Monday, May 9, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Well I finally finished The Sparrow and thank goodness for that. What started off as a character-rich science fiction with interesting and relevant conversations about the demands of faith, the limits of science and finding your way narrowed in the last 50 pages to something resembling Deliverance in space. With aliens instead of hillbillies and a priest instead of Ned Beatty. So yeah. Kind of glad that's over, not interested in any sequels or supplementary materials. And Brad Pitt, you don't have to make the movie. (I read that he bought the rights around the same time as he got them for World War Z and even bought his friends copies of The Sparrow for Christmas one year. Lucky friends!)

Now I'm a little bit between things. I started Waiting for the Barbarians, by J.M. Coetzee, but that might be too intense for what I need right now. I also started Domnica Radulescu's novel Country of Red Azaleas, a kind of Ferrante-in-the-Balkans coming of age set in the former Yugoslavia. So far so good.

In nonfiction land I'm still reading Chocolate Wars, by Deborah Cadbury, which is good bedside reading- light- and Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart.

What about you? What are you reading today? Are you off to BEA and excited to grab some fall galleys? Which ones?

Monday, May 2, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer, and I've moved on to a new non-fiction read, but otherwise it's pretty status quo for me.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, continues to be a difficult and rewarding read; I'm in the last third and might finish this week.

I'm now about halfway through Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart, by Claire Harman, and still really enjoying it. Did I mention I picked up a hardcover copy so I can keep it once I'm done reading the galley, currently being trashed on the elliptical?

Finally, I started Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers, by Deborah Cadbury (yes that Cadbury) about the Cadbury chocolate company, its history and travails, and also its future. I am a big fan of Cadbury chocolate so you can see how this caught my attention. I picked it up a long time ago when I was working at the Harvard Coop; one of my jobs there was to shelve the business section and I ended up taking a few things home over time.

I'm looking forward to a month of no-obligations reading- I have no book club meetings in May, so it's all about me for a few weeks. I might go on a "crime spree" for a while once I'm done with The Sparrow and maybe even read a Europa Editions book. Now that the Europa Challenge has ended I haven't been making those books a priority but there are lots I still want to read. I'm doing an inventory of my shelves and adding lots more titles than I've removed so far, many from the Europa collection. So I can finally quantify exactly what's on the shelves. It's kind of scary but mostly interesting.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Salon

It's a rainy Sunday in New York, and I'm glad that we did our going-out yesterday because today is a day for staying in.

Yesterday was Independent Bookstore Day, and lots of bookstores were running promotions and having special events- probably every bookstore except the one I visited, Little City Books in Hoboken, NJ. My husband and I were looking at Hoboken as a possible alternative to Queens, and spent the day walking around and exploring this very charming enclave just a 15 minute train ride from midtown Manhattan.

It was a beautiful day- a perfect day for househunting and we stumbled on Little City Books on a side street after having breakfast and exploring Washington Street, the main commercial drag. It's a great little indie store and I bought Independent People, by Haldor Laxness.

And that was it for Independent Bookstore Day for us. When we got home it was nap time and since my husband is still a little under the weather we decided to relax for the rest of the day. We did go see "Zootopia" at the movie theater down the street, which was a solid B+ Disney flick.

Today I'm cleaning and reading. Specifically I'm weeding out a large chunk of my sewing books. I've already scanned most of my paper patterns to PDF and hope to go 50% paperless by the time we move. Going forward I'm only buying PDF patterns and sewing books. With an e-reader at my sewing machine it's very easy to work with PDF patterns and it really does eliminate bulk around the house. I have a large pile of books to sell already. I do wonder about the future of paper patterns and books given the ease and practicality of the PDF when it comes to sewing. I worry about how the change in technology will impact quilt shops too but I can't see overstuffing my limited living space when there are solutions that work better for my lifestyle.

What are you up to this Sunday?

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week I finished In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, which was good and kept me reading. It was about the relationship between Isaac, an insecure Orthodox man and an even more insecure Muslim janitor and what happens when Mustafa, the janitor, finds ancient Jewish artifacts at a Muslim building site. In the mean time Isaac is dealing with some changes and a growing romance blossoms as well.

I started reading A Man Called Ove, which I know a lot of you liked, but I couldn't finish it. I started it for my Nordic Book Club but since I didn't finish I'll be skipping tomorrow's meeting. I can't rail about people who show up to book club without having read the book, and then attend a club for which I haven't completed the reading.

In better reading news I'm loving Mary Doria Russell's science fiction Catholic epic The Sparrow. If I were still in that religious book club I would definitely recommend it as a Catholic/Christian selection. Jesuits in space! No but seriously it's really amazing fiction.

Still working on my two nonfiction choices, Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart, and The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. I should be done with the latter in a week or so and then the former will take a while yet but that's OK. I have to say I'm loving all the nonfiction I'm getting to this year. Last year was pathetic with like 5 nonfiction books or something; I'm doing much better in 2016!

And you?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

An Outdoor Reading Room at Bryant Park

So yesterday afternoon on the way to my book club I was walking by Bryant Park and noticed a bunch of book carrels set up and filled with books sitting in a cluster, along with designated tables and some big signage announcing the Bryant Park Reading Room project.

Through August you can come to the park and read from 11am to 7pm daily, and there will be readings and other public events held here throughout the spring and summer.

I took a moment to check out Mort(e), by Robert Repino, a book which had caught my eye at local bookstores. It's a science fiction novel told through the eyes of a cat.

I definitely want to continue reading it, and I love the idea of this kind of open-air library. And Bryant Park is one of my favorite parts of NYC so I'll definitely be back!

If you come here to read, be sure to tweet @bryantparknyc #readingroom and let the folks running this great project know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Do We Need the Mystery Section?

In the past few years I started reading crime fiction and in particular I enjoyed getting to know the mystery/crime section and recommending from it when I worked with readers, especially once I realized how passionate my readers were about their crime reading. I also realized quickly that not only are crime readers passionate, they are picky as all get-out. They like what they like. If they read cozies, or Holmes, or Italian, or British, or Canadian, or supernatural, or whatever- that's what they want. Out of all of the categories of readers, they consistently struck me as the least likely to read outside their comfort zones.

I'm no different. This winter I enrolled in a crime fiction reading group and read eight crime novels by different writers, from different eras and representing different styles. Frankly most of the time the books have been a struggle for me, because most of them are outside my bailiwick of gory European crime and antihero books. My favorites were in line with my typical tastes- antihero books and Mediterranean noir. All those hard-boiled noirs we had to read? Puts me to sleep. Classic procedurals? I need a little more, you know? But that's just me, and my reactions are not a reflection of the quality of the books, just my own taste.

But why is this? Why are crime readers (myself included) so difficult and yet so easy to please? Because if you give a cozy fan a new cozy series, he or she will be pleased as punch. But try to sell that person on something even a little grittier and you are plumb out of luck. So what do you do if you have a cozy fan asking for a book and you have nothing new to offer?

I don't think you say come back later. If you know the person likes cozies, for example, you already know something about their tastes and now is the time to introduce them to similar books in the general fiction section. It works the other way too. The person who likes hipster fiction from small presses will like hipster crime, too. (I've seen that play out so I know it's true.) Take that fedora-and-skinny-jeans-wearing-coldbrew-drinker to Melville House. My husband reads science fiction and fantasy, but he also likes crime- the right kind of crime, crime with supernatural or fantastical elements, like Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri series. So the kind of crime someone likes has a lot to do with the other books someone reads.

All of which leads me to ask, do we need a crime section?

Crime readers know the authors and series they enjoy, and they know to hit the shelves looking for those things. When they run out is when they ask for help. So that's the opportunity for the bookseller or the librarian to come up with suggestions, either crime or not, that the reader would enjoy, and we can do that from the general fiction shelves as easily as from the genre shelves if we know our stuff. Moreover, eliminating the crime section would give readers the chance to browse the entire fiction selection and therefore the chance to find all kinds of things they might enjoy. I know one man whose tastes in crime are so specific he will only read mysteries set in Venice. If he only ever browses crime, how will he find the other fiction set there, which he would probably enjoy to? The list of examples goes on.

In New York City I've encountered bookstores and libraries that shelve by genre and those that do not; sometimes it's a matter of space if a place just doesn't have the room or the setup to separate them but I've found a lot more serendipitous selecting going on in those that do not shelve by genre. It also saves the reader time if he or she only has to search once to find a particular book that in another store might be shelved in either fiction or crime (since the distinction can be a fine one at times). I'd rather have just one place to look for a book and not have to guess or ask for help. Many readers won't ask booksellers for help so it pays to make it easy to find things.

So I'm going to advocate for blending the crime into the general fiction more generally, if you will. Doing so would give readers the chance to encounter more, make searching faster and make recommending more seamless, too. It would also communicate the idea, valid in my opinion, that genre distinctions can be capricious and superficial, and often have more to do with someone's ideas about marketing than about making true distinctions between books. Sometimes I think the distinctions set up by sectioning do more to keep readers away from great books than they do to help them find anything anyway.

Monday, April 18, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've had a really fun and productive reading week.

I finished Distant Star, by Roberto Bolano, which I truly enjoyed and have started re-reading in advance of Wednesday's book club conversation. Speaking of my book clubs, Wednesday is the last meeting of my crime reading group and I'm all sad because it's been so much fun and the people are great. Contrast that with a book club I attended for the first time last week, a general fiction book club, which was so bad I will never return. The problem? The people were incredibly not-nice. One woman even made fun of the way I speak, because apparently my bland non-New-England-accented speaking voice is hilarious to Upper West Siders. Ugh!

I also finished Anne-Marie O'Connor's The Lady in Gold, about Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was at the center of a highly contentious legal case to restore it to its original owners after the Austrian government took it away during the Nazi era. It was pretty good; great story anyway. I've seen the painting at the Neue Gallerie in New York and now I want to go back and see it again. Extraordinary.
This week I'm still working on In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, by Ruchama King Feuerman, which I'm enjoying and hope to finish.

On the nightstand this week is Joshua Hammer's The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, a neat book with a dumb title about the struggle to preserve precious manuscripts from Al-Qaeda in Africa. I got it for review from Simon & Schuster. It's a mix of history, suspense, current events and bibliophilia, a nearly impossible-to-resist combination.

And I'm still working through Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, by Claire Harman. I picked up a hardcover copy at HousingWorks Books because my galley copy is getting trashed at the gym- I tend to bring my galleys to read at the gym because the books always wind up in terrible shape after several months of sitting on the elliptical. This time I really want a nice copy for my shelf though!

That's it for me! What are you reading this week?

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've been reading a ton lately. Last week I read two books, and I've been reading for my book clubs and at the gym and at night and all that. Right now I'm down a reasonable three books.

In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, by Ruchama King Feuerman, is a novel set in present-day Israel about Isaaac, a religious Jewish man who works for a rebbe and his Muslim acquaintance Mustafa, and the troubles that ensue when Mustafa finds an ancient relic at a construction site, which he passes on to Isaac.
My bedside book is The Lady in Gold, by Anne Marie O'Connor, about the people behind Gustav Klimt's famous painting and their fates as well as how the painting ended up in its current home, the Neue Gallerie on the upper east side of Manhattan. The writing is kind of so-so but the story is harrowing and page-turning.

Finally I'm really enjoying Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, by Claire Harman. I'm actually going to the gym more so I can spend more time reading this engaging biography.

What are you reading?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Salon

I've been busy! New York does have a lot to offer and I've been trying to get out more.

A lock from the Mossman Lock Museum
Some highlights of the past few weeks include
  • a visit to the Mossman Lock Museum, a collection of locks at the Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of NYC,
  • eating at the iconic Russ & Daughters cafe and deli,
  • two traumatic and painful medical appointments (I'm fine, just routine stuff),
  • a quilt show in Brooklyn and a quilt guild meeting in Hell's Kitchen,
  • Macy's flower show, 
  • several movies,
  • two book club meetings and
  • finishing a quilt.
So there's all that. And I've been reading up a storm, and sewing lots too. I made a new purse for spring with some upholstery fabric someone left at the take-it-or-leave-it table at the guild meeting and I'm trying something called a New York Beauty block, a complex design that I've never done before, but I think it's time to push myself to try more difficult patterns.

Today we're going to try to get to a movie and maybe do some poking around in Soho.  I think my husband may have been spoiled by the magnificent Russ & Daughters bagels and I may be obligated to go back for more.

This week actually looks to be pretty quiet. I have an acupuncture appointment on Tuesday and a book club meeting at the end of the week. We'll see how it goes!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Eyrehead

I couldn't get a good shot with me in it, but here is my collection of Jane Eyre editions for #JaneandMe, an internet meme going around today to celebrate Charlotte Brontë and her upcoming birthday, April 21.

I mostly collect illustrated standard versions but there are a couple of board books and alternate versions too, just for fun.

The doll of Jane comes from the Etsy shop UneekDollDesigns, which I recommend. The artist also does custom work if she doesn't stock your favorite character or celebrity.