Monday, January 15, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

We're back!

The first half of January has been fun and productive vis-a-vis reading. I finished my first graphic book of the year, Emmanuel Guibert's Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope. This was a quiet and introspective memoir of one man's experience of World War 2. I can't say it riveted me but someone interested in the subject might find it illuminating. Guibert's art is wonderful and evocative.

I also read Hadriana in All My Dreams, by René Depestre, a Haitian novel about zombies and one woman who dies on her wedding day and is reincarnated. Or something else? It's luminous and strange and unforgettable.

And I finished Secondhand Time, by Svetlana Alexeivich, an engrossing but extremely depressing collection of first-person narratives as ordinary ex-Soviets compare their Soviet lives to their post-Soviet lives.

As for what I'm reading now, I have several things going as usual.

A.S. Byatt's wonderful Babel Tower is the main thing. It's book three in her four part series about the character Frederica Potter; I read the first two, The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life, back in college, and I've been able to immerse myself right back into the story with no problems at all. I'm loving reading such a richly drawn and beautifully told story. Her books are so good. Like Margaret Atwood without the emotional trauma.

On my nightstand is Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, a Booker winner from a few years ago, a complicated and also richly drawn story about murder and gold prospecting in 1800s New Zealand. Also on the nightstand I'm starting The Beats: A Graphic History, by Harvey Pekar.

On audio I'm listening to Samantha Irby's delightful We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. She's acerbic and bitter, funny and human, miserable and wonderful all at once.

And at the gym I'm finishing up Souad Mekhennet's also very depressing I Was Told to Come Alone, about reporting on jihadis around the world.

That's it for me. What about you? I'd love to know what you're into this week!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Year, New Books!

Quite a few books found their way under my Christmas tree this year!

I found a new French dictionary there, the 2017 Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo, Paul Madonna's new illustrated novel and Escape from Camp 14, which I had started reading a while back and lost. And somebody is photobombing that picture.

I also got a boxed set of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels (wheeee) and some recentish books that caught my eye- Bandi's The Accusation, a novel from Uzbekistan called The Underground, by Hamid Ismailov, and Sargent's Women, by Donna Lucey, about the notable ladies painted by one of my favorite artists, John Singer Sargent, including Isabella Stewart Gardner and others. Wilder Mann is a neat book of photographs of European folk ritual a customer of mine from Porter Square Books showed me once, and Election there is a signed first edition.

A good haul! What bookish holiday gifts did you get?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Another Fun Book Meme

Fill in each line with the title of a book you've read in 2017. Here's mine.

Describe yourself: Made for Love

How do you feel? I’m Fine…And Other Lies

Describe where you currently live: In the Land of Invented Languages

If you could go anywhere...? The Literary Conference

Favorite form of transportation: Tram 83

Your best friend is: The Burning Girl

You and your friends are: Beautiful Animals

What's the weather like? Girl in Snow

Your favorite time of day is: Eva Sleeps

What is life for you? Theories of Everything

You fear: Smoke

Best advice: We’re Going to Need More Wine

Thought for the day: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

How you would like to die: Dinner

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Reading Goals

Last year I increased my overall number of books read, brought up my nonfiction numbers and my male/female author ratio not by accident but because of some specific strategizing. I read books at the gym, had audiobooks going much of the time and kept reading nonfiction at night. So at any given time I might have had 3 nonfiction books going at once! I'm really glad that I took this approach; it opened me up to some great books and helped get to some dark corners of my bookshelves that had been neglected.

I also decided to start reading my hardcover fiction at night too; I have accumulated many hardcover books but I seldom take them out and about to read because they're heavy and uncomfortable to tote around. So they just sit there. But I've been able to knock a few off this year by keeping them on the nightstand. I'll keep that up.

In 2018, I want to continue to attack specific, neglected areas of my TBR piles and make more dents.

  • I will continue to prioritize audio nonfiction by and about women.
  • For the first six months of 2018 I will focus on graphic nonfiction for my bedside table reading. I have a dozen or so graphic works of nonfiction that have been collecting dust. Time to read those bad boys!
  • I will continue to work through my hardcover fiction by reading them alongside my nightly nonfiction chapters.
  • For general fiction reading I will read indiscriminately anything I feel like as I feel like it.
Probably I will be slowing down the amount of background acting that I'm doing, assuming it doesn't take me too too long to find a full-time job. This will mean less reading time too, but I'll just have to make better use of the time I will have.

I am not a big challenge-type reader. I am far too spontaneous a reader for that. And I don't like my reading to feel like homework, so I'm not going to come up with a lot of specific goals ("read a new to you romance series about imaginary folklore animals") or do any commercial readalongs or challenges. I just like to read what I want to in the moment. But

  • In 2018 I will read at least 4 books that have won the Booker Prize;
  • I will read at least 6 crime novels, and
  • I will read at least 4 novels of science fiction/fantasy. Just to mix it up.
What are your reading goals for the year?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 Statistical Roundup

How many books read in 2017?
I read 68 books this year, up 10 from last year's total of 58. Yay! I attribute this to audiobooks, bringing books to the gym and all the time I have spent in holding as a background actor, where I could sometimes read a book in a day.

How many fiction and non fiction? 

40 fiction to 28 nonfiction. The high nonfiction number is attributable to audiobooks and keeping nonfiction on my bedside table and at the gym.

Male/Female author ratio? 

28 male authors to 40 female authors. This is the first time in a long time that the number of female authors was higher than the number of male authors. I attribute this in part to prioritizing nonfiction by women. And yes it's weird how the numbers split across the two different metrics.

Favorite book of 2017? Either Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting, or Dinner by César Aira. I loved Dinner more in the moment but Made for Love has stayed with me.

Least favorite? I'd rather not say.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why? A few. Sometimes it just doesn't work out or it's the wrong time or the wrong whatever. There were a couple of very lauded 2017 releases I could not get into. That sort of thing.

Oldest book read? Ourika, by Claire de Duras, published in 1823.

Newest? The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie, a recent-ish 2017 release.

Longest and shortest book titles? 
Shortest title: Véra, by Stacy Schiff
Longest title: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Longest and shortest books?
Longest: The Son, by Philipp Meyer

 Dinner, by César Aira

How many books from the library?
None! I didn't visit a library all year. Sad! For the second year in a row, too.

Any translated books?

Haha one or two. I read books translated from French, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Serbian and Japanese.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?

I went to Japan, Yugoslavia, Russia, Italy, India, France, Greece, Iran, Congo, England, Rwanda, Lebanon, Canada, Israel, Argentina, Germany, and Mauritius.  I also went to the moon and Mars via a graphic novel.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author? 
A tie between C
ésar Aira and Roz Chast, with three books each.

Any re-reads?
I re-read The Son, by Philipp Meyer, in anticipation of watching the TV series. I liked the book better!

Favorite character of the year? 
Hazel's dad in Made for Love.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
The Romanov Sisters, by Helen Rappaport, was a staff pick at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn and I wouldn't have found it otherwise.

Which author was new to you in 2017 that you now want to read the entire works of?

Alissa Nutting

Which books are you annoyed you didn't read? I still haven't gotten to The Nix and that bugs me.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?
Yes, I read Jacqueline Susann's classic Valley of the Dolls.

Bookish Events in Marie's Life

1. Attended Book Expo America
2. Attended a week-long literary-translation workshop at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College in Vermont. Amazing week.
3. Finally got to Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.and the Palm Beach Bookstore in Palm Beach, Florida.
4. Worked as a background actor on an episode of "Orange is the New Black," which was adapted from a book of the same name.
5. Celebrated 10 years as a book blogger!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017 Favorites

2017 was not a banner year of reading for me. I was frequently distracted, busy, running around and just not reading. And I read a lot of clunkers. But the year is winding down and it's time for my annual favorites.

What I will say is that I read a lot of excellent nonfiction. My original favorites list was eight titles, whittled down to five for balance. Fiction was tougher for me. I read a lot of TBR dust bunnies that should have been weeded. And found some treasures too.  But I kept on reading as best as I could. Here are my favorite reads this year, five fiction and five nonfiction.


Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting. I just loved this edgy and offbeat novel about a runaway wife and a gigolo attracted to dolphins. Nothing goes the way you think, and yet it all works out, somehow. 2017 release.

Beautiful Animals, by Lawrence Osborne. If you love literary fiction and you're not reading Lawrence Osborne, it's
really time to start. His latest is a firecracker about the refugee crisis in the form of a taut thriller about a scam that goes very very wrong. 2017 release.

See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt. This is just a terrific page-turning thriller based on a real life murder, the case of Lizzie Borden. No big surprises here but a tight, moody story to keep you up at night. 2017 release.

The Literary Conference, by César Aira. Haha the best. I love César. I just love his stuff so much. If you like Carlos Fuentes you may have strong feelings about this story of a mad scientist and his project that goes very very wrong.

Dinner, by César Aira. If you didn't get enough already, indulge in this sweet treat about the zombie apocalypse.


In the Land of Invented Languages, by Arika Okrent. Fascinating and fun story of languages that people made up, and how they fared, or didn't. I started learning Esperanto after reading it. Maybe you'll want to learn Klingon or Lojban.

The Romanov Sisters, by Helen Rappaport. This is a sad but also engrossing story of the four doomed daughters of the last czar of Russia.

Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris. I did this one on audio
and I recommend that you do, too. Audio is the best way to experience Sedaris's humor and storytelling flair. This volume excerpts his diaries from 1977-2002. I can't wait for the next compendium. 2017 release.

American Gypsy, by Oksana Marafioti. I loved this coming-of-age-in-America
story about a young Roma girl who comes to Los Angeles from Russia in the 1980s. Charming and fun.

A Very Expensive Poison, by Luke Harding. Read this for a gripping and horrible story about what happened to one man who crossed Vladimir Putin. 2017 release.

Stay tuned for the annual statistical recap, coming soon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What's New On the Shelf?

I've added a few new cool things lately.

Going into Town is the latest from cartoonist Roz Chast, a favorite of mine. This book is a brief memoir coupled with a pencil-sketch guide to getting around New York City. If you know someone who's moving here, this would make a great gift.

I wish I had had it when I moved to NYC in 2014 but it only came out this year.

Margaret the First, by Danielle Dutton, is a novel about the life of Margaret Cavendish, a 17th century novelist who wrote all kinds of crazy things, from what I understand. It was coupled with one of her books, The Blazing World, which I also bought- a great literary double feature indeed. Thanks to Greenlight Books in Fort Greene for the pairing.

Last year I decided to buy a one-year subscription to books from the small press & Other Stories, and I got my first book from them in the fall, Nicola Pugilese's Malacqua, about a flood in Naples. I can't wait to wade in, so to speak.

Finally, I got a copy of Bernardo Atxaga's The Accordionist's Son for contributing to a Kickstarter launched by Graywolf Press, Europa Editions and Other Press to send booksellers to international book fairs. They successfully raised $30,000 to launch this literary scholarship program and gave various incentives for contributions. This signed copy was my little prize. Atxaga is a favorite author of mine so I was pretty excited.

That's what's new on my shelf. What's new on yours?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Some Recent (ish) TV Adaptations of Favorite Books

You can't help but notice how many literary adaptations are coming to television these days, largely thanks to the success of "Game of Thrones" and the proliferation of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Even cable stations are into it- AMC did Philipp Meyer's The Son, for example. I watch TV slowly but consistently and have worked my way through a few series lately.

First I need to admit, somewhat shamefully, that I have not watched all of Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale and nor am I likely to. It's one of my favorite books in terms of the impression it made but when I saw the 1990 film adaptation, the one that starred Robert Duval and Natasha Richardson, I thought it was bland given the subject matter. I always imagined someone like Lars von Triers directing a really good, gritty version, but thought that any really good adaptation would also be nearly unwatchable. Well von Triers isn't the director of Hulu's version but I did find it unwatchable anyway, after one episode. I just... couldn't. It's really solid, and has won awards and blah blah blah, but no. I went through the trauma once, when I read the book; I don't feel like the need to revisit any more. Maybe someday, but as General Gowron once said, "not today."

Moving on to another Margaret Atwood adaptation, Netflix's "Alias Grace," which is actually my very favorite of Atwood's books. This adaptation is extremely good, very faithful to the book and compelling and highly binge-able. I loved it. Very plot-centric with detailed characterizations and pitch-perfect acting, it's a real winner, whether or not you've read it. But you should definitely read it too.

As a side note, I'm a quilter and it's neat to see interest in the series and book from my quilting community. Quilts play an important role in Grace's life and many people in the groups I belong to are intrigued by the show due to the prominent placement of quilting in the story. Folks are asking for the patterns and starting to think about projects they might do based on Grace's quilts. Maybe I'll even end up doing a Grace quilt at some point. Might be fun!

Lately I've started AMC's "The Son," based on Philipp Meyer's 2013 novel of the same name, also a serious favorite of mine. I'm three episodes in and while it's pretty solid there are some changes. The creators have compressed the time line, removed a generation of the McCullough family and amped up the soap opera a little bit. They also seem to have compressed the Comanche sequences although I'm not through the whole thing yet so maybe there's more. When I heard about it, I was really skeptical about the casting of Dreamy Pierce Brosnan as Eli McCullough, the tough old patriarch of the family. In the book we really only get a very old Eli, well past his physical prime, and it was hard for me to picture Brosnan in that role. The Eli onscreen is a vital and vigorous man in his 60s or so, aging but very much on his game, and a better fit for the actor. And I like this Eli; he's a jerk but he's our jerk. The character doesn't feel inaccurate, but like something that was sculpted from the source material rather than simply copied.

And as far as "Game of Thrones," I'm a huge fan and can't wait for the final season. I've read only a few chapters of the first book and have no interest in reading more, but I love the world the showrunners have created out of George R.R. Martin's opus and would encourage anyone to get started with the series if you haven't already. It's not for everybody, but it's an amazing achievement.

What literary series are you hooked on? I'd love to hear about some more in the comments.

Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Another month or so when I haven't felt much like reviewing, or even posting consistently. Sigh.

I finished Dracula, finally. I liked it a lot but I felt like it lost steam as it went along. It's a classic- Bram Stoker codified the vampire story and it is truly chilling, but maybe it's that for me it's also so familiar. IDK, as the kids say. I'm glad I read it and I'd recommend it. Onwards and upwards.

I started Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation, a multigenerational tale of a German plot of land and several houses and the people who inhabit it over a century. It also has its shocking moments, sharp like poking your fingertip with a needle. I'm loving it and she has a new book, Go Went Gone, that's getting a lot of buzz. A bookstore customer turned me on to her and recommendations like that are part of what I really love about being a bookseller.

On the nightstand are Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich's oral history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Laurus, a novel of medieval Russia by Eugene Vodolazkin and translated by my friend Lisa Hayden. I lurve Laurus and am finding Secondhand Time moving and very enjoyable in a different way.

Finally at the gym I'm reading Souad Mekhennet's I Was Told to Come Alone, a riveting memoir about the Washington Post journalist's forays into ISIS and the Islamic fundamentalist world. Fascinating.

What about you? I'm probably going to really dig into Laurus during the holiday weekend- should be fun. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

Monday, November 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

The past couple of weeks have been busy for me in terms of books. I finished The Little Buddhist Monk and The Proof, In the Land of Invented Languages, and What Made Maddy Run, by Kate Fagan, which you maybe didn't know I was reading.

Now I've got a whole new slate of books open, starting with Bram Stoker's classic Dracula. A customer at Porter Square Books sold me on it a while back and finally I picked it up for my Halloween read. And it's sooo good and creepy! I'm about halfway through now and it's really heating up.

On my nightstand is Svetlana Alexievich's Secondhand Time, an oral history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Salman Rushdie's The Golden House, which kind of just keeps getting better. I've read a lot of lukewarm reviews of this book and I will give you that it is not for everyone. It was not for me at first, but now it is.

And at the gym I'll be starting something this week- I'm just not sure what yet. What about you? What are you reading this week? I hope you're having a great week.