chateau surrounded by coconut trees? [...] These houses gave me a sense of comfort; like me, they were hopelessly at odds with their environment. (219)
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize (the winner was Barbara Kingsolver's sixth novel, The Lacuna).

On a side note: there is something quite compelling about the novel's cover.
  1. To suck on ones teeth in disapproval or annoyance
  2. Talbot, what happens with him?
ETA disclosure: I received a review copy of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle from Penguin via NetGalley.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

on weeding our book collection (post 2 of ?)

Here are some in-progress shots of my bookshelves after some organization today. There are many boxes of books yet to be unpacked and some of the books pictured may end up getting weeded.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Steamed by Katie Macalister

Jack Fletcher is a computer engineer and steampunk enthusiast. When his sister1 accidentally causes an explosion in Jack's lab, both are knocked unconscious. They wake in the hold of an airship in an alternative world that is the stuff of Jack's fantasies. He quickly becomes smitten with the ship's captain, the red-headed Octavia, who believes that the stowaways are spies.

Russell happened across Steamed while browsing the library catalog (or Amazon or something) and pointed it out to me. I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a try (I do like romance novels and we are getting more into steampunk). I read Steamed during the move-stress-induced blog-dry-spell. It was the kind of book that I was wanting to read during that time period (light) so it was convenient that my name finally made it to the top of the library waiting list for the ebook.

I was less disappointed in Steamed than I was irritated with it. When I read a romance novel, I'm not expecting it to be good literature. I want to be able to relate to either the heroine or hero, I want the two of them to have chemistry and for their relationship to develop in a somewhat-realistic way. I can usually put up with all kinds of odd settings and unrealistic situations, provided that they don't distract overmuch from the main thrust of the story, the romance.

This book fell flat for me precisely because the two main characters and their relationship were not compelling. Even if they were, I'm not sure they would have been able to combat the myriad distractions I encounter.

There were the secondary characters. Jack's sister is little more than a means for furthering the plot at certain points (and the fact that Jack and Octavia were able to carry on as they did after the sister was abducted highlighted the fact that she wasn't a substantive person). Mr. Francisco and his horrible flowery speech were completely unnecessary (its not like there wasn't at least one other potential rival for Jack). Mr. Llama's ability to mysteriously disappear was mentioned so many times even though it had no bearing on the story.

There was the fact that Jack was a Quaker. While it is nice to have your characters , it seemed like a strange choice to make him a pacifist and then send him into this dangerous environment. The oddest thing was that Jack being a Quaker came up over and over again to the point when it seemed like the author might have been using the book to "educate" her readers about the Society of Friends and their beliefs. It is also a bit hard to reconcile Jack's moralism (re. non-violence) with his extremely lustful nature.2

What struck me the most was the lack of steampunk in the "steampunk romance." Jack uses the term "steampunk" quite often, but Steamed really isn't a steampunk novel. It's like Macalister decided to add some elements she thought of as steampunk so that she could get in on the steampunk craze (if there really is a steampunk craze). Actually, though, it really seemed to me that Macalister was making fun of people who do steampunk cosplay rather than using Steamed as a way to draw in a new group of readers. Jack is obsessed with goggles and the fact that no one wears them (he also wants to know why Octavia doesn't wear her corset on the outside of her clothes; Octavia is confused by this query as she views corsets as underwear not outerwear). This wasn't mentioned the once, but rather revisited over and over again, which is what gave me the mocking vibe because corsets and goggles both feature prominently in many steampunk outfits. Notice, though, that both goggles and an external corset are featured in the novel's cover art.
  1. I can't remember her name and she's not important enough as a character to be named in the publisher's synopsis.
  2. I had to the strongest desire to type "horndog."

Friday, May 20, 2011

a juicy find

This week as I was browsing the State University of New York Press catalogs, I came across a particularly juicy title from their Excelsior Editions1 and I just had to share.

Arsenic and Clam Chowder by James D. Livingston

Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss. The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral. In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and Randolph Hearst’s Journal.
The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life. The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder. In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Arsenic and Clam Chowder doesn't seem like typical university-press fare, but it is written by a member of the academy (albeit a physist and engineer who happens to be an amateur historian). And it fits into the Excelsior imprint since the Livingstons are a prominent New York family.

I'm not particularly keen on the cover art (though I'll allow that it may look better in person that it does online), but the story is quite compelling, is it not?
  1. Excelsior Editions is an imprint devoted to the history, culture, society, and environment of New York and its surrounding states.
    On a side note: excelsior is the motto of New York state (featured on the state seal and all); it means "ever higher."

follow friday question

My second week for this meme.

It's circle time. Time for us to open up and share. Can you tell us FIVE quirky habits or things about you? We all have them...
  1. When I was younger I used to dye my hair all kinds of crazy colors (and I mean bleaching my hair white first to get really bright color). People who've met me as an adult have a hard time believing this. My very conservative father quite liked the purple and took to calling me Princess Grape when I had purple hair.
  2. I own a typewriter. I rarely use it, but I was horrified when Russell wondered if maybe me shouldn't get rid of it during our pre-move purge. I actually learned to type on a typewriter, though I'm don't know how soon after the school switched over to using computers for keyboard training.
  3. A blogging-related quirk is that I'm much more of a lurker than a commenter and I'm trying to rectify that. I have tons of blogs in my reader, but there are quite a few that I've probably never interacted with in such a way that the author actually knows that I'm an active reader.
  4. My husband has five sisters (five!) and they all have names that begin with the letter K. None of them is named Karen so I fit right in.
  5. I'm ichthyophobic (I won't give you the definition; if you want to know, go look it up).
If you are visiting this blog for the first time, welcome! This is Karen. I'm a librarian and archivist and I've been writing this blog since 2006. Some of my favorite books are All We Know of Love (schneider), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (kundera), The God of Small Things (roy), The Handmaid's Tale (atwood), Pride and Prejudice (austen), The Storyteller (vargas llosa), and Zahrah the Windseeker (okorafor-mbachu).

Here are my five most recent posts:I usually write posts that focus on an individual title, but this past week was a bit abnormal. Any questions? Feel free to ask.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Philip Roth

Announced today: American author Philip Roth is the winner of the 2011 Man Book International Prize.

The international prize is different from the normal Booker in that it recognizes a writer's oeuvre,1 rather than an individual novel. A relatively new award, the international prize is awarded every two years. The previous winners are Chinua Achebe (2007), Ismail Kadare (2005), and Alice Munro (2009).

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven't read much Roth. Of his more recent novels, I've only read The Plot Against America, which I loved.2 Nemesis is on my list as a must-read for both me and my mom.

The other contenders for this year's prize:I'm unfamiliar with a few of these authors, which is something that needs to be rectified.

Image (c) Nancy Crampton
  1. oeuvre: the lifework of a writer, artist, or composer. We get this lovely word from the French; it descended from the Latin opus.
  2. I actually wrote a paper for an early American literature class comparing The Plot Against America to Hope Leslie by Catharine Sedgwick. Another aside. I ended up in this class because one on literature of the diaspora had been canceled and I was bound and determined to take something after all the hoops the department made me go through in order to register for a graduate-level course as a faculty member (seriously it was like applying to a PhD program; I even had to get letters from former professors and submit a writing sample).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

reading habits survey

I found this set of questions at Pretty Deadly Reviews and thought it might be interesting to do.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack?
Sometimes. I don't make a habit of it, but I will continue to read while I'm eating a snack. There's no particular food that I tend to eat while reading.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
If you consider the fact that I'm a librarian, you'd think I'd be horrified by the idea of writing in books. But, it really doesn't bother me much, in fact the majority of the books I read in college and graduate school are full of underling and marginalia. I've also been known to dog-ear (horror of horrors!) when I don't have a bookmark on hand. Now, I would do such things to a library book or a book that was loaned to me. Such treatment is reserved for my own books.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Well, I already confessed to dog-earring above. I prefer to use a bookmark (or the flap of the dustjacket), but I do dog-ear and I do lay books face-down if they can handle it (ie. I don't break spines just so I can save my place). Russell find the face-down book-leaving particularly vexing and is liable to try to make me feel guilty about it, but I caught him doing it this weekend.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Both, but primarily fiction.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Any and all. I like audiobooks for knitting and long car trips. I have a Nook and am now fine with reading e-books (something to which I really wasn't sure that I'd be open). I prefer to have hard copies of my favorite books (hardcover when possible as they hold up better than perfect-bound paperbacks) so I can easily reread them.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I prefer to leave off at the end of a chapter. I've been like that since I was a child ("just one more chapter, Mom, then I'll go to sleep"). But, I will leave off mid-chapter if necessary.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Not usually. In most cases you can get a general idea of a word's meaning when seeing it in context. Sometimes I will mark the page with an unfamiliar (or one you don't often see or one that is particularly interesting) so I can look it up later and possibly feature it on this blog. (see featured-word posts)

What are you currently reading?
  1. Mercy by Rebecca Lim (forthcoming)
  2. Museum Archives: An Introduction edited by Deborah Wythe
  3. Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving by Andrew Burstein
  4. Possessions: The History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley by Judith Robinson
  5. Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant (forthcoming)
  6. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson
What is the last book you bought?
Well I'm not supposed to be buying new books.
Before I moved I received a couple of Amazon gift cards, which I used to get a Mortal Instruments box set containing City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass all by Cassandra Clare.
I still have $90-something left, but I'm not sure what I'll spend it on.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
As should be obvious from one of my answers above, I like variety so I'm often reading more than one book at a time. I don't usually have quite so many books going at one, but three or four is pretty standard. I've been trying to keep that sidebar section up to date so you can always check there to see what I'm working my way through.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
A favorite time of day to read I don't have. I read all the time, though mostly in the evenings as that's when I tend to have the time.
I usually have a book on hand (I keep one in my purse just in case), but I prefer -- at least at this point in my life -- to read at home. Since we're still unpacking and there are boxes everywhere I haven't yet decided on my favorite spots.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
I read both. I probably read more stand-alone books because there are more of them out there, but some of my favorite books are installments in a series.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Since I've read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay), I've recommended it quite a bit.

Others frequent recommendees (yes, I know that isn't a word) include The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, anything by Jasper Fforde, and Zahrah and the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.

All We Know of Love by Katie Schneider is one of my favorites, but I don't often give it as a recommendation (see this post for why).

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
That is something that we need to work on in our new space and I will post when I figure it out. At our old place my books were pretty organized categorically: bookcrossing books, knitting books, all others.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Washington Irving Book Awards

Last Friday I attended part of the Westchester Library Association conference and its Washington Irving Book Award event.

The Washington Irving Book Award (given biennially) honors books by Westchester authors for books published in the past two years. Books are vetted by a committee of librarians based on readability, literary quality, and wide general appeal.

The event included Jonathan Kruk as Washington Irving, short speeches by the award-winning authors, Q&A, and book-signing.

Seth Godin (Linchpin) was persona non grata after his lunchtime presentation on the future of libraries so he didn't stick around for the award event (I guess librarians are as resistant to change as everyone else).1 There were a few other winners that weren't at the award ceremony.2 I hope they had good excuses because each of them now has a black mark in my book.

Quite a few of the authors in attendance adapted their speeches because they felt the need to respond to Godin and nearly all of them shared their feelings about libraries and librarians. I left the room wanting to read all the books (even those I wouldn't normally consider) because the authors were charming and appreciative.

I do have to say that my favorite part of the event was during the question-and-answer period when someone asked about where the authors worked. Each author answered in turn and their responses were diverse (though apparently Jonathan Tropper and Jeff Pearlman fight over a table at the Cosi in New Rochelle). Right after the last award-winning author responded, Kruk/Irving popped up and explained his writing habits. It was a lovely surprise and made everyone grin.

Now without further ado, here are the award-winners (minus the absentees):

  • Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace
    At the research library at the Baseball Hall of Fame Wallace came across a photograph of a teenage girl in uniform shaking hands with Babe Ruth (Lou Gehrig standing by). That girl was baseball phenom Jackie Mitchell, who it seems is the reason that women were banned from professional baseball in the 1930s and she was in the inspiration for Diamond Ruby, the author's first novel (he's written nonfiction in the past).
  • In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff
    Another debut novel. Pintoff's protagonist, detective Simon Ziele, leaves Little Germany in the wake of the General Slocum disaster to settle in Dobson (a fictional town that's a bit of Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, and Irvington) only to have his peace shattered by a brutal murder nearby. Apparently In the Shadow of Gotham is full of period detail and highlights early criminology.
  • The Man Who Never Returned by Peter Quinn
    The sequel to The Hour of the Cat, The Man Who Never Returned follows the investigation into inexplicable 1930 disappearance of NYC judge Joe Crater.
  • Scared to Death by Wendy Corsi Staub
    The sequel to Live to Tell; a thriller. Don't read the Publishers Weekly review as it seems to give away far too much about the plot.
  • This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
    Judd's perfect life comes crashing down when he loses his job and wife in the same day (yep, his wife's sleeping with his boss). To make matters worse his father dies the same day and he's stuck sitting shiva with his unbearable family. It's going to be a long seven days.
  • American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent Cannato
    An engaging history of Ellis Island from a University of Massachusetts at Boston professor (does he live in Westchester when school's not in session?).
    It seems like Cannato tries to bridge the gap between popular history and the academy.
  • Closing Time: A Memoir by Joe Queenan
    One of the things Queenan said in response to Godin's talk was "the Visigoths and Huns will always be at the gates, but I don't see why we should invite them in" (that quote's from memory so it may not be 100% accurate).
    In Closing Time he writes about growing up in a Philadelphia housing project.
  • Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan
    A biography of Frank Sinatra
  • Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley
    Bradley's father was one of the guys immortalized in the Iwo Jima Memorial, but he never talked about what happened in Iwo Jima. Bradley's desire to research and share that story is what started his writing career.
    This book looks a bit further in the past to Theodore Roosevelt and the US's early involvement in Asia.
  • The Rocket that Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball by Jeff Pearlman
    I wouldn't normally think of picking up a book like this, but Pearlman won me over when he spoke about a disastrous book-signing he had at Fort Hood.
  • This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson
    This is exactly the kind of book that goes over well with librarians.
  • Walking Papers: The Accident that Changes My Life and the Business that Got Me Back on My Feet by Francesco Clark
    After hearing Clark speak I have no doubt that this is an inspirational book. I am particularly impressed with the fact that he didn't use his speech as an opportunity to talk about his company.3 He spoke exclusively about his injury, his path to recovery, and how he came to write the book and he's the only one of the author's who got cut off by the moderator.
I haven't spent any time looking into the past winners of the award so I don't know whether the book's chosen this cycle are typical or not, but I have to say that I was struck by a lack of diversity in the fiction winners. We have non-genre fiction, historical fiction, and mystery/thrillers. I can see sticking to more serious fiction for awards, but if you are going to include allow truly popular fiction then I think you need to be open to all genres. I can't believe that there no Westchester authors who write romance or science fiction, horror or fantasy.

ETA: I didn't pick up a copies of any of the books since I'm currently on book acquisition ban (see post) and, believe me, there were quite a few that I was dying to bring home with me.
  1. While I didn't agree with everything that Godin said (I just can't go all the way and say Wikipedia is a-ok for school kids; I still think everyone needs to learn about the importance of evaluating sources), I do agree that the library as we know it is on its way out and that we need to adapt in order to survive.
  2. Don Delillo (Point Omega), Andrew Gross (Reckless), Scott L. Malcomson (Generation's End), and Cynthia Ozick (Foreign Bodies).
  3. He mentioned it (I think he had to say something about it because it's in the title of his book), but I didn't know why he started a skincare line until I looked up a detailed synopsis of his book.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Skylark Farm

Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan
translated by Geoffrey Brock

Winner of the 2004 Premio Campiello (a prestigious Italian literary prize), this debut novel by a former professor of modern and contemporary literature at the University of Padua tells the story of one family during the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey.

Based on the author’s own family history, Skylark Farm is written with immense sensitivity. The author treats the subject as well as her readers with care, ever mindful of their tolerance for violence. One of the things that makes the novel stand out is that despite the horrific subject matter, Skylark Farm also manages to be part adventure story as it chronicles the escapades of the family’s would-be rescuers.
disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this book to review for Library Journal when the book came out a few years ago. As far as I know the review never appeared in periodical.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

on weeding our book collection (post 1 of ?)

We've just moved. We're still in the process of unpacking. Moving is really not my favorite thing to do.

Russell and I both freely admit that we have a bit of a book-collecting problem.1 Our books were here there and everywhere in our old place. Many were packed away in boxes and we had bookcases packed in most cases two books-deep nevertheless we had freestanding piles. I refuse to let things continue that way in the new place.

I want books to be on bookcases and organized in such a way that we can actually find something when we want to read it. And, I'm willing to weed mercilessly in order to make that happen.

I did get rid of around 300 books (mostly to a book drive) before we left, but I still have far too many. I'm trying to weed as we unpack book boxes. I've come up with some general rules for myself and I'm trying (though not always succeeding) to be ruthless.

If I've already read a book, I'll only keep it if I genuinely think I'll reread it or if I need to have it around for reference.
When I encounter a to-be-read book, it will only be kept if it meets one of the following conditions:
  • It's a classic that I really do need to get around to reading.
  • I remember its premise and am still interested.
  • Its synopsis appeals to me right now.
  • It came highly recommended from someone whose opinion in books I trust implicitly.
Of course I've kept some books because I liked their titles (Geographies of Home by Loida Maritza Perez) or they were written by an author whose work I've enjoyed in the past (Surfacing by Margaret Atwood) or because it's related to my job (a bunch of the books from oral history class I took in grad school) or any number of other (il)logical reasons. Regardless, I am making progress.
  1. I have to say that at least on my part BookCrossing is partly to blame. When I decided to participate I thought it'd be a good way to get rid of books. It was in fact a catalyst for book acquisition. I started picking up free or unbearably cheap books to bookcross, there are affiliated sites that aid in the trading of bookcrossing books, and once people knew that bookcrossing was something I did they gave me books they no longer wanted so that I could bookcross them. The problem was that often these books never left the apartment, even those acquired expressly for bookcrossing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

follow friday question

My second week for this meme.

What is the most emotional scene in a book that you have read lately?

Probably the death of George in White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (review forthcoming). Many of the scenes with Abram in The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff (post) were pretty difficult in a different way (Abram is verbally and emotionally abusive).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

books from the library shelves: American Writers at Home

William Faulkner’s study at Rowan Oak.
The writing on the walls is an outline for Faulkner's
Pulitizer Prize- and National Book Award-winning A Fable.

American Writers at Home by J. D. McClatchy
Photographs by Erica Lennard
"This is not a book about writers, or about houses, or about America. It is a book about where and why and how American writers made a home for themselves--a place to live, yes, but above all a place to work—in a restless, rugged country" (McClatchy's introduction)1
Featuring 300 lush and lovely full-color photographs of the homes of 21 American writers American Writers at Home is a glorious, yet substantive coffee-table book.

Like all (most?) coffee-table books, American Writers at Home inspires multiple visits rather than a cover-to-cover read. Readers will love seeing the space their favorite writers inhabited and hearing the author's take on how each of the authors' environments inspired them. American Writers at Home may also inspire some literary pilgrimages as all of the properties featured in the book, with the exception of Edna St. Vincent Millay's Steepletop, are open to the public.

While McClatchy does include a mini bibliography for each author/house at the end of American Writers at Home, he fails to provide references for individual quotes. This isn't a scholarly text, but the lack of citation drives me crazy and is probably the one thing that I do not like about this book.

One of the sites featured is Washington Irving's Sunnyside. McClatchy says of Sunnyside, "In one sense, the house [...] resembled the author's own past. It was a congeries of European motifs and pure American whimsy" (115). I think that's appropriate for an 18th century cottage to which Irving added Dutch stepped gables and a Spanish monastery-esque tower among other things.

The other authors and properties included in American Writers at Home (note how many of our authors hail from Massachusetts and Concord in particular):You can learn more about the book, and see sample pages, on its website at The Library of America.

Also, if you like this kind of thing, you might want to check out Write Time, Write Place. The blog features contemporary authors on their writing spaces (with snapshots!) as well as quotes about the act of writing.
  1. I forgot to note the page number. Will edit it in after I get my hands on the book again.
  2. While I love the fact that his property currently has 60 cats in residence (per house website), I'm not crazy about the taxidermied fish on display.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green

The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff

According to Bookcrossing, I've had a copy of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green sitting on my shelves (or in a box) for more than four years. It came highly recommended (by someone whose opinion I value), but I just never got around to reading it before now.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this book. It was a quick read and parts of it were laugh-out-loud funny. Here's one of Jacob's unthinkable thank-you cards below, unfortunately it doesn't have any of his trademark misspellings:
Dear Effie and Mel Greenstein,
I'm so sorry this card is late. [...] I really like the generous gift you gave me for my Bar Mitzvah. I had no idea that they made bookends out of Jerusalem stone. With the help of my brother and my friend Jon we were able to hoist them up on my bookshelf yesterday. They looked really great up there before my shelving collapsed into a cloud of snapped particleboard. No one was hurt. I think I'm going to keep them on the floor. Thank you very much again. You both rock, Effie and Mel. Get it?
Jacob (142-143)
As a male's coming-of-age tale, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green is a bit heavy on masturbation and sexual fantasy. I'd have wished for a bit less, but I understand it's roll. Some readers may also find the details of Jewish religious observances a bit tedious. I'd never heard of the Tefillin (Jacob: "forever my vote for most bizarre Judaic ritual," p. 80) so I found the explanations of that particularly interesting. Mostly though it is my dislike for Abram (Jacob's father) that overwhelms all the positive feelings I have about the book.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

mother's day

My mom's birthday is May 8th. It's nice to have a spring birthday, but she suffers the fate of many a child with a December birthday: one present for two holidays. I admit that I've given the Mothers-day-birthday gift more than once, but I'm going to try to avoid doing that in future.

For her birthday this year, I gave her a Barnes and Noble e-giftcard with express instructions to use it to buy a couple of novels to read on her Nook. I chose A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer and Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks for her.

She loves historical fiction. Caleb's Crossing is set on Martha's Vineyard and tells the story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. It's told from the perspective of the daughter of the man who takes the protagonist under his wing (of course she can't got to Harvard since she's a woman). A Fierce Radiance is about the development of penicillin. It's a perfect book for my mom as it's medical historical fiction.

For Mother's Day, I got her this lovely orchid:
While wandering aimlessly around the fancy garden store trying to pick out a plant for her, I found myself drawn to this particular plant. Most of what I know about orchids I learned from reading Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief (see post). Luckily my parents have the Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening and one of the volumes has a section on the care and handling of orchids as houseplants.

Friday, May 06, 2011

follow friday question

Because I haven't participated in a meme for quite some time (and because my feed reader needs some fresh blood), I thought it might give this blog-hop, hosted by Parajunkee, a try.

Circle time! Time to share. What character in a book would you most like to be, what character in a book would you most like to date?

Ok, well now I remember why I stepped away from memes like booking through thursday: I have such a hard time answering the majority of the questions! Oh, well, here goes nothing...

I think it'd be fun to the Thursday Next from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. She lives in such an interesting world and how much would I like to have a pet dodo and a footnoterphone.1

As for the second question, if I continue to see myself as Anne Elliot (see post), then the logical answer is Captain Wentworth. I think I'll stick to that answer for now as I think I could waste an inordinate amount of time thinking about other possibilities.
  1. Jurisfiction glossary entry. I love footnotes!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Motel of Mysteries

Motel of Mysteries by David Macaulay

In the year 4022 amateur archaeologist Howard Carson stumbles upon an unparalleled find, an exquisitely preserved chamber of a "funerary complex" that predates the great disaster of 1985. Closely following the work of Carson, Motel of Mysteries tells of that discovery and its aftermath.

By showcasing a truly misguided interpretation of late 20th century America, Motel of Mysteries clearly illustrates the perils involved in studying the past through artifacts.

A sample of Carson's analysis:
Surrounding almost the entire complex was a vast flat area, marked with parallel white lines. In several of the spaces stood freely interpreted metal sculptures of animals. To avoid the misunderstanding that often arises with free interpretation, each sculpture was clearly labeled. They were inscribed with such names as Cougar, Skylark, and Thunderbird, to name but a few. The importance of animal worship in Yank burial customs had never been more clearly illustrated. (40)
Motel of Mysteries is insightful and full of wry humor. As Carson and his compatriots excavate the motel, readers can't help but marvel at the lengths to which they must go to fit individual objects into their erroneous interpretation of the site.

Given the book's 1979 publication date, I suspect Macaulay is primarily poking fun at the archaeology/Egyptology craze spawned by the 1970s The Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit (the motel's name is "Toot'n'C'mon" and there's a curse associated with the excavation). Regardless, Motel of Mysteries is still laugh-out-loud funny 20+ years later.

Motel of Mysteries is a must-read for any student of history, archaeology, or museum studies. We are getting multiple copies for our library.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Hotel Angeline

Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices
The product of The Novel: Live!

I think that it's pretty safe to say that there's never been a novel like Hotel Angeline before. It was written by 36 authors (each writing for two hours) over the course of six days in October 2010. The Novel: Live! made novel-writing a performance art.

The plot, which was outlined before The Novel: Live! event is centered around 14-year-old Alexis Austin and the eccentric-full mortuary-turned-residential hotel run by her mother.

My favorite line was written by Jarret Middleton. He has Alexis say,
"Nothing's that simple anymore. I just got tossed into this world that I don't agree with, where everything drastically changes in an instant. [...] It feels like thirty-six authors are somewhere writing my life" (126)
That kind of self-reflexivity seems absolutely perfect for a novel written like Hotel Angeline. While some transitions between chapters were seamless, others were jarring. It was difficult for me to relate to Alexis because she was portrayed inconsistently enough that she seemed to have some sort of personality disorder (though most of the other characters survived their multiple authorship fairly well1).

Hotel Angeline was well-plotted even though much of what happens in the course of the novel is a bit far-fetched. I didn't find it particularly compelling though. Despite the fact that the novel is short (258 pages), I didn't read it quickly. There were moments when I wanted more, but inevitably the close of the chapter came and that desire ended with it.

In the end I have to say that while I really wanted to like Hotel Angeline I appreciated idea behind the novel and its production, more than I enjoyed the novel itself. That's not to say that Hotel Angeline isn't worth a read particularly since proceeds from the sale of the novel will be donated to literacy programs making it a feel-good purchase.

Given constraints of its production, Hotel Angeline is a great achievement and I do believe that the individuals who planned The Novel: Live! achieved their goal, which was, as articulated by Garth Stein, "to build a solid, fun story that was a collaboration between three dozen writers, various editors, and an audience both live and virtual [...,] to create [...] a community" (11).

The thirty-six authors who wrote Hotel Angeline--Kathleen Alcalá, Matthew Amster-Burton, Kit Bakke, Erica Bauermeister, Sean Beaudoin, Dave Boling, Deb Caletti, Carol Cassella, Maria Dahvana Headley, William Dietrich, Robert Dugoni, Kevin Emerson, Karen Finneyfrock, Jamie Ford, Clyde W. Ford, Elizabeth George, Mary Guterson, Teri Hein, Stephanie Kallos, Erik Larson, Stacey Levine, Frances McCue, Jarret Middleton, Peter Mountford, Kevin O'Brien, Julia Quinn, Nancy Rawles, Suzanne Selfors, Jennie Shortridge, Ed Skoog, Garth Stein, Greg Stump and David Lasky, Indu Sundaresan, Craig Welch, and Susan Wiggs--are all Seattle-based. While I've read a few of the authors and know of some of the others, I was surprised at my overall lack of name recognition. But, part of what's so wonderful about Hotel Angeline is how it offers readers a taste of so many different writers. I particularly liked Stephanie Kallos' chapter (31) so I'm planning to check out one of her novels.

I did have a technical difficulty when reading Hotel Angeline.2 Chapter 11, which is presented in a graphic-novel format (Greg Stump and David Lasky), wouldn't display on my Nook so I had to visit my computer to read that portion of the novel.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Hotel Angeline from Open Road Media via NetGalley.
  1. Alexis' girlfriend Linda was the only other one who was noticeably uneven.
  2. While I did read a pre-publication copy, the novel is only being released as an e-book so I assume that the problem may still exist