Friday, May 30, 2008

Mail Bag!

I love getting mail!

The other day I got a package of stuff I ordered from SLG Comics, publisher of Rex Libris : I, Librarian, a comic book I enjoy for what should be obvious reasons. Anyway they have all kinds of fun stuff on their site- free comic books, not-free comic books, as well as toys and t-shirts and other stuff.

I got the Rex t-shirt and a sampling of freebies; their free page is comprised mostly of volume 1's of various comics. I got Tick-Tock Follies, Serenity Rose, Slow News Day, Odd Job and Bombaby. The free comics really are free- except for shipping, natch. Should be good for some quality hammock time, though. And the shirt is super cute.

REVIEW: The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia

The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia. Published 2007 by Prime Books. Paperback.

Click on the cover to buy via IndieBound.org. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

There's been a bit of a trend lately for post-Soviet satire and fantasy- social commentary on the fall of the Soviet Union wrapped in a vampire story (a la Sergei Lukyanenko) or a tale about a woman obsessed with her statue of Stalin (Vladimir Voinovich's Monumental Propaganda), as well as literary fiction (Michael Docx's Pravda, which I haven't gotten to quite yet). The Secret History of Moscow is fantasy- an urban tale of a secret world and magic used and misused.

Galina, a young woman in an out of mental hospitals for years and now working as a translator, lives in a typically dour Moscow apartment with her mother and sister, Masha. One day, Galina sees Masha turn into a bird and fly away after giving birth. Galina adores her sister and Masha's transformation and disappearance bewilders her. Across town, a disheartened policeman named Yakov witnesses a similar transformation, and a street artist named Fyodor spies a group of birds flying into a secret door in a puddle. The three meet, find common cause, and plunge into a secret underworld just below the Moscow streets.

It turns out that people have been disappearing all over Moscow and there is some kind of magic on the loose, coming from underground. The magical world is filled with beings from legends, fairy tales as well as ordinary people from the sweep of Russian history, and the three young people go on a Wizard-of-Oz-like journey to find answers and rescue Masha. Along the way they meet a talking cow that gives stars instead of milk, a Charonesque ferryman who takes memories instead of money as payment to carry passengers across his river, and an assortment of other figures both fanciful and historic.

The Secret History of Moscow isn't chocked full of action (although plenty happens) but it struck me as being more about feelings- the feeling of being set adrift, when the world you're faced with isn't the one you expected; the feeling of being alone, when family and friends are scarce or too preoccupied to be there for you; the feeling of alienation, of having no where to call home and no way to reach out. It's also about the power of the imagination and the power of love- being able to accept a bear made of rats, being able to make a friend, being able to make a sacrifice because you love someone. It's a sweet, beautiful book- sort of slight, not at all heavy, but Sedia brings to life the chaos of post-Soviet Moscow deftly and creates believable, likable characters, especially Galina. It's a good book. I liked it.

Rating: BACKLIST

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

Tagged! Author Meme

Kathleen over at Kathleen's Book Reviews tagged me for an author meme so here goes.
Author meme:

1. Who’s your all-time favorite author, and why?

Probably Margaret Atwood, for the complexity and richness of her books. I don't love all of her novels- I had to put down Oryx and Crake after about a third, and I thought Cat's Eye read like a dry rough draft of The Blind Assassin- but I do love most of them. My favorite is Alias Grace, a historical fiction based on a real-life murder case in Canada and full of rich, ambiguous characterizations and a gripping plot. The Blind Assassin is a great story-within-a-story with a twist ending. The Handmaid's Tale had my heart alternately pounding and breaking. I love how she understands women and thought the characters in The Robber Bride were incredible and real. Lady Oracle was a terrific satire and even the quieter Life Before Man kept me reading and page-turning right to the end.

2. Who was your first favorite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favorites?

My first favorite author was C.S. Lewis, of Narnia fame. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was my favorite book for years and I even picked my First Communion saint's name after one of the characters.

3. Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favorite authors, and why?

Celestine Vaite, a Tahitian author who wrote the trilogy Breadfruit, Frangipani and Tiare in Bloom. I just started on the third book yesterday and already can't put it down. I love her humor and voice and the distinctive sense of place she gives her books. I call them "hammock books" because they feel like summer to read.

4. If someone asked you who your favorite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection?

Atwood, Vaite, A.S. Byatt, David Sedaris, Jen Lancaster, Steve Sheinkin, I.B. Singer and Moyoco Anno.

5. Tagged:

Pop Culture Junkie

Presenting Lenore

The.Effing.Librarian

Just Add Books

Literary License

Joy's Blog

Rules: Link to the person that tagged you, post the rules somewhere in your meme, answer the questions, tag six people in your post, let the tagees know they’ve been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog, let the tagger know your entry is posted.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Booking Through Thursday- What is Reading, Fundamentally?


What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

(Two weeks late for Reading is Fundamental week, but, well…)

I think all of these qualify as reading. I've never been successful with audiobooks- I downloaded "Brokeback Mountain" from iTunes and then fell asleep listening to it, and never tried another. Maybe it was the solemn pacing, maybe it was Campbell Scott's soothing voice, or maybe I just couldn't concentrate when I wasn't using my eyes to read, but it just didn't work. Would I try it again? I don't know. I'm not that interested in electronic forms of reading like Kindle or whatever- I'd just rather have a paper book. Reading isn't defined for me by format or genre and if you read my blog you know I read lots of comics, zines, graphic novels and manga and believe that they are important forms of literary expression, so I wouldn't exclude them from what counts as "reading".

One time I was volunteering at the Perkins School for the Blind's library, where I spent a morning rewinding returned audiobooks. They have an amazing collection- hundreds more titles than are available commercially- and rewinding them helps get them back circulating to new patrons. The team leader kept referring to them as "books" and at first it was a little jarring for me because I didn't think of the tapes as being books in the same sense as paper books, being an audio rather than visual format. Nowadays I try not to be so narrow minded!





Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summer Reading Challenge & A Giveaway


I've been kind of bored with my reading lately- instead of using the time I have to pursue my own interests, I feel like I've just been completing assignments. Don't get me wrong- I enjoy taking review requests, and getting free books, and reading things I wouldn't otherwise read. The problem is, I haven't been reading the things I would otherwise read. So I'm going to give myself a modest goal of reading five books that I've tagged want-to-read in my LibraryThing catalog- five books that I just want to read. Nothing necessarily current, nothing that I'm obligated to read. Just stuff I want to read.
The books:

Tiare in Bloom, by Celestine Vaite.
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros.
Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey.
Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser.
The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean.



So that's the challenge. On to the giveaway. The first person to leave a comment with the name of the beach pictured in my logo will win a paperback advance review copy of When We Get To Surf City, journalist Bob Greene's memoir of touring with fun-in-the-sun band-from-the-60s Jan and Dean.

The book came out May 13 so it's not brand-spanking-new. But it's a fun summer book and I will send it to you if you guess the beach correctly. If no one gets the beach by midnight Saturday, June 1, I'll take the one that comes closest.
Here's the pic again:
Good luck!

Tuesday Thingers- a little late, sorry!


Sorry I'm a little late posting- the long weekend (and some other changes to my schedule) threw me off a little.

So the question this week is- how many books do you have cataloged in your LibraryThing account? How do you decide what to include- everything you have, everything you've read- and are there things you leave off?

I have 796 books in mine. Mostly they are books I've read and/or own at the moment. I keep books in my LT catalog even if I've gotten rid of them if they have reviews attached (to keep my reviews and the statistics) but I delete them if I don't. Most everything I've read is rated. I don't include wish-list books I haven't bought though. And you?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Paul Has A Summer Job, by Michel Rabagliati

Paul Has a Summer Job, by Michel Rabagliati. Published 2003 by Drawn & Quarterly. Click on the cover to buy from your local BookSense-affiliated independent bookseller.

Paul Has a Summer Job isn't a new graphic novel but it's a sweet one, and one that I thought would be a good choice for Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. I first read Paul Has a Summer Job several years ago, after finding it remaindered in a used bookstore and picking it up on a whim. What a little treat.

It's the story of Paul, a young man from Quebec who quits high school and goes to work in a factory. Finding the daily grind uninspiring, he gets a job in a summer camp run by a "freewheeling Catholic priest" (as the inside-cover blurb puts it), staffed by like-minded young people and host to a variety of troubled kids. He bonds with the other staffers, then the campers, and he has all sorts of summer-camp adventures- kayaking, camping, exploring, playing in the rain. Learning to climb a rock wall, he grows up as he learns to not only conquer his own fears but to experience the satisfaction of helping other people conquer their own fears. He has one of those bittersweet summer romances you can only have at camp. He learns a lot about himself and about life.

The artwork is characterized by deceptively simple-looking black and white line drawings but the characters and action are well-rendered and Rabagliati's panels are varied and draw the action along skillfully. The story itself is sweet without being saccharine and its life lessons are meaningful and true. Pick up Paul Has a Summer Job for a taste of those summers you had- or didn't- as a young person before adulthood and responsibilities settled in, when you could run off for a couple of months and have fun in the woods. It's a really nice book.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday Salon

A slow Sunday for me- (work beckons) but here's what I'm up to.
  • I finished Songs for the Missing, Stewart O'Nan's new book coming out in November. Thank you Barnes and Noble! I'll post a review later this week; I have to think of what to say first!
  • I'm reading The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia, a post-Soviet Russian fantasy novel about a woman whose sister turns into a bird, and
  • We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, another Russian, but dystopian science fiction this time.
The other day, visiting a local library, I picked up a used copy of Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette; I think that will make great summertime hammock reading, and I found out that I'm getting The Genizah at the House of Shepher from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. I am so excited about this book- I haven't received an ER book from LibraryThing in several months (the last book I reviewed here, Pirkei Avos with a Twist of Humor, was from their March batch but arrived at my house in early May, so it just seems recent) and I really, really wanted The Genizah so I'm psyched. I'm auditioning it and another book, Sarah's Key, as possible picks for the library where I work. So we'll see how it goes. It's beautiful weather where I am- I hope you all are having a great Sunday!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

I'm not sure. I think I look for well-developed characters and a compelling story from both. I think I expect more from a book; I expect a more intellectual experience when I read. I like them both to be more than merely entertaining but I can enjoy a good trashy novel more than a trashy movie. When I go to see a film adaptation of a book I've enjoyed, I'm hoping for a movie that's more or less faithful to the book and that gives me an experience that's similar to the experience of reading the book. Big changes to the plot bother me more than, say, an actor who doesn't fit the physical appearance of the character I had in my imagination.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

REVIEW: Pirkei Avos with a Twist of Humor, by Joe Bobker

Pirkei Avos with a Twist of Humor, by Joe Bobker. Published 2008 by Gefen Publishers. Hardcover.

I read this book as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program, courtesy of Gefen Publishers.

Oy.
Okay, I don't know all there is to know about the Talmud (or much of anything) but I'll do my best. Please correct me if I've made an error with my facts. The Pirkei Avos, often also called The Sayings of the Fathers, is a collection of rabbinical teachings and sayings from various sages, and is a part of the Mishna, one of the two books making up the Talmud, which is the record of Jewish oral law. Over the years there have been many approaches to interpreting the Pirkei Avos, and many versions have been published, from different streams of Judaism and different interpreters. For the most part those doing the interpretations are rabbis, which tends to lend some scholarly credence and authority to the discussions. These discussions tend to be fairly serious, since the Talmud is a pretty serious document.

Then there's Joe Bobker. Bobker is a newspaperman, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Los Angeles Jewish Times and author of several books including Torah with a Twist of Humor, his take on written Jewish law. Let it suffice to say that Pirkei Avos with a Twist of Humor is a light-as-a-feather trifle. Each saying is accompanied by about three quarters of a page of interpretation, and followed by a joke meant to illustrate the principle under discussion. The book also has a good introduction and endnotes to teach the reader a little more about the sayings. But even with all the footnotes the book makes no claim to scholarship or erudition. Bobker himself writes in an introductory statement labeled "Caution" that the book should be seen as merely an introduction to "Jewish law and lore," and that "the information contained in the endnotes may not always be entirely accurate". So don't use it to study. Use it to be entertained- read a little here and there, get your toes wet with a little funny stuff, but realize that this book is basically an amusement. It's funny, and it's also charming and has some meaningful things to teach, albeit gently.

Read it if you're interested in a low-key discussion of Jewish ethics or if you like Jewish humor. I've heard some people make some rather heady pronouncements about the profundity of this book, but I don't see it. It's a cute book, kind of funny, on a serious topic, meant to bring that topic down to earth a little and help people relate to it. That's about it.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from LibraryThing.com.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

And the winner is...
TUESDAY THINGERS!

The vote was 9 for Tuesday Things, 9 for Tuesday Thingers, and Tuesday Thingers won the coin toss. Thanks to everyone who voted! And thanks to The BookImp for the logo!

Okay, now down to business. This week's topic: Discussion groups. Do you belong to any (besides Early Reviewers)? Approximately how many? Are there any in particular that you participate in more avidly? How often do you check?

My answer: I've joined about 35, but there are less than a half dozen that I read avidly. I participate in Early Reviewers probably the most, followed by Jewish Bibliophiles and Librarians who LibraryThing. People are pretty civil and respectful for the most part- not a given in the online world. I think the caliber of the discussions tends to be pretty high, with lots of intelligent people saying interesting things.

And you?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Rabbi Harvey Rides Again, by Steve Sheinkin

Rabbi Harvey Rides Again: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Folktales Let Loose in the Wild West, by Steve Sheinkin. Published: 2008 by Jewish Lights Publishing. Graphica. Fiction.

As some of you may know, I adored- simply adored- Steve Sheinkin's The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, the book of which this book is the sequel. It's also been a hit at the temple where I work, and at our recent book fair I made sure we stocked- and sold- several copies. Well, if you enjoyed the first book, and even if you haven't read it yet, the sequel is sure to please.

The premise of Rabbi Harvey is simple- it's a collection of comics retelling Jewish folktales in an Old West setting, using stories from around the world as the basis for sweet morality tales starring the unibrowed and perpetually short-pantsed sage. Sheinkin's artwork is unusual and evocative in its sepia tones and woodcut-like style, and everyone has multiple bags under his or her eyes and iconic, simple features that nonetheless communicate character and emotion effectively.

I love its cleverness and silliness too. My favorite moment occurs in the story "Deputy Harvey, San Francisco Police." According to the "Story Sources" appendix, this story is based on a tale from Afghanistan but this version begins with Harvey talking to a housebound woman about his trip from New York to San Francisco- by boat. When I read this part I thought, okay- I hope they had the Panama Canal when Harvey sailed to California from New York, because otherwise it would have taken him how long? But it's just this kind of absurdity that makes Rabbi Harvey so great.

In addition to the "Story Sources" section, the book also contains a good list of recommended reading and a nice introduction. Like the first book, Rabbi Harvey Rides Again is great for the whole family- in other words, kid-friendly but fun for adults, too. This volume also sees the return of several characters from the first book- baddies "Big Milt" Wasserman and his son Wolfie are back, as is Bad Bubbe, up to no good once again. Additionally, readers meet gold miner turned teacher Abigail, who, Sheinkin seems to be hinting, might turn into a girlfriend for the lonely rabbi. Maybe volume three will see the rabbi and his ladyfriend under a chuppah? Only time (and Sheinkin) will tell. I can't wait.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Salon

Today's a busy Sunday around my house; this morning I attended a brunch at the Hebrew school where I work, and later this afternoon I am going to trim my hydrangea bush and read.


I've been reading When We Get to Surf City, by Bob Greene, which is his picaresque memoir of touring with Jan and Dean, the beach band from the 1960s, in the 1990s and early 2000s. I'm about seven chapters into it (it's 25 chapters long) and I'm not sure how much more I'm going to read. Greene's tone is very nostalgic and star-struck, and repetitive. It seems like every other page he's saying something along the lines of "I can't believe little-old-me gets to tour with the Great Jan and Dean." 'Kay. The scenes of the band playing at state fairs and small venues reminds me of the movie Spinal Tap, where the guys are playing at an amusement park "arena" that looks to hold about 50 people. The gigs go from that one day to huge venues the next, and it's sort of fun to see the highs and lows, and then to see how the guys are handling it all. I'd say it would be a fun beach book for someone who's into 1960s beach rock and is looking for light trip down memory lane. Just not for me. (You can click on the cover if you want to buy it. It just came out in hardcover.)

Maybe I'll bring it into work. I've been doing that a lot lately, taking galleys into the office for the staff once I'm done with them. And a nice book about aging rock stars is always fun.

I also just started Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan, which I received from Barnes and Noble as part of their First Look program. And let me tell you I am really liking it.. The discussion on
bn.com starts on June 1 but I will be finished with it long before then. It's about a girl who disappears, and the aftershocks her disappearance leaves on her family and her town. It's not light, but it's not heavy- it's one of those books that seems to be building quietly, little by little, detail by detail. I'm looking forward to seeing where it all goes. It's out in November but you can pre-order it if you want. I'll blog about it more when I'm done but I think it's going to be a good one.

I also have to blog my latest LibraryThing Early Reviewer book, which I've been procrastinating on. I did my LT review (and even posted it to Amazon!) but I still have to do that last piece.

And after that, I'm just putting together tomorrow's Graphic Novel Monday article, and tidying up my mountains of books to read. I really enjoy getting plugged into all these great resources for new books and having so many nice people with whom to talk about it all!

Friday, May 16, 2008

REVIEW: The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block

The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block. Published 2008 by Random House.

Click on the cover to buy via IndieBound.org. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

The Story of Forgetting is a show-stopper of a first novel. Based in part on his own family's struggle with Alzheimer's disease, author Stefan Merrill Block tells the story in two voices- that of Abel, an elderly recluse, and Seth, a lonely teenager. Abel lives by himself in High Plains, Texas, on a slowly diminishing homestead being encroached upon by McMansions and modernity. Seth lives in the Austin area, a somewhat nerdy boy and something of a loner as well. What binds them is a rare (and fictional) variant of Alzheimer's, which has claimed Seth's mother and several members of Abel's family, including his brother Paul. They also share knowledge of a fairytale world called Isidora, where everyone forgets everything.

Seth and Abel are searching- for information, for survival, and, unbeknownst to them, for each other. The narrative unfolds gradually and alternates between the two. Their voices are engaging and distinctive. Abel speaks in a slow, almost literary cadence- a highly intelligent man with a crippling deformity, he spends much of his time with only his immediate family and his books. Seth's casual, light tone is characteristic of the moody, flippant teenager struggling with his mother's illness and his secretive, shame-laced family. Also very intelligent, Seth embarks on a solo project to find out all he can about the disease, and then his tone becomes sort of naively academic. He's obviously out of his depth jumping into amateur neuroscience, but he's sincere, and he doesn't know what else to do.

Actually both have secrets and shames that both sadden and fuel them. It's these secrets- tragedies, really- that give the book so much weight and feeling. The writing is beautiful- very literary in flavor, it's a book to read slowly, and savor. The fairy tales of Isidora, interspersed throughout the narrative, are sweet and tragic, and symbolic of the pain binding Abel and Seth. Pain- the pain of watching loved ones deteriorate, and the pain of losing love to circumstance and convention- echoes through the book, and makes The Story of Forgetting, a beautiful, accomplished work, impossible to forget.

Rating: BUY

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

Thursday, May 15, 2008

LibraryThing BlogRing

This morning I posted a poll to decide what the title of the Tuesday LibraryThing blog ring will be. On Tuesday I got lots of suggestions and ideas for a title so I thought a vote would be a good way to decide. If you're reading this via Google reader or some other kind of subscription and you want to vote, you can just go on over to the blog to do it. You have until next Monday the 19th at 6PM EST to vote. (This gives me time to actually post a new entry with the new title for Tuesday.) Thanks and see you on Tuesday!

p.s. if there's a tie, I'll flip a coin.

Booking Through Thursday




Following up last week’s question about reading writing/grammar guides, this week, we’re expanding the question….

Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not?

Do you ever read manuals?

How-to books?

Self-help guides?

Anything at all?

First I'll try to figure out the gadget myself but if I have questions I'll use the manual. I have a good sense for how things should work though and often I don't need to. But I'm not one of those people who refuses to read the manual, either. I don't read manuals generally, like for fun though. I read language books sometimes, if I'm trying to learn a language, and I just bought my first (three) gardening books a few weeks ago. I also like to read cookbooks. And then there are my legions of craft books, which I love. Sometimes I'll read business manuals but I don't do pop-psychology self-help books!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

REVIEW: Keeper and Kid, by Edward Hardy

Keeper and Kid, by Edward Hardy. Published 2008 by Macmillan. Fiction.

"How many longest days of your life can you have in a row?"
This is a question that Jimmy Keeper, a thirty-six year old single man, asks himself a few days after taking charge of his three year old son Leo. Keeper had only learned that Leo existed a week or so prior to taking custody of him, following Leo's mother's (and Keeper's ex-wife's) sudden death.

The answer, according to Keeper and Kid, is: a lot. Keeper, divorced, afraid of commitment and working in the antiques business, lives with his girlfriend Leah and is completely unprepared for child rearing. The first night he has the boy, Leo falls out of bed because Keeper didn't install the rails right away. And it gets worse from there. Keeper's first few days with Leo are told almost hour by hour, and this level of detail reinforces the sheer terror of taking on this huge responsibility. As I was reading this I thought, at least when you're pregnant you have nine months to get used to the idea- decorate, buy all the stuff, whatnot. I can't imagine how I would react to such an upset- never mind the impact it would have on the child, and how the personalities and needs of the individuals would swirl and collide. The fact that he finds out about his son in what has to be the most callous way possible only reinforced the sympathy I felt for him. And Leo is a little handful. A good kid, but a handful. Hardy kept me reading with the fast pace and breathless first person narration. I felt for Keeper and his struggle to keep his (and Leo's) head above water, and to keep his life intact. Even though nothing more earth-shattering than pants-wetting happens, Hardy makes the little crises of everyday life feel like life or death.

For a relatively light and somewhat humorous read, I found Keeper and Kid to be un-put-down-able. And a lot of people seem to agree with me; I was chatting the other day with the manager of my local library branch, and, when he looked it up in the catalog, all of the library's copies had been checked out. No surprise. I'm sure Keeper and Kid will be popular with book clubs as well, for its slightly unusual, though sympathetic protagonist and all the discussions his situation could provoke. I liked this book a lot. It was a really engaging, fun read. I had no idea what to expect when I opened this book; I read it because the author contacted me through my blog and offered to send it to me. After reading some reviews on Amazon I thought it sounded interesting, so I said yes. I'm glad I did.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thinging Through Tuesday

As some of you may have seen in the Early Reviewers discussion group on LibraryThing, I've volunteered to host a weekly round-robin of book bloggers- anyone is welcome to participate but the idea is to catch up with each other on what's new in our LT libraries- new books, books just finished, thoughts, anything like that. I'll try to come up with a theme or question and of course I'm always open to suggestions.

The idea is, you write an entry in your blog, then leave the link in the comments on this entry. As people do that, we can visit each other's blogs and have that little time set aside every week to catch up with each other.

Since this is the first week, I thought it would be good for us to introduce ourselves and our blogs. It might be fun to know who you are, what you're interested in and/or what you like to blog about. Okay, now talk amongst yourselves...

EDIT: As far as the title, it's totally negotiable right now. What I'd suggest is that if you have an idea, leave it in the comments, and then in a day or two I'll post a poll (and let you know when I do that on the ER group) and then we can all vote. How does that sound?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi

Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi. Published: 2006. Click on the cover to buy from your local Book Sense-affiliated independent bookseller.

You may know Marjane Satrapi from her autobiographical two-volume memoir, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, two outstanding graphic novels which were recently made into an Oscar-nominated animated film. She has also published several smaller books, among them the bittersweet and poignant Chicken with Plums.

This book tells the story of her great-uncle, a famous Iranian musician who wills himself to die after his instrument, a tar of great value both sentimental and musical, is irrevocably broken. Satrapi uses her signature stark, graphic black and white pictures to render the story of his last seven days, as he says good-bye to his family and makes peace with his life, going through different relationships and milestones until we learn at the very end what is the true source of his despair.

Chicken with Plums is really different from Satrapi's other works in that for the most part it lacks her customary humor and wit, but typical in that it shows her talent for adding a light touch of grace and humanity to dark subjects. She uses her simple imagery to convey, powerfully and directly, deep hopeless disappointment. Both touching and sad, Chicken with Plums is a tough read but worth it, especially for Satrapi's many admirers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Salon


I've been under the weather since yesterday- I think I picked up a bug at MLA- so I think today is going to be a big reading day.

I'm still going through my galleys and freebies from the conference- I've started reading Tracy Brown's Twister, coming out this month, and I'm also going to take a look at Toni McGee Causey's Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not-exactly) Family Jewels (to be released in June), and Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by Samara O'Shea and coming out in August. I also have to read Pirke Avos with a Twist of Humor by Joe Bobker, for LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program, so I think I'll have enough to keep me busy today.

I'm going to try to get outside a little bit today too. It looks so nice out and what with not feeling well I didn't get out at all yesterday- just read and blogged and napped. We'll see!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Contest & cool blog

I was just reading Lenore's blog today and noticed she is having a contest where she will draw a winner for an Amazon gift certificate from the folks who comment on this post and answer four questions.

She has a neat blog with some good reviews and articles about books and reading. Go check her out!

REVIEW: Of Men and Their Mothers, by Mameve Medwed

Of Men and Their Mothers, by Mameve Medwed. Published 2008 by William Morrow. Fiction.

Of Men and Their Mothers should more justly be called Of Women and Their Mothers (and Mothers-In-Law, and Grandmothers); the men amble around the periphery of this charming romp, but the real story is women's relationships and bonds, the way their bonds strain and stretch, and sometimes snap, and sometimes hold together beautifully.

The center of the book is Maisie, a divorced forty something woman living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who works for herself as a professional organizer with a bevy of eccentric and colorful clients. At her ex-boyfriend's request, she takes on young Darlene as an apprentice. Darlene is fighting for custody of her infant son and needs a job and some stability in her life. Also in need of stability is September Silva, Maisie's son Tommy's girlfriend, whom Maisie struggles to accept. Maisie has problems of her own- a bitter relationship with her former mother-in-law, the cartoonishly spiteful Ina, and testy relationships with her ex-husband and former boyfriend.

Of Men and Their Mothers is a gentle comedy of manners, a tender, light story about a woman learning to accept the women in her life as they are, to care for them and to care for herself. Medwed gives Maisie an appealing, human voice, likable and flawed. Maisie's chief battle is to have a bigger heart towards Darlene and September than her mother-in-law has shown towards her, and to open her own heart to love at the same time. Events tumble along and everyone gets a happy ending, but not without a little struggle along the way- only a little, but enough. There's some real pathos to be found between the lines of Maisie's chirpy narration- September's situation is actually quite heartbreaking, and the resolution of her plot line felt a little pat.

Medwed is a Cambridge resident and fills the book with local-color details that add interest and fun. Friends tell me she is a book-club favorite and I can see why. I liked this book- it's a fun, quick read with good characters and a consistent tone and a sweetly satisfying conclusion. I'm glad I read it, and I look forward to reading Medwed's other books too.

Rating: BEACH

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

Thursday, May 8, 2008

MLA, Day Two

Well today was not as hectic as yesterday!
I attended three sessions- "Genre Block:Fantasy", "Liberating the Reading Habits of Children", and "Genre Block:Street Lit". All were excellent.

Writer Elizabeth Haydon, author of The Floating Island and The Symphony of Ages series, was the featured speaker at the Fantasy panel, along with librarians Bonnie Kunzel and Susan Fichtelberg. Haydon gave a very moving speech about the importance of fantasy literature as both a link to the past and a way to open the door to imagination for children. I am a confirmed literary snob and she even had me wanting to read fantasy by the end! The librarians offered helpful information about both the background of the genre and information on upcoming releases. They talked about the trend around romance in fantasy and the influence of women writers on the genre. Neat stuff.

The next panel, "Liberating the Reading Habits of Children" featured a panel discussion with Maggie Bush, LIS professor at Simmons and children's librarian extraordinaire, and Roger Sutton, editor in chief of the Horn Book, the premier review journal of children's literature. It was an interesting discussion of the competing needs of children and parents to access and monitor information and books in the library.

Finally for me was "Genre Block: Street Lit," about the phenomenal rise and popularity of urban fiction. Writer Tracy Brown, author of White Lines and the about-to-be-released Twister, was the featured author. Two librarians from the Boston Public Library system, Sara Slymon and Carin O'Connor, offered insights into the history and popularity of the genre. Seminal works like Sister Souljah's The Coldest Winter Ever and Iceberg Slim's Pimp were discussed. Brown was a very appealing speaker who gave a great talk about the trajectory of her life and her love of writing and reading. I'm looking forward to reading her new book. I went to a talk about street lit at ALA last year and I'm glad I came back for this talk this year, for the opportunity to hear Brown and for the very nice research that Slymon did on the history and development of the genre.

That was it for me for MLA this year, apart from some galley-gathering and meeting-and-greeting. I wish I could have stayed for tomorrow but I have more library business to attend to in the morning with the regional meeting of the Association of Jewish Libraries. Off to look at all my new treasures now!

Massachusetts Library Association Conference

This is a busy week for me- yesterday and today I'm in Falmouth at the Massachusetts Library Association Conference, then on Friday morning I'm attending the New England regional meeting of the Association of Jewish Libraries- that's a lot of library meetings for one week! I was too exhausted (not to mention overwhelmed) to write yesterday, so here goes.

Day 1 of MLA was simply overwhelming. I was going from 7:00am until after 9pm, basically nonstop. Even mealtimes are "working" times, when you network and meet people, so there's almost no time off. I attended two sessions; in the morning, I went to a great session on reader's advisory with library guru Nancy Pearl, then saw her again in the afternoon for the marathon "Book Buzz" session, where we heard about upcoming books from publishing reps from Macmillan and Harper Collins (hi Talia! hi Bobby!).

Both sessions were excellent. In the first, Pearl talked about breaking down a book's appeal into four broad categories- Story, Character, Setting and Language- and using those categories to find books for people based on the way they talk about the books they enjoy. She suggested finding three books for a patron- what they're asking for, something related, and something the patron may not have considered. So for the person who likes strong stories, you'd find the Grisham novel he (or she) is after, then maybe a Patterson, then maybe something from the true-crime section. For the person who loves elegantly-crafted writing, find the new Updike he wants, then maybe last year's Booker Prize winner, and a book of poetry to round it out. Very helpful.

The discussion also prompted me to think about how I would classify my own preferences. She asked us to list our top four favorite books, off the top of our heads. Mine were:
Possession, by A.S. Byatt,
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood,
A Very Long Engagement, by Sebastien Japrisot,
Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Then she asked us to think about how we would break them out using the categories of Story, Character, Setting and Language. Looking over my choices, I would say I'm a Story-Language person, with Character a close second. Setting does nothing for me- it's a nice touch sometimes, to have a vivid sense of place, but it doesn't redeem an otherwise boring book for me. She also suggested creating displays based on the four categories, which I think is a super idea and I've already started thinking about how to implement that in my library.

Later on, after lunch, I returned for "Book Buzz." Three authors spoke on a panel- Katherine Hall Page, Mameve Medwed and Linda Barnes- and they were fun and interesting to listen to. I always enjoy author panels and listening to writers talk about writing. Then the publishing reps gave their talk and I got some good notes about upcoming books for the summer and fall.

After the sessions we all took a bus over to the beautifully renovated Falmouth Public Library and enjoyed a tour lead by several librarians including the library director. It is an impressive building and I'm glad we got to visit. The bays, the lighting, the beautiful tiling and furnishings- stunning.

But the best part of the day was dinner. Through some twist of fate a friend and I ended up having dinner with Pearl, publishing reps Talia and Bobby, librarian Barry Trott of Williamsburg, Virginia, as well as Dorothea Benton Frank, the author of several books including Bull's Island and the night's speaker. (There was one more woman at our table and I'm embarrassed to admit I've forgotten her name. Sorry.) What a treat. I can't thank all of them enough for being gracious enough to include a couple of random librarians at their table. And Franks' speech was terrificly funny and entertaining.

What a day!

Booking Through Thursday


Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?

According to my LibraryThing tags, I have 11 dictionaries and 3 books tagged "writing"; I have a feeling that I have other books about writing that haven't made it in to my LibraryThing account but I'm away from home today and can't check. The dictionaries come from my foreign-language background (I was a French major in college and have taken Italian, Hebrew, Russian, Latin and Irish language classes at various times) and the fact that I like to collect dictionaries of local dialects when I travel. I'm most proud of my Occitan-French dictionary from the Languedoc region of France. I also have 16 grammars and other kinds of language reference books not classified as dictionaries.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

TBR Challenge: The Electric Michelangelo, by Sarah Hall

The Electric Michelangelo, by Sarah Hall. Published 2005 by Harper Perennial. Literary Fiction.


I picked up The Electric Michelangelo in a used bookstore sometime last summer; it seemed almost custom-made to lure me in. It's a story about an unusual man- Cyril (or Cy) Parks is a tattoo artist who finds his trade growing up in a seaside resort town in England, and then perfects it in the wilds of Coney Island, New York, in the era between the first two World Wars. It's populated by a variety of eccentric and colorful characters, along with their secrets and stories, especially the ones they wear on their skin.

I feel sort of badly that I didn't like the book more than I did, because it seemed like the kind of book I would normally enjoy. The writing is very skillful and it has about it a very literary patina. The problem for me is that it seems to lack focus. The book is just too long. It's divided into two sections of roughly equal length- Cy's life in England and his life in New York. There may be some artistic reason why the first half is as long as it is, but I think author Hall could have done without it entirely. The love story supposedly at its center takes up just a small portion near the end, and the whole Coney Island section feels compressed, like she's covering too much ground too quickly. She writes page after page after page of narration, eschewing dialog in favor of endless description and exposition. I would have liked to get to know some of these colorful characters better- as it is I felt alienated even from the protagonist Cy. The rest, like the conjoined twins who ran the local bar, to the couple who were Cy's first friends in New York, are little more than collections of adjectives. His lady friend Grace is supposed to be enigmatic but instead she's almost a cypher.

I will say though that Hall's writing, as verbose as it can be sometimes, is beautifully stylized and fluid. She captures the transience of the summer season beautifully in the first section, the resort-town atmosphere of escapism and frivolity, and shows a loving respect for the vacationing laborers and invalids who populate the seaside town of Morecambe, not to mention the people who run it- people like Cy's mother Reeda and his mentor Eliot Riley, who make the town tick but who have secrets of their own. And she certainly seems to have done her homework on the history and practice of the tattoo trade. The sections dealing with Cy's apprenticeship, and his relationship to his customers and his feelings about the deeper meaning of tattooing were fascinating and kept me going. The way the book ends is very satisfying, and I liked finally getting to hear Cy actually talk and interact with another character more than a line or two at a time. I wish I'd been able to spend more time like that with him. I think anyone interested in tattooing or Coney Island would probably enjoy The Electric Michelangelo; I was a little disappointed but still found some things to appreciate.

Rating: BACKLIST

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

Monday, May 5, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday - Coffee and Donuts, by Max Estes

Coffee and Donuts, by Max Estes. Click on the book cover below to buy from your local Book Sense-affiliated independent bookseller.

So do you like my spiffy new logo for Graphic Novel Monday?

One of my favorite things to do on rainy Saturdays is visit my favorite comic book store and spend too much money on indie comic books. Earlier this year I picked up the totally adorable Coffee and Donuts by Max Estes. First of all I can't resist cats. If it's a graphic novel and it has cats, I'm in. Second, it's short- read-it-in-one-sitting short, also a plus.

It's also sweet and funny. The story is about two anthropomorphous, homeless cats who get mixed up in some shady activities because they are poor and desperate- and desperate cats do desperate things. But these cats have good hearts, and a guardian angel, so everything turns out okay.

I like the art in this book a lot. It's simple black and white, with one or two oval panels per page and little shading- mostly just these loose, exaggerated cats with loose limbs and simple but effective movements and facial expressions. The iconic, humorous drawings help offset the bits of suspense and tension and keep the comic funny.

Coffee and Donuts is a fun all-ages comic book that anyone can enjoy- a nice quick read with cats. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunday Salon: Mitzvah Day!

Happy Sunday!

Today at the synagogue where I work was an event called Mitzvah Day- a congregation-wide day of community service. Projects ranged from participation in the Walk for Hunger to work making blankets for Project Linus to food drives and other things; I worked at a project involving expanding two public school libraries. We in the library actually had two projects- one involved sorting about 500 books for a public school in Boston with no library, and the other involved doing some light cataloging for a well-established school library run by a nonprofessional librarian who needed our help. I was involved with both but spent most of the day helping with the second, the cataloging project. All in all I probably helped with about fifty or sixty books. The volunteers working on the sorting did an amazing job, tearing through more than a dozen boxes in just under two hours. That library is getting a lot of great books!

As far as my own reading, I just started a new book, The Story of Forgetting, and I'm still enjoying paging through my comic book samplers from yesterday's Free Comic Book Day, on the lookout for the next great thing to read and talk about. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Free Comic Book Day!


I should have mentioned this yesterday, but today, May 3, is Free Comic Book Day. So you can go to any local participating comic store and pick up a selection of free comic books. I just hit two in my neighborhood and got a good sampling- a HellBoy, samplers from Drawn & Quarterly, Ignatz and Top Shelf, as well as a children's sampler called Comic Book Diner. Different locations carry different comics, so I can't guarantee that anything I found will be at your store. If you want to find participating locations near you, just click on the picture above. Have fun!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Booking Through Thursday


Quick! It’s an emergency! You just got an urgent call about a family emergency and had to rush to the airport with barely time to grab your wallet and your passport. But now, you’re stuck at the airport with nothing to read. What do you do??

And, no, you did NOT have time to grab your bookbag, or the book next to your bed. You were . . . grocery shopping when you got the call and have nothing with you but your wallet and your passport (which you fortuitously brought with you in case they asked for ID in the ethnic food aisle). This is hypothetical, remember…

I would head to the airport bookstore and find something- maybe a guilty pleasure I wouldn't normally buy, or something I'd had my eye on and just hadn't gotten around to. Then I'd try to calm myself by reading. I find when I'm at the airport and waiting, that reading is very calming and engaging my brain with anything is better for me than being idle.