Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Finds

So, for books this week- let's see. First up is a book that I actually got in the mail several weeks ago, but only got around to bringing home and looking at this Sunday. And you know what? I can't put it down. It's 500-odd pages, and I have three review books to read, and I can't put it down. I'm talking of course about Abraham Verghese's unbelievable Cutting for Stone, which is coming out in February. If you love literary fiction, you must read this book. If this guy were British he'd win the Booker Prize for it. It's really that good.

Next up are two books I picked up for my book club reading. I belong to a club called the Daughters of Abraham, an interfaith club of Muslim, Christian and Jewish women who read books about each others' religions and use the books as the basis for some great discussions. Next month's pick is The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, by Peter Gomes, a Baptist minister and theologian at Harvard's Divinity School. From what I understand he's a great writer and this book should be a good time. I also bought Michael Muhammad Knight's The Taqwacores, which was unfortunately not chosen as a club selection but looks good anyway. It's about a ragtag group of young Muslim kids in Buffalo, New York. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's just been adapted into a movie as well.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand? - January Edition

So today I found out about a great meme or blog carnival going on over at 5 Minutes for Books- the What's On Your Nightstand? meme.

You can go on over the site to find out more about it. You can post weekly or monthly or whenever, and do mini reviews or just list off what you're reading, or use it to set goals. I think it's a neat idea and it looks like I'm just under the wire to post for January so here goes.

On my nightstand at the moment are three books:

The Story of French, by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. It's an interesting, enlightening history of the French language and its various forms and influences. It's pretty accessible, written in 20-odd page chapters that are great to dip in and out of now and then. I think I'm on chapter 8 or so. It usually takes me a while to work through my bedside books!

The Russian Debutante's Handbook, by Gary Shteyngart. I think this was his debut novel- it's been out for a few years and I picked it up recently on Bookmooch because I enjoyed his last novel, Absurdistan, so much. Like Absurdistan, Handbook is a satire about the lives and travails of Russian Jewish immigrants. I'm only a little ways through it but I'm enjoying it very much. It centers on a character called Vladimir, a slightly hapless nonprofit worker and his various adventures.

Finally, there's Liz Tuccillo's How to be Single, a chick-lit opus I got via a giveaway. It's fun. My policy on chick lit is I only read it when it's free, and this was free, so I'm reading it. Obviously the title should be How to Get A Man, cause that's what all these books are about. It's still a cute book and not totally obnoxious. (If I sound like a literary snob, it's cause I am. Sorry!)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

REVIEW: Holding My Breath, by Sidura Ludwig

Holding My Breath, by Sidura Ludwig. Published 2008 by Key Porter Books. Literary Fiction.

Holding My Breath is a coming of age story, about a young Jewish girl named Beth Levy growing up in Canada. It's author Sidura Ludwig's first novel, and it's okay as these things go.

Beth is an only child, and is born into a family dominated by women with strong, conflicting personalities. Her mother Goldie longs for suburban convention and conformity, Beth's aunt Carrie, a skilled seamstress, tries to get by as an unmarried woman with a secret, and her aunt Sarah wants to be a star.

Beth herself is a very ordinary girl, pressured by her mother to lead the kind of life she wanted, filled with tea parties, children, a husband and a pink-collar job. I liked Beth, and all the characters- even unstable, headed-for-trouble Sarah. I liked Carrie best of all, the career woman and the quiet sister, who cares for Beth so beautifully and does her best to keep her niece on a good path. I think a very good novel could be written about this understated, complicated woman.

The book's suspense lies in seeing what path Beth will choose, and how she will come to her decisions. Her choices are lined up and dissected, and her final destination takes shape somewhat predictably, if quickly. In the mean time she faces down challenges, deals with family secrets and tragedies, and confronts the perils of growing up. The family is firmly planted in the Jewish community of Winnipeg and part of Beth's journey involves confronting feelings of difference and anti-Semitism as she steps tentatively beyond it.

On balance I enjoyed Holding My Breath and found it to be a quick, light read. Ludwig's style is somewhat bland and monotonous, but she shows skill in creating different characters and bouncing them off each other. It's not a particularly flashy or exciting novel, but it's solid and good and competent. I'd like to see Ludwig step it up a little next time- vary her writing a little, maybe introduce a little more emotion and a little drama and friction. Along the way the family experiences a huge disruption, but the shock waves barely registered to me- I wish she had made me feel the impact a little more. And that can be said of much of the book- I enjoyed it well enough but I felt like she was holding back. Next time I hope she lets herself go a little.

Rating: BORROW

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature- Finalists Announced!



The Jewish Book Council has today announced its top five finalists for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

You can read more about the award here. It is a very prestigious prize and carries an award of $100,000.

The finalists are:

Elisa Albert for The Book of Dahlia (Free Press)
Sana Krasikov for One More Year (Spiegel & Grau)
Anne Landsman for The Rowing Lesson (Soho Press)
Dalia Sofer for The Septembers of Shiraz (Ecco)
Anya Ulinich for Petropolis (Viking Penguin)

I've included links to my reviews where applicable. Last year's winner was Tamar Yellin for The Genizah at the House of Shepher.

Good luck to all the finalists. Personally, I'm pulling for Ulinich, but I can't wait to see who wins!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Weekly Geeks- my first!


Here are the questions I chose from this week’s topic:

1) How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don’t get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books? Go all out, sell us on it!

3) Let’s say you’re vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book. The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature. If you don’t find her a book, she’ll never let you get any reading done! What contemporary book/s with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?

I love the classics. I loved reading them in school and it's a treat nowadays. My favorites are Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, Persuasion by Jane Austen and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I would recommend someone new to "classics" start with Jane Austen, because she is very approachable and her work will feel familiar to readers of light contemporary fiction.

For Myrtle I would choose a recent Booker Prize winner, like Life of Pi or Oscar and Lucinda, or something like All the King's Men or Breakfast at Tiffany's or Possession or The Name of the Rose. These are all modern literary classics.

Oftentimes I hear people say "I want to read what regular people are reading- not the 'classics'!", as though certain kinds of books are reserved for cappuccino-sipping cultural elites, and others are reserved for "Joe Six Pack." This argument seems to be more about social class than books per se. First of all, people from all walks of life read all kinds of things, and it's not fair to stereotype books by who you think reads them. Secondly, the books that we call classics nowadays- Dickens for example- were often bestsellers in their day, read by thousands and thousands of "regular people" all over. It wasn't just highbrow types who read Great Expectations when it came out- it was everybody. And that's what makes a lot of these books into "classics"- that they're really good books that a lot of people have loved over the years. They may reflect a different style of writing than what we see today, but that's only because styles change and those books are from a different time.

So that's all for my first Weekly Geeks.

Musing Mondays

A few weeks back we had a question about borrowing books, this week I was wondering what your policy was on lending books. Do you lend books to anyone? Just friends? Only big readers? How long are they allowed to have them?


I used to be extremely cautious about lending my books- to the point that when my boyfriend (now my husband) wanted to read my favorite book, I basically made him buy his own copy rather than lend him mine. The reason for this was pure superstition- in high school and college it seemed like every time I lent a book, that person and I had a falling-out and I never got the book back. My high school prom date borrowed a really nice history textbook from me, and not only never gave it back after we broke up, but left it in his locker to be thrown away. A college girlfriend borrowed an Italian textbook and promptly stopped speaking to me. So when my then-boyfriend, now-husband wanted to borrow my copy of Possession I was like- no, because we'll break up!

Now I'm more relaxed and will happily lend out most things to friends and family, as long as I won't be heartbroken if I never get the books back. I lent out a stack of fiction to a family friend but didn't keep track of what I gave her, and I think I got it all back but I don't really know! And I lent a friend a galley last summer- Lord only knows if I'll ever see that again! What are you going to do? It's more important to be nice to people, and a lost book here and there is not the end of the world.

Graphic Novel Monday: The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita. Published 2008 by Self Made Hero (www.selfmadehero.com). Text adapted from Mikhail Bulgakov's novel of the same name and art by Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal. Literary Fiction. Graphic Novel. Translated from the Russian.

Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita is a classic of Soviet dissident literature; the plot concerns a writer, ("The Master,"), his mistress Margarita and their encounter with the Devil, who is in Moscow with his entourage of demons, causing all manner of mischief. The Master is writing a novel about Jesus and the Crucifixion when a mysterious magician, Woland, arrives and claims to have been an eyewitness. What follows is a satirical, haunting and brilliant piece of fiction.

Klimowski and Schejbal's graphic adaptation is an abbreviated version of Bulgakov's tale, rendered in a beautiful and emotive artistic style. Most scenes set in the present-day are rendered in a smudgy black and white that speaks of cold, poverty and despair; scenes set in Biblical times come alive in bright charcoal hues of cerulean blue and crimson. The present-day comes alive in color during Woland's performance as a magician, when his supernatural powers are on full display. The choice to illustrate the theater scenes in color is both appropriate and disturbing; appropriate because it's the height of the drama, and disturbing due to the violence and humiliation heaped on the hapless theatergoers.

So what did I think? Well, I enjoyed Bulgakov's novel immensely and it was fun to relive it in a graphic novel form. The characters and plot are greatly simplified and if someone were going to choose a medium in which to experience the story, I would pick the novel hands-down. If you're a fan of the novel I think you'll enjoy the graphic version, and I think readers looking for something a little different in a graphic novel would enjoy it as well- it just doesn't give you the depth and color of the novel though. What your imagination can generate through Bulgakov's words is so much richer than even this book's beautiful illustrations. Beautiful but somewhat forgettable, it's not an essential read but if you can get your hands on a copy I wouldn't turn it down.

Rating: BACKLIST


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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Salon

It's been a stressful last week or two, between home repairs and my cat being sick, and after I get home from work this afternoon I'm looking forward to some relaxing and, yes- some reading.

Last night I went to see "Slumdog Millionaire," about a poor Indian boy who goes on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and wins, and it struck me that this movie would be an interesting companion piece to The White Tiger. But with a happier ending!

Yesterday I got two books in the mail, Anne of Green Gables via Bookmooch, and How to be Single, a Simon & Schuster UK giveaway (thanks!), so I started reading them a little bit. I never read Anne as a kid but seeing as it's about a redhead I think I need to! How to be Single looks like cute chicklit- a nice change of pace. I'm still working my way through 2666 (see yesterday's post for the latest) but after I finish each section I'm taking a break to read another book, so I don't spend a month just reading one thing. So now that I've finished Part Two I'm going to read Notes on Democracy, which I got for review from online publicist Lisa Roe.

I was reading yesterday and realized I had seven books going- the three mentioned above, plus The Story of French, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, and the graphic novel version of The Master and Margarita!

So many books, so little time!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

2666 -Finished Part Two


Okay, so now I really have no idea.

If anything, Part Two, "The Part About Amalfitano," was even more opaque than Part One. Amalfitano is a professor at the university in Santa Teresa, the border town modeled on Juarez, Mexico, in which much of the book's action is set. This section of the book is notable for its brevity and for its apparent lack of connection to the first part, which was about three European academics who wind up in Mexico looking for a mysterious German writer.

Oscar Amalfitano is a minor character in Part One (so it's not like there's no connection between the two). In Part Two, author Roberto Bolano recounts the story of Amalfitano's failed marriage to the mercurial Lola, who runs off with a girlfriend on a quest to find a poet now confined to a mental institution. Then, we see Amalfitano's life as a single father raising his daughter, Rosa, a pretty teenager. As in Part One, there are references to the murders of young women in Santa Teresa, and a general atmosphere of dread. The theme of violence as a release is revisited through a minor character. All in all, this chapter struck me as bland and I'm still not sure where it's all going. It was the kind of thing where I can follow it from section to section but I don't understand how the pieces fit into the whole.

I started the next section, "The Part About Fate," which I've heard is the weakest part of the book but so far for me is the most engaging.

I'll keep you posted!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Finds


A fun week for new books.

I got two for review and bought a remaindered book, and borrowed a book from one of my book club friends. The borrowed book is Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I'm looking forward to checking out; the bought book is John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse, his story of life in Paris in the 1920s. Sounds deliciously French and fun. I'm saving it for the summer because it strikes me as the kind of book you'd want to read outside at a Harvard Square cafe.

For review, I'll be reading H.L. Mencken's Notes on Democracy, thanks to online publicist Lisa Roe. I'm very excited to read it and I like that she had it on offer.

I'll also be reading Tightrope : Six Centuries of Jewish Dynasty, by Michael Karpin. This book looks like a fascinating study of one family and how they were impacted by history over the course of several centuries. I wish I knew so much about my family!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

REVIEW: Shopgirl, by Steve Martin

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. Published 2000 by Hyperion.

Click here to buy Shopgirl from your local indie bookstore.

Shopgirl is a slim little slip of a book, a novella really, about a young woman named Mirabelle who works behind the glove counter at an upscale department store as she tries to make her way in the world. A pained introvert, she likes the glove counter because it is quiet, but she manages nonetheless to come to the attention of two men, a young man named Jeremy and an older one named Ray.

Mirabelle doesn't so much choose between the two as she grows up through her relationship with each. The men grow up too- she inspires each of them to be better, in his own way. But the road to personal growth is bumpy and littered with missed connections, crossed paths and misstated intentions, and everyone ends up, as Bart Simpson once said after a failed romance of his own, a little wiser and a little less naive.

I think Shopgirl was a terrific read. I was very impressed with how well Martin understands young women- their fears and insecurities, as well as their joys. Mirabelle is not a glamorous, vivacious big-city girl with fancy clothes and designer shoes. Instead she is talented but lonely, bright but innocent, depressed but also easily delighted- in other words, a typical young twentysomething. Jeremy and Ray also defy stereotype and easy labelling, and I found their interactions and relationships to be believeable and real. I also liked the irony and gentle humor, and the quiet precision of Martin's writing. The narrator's voice sometimes comes off as arch and overly mannered, but I think the overall effect is that of someone watching over Mirabelle, rooting for her and protecting her. In the end she doesn't need protection- she just needs confidence, and once she gets that confidence I felt like the sky was the limit for her. A little more literary than chick-lit and a little more serious than one might expect from a comedian like Martin, I found Shopgirl to be a lovely little treat.

Rating: BUY


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

Booking Through Thursday

Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

My reading is inspired by my love of language and beautiful writing. I read because I love getting wrapped up in gorgeous prose and a compelling plot peopled by fascinating characters. I read because I love to be transported, broadened and because I love to learn. Simple enough!

What makes up my TBR pile and why? Well, that's another story!

I Won!


Kathy, a.k.a. The Bermuda Onion, emailed me today to let me know that I was one of several winners in her giveaway of Holly Shumas's Love and Other Natural Disasters, and Five Things I Can't Live Without!

I've heard such great things about Shumas's books, and I can't wait to read these. Thank you so much Kathy!!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sydney Taylor Award Blog Tour - Interview with author Jane Yolen

Today I'm featuring an interview with Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty, a book for younger readers which has been chosen as an Honor Book for the Sydney Taylor Book Awards of 2009. The book tells two stories; on one side of the page, you'll learn about an immigrant Jewish family's journey to America. On every facing page, Yolen features the story of the Statue of Liberty, from idea to creation to installation. It's a very effective way to teach the two sides of the story of immigration side by side. Ms. Yolen was gracious enough to answer my questions about the book:

1. The topics of immigration and the Statue of Liberty go together so beautifully but I don't think I've ever seen a children's book present these topics in parallel as you have in Naming Liberty. Why inspired you to choose this presentation?

When the editor and Jim Burke and I were discussing a new book, one of the many historical topics I threw out was something about the Statue of Liberty. It fitted Jim's style. But when the editor loved the idea, I suddenly got cold feet. Unless I could find some new way to present the story, it didn't excite me. There were already many boks out there about Liberty. And then suddenly, the idea of twinning it with the story of a family--not unlike a smaller version of the Yolen family (there were eight children, which were too many for a successful picture book)--popped into my head. From then on, that was the book I wanted to do.

2. Throughout the book, the concept of naming is very important; the changing names of the children is symbolic of their assimilation into American life. Why did you choose this particular metaphor?

From the beginning of the twinning idea, I knew the child was going to change her name at the climax. After all, my father had been Velvul (Wolf) in the old country and became Will/William here. In fact I didn't know he was called anything else but Will until the day after he died, when my uncle Harry (who had been Aron) told me. But also being a fantasy writer, I know the importance of names, sympathetic magic. And in a sense, that is what the girl does. She changes her life by changing her name.

3. We've seen a lot of books about immigration over the years; why do you feel the themes of Naming Liberty are still relevant today?

America is still a nation of immigrants. And once again, certain immigrants are being castigated, beaten, thrown under the metaphoric patriotic bus. So if this book in some small way reminds us again that--in America--outsiders become insiders. In this year, when we have elected a man who should have been an outsider--a child of two nations, two colors, two hearts in a single breast as a the pphilopsoher Montaigne once said--and who is now our most public insider, it seems the right book at the right time.

4. As you did your research, did you learn anything that surprised you, or uncover an anecdote or fact that didn't make it into the final version? Is there something a little "extra" that you'd like to share with our readers?

I learned about the cigar rollers (my mother's family had an uncle who did that) and how the men working in the factory learned English by someone reading to them from the newspaper. That was fun. But I had to shorten the journey, the hard journey, across Eastern Europe, over the ocean. It would take a novel to get all that happened on the way down on paper.

5. Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is very different from the Jewish family about to move to America; what did they have in common to you that lead you to tell their stories together?

Each of them start on their journey with a dream. An almost impossible dream--but a dream that comes true. After much difficulty, the Statue was erected and dedicated in 1886. In the book after an arduous and difficult journey, Libby's family arrives in America. My father and his mother, father, and four of his siblings, arrived at Ellis Island 1914. His older brother had come in 1912, his two oldest sisters in 1913. So they would have seen the Statue but not known its history. And what a fascinating history it is. And of course the hind end of the word history is STORY. My favorite thing I learned was how the head of the statue was brought through the streets of Paris. And didn't Jim Burke capture that brilliantly!

Ms. Yolen, thank you very much for participating!

I think Naming Liberty is a great book and I knew as soon as I read it that was Sydney Taylor Award material. The award was named after Sydney Taylor, author of the All-of-a-Kind-Family series, classics beloved by generations of children. You can find more information about the award and its history here.

If you'd like to explore more Jewish kids' books (and great blogs) check out the complete tour schedule:

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Books for Children

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Aranka Siegal, author of Memories of Babi
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers Category
at The Book of Life

Monday, January 19, 2009
Richard Michelson
Author of As Good As Anybody, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
and
Author of A is for Abraham, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Well-Read Child

Monday, January 19, 2009
Ron Mazellan, illustrator of A is for Abraham
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese Writes

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Boston Bibliophile

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Anna Levine
Author of Freefall, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
and
Author of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, Notable Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Abby (the) Librarian

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Jim Burke, illustrator of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Page Flipper

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Jacqueline Jules, author of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Chicken Spaghetti

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Write for a Reader

Friday, January 23, 2009
Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009
Shahar Kober, illustrator of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe

Monday, January 19, 2009

Musing Mondays


How does your being sick (or injured) affect your reading? Do you read more? Less? Do you pick out a different book than you had already planned? Do you have a "comfort book" that makes you feel better?

Depends if I'm sick or injured. If I'm sick, I'm usually too out of it to read- I usually just want to sleep, or watch TV. If I'm injured that's a different story. Two summers ago I sprained my ankle and was totally off my feet for a few days, then had to keep walking to a minimum for another six weeks. During that time I read quite a bit! As far as what I read, I'll read whatever's on hand, whatever I was already reading. I don't have a comfort book but I think that's a nice idea!

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Salon

So as to be expected after the holidays, I'm overloaded with TBRs once more and trying to figure out how to prioritize what I've got. Reviewing obligations come first, then work-related reading, then "me" reading- luckily most of the books in my TBR pile fit into more than one of these categories!

I'm also backed up on reviewing although I read several books last year (and one so far this year) that I will most likely not review on the blog, either because I didn't like them enough to bother or because I think the books would not be of interest to you, my valued readers. I mean, really- it was hard enough on me reading Money and the Way of Wisdom (which I read for a professional review assignment, not really for fun)- why should I torture you?

One book I'm hedging over reviewing, and not because I disliked it but because I think I dislike the author. I had a negative experience with this person online, and after talking about the book on my blog, buying it for my library, selling it at the library booksale, and convincing my book club to read it, part of me feels like I've done enough. And part of me feels like I'm being petty and I should rise above my personal feelings and do the review for professional reasons. And then the other part says again, "But you've already promoted it..." etc. And on and on. The book was good, and some people will enjoy it, but it wasn't awesome. What do you think?

As far as today, my husband and I will spend the afternoon putting Christmas decorations away, and if I'm lucky I may get in a little reading. 2666, Holding My Breath and The School of Essential Ingredients are on my agenda for today. What's on yours?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2666, continued

Working my way through Roberto Bolano's opus 2666, I finished the first part ("The Part About the Critics") and I have to admit I'm kind of glad it's over. Bolano's style here, heavy on exposition, has made it hard for me to connect with the characters, but knowing that the book is about to switch gears- and move away from them- helps. About halfway through this first part I was getting somewhat discouraged and went on Amazon to re-read the plot summary; doing this helped put the whole thing into perspective and remind me that this first part is just the first part, and that it is going somewhere and I should stick around cause it's only going to get better.

The first part raised a lot of questions- who is Amalfitano, is the German writer Archimboldi really in this Mexican border town of Santa Teresa, and why? And what does the critics' love triangle have to do with it- if anything? I have a feeling that the love triangle, which along with the search for Archimboldi, has dominated this first part, is probably tangential to the overall plot and I have a feeling that this first part is only introducing us to the themes and motifs we'll see over and over again- violence, sex, art, and the murders of young women in the town. The murders are mentioned only obliquely in the first part, but in such a way as to ratchet up the tension level immediately, especially as one of the academics has taken up with a young Mexican woman.

So we shall see. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Finds


So this week was slow for new-book acquisitions, but that's fine. I used a gift certificate to get Ehud Havazelet's Bearing the Body, an interesting-looking story about a father and a son.
I received Sima's Undergarments for Women, by Ilana Stanger-Ross, from Ms. Stanger-Ross's publicist along with Rifling Paradise, which she sent me as an extra. Thank you very much for both!

I also picked up a couple of children's books- Jane Yolen's Naming Liberty (I'll be interviewing her on Tuesday) and A Confused Hanukkah, by Jon Koons. It's a favorite from the library that I wanted to share with my family. I have a small collection of Jewish kids' books at home and I thought these books were both great additions.

REVIEW: Dearest Anne, by Judith Katzir

Dearest Anne : A Tale of Impossible Love, by Judith Katzir. Originally published in Israel in 2003; translated by Dalya Bilu and published 2008 by the Feminist Press at CUNY. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Hebrew.

Dearest Anne is a beautifully-written novel set in the Israel of the 1970s, about the love affair between young Rivi and her beautiful teacher Michaela. Rivi is a young high school student when she begins her affair with 30ish Michaela, married and a new mother. As the story opens, Michaela has died and Rivi comes from her funeral to find the diaries chronicling the affair, which she has buried nearby. The novel is made up mostly of these diaries, which chart both Rivi's coming of age and the course of this tumultous affair.

Katzir has created a lyrical, literary love story about a very emotionally charged topic. I found the book utterly absorbing; Rivi comes across as a very real adolescent, rebellious and charming and dysfunctional. Her relationship with her parents is incredibly strained- her mother neglects her for a boyfriend, and her father has left the family for a new marriage and while he continues to care for his sons, he seems to have abandoned his daughter entirely. Rivi fills this gap with school and friends- and with her charistmatic literature teacher, who showers her with praise, attention and attraction.

From a psychological standpoint it is absolutely believeable (and a little scary) to me how this dysfunctional adult takes advantage of Rivi and preys on her weaknesses, without even really realizing how, or what, she's doing. I think the fact that Michaela is a woman and not a man has the effect of idealizing the relationship somewhat; if the relationship were heterosexual I think its inappropriateness would be a little clearer. As it is, the erotic and idyllic scenes of lovemaking and tenderness between them create a haze obscuring these questions at least somewhat. Rivi and Michaela are likeable people who do seem to genuinely care for each other, so as a reader I want the best for them but I'm not sure that for a 14 year old (or so), having an affair with a married adult is ever a really good idea. And I'd question how good it is for the adult either.

And it's questions like this that make the book tough to tackle- I procrastinated on writing this review for a long time, until I felt like I could tackle them in a way seemed appropriate. As it is, I don't really think I have it figured out but decided to just dive in anyway. I don't believe that people are gay or have gay relationships because there is something psychologically dysfunctional or wrong with them, and I don't believe that the sole explanation for Rivi and Michaela's affair is their psycholgoical baggage, but Katzir introduces elements of un-health into their psyches and I think it's fair to ask how these elements impact their attraction and their relationship.

This edition of the novel includes an essay discussing its critical reception, and its mixed reaction among gay and lesbian Israelis. Some find Michaela to be a stereotypically-negative predatory lesbian, and some believe that in the end she is punished for her transgressions while Rivi, having gone back to conventional heterosexuality, is rewarded, and these readers see judgements on the part of the author coming from their respective fate. It's a very complex issue, and I think these readers are on to something; but I really loved Dearest Anne for its beautiful writing and compelling plot and characters, as well as for the myriad of details about daily life in Israel. So if this sort of thing interests you at all I'd suggest you pick it up.

Rating: BUY

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

The Sydney Taylor Book Awards - and an upcoming Special Feature

Those of you interested in Jewish books- and specifically Jewish books for children- will be interested to know that the 2009 Sydney Taylor Book Awards, which recognize the best in Jewish books for kids and teens- have been announced. You can see the press release, with all of the awardees and honor books, here: http://www.jewishlibraries.org/ajlweb/awards/stba/STBAAwardList2009.pdf.

On Tuesday, January 20, I will feature an interview with Jane Yolen, author of the Sydney Taylor Honor Book Naming Liberty. This interview is part of a blog tour of Sydney Taylor Award honorees. The full schedule for the tour is:

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Books for Children

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Aranka Siegal, author of Memories of Babi
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers Category
at The Book of Life

Monday, January 19, 2009
Richard Michelson
Author of As Good As Anybody, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
and
Author of A is for Abraham, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Well-Read Child

Monday, January 19, 2009
Ron Mazellan, illustrator of A is for Abraham
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese Writes

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Boston Bibliophile

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Anna Levine
Author of Freefall, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
and
Author of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, Notable Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Abby (the) Librarian

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Jim Burke, illustrator of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Page Flipper

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Jacqueline Jules, author of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Chicken Spaghetti

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Write for a Reader

Friday, January 23, 2009
Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009
Shahar Kober, illustrator of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe

Lots of these blogs are new to me so I'm looking forward to visiting them and getting to know some more great bloggers. I hope you all get a chance to check them out too.

The Sydney Taylor Award is an annual award named after the author of the All-of-A-Kind-Family series of kids' books. All-of-A-Kind-Family is a series about an immigrant Jewish family living in New York in the early twentieth century; it's a classic series beloved by generations of families. You can find out more about the award here, at the terrific blog maintained by Judaic-librarian extraordinaire Heidi Estrin, also host of the Book of Life podcast. I encourage you to visit the blog and listen to Heidi's great podcast as well.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Independent Bookstores- What They Have to Offer that You Can't Find Anywhere Else

This post first appeared yesterday at MyFriendAmysBlog.com. Today you can visit her to see a great post about supporting public libraries. Amy commissioned me to write this piece as part of her series on the different places we get our books, and why.

As booklovers and avid readers we have a wide array of choices when it comes to how to get books. We can shop at chain stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, or go online for steep discounts. We can buy used books- often very cheaply, and we can trade books for free using web sites like Bookmooch and PaperbackBookSwap.

But where does that leave the independent bookstore? Most independent bookstores can't overwhelm you with the vast selection of a big chain, or offer the steep discounts of Amazon, or let us recycle (and a get a bargain) with used books or trading. All over the country independent bookstores having been feeling the effects of the poor economy and the changing book business, fueled in no small way by the discounts and deals available at stores that do large volumes of selling and can afford to live on razor-thin profit margins. No matter what, customers shopping indies will pay a premium for the privilege.

What do we as readers get for that extra money? First of all, we get a superior selection. Not necessarily a larger selection- most neighborhood indies cannot match the sheer square footage of a Barnes and Noble superstore and the thousands of titles it can stock- but superior selection (although large indies like Powells in Portland, Oregon, The Strand in Manhattan and Green Apple Books in San Francisco could give any chain a run for its money). Selections at chain stores might be bigger but they also tend to be blander- aisles and aisles of the same hot new releases and genre fiction and classics and cookbooks and so on you see at every other chain. I've walked into chain stores all over the country and they are all the same. At indies, every store is different. Books at indies are hand-picked by owners and staff to reflect the individual needs of the community they serve- and often that "community" is a neighborhood, or a specific demographic. Independent bookstores in my area make it a point to offer a smattering of off-the-beaten-path material to appeal to diverse populations, such as the indie bookstore that always has the popular new release from Israel, or the new small-press award winner that was just written up in the local paper, or the new kid's book covering local history. Buying decisions at chains are made at company HQ and individual stores have little or no freedom to select books with that level of sensitivity to customer needs.

Indies can take chances on local authors and small-press and self-published books that would never stand a chance at a chain. The Lace Reader, that big hit of last year, started out as a self-published novel that benefited enormously by promotion from an independent bookseller in Salem, Massachusetts. Indies in my area carry novels and poetry I would never see in a chain, and thus provide a crucial outlet for independent voices. If indie bookstores went away, so would many of the publishers and authors that rely on them and with them much of what's worth reading. Indies also stock local magazines and self-published zines that would never find room on the shelves of a chain, giving those writers a voice and an audience. Today's zinester or self-published writer is tomorrow's emerging master, so the future of writing and reading depends on these voices being heard.

Indie bookstores can also make it their business to specialize in a specific area and delve deeper than even a general independent bookseller. In my community, within two miles of my home I can visit an independent bookstore specializing in travel books, and another specializing in poetry, and another specializing in science fiction and fantasy, and another specializing in foreign-language books, and another specializing in manga. Travel a little further and there are bookstores stocking exclusively Jewish-interest books, others stocking gay and lesbian subjects, and others catering to immigrant populations from all over the world- Russia, Korea, Central America and more. African-American bookstores in urban areas have been crucial to the proliferation of urban fiction, a once-marginal category now gone mainstream. There is not a chain bookstore in existence that can match what even one of these independent bookstores can offer its customers.

But, I hear you say, what about Amazon? You can get anything at Amazon. Oftentimes that's true. But what you can't get at Amazon is service, or the opportunity to browse- both of which are crucial to the book-buying experience. You can find any nearly any book you want in that database, but to search for a book you have to be aware of it first. Indie bookstores lay their varied and eclectic selections out for you to pick up, skim, flip through, and read. There you can wander over to the next aisle or peruse the tables for something new or unexpected every time you visit. The best you can do at Amazon is scroll through a dozen or so "suggestions" that seem arbitrary. At a bookstore you have the opportunity to ask questions of knowledgeable staff- professionals who have dedicated their careers to knowing books and sharing that knowledge with you, the reader. Staff at indie bookstores are some of the smartest people around when it comes to books- and because the stores are small and the customers regular and local, staff get to know them and get to know how to please them. Although many chain booksellers are excellent and know their stuff, big chains get such crowds and so much turnover among staff and customers alike that they don't always have the opportunity to really hone their expertise. And indies appreciate their customers- because they know you have other options, they appreciate your business and show it. At a chain, I'm just another customer; at an indie, I'm valued.

Which brings me to my last point- community. Independent bookstores provide community and a gathering-place for their customers. Whether you're talking about a stay-at-home mom who comes in for storytime with her kids and leaves with a playdate and a lunch partner, or a recent arrivals from anywhere in the world who comes in for the latest book from home and leave with new friends, or a nerd like me who comes in for literary fiction and is pleased to see others reading the same things, there's nothing like an independent bookstore for letting readers know they're not alone and that there are other people right nearby who share their interests and needs- and that people are there to meet those needs. As wonderful as books are, it's relationships with other people that make life worthwhile and independent bookstores provide that benefit far better than any warehouse or website ever could. Reading is a wonderful solitary activity but the magic only really happens when a reader meets another reader to talk about books.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2666 by Roberto Bolano- First Thoughts

So the poll I ran other day about what to read next ended with a tie between Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Roberto Bolano's 2666; since 2666 was a gift from my husband (and someone gave him a copy as well) I decided to start reading 2666.

I have the three-volume paperback edition; the first volume is divided into three main sections and I'm about a third of the way through the first part, which translates into about 50 pages. I'm not going to blog the whole book (or maybe I will?) but I felt like writing a little of my first impressions of this very long and highly-lauded book.

Okay, so the first fifty pages. They're very heavy on exposition and very light on dialogue and action per se; the plot concerns four academics, all specialists on a particular and mysterious German writer with an Italian name and a murky background. In this tight-knit group there are three men and one woman, all close friends. As I round page 50 they were embroiled in a love triangle, with two of the men involved with the woman.

Bolano's style so far is matter-of-fact and engrossing enough; right now I'm wondering where it's all going, because it's hard to see it going in this vein for much longer. Bolano is narrating what seems like an extended premise or set-up, accompanied by occasional rambles and asides made of sentences lasting as long as a page. I'm wondering how important the information delivered in these asides will be as we go forward.

Bolano has definitely got me hooked though- I'm interested to stick around for the rest of this ride and can't wait to see where it goes!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Guest Post!

Tomorrow I will be doing a guest post over at My Friend Amy's Blog. The topic is indie bookstores- why I love them and support them. She is running a series on different perspectives on book-buying; I'm not sure if she's running all of the essays tomorrow or just mine. I'll have to go over there to find out too!

I will re-run the essay over here on Wednesday if you don't get over there tomorrow but I just wanted to let you know to look for me over there on Tuesday.

Graphic Novel Monday: Cry Yourself to Sleep, by Jeremy Tinder

Cry Yourself to Sleep, by Jeremy Tinder. Published 2005 by Top Shelf Productions. Fiction.


Cry Yourself to Sleep is quick slip of a graphic novel, a story about a rabbit who loses his job, a robot who needs a purpose and a frustrated writer all trying to find their way in the world. They are friends but go through three more-or-less unrelated stories, until the end when they come together very sweetly.

It's quarter-sized, and its black and white artwork and varied panels combined with its small size give it a zine-like feel. Tinder keeps the action moving smoothly and creates three compelling characters. He jumps back and forth between the characters in a way that kept me reading. I was able to finish the book in one sitting but it's fun to pop back in and leaf through it a little as well.

Cry Yourself to Sleep is a tender story about growing up and dealing with adversity. It would be a good choice for adults as there is some mature language and themes- nothing explicit, just the occasional swear word and themes that younger people might have trouble connecting to. It's a nice debut and I look forward to more from Tinder.

Rating: BACKLIST

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

Musing Mondays


How did you react to assigned reading when you were in school/university/college/etc? How do you think on these books now? What book were you 'forced' to read when you where in school that you've since reread and loved?
Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

I loved required reading! I've always loved to read and I enjoyed the books I read for school. There were a few dogs- Death Be Not Proud anyone? But there were many more that I loved. Jane Eyre. The Once and Future King. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. On and on. I love "classics" so school reading was generally right up my alley.

I've re-read Jane Eyre many times- it's one of my all-time favorites, and I've re-read John Steinbeck and others as well, but nothing comes to mind right now. Some of my favorite books are things that weren't assigned to me but that teachers suggested- things like All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren and The Idiot by Dostoevsky. I'd have to dig out some of my old reading journals to come up with more titles!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Awards!


Last week I got a bunch of cool awards from a bunch of awesome bloggers:

Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit and NoBS Book Reviews gave me the the Prémio Dardos Award: The Prémio Dardos is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.



Yvonne of Socrates' Book Reviews, Wisteria of A Bookworm's Dinner and Rhapsody in Books's Weblog gave me the Butterfly Award!

Thank you so much! I'm so flattered that you thought of me.

Both of these awards are memes that need to be passed on.

So I'm going to pick ten bloggers for both awards:

  1. Not A Walking Encyclopedia
  2. Fresh Ink Books
  3. Jew Wishes
  4. A Guy's Moleskine Notebook
  5. Literarily
  6. Rat's Reading
  7. Baking and Books
  8. Breaking the Spine
  9. Scobberlotch
  10. Booktrash
These are some of my favorite blogs- because we share interests, or a point of view, or just because I like the blog- and the blogger! Thank you so much to the folks who gave me the awards and thanks to all of you, who make the blogosphere such a fun place.

Sunday Salon

So, with 7 hours to go, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog is tied with Roberto Bolano's 2666 in my "What Book Should I Read Next?" poll. Have you voted yet? Voting closes at midnight tonight!

In the mean time I've got a few things going- Ludmilla Ulitskaya's The Funeral Party, a short novel that's not turning out to be a quick read, and The Art of the Matroyshka, a coffee-table book on Russian nesting dolls that I've been finding fascinating. The writing is not stellar but the information is solid; I just finished the chapter on how the dolls are made, including the lacquering process and the painting process. So much of it is done by hand and the really shocking thing to me is how deplorable the working conditions are- women lacquer the dolls by hand and clean their skin with diesel fuel (!), and the people who carve the dolls with lathes spend all day breathing in wood chips and sawdust. Unbelievable. I do love those dolls though, but it seems like maybe the manufacturing process should be regulated a little more and more thought given to the health and safety of the workers.

Well, it's another snowy day here in Massachusetts and while I'll be going out in a bit to a birthday party, we had a late night out last night at my husband's office party so I'm going to relax a little longer with my tea and think about getting ready in a little while. Hope you all have a great Sunday and enjoy whatever lies before you today.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday Finds

Two new additions to my library this week, both bargain hardcovers I picked up at The New England Mobile Book Fair, my new favorite place.

First a little about the store. It's a huge warehouse of new and used books- up-to-the-minute releases and rooms and rooms of remainders and used books. The location is terrible- it's on the highway and completely inaccessible by public transportation- and the hours aren't much better- they close at 7 on weeknights and even earlier on the weekends- but what a place. It reminds me of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, one of my absolute favorite-est bookstores ever with its never-ending selection and tempting bargains. The children's remainders are incredible- a huge room of all kinds of first-quality kids books, arranged by title and most costing around $5. Love it!

On to the books. I think I acted with remarkable restraint, only buying two books. The first is Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World, about a young woman who goes to work for an eccentric Jewish family. One of their hangers-on is a young man who is heir to a children's-book fortune. The second is Marina Lewycka's Strawberry Fields, a follow up to her Booker-nominated A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which I absolutely loved. I'm looking forward to both. In fact right now I have so many great books on my shelves I really don't know where to start! Maybe I'll run a poll and let you all pick one for me!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

REVIEW: Petropolis, by Anya Ulinich

Petropolis, by Anya Ulinich. Published 2007 by Viking Adult. Literary Fiction.

Petropolis is a satiric novel about a young woman named Sasha who grows up in a post-Soviet backwater town called Asbestos 2, has a child and emigrates to the United States as a mail-order bride in search of her father, who has abandoned the family. Her travels take her from the southwest to Chicago and finally New York, where she ends up forming her own family- unconventional and unusual, but somehow unmistakeably right.

When I read Ellen Litman's wonderful book of short stories The Last Chicken in America, about Russian-Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia I was reminded of Sasha but Ulinich is comical where Litman is bittersweet. There is a story in Litman's book where the main character, Masha, is working for a religious Jewish family that observes kashrut and expects her to take up the mantle of religious Judaism as they have; Masha's response is tired frustration at their inability to understand that for her being Jewish has never meant wanting to be religious: "It meant classmates calling you names. It meant a line on your passport, schools that would never accept you, jobs you couldn't have. It meant leaflets and threats and a general on TV promising pogroms in May. It meant immigration." In a chapter of Petropolis called "The Captive of the Talmud" Sasha goes to work for a religious family whose idea of charity is imprisoning her in their home and putting her to work as an (unpaid) maid. The mother of the family, Mrs. Tarakan, calls her "honey" but speaks to her with condescension- "It's the Sabbath, sweetie. Jewish people don't work on the Sabbath"- then locks her in the house. Sasha's reactions to expressions of religion are more prosaic than Masha's. "Sasha noticed that all the prayers started with 'Barukh ata Adonai.' She thought about adenoids and long winter colds, the smell of Tiger Blam in stuffy rooms." Both Litman and Ulinich portray Russian Jews alienated from religion and from the Americans who expect them to embrace it, but Litman sticks to realism where Ulinich turns satirical.

And it's this satiric tone and blase determination that characterizes Sasha's story. As she travels across the country, finding her way from place to place with the help of friends and acquaintances, whatever drama she encounters does nothing to deter her from her mission- finding her father. Her father, Victor, is a biracial Russian Jew who marries Sasha's mother while hospitalized, then escapes to the United States and disappears. Sasha, meanwhile, has to forge a life as best she can with a domineering mother and an absent father, getting along on pluck and opportunism. She feels instinctively that if she can find him, everything will be alright. And in a way, she's right.

Her pluck eventually lands her in New York, where the various elements of her life come together to form something wholly different from what she ever expected. Petropolis isn't as rollicking as Gary Shteyngart's brilliant post-Soviet satire Absurdistan or as understated and grounded as Ellen Litman's book, but it's something in between- it's a solid, funny, page-turning comic novel combining a winning heroine with a plot as meandering as real life. Sasha is smart, brave and real, and once you meet her you'll want to stick around to see how she, and her cavalcade of friends and family, all turn out. Trust me- you'll enjoy the ride.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, January 5, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: Lone Racer, by Nicolas Mahler

Lone Racer, by Nicolas Mahler. Published 2006 by Top Shelf. Graphica.

Lone Racer is a graphic-novel short story about a nameless drag racer past his glory days who spends most of his time at the bar- his wife is ill and hospitalized, and he can no longer keep up with the game. Everything's become faster, more dangerous and more daring- and he's just become older. One of his bar buddies, a policeman, suggests they hold up a bank- but what follows isn't what you might expect.

What attracted me to this little book was the offbeat visual style and coloration. The driver, the other characters and the scenes are made up of some of the loosest, simplest sketching I've ever seen. The driver himself is just a collection of long lines and exaggerated features, especially his elongated proboscis. His wife is a shape under a sheet with a tiny, tiny head, perhaps a metaphor of her diminished status in the world. However diminished she may appear, she is a huge presence in the narrator's life and his love for her is what drives him, figuratively but literally as well. The book is slightly larger than quarter size and divided up almost uniformly into two horizontal panels per page with narration on top of each panel, giving it the feel of movie or television screens. The coloring is black and white except for the hero, who is colored in orange. Occasionally other elements of the scenery is orange as well, such a woman's legs, or tire marks on the road- elements that express movement. The hero is almost always in motion, either running or swinging his loopy, spaghetti-thin arms and body around a panel. Mahler's art definitely keeps the eye moving around the page.

I was surprised and taken aback by the ending, and the book ends up being a bittersweet meditation on redemption and the power of love- with the emphasis on sweet. With some adult language and sexual content it's another one for the grownups but I'd recommend Lone Racer as a quick, very enjoyable read.

Rating: BACKLIST


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

Read and Reviewed in 2009

* Valley of Strength, by Shulamit Lapid
* This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper
* Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin
* Rachel Calof's Story, by Rachel Calof
* In the Kitchen, by Monica Ali
* Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant
* School for Love, by Olivia Manning
* Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman
* Lost in Austen, by Emma Campbell Webster
* Valeria's Last Stand, by Marc Fitten
* Shalom India Housing Society, by Esther David
* A Contract with God, by Will Eisner
* Stitches, by David Small
* The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt
* American Eve, by Paula Uruburu
* Forbidden Bread, by Erica Johnson Debeljak
* Annie's Ghosts, by Steve Luxenberg
* Godmother, by Carolyn Turgeon
* The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
* Strange Ways, by Rokhl Faygenberg
* The Photographer, by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier LeFevre
* Wild Strawberries, by Angela Thirkell
* The City and The City, by China Mieville
* Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming, by Rachel Hartman
* The Tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley
* I Saw You..., edited by Julia Wertz
* Sonata for Miriam, by Linda Olsson
* Doghead, by Morten Ramsland
* Spiced, by Dalia Jurgensen
* All Other Nights, by Dara Horn
* All Over Coffee, by Paul Madonna
* Isaac's Torah, by Angel Wagenstein
* Secret Son, by Laila Lalami
* Mr. SPIC Goes to Washington, by Ilan Stavans and Roberto Weil
* After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance, by Anne Sibley O'Brien
* The Local News, by Miriam Gershow
* Siberia, by Nikolai Maslov
* Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan
* Towards Another Summer, by Janet Frame
* Heir to the Glimmering World, by Cynthia Ozick
* The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
* It Disappears, by Nate Powell
* And From There You Shall Seek, by Joseph Soloveitchik
* The Translator, by Leila Aboulela
* The Funeral Party, by Ludmila Ulitskaya
* What It Is, by Lynda Barry
* French Milk, by Lucy Knisley
* Someone to Run With, by David Grossman
* Broad Appeal, edited by David Roman
* Sima's Undergarments for Women, by Ilana Stanger-Ross
* Notes on Democracy, by H.L. Mencken
* SquareCat Comics, by Jennifer Omand
* Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
* The Master and Margarita: The Graphic Novel
* Holding My Breath, by Sidura Ludwig
* Cry Yourself to Sleep, by Jeremy Tinder
* Absolute Boyfriend, v.1, by Yuu Watase
* Money and the Way of Wisdom, by Timothy Sandoval
* Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, by Winifred Watson
* Lone Racer, by Nicolas Mahler
* Surprised by God, by Danya Ruttenberg

Musing Mondays


Here's today's Musing Mondays hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page. For the full meme and for everyone's responses, click here.

Do you have a system for borrowing out books from the library? Do you know what you're going to borrow before you get there? How often do you borrow out books?

My first Musing Mondays- and it's about my favorite subject, libraries!

I definitely have a system for borrowing- I almost always only borrow books that I'm auditioning for the library I run, and the way it works is
  • I get my copy of the Assocation of Jewish Libraries newsletter, the professional journal I use to keep up with Jewish kids' books, then
  • Read all the reviews and check off the books that seem like they'd be good for the library, then
  • Place interlibrary-loan orders through the internet for everything I'd like to read, and
  • Pick them up at my local branch when they're available.
I love the Cambridge library system, and the folks at my local branch are the best. Seriously. I love those guys!

Sometimes I borrow other kinds of books as well but I'm really more of a book-buyer than I am a book-borrower.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunday Salon

A lazy Sunday ahead.

My plan for the day is to organize and put away the books I got for Christmas, and continue reading a couple of things I have going at the moment- Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day, The Funeral Party and Money and the Way of Wisdom. That last book is something I'm reviewing for a professional journal and I've vowed to finish it this week so I can write the review and be done.

I'm reading The Story of French right now as well and finding it fascinating. I just finished the fourth chapter, on the creation of the Academie Francaise, a French cultural institution which maintains and monitors what's called bon usage, or the "best" French- but their version of French is like an official version that doesn't necessarily reflect French as it's spoken. The members of the Academie are revered and respected but according to the author of The Story of French, the dictionary that the Academie produces is not respected by lexicographers for its omissions and purism. It's very interesting. I'm going to try to read it more consistently so I don't lose the thread.

What are you reading right now that's fascinating you?

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Bibliophile Christmas

So here's my haul from Santa.

Novels, nonfiction, manga, graphic novels- it's all here.

Some highlights:

Book of Ruth and Esther- from Pocket Canons 10-copy Boxed Set- Second Series, Books from the Bible. This is a quarter-sized slipcased set of 10 mini books, each covering a different book of the Bible and introduced by a different writer, artist or religious figure. The set I bought at a used bookstore was missing the tiny Book of Ruth and Esther. My husband found it for me online!

Black Jack, volume 1, by Osamu Tezuka. A recently-released series by the father of manga.

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Unset. An epic life story of a fictional Scandinavian woman.

2666, by Roberto Bolano. An irresistable-looking literary thriller from Spain.

The Master and Margarita- the graphic novel version of Mikhail Bulgakov's classic fantasy. Very hard to find!

Small Endearments, by Sandi Fox. A lovely history of children's doll quilts- an interest of mine.

What It Is, by Lynda Barry. The latest by one of the queens of comics.

The Art of the Russian Matroyshka and The Art of the Creche. Two picture-book histories of two things that I collect and enjoy.

I think 2009 is going to be fun!


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Booking Through Thursday


Happy New Year, everyone!

So … any Reading Resolutions? Say, specific books you plan to read? A plan to read more ____? Anything at all?

Name me at least ONE thing you’re looking forward to reading this year!

I think my one reading resolution is to honor all the commitments I make- which I'm sorry to say I did not do in 2008. I reviewed almost everything I agreed to, in a timely manner, but a couple of things did get away from me. The flip side is I am sure I will be making far fewer commitments. Right now I have two books I'm obligated to review, and one I have to read for a professional engagement- and that's fine. After those, it will take something exceptional to get my attention.

I'm looking forward to reading so many books this year. I just picked up Marina Lewycka's Strawberry Fields and Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog- both are right at the top of my "want-to-reads"- not to mention all the great stuff I got for Christmas.

What's at the top of your want-to-reads for 2009?