Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Frida Kahlo at the Bronx Botanical Gardens

A couple of weekends ago, I went with some pals to see a beautiful exhibit currently running at the Bronx Botanical Gardens, called Frida Kahlo- Art, Garden, Life.

The exhibit shows several Kahlo paintings and a floral exhibition inspired by her life and work. The art consisted of several paintings, maybe a dozen or so, including Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, as well as a collection of photos and sketches. We were not allowed to take pictures of the art, so you will just have to take my word that it was stunning. I don't think I'd ever seen her paintings in person before, so it was a treat.

The floral exhibition was housed in the Garden's Conservatory, and was absolutely a feast for the senses.

The Conservatory exhibit included flowers she would have grown, a model of her desk and even a replica of the cactus fence that she and Diego Rivera designed in one of their homes. And we went on a beautiful sunny day so it was just perfect. To top it off, the museum even had a Mexican food truck on the scene so visitors could enjoy a yummy taco or two as they wandered the grounds.

It was a beautiful day, and I got a membership to the Gardens with my New York City ID card, so I'll definitely be back for walks and hiking in the fall!

Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Another Monday, another update.

I'm still working on Flood of Fire; that's a long book, and a slow read. I've been going at about half a chapter a day and I'm on chapter 6 now. The plot is moving very slowly. Sea of Poppies started out slow, too, so I'm not worried, just very interested to see where it will go.

I'm almost done with The Adventures of Don Chipote, about a Mexican man who comes to the United States and finds it's not all it's cracked up to be. It's a fun read, poignant and somewhat didactic. It's also a period piece but one with relevance today.

Finally, I started Malarky, by Anakana Schofield, which I picked up in Ireland in 2013. This is the story of an Irish woman whose husband has just died and whose son is in the Army, and her comic journey to make sense of her life.

So this week I'll keep on with the two I've got going, but probably not start a new one unless I finish both Don Chipote and Malarky. I only started Malarky because I had to take the subway into Brooklyn and couldn't find Don Chipote. I always carry a book when I'm traveling! But I'm happy to report that even though I still continue to acquire books, I have weeded many more than I've accumulated since moving, so my overall TBR pile is shrinking. Yay!

What are you reading today?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Women in Translation Month

Apparently, August is Women in Translation Month. Who knew?

To that end, here is a list of some of my favorite women-writers-who-don't-write-in-English. I hope you find some new favorites.

Ludmila Ulitskaya is probably my favorite translated writer of any gender. Every time I read one of her books I think, "why can't every book be this good?" Her books include the masterpiece Daniel Stein: Interpreter and the wonderful Medea and Her Children. She's got a new one coming out soon, too. She writes in Russian.

Francesca Duranti is an author who was suggested to me by a friend, and what a great suggestion. Definitely check out Happy Ending, a bittersweet family and love story set in the Italian hills. She writes in Italian.

Marjane Satrapi is the Iranian graphic-novel writer and artist responsible for the wonderful Persepolis and its sequel. She writes in French.

Marguerite Duras is an author whose wonderful books I've been reading since I was a teen. Author of the iconic The Lover, she writes in French.

Alina Bronsky has written three novels published here. My favorite is still her first, the heartbreaking Broken Glass Park, about the effects of family violence on children. She nails it. She writes in German.

Elvira Dones is the Albanian author of the strange and wonderful Sworn Virgin. She writes in Albanian.

Amelie Nothomb is the Belgian author of edgy and boundary-pushing books like Hygiene and the Assassin and Life Form. She writes in French.

Ludmila Petrushevskaya is another boundary-pusher. In English we can find three volumes of her searing short stories exploring the lives of women. She draws blood with her pen. Her latest is There Once Lived A Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In. She writes in Russian.

Elena Ferrante is probably the most famous contemporary author on this list, another boundary-pusher like Petrushevskaya. Her Neopolitan series is burning up the bestseller lists right now, but before she hit it big she was writing womens' lives raw with books like The Days of Abandonment and The Lost Daughter. She writes in Italian.

Nina Berberova was a Russian author who wrote about the privations of Soviet life, especially their effect on women and families. I love her collection The Ladies of St. Petersburg especially. She writes in Russian.

Ai Yazawa is a Japanese manga-ka whose Nana is probably my favorite manga series. It's about two women friends trying to make it in the big city. She writes in Japanese.

Goliarda Sapienza was an Italian writer whose book The Art of Joy was a hot mess I couldn't even finish, but I'm going to recommend her anyway because it is such a magnificent mess. She writes in Italian.

Dubravka Ugresic is a polemical and political Croatian writer of essays, short stories and novels. The Culture of Lies is a reaction to the fall of Yugoslavia. She writes in Croatian.


I'd love some suggestions from you too- especially Israeli and African women, two groups whose books are missing from my reading. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week has been a fun week in reading. I read Dario Fò's The Pope's Daughter, a retelling of the story of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia. It's written like nonfiction; the narrative voice has a lot of authority and tells the story like a history book. The book is also peppered with the author's illustrations of various personages.  I enjoyed it.

This week I'm still reading Flood of Fire (I will be for a while) and I started an older book, Daniel Venegas's rediscovered work The Adventures of Don Chipote, a satire version of Don Quixote about a Mexican migrant to the United States. The book was written in the mid-20th century and appeared in English for the first time in 2000.

What are you reading this week? See more at Bookjourney.wordpress.com.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My 8th Blogiversary

You guys... I didn't think I'd make it. I even had the "I'm shutting down the blog" post drafted. Because it's been a really rough year. Last time this year we just found out we were moving to New York. And it's been bumpy, to say the least. But it looks like we survived. Our first official year in NYC will be at the end of September. But this time last year was when it all started.

Anyway THANK YOU to everyone who reads, comments and has been there for me over the past year, with help, with a shoulder to cry on, with your company or a kind word. You know who you are.  I couldn't have made it without you!

I have no big plans for the next year. Just keep on keepin' on, as they say. Reading, writing, reading and more writing and reading. I plan on more varied posts- TV Time, movie reviews, and more posts on travel and New York City stuff. I also feel inspired to delve back into Jewish books more actively.

I could write a book about everything that's gone on this past year. Maybe I will!

Now let's see if Boston Bibliophile can make it to nine years. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 14, 2015

TV Time: Gilmore Girls

Netflix started streaming the iconic girl-bonding show Gilmore Girls about two weeks after I moved to New York. I started watching it out of curiosity, usually when I was having lunch, and was quickly hooked on the adventures of the kooky Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, mother and daughter residents of the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. In ten months I followed all seven seasons of  their relationships, antics and fast-talking dialogues.

Well, at least I can check that cultural touchstone off the list.

I enjoyed it enough. I mean, I would not have continued to watch the show if I didn't like it. And I think I would have loved it had I watched it during its original run. There were times when I'd turn an episode off because I couldn't handle the characters' neuroses and anxieties on top of my own, and they were always going into meltdown over something. Especially that Paris. That girl needs a week in Hawaii or something. She needs to chill out.

But mostly it was fun indulging in the fantasy of that idyllic single-mother-only-daughter relationship. As the only daughter of a single mother, I can tell you that life isn't all going to the same diner every day, doing each others' nails and having your parent put your needs first. Like I said, it was a fantasy portrayal, and I guess I can't blame the show because my own childhood didn't measure up to that of loveable, fictional Rory.

As far as Rory, I have to say I found her pretty insufferable most of the time. Perfect, indulged and hardly ever wrong, except when she sleeps with married/worthless Dean, she's basically a paragon. When it came to her boyfriends, I'm firmly Team Jess, but Logan grew on me after a while. He started off pretty shallow but his character matured over time (somewhat) and he certainly loved Rory very much. But I still say Jess was the one for her.

Now, you'll say Jess was a mess, and a screw-up, and he was, but so were a lot of us at that age. And he grew up too, into an accomplished young man on his way to further successes. And it was Jess, not Peter Pan Logan, who convinced Rory to go back to Yale and pursue her dreams.

(In any case the show's perfect couple isn't Rory and anyone, or even Luke and Lorelai- it's Paris and Doyle.)

Speaking of, Lorelai and Luke had one of the most dysfunctional romances I've seen, although I loved that episode when they finally got together, and that the show ended on an optimistic note for them. And Luke was just flat-out adorable when he wasn't being stupid and stubborn about dumb things. Also, I felt a special bond to Luke because I own one of the plaid shirts he often wore.

Emily and Richard just made me want to gouge my eyeballs out.  Even Lorelai at her most narcissistic and self-centered couldn't hold a candle to her shallow, status-obsessed parents. And it would be interesting to see Lorelai or Rory solve a problem without running to their rich relatives for a bailout.

Overall the show was a fun, harmless diversion- just the thing television should be, in my opinion.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished The Expedition to the Baobab Tree, by Wilma Stockenstrom, and it was OK. I read it because it's South African literature, and translated by J.M. Coetzee, so it sounded like two treats for the price of one. I think I knew going in that it wasn't going to be exactly my kind of thing- very voice-driven, as opposed to plot-oriented, and while I did enjoy it and had no trouble following it, I didn't love it. An exploration of freedom and slavery, focusing on a woman who lived her life as a slave and is suddenly freed only to impose another kind of imprisonment on herself,  it was worth reading.
As I said in my last post, what I'm reading next is Amitav Ghosh's Flood of Fire, out now and the third book in his Ibis Trilogy. The Ibis Trilogy is a big, expansive historical fiction series about the Opium Wars and set in China, India and all over Asia at a tumultuous time. The books feel vast and intimate at the same time, written in a jaunty style that mixes in a tremendous amount of specialized dialect and still sounds as familiar as your own hometown. I'm only a few pages into Flood of Fire and I'm loving it. If you read Sea of Poppies and its sequel River of Smoke (and if you haven't, well, I have your reading picked out for the rest of 2015 because you need to, right now), you know that Poppies ended on a riveting cliffhanger that Smoke totally ignored. Now Ghosh picks up the thread, but not in the way I expected. I wish I could spend all day on this.

What are you reading today?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fall Books I'm Looking Forward To

Fall is usually the big-blockbuster season, when all the A-listers have their new books out. This year is no exception. Here are a few things I'm looking forward to.

 Before the fall though there is one big book (literally and figuratively) I want to make sure to mention. Amitav Ghosh wraps up his stunning Ibis Trilogy with the release of Flood of Fire this month. Look for it, and read the first two books, Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke, if you haven't, especially if you love immersive literary historical fiction. Flood of Fire is what I'm reading next.

On to the fall.

Some of my favorite authors have new books this fall. Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last comes out in September; I did start it already but I'm going to start it again.

And of course the final volume in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series will be out in September, The Story of the Lost Child. I haven't had a chance to preview this one but I'll pick it up as soon as it comes out. How could I not?

Jeannette Winterson's The Gap of Time comes out from Hogarth in October. This is neat because it's part of a new series Hogarth is doing,
having literary heavyweights retell Shakespeare. Winterson's book is a retelling of "The Winter's Tale"; future installments of the series will include a version of "The Tempest" by Margaret Atwood, "The Merchant of Venice" retold by Howard Jacobson, "King Lear" retold by Edward St. Aubyn and more. I wish Hogarth offered a subscription option because I would sign up yesterday!

In November, look for Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise, a posthumous novel by the great Oscar Hijuelos. This is a lively tale about the friendship between Mark Twain and explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley which Hijuelos was revising up until the day before his 2013 death. I skimmed the first few pages at BEA; it seems very different from other books of his I've read (Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Beautiful Maria of My Soul) but just as wonderful.

David Mitchell, Jonathan Franzen and Salman Rushdie also have books out this fall. But everyone will buy those no matter what I say about it! :-)

It's not just about the big names. There are some others, some new-to-me and some small press, and all books I'm really excited about.

The Wake, by Paul Kingsworth, is coming in September. It was longlisted for the Man Booker and
has been described as a post-apocalyptic thriller set in the distant past. Kingsworth tells his story in an adapted Old English which adds to the atmosphere and tension. It opens with "the night was clere though i slept i seen it."

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan, comes in September and looks like a fun crime novel. "On the day that he was due to retire, Inspector Aswin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant..."

New Directions tells me that they're publishing a new Cesar Aira novel this October, Dinner. You can bet I'll be in line for that ASAP. "Was it a nightmare–the result of bad indigestion–or did something truly scary happen after dinner in the Argentine town of Coronel Pringles?"
  
The Man Who Spoke Snakish, by Andrus Kivirähk, and coming out in November, is one I'm going to have to fight my fantasy-loving husband for.

Tightrope, by Simon Mawer, is coming in November. It's a "historical thriller" set in post-WW2 London where the old war meets the Cold War.

Then, in January of 2016, we're getting The Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, by Sunil Yap, set in the 1999 Seattle WTO protests. It's the first book from Little, Brown's new Lee Boudreaux Books imprint and I can't wait to see what's in store.

What are you looking forward to this fall?

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished and loved Meir Shalev's A Pigeon and a Boy. The twist at the end was pretty predictable, but it was still beautiful when it happened. It's a lovely book about love and destiny. I'll do a full review soon but you should pick it up if you love a beautiful love story.

Over the weekend I started reading a very different kind of book, The Expedition to the Baobab Tree, a novel about a woman trying to survive in the wilds of Southern Africa after escaping her slaveholders. It is by South African writer Wilma Stockenstrom and translated by J.M. Coetzee. It's full of mood and beautiful writing, and not long on plot, which normally isn't my thing but I'm enjoying this as a sort of prose poem. It's not a long book and I expect to finish it soon.

I've been approaching my reading by alternating between my three TBR piles- the bookshelf in my bedroom, a stack in the living and the huge pile of Europa Editions I continue to accumulate. Baobab Tree came from the living room; Pigeon was a bedroom-shelf book and before that was a Europa. So I think that means when I'm done with Baobab it'll be Europa time again. Do I hear Massimo Carlotto's most recent book calling my name? Could be.

What are you reading today?

Friday, July 31, 2015

My Favorite Beach Books

Well, it's almost August and we're definitely hitting the beach, the lakes and the pools. But what to put in the beach bag? Here are some suggestions- some recent, some older titles but all good juicy reads for when you want to relax.

Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre. This one is still out in hardcover, and it's an unusual and lively story about the quest for beauty and youth, set in the era of British king Charles 1.

Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm. Also from this year, Scherm's novel follows the escapades of a thief and forger from her home in the American South, to New York City, Paris and beyond.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is the Pulitzer-winning blockbuster also about the world of art and theft, but with a more morally redeeming hero. I think I like Scherm's character better but if you haven't read The Goldfinch you pretty much have to.

Climates, by Andre Maurois. Changing tacks to a frothy romance, Climates is an older book recently translated into English, about husbands and wives and lovers in early 20th century Paris, a gilded-age soap opera.

Skios, by Michael Frayn. The man who brought you "Noises Off" returns with a silly farce set in the Greek isles. You'll feel the sunshine through the page.

Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks. The British comedian takes a bet and sets off on a comic journey through the Emerald Isle. It's the next best thing to going to Ireland yourself.

Summertime All the Cats are Bored, by Philippe Georget. The first in a series of noirs follows a coffee-loving detective as he tries to solve a gruesome kidnapping and murder.

Happy Ending, by Francesca Duranti. A bittersweet love story set in the Italian hills, Duranti's novel will have you tearing up by the end and feeling the sun on your shoulders.

Random Violence, by Jassy Mackenzie. One of my favorite new-to-me crime writers startles with the first book in her dark series starring Detective Jade de Jong. If you read crime you've got to be reading her South African thrillers.

Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre. Some nonfiction now, a fascinating tale of World War 2 espionage, love and loyalty.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. A required-reading contemporary classic about two brothers and the paths they cut from India to Ethiopia to New York to Boston. Amazing book.

Beautiful Maria of My Soul, by Oscar Hijuelos. Before his posthumous novel comes out this fall, read this racy, fun novel about the travails and life of beautiful Maria.

So there you go. Hope you are having a great summer and reading lots of fun books! The fall is going to bring us some heavy things- new Atwood, new Mitchell, new Franzen, new Irving and more. But let's have some fun reading while the sun's still hot and save those serious books for the indoor time of year.