Monday, August 31, 2009
What an interesting opportunity, to highlight something that represents me as a reader, a blogger, maybe even- dare I say it- as a writer.
I'm going to pick a book review, specifically my review of Abraham Verghese's wonderful Cutting for Stone, because it was a review I enjoyed writing and a book I absolutely loved- so I think it is a great representation of my blog.
Jennifer is keeping her Mr. Linky list open until Wednesday so if you want to participate, go on over!
But blogging in a vacuum is no fun, so I started to make an effort. I joined the book bloggers' web ring, the Book Blogs ning site, hosted Tuesday Thingers. I made a concerted effort to visit every blogger who visited me, and took part in a number of weekly memes. I opened a Twitter account, linked my blog to Facebook, even got a MySpace page. I got business cards and started promoting the blog to people I know professionally. Over time things picked up- every week I would have a few new followers, or a few new subscribers.
But I feel like I'm abysmally bad at the whole community thing, no matter how much I want to be everyone's pal. I can't possibly return every visit I get from every blogger. Just yesterday I deleted about 30 comments from the beginning of August I was never going to get around to replying to. Memes were starting to take over the blog and I had to scale back. I participated in only one blogging challenge- the Jewish Literature Challenge, because given that I'm a temple librarian it's one that I could complete in a single workday if I chose. I don't know how people manage real challenges! I can't even finish the ones I set for myself! And I'm unforgivably slow to pass out those blogging awards I receive every now and then- and it's not that I don't appreciate it. Believe me, I do. I signed up to participate in Book Blogger Appreciation Week by serving on a panel, and I feel completely overwhelmed by just that tiny job. Is this normal? Am I just lazy?
What does community mean to you? Does it mean joining certain sites? Does it mean fulfilling certain responsibilities, either to yourself or to other bloggers? Do you ever feel like you're letting yourself down or disappointing someone else if you don't return a visit, reply to a post or pass along an award in a timely manner? What does "timely" mean when a blog is a personal hobby and not a job for which you're held accountable by a boss? When, if ever, do you let yourself off the hook?
Or is "community" more an attitude and less a list of to-dos? How do you define it, and what role does it play in your blogging priorities? Is about respect and courtesy and giving back, or just about self-promotion?
One bright note- I recently joined the BlogHer network of affiliates, and I am loving what BlogHer does to promote community among bloggers by running promotions and highlighting posts so we can visit each other and read things outside our normal watch-lists. Check out some of the posts that get highlighted every week- there are some real gems out there.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday night we went to see "District 9," which is one of the best movies I've seen all year, either rented or in the theater. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It's a combination of science fiction action film and political allegory. I loved the setting (how many scifi movies are set in South Africa?), the actors and the quasi-documentary style. The action sequences were typical shoot-em-up but the plot carried a lot of real emotional weight as well. I'm toying with the idea of adding movie reviews to the blog now and then; what do you think?
I'm not quite sure what today holds. I'll go to the gym this afternoon, and maybe treat myself to a bookstore visit later today or tonight. Either way, I'm sure books and reading will play some part in my Sunday!
I have such a lot of blogging stuff to catch up on. Awards, BBAW, my giveaway winner. So I'm going to work on some of that stuff as well. What about you?
You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Lots of new books this week!
A bunch of these were waiting for me at work and had been there for a week or two. I don't get in often over the summer.
Anyhoo, on with the show.
Slumberland, by Paul Beatty, came courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.
Luis Leante's See How Much I Love You came unsolicited from the publisher, and is officially my first 2010 release.
I picked up a used copy of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake at the Harvard Book Store because I just finished her latest, The Year of the Flood, which takes place in the same dystopian world and so now I need to catch up.
How to Paint a Dead Man, by Sarah Hall and longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize, came courtesy of HarperCollins. Thank you! I've started it already and it's characteristically very good. Sarah Hall is an accomplished writer of literary fiction.
Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem's latest, came from Random House.
And finally Macmillan contributed Blame, by Michelle Huneven, and the graphic novel adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451 to my to-be-read pile. Thank you!
I have lots of great reading ahead!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
What’s the lightest, most “fluff” kind of book you’ve read recently?
Probably the fluffiest book I've read recently was Farahad Zama's The Marriage Bureau for Rich People. I enjoyed the book a lot, but this book was actually the reason I came up with a new rating to add to my scheme- Beach. A well-crafted summer read, it's sweet as taffy and light as cotton candy.
You can read more Booking Through Thursday entries here.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Those of us interested in freedom- including the freedom to read- should take a moment today to reflect on his life and accomplishments.
Monday, August 24, 2009
First of all, my findings are highly unscientific and based purely on my own observations. And I may very well be mistaken. But it's all enough to make me wonder if independent bookstores are doing enough to reach out to an audience that's economically diverse and diverse in its tastes, as well as diverse culturally. I understand that paying full price for books is a middle class luxury, and one available to fewer and fewer of us. And I know indie bookstores can't compete on price with Amazon or even the big chains. But I'm wondering if that's the whole story.
When I go into any of the indies in my area, the first and most obvious thing I notice is that the crowd tends to be more or less female and more or less middle class in appearance. It's pretty well documented that most readers are women and it makes sense that most people paying full price for books are middle class. I also notice a few things about the books on offer- again, in broad terms. I notice a good selection of "Indie Next List" type fiction and nonfiction, I notice that some stores do better than others at hand-selecting titles not of the "Indie Next List" type, and I notice a distinct lack of genre fiction. I notice a preponderance of highbrow-ish literary fiction and only a smattering of popular fiction and nonfiction. The toney indie I shop most often, for example, would never be caught dead selling the upcoming Kathy Griffin memoir, or any other celebrity biography for that matter. And indie bookstores don't seem to be selling ebooks yet either.
What I'm wondering today is- assuming there is an indie bookstore near to you, and that you're aware of the option to shop indie online, apart from price, what reasons would you have for not shopping them? I'm not asking this question because I want to judge anyone or even argue- I'm just genuinely curious. What are they not doing for you? What do they not have? Does your local indie not stock the genre you read, like romance or Christian fiction or serious science fiction or fantasy? Without naming names, do you find the selections bland, or unimaginative, or just the same everywhere you go? Do they seem elitist? Would you be more interested if you were able to buy ebooks from indies? Those of you who love indie bookstores know what keeps you coming back for more- but for those of you who don't, what keeps you out?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
After being sick for two weeks and away from home for one, I'm finally ready to get back to my normal routine starting tomorrow.
The last week on Nantucket was a lot of fun. I visited with family, shopped, slept, ate, read and played in the ocean for eight very relaxing days. We left a day early due to Hurricane Bill- on Friday it was announced that all the beaches on the island would be closed until Monday and there were rumors that boats would also be cancelled, so my husband and I were worried if we didn't leave Friday afternoon we wouldn't be able to until Monday. So we packed up and got on a boat in under and hour, then picked up our cat from boarding yesterday and have today to rest and get ready for the week. I have to do mundane things like go grocery shopping and plan out some meals for the week, and after that- reading!
I started on The Hakawati while I was away, and I'm enjoying it but it's slow going. Last night we rented "Fitzcarraldo", the Werner Herzog movie about a man who moves a steamship over a mountain in the Amazon; I wanted to see it because I have an ARC of Herzog's Conquest of the Useless, his diary about filming the movie, hanging around and I thought seeing the movie first would help me understand the book. I started to read it when I first got it several months ago but it didn't make much sense without having seen the film. And I have a lot of blog reading to catch up on! A lot!
Starting this week I'm going to really make an effort to spend more time on my sewing and crafts, too- I've been woefully neglecting them for a long time!
You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
I am so thrilled and honored that I've been nominated for SEVEN Book Blogger Appreciation Week awards:
- Best Graphic Novel Review Blog,
- Best General Review Blog,
- Most Eclectic Taste Blog,
- Best Literary Fiction Blog,
- Cultural Review Blog,
- Best Reviews,
- Best Writing, and, just this morning found out I was nominated for an eighth, for
- Most Altruistic Blog.
A big thanks also to My Friend Amy, and all the committee members who are working so hard to put together a great event for all of us.
Book bloggers are the best!
Friday, August 21, 2009
Well this week I've been on vacation on sunny Nantucket, going to the beach a lot and relaxing- and actually not doing all that much reading or book shopping! It's not like I haven't done any, but honestly I've found the bookstores here a little lackluster.
There are two indies on the island (no chains). Mitchell's added a beautiful second floor to its cozy little end-of-the-block nook, where it has mostly paperback stuff, including a whole wall of classic fiction. Downstairs is the rest- hardcovers, new books, children's, and their famous stock of Nantucket and nautical history. Nantucket Bookworks is a more traditional general interest indie, and although I have always enjoyed visiting, this year I couldn't find any of the books on my wish list and didn't feel like buying "just because." I'm also likely to slow down my book buying for the next few weeks as I wait for the fall titles to hit- specifically, I'm looking forward to Kathy Griffin's upcoming autobiography, Official Book Club Selection, Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturne and Vladimir Nabokov's last, The Original of Laura. So I'll save my pennies until then!
I did pick up The Bostonians, by Henry James, at Mitchell's- partly because I'm interested in it and partly because I felt bad about cracking the spine while I was browsing. Oh well!
You can find more Friday Finds at ShouldBeReading.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
(Tell me you didn’t see this one coming?)
The best book I've read recently was Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, which I haven't reviewed yet, a novel in short stories centering on the title character, Olive Kitteridge, and taking place mostly in Maine. It's a lovely, literary, and beautifully-written.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
You can read my full review here, and click here to buy the book via Indiebound.org.
Mr. Burr was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
1. What inspired you to pen a novel on the topic of religion, instead of, say, an essay or a nonfiction journalism piece? Was there something you thought you could say better through fictional characters, truths you felt could better be expressed through fiction?
It’s interesting. I’ve been asked this numerous times, and my
perception is that the people who ask this question are those most interested in the intellectual problems the novel raises. The people who don’t ask this question talk to me exclusively about the characters, their feeling about them— the ideas are merely a component inside the greater fictional work. I just got a fan email from a woman— Jewish— who wrote, “I love Anne! I KNOW her! It amazed me.” She also said she agreed with my view on all the issues— that one cannot simultaneously claim to believe in Judaism, a theology of separatism, tribalism, and racialism created as a logical adaptive protective device in the ancient world, and also claim to oppose racialism, tribalism, and separatism for everyone but Jews in the modern world (she added, “And I consider myself extremely Jewish!”)—but she only talked to me about the characters. She’s an example of a reader who responded to the story. And that’s my answer: To me there was never a question but that I’d write this as fiction. You can write non-fiction, and it’s fine for laying out your truths in one way. But fiction communicates those truths in an utterly different way. Infinitely more complexity, subtlety. I felt, and feel, that these truth can be much better expressed through fiction because they are so deeply, irrationally, utterly human.
2. What kind of challenge are you posing to your readers? Religion plays a large role in American life- are you trying to get the reader to reconsider the role religion might play in their lives?
Absolutely. The role of every organized religion: Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam. To be very blunt: Only the truly fanatic and fundamentalist are not hypocrites. Reform and even Conservative and Orthodox Jews say to me, “Oh, how terrible that that Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem expelled you from that yeshiva!” And they’re simply hypocrites. They identify as Jews. Yet they don’t keep the 613 rules. They eat trefe. They work on the Sabbath, etc etc. And most
importantly, many believe that non-Jews are not morally inferior. Remember in the novel the person who says-- and this is a direct quote from author Regina Schwartz-- that “we Jews are chosen, yes, but it’s not that the Jews are better than other people, just that we answer to a higher moral standard." This is laugh out loud absurd. If you claim to believe in an organized religion, then put your money where your mouth is. If you’re truly a Christian or a Jew, you need to act on Leviticus and put gay people to death. Either take it seriously... or begin the often very difficult process of accepting that you are not Jewish or Christian or Hindu or Muslim. You are, instead, human. Which in my view is much better.
The Orthodox Jews take Judaism seriously. The Muslim fanatics take Islam seriously. The Christian fundamentalists take Christianity seriously. Of course, they are all—all of them— completely insane and thoroughly evil people, and I loathe them. But they are intellectually and theologically coherent. And anyone who claims a religious identity, then dilutes its theology to parts per million—“Oh, I’m Christian, but I don’t believe in hell”; sorry, Jesus explicitly talks about burning in the fires of Hell—is simply silly. Claim a religious identity without adhering to the religion, and you’re a hypocrite. An example: I have an American friend whose parents are Indian immigrants. They don’t practice Hinduism except for a few cultural things. They couldn’t care less. But my friend has stopped eating beef. Ask him why, he gives a fuzzy, incoherent response involving “valuing my identity” and so on. Yet it’s not his identity; he doesn’t know the first thing about Hinduism, he supports gay rights, religious intermarriage, and doesn’t believe in Shiva, Ganesh, or any of the gods. And more importantly, as a good liberal he totally opposes one of the fundamental aspects of Hinduism’s codified systemic racism, that there is a group of human beings so theologically and morally polluted they are Untouchable. Gandhi didn’t believe it either. Gandhi was not a Hindu. Neither is my friend. He simply plays at it, and we have to order chicken for him at Chinese restaurants. It’s just a small roll-your-eyes pain in the ass, a self-delusion that an adult should have gotten over by now. He needs to grow up. Many, many of us need to simply grow up.
3. You must be aware of how sensitive the topic is that you've chosen. What made you decide to go at it as aggressively as you have?
I loathe dishonesty. I loathe incoherence and hypocrisy and superficial thinking and the corruption they axiomatically create. And the reason is that if we are not rigorous in our thinking— we being you and I, Marie, and all people like us, we who believe that the value of a human being has nothing to do with their race or gender or sexual orientation or wealth but with whether they try to be good to each other, help those who need it, treat the earth well, believe in freedom of thought and scientific research— if we are not rigorous in our thinking, then corruption starts to spread through us like gangrene. Argue something incoherent on just one point, and ultimately you can become thoroughly corrupt.
I had a colleague named Jennifer, a young woman, who was a vegetarian. Her stated reasons: she hated killing animals (a legitimate moral stand), vegetarianism creates hugely less biological pollution and its cultivation burns less petroleum (true), it damages the earth less (true), it takes 10 lbs of wheat to raise 1 lb of beef, so we have to use the earth’s nutrients as well as pollute the air with methane and the soil with blood and feces (true). And then she stated another reason: Homo sapiens sapiens didn’t evolve to eat meat. This is a lie, and it is anti-science. Our dental structure and our digestive systems’ enzymes clearly show we evolved as omnivores. We have the close frontally-placed eyes for the greater depth perception of hunter species. She replied to me (after a bit of a struggle), “Well, OK, but the end justifies the means.” Not in this case. The Christian fundamentalists want to do away with science entirely. We would be insane to help them. Insane.
Ancient, outmoded, archaic religious identity threatens the existence of the world, as Bill Maher noted in “Religulous.” If we do have a nuclear war, it will most probably be started by religious people.
Maybe the more sensitive a topic is, the more aggressively you have to fight for the truth at its center.
4. What challenges did you face as you wrote the book, either internally or externally?
Um...none externally, I guess. Well, I was worried about my agent’s reaction. He’s Jewish and married a Gentile woman (I don’t know if Gentile is capitalized or not), and his kids are the wrong half like me, and it turned out he agrees with every word of my novel. Internally: I think just the usual novelist’s struggles.
5. I have a hard time visualizing the ideal reader for this book; who did you write the book for? Is it for people who agree with your point of view, or for those who don't?
Both. Very much both. Or rather for people who agree and then for people who think they disagree with parts of it, which is the category I think you’re in. And I will bet you anything that in the very, very end, you agree with me. I explicitly did not write it for fundamentalists, who don’t start from the same moral premises that I, and I assume you, do. If you truly start from the premise that, to take Islam as an example, a person is either a Muslim or he is to be converted or killed, then what I have to say is irrelevant to you. Of course so is almost everything else. My novel is not for you.
6. What kinds of responses have you had from readers and critics? How do you feel about those reactions?
I’ve gotten called anti-Semitic in some reviews, for example by Shelley Salamensky and Mandell Ganchrow, which is simply a substance-less reaction. I’m completely opposed to Judaism as a
religion and as an “identity” in whatever weird, inchoate way that’s defined—just as I am to Christian, Hindu, and Muslim theology and “identity”—but I’m not at all opposed to Judaism is a culture nor to Jews in any racial or ethnic way.
Mendy Ganchrow, incidentally, wrote, “Mr. Burr has fashioned a well-written, literate novel that any student of English literature would love.” So I owe him. The problem is that his argument against my noting the absurdity of Judaism’s primitive mythology that sees the Jews as occupying a singular position for the Creator of the Universe—all primitive origin myths do this (in Japanese origin mythology, the goddess Amaterasu Omikami created Japan as the world’s
origin; in Norse mythology, the gods are Norwegian; the Greek myths, etc. etc.)—was to say that I hadn’t taken account of the 7 Noahide Laws “which govern and define how a gentile is viewed by Jewish Law.” These 7 laws are nice—no idolatry, no incest and murder, you can’t eat
living animals and so forth—but seriously, folks: Jews are held to 613, and my African-American friend Barbra and my Chinese-American friend Jason are held to 7? And God sees Jews and gentiles equally? That’s hilarious.
And then there are reviewers who love the characters, love the plot, find it “compulsively readable”—obviously I love those guys. Pretty normal.
7. Why did you decide to set it amongst the Hollywood elite instead of, say, the East Coast publishing world?
Because I needed Anne to be in as completely a Jewish world as possible, and yes, publishing is pretty close, but people in publishing read. People in Hollywood don’t. You couldn’t do the book
club plot here in NY. And also I love L.A. and it’s my fantasy to live in the Hollywood Hills on Macapa Drive in a house I actually went into because it was for sale and I went in and made like I was interested in buying it—which I am, completely, but I don’t have anywhere near enough money yet—and so there you are.
8. The experiences of the gentile in the Jewish world is not a topic that one finds often in literature. What made you decide to write from Anne's point of view instead of Howard's?
The experience of a gentile in a Jewish world is indeed not a theme you read often, if ever, in literature—it’s virtually always the reverse even though practically speaking this is absurd; as you pointed out, East Coast publishing is a Jewish world, the Hamptons, Florida, etc.—and if you’re going to write that story, it seems to me evident that you write it from Anne's point of view, not Howard's. Because Jewish culture is so astonishing at producing, in numbers hugely disproportionate to its size, people who become great writers and novelists, and because Jewish culture ferociously inculcates in Jews an obsession with “what is Jewishness,” literature by Jews is, also hugely disproportionately, about Jews from the points of view of Jews. Obviously this is true of the literature of most cultures—Junot Diaz writes books about Dominicans in the U.S., Jhumpa Lahiri writes about Bengali-Americans and so on—but pile Mailer on Roth on Bellow on
Doctorow on Myla Goldberg and on and on, and there’s an insanely large amount of Jewish point of view about both the gentile and Jewish worlds. Which, again, is why it would be sort of insane for me not to write on Judaism and the Jewish world from, for once, a gentile’s point of view.
9. As a young man you found yourself in a position very similar to that of Sam when he went to Israel. How did that experience shape you and affect how you feel about Judaism and organized religion in general. How has writing the book impacted your own sense of identity?
For the record, what happened to me in Israel wasn’t similar to what happened to Sam in the novel; it was exactly identical excepting a few details I changed of how Sam arrives there. Otherwise: 100% what happened.
What’s funny is that yes, getting kicked out of the yeshiva for being racially impure was a pretty freaky experience, but remember that I grew up as a homosexual in the 1970s and 80s. I’m completely used to being hated by all organized religions, and well before I went to Israel I had already put on my X list Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, and Hinduism because I was raised in the U.S. (there goes Christianity), had traveled in the Muslim world and in India (nix those). Judaism was actually the last to prove itself X-worthy. It didn’t deepen my dislike of organized religion as much as it simply broadened the reasons for disliking it. Just more examples of
10. Although this is your first novel, you've written several books of nonfiction as well. Could you tell my readers about your other work?
Absolutely. I wrote a cover story, "Homosexuality and Biology", for The Atlantic, and it became my first book, A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation, about the biology of sexual orientation in humans. Conclusion: Sexual orientation is almost exactly analogous to handedness, the great majority right-handed, a small minority born with left-handedness, and a tiny number of the ambidextrous. It was boycotted by the Southern Baptists incidentally.
My second book was The Emperor of Scent about a French-Italian scientist who created a theory of how the sense of smell functions, which is a serious scientific mystery. Third was The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris & New York, about the year I spent with Hermès perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena in Paris as he created an Hermès scent and with Sarah Jessica Parker in New York City as she created her’s.
Mr. Burr, thank you very much for your illuminating responses. I hope more readers get the chance to read your thought-provoking novel, and best wishes in the future.
You can visit his website at www.ChandlerBurr.com.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a delightful, charming little beach book about the Alis, a family of Indian Muslims whose paterfamilias, Mr. Ali, starts an arranged-marriage business to occupy himself in his retirement- and keep himself out of his wife's hair. Business picks up right away, and he hires a young Hindu girl named Aruna to be his assistant, a smart and self-effacing girl with marriage dreams of her own.
From there the story is off and running as a motley cast of hopefuls comes through his door, including a valve salesman who needs to learn to be his own best advocate, a divorced florist who wants a man on her own terms, and a doctor whose family isn't going to be satisfied with just anybody for their handsome prince. Mr. Ali does his best to find mates for his customers, but sometimes love happens when you least expect it.
First-time novelist Farahad Zamar writes with affection and humor about his native India and its peoples, faiths and cultures- and about its social conditions and politics. Mr. Ali's son, Rehman, is an activist whose travails illustrate larger issues in Indian society; likewise, Aruna's family situation- a disabled father and no money to get married- illustrates the fragility of women's lives. Zamar populates his story with characters from all levels of society- everyone from the rich doctor Ramanujam to the poorest of the poor- without detracting from the book's overall light, hopeful tone.
I really enjoyed The Marriage Bureau for Rich People. Peppered with lots of cultural details, readers of light fiction will enjoy the armchair travel and the sweet stories about finding love and finding one's way in the world. The book is also a easy primer on Muslim and Hindu marriage practices, as well as a relatively quick read and the perfect way to get away without going away on a summer's day. Zama creates lovable, imperfect characters you'll care about and enjoy getting to know.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.
Monday, August 17, 2009
So today marks two full years of blogging. I have to admit I'm kind of proud.
Here's a link to my first day of posting. Fascinating stuff, no? No wonder I had no readers for the six months! Things didn't take off until I tapped into the burgeoning (and trendy) book blogging world and from then on it's been a lot of fun. Some fun facts:
- The original name of my blog was Another Librarian's Book Blog. Boston Bibliophile is better, right?
- The first review offer I received was from author Edward Hardy, for his book Keeper and Kid, which I enjoyed,
- My first author interview was with Eva Etzioni-Halevy, which was fun and lead to some others,
- A couple of months ago I was featured in the Macmillan newsletter for librarians, for my review of their novel The Tricking of Freya,
- I was the original host of the Tuesday Thingers meme about LibraryThing, now hosted by Wendi at Wendi's Book Corner,
- I did a weekly feature called Graphic Novel Monday for several months and still do the occasional graphic novel feature.
Professionally I'm still a librarian but I'm looking for other ways to get involved in the book world and if you have any ideas, I'm open to suggestions! (Email me privately if you do!)
Of course a big thank-you goes out to my readers and commenters- I wouldn't be able to blog without the great feedback I get everyday. Getting to know you, your blogs and what you like to read has been incredibly fun and rewarding and I know that whatever else happens with life and career, I'll continue blogging for a long time to come.
To celebrate, I'm going to give away a signed copy of that first book I received for review, Edward Hardy's Keeper and Kid.
Here are the rules:
- To enter, leave a comment here with your email address in the comment. Entries without an email address will be disregarded.
- One extra entry if you link to the giveaway and leave the link in the comments.
- Two extra entries if you tweet the giveaway and leave the link in the comments.
- Three extra entries if you are a follower or become one.
- The giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada.
- I will use Random.org to choose a winner.
- Entries close at midnight EST on August 23. I will pick the winner on August 24 and contact him/her by the 25th. If I don't hear back from the winner with a mailing address within 7 days I will choose another winner.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
This Sunday finds me on sunny Nantucket, off the coast of Cape Cod, relaxing with my husband's family.
It's a perfect day- beautiful and sunny, with just a hint of a breeze, and just perfectly warm without being muggy.
This morning we got up early to go to a big antique sale but we read the date wrong in the paper and it's actually next Sunday, so we were a little disappointed.
It's okay though, because we went to some great yard sales yesterday (Nantucket yard sales are a tradition!) and because we get up with the sun anyway when we're here so it's not like anyone was going to sleep in past 7 anyway!
The plan for today is more of what we did yesterday- sleep, read and eat. Actually yesterday folks went to the beach and I stayed home to rest, because I'm still on antibiotics and need to stay out of the sun. I managed to get a slight burn anyway when I walked out for lunch. I ended up going to a different beach just for a few minutes, to snap some pictures. Then it was back home for an ambitious regimen of reading and napping.
I'm hoping to get into town today for some shopping. Certain things are rituals- the chocolate shop, the antique-quilt shop, the jewelry shop and of course- the book shop! There are two great independent bookstores on the island, Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell's, and I love browsing in both. Mitchell's specializes in nautical, whaling and Nantucket history and has things it's probably almost impossible to find in other places; Bookworks is a fine general-interest indie. I saved a couple of wishlist items just for this trip!
You can find out what other folks are doing this Sunday here.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Two great new books came my way this week.
I received Julie and Julia, Julie Powell's blog-turned-book, which I won in a giveaway at Carolina Gal's Literary Cafe. Thank you Susan! This is definitely one for the beach bag and I can't wait to read it.
I picked up Alia Yunis's The Night Counter as well, a story about several generations of a Muslim family in Lebanon and the United States over a hundred years. It looks wonderful and I'm looking forward to it. Carolyn Turgeon, author of Godmother, says it's "an enchanting debut that winks and glitters like the bangles that line [a character's] arms." Sounds great!
What's going in your beach bag this weekend?
Thursday, August 13, 2009
What’s the worst book you’ve read recently?
(I figure it’s easier than asking your all-time worst, because, well, it’s recent!)
I haven't read that many bad books this year but probably the worst was Sonata for Miriam, by Linda Olsson, which I really disliked.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway. Published 2008 by Riverhead. Literary fiction.
I may the be the only person on the face of the Earth, but I didn't really like The Cellist of Sarajevo.
Oh yes, it is a very moving literary novel of a city under siege, set during the Balkan War when the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo was being shelled at its citizens shot at by Serb forces during a bitter, uncompromising, senseless war. The siege lasted from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996, the longest in modern history. Galloway writes sensitive portraits of ordinary people under extreme situations, an environment in which going for fresh water becomes a gamble with life itself, when at any moment bullets can rain from the sky and kill an innocent person. And it's beautifully written.
But it's all just too easy, you know, writing poetic anti-war fiction about innocent people under trying circumstances. There's nothing to grab on to. Or almost nothing. The narrative goes back and forth between four characters- Dragan and Kenan, two nearly-indistinguishable ordinary men, a nameless cellist determined to play for an hour every day and a sniper named Arrow, determined to protect him. The cellist and Arrow are based on real people, and Arrow is the only thing that kept me reading. Complex and full of contradictions, both breathlessly ruthless and breathlessly human, she is a fascinating fictional creation. Every moment with her is loaded with razor-sharp suspense and relentless forward motion. I wish the whole book had been about her.
The thing is, there's nothing really wrong with the book and I know many readers have loved it. For me, do-gooder liberal fiction with its simplistic no-kidding morality is just boring. It's easy to read- it does nothing to challenge the reader or make the reader stretch or think. It merely evokes pity and a pleasant, comfortable sense of righteous outrage. Which is why I enjoyed Arrow so much- she's no innocent, and it's not so easy to like her yet Galloway manages the neat trick of making us care about her despite the fact that she too is a bloodless killer. As it is, The Cellist of Sarajevo is a perfectly fine, well-written book, a quick read that most people will like more than I did.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
You or Someone Like You is the first novel by New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, and it's not for the faint of heart. Set among the Hollywood elite in the upscale neighborhoods and toney restaurants of Los Angeles, its focus is the marriage of Anne and Howard Rosenbaum, she an educated English lover of literature, and he a New Yorker and ex-Orthodox Jew now working as a top exec in the movie business.
The novel opens with the scene of Howard leaving the family home; Burr takes the reader back to the beginning, telling the story of Howard and Anne's relationship from Anne's point of view. Anne and Howard fall in love in New York City but Anne finds that she is rejected by Howard's Orthodox family; they get married anyway and move out to Los Angeles, returning to New York only for holidays. Tired of being frozen out, eventually Anne stops attending. In the meantime the couple adjusts to life in L.A.; Howard starts teaching undergrad lit classes and is offered a job in publishing to pitch books to movie producers; later he goes to work for a studio. Later, Anne, herself a literature Ph.D., finds herself in demand as a book-club hostess and ends up coordinating and leading so many literary salons that she has to hire a personal assistant- and soon finds her own Hollywood star rising. Then her son finds himself on the wrong side of halakah, Jewish law (which states that only children born of a Jewish mother are Jewish), and his parents' marriage falls apart.
And this is when the novel really gets going, and when the more controversial aspects of the book kick in to high gear. Howard's sudden shift back to Orthodoxy and the consequences for himself and his marriage are not easy to watch. Burr takes both Anne and Howard to some dark places as they work out their anger and frustration and treads on some very delicate ground around Judaism and what it's like to be a gentile in a Jewish community. At the same time, he draws a compelling picture of an intelligent woman who becomes ever more desperate to get her husband's attention, even using the book clubs as a means of communicating with him once he's cut her off.
You or Someone Like You struck me almost as a manifesto in novel form as Burr works out his anti-religious principles through the fallout of a marital crisis. It's a book that really made me think, and although I didn't always agree with his point of view and I didn't always like his characters (Howard, a decent guy who struggles with himself, came off as much more sympathetic for me than did Anne, a hyper-intellectual who channels her anger through a thin veneer of logic and loses her dignity as a result), I'm glad I read it. I don't know quite who is the ideal audience; a lot of how someone will feel about the novel will depend on the extent to which the reader is sympathetic to Burr's agenda, and how comfortable the reader is with taking an intellectualized approach to a volatile, emotional subject. As a character-driven family drama it was compelling enough, if not exactly a page-turner, and if you're up for it, I'd recommend it.
You can click here to read my interview with author Chandler Burr.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.
Monday, August 10, 2009
I've long believed that online shopping for books and music loses the serendipity of wandering through a bookstore (or record store), pulling this or that off the shelf, browsing, hunting. I love shopping at both independent bookstores and chains, not to mention used bookstores. As long as there's lots to browse, I'm a happy bibliophile. I love it when I find indie bookstores that have an idiosyncratic selection, those that don't just put out this month's Indie Next List but really make an effort to find things that are off-the-beaten-path and shows knowledge of the area or even the neighborhood. You can't get that online.
Same with music. Have you ever had the experience of walking into a record store and hearing something great on the speakers, asking what it is and walking out with a great new album you never knew existed? I've found so many of my favorite artists that way. Mary Lou Lord, The Old 97s, Coralie Clement, and more. I never would have heard of them any other way.
When I was in college, and even into my twenties, I would spend hours in the music stores of Boston and Cambridge, large and small- the huge HMV with its listening stations and aisles of music from all over the world, a cramped hipster basement in Nantucket, used vinyl shops in Cambridge, it didn't matter. And I can't tell you how thrilled I was when Virgin Megastore- a world-class music emporium- opened in Boston, and how heartbroken I was when it closed.
And yes, I shopped there right to the bitter end. Once, I bought what I thought was a CD of Clement's jazzy French pop, only to find out the disc actually contained music by a Mexican mariachi band. When I went in to exchange it, I walked out with not only a new CD and no hassles, but also a great suggestion from the staff about another French singer I might like. Would iTunes be so helpful?
As a child, browsing in used bookstores formed the basis of my literary education. I would never have read Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, or Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, or a hundred other books, had I been limited to online shopping. In college, the Harvard Coop in Cambridge and Waterstone's in Boston were the dual mother ships of books; I couldn't get enough of browsing their displays and wandering their stacks. Not only did I find wonderful books in their aisles but wonderful people- once I even bumped into a long-lost friend and fellow bookworm at Waterstone's cafe. I wouldn't have found him browsing online.
I've recently given up online shopping for books- I deleted my Amazon account and keep my wishlist on a pad of paper. I do maintain a wishlist on IndieBound.org, but it's just for family to use for holiday gift-giving, not for me to buy from. And it's easy for me to say that it's no problem relying on bricks-and-mortar- I live in one of the best bibliophilic cities in the country. Our neighborhood music and bookshops deserve our support, not just for their sake but for ours. When they lose, we lose more than just another storefront- we lose the opportunity for learning and discovery.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I'm working my way through The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, by Farahad Zama, which is a fun, light romp through India told with affection and humor. On deck after that is probably The Puzzle King, by Betsy Carter; I read her last book, Swim to Me, and while I wasn't exactly crazy about it, I'm curious enough about her latest effort to give it a try. I remember thinking that I thought she hit a lot of right notes emotionally, the writing was a little light for my taste. But we'll see how this one goes. I got a galley from a conference, and was sent a hardcover unsolicited from Algonquin, so I pretty much have to read it at this point!
Or, I might read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo next, because I want to finish my next book by next Friday so I can start vacation with a clean reading slate. I have four books lined up to take with me: Songs for the Butcher's Daughter, Into the Beautiful North, The Hakawati and Midnight's Children. I figure I'll probably finish two of them; there's a lot of reading time on vacation.
You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I also think the idea of the beach book is a great topic for discussion- what do you consider a "beach book"? Something fluffy? Something off-the-beaten-path, or new, or popular?
How do you think NPR is defining it and do you agree or disagree?
NPR's 100 Best Beach Books Ever
1. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini*
4. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
6. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg*
10. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
11. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
12. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
13. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
14. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
16. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
17. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett*
18. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
19. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
20. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen*
21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
22. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
23. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
24. The World According to Garp, by John Irving
25. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
26. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy
27. Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
28. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
29. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler
30. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
31. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
32. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
33. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
34. Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
35. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
36. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier*
37. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
38. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
39. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
40. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
41. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
42. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
43. Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice
44. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
45. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
46. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
47. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
48. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
49. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb
50. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
51. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
52. The Stand, by Stephen King
53. She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
54. Dune, by Frank Herbert
55. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows*
56. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
57. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
58. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
59. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
60. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
61. Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
62. Jaws, by Peter Benchley
63. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner
64. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
65. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
66. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
67. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
68. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
69. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
70. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
71. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
72. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
73. Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns
74. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
74. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe [tie]
76. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
77. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
78. The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
79. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
80. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett
81. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
81. The Pilot's Wife, by Anita Shreve [tie]
83. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
84. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson*
85. The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
86. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
87. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich
88. Shogun, by James Clavell
89. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
90. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera
91. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
92. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
93. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
94. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris
95. Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume
96. The Shining, by Stephen King
97. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan
98. Lamb, by Christopher Moore
99. Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen
100. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
It seems like a mix of popular fiction and classics- high school required reading combined with bestsellers and light popular fiction. So NPR thinks we use summer to catch up on what we missed in school and to stay current on the latest hardcovers. Does that sound right to you?
I don't change my reading much in the summer. I tried to set some older books aside for summer reading but got distracted by a number of new releases. I even tagged six or seven books as "summer reading" in my LibraryThing library, only to get through exactly one (and another that I decided not to finish) before deciding what I really want to read is that brand-spanking-new hardcover or review copy. So many books, so little time...
Friday, August 7, 2009
Some fun finds this week:
After a little shopping spree at the ever-wonderful Harvard Bookstore, I came home with
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, by Farahad Zama (which I'm currently reading), a light and fun comedy, and
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in Stieg Larsson's three-part series.
The mail brought me
Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin, which looks like fun, and
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood's latest, which quite frankly does not, but which I'm sure I will enjoy nonetheless, being a huge fan of hers.
You can read more Friday Finds at ShouldBeReading.
What looks like fun to you this week?
Thursday, August 6, 2009
What’s the most serious book you’ve read recently?
(I figure it’s easier than asking your most serious boook ever, because, well, it’s recent!)
The most serious book I've read recently was one that I just finished yesterday, Chandler Burr's You or Someone Like You, a very challenging novel that treads on some very delicate ground- relations between Jews and Christians, and how institutionalized religion directs human behavior. I told a friend yesterday that I need about a month with a therapist to process this book; writing the review is going to be almost as challenging as reading the book was in places. This one is definitely not for the beach!
You can read more Booking Through Thursday answers here.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper. Published 2009 by Dutton/Penguin.
Click here to buy This Is Where I Leave You from your favorite indie bookstore.
This is Where I Leave You is to my mind the ideal beach book. It's raucously funny, raunchy and bittersweet and it's an effortless, effervescent novel I read in a couple of days.
The story concerns one Judd Foxman, a married man in his mid-thirties whose wife has just left him for his boss, a radio shock jock. Judd's father has also just died, and author Jonathan Tropper uses the Jewish ritual of the shiva, a formal seven day mourning period, as the narrative framework. Judd's mother insists that his father's dying wish was that his not-particularly-religious family perform the ritual so this rowdy group- Judd's mother, sister, and brother, along with their spouses, children and baggage- has to put up with each other and survive a week of very close proximity.
It's a great set up for a dysfunctional family comedy and Tropper delivers both laughs and pathos in roughly equal measure but the laughs are what I'll remember the most. Judd deals with his humiliation and bereavement through self-deprecating sarcasm and self-loathing:
To have nothing when you're twenty is cool, it's expected, but to have nothing when you're halfway to seventy, softening and widening on a daily basis, is something altogether different. It's like setting out to drive cross-country without any gas money. I will look back at this time and see it as the start of a slow process that ends with me dying alone after living out my days in an empty apartment with only the television and a slow, waddling dog to keep me company, the kind of place that will smell stale to visitors, but not to me, since the stale thing will be me.It's not an entirely dismal picture- at least he has a dog and visitors, right?
Along the way Judd and his family learn some things about each other and themselves, but there are no clear resolutions and when the family parts ways there's only a slight sense that anything has changed. But that's okay, because I think the point of This is Where I Leave You is to make you laugh and any lessons are delivered with a spoonful of sugar, some irreverence and a wink or two. If you like family comedies, this light, fun, well-crafted novel will be the perfect addition to your beach bag this summer.
You can also read Susan's review at Bagels, Books & Schmooze.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.
1) What has been one of the highlights of blogging for you?
One of the many highlights of blogging was having my review of The City and The City excerpted by the presenter at a reading by author China Mieville and then getting him to sign my book to me via the blog:
Another was the time I went to a library conference and a library marketer I email occasionally said she'd read my blog- the first time someone outside my immediate acquaintance had mentioned it to me out of the blue.
2) What blogger has helped you out with your blog by answering questions, linking to you, or inspiring you?
That would be Sandra of Fresh Ink Books, who writes beautiful reviews of literary fiction and has absolutely fantastic taste.
3) What one question do you have about BBAW that someone who participated last year could answer?
A question I have about BBAW- how is the "short list" of nominated blogs for the various awards selected from the myriad of entries?
Monday, August 3, 2009
I started thinking about how the idea of personal branding might apply to blogging in general, and book blogging particular. We all choose a particular way to present ourselves online, through our blog layout and color scheme, the choice to use or not use custom graphics and how or if we use those graphics and color scheme on other social networking platforms like Facebook or Twitter. We also make decisions about how to represent the content we create; some bloggers let it be known that they specialize in certain kinds of books, like young adult or faith-based (whatever that faith may be) or science fiction or romance or whatnot.
My own blog branding grew slowly over time; when I started my blog, it had a different name, a Blogspot URL and a generic layout. Soon after I started I realized I needed a better name than the one I started with, so I changed it and decided to buy a domain name and with it a matching email address, so I could start to develop that consistent, branded presence. After that came the long search for graphics that suited my vision of the blog. I wanted something snappy and (somewhat) cool, something that wasn't on every other blog. I spent a long time searching for templates, then searching for someone who could make a template for me, then finally ended up doing the DIY thing and buying a license for pre-made artwork which I could customize.
After I got the look of the blog down I had to figure out how to promote it better, and started doing memes and getting involved with other online tools, starting with MySpace and going from there. Meanwhile I continued to write and post (even though for a long time I was the only person reading) and work on figuring out my blog's identity. The license I have for the logo artwork allows me to use it on business cards and other promotional items, so I've been able to use my online identity off-line as well. And of course it's always evolving, as long as online trends come and go and today's essential tool ends becomes tomorrow's has-been.
Now as I approach two years of book blogging this month, I'm trying to figure out where to go from here, and I'm wondering what you all are doing to build and promote your personal brand- or if you think it's even necessary, given your own goals and reasons for blogging. I know we all blog about books because we love to read, but what are some other reasons- what else keeps you going, and how do you work towards meeting those goals? Is your blog your business card? Your resume? Your calling card to friends and family?
My family doesn't read my blog (as far as I know) so mine has evolved into a combination of personal hobby and professional calling card. I'm constantly trying to figure out if it's more personal or more professional. On one hand, I review pretty much everything I read, which makes it more personal- I'm not just reviewing books I read for work, or books in a particular category. On the other hand, I try to keep the tone at a certain level and I don't talk about myself or my personal life much because I publicize the blog to people I know professionally and I don't want to be too casual or familiar.
It's hard to know where the balance is sometimes, and it's something I'm always working on. In the end I think because I'm genuinely interested in the work I do the personal and the professional blend together quite well, and I know that even when I'm no longer working where I'm working, I'll keep reading what I'm reading. Maybe something new will be added to the mix, and the blog will change too. We'll see.