Monday, October 16, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've struggled a bit with books over the past week- I DNF'd three nonfiction titles (straight on to the "sell" pile, too, so no going back) and started some new things. And bought some new things, but I'll do a new-on-the-shelf post soon.

I started reading A Horse Walks into a Bar, by David Grossman, after finishing Ripley Under Water, which was a treat. This one is too and it's also darkly humorous but in a less murdery way.

On the bedside I'm settling down with Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages, about languages that people have made up- Klingon, ASL, Esperanto and so forth. It's fascinating and entertaining and just what I needed to break me out of my slump.

I'm also reading a chapter a night of The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie, whose narrator I really detest but I'm trying to pick through the circumlocutions to get to the plot, and when I can it's great.

At the gym I'm continuing with Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley, a fun and informative entry into this year's pile of Austen nonfiction commemorating the 200th anniversary of her death.

That's it for me this week, but that's enough. What about you?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: MADE FOR LOVE, by Alissa Nutting

Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting. Published 2017 by Ecco. Audiobook narrated by Suzanne Elise Freeman. Literary Fiction. Science Fiction.

A woman runs away from her techonut husband while her elderly father finds companionship in a sex doll and another man becomes attracted to dolphins in Alissa Nutting's funny, twisted and thoroughly delightful new novel.

Made for Love; what does it mean? Hazel's father's doll was manufactured for sex; Hazel herself becomes an object in the eyes of her husband, there to be used for his experiments; and Jasper has created of himself a character who pretends to love women while he steals from them. But at a metaphorical level, or literal if you're religious, the human soul as made for love is a religious concept that reaches back to the Bible. Pope John Paul II said "A person's rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use." All three main characters, and many of the minor ones, have to learn this lesson over the course of this strange and wonderful book.

At the outset, Hazel, a young woman in her thirties, abandons her marriage to Byron Gogol. He is founder of a tech company looking to take over the world, or at least the people in it, through the introduction of more and more intrusive technology. Finally he wants to "meld minds" with his wife, in one-sided arrangement that would give him access to her every thought but give her nothing in return. His incursions start out with low-level technostalking when they first meet and escalate to monitoring her without her knowledge 24/7. She wants out; what started out as a loveless marriage for money has become something frightening and deeply threatening and now, hiding at her father's house, she believes Byron will eventually kill her rather than let her go.

At the same time her father, who is more ill than he lets on, has taken up with a sex doll named Diane and wants to live out his remaining time in a fantasy world of plastic love. He lets Hazel stay with him for the time being, but only if she agrees to buy him a second doll.

Then there's Jasper, a con artist and gigolo who gets a number done on him after an encounter with a dolphin changes him in a way he struggles to come to terms with, first through employment at an aquarium and later through Gogle-sponsored surgery. Eventually all three characters come together, but not in any way I expected.

I'm calling this book science fiction because it is deeply concerned with the ways technology affects our lives, and portrays a current-day or near-future world in which technology is threatening to become hyper-intrusive, a world in which we have literally no privacy, not even the privacy of our own thoughts. The beating heart of the narrative is Byron Gogle's company, the extension of his self with its wireless tentacles stretching out, trying to enclose everyone in his life just as a start. Byron/Gogol's grasping is desperate and needy and belies Byron's blasé, blank affect; there's more going on with him than we see, but the whole point is that he is the one character whose interior life we will never see, and that's the way he wants it.  As his tentacles get closer and closer to our protagonists I was feeling a real tension and suspense, wondering how this was all going to turn out.

The ending is quick but satisfying; an otherwise throwaway character saves the day, and those that remain move on to uncertain but somehow better futures. I really enjoyed Made for Love; it was quirky, hilarious, edgy and at times outlandish, but it kept me reading and held my attention, which is saying a lot for audio fiction. Suzanne Elise Freeman's expert narration helped a lot too; she is expressive and charismatic and brought the words to life.  If you have a slightly off-kilter sense of humor and are ready for the unexpected, Made for Love is a great choice for you.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary audio listening copy from libro.fm.

Monday, October 9, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


I finished three books last week- the audiobook of  Made For Love, by Alissa Nutting, which I loved, my gym book The Possessed, by Elif Batuman, which was pretty enjoyable, and my bedside book, I'm Fine... And Other Lies, by comedian Whitney Cummings.

I put down the other books and moved on to Ripley Under Water, by Patricia Highsmith; she is always a treat and I'm really enjoying the follow-up to the fun Ripley Under Ground. You can never have too much Tom Ripley in your life, unless you're in his crosshairs.
Bedside I've got Moura: The Dangerous Life of the Baroness Budberg, by Nina Berberova, the biography of an extraordinary woman who survived the tumultuous early Soviet years and had a string of famous lovers and husbands along the way. It's interesting and the writing is fantastic. I've long been a fan of Berberova's fiction.
Then at the gym I'm reading Jane Austen at Home, a biography by Lucy Worsley. I'm only in the first chapter but it's delightful and fascinating so far. 2017 is the year for Jane Austen nonfiction and I have a feeling this is another winner.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Palm Beach Bookstores

When you think of Palm Beach, I'll bet the first thing, or even the third or fourth thing, to come to mind is not bookstores. Mansions, old money, new money, fancy stores, beautiful beaches, elegant hotels and so forth. But bookstores?

Spending an afternoon in the ritzy enclave, home to 2% of the world's wealth, I was delighted to find that tucked among shops catering to the ultra-wealthy were three shops catering the ultra-bookish.

First up was the Classic Book Shop, a smallish but packed-full-of-bookish-goodness store with new books and remainders along with a healthy selection of Florida books (and an impressive selection of books signed by local Palm Beach author James Patterson). When I stopped in, an elegantly dressed lady was looking for a book to read on her upcoming flight to Paris. Sounds about right for the neighborhood!








Our next stop was Worth Avenue, the Rodeo Drive of Palm Beach. After buying a plastic bangle bracelet and dropping in on a Florentine paper store (that I have actually been to in Florence, which was fun) we found ourselves at Raptis Rare Books, a real treat for the egghead. Their selection was truly amazing- a first edition of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, signed by Carson McCullers, firsts by Douglas Adams, J.M. Coetzee (signed!) and more. The prices were as extravagant as the editions. We did not buy anything lol but left with a catalog offered by the friendly saleslady.

But the best we saved for last. The Palm Beach Bookstore, a modest-looking storefront near an ice cream store (almost as appetizing) is a little jewel of a shop with a neighborhood feel and a selection made extra-special by the store's relationship with the publisher Rizzoli; it's a showcase for the luxury publisher's coffee table books on Florida and Palm Beach, and features an extensive selection of fashion, design and architecture books as well as new fiction, nonfiction and Florida books. We had a great chat with the owner and a bookseller and really enjoyed our visit. And since we visited off season and post-Hurricane-Irma, I even have a feeling I may not have seen it as its best and I still loved it.

So that's my bookstore tour of Palm Beach. I can't wait to go back and visit again!

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've been away on vacation in Florida visiting family. And I did so some reading while I was gone. I finished The Golem and the Jinni before I left and read Anais Barbeau-Lavalette's intense Suzanne, a novel about her grandmother, while I was away.

I started Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward, about a family on a journey to pick up the father of the family from jail in Mississippi. It's a tough read but rewarding so far.

Still working on Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting, which just keeps getting better and better. I really think you should read it. It is a strange psychosexual drama/black comedy about a woman fleeing a tech billionaire and a man sexually attracted to dolphins. And it has science fictional elements to do with the intrusion of technology into our lives in the most intimate of ways. So yeah.

I also bought and started The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie. I had some fun exploring Palm Beach's bookstores and picked this up at the aptly named Palm Beach Bookstore after a simply delightful chat with the owner. It's a little shaky for me so far honestly and it doesn't help that Rushdie's narrator thinks Metropolis of Superman fame is NYC when that is a deeply controversial view in the comic book world and unsupported by current continuity and original intent. I don't know if it's the narrator's mistake or Rushdie's, but it does take me out of the story a little.

Finally I'm enjoying Whitney Cummings's memoir I'm Fine...And Other Lies, which I expect to finish by tomorrow or Wednesday.

And that's it for me for right now. What are you reading?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: THE ROMANOV SISTERS, by Helen Rappaport

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra. Published 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin. Nonfiction. History.

It might seem like a depressing topic for a book- the doomed lives of the four daughters of Russia's last tsar- and while it does get gloomy towards the end, for the most part I really enjoyed Helen Rappaport's biography of Anastasia, Maria, Tatiana and Olga Romanova, along with the stories of their parents and brother. Rappaport gives the reader an engaging and detailed portrait of a time, a place and seven lives that just weren't what they should have been.

Princess Alix of Hesse, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, married Nicholas of Russia as much for love as for dynastic reasons and together they had five children, all of whom they adored, even as they longed for that crucial son needed to continue the royal line. Rappaport talks about the mixture of joy and disappointment that greeted the birth of each of their four daughters and the subsequent mixture of trepidation and joy when their son Alexei was born with hemophilia. Rappaport portrays the tsar and tsarina as devoted parents and a loving couple and makes it clear that the survival of the line is Alexandra's primary goal. Thus her relief at Alexei's birth coupled with her growing and deepening anxiety around his delicate health. Rappaport also makes it clear that the Russian people never quite took to their German empress and that giving birth to daughter after daughter didn't help matters. Nor did her friendship with Rasputin, a controversial figure to say the least, and Alexandra's dependence on him was in no small way connected to her concern for Alexei, whom Rasputin seemed to be able to help. Meanwhile, she and other Russian royals tried to arrange marriages for the two older girls, and when that ship sailed, everyone did the best they could to protect them and each other. Sadly those efforts failed.

The book gives the reader a detailed and intimate look at the family and only really hints at the political strife swirling around them. We get to know each girl a little- Anastasia the tomboy and jokester, sweet Maria and lovelorn Olga and Tatiana. They love sailing; they love their parents, and they try to be good at the job of being grand duchesses. But they are also ordinary girls trying to make their way in a narrow version of the world. We see their constrained and isolated lives become more and more so as revolution brewed in Russia and some knowledge of the political history of the revolution would aide the reader in getting a deeper appreciation of why their lives changed from those of beloved princesses in a gilded palace to prisoners and finally to murder victims. That said, it is a remarkable and unforgettable story, sad to the end though it is.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Another End-of-an-Era in NYC

One of my favorite bookstores anywhere in the world is the Strand Bookstore in Union Square NYC. For years I've made a habit of dropping by any time I visited the city and when I moved here three years ago the realization that I could just get on a subway train and go anytime I wanted was... well, awesome.

And one of my favorite things about the Strand, that made it different from other awesome bookstores, was their "review books" section in the basement, where they had shelves and shelves of half-price new-release hardcovers. I would go in sometimes just to browse that particular section, being as it was a curated and discounted selection of new releases. Located in a corner of the basement level, it was a quiet break from the bustle of the new-books floor above and always promised some treasures.

But now it's gone. I went in to the Strand the other day to sell some books and after getting my freshly-minted store credit slip went downstairs to see if there was anything great to take home. And it was gone! Now over the years the section has become smaller- two aisles at last count, down from four in my time coming to the store. But now it's gone. I asked at the information desk if it had moved (it has in the past), and the bookseller told me the books were still in the store but "reallocated" to their subject sections. So the Strand still has its half-price new releases, but they're all mixed in all over the store now.

I'm sure this integrated arrangement makes more sense for actually selling the books, which is after all the point. In the past, if you went in looking for certain new releases in hardcover, you might not find them in the general new-release section or in the fiction section dominated by older releases and paperbacks, and you might think the Strand doesn't stock them.  The review section was dominated by popular fiction and general nonfiction, books that some readers might not associate with the store. And since most people don't ask if they can't find something, and you might never think to look in the review section, you might just assume you're out of luck. Now, it's right there in alphabetical order. Makes sense, right?

But it also makes me sad, because the review section was, like I said, one of things that made the Strand special, and I'll miss it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Lisa Riggin's The Queen of Vice: The Strange Career of Abortionist Inez Brown Burns, which was interesting and something I'd recommend for someone interested in San Francisco history.

I'm thisclose to finishing The Golem and the Jinni; it's really good but I have to really force myself to settle down and read sometimes. 

Still working on The Possessed at the gym. I like it. It's fun.

I also started Alissa Nutting's new book, Made for Love, on audio thanks to libro.fm's bookseller program. It's a very engaging book, about a woman running away from a disastrous marriage to a tech overlord that reads like science fiction sometimes. I can't wait to see where it goes and I definitely recommend it for fans of edgy ladies.

What are you reading today?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What's New On the Shelf?

For once in my life I think I'm reading (and weeding) books faster than I'm accumulating them. But I have added a few things to my shelves over the past few weeks, after the heady indulgence of BEA back in May and the cartons of galleys I routinely take home from the bookstore.

My most recent acquisition is a galley of the upcoming "fictional memoir" by my favorite living author, César Aira, called The Linden Tree. It comes out in the spring from New Directions. Sorry Kerry. :-(

On my last shopping trip to the Strand Bookstore, I picked up The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard, 1935-1936. It's one of the only known journals by a Gulag guard that's been found. Ivan Christyakov, the author, was by all accounts a pretty average guy but he left behind some extraordinary insights.

I also got The Shape of Bones, by Daniel Galera, the latest from the author of 2014's Blood-Drenched Beard, a Brazilian thriller I really loved.

Finally another Aira came my way, The Little Buddhist Monk, the most recent book to be published by this wonderful Argentinian author.

And this afternoon I plan to purchase What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I won't get to the Gulag book till next year, but hopefully I'll crack one or two of these as we start to wind down and head into the fall and winter holidays. What's new on your shelf?

Monday, September 11, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week I finished Hunger, by Roxane Gay, and Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant, by Roz Chast, so things can only get better from here. Each of those books was agonizing in its own way, and yet also essential reading.
I'm still enjoying The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker, which is a great fantasy-tinged fable I think I'll be able to recommend to lots of readers. Set in Manhattan in the early 20th century, it's a somewhat familiar immigration-era story whose mythical elements distinguish it. Also distinguishing is the whipped-cream writing, so easy to lap up.

On my nightstand is Lisa Riggin's The Queen of Vice: The Strange Career of Abortionist Inez Brown Burns, about San Francisco's leading lady abortionist, a fun and fascinating portrait of a woman, a city and a time in history that I certainly hope never comes again. I always enjoy San Francisco history and this book, set in the 1940s and 50s, has an appropriately colorful cast of folk heroes, swindlers, hustlers and villains. I'll let you decide who's who among its roster of cops, abortion practitioners, prostitutes, hangers-on, society high rollers and everyday people just trying to get by. It comes out in October and I expect to be done reading it this week.

And still slowly reading The Possessed, Elif Batuman's light and enjoyable memoir about studying Russian literature. It's fun. I don't have another audiobook picked out right now but I'd love to hear your suggestions.

What about you? What are you reading this week?