Monday, January 30, 2012

Marrying Anita by Anita Jain

Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India by Anita Jain

A few months ago, I mentioned receiving Marrying Anita as a gift for my birthday (see post). Marrying Anita is a memoir in which the author recounts what happened when she, a 32-year-old Indian-American, grew tired of the New York dating scene decided to return to move to New Delhi to find a husband. Just to be clear, the book is not about arranged marriage despite the phrase-dropping in the synopsis and press coverage. Arranged marriage is discussed because it is an integral part of Indian culture, but the author's personal experience with arranged marriage is limited to her father managing profiles on online marriage sites for her.

I'd heard Jain interviewed on NPR when the book first came out, which is how Marrying Anita ended up on my wishlist. I have to admit that while I was intrigued by the premise, I was a bit reticent about reading it because of the baggage I carry from my first-hand experience1 with India's marriage culture. I did read Marrying Anita though and I'm none worse for the wear.

Marrying Anita really wasn't what I expected. A full explanation would require including some spoilers and I don't like to do that. I'll stick with the things that I can mention without ruining things for future readers of the memoir. I was surprised at how open Jain is about her liaisons (and drinking and drug use). I imagine her parents being horrified and their more conservative friends and relatives (who no doubt read the book as soon as it was released) significantly more so. Jain makes much of this New India, but what's deemed acceptable among the nation's young urbanites is not necessarily indicative of culture-wide acquiescence.

I had a hard time relating to the author-narrator. I found Jain's need to pepper her narrative with SAT words (plangency2 appears in the second paragraph of her prologue) a bit irritating, but I was able to ignore that as I became accustomed to her writing style. More significantly, her actions and the harshness with which she describes individuals was off-putting. It seemed like every time I warmed up to Jain, she went ahead and did or said something that made me dislike her again. I do wonder though how the book's publication has affected her life and her love life.

Marrying Anita's synopsis mentions "disarming candor" and "refreshingly honest". The author is honest and candid, often disarmingly so, but unfortunately I didn't find Marrying Anita refreshing.
  1. as an inappropriate potential bride
  2. plangency - n. resonance (possibly deep resonance or mournful resonance)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy

Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy

I read through most of Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy while I was sick with the worst cold ever earlier this month. From the series' titles (Hood, Scarlet, and Tuck), it's fairly obvious that it's a retelling of the legend of Robin Hood. I don't remember acquiring the books in the trilogy, but I suspect that they came from my dad. Russell and I found then when we were going through our book collections pre- and post-move and decided to keep them since we were both somewhat interested in reading the series (I graciously offered to make space for the books on one of my bookshelves rather than making Russell house them on one of his).

In any case, the trilogy is set in late 11th century Wales. Lawhead seems concerned that readers will find fault with this relocation of Robin and his merry men and he outlines his reasoning for doing so in the novels' afterwords. For what it's worth, I think his case is solid. Lawhead's Robin Hood is a Welsh prince named Bran (raven). His father, the king of Elfael, is killed in an ambush and the kingdom ceased by a Norman nobleman (with the blessing of William II). Rhi (king) Bran takes to the forest from whence he and his supporters plague the Normans.

Overall the series is an interesting and enjoyable read. Lawhead incorporates Celtic mythology and believable period political intrigue into the legend. My one big complaint is about how and when the "Friar Tuck" and "Little John" monikers were introduced (too soon, too close to one another, and, in the case of Little John, in too contrived a way). The other thing I found strange about the series has to do with the progression of narration. The second book, Scarlet, is the first person narrative of one of the Bran's supporters. I didn't dislike the way the story was told in the second installment, in fact I quite liked the framed narrative, but reading the books one right after the other I was struck by the incongruity of the series narration.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

word: fair

Earlier today I happened upon a set of old articles on ALTA Language Services' Beyond Words blog thanks to the University of Chicago Magazine's twitter account.

October 2008's Ten most difficult words to translate was followed by May 2009's Five more difficult words to translate. This set of fifteen possibly untranslatable words comes from an eclectic set of languages (including a few with which I was completely unfamiliar). The only English word on the list was fairness, which was the subject of an Atlantic Monthly article and Beyond Words blog post earlier in 2009.

In Does fairness translate?: an economist and a linguist delve into the cross cultural variation of what we consider fair blog author Manny fulls together the various threads of the debate sparked by Bart Wilson's Atlantic Monthly article in what he refers to as a "nerdy linguistic mashup" and it's fascinating.

Is the concept of fairness uniquely Anglo-American? I don't think so, but I thought it might be interesting to take a look at our 1956 edition of A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles, edited by Mitford M. Mathews of the U of C Press's now defunct Dictionary Department.
The word fair's first appearance (p. 577) explicates its usage as a noun as in a country fair or a church fair, with a mention of American football's fair ("technical name of putting the ball in play from the side line when out of bounds" per P.H. Davis, 1911).
More relevant to the question at hand are fair's adjectival uses (577-578). Interestingly the first entry regards the classification of cotton by quality. The various baseball-related uses (ie. fair vs. foul) appear second and never stray from the technical into the philosophical (n.b. fair ball is substantial enough to warrant its own entry). The third entry pertains to the finish of leather on leather goods. The fourth and final annotation delineates a number of frequent compound words/phrases (fair catch, fair-haired, fair shake, etc.).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

the Hufflepuff scarf or proof that I love my sister

Normally I'm happy to have any excuse to include knitting projects on this blog, but I needed a bit of distance from this seemingly neverending one.

Last fall my sister requested a house scarf (she's a Hufflepuff) like the ones in the Prisoner of Azkaban film (here's a shot of Hermione in hers). She wanted it in time for the release of the final movie.

I started it on December 19th (plenty of time, right?), but I didn't finish it until September 26th (far, far after the film's opening day). Why'd it take so long? Mostly because the scarf is double layered. It was knit in the round, 90 stitches per row, and required 9 skeins of yarn. My progress was so slow that I avoided working on the project. Eventually, though, I forced myself to knit the scarf exclusively (I always have quite a few different projects on the needles at a time) until I finished it. Finishing it the day before my birthday was my birthday gift to myself.

Happily my sister loves the scarf and has gotten compliments on it whenever she's worn it.

Pattern: Prisoner of Azkaban Scarf by Lauren Kent
Yarn: Knit Picks Capra (85% Merino Wool, 15% Cashmere) in Honey and Black
Full details: Project on Ravelry

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lord of the Vampires by Gena Showalter

Lord of the Vampires by Gena Showalter

Lord of the Vampires is the first book in Harlequin's Royal House of Shadows series, a set of four paranormal romances, each based based on a fairy tale. Lord of the Vampires is inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Jill Monroe’s Lord of Rage by "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," while Lord of the Wolfyn by Jessica Andersen is based on "Little Red Riding Hood" and Nalini Singh's Lord of the Abyss on "Beauty and the Beast."

I haven't read any of the other books in the Royal House of Shadows series and based on my experience with Lord of the Vampires, I'm not sure that I'd want to. I like the premise of the series, which is why I requested a review copy of the first installment, but I'm baffled by the execution. I really did not enjoy Lord of the Vampires at all. The only reason that I didn't give up on the novel entirely is that I'd been promised a retelling of a fairytale (at the time that I was reading the novel I didn't know which tale Showalter had taken as her inspiration) and I was determined to find that story. I didn't, though. Alice in Wonderland didn't cross my mind as a possible inspiration because it is not a fairy tale. And while looking back now I can see how Showalter used Alice in Wonderland as a jumping-off point, I'm not sure that I'd have seen Alice in Wonderland in Lord of the Vampires without having been told to.

While the lack of an obvious fairy tale inspiration was a disappointment to me, it was by no means the only one. I couldn't connect to either the hero or the heroine and, more important given the fact that Lord of the Vampires is a romance novel, their relationship lacked any semblance of romance. Yes, there was sexual chemistry, but lust and ownership completely overwhelmed any bit of connection I saw between the two. Jane was not a sympathetic character and her willingness to go along with Nicolai made little sense in the face of his treatment of her. The only thing Nicolai had going for him was magnetic sexuality. He was domineering and manipulative and he lacked much in the way of redeeming characteristics.

The story was over complex difficult to follow with its multiple flashbacks and magic-induced memory loss (maybe this confusion is an intentional nod to Alice in Wonderland) and it succeeds in feeling both slowly paced and rushed. Suffice it to say that I couldn't wait for this one to end. I haven't read much of Showalter's work (just one of her young adult novels), but I suspect that Lord of the Vampires not typical given how strong her following is.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Lord of the Vampires from Harlequin Nocturne via NetGalley.

Ten Thousand Lovers by Edeet Ravel

Ten Thousand Lovers by Edeet Ravel

Ten Thousand Lovers is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelves for quite some time (more than five years according to its Bookcrossing journal). It survived the great library purge of 2011 despite the fact that I've had no compelling urge to read it in all that time. Why? Well, the cover art is quite beautiful, it has a medallion indicating that it was a finalist for Canada's Governor General's Award, and its back-cover text is quite enticing, particularly this bit:
In today's world, where danger, terrorism and the possibility of war are part of all our lives, no novel could be more brilliantly, terrifyingly contemporary. Yet Ten Thousand Lovers is set in Israel in the Seventies: a dazzling backdrop to a universal story of passion, suffering and the transcending power of love.
Ten Thousand Lovers was in an easy-to-reach section of my bookshelves and after grabbing it from there recently, I decided to go ahead and read it for the reasons mentioned above.

Lily is now an academic in England. Her daughter is of an age and embarking on her first serious relationship. Ten Thousand Lovers is Lily's reflection on that time in her own life. Though Lily spent her earliest years on a kibbutz, she is more Canadian than Israeli when she returns to Israel for college and meets a man whose job working for the Israeli army as an interrogator fills her with distaste.

Lily's recounting of her relationship with Ami is full of semantic digressions. A linguist, she can't help but explain the origins and meanings of the words that comprise their story. Rather than being distracting, these digressions inform the story and serve to better explicate the situation in Israel both at the time the story takes place and now.

Ten Thousand Lovers is a beautifully written novel. It is moving and sad and filled with truisms ("you can't quantify unhappiness," p. 296). It is a story that begs to be read and one that will stick with its readers long after they close the novel's covers.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

and on into 2012

The plan for this coming year is to post more consistently than I have recently.  I don't plan to post every day (I still have the big writing project which must be attended to), but I'd like to share my thoughts on the majority of the books I read even if that means more in the way of informal comments than proper reviews.  I also need to write up posts for a number of books that I should have reviewed in 2011 (see better-late-than-never tag).

Saturday, January 07, 2012

books read in 2011: 101-137

137. Books Can Be Deceiving by Jen McKinley
136. City of Secrets by Mary Hoffman (reread)
135. The Grand Tour by Wrede & Stevermer (reread; see post)
134. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
133. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (reread)
132. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (reread; see post)
131. Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (reread; see post)
130. Carnal Machines, edited by D.L. King
129. Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
128. Legacy by Katherine Webb
127. The Flame of Surrender by Rhiannon Paille
126. The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
125. The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket
124. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (reread)
123. The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
122. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (reread)
121. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (reread)
120. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (see post)
119. Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist (see post)
118. Viridis by Calista Taylor (see post)
117. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
116. Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
115. The Battle of the Labyrith by Rick Riordan
114. The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault
113. The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket
112. The Egyptian by Layton Green
111. Lord of the Vampires by Gena Showalter
110. The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (reread)
109. The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket (reread)
108. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (reread)
107. Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliasotti (see post)
106. Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel
Divergent by Veronica Roth (see post)
104. Woman's World by Graham Rawle (see post)
103. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
102. First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (reread)
101. Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde (reread)

books read in 2011: 51-100

100. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde (reread)
99. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde (reread)
98. Bumped by Megan McCafferty (see post)
97. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
96. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (see post)
95. Delirium by Lauren Oliver (see post)
94. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen (see post)
93. Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster (see post)
- The Thrall's Tale by Judith Lindbergh (gave up around p.190; see post)
92. City of Flowers by Mary Hoffman (reread)
91. Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
90. Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
89. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory (see post)
88. The Girl with the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
87. Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (see post)
86. City of Stars by Mary Hoffman (reread)
85. Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb
84. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
83. Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb (see post)
82. The Courtier's Secret by Donna Russo Morin (see post)
81. Eutopia by David Nickel (see post)
80. Life from Scratch by Melissa Ford (see post)
79. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (see post)
78. Spellbound by Cara Lynn Shultz (see post)
77. Legacy by Cayla Kluver (see post)
76. Heartless by Gail Carriger (see post)
75. City of Masks by Mary Hoffman (reread)
- The Sportsman by Dhani Jones (gave up on this one; not my cup of tea)
74. Everything We Ever Wanted by Sara Shepard (see post)
73. Blameless by Gail Carriger (see post)
72. Changeless by Gail Carriger  (see post)
71. Ghost Ship by P.J. Alderman
70. The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook (see post)
69. Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman (see post)
68. Book of Lies by Mary Horlock (see post)
67. Soulless by Gail Carriger (see post)
66. The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer (see post)
65. The Maid by Kimberly Cutter (see post)
64. The Poisoned House by Michael Ford (see post)
63. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (see post)
62. Stranger by Zoe Archer (see post)
61. First Impressions by Debra White Smith
60. Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories (see post)
59. Mercy by Rebecca Lim (see post)
58. Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows (see post)
57. Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank by Kaja and Phil Foglio
56. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (see post)
55. White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (see post)
54. The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff (see post)
53. Motel of Mysteries by David Macaulay (see post)
52. Hotel Angeline, 36 authors (see post)
51. The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

Final report on 2011 Take a Chance Reading Challenge

I made a stab at the Take a Chance Reading Challenge (see post) last year and while I did read some books I might not have otherwise, I didn't perform terribly well.

1. Staff Member’s Choice: Go to a bookstore or library that has a “Staff Picks” section. Read one of the picks from that section.
From Buffalo, NY independent book store Talking Leaves' Staff Book Recommendations page:
The Magicians by Lev Grossman recommended by Alicia (never got around to reading this one)
I did try to check out the staff recommendations in person in December/January, but couldn't find them in the Main Street location before I was overpowered by the strange fishy mildew smell that permeated the shop.
2. Loved One’s Choice: Ask a loved one to pick a book for you to read. (If you can convince them to buy it for you, that is even better!)
Jessica - gave me a choice:
- Delirium by Lauren Oliver (read in September)
- Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green
- A Proper Education for Girls by Elaine diRollo
- The Spellmen Files by Lisa Lutz
I'll likely read the others at some point.
Nancy - Woman's World by Graham Rawle (read in September)
Russell - something by Neal Stephenson (read The Diamond Age in June; full disclosure: he wanted to make me read all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, but I talked him out of it)
3. Blogger’s Choice: Find a “Best Books Read” post from a favorite blogger. Read a book from their list.
Never got around to going through lists.  I'm sure I could find something to count for this category, but that would defeat the point of this challenge, which is to to read with intention.
4. Critic’s Choice: Find a “Best of the Year” list from a magazine, newspaper or professional critic. Read a book from their Top 10 list.
Here's Library Journal's first ever best of list:
- By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
- Room by Emma Donoghue
- American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
None read.
5. Blurb Book: Find a book that has a blurb on it from another author. Read a book by the author that wrote the blurb.
I'm going to skip this one.
6. Book Seer Pick: Go to The Book Seer and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.
Using The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yielded the following suggestions:
- The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (2nd in series; read in April)
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson (3rd in series; read in April)
- One Day by David Nicholls
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett (see #9 below; is nothing like Dragon Tattoo)
- The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
- Sister by Rosamund Lupton
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (already read; is nothing like Dragon Tattoo)
- The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
7. What Should I Read Next Pick: Go to What Should I Read Next and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.
Inputting Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins yields diverse results. Among them are City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (read in April).
8. Which Book Pick: Go to Which Book and use the software to generate a list of books. Read a book from that list.
I'm skipping this one. The selection criteria are too vague to be useful to me.
9. LibraryThing Pick: Go to LibraryThing’s Zeitgeist page. Look at the lists for 25 Most Reviewed Books or Top Books and pick a book you’ve never read. Read the book. (Yes... you can click on MORE if you have to.)
Apparently I've read all but three of the "25 most reviewed books" on LibrayThing (as of January):
- Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (I intended to read this one as well, but I never got around to getting my hands on a copy)
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett (read in February)
10a. Public Spying: Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book. Write about it.
I'm dropping this one. I never realized how hard it was to see what people are reading when they are reading in public. Oh you can see that they are reading a mass market paperback or an e-reader, but unless a book has a really distinctive cover... and, well, I don't like asking strangers about what they are reading.
10b. Random Bestseller: Go to and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2010 for the max. and then hit generate. Then go to this site and find the year that generated for you and click on it. Then find the bestseller list for the week that would contain your birthday for that year. Choose one of the bestsellers from the list that comes up, read it and write about it.
Ditto. I realized that I really didn't want to spend my time reading bestsellers from September 1975.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

books read in 2011: 1-50

50. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis (see post)
49. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
48. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
47. Pleasure Grounds, J. Haley, editor
46. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
45. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (see post)
44. The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn
43. Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle
42. Strange Neighbors by Ashlyn Chase
41. Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell
40. Steamed by Katie MacAlister (see post)
39. Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
38. Nicola and the Viscount by Meg Cabot
37. Host by Stephenie Meyer (reread; see post)
36. Flawless by Sara Shepard
35. Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead
34. The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
33. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
32. Blood Promise by Richelle Mead
31. Baby, Don't Go by Susan Andersen
30. Insatiable by Meg Cabot
29. Head over Heels by Susan Andersen
28. Beastly by Alex Flinn (see post)
27. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (see post)
26. Possessed by Elif Batuman (see post)
25. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (see post)
24. Alphas by Lisi Harrison (see post)
23. Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot
22. Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
21. Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen (see post)
20. Sugar and Spice by Lauren Conrad
19. His Wicked Promise by Samantha James
18. The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
17. Sweet Little Lies by Lauren Conrad
16. The Summoner by Layton Green (see post)
15. Sweetblood by Pete Hautman (see post)
14. Evernight by Claudia Gray (see post)
13. King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (see post)
12. Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (see post)
11. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (reread; see post)
10. The Devil Wears Plaid by Teresa Medeiros
9. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (see post)
8. Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard
7. Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead
- Fallen by Lauren Kate (see post)
6. Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith (see post)
5. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
4. L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad (see post)
3. Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (see post)
2. His Wicked Ways by Samantha James
1. Unsuspecting Mage by Brian S Pratt