Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Salon

This weekend has been incredibly hectic, with Thanksgiving and visits from family- but today it's basically over, the relatives are returning home and my husband and I are switching out the holiday decorations, resting, and working on updating his list of contacts as he prepares to start a new job next week.

This pretty much sums up today:

I hope everyone has a nice Sunday!

Friday, November 28, 2008

REVIEW: The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. Published 1997, 1st Vintage International Edition. Literary Fiction. Translated from the German.
The Reader is a slim little book that packs a big punch. Bernhard Schlink's meditation on guilt and accountability is set in post-World War 2 Germany, as a young man named Michael Berg embarks on a sexual affair with a mysterious, 30ish woman named Hanna who lives alone and works on a trolley. She is passionate but curiously withdrawn- and then one day she is simply gone. When she reappears, she is on trial for crimes Michael never could have imagined- and she has a secret.

Schlink doesn't shy away from showing the negative consequences of Michael and Hanna's relationship on the rest of his life- failed relationships with lovers and children, difficulties getting his career off the ground- which suggest something poisonous even before we know it for sure. Of course, a sexual relationship between an adult and a child is bound to produce negative consequences for the child but Schlink gave me the feeling that something more is at play, something about Hanna specifically that goes beyond the psychological dysfunction that would lead her to take advantage of a young boy. Neither character is exactly sympathetic, but I think the point is to create complex characters that defy easy categorization.

I found The Reader to be a challenging, moving book, filled with questions and ambiguity- moral ambiguity most of all. Schlink's theme is responsibility and choices- the responsibility of an individual or of a society for the choices it's made or allowed in its name, and the burden of guilt borne by the generation of Germans that both lived through the war and that which came after, for the Holocaust and for the Nazi regime in a broader sense. Schlink's literary style and first-person approach, so we see Michael's psyche at close range, produce an intimacy and immediacy allowing the reader to understand both Michael's perspective and its limitations. Definitely a tight, literary page-turner of psychological suspense, I'd recommend The Reader to anyone interested in a strong character-driven novel of ideas and morality. It's a book I won't soon forget.

P.S.: Candy at Not a Walking Encyclopedia tells me that there is a film adaptation of The Reader about to be released, starring Kate Winslet. I think I'll be there opening weekend! Thanks, Candy! And please go check out her terrific blog!

P.P.S. Lorri M. gave me the IMDB link for the film, out in limited release December 10 and in wide release January : Thank you Lorri!

Rating: BUY

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S.

Now, you may have noticed that the global economy isn’t exactly doing well. There’s war. Starvation. All sorts of bad, scary things going on.

So–just for today–how about sharing 7 things that you’re thankful for?

This can be about books, sure–authors you appreciate, books you love, an ode to your public library–but also, how about other things, too? Because in times like these, with bills piling up and disaster seemingly lurking around every corner, it’s more important than ever to stop and take stock of the things we’re grateful for. Family. Friends. Good health (I hope). Coffee and tea. Turkey. Sunshine. Wagging tails. Curling up with a good book.

So, how about it? Spread a little positive thinking and tell the world what there is to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for:

  1. My family and friends, especially my wonderful husband;
  2. Being healthy;
  3. A job and career I love and wouldn't trade for any other, and all the wonderful mentors and friends I've made in the process;
  4. My cat;
  5. Beautiful music- right now, listening to James Taylor sing "America the Beautiful,"
  6. America;
  7. Having the time every now and then to take time for a warm beverage and a good book.
And I'm thankful to be right where I am right now, doing what I'm doing. I feel so blessed in so many ways, it's hard to pin it down to just seven things. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question- Blog Widgets. Do you use them? Do you have them on your blog? Do you know what I'm talking about? :-) A blog widget is that list of books "From my LibraryThing" and such, that you'll sometimes see on someone's sidebar. If you use it, do all of your books show up or do you have it set to only show certain books? Do you have a search widget, which would allow your blog readers to search your library? Have you ever made a photomosaic of your book covers? You can find widgets and photomosaic information on the "Tools" tab in LibraryThing.

My answer: On Boston Bibliophile, I have a regular blog widget on my blog, which draws information from my entire library. I think it's fun to show my readers a little bit of what I have in my library and I like how it changes each time the page is refreshed. On my craft blog, I have set up a blog widget that only draws from books I've tagged "crafts". Makes sense to me!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place, by Kate T. Williamson

At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place, by Kate T. Williamson. Published 2008 by Princeton Architectural Press.

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

At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place, is a visually lovely but emotionally bland memoir of a transition year author and illustrator Kate T. Williamson spent at her parents' place while writing a book.

Williamson has graduated from college and returned from a year in Japan; she needs some time to figure out what to do next, and to work on a book about her trip, so she returns to her hometown to get it all together. It sounds like a good premise, and I think the whole phenomenon of young adults who move back in with their family is a worthy subject for a memoir, so rich with psychological and emotional content. There's a reason a young person would choose this path over getting his or her own place- lack of confidence, lack of funds, lack of ambition or motivation. I would love to see a really great, honest exploration of this rich topic.

Unfortunately this isn't it. We follow Williamson through her crush on the 80's rock group Hall & Oates, we watch her work a dull job in a flower shop, and we see her bump into old acquaintances. We join her as she spends New Year's Eve with her parents instead of her peers, and while I can easily imagine the emotions she may have- the social awkwardness, the feelings of failure or frustration, the feeling that there must be something better- she never articulates them herself. Her pictures, especially her scenery, which eschew traditional panels and are painted in beautiful, evocative palettes, are gorgeous, but the prose never rises above simple exposition, and the emotional content is almost nonexistent. Even her drawings of people lack emotion- much of the time she draws herself from behind so we don't even see her own expressions.

So overall I was disappointed with At A Crossroads. The topic has so much potential, and the book is beautiful to look at, but Williamson just doesn't seem like she has much to say. Even the fact that it was published by a company specializing in design and visual arts, and not say a more traditional publisher of graphic novels, suggests that its strength is in its artwork. I'd love to see more of her work in the future, and I hope her storytelling grows to match her skill as an artist.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Salon

This Sunday finds me traveling from New York back home to Massachusetts, following the wedding of a family member. My husband's cousin CeeGee (his initials are C.G. and it's become his nickname) got married to his beautiful girlfriend (now wife) Ariel at a gorgeous country club on Long Island. It was a great party, with family, music and great food- and now we're home.

While we were away I didn't have a lot of time for reading but I managed to sneak in a quick graphic novel (more on that tomorrow), and I've been working my way through Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk, for my book club, and The Last Chicken in America, Ellen Litman's short story collection about the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience in present-day Pittsburgh. Litman's book is very, very good and I look forward to reviewing it soon and telling you all more about it. The Last Chicken is one of the books I want to sell at my library's upcoming book fair and it's a book I'm very excited about.

What are you excited about this week?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Ghost in Love- We Have A Winner!

Kathy, a.k.a. The Oklahoma Book Lady is the winner of my giveaway of Jonathan Carroll's The Ghost in Love!

Congratulations Kathy!!!

And do stop by her terrific blog to congratulate her!

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Friday, November 21, 2008

REVIEW: What Happened to Anna K., by Irina Reyn

What Happened to Anna K., by Irina Reyn. Published 2008 by Touchstone. Literary Fiction.

Irina Reyn's slim, elegant novel What Happened to Anna K. is an updated retelling of Leo Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina, set in modern-day New York among the Bukharian Jewish community of Queens, which originated in Central Asia inside the former Soviet Union. In the United States, at least as depicted here, they remain a tight-knit community defined as much by language and origin as social customs and convention.

Anna K. is a beautiful fortyish woman married to Alex K., an older businessman who gives Anna everything but passion. She knows she doesn't love Alex K. but marries him anyway, then buries herself in novels and sedates herself with beautiful clothes and the confidence that she herself is beautiful and attractive. When she falls in love with David, a younger, handsome writer who attracts Anna in part because he is so attracted to her, Anna's life falls apart. That he is the boyfriend of her young cousin Katia causes a rift between the two women. Katia herself is the beloved of the moody Lev, a romantic like Anna who buries himself in French movies.

Like her literary namesake and inspiration, Anna K. loses everything to this ill-fated love affair- her marriage, her friends, her position in her community, her cousin's affection- even her young son. Lev's life takes the opposite path- he gains everything through his love for Katia. Unlike Tolstoy's Anna, though, Reyn's Anna never fully comes to life. Too indebted to her literary source, Reyn doesn't give Anna the imagination or the strength to see her way out, and though the conclusion of Anna K.'s life mirrors that of Anna Karenina, Reyn never makes Anna K.'s situation desperate enough to make her choice believable. When Anna Karenina kills herself, it's because she's lost everything- absolutely everything- and has no where else to go. Anna K., a bright 21st century woman, has options if only she would reach for them. Instead, because her choice is preordained by Reyn's choice to retell this story so faithfully, Anna K.'s death felt hollow and meaningless. There was no reason for this woman to behave this way. Really- suicide is not the only alternative when faced with moving from New York to Iowa.

That aside, I enjoyed What Happened to Anna K. very much. I enjoyed learning about the Bukharian Jewish community, relished Lev and Katia's sweet but real love story, and Reyn is a talented writer who has created an interesting, accomplished novel. I like how she built Anna K. and Lev as very similar people who wind up in breathtakingly different places, and how she shows that Lev survives because he is able to recognize fantasy as fantasy and still appreciate and immerse himself in real life- his wife, their son, their shared culture and their community. Anna K. cannot make this leap, and it is her downfall. She expects her fantasies to save her. My disappointment with the novel is my disappointment that Anna can imagine so little for herself, and that Reyn won't let her end her story any other way.


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

Friday Finds

Well it's been a varied week for me when it comes to new books.

I received Money and the Way of Wisdom, by Timothy J. Sandoval, which I'll be reviewing for the Catholic Library Association's newsletter, as well as The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs, a LibraryThing Early Reviewers selection. I started The Fireman's Wife this week and it seems kind of dull (another domestic drama) so far but we'll see.

I'm more optimistic about The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, by Naomi Ragen, who is a rather good writer whose work I've enjoyed in the past. Got some interesting reading ahead of me! What are you looking forward to starting soon?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.
Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

Absolutely not! No, no and no.

I've heard some stories about authors getting upset over negative blog reviews and all I can say is- get over yourself. The last time I checked, I don't work for authors or publicists. If an author sends me a copy of a book for free, I'm obligated to review it- that's all. I'm not obligated to love it, or advertise their readings, or their other blog appearances, or their other books, or generally act as an amateur publicist or fan club president.

And if staying off the marketing hamster wheel means I don't get as many freebies as some people- fine. I didn't start my blog to go to work for marketers.

I've had situations where I felt that an author was standing over my shoulder as I read a book and monitoring me, and I've read books given to me for review that I've hated, and in both cases I think the less said the better. You can tell when I really disliked a book because I did the minimum on my blog, sometimes to the point of not discussing the book at all except to mention a blog tour or a guest post. (And I've stopped doing blog tours anyway.) Most of the time I try to find at least something nice to say about any book, solicited or not, but I'm not afraid to say I didn't like something. It's my blog, right?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

REVIEW: Medea and Her Children, by Ludmila Ulitskaya

Medea and Her Children, by Ludmila Ulitskaya. Published 2002 Schocken Books. Literary fiction. Translated from the Russian.

Medea and Her Children is an engrossing multi-generational tale about a large extended Soviet-Greek family living in and around the Crimea, a region of the former Soviet Union now part of Ukraine and located near the Black Sea. The Sinoply family is made up of thirteen siblings and although novel concentrates on just a few, along with their lovers, spouses and children, Ulitskaya has created a universe inside a small community. The irony of the title is that Medea, an elderly widow living alone near the sea, is childless.

But since she lives by the sea, her home is the unofficial family center and her relatives, now scattered to all corners of the former Soviet Union, float in and out all summer long, visiting her and each other. The narrative is concerned with the ebb and flow of lusts, loves and affections through the years; the structure is somewhat loose and veers back and forth between the past and present, as we watch the cast of characters interact- coming together and coming apart. These characters include Medea herself, a dependable and dutiful widow, her vivacious sister Alexandra, Alexandra's granddaughter, the tragic Masha, Masha's lover, the athlete Butonov, and many others. We also hear Medea's love story- the story of her marriage with Jewish dentist Samuel, and we learn that everyone has secrets.

Thematically, the novel is about the influence of the past over the present, and how events and feelings swirl and mix and come back together over time. Medea and Her Children also shows the effect of the collapse of the former Soviet Union on the characters' lives- how their paths are shaped and changed by the swirl and mix of history. We see how Butonov's career in athletics has been frustrated and shaped by the Soviet system, then redefined by its breakdown. And when Masha's Jewish husband gets permission to emigrate, there are serious and unforseen consequences for the family.

Interestingly, author Ludmila Ulitskaya trained as a geneticist and the themes of inheritance and relationships are central to this beautifully-written family story. Although the story is deeply involving, Medea and Her Children is not a plot-driven page-turner but rather a nuanced, literary extended character study of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-generational family, and Ulitskaya has done a wonderful job creating fascinating characters I came to care for struggling in an unpredictable world. In the end, Ulitskaya writes about how the ties of family can overcome even the deepest of wounds. I found Medea and Her Children to be a richly satisfying read and would happily recommend it to readers of serious fiction, and in particular to followers of modern Russian literature. I have another one of Ulitskaya's books on my shelf and can't wait to get to it as well.

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bookworm Awards

The Alabama Bookworm tagged me for the Bookworm Award!

Thank you! But it's a meme too so here goes.

Here's how it works:

Open the book closest to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56.

Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following there.

The book nearest to me is Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust, by Josip Novakovich. He's a Croatian-American writer I like and I just got this volume of short stories via Bookmooch.

Here's the appropriate passage from page 56:

I guess you are conscious, he said.
That shouldn't take that much guessing, said Shelly.
You've been drinking. How much have you had?
Oh, nothing, just two, three beers.
That's too much, Marietta. You should've let Shelly drive.

Now I have to tag five blogging friends.

1. Susan, the Seaside Bookworm Blogger
2. Shana, at Literarily
3. Matt at Matt Views
4. Lenore at Presenting Lenore
5. Anna at Diary of an Eccentric

Tuesday Thingers

Popular this month on LT: Do you look at this list? Do you get ideas on what to read from it?

Have you read any of the books on the list right now? Feel free to link to any reviews you've done as well.

Here's the list and my answer:

1.The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

2.Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

3.Nation by Terry Pratchett

4.Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

5.Anathem by Neal Stephenson

6.American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

7.The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

8.The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski

9.Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

10.Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) by Stephenie Meyer

Those are the only two I've read on the list; I own Edgar Sawtelle and haven't gotten to it yet. I would very much like to read Dewey but we'll see if I get around to buying it. I wasn't one of the lucky ones to snag a free copy. Oh well!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Salon

Well this weekend is all about cleaning here at my house, so it's not really going to be about reading or doing much else!

One benefit of the cleaning has been that I've been able to reclaim some bookshelf space. In our den we have a bookcase that we've been using for random flotsam like computer cables, a toolbox, and other things-that-don't-go-anywhere-else. Well, since I do much of my reading in the den, and since lately I've been accumulating piles of books up here, my husband decided to clean off the shelves and give me a shelf for my books. Yay!

So here is my new TBR shelf:
Now, I've had this bookshelf since high school and I am absolutely thrilled that it has books on it again!

How much of a nerd am I!

What's making you feel nerdy today?

New Podcast - plus a giveaway!

The Association of Jewish Libraries is launching a new podcast and doing a giveaway in association with Hachette.

Please note: this giveaway is not being run by Boston Bibliophile, so please don't leave a comment asking me to enter you. Please keep reading for entry guidelines!

New Podcast

Author talks, lectures on Jewish literature, panel discussions, and workshops are among the offerings of the newly launched Association of Jewish Libraries Podcast. Available at, the program provides audio that enhances and enriches the listener's appreciation of Jewish book culture.

The podcast will include material recorded at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention, as well as recordings of Jewish literary events across North America. A wide range of topics will be covered, from the academic to the hands-on, from children's literature to technology.

"Jews are book lovers, and Jewish librarians even more so," says Susan Dubin, President of the Association of Jewish Libraries. "The AJL Podcast gives us a way to share our enthusiasm with others, without geographical or scheduling restrictions. Now everyone can learn and enjoy!"

How to Listen

New podcast episodes will be posted every few weeks. Listeners can hear the show online at, subscribe via iTunes or other feed readers (using the feed, receive episodes by email via FeedBlitz, or listen by phone at (651) 925-2538.

Book Give-Away

To celebrate the launch of the podcast, AJL is offering a Jewish book give-away. Forward this press release or post its contents on a blog or web page to be entered into a drawing for five Jewish interest books from Hachette Book Group. Be sure to CC on any forwarded messages or to email us about any posts. Complete contest rules and information about the give-away titles can be seen at - click on the Contest page in the sidebar. Deadline for entry is December 12, 2008.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I haven't done a giveaway in a while, but I'm back today with an Advance Reader's Copy of Jonathan Carroll's new book The Ghost in Love, out recently from Macmillan and causing quite a stir in the book world.

Check out the trailer:

Interested in winning an ARC of this great book?
  • Leave a comment on this entry with your email address. Entries left without an email address will not be entered.
  • For an additional entry, link to your post about the giveaway.
  • Open to U.S. residents only. I'm sorry but I cannot afford to ship to Canada at the moment.
This giveaway will close Saturday, November 22 at midnight EST. I will announce the winner soon thereafter.

Good luck!

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Blog!

I wanted to let you know that I've started a new blog to document my other hobby- crafts.

My new blog is called The Craft Hour, because I usually spend an hour or so every day doing something creative. When I'm not reading, I'm sewing, gluing, binding, writing and stitching bunches of neat things.

This isn't going to be an everyday-type blog- I'm only going to post once in a while, when I have a finished project or something to say. It's going to be more personal than Boston Bibliophile but hopefully entertaining in its own way.

So please come by and visit me from time to time at and let me know if you have a crafty blog of your own!

Friday Finds

Just one find this week- Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk, a memoir and
meditation on the monastic life by a Protestant woman.

It's the December pick for my book club, The Daughters of Abraham, an interfaith group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish women. We alternate each month reading books about each religious tradition.

A couple of folks expressed interest in the club after I talked about the dinner the local groups here in Boston held this past Sunday; if you want to find out more, or want to know how to start your own chapter in your area, you can look here, at their website.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

REVIEW: Kosher by Design Lightens Up, by Susie Fishbein

Kosher by Design Lightens Up, by Susie Fishbein. Published 2008 by ArtScroll Mesorah Publications. Nonfiction. Cooking.

Like many people, I love to cook and bake, and what's more fun than experimenting with a new cookbook? And like many women, I'm primarily responsible for providing meals for my family, so I appreciate cookbooks that offer practical advice, doable recipes and of course- delicious food! Well, I'm happy to say that Susie Fishbein's latest delivers on all counts.

First of all the book is beautiful to look at and practical to handle in the kitchen. Packaged in a hardcover binding that lies flat on the counter, each recipe is presented on its own page with a brief introduction detailing its nutritional benefit and accompanied by a color photograph of the finished dish. Fishbein also makes note of each recipe's kosher category- meat, dairy or parve (neutral). At the beginning, she provides some brief guidelines on kashrut (kosher laws) and teams up with dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix to provide nutritional tips and definitions of different terms related to food and nutrition.

Fishbein has written an entire series of books dedicated to kosher cooking- past titles include Kosher by Design Short on Time, Kosher by Design Entertains, Passover by Design and many more- so she's experienced when it comes to creating appealing and popular kosher food. I tried two of the recipes in this book- the Garlic Burgers and the Coconut-Lime Tart- and found both of them to be easy to prepare and delicious. Fishbein takes advantage of a wide variety of cuisines and ingredients. She adapts ideas from Korea, Greece, Mexico among others, as well as including traditional favorites like cheesecake and the Reuben.

I only have one quibble with Kosher by Design Lightens Up. Nowhere does Fishbein include nutritional information with the recipes, such as calorie count, fat and carbohydrate content, or other information that many people interested in a healthy diet would like to know. In her introduction Fishbein says that this book "is not about numbers or nutritional analysis. It is about becoming a more educated eater." The two are not mutually exclusive, and healthy eating isn't about guesswork or about trusting a cookbook author to know what's best. Family cooks need information at their disposal as well as reassurances, so they can make the best-educated decisions possible for themselves and their family. These days, basic nutritional information can be found in almost any cookbook (or cooking magazine) you pick up. I don't think there's any good reason to exclude it from this volume.

Overall though I think Kosher by Design Lightens Up is a useful and appealing volume. I would make just about anything here with confidence and I think the book would be useful for both families that keep kosher and for those that don't. I find it to be a welcome addition to my collection, my kitchen and my dinner table.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.

Booking Thru Thursday

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

Oh boy. As a librarian, this is an embarrassing question for me to answer but honestly, I hardly ever borrow books. I buy books, because I want to read them. I don't borrow books for my own reading because I am a terrible library patron- I keep books out for so long, and end up owing so much in overdue fees, that I figure I might as well just buy. When I was a teenager I practically lived at the library and had no money so I borrowed all the time- only to have my card taken away twice because my record with them was so bad. One local public library has taken to making automated collection calls to naughty patrons and let's just say the first time I got one of those was the last time I used that library.

The only time I borrow books now is when I have to preview them for my job. I have become a prodigious user of interlibrary loan since I've become a librarian, because the service allows me to look over books I'm interested in buying for my library. I've become very, very good about returning these books on time, because I don't want my professional resources taken away!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: LT Things- t-shirts, bags,cue cats- are you into the "stuff"? Do you use a cuecat to enter your books, or do you enter them manually? What do you think of the stuff?

My answer: I did not buy a cuecat for myself, but when my husband opened his account we did buy one and it was extremely useful for entering his large collection of science fiction and Doctor Who books. Since we've had it, I've used it occaisonally, if I have several books to enter at once for example. I think it's a cute little convenience but by no means necessary. And it doesn't work for older books that don't have barcodes or that don't have ISBN-13 barcodes. But it's just so darn adorable. I haven't purchased any other LT accessories and don't really plan to- I don't like being a walking billboard, even for LibraryThing! :-)

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Won!

I just won my first giveaway- Anna of Diary of an Eccentric randomly chose me as the winner of M. Ann Jacoby's book, Life After Genius.

I can't wait to read it!!

Thank you, Anna!

p.s. she does a lot of great giveaways and has a terrific blog- go check her out!

Graphic Novel Monday: Jim's Journal, by Scott Dikkers

I Went to College and It Was Okay, by Jim (aka Scott Dikkers). Published 1991 by Andrews McNeel Publishing.

Click here to buy I Went To College and It Was Okay from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller.

Today's Graphic Novel Monday pick is a sentimental favorite of mine- the Jim's Journal series by Scott Dikkers, former owner and editor-in-chief of The Onion. Back when I started reading Jim's Journal, in high school, there was no Onion (or even really an internet), but there was this charming, extremely low-key, almost Zen-like comic strip that ran in college newspapers around the country, about a regular guy named Jim and his adventures in school, work, and life. For a while this first collection, I Went to College and It Was Okay, was the only collection but over the years several more have been published: I Got a Job and It Wasn't That Bad, I Made Some Brownies and They Were Pretty Good, and I Got Married If You Can Believe That.

Dikkers' artistic style is minimalist to the max- iconic stick figures with barely-articulated features and just enough background to establish places and scenes. Even Jim's cat, Mr. Peabody, is barely a smudge. Jim's Journal did run in newspapers, and it is presented in a nearly-unwavering four-panel style with no color and simple dialogue. Jim drifts through life rather aimlessly, first through college and later through adulthood and a job at a copyshop. He has some friends, but they don't seem to be terribly close and Jim's emotional life is simple and uncomplicated. Most days he goes to work and comes home, puts his feet up to watch TV and feeds his cat. Late in the series he marries Becky, a nice enough girl who seems well-suited to Jim's laid-back approach to life.

Jim's Journal isn't for everybody- a lot of people will probably find it flat-out boring- but it's pretty clean and if you like your humor dry and your emotional insights slight but still moving, the Jim's Journal series might be a good fit. I absolutely adore it for his quiet tone and its matter-of-fact, honest depiction of everyday life as lived by an absolutely average guy. As a newspaper comic I'm not sure it even counts as a graphic novel but I really wanted to tell you about it anyway!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Salon

This Sunday I'm juggling about four different books but I probably won't have time to read any of them because after work I am going to visit a local mosque for the afternoon with my book club. The club is an interfaith group that focuses on learning about each others' religion and the mosque visit is part of that. We're going to have dinner, tour the mosque and see a selection of books that different chapters of the club have read since its inception in 2001. Should be an interesting day! I'm sure I'll come home loaded with new ideas about things to read. I'm struggling through this month's club pick, Samarkand- time will tell if I finish before the discussion date!

Books I'm not struggling through right now include What Happened to Anna K., Medea and Her Children, The Last Chicken in America and Atmospheric Disturbances. With the exception of Atmospheric Disturbances, I'm on a little post-Soviet kick right now. I'll let you all know how it goes.

What are you struggling to read this week, or not?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

REVIEW: Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan

Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan. Published 2008 by Viking.

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

I received this book as part of Barnes and Noble's First Look program. It's also an Indie Next List Pick for November.

The premise of Songs for the Missing is pretty simple. One day, on her way to work, in the summer after she graduates from high school, a young woman disappears. Her family, friends and community look for her, and must come to terms with her loss.

The woman, Kim Larsen, is an average, pretty young woman in an average town. The narrative swings back and forth between various perspectives- her mother Fran, father Ed, sister Lindsay, boyfriend J.P., and best friend Nina. On the surface, everything is proceeding as one might expect. The tragedy of Kim's disappearance starts out very publicly; the community rallies, everybody helps out with the search. Fran goes on the Internet and on TV, she passes out buttons and businesses donate goods and service to help out. But as time stretches on slowly and public interest diminishes, the tragedy becomes a private one as the family must deal with their loss after the cameras stop. For them, surviving means the slow transformations that take shape as their lives move forward in a way different from what they expected.

The action is pretty straightforward and there are no big surprises, so for me, the novel was all about these transformations, and the two characters I found the most rewarding to watch were Fran and Lindsay. Lindsay is Kim's younger sister, the shy nerd to Kim's athletic extrovert. People refer to her as "little Larsen" as if she were merely an extension of her prettier, more outgoing sister. As time goes on and Lindsay adjusts to her new identity as the girl whose sister is missing, we see how Kim's disappearance is shaping her and changing the young woman she becomes. Fran, a hospital worker, finds meaning and challenge in the search for her daughter and begins to come to life in a small way. Which is not to say that one is glad to lose one's daughter, but these things happen in all of our lives and the book made me think about how these tragedies shape us all, for good and for ill.

Songs for the Missing
isn't what I'd call a loud book- a book that calls a lot of attention to itself with nonstop action or a flashy premise. It's very character-driven and I enjoyed reading it for the empathy and compassion O'Nan shows towards his characters as they traverse through different emotional stages and slowly integrate Kim's loss into their ongoing lives. His writing is quiet, subtle and effective as he nudges emotional truths from each. Instead of big statements, the book is full of subtlety and the small moments that make up a life. It's a good book, and it's worth a read.


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

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Finds

This week was a great week for me for new books, not so much because of quantity but for quality. On election night I was so stressed out that I decided to stay away from the television and go do some retail therapy at my local Borders. I got two books that I've wanted for a while now- Irina Reyn's What Happened to Anna K., and Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project.

Anna K. is an updated version of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, set in a Jewish community in New York; I've started reading it and I'm loving it. I didn't plan on starting it right away, but I've been wanting to read it for months and really just couldn't stop myself.

Hemon's book is based on the 1908 murder of a Jewish immigrant and the surrounding mystery. I won't be able to get to it for at least a month, but I'm looking forward to it and I'm glad I finally bought it.

I got a little treasure in the mail this week- Yona Sabar's Folk Literature of the Kurdistani Jews. This book is by the father of My Father's Paradise, Ariel Sabar's recent, outstanding book. I got a look at the book a couple of weeks ago and I haven't decided if I'm going to keep it or not. It may go to my synagogue library, or I may buy a second copy for it. I want to spend a little more time with it before I decide. I do think the library should have it, though.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

So, it’s my birthday today. (Please, no applause.) But it’s inspiring today’s question–

What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The “gift aura?”

That's a tough question, but the most memorable book I've received as a gift has to be my illustrated version of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. This particular edition is slipcased, with a woven, bottle-green cover. It contains absolutely gorgeous black and white and color illustrations by Lewis C. Daniel and was published in 1940. The mother of one of my friends gave it to me when I was in high school. She is a librarian and used to have an antiquarian bookshop; she gave it to me because she knew I liked poetry and I guess just wanted me to have something special! It's special to me because she is special, and of course because it's just gorgeous and I've never seen anything else like it.

Also very memorable and special is the edition of Carl Sagan's Cosmos that my husband gave me for our anniversary this year. It's special because it's something I'd always wanted but never got for myself, and it was his own copy.

(BTW, today isn't my birthday- it's the birthday of the person who wrote the question!)

REVIEW: Crafting Jewish, by Rivky Koenig

Crafting Jewish: Fun Holiday Crafts and Party Ideas for the Whole Family, by Rivky Koenig. Published 2008 by ArtScroll. Crafts and Hobbies.

Crafting Jewish: Fun Holiday Crafts and Party Ideas for the Whole Family is a lively, varied collection of craft ideas and recipes covering most Jewish holidays, following the Jewish calendar and taking the reader from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, through Shavuot, a springtime holiday celebrating the Ten Commandments, on to Shabbat, the weekly day of rest, and includes everyday crafts as well as recipes and ideas for bringing it all together in celebration.

Koenig, an educator by profession, explains each craft project and recipe clearly, and strives to keep things as simple as possible. There are no projects requiring dangerous tools and many can be done by young children (with adult supervision of course). Projects include things like pencil caddies, decorated clay pots, welcome signs, simple greeting cards, flags, no-sew pillows and even costumes.

Since it's autumn and I received the book around the time of the Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkot (or Festival of Booths, as it's also called), I decided to try out one of the projects for this holiday- I made a miniature, shoebox sukkah. The sukkah is an open-roofed dwelling meant to be lived in for the week-long holiday (although many families use it mainly for meals) and is meant to remind celebrants of the simple dwellings the Israelites lived in as they fled Egypt, and later, of the simple houses many Jews lived in as they farmed the young state of Israel.

I followed her instructions and materials list as closely as I could and my project came out almost exactly as pictured in the book (the mini sukkah above is the one I made). I made two slight changes though. The first change was a significant change in technique, and the second was a simple substitution of materials. Koenig advises the reader to use a bamboo place mat to mimic the sukkah's open roof; this idea is simple and perfectly appropriate for young children, but I decided to use a craft knife to actually cut openings in the roof. Since I had trouble finding the wood-grain contact paper she suggests, I used scrapbook paper instead. In any case, the resulting project was cute and got good reviews from the kids in my library when I put it out to decorate for the holiday.

There are other examples of projects for which a little adult know-how and creativity can yield more impressive or better-quality results- especially the many no-sew fabric projects, such as the pillows, the Purim puppets, the felt Torah and the Purim costumes. Koenig suggests using fabric glue to construct these projects and paint pens to decorate them, but a grownup (or teenager) with a sewing machine and some basic embroidery skills could deliver better, longer-lasting and fancier results.

However, on the whole I think Koenig does a great job of providing not only clear, easy-to-follow instructions for each project, but some really useful information at the beginning of the book on materials. She includes four concise sections covering basic craft supplies and tools, different kinds of glues and adhesives (very useful!) and basic kitchen supplies- in other words, she gives readers a great guide on how to assemble a basic crafting pantry. I'm a fairly experienced crafter and found these sections extremely informative and handy. The book itself is beautifully printed and bound in hardcover, with lovely full-color photographs of every project and recipe, making it fun to page through and just enjoy.

Given that most mainstream publications that bother to feature Jewish crafts at all tend to concentrate on Hanukkah and tend to limit their offerings to (in my opinion) rather uninspired and predictable renditions of dreidels and menorahs, I think Crafting Jewish would be a very valuable addition to any Jewish household with children and/or crafty adults. (I know I plan on using my copy as a resource for my job in a temple library.) Koenig covers all of the religious holidays, includes both Hebrew and English text elements where appropriate, and provides a really inspiring variety of projects and ideas. Kids and adults alike will have a lot of fun with this terrific book.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Special Feature: Interview with Erin Einhorn, author of The Pages In Between

The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home, by Erin Einhorn. Published 2008 by Touchstone.

Click here to buy The Pages in Between from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller.

And click here to read my review of Ms. Einhorn's wonderful book.

What challenges did you face in the creation of The Pages in Between? How did your family feel about turning these experiences into something for publication?

It can be very difficult to write about real people. I feared at every stage that I would tread on someone’s feelings or that by printing my version of events, I would trample everyone else’s. As a result, the book might not be quite as candid as it might have been if all of the characters were dead (or fictional). On the other hand, I wanted to write an honest account of what happened to me as I confronted my mother’s past – and the many ways that that past was still making demands on the present. As a result, I have, in fact, angered some people who appear in the book. My family has largely been welcoming of the book, or at least I think they have. (Then again, they may all be working on their books of their own to dispute my version!)

As you did your research, did you learn anything really interesting or surprising that didn't make it into the book?

Many, many things have happened over the past 8 years as I’ve tried to manage the consequences of finding the family that saved my mother. There are, of course, countless fascinating details and perspectives that just didn’t make into the book. I wanted the book to be fluid and accessible and if I had included everything, it would have been far too much of a slog.

There were things I learned years after I returned from Poland -- like how the photo my mother had given me of herself at three with her father and Honorata Skowronska (the image on the cover of the book) -- was not the only print. When I asked one of my cousins to send me old family photos that I could use in my book as it was getting ready to be published, she sent me her copy of that picture. She had a copy on which my grandfather had written "my daughter," in English, on the back.

Who do you feel the book is for?

I really wrote the book for everyone. We all have a family history. We all come from somewhere and we all inherit a folklore that means something to us, that’s a part of who are and who we are trying to become. Anyone who attempts to go below the surface is bound to make surprising discoveries, as I did. I wanted everyone to think differently about the stories they think they know. I also just wanted to tell what I thought was a pretty interesting story about real people in extraordinary circumstances.

The Pages in Between has been making the rounds on the blogosphere; what response have you had from readers?

I’m told I’ve made a lot of people cry! I’m actually really proud of that because I love a good cry – it’s very cathartic – and because I was crying when I wrote certain chapters. This was a very personal story for me and it was difficult to put it out in the world for strangers to read. Knowing that the tears I poured into the writing came through for readers makes it all seem worthwhile.

Thank you Erin for a wonderful interview!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: Work multiples. Do you own multiple copies of any books? Which ones? Why? Can you share your list?

You can find the link under Statistics, from either your home page or profile.

My answer: Yes, I have a few multiples. Here's the list:
  1. Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt (Vintage (1991), Paperback, 576 pages)
    Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt (Random House (1990), Edition: BOMC, Hardcover, 555 pages)
  2. New Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book by and for Women by Boston Boston womens health book collective (Touchstone (1996), Paperback, 752 pages)
    Our Bodies Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Book Collective (simon and schuster (1973), Paperback)
  3. A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems (New Directions Paperback No. 74) by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (New Directions Publishing Corporation (1968), Paperback, 93 pages)
    A Coney Island of the Mind: 50th Anniversary Edition (with CD) by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (New Directions (2008), Edition: 50 Har/Com, Hardcover, 96 pages)
  4. The Lover by Marguerite Duras (Pantheon (1998), Paperback, 128 pages)
    L'amant by Marguerite Duras (Editions de Minuit (1984), Broché, 143 pages)
  5. Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire (Flammarion (1991), Poche, 18 pages)
    Flowers of Evil; Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire (Peter Pauper Press; Mount Vernon, N.Y.)
  6. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (Flap Jacket Press (2007), Paperback, 368 pages)
    Lace Reader, The: A Novel by Brunonia Barry (William Morrow (2008), Hardcover, 400 pages)
Possession is my favorite book, and I have a very well-read (and autographed) paperback, as well as a hardcover edition. I have the original paperback of Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well as a more recently-updated version. I got the 50th anniversary edition of A Coney Island of the Mind, one of my favorite volumes of poetry, on my recent vacation to San Francisco, and have (for now) decided to hold on to my old paperback. I decided to read (and keep) the two French books in both French and English because I have a nice, illustrated edition of the Baudelaire book and had to read the Duras novel in college. I was lucky enough to get a galley of the self-published version of The Lace Reader before Harper Collins picked it up, and I got a galley of that edition as well. I thought the self-published ARC was worth keeping for its uniqueness.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross

Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross. Published 2006 by Fantagraphics Books. Graphica. Memoir.

Escape from "Special" is a book that's a little tough to like, but even tougher to ignore. I say it's a little tough to like only because Lasko-Gross covers such emotionally volatile territory- the inner life of a young girl from elementary school to the beginning of high school- in such a raw and honest way, and using artwork that is both accomplished and dark.

Lasko-Gross's character, Melissa, is a troubled girl who feels alienated and different in school and at home, in the special-education classes she attends and in a family she feels doesn't understand her. She lacks interest in religion, which her parents think could provide her with a community but which she sees as boring and oppressive. Her alienation deepens as she enters adolescence and navigates the murky, difficult waters of friendships and growing up. She enters high school having found a group of outsiders like herself, but not without a certain lingering insecurity.

Escape from "Special" can be difficult reading at times, if only because Lasko-Gross is so honest about the pain of adolescence and the quiet betrayals of friends that can leave a vulnerable teenager humiliated and sad. "It takes so much energy to keep girlfriends," Melissa says, "One slip up and I'm 'weird' or we're 'in a fight.' They get offended so easily! I can't let my guard down, even for a minute." This is not a woman who's forgotten what it's like to be kid, or to feel different, or to feel let down by people she's trusted. Lasko-Gross's artwork is varied and often quite beautiful. When she focuses on Melissa she often uses a graphic style that underlines her isolation; other times, the panels are full of detail and contrast. Her panels are flexible and varied and give the story a lot of movement; Lasko-Gross uses closeups and panoramas skillfully to bring the story along and reflect its emotional content.

Lasko-Gross's book is about kids, but it's definitely not for kids, although I think some older teenagers would appreciate her emotional honesty and would be able to handle the mild profanity and sexual references. I probably would have loved to have had this book when I was fifteen or sixteen. As it is, I'm glad it's around now, for me and for anyone else who's ever felt like they needed to escape.

Rating: BUY

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