Wednesday, September 30, 2009
How to Paint a Dead Man, the latest novel by esteemed (and Booker-nominated) British author Sarah Hall, is probably the last of her books I will read. It's a novel told through four alternating points of view- different people in different places at different times, connected by thin threads. In one narrative, artist Susan deals with the death of her twin brother Danny; in another, her father Peter, an established painter, goes about his daily life until he takes a bad fall in the woods; in another, an elderly painter waits to die; in the last, a blind Italian girl (and former blossoming artist) named Annette tries to manage under the yoke of her overprotective mother.
There isn't really a plot to speak of; Hall's writing is heavy on exposition and character-building and light on action, and the book came across to me more as four extended character sketches. One thing that I've learned about myself in the last couple of years is that I really like a good plot to keep me turning those pages. While I admire Hall's skill with language and the vivid people she creates on the page, the only thing that really kept me going was a tiny bit of suspense she creates around Peter's predicament- out of a walk, he falls and hurts himself, and out of this little bit of quotidian life she spins out just enough action to keep me interested.
On balance though, it just wasn't my cup of tea. I've read her before- a couple of years ago I read her Booker-nominated novel The Electric Michelangelo, a much longer and more detailed character sketch of a single person, a tattoo artist who moves from England to Coney Island, which I found likewise dull- and hoped that this new book might be different, because I think she's an excellent writer and I would love to see her inject a little more action into her otherwise very accomplished prose. Readers who read for character might really enjoy How to Paint a Dead Man but those who read for plot might want to look for something else.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Okay, so I didn't really get it together to do a big series of posts- or even a big post- about Banned Books Week, which is this week, but here's a little meme to highlight some of the most-challenged books of the 1990s, followed by my thoughts.
You can see the series I did on Banned Books Week last year if you're interested.
For my money, the best way to observe the week is to buy or borrow (and read!) a banned/challenged book, to educate ourselves about what gets challenged, think about why and show that there is a demand for these books. So, with that in mind, this is the ALA's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999.
Bold the ones you've read, and italicize those that you are planning to read. And of course, if you have reviewed any, feel free to link!
Scary Stories (Series), by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Forever, by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
Alice (Series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Goosebumps (Series), by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Sex, by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series), by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
The Witches, by Roald Dahl
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
The New Joy of Gay Sex, by Charles Silverstein
Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
The Goats, by Brock Cole
The Stupids (Series), by Harry Allard
Anastasia Krupnik (Series), by Lois Lowry
Final Exit, by Derek Humphry
Blubber, by Judy Blume
Halloween ABC, by Eve Merriam
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters, by Lynda Madaras
Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman, by Paul Zindel
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
Deenie, by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind, by Nancy Garden
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat, by Alvin Schwartz
Harry Potter (Series), by J.K. Rowling
Cujo, by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
Ordinary People, by Judith Guest
American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
Asking About Sex and Growing Up, by Joanna Cole
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons, by Lynda Madaras
The Anarchist Cookbook, by William Powell
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Boys and Sex, by Wardell Pomeroy
Crazy Lady, by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan
Fade, by Robert Cormier
Guess What?, by Mem Fox
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies, by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells, by Daniel Cohen
On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer
The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende
Jack, by A.M. Homes
Arizona Kid, by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets, by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg, by Babette Cole
Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From?, by Peter Mayle
The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline Cooney
Carrie, by Stephen King
The Dead Zone, by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts, by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo?, by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene
Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
Little Black Sambo, by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
Running Loose, by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education, by Jenny Davis
Jumper, by Steven Gould
Christine, by Stephen King
The Drowning of Stephen Jones, by Bette Greene
That Was Then, This is Now, by S.E. Hinton
Girls and Sex, by Wardell Pomeroy
The Wish Giver, by Bill Brittain
Jump Ship to Freedom, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
One last thing. There's been some flutter around the blogosphere this week about Banned Books Week in a less positive sense- some folks posting that it's not a big deal, censorship isn't a big issue in the United States anymore, it's all just a bunch of self-congratulation, etc.
Book challenges are still an important issue in this country, and they happen all the time. Pick up a copy of American Libraries, the ALA monthly, and read their column entitled "Censorship Watch" for current challenges. Or visit ala.org. Click here for an interactive map showing recent challenges in different parts of the United States.
So what if it is a little bit of self-congratulation? Should we just do nothing? Should we not talk about it at all? I'd like to know what the naysayers would suggest as an alternative.
All I can say is, taking your freedom for granted is a great way to lose it.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sci-fi authors are, I think, justifiably upset about the lack of respect they are given. A lot of work goes into writing some very fine books that have to overcome a substantial stigma with readers; many sci-fi books are worthy of a larger audience but are never seen because they're stuck on the shelves next to gaudy covers showing badly drawn wizards and dragons. It's enough to fry anyone's fritters.
That said, the fact that there are excellent sci-fi books worthy of greater recognition does not mean that those same books qualify for "literary fiction" awards. I think sometimes the sci-fi community confuses books that are excellently written sci-fi with books that transcend genre. In fact, I think that those sci-fi books which transcend genre do get fair consideration -- the works of authors such as Atwood and Lessing being examples.
But why shouldn't excellent sci-fi be considered for literary awards on its own merits, regardless of whether it "transcends genre"? Isn't "genre" just a way to give short shrift to a huge category of work without due consideration? Well, whether you believe in "genre" or not, I think it is undeniable that what most of us think about as sci-fi appeals to some people and not to others. Over time I have come to believe that this is not an issue of "not having been exposed to the good stuff" -- I have given what I consider excellent sci-fi to people in the past, and they simply don't get it or appreciate it. Is this a problem with sci-fi? No. Is it a problem with the reader? Hard to accept, I know, but no. Sci-fi just isn't some people's cup of tea. They are simply looking for something different in their reading (let's call it Quality X) than what sci-fi readers look for (Quality Y). Unless a sci-fi book also contains Quality X -- thereby "transcending genre" -- it will never meet the standards of a non-sci-fi reader.
But what are Quality X and Quality Y? If you can't define them, are they really a basis for excluding certain works for consideration? I think, as frustrating as it may be, the answer is yes -- even if you can't define these qualities in anything but the most vague and subjective terms, there is nevertheless an objective difference in whether someone appreciates one category versus another.
Thus, if you have a panel giving an award for the novel that best encapsulates Quality X, there's no point in complaining that they've failed to consider your book as being the world's best example of Quality Y. It's like complaining that a dog show won't let you enter your prize-winning Siamese. If they did let your cat into the show, how on earth would they judge between them? It would boil down into whether you appreciate Quality X or Quality Y more, which is such a subjective standard that it's not worthy of a merit-based competition -- it's simply a popularity contest.
What I think truly and justifiably galls many sci-fi readers and authors is that literary fiction awards are often portrayed and marketed as being competitions for the "best book," full stop. The very title of "literary fiction" suggests that the category subsumes the whole of the written word. (Which begs the question of what the rest of us are using to write with; hieroglyphics, maybe? What I'd really like to see is someone start to call science fiction "published fiction" and give "pubfic" awards, to illustrate the absurdity.) To use the metaphor above, it's like a dog show promoting itself as being a competition to find the "best animal." Of course that's going to tick off cat lovers if they're not even allowed in the door -- but it's still just a dog show. The proper response is not to demand entry, but call out the competition for what it is: a contest that's just as limited and genre-specific as any other.
As for the issue of media coverage and the size of the award -- well, your cat is never going to win that prize, so why does it matter? Promote your own awards, find better sponsors if you want more money on the table, but don't look for validation from the dog crowd. Ultimately, Quality Y has to be popular (or not) on its own merits.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Read more Sunday Salon posts here.
Yesterday was my favorite library book sale of the year- the only one I actually put on my calendar. I'm talking, of course, about the town of Arlington's Robbins Library book sale, timed to coincide with Town Day, one of those fun suburban street fairs. The Robbins Library itself is a terrific place- an attractive, well-provided-for public library; I did a collection-development project with them while I was in library school. Tables and tables of books in beautiful condition- new or barely-used hardcovers and paperbacks in every subject under the sun. Being me, I stick to the fiction tables and always come back with some great stuff.I love library book sales because the books are cheap enough that it's okay to experiment and get some of those things you'd only eyed, and not feel guilty if you don't like them or never get around to them. I only bought six books (eight if you count the two that my husband and I are going to share), but the key here is quality. I got six great books.
I don't know where I heard about the Dawn Powell book, but I heard about it somewhere; Maps for Lost Lovers just looked like something I'd like; Love Medicine is one that I've always wanted to read; The Zig Zag Kid looked like fun; I read another Grossman that I loved, so figured I'd give this one a try; In the Company of the Courtesan is one that I'm interested in after having read Sarah Dunant's latest, Sacred Hearts; and The Jewel Trader of Pegu is one that I was offered for review and passed on- then one of my favorite bloggers, Sandra of Fresh Ink Books, gave it a great review and I reconsidered.
Today's all about resting and relaxing, and digging into my stash. There's a good chance I will finally finish The Hakawati today; I've only been reading it for two months! So then I'll have to decide what to read next. I think it will be something I've agreed to review. Then I can read something for me!
What are you reading today?
Friday, September 25, 2009
Five new additions to the home library this week!
The Angelic Way: Angels Through the Ages and Their Meaning for Us, by Rami Shapiro, came unexpectedly in the mail. It looks to be an interesting book about angels in different religious traditions. It might be great for my book club.
The Crow Road, by Iain Banks. Banks is a great British writer who does a lot of science fiction; I saw him do a reading in Dublin in 1995, when I first read his thriller Complicity. I should have read another one of his books before now!
The Selected Stories of Janet Frame came from Counterpoint, which also sent me her last novel Towards Another Summer earlier this year.
Becoming American Jews, by Meaghan Dwyer-Ryan, is a history of Boston's Temple Israel, a large Reform temple and an offshoot of Massachusetts' oldest synagogue. It's also where I work the reference desk from time to time. Dwyer-Ryan is the temple's archivist.
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, by Saša Stanišić is a fun-looking novel from the Balkans that I'm looking forward to.
What books look like fun to you this week? You can see more Friday Finds here.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
So the other day I promised a little recap of the books of hers that I've read. Where I've blogged a full review I'll include the link.
The Handmaid's Tale was my first foray into Atwood's work and still the most emotionally riveting. Don't make the mistake I made and read it the month before you're getting married! Trauma! I loved this book but it definitely shook me up.
Alias Grace is without question my favorite of her books. It's historical fiction centering on a true-crime story about a young Irishwoman named Grace Marks, a maid who was convicted of the murders of her employer and his mistress. Grace is one of the most fascinating literary creations I've come across, and the book is filled with the themes and motifs that you'll see over and over in Atwood- women, sex, and power- but executed in a wholly unique way.
The Blind Assassin was the second Atwood novel I read, several months after finishing The Handmaid's Tale- when the shock had worn off. A Booker Prize winner, it's a combines a truly creepy family story with metafictional and science fiction elements in a brilliant, compelling work.
The Robber Bride is another brilliant entry, this time focusing on a group of friends whose lives and loves have been impacted by another friend, the enigmatic Zenia, whose funeral opens the book. But is she really dead? And is (was?) she, anyway? Atwood creates three vivid, different women and a fourth whose story is told through their eyes- though she never speaks for herself. I think there's a lot more going on in this one than meets the eye.
Lady Oracle is an earlier book, and one that I enjoyed immensely. It's about a housewife who becomes an unlikely literary star, then fakes her own death. It's not a particularly heavy book but I found it very, very satisfying and enjoyable.
Life Before Man, another early Atwood, is about a love triangle between two women and the husband of one. A worthwhile read.
The Penelopiad came out a couple of years ago as part of a series of rewrites of mythology by modern writers. It's the story of The Odyssey from Penelope's point of view. It's not my favorite but Atwood completists will want to read it.
Cat's Eye is probably one of my least favorite of her books. It's a coming of age story about an artist and her troubled relationships, particularly with her best friend. I liked the way Atwood depicts the pains of childhood- it seemed very real to me- but in a lot of ways it strikes me as a rough draft of The Blind Assassin, where a lot of the themes and situations are repeated. It's on the light side so it will appeal to some readers more than others. I will say though, that certain things about it have stayed with me.
I've also read her novels Surfacing and Bodily Harm; I wasn't crazy about either one and can't remember much more about them than that.
Recently I picked up The Edible Woman and I hope to get to that soon; Moral Disorder and Other Stories is out there for me at some point, and then maybe I'll dive into her short fiction and poetry as well. You can click to see my recent reviews of The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake .
If you've never read her, or read one or two of her books, I hope that you find something to try!
What’s the saddest book you’ve read recently?
The saddest book I've read recently is probably Steve Luxenberg's Annie's Ghosts, about the research he did into the history of mental health care and his own family secret, his mother's sister. It was sad because in it he documents a lot of unnecessary misery and suffering among some of society's most vulnerable people, and the pain suffered by families who didn't know how to take care of their mentally ill and/or disabled family members. It was also a bittersweet story of forgiveness and healing in a family.
You can read more Booking Through Thursday answers here.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
As a companion to yesterday's review of The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood's latest, I thought I would talk about its prequel, Oryx and Crake, which came out a few years ago, and which I've just finished.
To be honest, the first time I tried to read Oryx and Crake, I threw it down after the first third. I found it dull and plodding; page after page, it just felt like nothing was happening. I wasn't particularly fond of the main character, Jimmy a.k.a. Snowman, who just seemed like kind of a dolt. And I was disappointed that Atwood, one of my favorite authors and one of the best out there at writing about women, chose such a dullard as her protagonist.
This time around, it was different. The pages flew by and while I'm still not in love with Jimmy, I didn't mind him so much. The difference? The difference is having read The Year of the Flood and finally understanding what the heck is going on in this book. Atwood unfolds the narrative slowly, oh-so-slowly, building up the story layer by layer, detail by detail; by the end, I could appreciate the full horror of what Jimmy had been through, but it really did take the whole book for me to get there. Maybe I'm a dullard, too.
Anyway, Oryx and Crake is Jimmy's story; it's a post-apocalyptic dystopian, science-fiction-y story about this young man trying to survive in a wasteland. Crake is Jimmy's best friend, now absent. Oryx is the woman he loved, an enigma and an illusion. The action unfolds on another Atwoodian double time line- the present day, in which Jimmy is trying to find food and other survivors, and the past, where we watch the disaster unfold. Slowly. When it does, though, it's staggering.
But then, Jimmy's dullness may be the point. One theme that runs through several of Atwood's books is blindness or willful ignorance- characters who see but don't understand, listen without hearing as Jimmy admits of himself. He spends most of the book ignoring or blocking out the world around him- drunk or high, or blotting it all out with food or sex. He doesn't understand Oryx, the love of his life, or really see her, and he fails to understand what Crake is up to until long past too late.
Did I like Oryx and Crake? I liked it more than I did the first time, and I liked it more having read Flood. It strikes me now as extended back story for a minor character in its much more engaging sequel- definitely a worthwhile read, but probably essential only for established Atwood fans or Flood aficionados.
Since there's been so much interest in the comments on my review of Flood in Atwood and her books, tomorrow I'm going to write an extended post with short reviews of all the books of hers that I've read.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The Year of the Flood, the latest literary dystopia from Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is not so much a sequel to her last book, Oryx and Crake, as it is a companion novel. I am a huge fan of Atwood's novels, and not having read an Atwood book in a couple of years, I was so excited to get my hands on this one.
TYoTF unrolls efficiently, on a typically Atwoodian double time line, following two women, Ren and Toby. Toby is older, a middle aged woman who's gone from a lost adolescent to convert to a quasi-religious, vegan-survivalist cult called God's Gardeners, and now one of a handful of survivors of a deadly, virulent plague. Ren grows up with the Gardeners and knows Toby tangentially but not well; she, too, has survived and thinks she's alone. The double time line shows us the past and present of each woman as she negotiates this violent, broken-down world.
I really enjoyed The Year of the Flood- like, really enjoyed it. Atwood's science fiction/dystopian novels aren't as compelling to me as her other, more strictly literary, writing, but she is a masterful writer and Flood finds her doing what I think she does better than anyone- writing about women's lives. In between all the scifi pyrotechnics and page-turning action, that's what it's about and that's what I loved best about it. Having said that, it is also a great page-turner and a dizzying, dazzling and disturbing vision of the future.
Now, the big question about Flood is- do you have to have read Oryx and Crake to get it? No. Absolutely no. When I read Flood I had not read Oryx and Crake and had no trouble following it at all. In fact, I have since read Oryx and Crake and found it a good deal less easy to follow in general than Flood. The books operate as two countries in the same world. Major characters from one are minor characters in another; questions asked in one get answered in the other but they work together, not as first-book and sequel. I'm hoping there's more to come. As it stands, Flood is a terrific read that I think will appeal to science fiction and literary fiction readers.
So? Go get both.
UPDATE: I just found out, The Year of the Flood has been longlisted for Canada's prestigious Giller Prize. So, not all science fiction is neglected by major literary awards!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.
Monday, September 21, 2009
"Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the greatest science fiction authors writing today, has hit out at the literary establishment, accusing the Man Booker judges of 'ignorance' in neglecting science fiction, which he called 'the best British literature of our time'.
"The winner of Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards and author of the bestselling Mars trilogy, Robinson attacked the Booker for rewarding 'what usually turn out to be historical novels'. Five are shortlisted for this year's prize, from Hilary Mantel's retelling of the life of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall, to AS Byatt's The Children's Book, set at the turn of the 20th century.
"'[Historical novelists] tend to do the same things the modernists did in smaller ways,' Robinson said in an article for the New Scientist, published today. 'A good new novel about the first world war, for instance, is still not going to tell us more than Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford. More importantly, these novels are not about now in the way science fiction is.'"
So in his view, it seems that speculative fiction is not just as deserving of recognition, but more so. He says that historical fiction is 'not about now'- a sweeping generalization indeed, and one that displays its own brand of ignorance about contemporary literature. A novel set in the past can have just as much to say about our own times as one set on a spaceship or another planet. I agree that science fiction is often socially informed and positioned to play with conventions and contemporary politics- but these traits are hardly limited to the genre.
Take the example he gives, Ford Madox Ford's masterful Parade's End. This isn't just some slight historical-novel fluff- it's a major masterpiece of 20th century English literature and its themes of love, war and chaos have much to tell us about today as it has to teach about the historical specifics of World War 1 and prewar England. A.S. Byatt's wonderful The Children's Book, shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize, is also ostensibly about prewar England but it's about more than that- it's about families and class and politics and the status of women, and is just as deeply informed by the 21st century as it is by the 19th. A good writer can write about the past but make it feel modern and create empathy for the characters. People are people no matter what the era or setting. Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens have as much to say now as ever; that's why they keep getting adapted and retold and that's why we keep reading them. Great literature is universal and eternal.
Having said that, what about his point that the Man Booker ignores science fiction, and the idea that there is something wrong with it? Certainly he's right that science fiction is ignored by mainstream awards, and that there is a lot of great writing out there in other genres. Maybe he should start his own awards to honor the literature he writes and loves, but honestly I don't have any problem at all with the Man Booker and the Prix Goncourt and the Pen/Faulkner and whatever other award you can name, focusing on literary fiction. Genres have built-in audiences; it's hard enough to draw attention to lit fic without naysayers saying it doesn't deserve the attention. Likewise I have no problem with, say, Oprah Winfrey's habit of choosing highbrow classics and literary fiction for her bookclub- why be satisfied with mediocrity? Why not encourage people to read challenging books? And why not recognize modern masterpieces with literary awards? If science fiction, or chick lit, or religious fiction, or whatever is important to you, advocate for an award or support the ones already out there- like the Nebula, the Hugo, the Sami Rohr Prize, and others. But let us lit fic nerds have our Booker Prize.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
After a busy week of BBAW and other things, it's nice to relax a little. Today I'll be going to the gym and later to the Boston Comic-Con, which should be a fun little festival of comics, zines and TV and movie stuff.
I can't believe it's already the middle of September, that tomorrow is the last official day of summer (or is it today?). Earlier this week I got the distressing news that my favorite ice cream shop in my neighborhood is closing at the end of next month- I'm totally devastated! Apparently a combination of bad economy and increased competition in the area for ice cream dollars has forced it under. I'm very sad. The branch in my old neighborhood has closed already- now this one is going too. I guess the upside is I won't eat as much ice cream. But it's the end of an era.
Traditionally, I go there every year on the last day of summer for one last ice cream to hold me through the winter, when my sugary vices run to hot things like cocoa and cider. Looks like I'll have to uphold that tradition one last time.
As far as reading, I'm working my way through my book club book, Our Lady of the Lost and Found, by Diane Schoemperlen. Has anyone read it? Because I'd be really interested in your thoughts. I suggested it as a "Christian" book- my club alternates between books about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and this month is Christian month- and I'm enjoying it, but it's unusual. It's about the Virgin Mary (obviously) and on Wednesday when we meet, I'm going to bring in a selection of Mary artifacts that I've collected over the years, representing different cultures and traditions. And I'm looking forward to hearing the Muslim point of view on this in particular, because the Muslim ladies in the group have said that Mary is important in Islam and I really want to learn more about that. Naturally, I will report back!
Have a great week.
You can find more Sunday Salon posts here.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Two Friday Finds this week- a copy of Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky came from Book Club Girl. Thank you!
I read this book years ago in college, and thought it was absolute magic. I can't wait to read it again!
Leon H. Gildin's The Polski Affair came for review from the author. I read a great review of this Holocaust novel on the Jew Wishes blog.
Shana Tova to my Jewish readers.
You can read more Friday Finds here.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
My biggest and best discovery from a blog is Russian author Ludmila Ulitskaya, who wrote the wonderful novels Medea and Her Children and The Funeral Party.
I found out about Ulitskaya on the wonderful blog Almost Insider, written by Hungarian blogger Anni. Anni blogs about European fiction, both Hungarian and other. She's a very good writer with great taste in books- and anyone interested in serious international literary fiction should add her to their reading list.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
We're supposed to keep our answers brief- five words or less. Ha. To see links to other bloggers' responses, you can go to BookBloggerAppreciationWeek.com.
Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack? Tea and a homemade scone.
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? Sometimes. It doesn't bother me.
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? I dog-ear with wild abandon.
Laying the book flat open? No.
Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? Mainly fiction.
Hard copy or audiobooks? Hard copy, please. No audio or e-books.
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point? I can stop anywhere.
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? Yes!
What are you currently reading? Official Book Club Selection, by Kathy Griffin, and still working through The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine.
What is the last book you bought? The Jewish Husband, by Lia Levi.
Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time? I can read several books at once.
Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? At coffeeshops any time of day.
Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? Stand-alone. I'm not a series person.
Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over? It depends. Everyone's taste is different.
How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?) I organize books roughly by genre and from there it's all a jumble. If I had a house with tons of bookshelves I'd love to really work on a great system of organization. It's the librarian in me.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Today is the day for Book Blogger Appreciation Week blogger interviews. Here on Boston Bibliophile, I'm featuring my interview with Jenn of the great lit fic blog Bibliolatry. If you haven't been over to her blog, you need to- it's awesome! I love her articles and reviews of literary fiction and more. And if you visit her today, you'll see her interview with me!
1. Why did you decide to start blogging about books?
2. What kind of books do you usually review?
3. What's the best book (or your top five books if you want) so far this year?
4. Have you always been an avid reader? If not, when did you become one?
5. What's your favorite bookstore?
6. What's your favorite time of day or week to read?
7. Do you find you're reading more as a blogger? Or about the same? What about genre? Do you read what you've always read, or has blogging influenced your reading choices?
8. What blogs do you like to read?
Monday, September 14, 2009
So for the next five days, our regularly scheduled Boston Bibliophile programming will be put on hold as I take part for the first time in Book Blogger Appreciation Week, a week when book bloggers from all over the world take some time to show our admiration for each other.
The festivities include coordinated blog posts where folks write about similar topics each day. Today's topic is the personal blog short list- in other words, it's an opportunity to talk about our favorite blogs that didn't make the BBAW official shortlists. A tall order, since there are so many excellent blogs, and so many of my favorites were represented among those nominated for awards.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Cupcake Witch, a fun blog written by a fellow Marie featuring YA reviews among others,
- Jew Wishes, for my money the best Jewish-interest book blog out there,
- Fresh Ink Books, where blogger Sandra reviews the crème de la crème of literary fiction with style and intelligence,
- Life by Candlelight, a chatty, varied blog by a terrific blogger named Amy,
- Food from Books, a feast for the eyes and the mind,
- Reading Proust in Foxborough, a really fun speciality lit blog,
- The BookKitten, a really cute, really fun book blog,
- The Heart is a Lonely Reader, a varied, intelligent book blog, and
- Breaking the Spine, a terrific general-interest blog.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
This Sunday is all about getting my act together for fall. Specifically, cleaning out my closet, going shopping for some new clothes and polishing my resumé. Last week I found out that due to budget and other issues, I won't be returning to the library that I've been running for the last two years. Naturally I'm disappointed, but I'm also trying to look at it as a positive and an opportunity for new adventures. So there.
What you see to the left is the current state of my TBR pile. Got to get a handle on that as well- do some weeding and reorganizing. My reading priorities may well shift with the other changes in my life!
I'm also working on posts for this week's Book Blogger Appreciation Week, including my truly awesome giveaway of a new, hardcover copy of What It Is by Lynda Barry and a selection of comics samplers. I hope all of you will enter!
As of today the voting has closed but whatever the results, I want to thank anyone who voted for me for Best Literary Fiction Blog for your support. There are lots great things coming up this week- an interview with Jenn of Bibliolatry, a fun meme and other features. I'm taking the week off from reviews and other articles, so I have more time to participate in the BBAW festivities.
And with that, off to the mall!
Have a great Sunday everyone and you can read more Sunday Salon posts here.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
For my Book Blogger Appreciation Week giveaway, I'm featuring a hardcover copy of What It Is, by comics goddess Lynda Barry, as well as twelve samplers by publishers such as DC, Top Shelf, Dark Horse Comics, Red 5 Comics, Oni Press, Bongo Comics, Archie Comics and Marvel.
The centerpiece is the wonderful book by Lynda Barry, which is half memoir and half writing workshop. I loved this book.
If you have never read a graphic novel before, this is a fantastic opportunity to read a great book by a top artist and writer, and to get a grasp of what's going on in comics today with all the great samplers.
The rules for the giveaway are as follows:
- Open to U.S. residents only.
- To enter, leave a comment with your email address. If you do not leave an email address, your entry will not be counted.
- I will use Random.org to select a winner on September 19 and notify the winner via email shortly thereafter. The winner has 48 hours to respond. If I don't hear back from you, I will choose a new winner.
- Two extra entries if you're a follower.
- Two more extra entries if you tweet or link to the giveaway and leave the link(s) in the comments.
Friday, September 11, 2009
A bevy of intriguing reads came my way this week.
The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Rise of Three Faiths arrived for review from author Charlotte Gordon. Looks fascinating!
I picked up Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner at a used bookstore; I've always wanted to read it.
The Jewish Husband, by Lia Levi, came from the New England Mobile Book Fair after it got a very positive write-up in one of last week's issues of Shelf Awareness.
My favorite fellow sarcastic Irish-Catholic redhead Kathy Griffin came out with her memoir, Official Book Club Selection, which I rushed right out to buy Tuesday after work.
I picked up The Conversion, by Aharon Appelfeld, from a books-for-sale cart at the temple library this week as well.
Lots of fun ahead! What are you looking forward to?
Find more links to more Friday Finds here!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
What’s the most informative book you’ve read recently?
I don't read a lot of nonfiction but fiction can be just as informative in some respects. Sarah Dunant's lovely, well-researched Sacred Hearts had a lot to teach about womens' lives in sixteenth-century Italy; The Marriage Bureau for Rich People talked about marriage rituals among Muslims and Hindus in India, and Shalom India Housing Society contained lots of information about the Bene Israel community of India.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
School for Love, originally published in 1951, is a slight and bittersweet novel about a young English teenager, Felix Latimer, orphaned and marooned in Jerusalem in 1945. He finds a place to live with Miss Bohun, an eccentric distant relative and leader of a small religious cult. Felix befriends his fellow lodger the lonely Mr. Jewel and tries to eke out a life while he waits for a chance to return to England. Miss Bohun, narcissistic and full of self-pity, rules the roost through sheer force of will; when Mrs. Ellis, a pregnant widow, arrives, the house is thrown into disarray.
When I say that School for Love is slight, I don't mean that it is light fiction or insubstantial in any way; only that it is a quiet novel whose emotional impact builds slowly and almost imperceptibly. When Miss Bohun meets Mrs. Ellis, the reader gets a characteristic glimpse at Miss Bohun's insensitivity:
"What have you chanced upon?" Miss Bohun asked excitedly. "What are they? Oh! Irises! Such interesting flowers." She stared blindly at them for a moment, then swinging quickly round she all but trampled them under her feet. "I've all sorts of rare irises in the garden," she said. "A young botanist planted them here...He was going to Cairo...and he didn't know what to do with all these valuable bulbs - so I offered him a home for them."How kind of her, no? Schnorring some expensive flowers (which she carelessly destroys) is the least of her sins, and Felix's awareness of her awfulness dawns very gradually, from the slow unfolding of the backstory of Frau Leszno, who we meet as Miss Bohun's servant but whose actual position in the household is very different, to Miss Bohun's cruelty towards Mrs. Ellis and finally to a stunning betrayal of Mr. Jewel and Felix himself. Felix's growing awareness of her nature and ability to set boundaries and stand up for himself marks the arc he must travel towards maturity.
A literary coming of age novel for adults, School for Love is a treasure I'm glad to have come upon. The language is clean and unpretentious and the setting, Jerusalem of 1945, is fascinating and colorful. Much of the action takes place within the confines of Miss Bohun's house but the reader will get a glimpse of a scarred, transient population living on the fringes in a cosmopolitan city both young and ancient, where everybody's life feels unsettled and temporary- as though life is something that happens elsewhere, and here is just a waystation. In her introduction, author Jane Smiley characterizes the novel as "idiosyncratic and neatly controlled...with sharp, uncomfortable characters." Manning has crafted something quite lovely nonetheless.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Yesterday I got the great news that Boston Bibliophile has been short-listed for Best Literary Fiction Blog for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I'm so honored to be listed along with all the other terrific blogs who were also nominated.
You can vote for Boston Bibliophile (0r whoever you want) over at Book Blogger Appreciation Week's Awards and Nominations page.
There are tons of great bloggers nominated for all kinds of great awards. You can vote or just check out the folks nominated in different categories. Voting is open until Saturday September 12 at 11:59 PM EST. Go on over and check it out!
Bowl of Cherries is the first novel by screenwriter and Mr. Magoo co-creator Millard Kaufman, who passed away this year at the age of 92. It's the story of one Judd Breslau, a teenage prodigy who finds himself working for an eccentric scholar. Soon Judd falls hopelessly in love with the scholar's mercurial daughter, Valerie, and follows her to the ends of the earth. Almost literally.
When the story opens, Judd is in prison in a backwater of Iraq, awaiting his execution at the hands of his rival for Valerie's affections. From there Judd tells us his backstory interspersed with the slow forward motion of his hopeless-seeming predicament. The narrative has a picaresque quality as we follow his adventures from Connecticut to New York to Colorado and Iraq, and Kaufman writes in an elevated, literary style not at all like the voice of a fifteen-year-old. Whether you find this charming or annoying will determine how you feel about the book as a whole. On moving to Colorado and finding his mother, he notes
The house sat on the crown of a snowy hill, gleaming in the twilight. A big-shouldered stone fireplace dominated the living room, and next to it stood my mother. She wore the white robes of a vestal, cinctured with the silver and turquoise of the Navajo. From her neck depended a silver chain, and her earrings were like quoits. I had never seen her so gussied up, but the style was matchlessly Mother's.Here you can see the penchant towards preciousness and hoity-toity vocabulary which dominates the entire book. Those of you bloggers who participate in Wondrous Words Wednesday will feast. It didn't bother me that the style doesn't really sound like that of a teenager; what bothered me was that the style muddied the action and slowed the pace, so rather than skipping along, I felt like I was crawling through molasses to find out what would happen next.
The best thing about Bowl of Cherries for me was the comic cast of characters. Phillips Chatterton, the bathrobe-clad scholar, back-stabbing Abdul and inconstant Valerie made the book memorable and kept me reading. Even the minor characters are brought to life with color and texture. It's a coming of age story for readers of idiosyncratic literary fiction with an emphasis on stylized writing and character over plot. It's not destined to be a favorite, but I'm glad I picked it up.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.
Monday, September 7, 2009
I used to read and memorize a lot of poetry, just for the sheer fun of it. I was particularly fond of 20th century American poets like Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Frost. In my 20s, I read contemporary voices like Lyn Lifshin, Frank Bidart, and Ronald Wallace. And I love the British classics like Shelley and Wordsworth and Tennyson. Americans Dickinson and Poe. Travel introduced me to French masters Jacques Prevert and Paul Eluard and Irish poets Eavan Boland and Brendan Kennelly. These days I like to read Kim Addonizio and Ellen Steinbaum. And more.
So how much can I remember? Let's see. I'm probably going to make some mistakes but I'll do the best I can without cheating!
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
and be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear,
though as for that the passing there
had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no step had trodden black.
I saved the first for another day
yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted I should ever come back.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and I, I took the one less traveled by
and that has made all the difference.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
its hardest hue to hold.
Its early leaf's a flower
But only so an hour.
(I forget the rest!)
Indian Serenade, P. B. Shelley
I arise from dreams of thee
in the first sweet sleep of night
when the moon is hanging low
and the stars are shining bright.
I arise from dreams of thee
and a spirit in my feet
hath lead me- who knows how- to thy chamber window, sweet!
(that's all I remember!)
Daffodils, by W. Wordsworth
I wandered, lonely as a cloud,
that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
when all at once I saw a crowd- a host of golden daffodils
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
(there's more- but that's all I remember.)
A little from Prévert-
Et la verre était vide
et la bouteille brisée
et le lit était grand ouvert
et la porte fermée
et toutes les étoiles de verre
du bonheur et de la beauté
resplendissaient dans la poussière
de la chambre mal balayée.
Et j'étais ivre mort,
et j'étais feu de joie,
et toi ivre vivante,
toute nue dans mes bras.
(that's all I got- please pardon any grammatical or spelling errors in the French- I am doing this from memory!)
When I was in my teens I memorized poetry as a hobby. Probably one of my all-time favorite individual poems was Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art," from her wonderful book Geography III. It's written in a French formal style called a villanelle, a 19-line-long poem with an interesting and echoing rhyming structure. It starts
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
I wish I could still remember the rest!
What about you? What are your favorites? I used to really love reading (and writing) poetry and it's something I really miss. I need to make some kind of resolution about reading poetry more regularly and trying out new voices. Any suggestions?
Sunday, September 6, 2009
I have a lot to talk about these days and I need to spend some time doing some planning.
Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up, and with it a week's worth of posts on various subjects, including my upcoming interview with Jenn of Bibliolatry, which I'm very excited about. She's a super blogger and a great person to get to know. You should read her blog!
And there's been a lot going on that I want to talk to you about. I realized I never finished posting about Readercon, and even though it was a while ago now I think there's a lot of material worth sharing and talking about. Also, I got a review offer the other day for a novel based on a Holocaust hoax, and I have some thoughts about that. Then there's the recent news about Cushing Academy, a Massachusetts prep school that's dismantling its library in favor e-readers and a new coffee shop. I don't even know where to begin on that one, but I'm going to dive in somewhere, no doubt! Then there has been a conversation going around more than one library listserv on putting ARCs in library collections, and of course I have an opinion about that as well.
And I have links to share. And some blog posts that have inspired me in one way or another.
Finally, I'm way, way behind on reviews and need to make some effort to get caught up.
But before I get to all that, I'm going to enjoy Labor Day Weekend by spending some time with friends and family. My Dad is getting ready for a trip to China next month, and one of my best friends from college is in town for a visit. I've got a full plate!
What's on your plate this Sunday?
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I picked this up at Reactions to Reading. Neat!
Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.
You can see my list of 2009 reads to the left-hand-side of the blog if you want to check!
Describe Yourself: Wild Strawberries
How do you feel: Spiced
Describe where you currently live: The City and The City
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Valley of Strength
Your favorite form of transport: Lone Racer
Your best friend is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
You and your friends are: Sacred Hearts
What’s the weather like:The Year of the Flood
Favourite time of day: What It Is
If your life was a: Bowl of Cherries
What is life to you: A Contract with God
Your fear: Stitches
What is the best advice you have to give: And From There You Shall Seek
Thought for the Day: This is Where I Leave You
How I would like to die: Valeria's Last Stand
My soul’s present condition: Towards Another Summer
Friday, September 4, 2009
Some fun stuff this week.
I picked up Radiant Days, Haunted Nights, a collection of Yiddish folk tales, at the bargain table at Porter Square Books. It has some unusual selections, including folk tales about the Buddha and even an Arthurian legend with a Yiddish twist. Should be fun.
Going Away Shoes, a collection of short stories by Jill McCorkle, came from Algonquin Books.
I bought The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, by Vladimir Nabokov, on impulse because it's been forever since I've read any Nabokov and I'm excited about The Original of Laura, coming in November.
Finally, for the first time in a while I bought a quilt book, Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts, by RaNae Merrill. I wrote a little more about that on my craft blog if you're interested.
You can find more Friday Finds here.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
What’s the biggest book you’ve read recently?
(Feel free to think “big” as size, or as popularity, or in any other way you care to interpret.)
The most popular book I've read is Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I've almost finished.
The book that had the biggest impact on me was Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It left me emotional for the whole day I finished it!
What about you?