Monday, June 30, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long. Published 1998 by Bantam Books. Click on the cover to buy from your local BookSense-affiliated independent bookseller.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is a relationship book- or an anti-relationship book- in graphic novel form. It's not a classic graphic novel like others I've featured on Graphic Novel Monday- it's more the kind of book you pick up as a joke at hip clothing stores catering to college students and give someone as a gag gift. (Last summer I took a class on how to create a graphic novel, and I brought this book in to class as an example of my level of artistic skill. My instructor laughed at me- and he was right to do so.) It's more of a novelty-humor mini-book. It tells the reader how to make every conceivable dating mistake with a new boyfriend. Most likely anyone who follows this advice will end up in jail.

Yes, this book is the basis for the 2003 romantic comedy of the same name, which stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, but you'll be disappointed if you read this expecting a chick-lit novel- or any kind of novel. Unpaged, it clocks in at around 100 pages of crayon stick-figure sketches, much like what you see on the cover, accompanied by pithy one-liners of anti-relationship advice. The story starts on Day 1, when the woman meets her boyfriend. Of course the advice is to become intimate immediately. The reader is then advised to ask her new boyfriend on Day 2 if he thinks she has gained weight "since you've been dating"- yesterday. Basically the idea is to rush into relationships and force closeness before anyone is ready, and pummel your man with inappropriate attention until he finally relents and marries you. Finally by Day 10, as the relationship falls apart, the book advises the reader to fake a pregnancy and leave a poem and a long stemmed rose at his door- guaranteed to secure a wedding proposal after a week and a half of psychotic, stalkerish behavior.

The thing is, though, it works. (The book- not the advice!) It's hilarious. The combination of tongue-in-cheek, how-to-do-it-all-wrong advice and clever, crudely drawn pictures makes me crack up every time. I've never seen the movie, but what prompted me to talk about How to Lose a Guy was the number of folks who commented to me about it after last week's Tuesday Thingers, when I mentioned that for a while I was one of only two people on LibraryThing who owned the book. (Now it's up to 7 owners.) I guess I just wanted to make sure that, if anyone picks it up thinking it's going to be chick lit or a conventional novel, you know what you're getting yourself in to. Sometimes I can't believe that anyone ever decided to make a movie out of this little trifle- and then sometimes I admire the chutzpah of it and want to congratulate Alexander and Long on their success.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Salon

I'm sleeping in a bit today after a long day yesterday; we went down to visit some friends on Cape Cod and spent the day eating and talking and generally having a good time. Our hosts, John and Kristen, have a beautiful home and we had a great time with them and some other friends too. There was a book sale at the local library and John and Kristen had the really nice idea of buying books for everyone as party favors- I was lucky enough to snag Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse, and my husband took home a volume of Moliere's plays. Not bad! If you've never read Wodehouse I highly recommend his light but artful English country-house humor.

Also in the reading pile-
  • American Shaolin, a memoir by Matthew Polly about his stay in China learning kungfu at the legendary Shaolin temple,
  • Pravda, Booker-nominated fiction by Edward Docx- a nice switch back to serious fiction after the lighter stuff I've been reading lately, and
  • Such a Pretty Fat, Jen Lancaster's new memoir.
Jen did a reading in Boston last week, and I tried to go but fate got in my way. She was scheduled to appear at Borders in Boston but there are two Borders there and I went to the wrong one; by the time I got to the correct Borders it was just about go time and there were so many people there I couldn't even get close enough to see her. When I write my own memoirs I'll title my chapter about that night Such a Disappointed Marie.

Between that and missing David Sedaris when he came to town I'm beginning to think I'm jinxed.

I don't know what's in store for today besides being very, very lazy. We'll see!

Friday, June 27, 2008

REVIEW: The White Mary, by Kira Salak

The White Mary, by Kira Salak. Published 1998 by Henry Holt. Literary fiction.

I got The White Mary as a galley, and normally I try to pace myself when it comes to galleys. I like to read and review books as close as possible to their actual release date, since I want my reviews to be useful and I think they're most useful when an interested reader can get the book right away. When I received The White Mary, a novel by travel writer Kira Salak, I flipped through it and just read the first page. Then I read the second. Then the next time I looked up, I was fifty pages in and still didn't want to put it down.

The story of a freelance reporter named Marika Vecera and drawn from many of Salak's own experiences, The White Mary is absolutely gripping. From page one I was drawn right into Marika's world. Whether she was in Congo, Papua New Guinea (PNG) or Boston, I felt like I was right there with her, watching her close-up, totally absorbed. Marika travels to PNG to search for the legendary Robert Lewis, a reporter who is presumed dead. As the story unfolds we find out why Lewis is important to her, and why she believes he is alive. As a young refugee from the former Czechoslovakia, Marika read something he wrote about her country and felt like only he really understood her. Later, as a professional reporter and adventurer, she continued to idolize him and the news of his death hit her hard. So when she finds out that he may actually be alive and living in a remote area of the forbidding back country of PNG, she is compelled to find him.

The narrative alternates between Marika's search in the dense jungle of PNG and the story of all that lead up to her journey, most importantly her relationship with the protective Seb and some traumatic experiences traveling and working in Congo, and I like the way the story ebbs and flows. The travel sequences can be intense and sometimes it was a relief to flash back to Boston and a world I understand a little better. I also found Marika's personality to be very believable and accurate psychologically. She's a hard-living woman who's seen and been through some of the worst things imaginable, and prides herself on her ability to take care of herself, but she pays a heavy price in her ability to maintain an intimate relationship with a man who genuinely cares for her, as well as in her ability to value her own well-being.

As would anybody. Some of the things these characters go through are horrific, excruciating- the stuff of nightmares- and it would be naive to think these kinds of experiences would just roll off a person. An important theme in the book is redemption and hope- the idea that even after seeing the worst evil the world has to offer, it's possible, through painful, difficult work, to be happy, to feel joy and to give and receive love. The White Mary can be read as one long metaphor for this journey. I read Marika's journey through the jungles of PNG as her journey through her traumas and demons, and I read Seb less as her lover and more as her conscience, a voice leading her out of the jungle and back to herself.

Apart from the psychological truths it offers, The White Mary is absolutely compelling reading. An experienced and lauded travel writer, Salak based the book on many of her own experiences traveling in PNG and elsewhere, and her knowledge shows in her descriptions and attention to detail. While in PNG, Marika loses her shoes and must make the journey barefoot, and that little fact all by itself stuck with me like the thorns in her soles; just a small thing, but one of the many details that drew me in and helped me experience the journey with her. Salak includes a good cast of supporting characters as well, most notably Tobo, a PNG sorcerer and Marika's guide, who could have been a boring, stereotyped wise native but instead had a personality and point of view all his own. I'd recommend The White Mary to unsqueamish fans of character-driven adventure stories, and I'm looking forward to reading Four Corners, her nonfiction memoir of Papua New Guinea. I think The White Mary is going to be a popular book this fall and I expect her other work will get more attention, too- and rightly so. She's a terrific writer and really delivers with The White Mary.

Rating: BUY

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

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

A reader is someone who reads... anything (including audiobooks in my opinion, but let's not go there again!). Once you learn to read you can't help but read printed matter, whether you want to or not, or at least that's what I've noticed. But that doesn't mean you have no choice in reading for leisure, work, study, whatever. An author (or blogger) might use the term to refer to someone who reads his or her work, or someone who reads books in general. Librarians and booksellers use the term to refer to their customers or patrons. There are probably even more ways to define a reader. What do you think?

ALA Annual Conference

For those of you who are attending this year's conference of the American Library Association, which begins today, I found this video guide to getting the most out of your ALA experience. Unfortunately I'm not going this year but I hope that maybe next year I'll be back. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

REVIEW: The Marriage of True Minds, by Stephen Evans

The Marriage of True Minds, by Stephen Evans. Published May 2008 by Unbridled Books. Paperback.

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

The Marriage of True Minds is a romantic-comedy movie just waiting to be made. A slapstick trifle, I see it starring Ashley Judd as the beautiful, smart-as-a-whip attorney Lena, whose insane ex-husband Nick has been released from a mental institution into her custody. I could see Nick played by David Boreanaz, a good looking actor who can play goofy as well as intelligent. (And he'd look cute next to my girl Ashley.) Nick and Lena married and practiced law together until Nick's mental instabilities surfaced and he was arrested for placing live lobsters in the mayor's swimming pool. 100 of them. Now Lena is on her own again, dating a stuffed shirt named Preston and trying her best to look after her eccentric ex.

The story picks up steam as Nick starts a community-service job at an animal shelter and befriends an Irish wolfhound he names Wolfram. This relationship is an improvement for Nick as up till now his best friend is a puppet he calls Sancho. Things go awry when Wolfram's time at the shelter runs out and Nick doesn't want to lose his new best friend. But don't worry- the story ends in fine romantic-comedy style.

The Marriage of True Minds is a quick, fun little read. It's author Stephen Evans' first novel but his background in playwriting has given him a great ear for dialogue and a quick wit. It's definitely over the top and very silly; the only thing that bothered me was a scene about halfway through when a crateful of kittens meets a sad (but unfortunately common) fate. Immediately after I read this scene it felt kind of horrible for such a light novel but by the end I understood how it fit. The novel ends up being an argument for humane treatment of unwanted pets and some of the proceeds from the sale of the book even go to Best Friends Animal Society, a no-kill animal sanctuary in Utah. How can you say no to kitties and puppies?

Rating: BEACH

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Last week I asked what was the most popular book in your library- this week I'm going to ask about the most unpopular books you own. Do you have any unique books in your library- books only you have on LT? How many? Did you find cataloging information on your unique books, or did you hand-enter them? Do they fall into a particular category or categories, or are they a mix of different things? Have you ever looked at the "You and none other" feature on your statistics page, which shows books owned by only you and one other user? Ever made an LT friend by seeing what you share with only one other user?

I know a couple of you asked this question on your blogs last week when I asked about the most popular book, so if you've already answered this question don't feel like you have to answer it again.

My answer: I have 35 unique books in my LT account. Many of them are zines that I hand-entered, and many others are small press books that may only be available in my region or from very few sources. Some of my favorite unique entries are City Gardens by Pierre Nessmann, Scott Mercer's classic Bigfoot vs. Chupacabras, and A Sense of Place : Collected Maine Poems, edited by Lillian B. Kennedy. One of my favorite cookbooks is also unique to my library- Kenny Cooks America, by Kenny Miller, which contains an awesome cheesecake recipe. I made one LT friend from the "You and none other" feature, QuietProfanity, with whom I share How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days, as well as 32 other titles. At the time we were the only users who had How to Lose A Guy; now there are a whopping 7!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

Aya, by Marguerite Abouet; illustrated by Clement Oubrerie. Published 2007 by Drawn &Quarterly. Hardcover. Graphica. Fiction. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher.

It was the artwork that first grabbed my attention about Aya, a funny story about young girls having fun in 1970s Ivory Coast, during a brief period of prosperity following the end of French colonial rule. It's illustrated by French artist Clement Oubrerie in a charming, humorous style reminiscent of fellow French artist Joann Sfar (who edited the Gallimard Jeunesse French edition)- so reminiscent that I really had to look twice at the credit. But Oubrerie's style is definitely different- looser, more relaxed.

And his style befits the story, a fun romp through a vibrant era of optimism and a flourishing economy, focusing on the fun and games of a group of girlfriends as they run around with their boyfriends while their parents fret about jobs and marriages. But it's really about the girls- studious good-girl Aya, who wants to be a doctor, and her friends Adjoua and Bintou. They're typical teenage girls- they love clothes and boys and parties, and they're trying to do the right thing even when they don't quite know what that is. And when one of the girls gets pregnant- well, then things really get going.

It's a cute story, not one of my favorites but cute. I found all the stories a little hard to follow, but I loved the twist at the very end- at the very last panel, actually. The dialogue is fresh and believable, and although I haven't read the original French, Helge Dascher's translation is very smooth. The girls and the boys are both portrayed as equally silly and irresponsible, and their parents are just clueless and wrapped up in their own problems. The book includes a very helpful preface summarizing the recent history of Ivory Coast which really helps situate the reader, and author Abouet has included a fun chapter at the end with a glossary and some recipes and fashion advice; the political content is minimal and Aya would be great for teens interested in a fun story or anyone interested in positive stories about Africa. Personally though, I'm glad I only checked it out from the library and didn't buy it. But I still liked it.

Rating: BORROW

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

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Salon

I have absolutely no plans this Sunday apart from going to the gym and reading! What a nice feeling.

I'm working on:
  • The White Mary, by Kira Salak, which I'm almost done with (two chapters to go) and loving;
  • The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, one of my "Summer Challenge" books, which I'm also enjoying, and
  • Husband and Wife, by Zeruya Shalev, which I've been reading one chapter at a time for a week or two. It's very strange. I'm taking my time with it.
I just ordered The Idol Lover, written by Moazzam Sheikh, a San Francisco librarian and reader of my blog (hi!) because I'm just so curious about it. I was going to wait until I actually go to San Francisco later this summer and pick it up at City Lights but like I said, curiosity and all. I've just about worked out a system to deal with my sense of being overwhelmed by books to read. From now on I'm going to follow this plan:
Simultaneously, I'll read
  • one book I'm obligated to review,
  • one recent book/ARC of my choosing, and
  • one book just for me.
That plan doesn't include bedside books (one chapter a day) and graphic novels and manga. I read manga when I'm on the bus going to the gym and graphic novels whenever I need a break from regular books. My next review book is The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy. I'll start that tomorrow.

How do you prioritize your reading?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Entertainment Weekly's New Classics

Entertainment Weekly published a list of the top 100 books they call "the new classics" and in grand blogger tradition, I saw The BookroomReviews Weblog say what books they've read and decided to post my own list. So I've bolded what I've read, and italicized what I own. I'm kind of amazed at how many I haven't read.

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

Friday, June 20, 2008

REVIEW: Matrimony, by Joshua Henkin

Matrimony, by Joshua Henkin. Published 2007 by Pantheon. Literary Fiction.

Matrimony is a quiet, low-key novel steeped in realism and the angst of the upper-middle-class American man. The novel follows two couples (Julian and Mia; Carter and Pilar) from college to early middle age as they struggle with the ups and downs of life and make (and un-make) decisions about what's important in their lives. The protagonist is Julian Wainwright, a wealthy New Yorker who rebels against his privileged upbringing by attending a hippyish New England college and becoming a writer. He falls in love with beautiful Mia; his best friend, blue-collar scholarship boy Carter, falls for middle-class Pilar, and from there it's game on.

The novel proceeds in straight-forward fashion through college years, early marriage, crises and resolutions. The characters are very well-developed and watching them figure out who they are is fascinating. There's nothing flashy here- just the push-and-pull of everyday life, the little things we all go through. Midway through, Julian and Mia throw a dinner party; Julian does the cooking, and afterwards Mia is too tired to clean the dishes. Julian, unable to sleep with a sinkful of dirty plates, stays up late to do the washing up and thinks ruefully that it might look different to some if the genders were reversed and Mia were the one staying up late to clean. The image of Julian scrubbing away in their quiet newlywed apartment struck me as an effective illustration of the ways gender politics trickle into the quietest corners of a relationship. In other places Henkin shows the different ways men and women communicate and bond- Carter and Julian have their heart-to-hearts over (detailed) games of pick-up basketball, while Mia and her sister share feelings in the kitchen, poring through their late mother's china. Are these choices stereotyped? A little. But there's some truth in them, too.

The book has some weaknesses, too. Julian's behavior towards Mia during the crisis of their marriage struck me as a cruel overreaction. Mia is Jewish and Julian is not, but the complications of intermarriage are completely absent from their relationship. Even the cheeriest, most well-adjusted intermarried couples I've met (and am related to) have some feelings about it, and seeing as Henkin chose to introduce this element to the story I would have liked to see some discussion of it. Pilar is basically a cipher, and I wish I'd seen more of charismatic bad-boy Carter, a more interesting, complex person than the often bland Julian.

But Henkin's smooth, accomplished prose kept me reading through it all. A character-driven book concerned above all with relationships, I think there's a lot of material in Matrimony to discuss- the characters, their motivations, judgments, decisions and consequences. They go through a lot of changes, experience victories and tragedies, and in the end they come out each in a good place with much for which to be both thankful and confident. Because there is so much to talk about, I think Matrimony would be a fine choice for book clubs. (Full disclosure: he sent me my copy of Matrimony gratis in return for the review and consideration for my library's club.) I liked Matrimony. It's a good, thought-provoking book that looks inside the institution of marriage and comes out optimistic and hopeful.


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

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books . . . what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not?

Wow, tough question.

Overall I need strong, likable characters and a story that pushes me along and keeps me reading. A vivid setting helps but it's not necessary; I wouldn't stay with any book if I didn't like the author or narrator's voice, no matter what else was going on, and I rarely read travel books or books where setting is the primary appeal. I like novels about women, written by people who respect them the way I do. I like twists and turns and surprises, as long as they're believable and fitting. I'm drawn to more literary-type books- award winners and such- but I've had some wonderful experiences with light fiction too. I like to see that the author has tried to push some kind of boundary- who wants another boring domestic drama, or formulaic love story, or convention-bound genre fiction. Do something different, surprise me, enchant me- make me pay attention!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Right now I'm halfway through five different books- today I'm going to choose one to actually finish (I'm looking at you, Matrimony) and hopefully I'll have a review in a couple of days. In the mean time.... a meme!

I copied this from Terri. Thanks, it was fun!

  1. Author/s I've always wanted to read but haven't yet: Salman Rushdie, Cervantes, Osamu Tezuka

  2. Author/s I'd like to read more of: Paul Auster, Iris Murdoch, Isaac Bashevis Singer

  3. Author/s I think I should read but have no interest in (true confessions): J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Michael Chabon

  4. Book/s I think I should read but have no interest in: Moby-Dick (I agree with you, Terri!)

  5. Authors I love that I've recently discovered (thanks to LibraryThing!): Tamar Yellin, Stephen Merrill Block, Mary Doria Russell, Alan Drew

  6. The genre/s I've wanted to read more of: Graphic novels

  7. The book/s on my TBR pile I always mean to read next: Oscar and Lucinda, The Madonnas of Leningrad, Pravda, The Known World, Bel Canto

  8. Book/s I want to try again:
    War and Peace. I just couldn't make it through. I put too much pressure on myself and failed.
  9. Books I want to re-read: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Breadfruit by Celestine Vaite. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia. The Genizah at the House of Shepher by Tamar Yellin.

  10. Books I will never, ever read: The Secret. Anything more by James Patterson.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's Question: What's the most popular book in your library? Have you read it? What did you think? How many users have it? What's the most popular book you don't have? How does a book's popularity figure into your decisions about what to read?

My answer: The most popular book in my library is 1984 by George Orwell; I've read it several times, for school and for myself. I think it's a devastating, powerful book. 19,740 people on LibraryThing have it as of today. The most popular book I don't have is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, with 32,484 owners as of today. (I got this from the "Zeitgeist" page in LT.) I used to own it, but I gave it away. Popularity does figure into my decisions in that if something is really very popular, I'm usually less inclined to read it. I just like to do my own thing.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Paris, by Andi Watson and Simon Gane

Paris, by Andi Watson and Simon Gane. Published: 2007 by SLG Publishing. Fiction.

Paris is a book that I picked up impulsively, because it looked cute and fun and, well, French. It's a little chocolate croissant of a book- light, slight, and sweet.

A tale of young love- the growing attraction between hardscrabble American artist Juliet and British society girl Deborah- the story is told in tones of gray that nonetheless evoke the bustle and busyness of Paris in lovely detail. Artist Simon Gane credits such iconic French photographers as Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Paul Almasy as inspiration for his scenes but I was reminded of the illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempe and his recent urban sketchbook of the city, A Little Bit of Paris, as well. Gane's Paris is vivacious and intriguing, and his big street scenes capture its atmosphere and appeal beautifully. The panels are varied and go from intimate closeups of the characters, with angular faces and spare but communicative features, to full page, swirling tableaux. The book even opens like a movie, with the opening credits rolling over sequential establishing shots of the city and heroine Juliet. Very cool.

The story itself is light as air and fun. Blue-collar Juliet comes to Paris to learn to be a serious artist, and takes a commission to paint Deborah's portrait; the two young women, one frustrated and the other repressed, are drawn to each other but circumstances keep them apart. Juliet delivers her painting and they part ways, until some time passes and some things change, and they can be together again. There is some dialogue in French, and the book includes translations at the back; I wish the translations had been at the bottom of the page because flipping back and forth can be awkward. I'd suggest the book for armchair travelers, light-romance fans and Francophiles, and for older teens and adults. Again, not one for the little kids (or anyone with issues with the gay themes) but a great little read nonetheless.

Rating: BEACH

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

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday Salon

This rainy Sunday Father's Day, I'm supposed to go out for breakfast with my dad, and then I'll have the whole afternoon free for reading. Up today:

  • I'm continuing with Joshua Henkin's Matrimony, which I'm enjoying;
  • I have to catch up on my Shojo Beat addiction; the July issue is still sitting in my incoming-mail bin!
  • I'm reading David Sedaris's new book one essay at a time and it's lots of fun;
  • and I'm deeply engrossed in Imre Kertesz's Fatelessness, a Holocaust novel.
New books this week:
  • The White Mary, by Kira Salak,
  • Such A Pretty Fat, by Jen Lancaster- I'm still not done with Bitter is the New Black but at least I'm ready!, and
  • Samuel Shem's The Spirit of the Place, not to mention
  • The Triumph of Deborah, by Eva Etzioni-Halevi, which I'm very excited about because when I'm done I'm going to have the opportunity to interview the author for the blog! I'm going to start Deborah as soon as I'm done with Matrimony.
I'm getting better at pacing and prioritizing my reading and feeling less overwhelmed in general. Mostly I'm just having a good time with this whole blogging thing. Yesterday my husband and I went to Barnes and Noble to find Father's Day gifts for his dad and I had fun using my librarian instincts to gauge what he might like. I think we made some good choices but we'll see when he opens his presents! I love book shopping for other people but it is difficult to drag myself away from the fiction and graphic novel sections.

Speaking of graphic novels, I've got two requested via ILL from my local library system, one of which has arrived. I'm picking it up tomorrow- it's called Aya and it's by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie and originally it was part of a series edited by Rabbi's Cat author/illustrator Joann Sfar. And it's French/African. So I'm very interested. More on that in a couple of weeks.

In the mean time I hope everyone has a great Father's Day!

Friday, June 13, 2008

REVIEW: The Genizah at the House of Shepher

The Genizah at the House of Shepher, by Tamar Yellin. Published 2008 by St. Martin's. Literary Fiction.

I read this advance copy courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Genizah, a Hebrew word, is defined as a storeroom or attic, usually in a synagogue, for worn or unusable prayerbooks or bibles, which, since they contain the name of God, cannot be thrown away but must rather be buried according to Jewish ritual. That was the first question I had when I picked up The Genizah at the House of Shepher, and attics and storerooms and worn old books are at the crux of this slow, literary and very moving story about a woman, a book, and a mystery.

Shulamit Shepher is a researcher and scholar in the field of the Hebrew Bible; she lives in England and travels to Jerusalem to unravel a family controversy that threatens to boil over. Years ago, her great-grandfather, Shalom Shepher, had undertaken to find the ten lost tribes of Israel, and when he returned he brought with him a codex of the Hebrew Bible, found somewhere on his journeys. The book remains hidden for years; when it's discovered in the attic of the family home, the family decides to give it, albeit temporarily and for purposes of further study, to a research institute. Shulamit comes to Israel to see the codex and use her professional skills to assess it. She finds herself in the middle of family rivalries and secrets, and meets an intriguing stranger also interested in the codex.

The narrative alternates between Shulamit in the present tense and the story of her family in the past tense, starting with her great-grandfather's first marriage, leading right through her father's failed love affair and her brother's defection from the family. Author Tamar Yellin tells the story slowly, and ponderously; midrashic stories about Moses are interwoven as allegories about knowledge and learning, about what should be, and should not be, gleaned from books. This codex could be a very special book, an early- or perhaps even original- version of the Hebrew Bible, of which there are so many variants and versions, and as such has the potential to be of cataclysmic importance spiritually, historically, academically and even commercially. The family is fraught with tension, anger and anticipation over its fate, and all kinds of lingering, competing motives and intentions surface up.

The Genizah at the House of Shepher bears a resemblance to another book recently published about a female scholar and the fate of a precious Jewish book- Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book (which I reviewed earlier this year), but The Genizah is quite different. People of the Book was a page-turner; action-packed and busy with movement and twists and turns, it could be made into a movie. The Genizah is altogether a slower book, more thoughtful, and more literary in style. I also found Shulamit to be a more likable character than Brooks's prickly heroine Hanna. If People of the Book could be made into a movie, The Genizah could become a classic. As the winner of last year's Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, given by the Jewish Book Council, it's off to a good start.

I loved reading The Genizah at the House of Shepher. I thought Yellin hit all the right notes in terms of pacing, character and outcome. The tentative romance between Shulamit and the mysterious Gideon was handled beautifully and the story of her family, and especially her father, was fascinating and bittersweet. I could have finished the book days before I did, but I slowed down for the concluding few chapters, because I wanted to make it last. Isn't it nice to feel that way about a book?

Rating: BUY

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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (ot, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

I've had basically two book club experiences. I joined a book club through a library where I used to live, and went to one meeting- I hated the book (Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson) so much I just didn't want to go back. And I was the only one who didn't like it, and there were some other issues, and I just felt like the group and I weren't a good fit.

A couple of years ago I joined (and helped run) a book club made up of Boston-area alumnae from my college; we met every month and read a lot of books, some good and some bad. One of my very favorite books (Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichel) came to me from this club and we always had a good time. It was always followed by potluck dinner and I made desserts, which was fun too. I forget why I stopped going but I think it's been disbanded for a long time.

When I read for a club I think about the book more as I'm reading- I try to think of questions or issues about the book in a more pointed way. Being obligated to read something doesn't affect how I feel about it but it's frustrating to have to read something I'm not enjoying. I pick books for myself that I end up not liking sometimes, too, but then I can just toss it aside.

I enjoyed being in the alumnae club and I'd love to join another, but I don't know where to begin to look for one. I'm a very self-directed reader though and I'm happy to be left to choose my own books.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question is about tags- do you tag? How do you tag? How do you feel about tagging- do you think it would be better to have standardized tags, like libraries have standardized subject headings, or do you like the individualized nature of tagging? What are your top 5 tags and what do they say about your collection or your reading habits?

My answer:
I tag by genre and roughly by subject, as I think it's important to my library. Fiction, nonfiction, history, maybe I'll mention if it's particularly French or Russian or Jewish since I'm interested in those subjects; I usually mention if it's poetry, and then what kind- American, Irish, French, etc. I have idiosyncratic tags, like "library book" or "mooched" (if I've given something away), I use ARC for advance reader copy, etc. All of my books are tagged- I assign at least one tag as soon as I add a book.

I like making up my own tags for my library but sometimes the librarian in me thinks I'd have better luck cross referencing other libraries to find similar books if standardized headings were available or if the system assigned them automatically. I'm sure a lot of people would be upset though if a book was assigned a heading that they didn't like though.

My top five tags are:
fiction (430), nonfiction (178), ARC (72), jewish (71), manga (66). That's as of today!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person, by Miriam Engelberg

Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person, by Miriam Engelberg. Published 2006 by HarperCollins. Click on the cover to buy from your local BookSense-affiliated independent bookseller.

I really had no idea what to expect when I opened up Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person, Miriam Engelberg's first-person memoir of her fight against breast cancer. The subject matter almost kept me away entirely, and then I didn't know what to make of her rough, sort of unpolished-looking artwork. Would it be enough to hold my attention?

Well, it turns out I was in for a surprise, because Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person is an honest, raw and quietly emotional look at the impact of living with a life-threatening disease. Engelberg starts at the beginning, from the first tests even before her official diagnosis, and goes through the finality of coming to terms with an uncertain future and living each day not knowing what could happen. What I found most refreshing is how upfront she is about the fatigue, both emotional and physical, that comes with living day to day with a serious illness. She talks openly about feeling bitter, angry and envious of people who don't have cancer, or whose cancer is less serious than hers, or who are in better emotional space than she is. She's not trying to be a saint- she's a real person who gets cranky sometimes, who likes to zone out with the TV and has bad days and isn't afraid to say so.

I got over the lack of flashy artwork once I realized how I was being drawn into the emotional core of the story panel by panel. Engelberg's simple line drawings work really well to convey emotions without calling attention to themselves- I was just focused on the characters, and not on some idiosyncratic, attention-grabbing art, which is how it should be. The art also helps make her someone to relate to- not some artiste, just an ordinary woman.

I think Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person would be a great choice for anyone who's experienced a serious illness, if only to show that you don't always have to smile through it- it's okay to be sad sometimes too. But apart from that, it's great for anyone who likes comics or graphic novels and just wants to spend a little time with an interesting, intelligent woman as she navigates a serious crisis and offers her support to others, in her own way.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday Salon

It's a steamy 90+ degrees in Cambridge today, so I think it will be a great day to stay inside with the central air conditioning and some good books. I'm still working on The Genizah at the House of Shepher, which I'm really enjoying, and this week has brought some new books into the house:
  • Love Marriage, by V.V. Ganeshananthan, via Bookmooch, which I started and am liking a lot,
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by longtime favorite David Sedaris, and
  • Matrimony, from author Joshua Henkin, which I will start as soon as I've finished one of the books I have going now.
I was extremely disappointed to learn that Sedaris was in Cambridge doing a reading not a mile from my house on the very night when I was out at another bookstore buying his book. He'll be back in Boston in October though, and I'll try to catch him then.

Otherwise I'd like to do some quilting this afternoon, and maybe some TV-watching. There is a Reno911! marathon on Comedy Central today and my television tastes are less highbrow than my reading tastes! You know, lest you think I'm all stuffy and don't know how to have fun.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Contests and Stuff

First of all, congratulations to Carey over at The Tome Traveller, the winner of Rules for Saying Goodbye by Katherine Taylor. It'll go out in the mail on Monday or Tuesday- enjoy it!

Secondly- I won something! I was visiting my local quilt shop this morning to help them celebrate their seventh anniversary, and I won a copy of Sue Gardner's A-Z of Wool Embroidery! When I'm not reading or blogging, quilting is my other big hobby, and over the years I've gotten into some embroidery as well, so this is the absolute perfect book. It has lots of beautiful stitches, some I've never seen before, and really great instructions and cute projects, like embroidered bunnies and flowered wreaths and the like. I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with it. Yay for contests!

Friday, June 6, 2008

REVIEW: Tiare in Bloom, by Celestine Vaite

Tiare in Bloom, by Celestine Vaite. Published: 2007 by Back Bay Books.
Click on the cover to buy via I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Tiare in Bloom is the third and final book in Celestine Vaite's trilogy starring heroine Materena Mahi, a Tahitian cleaner- turned-radio-host. The first two, Breadfruit and Frangipani, cover Materena's marriage to longtime partner Pito and her efforts to raise her children right while changing careers mid-life. The third book, Tiare, is told mostly in Pito's voice, as he struggles to heal a wound in his relationship with Materena, raise his infant granddaughter, help his son Tamatoa accept his own responsibilities as a father, and help Materena find her own biological father, a Frenchman who visited Tahiti during his military service.

Sounds like a handful, non? Materena, Pito and their family are a handful- the family seems to include just about everyone on their island, and the drama is nonstop. But Vaite's novels are sweet and gentle, and everyone always get a happy ending. I read Frangipani first, after I picked it up as an ARC at a conference, and it was one of the first really pleasurable experiences I had reading light fiction. Now, Vaite's books may be light but they're not trashy beach reads- Vaite is the first native Tahitian to win the prestigious French Prix litteraire des etudiants, and not once but twice- once for each of her first two Materena books.

But I don't expect you to read her books based on awards. Vaite's books are about family, and love, and growing up and growing together- things everyone can relate to. The Tahitian setting is rendered deliciously through descriptions and most of all through Materena's (and Pito's) voice- Vaite's rolling tri-lingual narrative, English peppered with French and Tahitian, written as though it's being spoken. (And you know I love anything French.) Vaite says on her website that Tahiti is a country of oral storytelling and reading her books is like visiting- relaxing and listening in. I've called them "hammock books" in the past, because that's where I like to read them- on warm summer afternoons in my back yard, lolling in a gently swinging hammock. Even when I read them indoors on a cold rainy day it's like bringing the summertime inside.

And Tiare in Bloom is the sweetest treat of all. Vaite chose to have Pito tell this story after her fans told her they'd like to hear his voice, and at first I was a little put off by this (for me) unexpected choice but I grew to really like Pito and I'm glad she chose to tell the story this way. There are two major crises looming in Pito's life- his wife Materena is angry at him and he knows not why, and a woman shows up with a baby girl, claiming the girl is Pito's granddaughter, the result of a union between the woman's great-niece and Pito's son Tamatoa. Once her parentage is confirmed, Materena and Pito rally to look after the little girl (named after Tahiti's national flower), with Pito taking the lead and relishing his role as grandfather. Meanwhile, Materena is trying to find her own father, who lives a world away and may or may not even want to know her. The story takes a little time to get going, but the ending is well worth it. I was in tears by the last two or three pages, and you will be, too. I love these books!

Rating: BEACH

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

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?

My reading tastes have changed a little over the years. I've always been most attracted to literary fiction and classics, and that's still what I love the best. My habits have changed quite a bit since becoming a librarian, because I have to keep up with my subject area and read a lot of ARCs, which exposes me to a wider range of fiction than I would normally read. I still don't read much nonfiction, even in ARC form. In the last couple of years I've become more comfortable with lighter fiction and manga than I thought I would though.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Review: WE, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Published 1993 by Penguin. Science Fiction. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Russian.

We is one of those books I'd been wanting to read for years but never quite got around to, so it seemed like the perfect choice for a reading challenge. It's a dystopian novel, one of the first of the genre and an important influence on later dystopian works like George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

A criticism of Communist Russia and an important work in the canon of Russian science fiction, the resemblance to 1984 in particular is striking; like 1984, We takes place in a homogenized totalitarian society where people are raised to think of themselves as mere cogs in the machine, units as opposed to individuals- tools of the One State. Instead of names, people have numbers. This One State is established some time in the far future, after war has all but annihilated human society. The remnants of humanity form the basis of this tightly controlled society where everything from rising and sleeping to sexual activity and the chewing of food is rigidly scheduled and monitored, people live in glass houses and "vote" for their dictator, the Benefactor, on the aptly named Unanimity Day.

The protagonist, a number called D-503, is a mathematician and true believer in the One State. He finds himself gradually losing his grip after falling passionately in love with another number, I-330, who is involved with a resistance group seeking to demolish the One State. He begins the book as a testament to the greatness of the One State but the book instead becomes a testament of his increasing confusion and inner conflict. His story, like that of Orwell's Winston, does not end well, though there may be hope for others.

Books like We remind me why I love great literature. More than a mere page-turner, it's a challenging, beautifully constructed and stunning work. It's a diary and a record of inner turmoil, so sometimes it's a little hard to follow but his changing moods and slowly decaying sanity are rendered convincingly. I could feel his loosening grip on himself, his confidence and control petering out slowly, entry by entry. The other characters, especially his beloved I-330 and his lover O-90, are vividly constructed individuals and the plot moves along swiftly to its inevitable conclusion. I wish all books could be like this!

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's Tuesday Thingers question is:
Why LT?

Why did you choose to open and maintain an LT account? Do you/did you use other online cataloging/social networking sites, like GoodReads or Shelfari? Do you use more than one? Are they different or do they serve different purposes?

My answer:

I started with Shelfari; I forget how I heard about it though. I cataloged some books, friended some random people, and then got bored with it. Since I disliked the interface and there was nothing much to do, I deleted my account. Around the same time I heard about LT at a library conference and decided to check it out. Liked it much better. I also use GoodReads, and I actually think GR compliments LT well. To me, GoodReads is the social site and LibraryThing is the geeky site. My library on GR is smaller and I don't tag as much, because I focus on using GoodReads for keeping in touch with friends- most/all of my GR friends are people I know in real life, not the case with LT where most of my friends are people I've met online. Which is not to say I don't love you LTers too. :-)

I decided to stick with GoodReads because when I created an account and ran my address book against its member list, it turned out that a friend I hadn't talked to in several years was a GR member and I saw an opportunity to get back in touch. Then I found a bunch of other friends on GR as well! Now I input books into GR only when I start reading them, to let my friends there know what I'm reading, but I don't put nearly the effort into that catalog as I do on LT.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Paul Moves Out, by Michel Rabagliati

Paul Moves Out, by Michel Rabagliati. Published 2005 by Drawn & Quarterly. Click on the cover to buy from your local BookSense-affiliated independent bookseller.
Paul Moves Out is the sequel to last week's Graphic Novel Monday pick, Paul Has a Summer Job; here, our character Paul has moved on from summer camp to art school and falls in love with fellow student Lucie; they move into a little run-down apartment in Montreal and adventure ensues.

I like the Paul books for their gentle humor and sweetly-realized observations about life and Paul Moves Out certainly fits as a sequel. Rabagliati's art has that same lightness and expressive simplicity (and I like how the style changes when their menacing, destructive handyman is on the scene) but I have to say I was a little disappointed. The narrative isn't as smooth as in Paul Has a Summer Job; the story jumps around too much. It starts with Paul and Lucie setting up house, then jumps back two weeks to a visit with Paul's great aunt. Then it jumps back again, to Paul and Lucie's initial courtship, then forward again. The ending is quiet and sweet but I felt like the story had lurched around a bit much.

Having said that, I'd still recommend Paul Moves Out to fans of the Paul series, Francophiles and people who like stories about art school or college life. Tucked in the middle is a story about Paul's professor-mentor and an eye-opening trip to New York City, and a gentle family story about Paul's great aunt and an heirloom she leaves him. As a Francophile I loved all the French details of Montreal and I always enjoy Rabagliati's varied, almost cinematic panels. So a mixed bag for me, but overall I enjoyed it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Surf City Giveaway

Drumroll please...

The winner of my giveaway of When We Get to Surf City by Bob Greene, is Terri, over at Reading, Writing and Retirement.

She guessed that the beach in the picture was Waikiki, which was not correct but hers was the closest answer.

The correct answer? Poipu Beach, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Looking at a map of the Hawaii, Oahu is closer to Kauai than Maui, the other Hawaiian guess. Congratulations, Terri! Email me your mailing address and I will get the book out to you this week.

Thanks to everyone who participated. It was a hard question. In the future I'll make them better!

Sunday Salon

I'm not going to be around much today to read but here's what's going on.

I'm working on a couple of new books today- The Genizah at the House of Shepher, a LibraryThing Early Reviewer that arrived yesterday, and Tiare in Bloom, my first "Summer Reading Challenge" book, the third in a trilogy I've been reading for the past two years. I'm a little frustrated because I seem to have misplaced my copy of We, the Zamyatin book, and I'm almost done with it- I think I have five little chapters to go. I know how it ends because I read the introduction, but I'd really like to find it and finish it!

I'm moving smoothly through volume four of Nana, one of the mangas I'm following. Should be done with that soon. The story seems to be moving very slowly right now but I am still enjoying it. Next I think I'll read the next volume of Happy Mania and get back on track with Shigeta's adventures.

I started reading Rules for Saying Goodbye, by Katherine Taylor, and I'm not really enjoying it. I don't know if I'm going to finish it honestly. Just not my cup of tea. The publisher contacted me last week and it came lickety-split and I thought I would like it based on the first chapter but it's been a little tiresome. I'm having a hard time liking the characters, and therefore to care what happens. I'll give it a few more chapters but only because I feel obligated.

I have a book all picked out for tomorrow's Graphic Novel Monday, and Tuesday Thingers is already done and will publish automatically at midnight Tuesday. Hope everyone is having a great Sunday!