Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Elizabeth McCracken- Blog Tour Today!

Today's the day for the blog tour of Elizabeth McCracken's new book, An Exact Replica of A Figment of My Imagination, her harrowing and touching memoir of the stillbirth of her first child.

It's published by Little, Brown and at 192 pages it's a fast read, but you'll find yourself drawn in and absorbed by McCracken's sensitive narration of her experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. It's a sad book, but also a hopeful book and I'm sure many people who've been through a miscarriage or stillbirth will be able to relate to her story.

If you'd like to buy a copy you can click here to go to your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller.

Here are links to the other participants:
Megan of www.chikune.com/blog
Tricia of http://www.libraryqueue.blogspot.com
Corinne of www.corinnesbookreviews.blogspot.com
Antonette of http://01crazymomma.wordpress.com
Swapna of http://www.Skrishnasbooks.blogspot.com
Luanne of http://www.luanne-abookwormsworld.blogspot.com
Carrie of http://www.TheBookGirl.net
Susan of http://www.38thavedivareaders.blogspot.com/
Allison of http://www.AllisonsAtticBlog.blogspot.com
Bethany of http://www.exlibrisbb.blogspot.com/
Marie of www.bostonbibliophile.com
The Kool Aid Mom of http://www.thekoolaidmom.wordpress.com
Nicole of http://www.linussblanket.com
http://abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com/
http://bookingmama.blogspot.com/
http://blog.literarily.com

Don't forget to check out the other participants' sites and find out what people have to say about this very memorable book.

Matrimony- we have a winner!


The winner of my giveaway of a paperback of Joshua Henkin's Matrimony is Julie!

Congratulations to Julie and thanks to everyone who entered!

Tuesday Thingers: Banned Books Week: The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000


For this week's Tuesday Thingers, I've copied the list of the most-challenged books of the 1990s straight from the ALA website. I've highlighted the ones I've read. Highlight what you've read, and italicize what you have in your LT library.

  1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  8. Forever by Judy Blume
  9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  15. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
  17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  19. Sex by Madonna
  20. Earth's Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
  21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
  27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
  29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
  30. The Goats by Brock Cole
  31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  32. Blubber by Judy Blume
  33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
  35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
  36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
  37. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  40. What's Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
  41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
  45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
  46. Deenie by Judy Blume
  47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
  49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
  50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
  51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
  54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
  55. Cujo by Stephen King
  56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
  58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  61. What's Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
  62. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
  64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
  65. Fade by Robert Cormier
  66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
  67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
  69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  71. Native Son by Richard Wright
  72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Fantasies by Nancy Friday
  73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
  74. Jack by A.M. Homes
  75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
  76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
  77. Carrie by Stephen King
  78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
  79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
  80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
  81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
  82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
  83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
  87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
  88. Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford
  89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
  90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
  91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
  93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
  94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
  95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
  97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
  98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
  100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Interesting, no? This list always reminds me of those classics that somehow I never got around to, and then I want to run right out and read them all right away. And then I look at my reading chair and the big pile next to it. Sigh!
Celebrate your freedom to read by buying or borrowing one of these books.

Guest Post: Kathryn Maughan


As part of her blog tour, author Kathryn Maughan, writer of Did I Expect Angels, is doing a guest post today.

The blog tour is headquartered here at TLC Book Tours. You can find links to the other participants as well.

Now for Kathryn's post.

Much has been made of the death of Paul Newman over the weekend. Rightly so, I would say; the man was not only a film legend, a great actor, and a darn good-looking man, but he was also a class act off screen. He had a stable, loving, long-term marriage (elusive even outside Hollywood), he eschewed offscreen drama, and he oozed that aura that said, “This is one of the good guys.”

Now, all of these things in themselves are remarkable. But what made (makes!) Paul Newman truly remarkable is that he went above and beyond all these things and founded a mini-empire of various edibles, and that all of the profit went to charity. $175 million and counting, 25 years strong. Mr. Newman, with his strong sense of humor intact even when dealing with such an extraordinary deed, referred to the mission of Newman’s Own as “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good.” (Look it up. It’s on their website.) But even with his tongue firmly in his cheek, Paul Newman’s good deeds affected thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people. Paul Newman, you might say, even while alive was a bit of an angel.

I don’t know if it’s just because I’m suddenly looking, but lately I’ve seen many, many people stepping into that kind of role in their everyday lives. They’re not movie stars, and the people they’re helping aren’t high-profile headliners, but they are decent, hardworking people making a difference in people’s lives. I am going to highlight three cases that I have been following for a while, to celebrate the goodness of people’s hearts and encourage you to contribute. If you can’t contribute money (and many of us can’t), contribute thoughts and prayers and deeds. If you can’t help these particular people (and yes, logistics get in the way) find someone else to help. Be an angel yourself.

The first person is a four-year-old boy with a rare kind of cancer, neuroblastoma. Read about this scary, deadly disease here. (http://www.acor.org/ped-onc/diseases/neuro.html –in case the link doesn’t work.) This cancer has a 30% survival rate. And then picture the terror of having your two-year-old child diagnosed with it. Picture being a child with it. Honestly, what do you remember about being four years old? I remember running and playing and learning to tie my shoes and read and starting kindergarten. Cancer had no place in my life, and shouldn’t have a place in any child’s life. Particularly for neuroblastoma, the survival rate is low; the treatments are excruciating. The blog I have followed is written by the parents of Liam Witt, found at: http://princeliamthebrave.blogspot.com . Liam is an active four-year-old who has been battling neuroblastoma for a year and a half, since before he turned three. He is brave, he is smart, and he knows a side of life no one ever should. Liam’s parents, Gretchen and Larry, write heartrending posts about the treatments, the crises, the ups and downs. They have formed a “Band of Parents” to try to get more money funneled into pediatric cancer (http://www.bandofparents.org), and they have begun a 501(c)3 of their own, Cookies for Kids Cancer, which has raised more than $400,000 for pediatric cancer research. You can find out how to get involved with that at https://www.cookiesforkidscancer.org.

Liam’s parents’ posts contain a lot of grim news, it is true. But they don’t hesitate to talk about the angels who have come into their own lives. Friends who occasionally bring dinner. The amazing nurses at the hospital, the local firemen who have befriended their son and sometimes stop in to cheer him up. Other parents in their same situation who offer invaluable support and friendship; other patients who buoy them, despite their own grim prognoses. It is inspiring to read about these people who have realized how important it is to play that role, the role of angel.

The second case is one that is out of immediate crisis, at least for the time being. A woman in Seattle named Carole Decker unexpectedly had a bout of sepsis in her 7th month of pregnancy and nearly died. They did a C-section and the baby is doing well, but Carole has been left with permanent damage: she lost both feet, her left hand, a finger on her right hand, and she is blind. Her husband Scott writes about this on his blog and gives updates on her physical condition. Now Carole needs prosthetics, rehab, and more time to heal. This story touches my heart for many reasons, and is personal because I had sepsis when I was two years old. I remember very little of the hospital stay (just memory flashes: my mom looking extremely tired and holding a Mr. Pibb; my dad walking into my room and holding up a little squeaky toy he’d brought for me; my sister running alongside my wheelchair when I was released) and for years didn’t understand the severity of what had happened. I am genuinely lucky (blessed) to be alive and whole. Another reason that this story affects me so deeply is that Scott has also written about the many angels who have stepped in to help him and his family. They have taken care of his children, and they have raised a great deal of money for the extra medical bills. A golf tournament was held that raised $18,000; a separate fundraiser netted them $60,000. A portrait photographer is going to donate 100% of her profits on November 1 to Carole’s medical bills. A silent auction fundraiser will be held at an art show. The list goes on. Amazing people are seeing a need and addressing it, saying, “My abilities are limited, but this is what I can do.” Angels, all of them.

The third case I originally heard about through the Today Show, of all places. A blogger named Stephanie Nielson was involved in a light-airplane crash with her husband and a flight instructor. The flight instructor was killed, and Stephanie and Christian were both severely wounded and hospitalized. Stephanie was burned over 80% of her body and has already undergone numerous skin graft surgeries, with many more to come. Both were in comas; Christian has come out of his, and his recovery is a little ahead of his wife’s. They are parents to four small children.

Stephanie too had a blog. She blogged about being a wife and mother to four rambunctious children and her daily joys. The big difference between this blog and other so-called “mommy blogs” is that she has celebrated the joys of her life. She focused exclusively on the positives of being a wife and mother. She actively tried to make life fun and wonderful and magical for her family and enjoyed doing it, and blogged about the results. She posted pictures of the little parties she held for her kids; of the dress-up games they all played together; of “acting crazy” for her daughter to take the shots. And her love for her life oozed through every word.

Stephanie got about a thousand hits a day when she was blogging. After the accident happened, and local media publicized it, the hits increased to about 20,000. Her sister Jane has taken Stephanie’s children home with her, to care for in addition to her own infant son. Jane has her own blog, in which she is now detailing how she has taken on angel duty for her sister, and others have also stepped in. On their fundraising site, www.nierecovery.com, Jane and others have listed various things people have been doing to raise money for Stephanie and Christian Nielson, whose hospital bills will exceed the lifetime maximum on their insurance, perhaps by a million dollars or more. You will see a dance night, auctions, a ski day, concerts, a race. Angels know what they can offer and are offering it, and making a difference in the lives of one family that stands in desperate need.

Perhaps angels have been on my mind lately because of my book. In Did I Expect Angels?, which I published a year ago, a young mother named Jennifer loses her husband and doesn’t deal very well. She has angels in her life, people willing to help her out, and she ignores them because all she can focus on is her own pain. On the night the book takes place, she has made a devastating decision and is en route to carrying it out, when a Costa Rican man, a passing acquaintance, named Henry decides that tonight is his night to help her—to be her angel. Henry tells Jennifer his life’s story, and the reader can contrast her inability to deal with Henry’s life, which has been a hundred times harder than Jennifer’s. But Henry has recognized his angels and his blessings and been grateful for them, and his intervention just might help Jennifer get to the same place.

I believe in angels, both literal and the kind I’ve been talking about with this entry. I’ve had my share, and they have helped me more than I can say—and certainly more than they know. I want to pay it forward, and to that end, I’ve decided to donate my own little bit to the Nielson fund, and am giving 40% of the profits of Did I Expect Angels? for the months of October and November to their hospital bills. I feel strongly that people need to give what they can, when they can, to whomever they sense might be in need. Now, my sales aren’t on the level of, say, Stephenie Meyer, but hopefully no one will begrudge me this widow’s mite. I find it interesting that in my book, my character absolutely doesn’t deal with her lot very well, not until it’s almost too late—and I’m donating the money from this book to people who have risen to their challenges and then some, and that the world is full of those people. I admire and respect them and hope to be more like them. In honor of the passing of a legend, Paul Newman, and in honor of these amazing everyday people, I hope you will be, too.

What a generous offer. It's so kind of you to be an angel for Stephanie and her family.

Click here to buy Did I Expect Angels from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Spaniel Rage, by Vanessa Davis

Spaniel Rage, by Vanessa Davis. Published 2005 by Buenaventura Press.

Click here to buy Spaniel Rage from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Spaniel Rage, by artist and writer Vanessa Davis, is primarily a collection of journal entries created between 2003 and 2004, as Davis navigates life, love, work and family as a single woman in a large city. The comics are drawn in pencil without structured panels, mostly one to a page, in a style that varies from simple and rough sketches to more detailed, accomplished tableaux.

The variations in style are no doubt accounted for by the fact that the comics are for the most part diary entries drawn on a quotidian basis, and there were probably some days when Davis felt like doing more detailed drawings, and days when she had time for simpler depictions. Subject matters and themes range from watching Buffy on TV, cubicle life, friends, boyfriends- the stuff of everyday life. The entries are all dated so the reader can follow along with the push and pull of Davis's life, and her story is real and relatable but also fresh and charming.

I really enjoyed Spaniel Rage. It has an obvious appeal to young women in (or near) the 20-something hipster demographic, but Davis has lots of insights into life that anyone can appreciate. My favorite entry is the one for June 5, 2003; for this day, Davis has drawn a detailed, pretty full-page entry showing herself walking down an attractive tree-lined urban street, sticking her tongue out at a little girl who sticks her tongue out in playful reply. At the bottom is a cramped sketch of two young women exchanging an awkward, joyless greeting of "Hi," "Oh hi, how nice to see you." The caption reads, "Little girls are too cute -- Too bad when girls grow up they often don't greet each other with a big smile and stickin' their tongue out. It gets all different". It's a simple but true statement, built of a bittersweet understanding of how we change as we grow.

There is also a small section at the end of the book comprised of comics that have been published previously, either in zines or on the web. You can find Davis on the internet at www.spanielrage.com as well.

Rating: BUY

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

Banned Books Week: Q&A

All of this information comes from ALA's pages on Banned Books Week.

Q: When did ALA begin observing Banned Books Week?
A: 1982


Q: What is listed as the #1 most-challenged book of the 1990s?
A. Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz

Q: How many challenges were reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom in 2005?
A: 405.

Q: Was this number up or down from 2000?
A: Down. In 2000, the OIF reported 646 challenges.

Q: What was the #1 reason books were challenged between 2000 and 2005?
A: Offensive language.

Q: What types of institutions were targeted most often for challenges between 2000 and 2005?
A: School libraries and schools.

Q: What type or category of person initiated the most challenges in the same time period?
A: Parents.

Q: Where is J.K. Rowling on the list of top ten authors challenged 1990 to 2004?
A: #4.

Q: What is the most-challenged book by an author of color, and where did it rank in the overall standings for 1990-2000?
A: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; it was #3 overall.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Salon

So I'm very excited today because I'm finally going to get around to reading Kathleen Kent's new book, The Heretic's Daughter. I've had the galley for
several months now, but between one thing and the other it's just been sitting on my TBR shelf. As a Salem, Mass., native and someone with a lifelong interest in the Salem witch trials I'm very interested in this one, which has received a great deal of positive buzz, both on the blogosphere and elsewhere.

Have you reviewed it? I would love to know.

I'm also getting a small load of books ready to go up on Bookmooch, and of course today is Sunday so that means work. Since the Jewish High Holy Days are coming up (Erev Rosh Hashanah is Monday) I'll be reading creation stories to the little ones. Some favorites are Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root and Light, by Jane Breskin Zalben. There are others too- lots of good ones. Last Tuesday the 3rd graders made me a challah after storytime and brought it into the library in a very dramatic fashion, all in a row with the girl in front carrying it above her head and shouting "Librarian!! We made you a challah!!" as they all came in. So cute! Shana tova to my Jewish readers and I hope everyone has a great Sunday.

Banned Books Week REVIEW: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

First published: 1932. Click on the cover to buy from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller..

To kick off the 2008 celebration of Banned Books Week, I'm going to review one of the most-banned books of the last decade, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Brave New World
, first published in 1932, depicts a future world in which people are created in a lab and "decanted" instead of born from mothers and conditioned to willingly fulfill whatever role in society they have been assigned, from the smart, handsome Alphas who make up the ruling class to the Epsilon "semi-morons" at the bottom. It's also the story of Bernard Marx, an Alpha who doesn't quite fit in; John, a man from outside the society who absolutely doesn't fit in, and the woman they both love, Beta-class Lenina, who wants nothing but to fit in.

Brave New World has been a classic for many years- as I chose it for this year's BBW read I was actually wondering how I'd managed to get this far without reading it. Like, why didn't they teach this in high school? And why is it on the Top 100 Banned Books of 1990-2000 list anyway? Well it turns out there is one answer to both of those questions, I think- the pervasive, unorthodox and nonchalant sexual content. And these kinds of novels- dystopian future societies- usually encourage things like subversion and disobedience towards authority. And we can't be teaching the kiddies stuff like that.

So what did I think? Well I thought the writing was amazing- fresh, lively and challenging. At least judging by this book Huxley was a master craftsman. It was also very compelling and gripping and kept me reading.

But then I also thought it was a little bit of a muddle. The book starts out with a love triangle- Bernard, Lenina and character named Henry Foster- and then switches gears into a culture-clash story about what happens when this man from outside comes into the "brave new world" and has to adapt. And we see the effect this all has on Bernard, which wasn't exactly what I expected. Which I think is a good thing, that Huxley didn't make it too predictable, but it also didn't quite gel for me. None of the characters were developed all that well, come to think of it- what kept me going was more the drama of the situation, wondering how it would play out, if there would be some dismal 1984-esque ending or if there was any possibility of something more optimistic, something the characters had to look forward to. And Huxley's beautiful writing. But I don't know. Even the ending was something of a muddle. I probably just need to re-read it but I have to admit I'm not sure what happened at all. I would recommend it as one of those culturally-important type of books but I have to admit overall I was a little let down.

Oh and one last thing. Speaking of Orwell and 1984, the P.S. edition pictured above includes some interesting features, including a letter Huxley wrote to Orwell comparing their two respective outlooks on the future as seen through their novels. If you've read both books it's worth a look.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Banned Books Week

Posted with permission by the American Library Association. Click on the photo to go to the official site.

Banned Books Week is an annual campaign launched by the American Library Association to promote awareness about the existence of censorship and the continuing challenges to our freedom to read. Lots of bookstores have displays up with books that have been challenged- my local Barnes and Noble has an excellent series of displays with a variety of books and notes about why each one was challenged, and where and why.

This year's campaign runs from September 27 through October 4. During that time, I will be posting reviews of several banned books and polls and other fun stuff that I can dig up on the subject. Please come visit the blog during the week (and before and after, too!) and let me know if you have any suggestions or comments. And thanks to the folks at ALA for letting me use the graphic!

Friday, September 26, 2008

I *heart* your blog!

Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog and Shana at Literarily gave me this great award yesterday to let me know that they enjoy my blog.

Thank you ladies!!
Their blogs are awesome too by the way!

I really appreciate the positive feedback. Makes it all worthwhile! :-)

So now to do my part.

Here are the rules:

1) Add the logo of the award to your blog (done!)

2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you (done–at the top of the post)

3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs (see below)

4) Add links to those blogs on your blog (see below)

5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs! (working on it)

The blogs I'm nominating are, in no particular order:

1.Pop Culture Junkie. Alea always has great articles about all kinds of interesting subjects- books, TV, comics, etc. Always something fun here!


2.Jew Wishes. Lorri's blog is great for staying on top of the latest in Jewish books. We trade ideas back and forth all the time and even if I've read the book she's writing about I learn something new every time.

3.Minds Alive on the Shelves. Lisa writes great reviews and articles on books and book culture.

4. Florinda at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting and Randomness always has something fun going on.

5. Ruth over at Bookish Ruth has a great blog and a taste in books very different from mine and I like that!

6. Karen's Scobberlotch blog is one of my favorite newer blogs to cross my radar. Always something fun or funny or interesting here. Plus I learned a new word!

7. Last but not least, perennial favorite A Guy's Moleskine Notebook. Matt's tastes in books are very similar to mine and I like that too!

So go check these folks out if you haven't already. And thank you Rebecca for making my day!

Friday Finds


Slow book week for me- I've been under the weather since Wednesday- but I added three things to the TBR pile this week. The first is Miles from Nowhere, an ARC sent courtesy of Riverhead Press.


The second is Salman Rushdie's latest, The Enchantress of Florence, which I was able to order signed from the Strand bookstore in New York. I gather he was just there doing a reading. And not only is it signed, it was heavily discounted as well. Yay!


I also picked up Miss Pettigrew Lives for Day on my most recent trip to Borders. I don't know if maybe you saw the movie that came out earlier this year starring Frances McDormand- I loved the movie to bits and I'm excited to read the book. It's published by an outfit called Persephone Books, an English company specializing in early 20th century novels and nonfiction, mostly written by women. From their website:
Persephone Books reprints forgotten classics by twentieth-century (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of seventy-eight books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written, and most are ideal presents or a good choice for reading groups.
Obviously not the place to go for the latest must-reads, but probably worth checking out if it seems like this might be your cup of tea. I think it might be mine. And you?

REVIEW: So Long at the Fair, by Christina Schwarz

So Long at the Fair, by Christina Schwarz. Published 2008 by Doubleday.

Click here to buy So Long at the Fair via IndieBound.org. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Oh Dear what can the matter be?
Dear, Oh dear what can the matter be?
Oh dear what can the matter be?
Johnnie’s so long at the fair.

He promised he'd buy me a fairing should please me,
And then for a kiss, oh! He vowed he would tease me,
He promised he'd bring me a bunch of blue ribbons
To tie up my bonny brown hair.
Oh Dear what can the matter be?
Dear, Oh dear what can the matter be?
Oh dear what can the matter be?
Johnnie’s so long at the fair.

So Long at the Fair, Christina Schwarz's latest novel (she also wrote Drowning Ruth) takes its title from a traditional English schoolyard song about a young girl waiting for her beau to return from the fair. What can the matter be? Well, in this case, plenty. For one, while mild-mannered Ginny is separated for the day from her husband Jon, he's at the fair, literally as well as metaphorically, with his girlfriend Freddie. The action of the book takes place over a single summer's day, as Jon goes back and forth in his head over the two women- his damaged wife, to whom he feels bound by love and guilt, and his vixenish, oversexed mistress, by whom he is magnetized.

The narrative veers back and forth between the present, pregnant with ambiguity and suspense, and the past, loaded with secrets and shames. Both Ginny and Freddie are shadowed throughout their day by the past. Ginny, a landscape architect, spends the day working with local magnate Walter Fleischer, whose connection to her is eventually revealed, and Freddie is more literally followed by a friend-turned-stalker. Neither woman is presented as particularly sympathetic or likable- Ginny is too gutless, and Freddie too predatory and remorseless. And Jon, the liar and adulterer, is hardly a prince among men, so when it came to him choosing between the two women, I thought each would lose in her own way.

Which made it hard for me to care how it all turned out. What did keep me reading was the slow unveiling of the secrets of the past, even as confusing and muddled as the flashbacks seemed at times. Overall I found So Long at the Fair to be almost energetically average and middle-brow. Not bad necessarily, and there's an audience for it somewhere (maybe book clubs would find fruit for discussion in the characters' soap-opera worthy travails) but most fiction readers can skip this one.

Rating: BORROW

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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Booking Through Thursday


What was the most unusual (for you) book you ever read? Either because the book itself was completely from out in left field somewhere, or was a genre you never read, or was the only book available on a long flight… whatever? What (not counting school textbooks, though literature read for classes counts) was furthest outside your usual comfort zone/familiar territory?

And, did you like it? Did it stretch your boundaries? Did you shut it with a shudder the instant you were done? Did it make you think? Have nightmares? Kick off a new obsession?

When left to my own devices, I'm a pretty committed reader of literary fiction. The most unusual-for-me book I've read is probably Frenemies, by Megan Crane. (I even reviewed it here.)
I have absolutely no interest in chick lit and actively avoid any book with shopping bags or shoes on the cover. But I liked Frenemies. I picked up the galley at a library conference, and while it wasn't a classic it was okay. Good character development, engaging plot. I would read more of Crane's books but I probably wouldn't trouble myself with much else in the genre.

REVIEW: The Rights of the Reader, by Daniel Pennac

The Rights of the Reader, by Daniel Pennac. Published 2006 by Walker Books. Nonfiction. Translated from the French.

The Rights of the Reader is a quick, impassioned read on a very serious subject- how to engage children in reading when they're young, and keep them engaged throughout their lives. It's made up of 50-odd mini-chapters charting a child's reading life from the young years through to early adulthood, taking aim at stereotypes of reading, readers and books, pitfalls of education and parenting, and more. It's a must-read for anyone who loves children and values education.

Pennac is a very well-known novelist in France, as well as a former teacher, so he knows of what he speaks, and he speaks with passion as he advocates for a pedagogy based on storytelling that transmits the love of literature and reading- reading for pleasure, reading because you enjoy reading, and discovering the pleasures of high-quality literature. To get there, he battles myths and stereotypes teaching that reading is boring, or inaccessible, or only for nerds and loners. He goes to what he believes is the root of the problem- low self-esteem and low expectations, on the part of students and teachers, but he really tackles the myths that students tell themselves which inhibit them and steer them away from reading. He talks about how students come to believe they're not smart enough for the "big books," or that they don't have time to read, or that reading is about coming up with the right answers to please a teacher:
A bad student is, more often than you might think, a kid tragically short of tactics. The students, alarmed by their own inability to give us [i.e. teachers] what we want, are quick to confuse "being a good student" with being cultured. School has washed its hands of them and they soon feel like outcasts from the world of reading. They imagine it's elitist and deprive themselves of books all their lives, just because they didn't know how to talk about them when they were asked to.
Pennac's prose, though often funny and engaging, packs a punch and left a strong impression on me. I plan to keep this slim volume close at hand and re-read it often. The end of the book is comprised on the ten "Rights of the Reader" along with Pennac's commentaries. I would strongly recommend this book for anyone involved with children and/or education. It's food for thought as well as action.

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday Thingers


Today's Question: Favorite Authors. Who do you have named in your LT account as favorite authors? Why did you choose them? How many people share your choices? Can you share a picture of one of them?

I only have a few authors listed as favorites on LT- A.S. Byatt, David Sedaris, Margaret Atwood, Steve Sheinkin, Jen Lancaster and Leo Tolstoy. Six people share some combination of three of the six. I just picked my top favorites overall, not every author I could have chosen. I wanted to choose my favorite literary writers, a favorite comics artist, my favorite funny writers and my favorite "classic" writer. None of the people with whom I share favorites picked Steve Sheinkin, which sort of surprises me (he's awesome!) and sort of doesn't (he's a little obscure for non-comics-fans). I'm also the only person to pick him as a favorite. The picture above is that of Jen Lancaster, who wrote two books I really enjoyed, Bitter is the New Black and Bright Lights, Big Ass. And you?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Jamilti, by Rutu Modan

Jamilti, by Rutu Modan. Published September 2008 by Drawn and Quarterly.

Click here to buy from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller.

Jamilti, though released as a follow-up to Rutu Modan's much-praised earlier release Exit Wounds, is a collection of short stories in comic form that actually precedes it. The stories range from the political to the fanciful- there are stories about suicide bombers and the impact of political violence on daily life in Israel, as well as its impact on hearts and psyches, and there are more stories more like fairy tales, about obsessive love and what happens when what you love is only an idea of a person, instead of a person.

Being earlier work, and being in some places intentionally abstracted and even crude, the art is not as polished as that in Exit Wounds; people's bodies and faces are sometimes warped or exaggerated, often to the point of absurdity. For me though, her people looked more like real people- real bodies, real expressions- than photographs would, because they capture a certain emotional chaos and anarchy. Sometimes it's as if their feelings are spilling out through their rumpled clothing and loose, flabby bodies. There is also a fair amount of violence, especially in the title story, about a suicide bombing, whose bittersweet ending was wholly unexpected and absolutely perfect.

Overall I enjoyed the book quite a bit, at least once I got used to Modan's rougher visual style. Another one for the grownups, Jamilti has a visual language all its own and storytelling at different times humorous, sad, ironic and just plain weird. It's not for everyone, but it's a little treasure.

P.S., you can read my review of Exit Wounds here.

GIVEAWAY - MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin

Have you read Matrimony, author Joshua Henkin's latest novel? If not, well, here's your chance, because I'm partnering with Mr. Henkin to do a giveaway of the paperback edition, just released last month.

The basics:
You have until 6 p.m. EST, Monday, September 29 to enter.

Leave your name AND an email address in a comment on this entry.

*If you do not leave your email address in the comment, I will not count your entry. I am offering you a free book; help me out by making it easy for me to contact you.*

International entries are accepted.

If you link to this giveaway in your blog, I will give you two entries.

The evening of September 29, I will choose a winner using random.org and contact that individual. When I receive your mailing information I will forward it to Mr. Henkin, who will send you the book directly.

You can read my review of Matrimony here. Check it out, tell your friends, and good luck!

Breaking news from Josh regarding author chats for your book club: Just a quick note to let you know that because of strong response, Vintage is extending the deadline for book groups to sign up for a phone chat with me (everyone who signs up will get a phone chat) to midnight September 30. The link is http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/read/chat.html.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Salon


So it's been kind of a crazy week for me and I'm off to work soon, but that's okay because I'm looking forward to a return to normalcy. I didn't participate at all in Book Blogger Appreciation Week- it was a great idea and I know a lot of bloggers got a lot of traffic in response to this massive blog carnival, but with everything else going on I didn't have the time for it.

I went to a great library book sale yesterday though- just by accident. My husband and I were driving to Borders to spend some Borders Bucks when we came across a big street fair in a local suburb that always includes a massive and excellent library book sale. We got there almost at the end and the selection seemed pretty picked over but I still got three hardcovers I'm excited about- Steve Martin's Shopgirl, which I've wanted to read for a while, Light Fell by Evan Fallenberg, a recent Israeli release and Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes, which just looked interesting to me. I'm sure if I had arrived earlier I would have left with more.

So off to work soon. I've got two storytimes to do and some cataloguing. And today is the last day of summer! So I think that means I'll have to get some ice cream after. How are you spending the last day of summer?

Friday, September 19, 2008

REVIEW: Artist's Proof, by Lander Marks


Artist's Proof, by Lander Marks. Published April 2008 by Stephens Press.

Click on the cover to buy from the IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller of your choice.

Artist's Proof is a busy whirlwind of a mystery novel about a Las Vegas car dealer and art afficianado named DJ Singer who sails aboard a luxury liner and travels to Italy to unravel a thickly-knotted mystery concerning forged paintings and murder. Along the way, she falls in love, winds up in the hospital and digs up secrets from the art world connecting her story to the Holocaust.

Marks uses the breezy, casual style of chick lit to tell this story, which alternates between DJ's perspective and that of Shannon Miller, an ambitious, hard-driving art dealer who knows Singer as a wealthy and easy-to-woo client. Both women speak in the first person, and Marks differentiates their voices through the use of different typefaces, which actually does not make it easier to tell the difference between them. I didn't even notice the use of this device until about halfway through this short book, and I am not sure visual cues are the best way to distinguish characters whose voices are otherwise indistinguishable.

Artist's Proof would likely appeal to many readers- fans of chick lit and light mysteries particularly- but it was not my cup of tea. I'm more of a literary-fiction kind of reader and I had a hard time struggling with Marks's style of writing and way of developing characters. There are two interviews in the Afterword- one with Dr. Jonathan Petropoulos, an academic with several Holocaust credentials and another with attorney Gideon Taylor of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which shed some light on the issue of restoration of property stolen by the Nazis. These interviews are interesting in and of themselves, but this theme only comes into the book near the end, and seems ill-suited for this kind of book- much too heavy and serious for such a light novel- that the whole effect was jarring and uncomfortable, like a too-tight suit. Anyway, an interesting book- just not my style.

If you would like to read my galley copy of Artist's Proof, just leave a comment saying so and include your email address in the comment. First come, first served!

Friday Finds

It's been a weird week for me- family stuff, traveling- so I'm a little off my game when it comes to reviewing, but I'll be back next week, I promise!

In the mean time whatever else is going on, I did get some book shopping in- I swear I have a sixth sense for finding bookstores. We were out last night in a weird, random outdoor shopping mall that seemed to have no bookstores, until I said "hey, what's over there, across the street where I can't even see anything? I think it might be a bookstore!"
And I was right. It was a Barnes and Noble. Not exactly indie-cool, but all things considered I was thrilled.
Anyhoo, I bought an interesting-looking book called Bowl of Cherries, the debut novel by ninety-something co-creator of Mister Magoo Millard Kaufman. Supposedly a comic novel and coming of age story, it looks to be fun.
What did you get up to this week?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday


Autumn is starting (here in the US, anyway), and kids are heading back to school–does the changing season change your reading habits? Less time? More? Are you just in the mood for different kinds of books than you were over the summer?
No, the changing season doesn't affect my reading habits very much. I'm still trying to keep up with my field for work, still reading galleys, still accepting the occasional review request, and still plowing through my personal TBR list. The only thing that's changing is I'm reading more children's books now that the school year has started and my professional responsibilities have picked up again. I have more time to read now than I did in the summer, which is odd because I'm busier, so you'd think I'd have less, but not so!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's Question: Have you ever added a quote to the quotation field in common knowledge? What's a quote you particularly like from a book, one that you know by heart?

My answer: No, I haven't added any quotes yet but I might try it with one or two favorites. One of my favorite quotes is from The Journals of John Cheever, which I read as a teenager and found very, very moving (the quote, as well as the book): "I am not better than the next man, but I am better than I was." It makes me think about how we're always trying to improve ourselves and make ourselves better somehow- through learning, or exercise, or through new skills, or whatever, but it's not a competitive impulse for me so much as an effort to be a good person. Except when I'm competing! Anyway a little introspection from me today. How about you?

Monday, September 15, 2008

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


Aya of Yop City, by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clement Oubrerie. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, 2008. Graphica. Fiction. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher.

Aya of Yop City is the charming sequel to Abouet and Clement's previous collaboration, Aya, which came out last year and I reviewed here. Both stories are set in Ivory Coast in the late 1970s, a relaxed time of peace and prosperty when a young girl's biggest concern was sneaking out to meet with her boyfriend or entering a beauty contest against the prettiest girl in town. The characters are a diverse mix of personalities- good girl Aya and her friends Adjoua and Bintou, their families and friends.

At the end of the first book, Adjoua just had a baby and inadvertently revealed that the father was not who she told her parents. The second book picks up right away, with Adjoua and her family and friends helping raise little Bobby while Aya tries to convince her father to take her seriously, and Bintou meets a Parisian playboy who charms her with fancy meals and hotels. The boys, Bintou's cousin Herve and Adjoua's exes Moussa and Mamadou, have adventures of their own as they navigate young adulthood with clumsiness and humor.

Aya of Yop City is even more charming and slapstick than the first book. I have to say I enjoyed this entry quite a bit. The action was a little easier to follow, and the characters split up and went on their own adventures even as they helped new mom Adjoua take care of her baby. Oubrerie's illustrations are identical to those in the first book, light hearted, colorful and expressive. Like the first Aya, this book includes some back matter about Ivorian culture- in this case, the way Abouet explains women and families come together to help new mothers and raise children as a community. Abouet even explains how to make the baby backpack shown on the cover. There is also an interview with Abouet included. It's a fun read, and if you liked the first, or enjoy stories about women, families or Africa, I'd reccomend it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Salon


This Sunday afternoon I'm relaxing at home, doing some crafts and tidying up a little. I'm reading Dearest Anne : A Tale of Impossible Love, by Israeli writer Judith Katzir, about a steamy love affair between a teenage girl and her female literature teacher. The story unfolds as the girl, now an adult and just having come from the teacher's funeral many years later, re-reads her old diaries and relives her painful teen years, of which this relationship is the defining event. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through and I'm not sure what to make of it yet. The writing is certainly very poetic and literary but we'll see where it goes.

And this Sunday we all got some sad news, that writer David Foster Wallace, author of The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest, hanged himself this weekend. It's very tragic. I don't know what else to say. I read The Broom of the System some years ago after a friend suggested it; Infinite Jest is sitting on my husband's TBR pile. It just makes me sad.

What's making you happy today?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Finds


Believe it or not, I only got one new book this week, Daniel Pennac's

The Rights of the Reader, a fun little book of essays and thoughts by one of France's leading fiction writers, about, of all things, reading. Pennac is also a teacher and uses this book to talk about the importance of reading for children.

I've only glanced through it briefly so far but one thing that's cool is the list on the back cover. I quote:

The Rights of the Reader
  1. The right not to read.
  2. The right to skip.
  3. The right not to finish a book.
  4. The right to read it again.
  5. The right to read anything.
  6. The right to mistake a book for real life.
  7. The right to read anywhere.
  8. The right to dip in.
  9. The right to read out loud.
  10. The right to be quiet.
I would add, the right to not like a book. What rights would you add

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday


Today is the 7th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I know that not all of you who read are in the U.S., but still, it’s vital that none of us who are decent people forget the scope of disaster that a few, evil people can cause–anywhere in the world. It’s not about religion, it’s not about politics, it’s about the acknowledgment that humans should try to work together, not tear each other apart, even when they disagree.

So, feeling my way to a question here … Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?

Short answer: no. Terrorists have never been just movie villains so 9/11 didn't change that. History is filled with murder and death. I've never been interested in reading Tom Clancy type books, but it does seem like more authors are interested in writing them these days. I can't tell you the number of terrorist-themed books I've seen come down the pike in the last few years. Whether a villain in a book is cookie-cutter or tw0-dimensional really depends on the writing itself and not on anything else. I've read a book or two about Darfur and some political books but I don't go out of my way for that sort of thing much.

REVIEW: Pravda, by Edward Docx

Pravda, by Edward Docx. Published 2007 by Houghton Mifflin. Literary Fiction.

This week for my Tuesday Thingers question, I asked about books that people had read which won awards, or may have read because they won an award (or were nominated). Pravda was nominated for the Man Booker Prize under the title Self Help; the book had a sticker on it saying so and I can say that that sticker, along with my general interest in literary fiction and fiction with a Russian flavor, lead me to buy and read this book.

And you know what? I'm glad I did, because Pravda was a terrific, if low-key read. Elegantly written and literary in style, it's the story of a pair of fraternal twins, Gabriel and Isabella Glover, whose mother has died suddenly and who are left to sort through the secrets of her life, and of their own. These secrets include a son their mother gave up and the truth of her relationship to her children. The two must also sort through the detritus of their own lives- careers, lovers, their wayward father- and somehow make it all make sense. The novel is set in London, New York, Paris and St. Petersburg and Docx makes ample use of the settings, especially in Russia, as characters in and of themselves.

By far the most compelling character is the lost son Arkady, a talented musician struggling to put his own life back together in the chaos of post-Soviet Russia. Like many books that have come out in response to the fall of the Soviet Union, Pravda deals with themes of disappointment, alienation and the disorientation you're left with when the life you have is not the one you were promised. There is so much energy and menace in Arkady, and as the narrative alternated between his story and that of the twins- as their two roads slowly converged- I was waiting with great anticipation for the final confrontation, waiting to see what would happen when the combustible, unstable Arkady lit into the unsuspecting and innocent brother and sister. Not to say that the denouement was a letdown, but let's just say that the real fireworks in Pravda lie elsewhere, with Nicholas, the twins' father and a more substantial source of menace in the twins' life. The themes that apply to Arkady apply equally to them.

Pravda is full of surprises, the biggest being how many plot lines remain unsettled. Some may find this fact disappointing, but I think it's the novel's quiet strength. It's almost post-modern in the way it picks up and drops the threads of the plot, like missed stitches that actually make up the pattern. Pravda is not the book for someone who likes every i dotted and every t crossed- every thread tied into a bow. But if you're looking for a solid, polished, literary page-turner reflecting the chaos of real life, Pravda might be the book for you.

Rating: BUY

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

REVIEW: Second Language, by Ronna Wineberg

Second Language, by Ronna Wineberg. Published 2005 by New Rivers Press. Shorts stories.

Click on the cover to buy from the IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller of your choice.

Second Language is a brief but compelling collection of short stories by New York writer Ronna Wineberg. It is also the runner-up for the 2006 Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction. The stories are all about lives in transition or lives about to change- a husband who realizes he and his wife may not be as compatible as he thought; a woman who finds out she may have cancer; a woman whose husband has left her, and one who may leave her husband; a woman struggling to come to terms with her mother's terminal illness.

Wineberg's stories grew on me over the course of the volume. There are thirteen stories in the book and her characters gain emotional weight and resonance little by little. At first it seemed that Wineberg was narrating situations more than characters; I had a hard time connecting with the people in her stories, even as I understood what I was supposed to be connecting with. For example, in the story "The Lapse," a religious man named Edward slowly realizes he may have erred in marrying his wife Joanne, who is less observant and less willing to lead the religious lifestyle he wants for the family. I understood the tensions that would exist in a marriage such as this, but the characterizations seemed shallow to me, like Edward and Joanne were types as opposed to individuals. However, later in the book, in stories like "After We Went South, " "Verse of the Han" and the wonderful "The Night Watchman" Wineberg digs deeper into her characters and I empathized with them even when, in "Verse of the Han," the protagonist's behavior bordered on the psychotic. But that's what good writers can do- make clear the incomprehensible, make familiar the person who is so different from us (or the writer herself) that we understand their feelings as if they were our own.

Although the subjects of the stories- illness and infidelity- were slightly repetitive, I really enjoyed this collection overall. The more subtle themes, about the search for love, family, acceptance and self-respect, resonanted and shone. I like how Wineberg looks at betrayal, isolation and fear, as well as longing and love, in different ways, through different sides of the prism if you will. The last story, "The Doctor," about a man helping a longtime, bereaved patient deal with the initial stages of loss, is sad but quietly optimistic as the doctor tries to connect with the elderly man over a pile of outdated coins the man had saved years ago; the coins shine "like a promise," and it's on the word promise that the book ends. It fits.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tuesday Thingers


Today's question: Awards. Do you follow any particular book awards? Do you ever choose books based on awards? What award-winning books do you have? (Off the top of your head only- no need to look this up- it would take all day!) What's your favorite award-winning book?

LibraryThing's Common Knowledge feature tracks awards; you can find it here.

My answer: I follow the Booker Prize, given every year to a book written by author from the British Commonwealth and Ireland, and I've read many books over the years that came to my attention through this award, including The Remains of the Day, The Blind Assassin, The English Patient and Amsterdam. But my favorite of all is my favorite book of all time, A.S. Byatt's Possession. As I wrote on Friday I just got a first-edition hardcover of Possession and have been absolutely savoring it. It almost doesn't get any better than this tour de force of romance, mystery, poetry and action. Possession won 7 awards overall.

I don't know how many award-winning books I have in my library and it would take too long to find out, but I tag my Booker winners and at last count I have 11.

I also follow the Sydney Taylor Book Award in my capacity as a synagogue librarian. The Sydney Taylor Award, named after the author of All-of-A-Kind-Family among others, is given by the Association of Jewish Libraries to the best Jewish book for children. Past winners and personal favorites include Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis, and Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine. If you're interested in learning more about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, you can go here. I have four winners in my personal library.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: The Quitter, by Harvey Pekar

The Quitter, written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Dean Haspiel. Published 2005 by DC Comics. Nonfiction. Memoir.

You may know Harvey Pekar from the hit movie "American Splendor", which came out in 2003 and starred Paul Giamatti as the cantankerous file clerk from Cleveland who writes autobiographical graphic novels illustrated by such luminaries as R. Crumb and Joe Sacco. The Quitter is the story of his childhood and early adulthood, from school and the Navy to adulthood and writing comics.

Pekar grew up in a blue-collar section of Cleveland in the 1940s and 1950s, son of Jewish immigrants from Poland who ran a store and tried to stay true shtetl life while young Harvey just wanted to fit in. Despite being blessed with a near-photographic memory, Harvey struggled in school, got into fights as a way to prove himself. He was bounced out of the navy and worked a series of jobs, all the while nurturing his love of jazz music (and getting paid to write about it) and hanging out with beatniks.
to Polish

The Quitter is illustrated in black and white with chiaroscuro, angular characters and scenery. Haspiel does a nice job creating mood and capturing the look of the 1950s. Pekar's language throughout is raw and honest; he beats himself up and tries to lay bare his flaws, but still comes across as a pretty likable, ordinary guy. If you've seen "American Splendor" you will recognize his voice immediately. Even in print he speaks in his own distinctive cadence- rough around the edges but smart and world-weary yet optimistic. I could almost hear Pekar speaking the lines as I read; his gravelly voice seemed to come right through the pages.

The Quitter is a great book- a very important graphic novel by a very important underground comics writer- but like many, not one for the kids. It's a distinctively grown-up story about growing up, making your mark and coming of age in America. Pekar's life story is fascinating and unique yet ordinary at the same time and his story touches on themes like immigration and finding one's place in the world- things we all can relate to. "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff," Pekar says. Definitely recommended reading!

Rating: BUY

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