Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Salon

It's Sunday again, and it's one of those Sundays when it's a little hard for me to come up much to say. I've been busy working- I have a new part-time job for the Association of Jewish Libraries- and I'm starting to set up a little home office for myself. My husband and I went to Ikea yesterday to look at desks and I found the perfect one, but I don't want to buy it until I get my sewing room cleaned up enough. I have a broken-down futon that needs to come out; that's a project for this week. I'm anxious to get my little workspace set up now.

My "no buying books for Lent" vow is going well I guess, although I did break it on Thursday night when I attended a book party for local writer Randy Susan Meyers and her new book, The Murderer's Daughters; proceeds from the book went to The Home for Little Wanderers, and I really wanted the book, so I hope God will understand. It was a great party and I got to meet a bunch of folks I knew from Twitter as well as hang out with pals like Dawn Rennert of She is Too Fond of Books and others. The weather that night was cascading downpours and the party was held in a beautiful home complete with a roaring fire; it was kind of wonderful. I'm looking forward to reading Meyers' book- it's got a lot of very positive attention.

Today I'm headed off to a bookstore or two for some browsing and I'm starting a new book, Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been, which I've been looking forward to for a long time. I hope everyone has a great Sunday!

You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Finds- A New Spin

Since I'm not getting any new books until Easter, I have no Friday Finds this week. Instead, I thought it would be fun to share the books I want to buy:

Anita Amirrezvani's The Blood of Flowers, historical fiction set in Iran about a woman trying to become independent. I hope that used copy I saw at the Harvard Book Store is still there! (Yeah, right!)

Marcel Möring's In a Dark Wood is going to be a must-read; it's about Europe dealing with post-Holocaust and post-World War II guilt and its consequences. I'm really looking forward to reading this.

Finally, Atiq Rahimi's The Patience Stone looks fantastic. Set in Afghanistan, it just won the Prix Goncourt, the prestigious French literary prize. I can't wait.

All three of these books tempted me to break my Lenten vows this week. Those and the new Ian McEwan will be on my shopping list when I hit the bookstore on Easter Sunday. What books have been tempting you lately?

You can find more Friday Finds at

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Booking Through Thursday - Why Do You Read?

btt button

Suggested by Janet:

I’ve seen this quotation in several places lately. It’s from Sven Birkerts’ ‘The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age’:

“To read, when one does so of one’s own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one’s life or one’s orientation toward it.”

To what extent does this describe you?

What a depressing, pessimistic view of reading! Reading is an escape, but not because the world is so dismal. Books are a special part of the world- a part that broadens us, opens our mind and shows us something different, not because the world we live in is insufficient but because it's limited by the depth and breadth of our own experiences. Why do I read? I read because I love good writing and a good story, and it's a means of pursuing my manifold interests. And because I love to learn, and I learn something new every time I turn the pages!

More Booking Through Thursday can be found here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

REVIEW: Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain. P.S. edition published 2007 by Harper Perennial. Nonfiction. Memoir.

What is there really to say about Anthony Bourdain's immensely entertaining memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly that hasn't been said a thousand time before?

Celebrity chef Bourdain writes in a distinctive, catchy style about his days as a culinary acolyte, from working in a seafood shack in Provincetown as a teenager to cooking school in New York to days and nights slaving in kitchens large and small, dishing the dirt and ladling out the behind-the-scenes antics of restaurants famous and infamous. He writes with loving detail about the culture of the kitchen, including its seamy side and changes in the business over the years. And he includes lots of little tidbits that will make you think twice the next time you're eating out:
Chilean sea bass? Trendy. Expensive. More than likely frozen. This came as a surprise to me when I visited the market recently. Apparently the great majority of the stuff arrives frozen solid, still on the bone. In fact, as I said earlier, the whole Fulton Street fish market is not an inspiring sight. Fish left to sit, un-iced, in leaking crates, in the middle of August, right out in the open. What isn't bought early is sold for cheap later.
He'll also make you reconsider the wisdom of Sunday brunch and ordering your meat well-done. He heaps abuse on the French, but not on French cuisine, and he writes candidly about his own shortcomings and strengths. He'll make you laugh and wince- but mostly laugh. I tore through Kitchen Confidential in about three days, laughing all the while. I watch his Travel Channel show, "No Reservations," whenever I get the chance and I'll admit to being somewhat smitten with his unpretentious persona- on display in abundance in his sparkly memoir- so I'm not exactly objective. And what I like the most about Kitchen Confidential is what I also like best about his show- his relentless passion and enthusiasm for food and his love for the restaurant business.

It's just such a fun book. Obviously, if you like foodie books or restaurant memoirs, Kitchen Confidential is a must-read. If you enjoy garrulous, high-energy personal stories and down-and-dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves narratives, it's the book for you, too.

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

REVIEW: The Girl with Glass Feet, by Ali Shaw

The Girl with Glass Feet, by Ali Shaw. Published 2009 by Henry Holt. Literary Fiction.

The Girl with Glass Feet, the debut novel by British writer Ali Shaw, has a magical premise; a young girl named Ida MacLaird discovers she is slowly turning to glass. Desperate for help, she returns to remote and strange St. Hauda's Land to find Henry Fuwa, a scientist of unusual creatures and the only man who can help her. She meets Midas, a florist and amateur photographer who doesn't want to feel and holds the world, and those in it, at a distance, and they begin a chaste and timid romance as they search for a cure.

But small, foggy St. Hauda's Land is a place filled with secrets and wonders and more than just a love story, The Girl with Glass Feet is a fairy tale set among ordinary people. Shaw's style reflects this contradiction, at times lyrical and luminous and at others relentlessly plain. It's on display when, for example, Midas first discovers Ida's secret:
He reached for the tops of Ida's socks and gripped them gently together. Then he rolled them towards her ankle. She mumbled something and he froze, but left his fingers in place...
He stared.
Kept staring.
Peeled the socks off entirely.
Her toes were pure glass. Smooth, clear, shining glass. Glinting crescents of light edged each toenail and each crease between the joints of each digit. Seen through her toes, the silver spots on the bedsheet diffused into metallic vapors. The ball of her foot was glass too, but murkier, losing its transparency in a gradient until, near her ankle, it reached skin: matte and flesh toned like any other...Bones materialized faintly inside the ball of her foot, then became lily white...In the curve of her instep wisps of blood hung trapped like twirls of paint in marbles.
I love how Shaw juxtaposes Midas's very ordinary human reactions with lovely descriptions of Ida's feet. His descriptive writing is the best thing about the book and he puts his powers to good use in communicating the brutal power of the St. Hauda's Land landscape and the slow but excruciating changes in the landscape of Ida's body.

His characters aren't really as fleshed out though, and the plot moves at a glacial pace. There were times when the story lost me a little, when I felt like Shaw spent too much time on the backstories of minor characters without really developing the characters themselves, and when the minutiae of everyday life took attention away from the urgency of Ida's condition. Midas and Ida's love story felt rushed to me and not as moving as it could have been. I didn't feel the romance between them; I just had to believe it when Shaw said it was there. That to me is a serious problem in a love story, especially a tragic one.

And I would like to have seen more of Henry, a fascinating character who just wasn't given enough to do. Near the end Henry and Midas have a heart-to-heart and Shaw tells us "there was an honesty between them where suspicion had marked some of their previous meetings." I would prefer to see some of that honesty rather than just be told about it; Shaw gives this scene a page and a half with six lines of dialog between them. I will say though, that the ending is heart-rending and sweet, even if it took some patience to get there. I wish I had liked The Girl with Glass Feet more; I really wanted to like it, and there are times when Shaw creates something special and truly original. But the magic turned out to be a little too elusive to enchant this hopeless romantic.


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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday: Token, by Alisa Kwitney and Joëlle Jones

Token, by Alisa Kwitney and illustrated by Joëlle Jones. Published 2008 by Minx/DC Comics.

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

Minx is a line of graphic novels aimed at teen girls and started by DC Comics in 2007. The imprint has since been discontinued, but in the year or so that it was active, 12 books were published featuring a diverse cast of girls, including girls who were disabled, girls of different races and girls of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Hard to find these days in stores, Minx books should still be readily available in libraries.

I started collecting Minx books after finding two galleys at 2007's American Library Association conference, the year the imprint was launched, and have begun reading through the line. Token, by Alisa Kwitney and Joëlle Jones, is the story of Shira, a fifteen-year-old living in 1980s South Beach with her dad and her grandmother. She's Jewish, and attends a Jewish high school where she feels like she doesn't fit in. She likes to wear vintage clothes and spend time with her grandmother's friends and sometimes does things she shouldn't. Sparks fly when Shira's dad starts dating his secretary and Shira meets handsome Rafael on the beach.

All of the Minx graphic novels are characterised by a similar black and white artwork. What I really love about Token is Shira; with short dark hair always dangling in her eyes and a curvy, 1940's poster girl figure, Jones has created a real-looking beautiful girl. Kwitney gives her an unmistakeably teenage personality to go with her looks. She's rebellious and sullen sometimes, sweet and adorable at others. She agonizes over her love life but is shy around boys. Her rapport with her father is tender but possessive and she has a teenager's push-and-pull relationship with her faith, insisting on keeping kosher but dating the definitely not-Jewish Rafael.

Token is a quick read and a fun one that I think teen girls and lots of young women would enjoy. It's perfectly appropriate for its teen audience and deals with themes that they will be able to relate to. I wish that there had been a little less skin showing and a little less emphasis on Shira's body from time to time but overall I think the book has enough positive messages to make up for the tendency to objectify her. I particularly liked Shira's warm relationship with her elderly grandmother and friends, something not often portrayed in books. It's a sweet coming of age story for many readers.

Rating: BEACH

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

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Salon - No Books for Lent

I'm not a religious person, but I am a Catholic, and every now and then I participate in the annual ritual of Lent- giving something up for 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Over the years I've done all the usual things that people do- giving up chocolate, or fried foods, or things like that. Truthfully I don't have a lot of bad habits (I don't smoke or drink or eat to excess) but I wanted to do something this year and giving up chocolate didn't seem like enough, so I've given up buying books.

It's hard! I love books, and I have a lot of interests- new books, classics, subjects like France, Russia, the Balkans and others- and I love to go shopping for books. I think the thing I like to do best besides read is browse in bookstores and I almost always find something new that I'd like to read. I live in a town with fantastic independent bookstores and mouthwatering chains and I visit bookstores on average 4-5 times per week. That rumpled redhead haunting the new-release table every day at 7 am, on her way to the gym? That's me.

On the other hand, I'm also feeling relieved. Blogging has definitely opened my eyes to books and authors I'd never hear of or read otherwise, but I'm a competitive person and it also has this side effect of creating, for me, a level of anxiety and competitiveness I don't really enjoy. You know what I mean. So-and-so has the latest hot galley and you don't. Or someone got a book for free from a publicist who said no to me. Or someone got invited to some cool event I didn't, and I feel inadequate, or like I'm not one of the "cool kids". Reading for me has never been about being cool and I like being released (just for a while) from this need of having to keep up or compete. It's also going to give me a chance to dig into my TBR pile and enjoy what I have rather than stress out about what I'm trying to get.

Which is not to say I'm not adding to my wishlist in the meantime!

Have a great Sunday. You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BEA and Book Blogger Con

I'm going. I'm so excited!

Every year since becoming a librarian I've made an effort to attend at least one conference; usually it's the Massachusetts Library Association Conference, but I'm going to skip that one this year in favor of BookExpo America and the Book Blogger Convention.

I have my hotel reservation and my registration; I just need to get my train tickets and I'll be all set. Who else is going? I have to know- and I hope to see you all!

Some of my favorite things to do in New York:
  • Alice's Tea Cup, an Alice-in-Wonderland themed restaurant serving tea-the-drink and tea-the-meal, home to outstanding homemade scones and a truly dizzying tea selection;
  • Max Brenner Chocolate by the Bald Man, a terrific restaurant where nearly everything has chocolate in it; love it especially for brunch or a post-dinner cocoa;
  • The Strand, four floors of the most amazing bookstore ever (and right down the street from Chocolate by the Bald Man- talk about a dream date, right?);
  • Forbidden Planet, a great science fiction bookstore near The Strand, which I love for its mammoth zine selection;
  • Times Square of course, especially the Sanrio flagship store, for all your Hello Kitty needs;
  • Midtown Comics, a comprehensive comics and graphic-novel shop not far from Times Square. If it's graphic and it's in print, it's here.
All I can say is, do Alice's Tea Cup and Max Brenner on different days because you won't have room for both!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Finds - A Few New TBRs

A few finds this Friday.

I found Asta in the Wings, by Jan Elizabeth Watson, at the wonderful Cornerstone Books, an indie in Salem, Mass., and it looks like exactly what I hope to find when I visit indie bookstores- a good, unusual book.

Birds of America, stories by Lorrie Moore, came via Bookmooch. I need to read more of her; and I know, I have to read A Gate at the Stairs, and I will, eventually!

Finally, The Five Scrolls, by Herbert N. Bronstein, came from the book sale table at work. This is a really extraordinary art book of Bible texts used in Jewish festival services. I've seen this book in several synagogue libraries and even though I don't celebrate any of these holidays, I'm thrilled to have my own copy.
What were you thrilled to discover this week?

You can find more Friday Finds at

Unfinished Friday

Any unfinished reads this week? Leave a link or comment below and we'll visit each other and share our unfinished books.

I know most of us endeavor to finish everything we read, but we don't have to, and sometimes it's impossible- it just doesn't work for us, for one reason or another. But it's still possible to get some mileage out of that work for your blog- by sharing it with us here on Fridays!

Nothing for me this week- I'm in the middle of reading The Girl with Glass Feet and I think this'll be one I finish! You?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

REVIEW: Alchemy Arts: Recycling is Chic, by Kate MacKay and Di Jennings

Alchemy Arts: Recycling is Chic, by Kate MacKay and Di Jennings. Published 2010 by Marion Boyars Publishers. Nonfiction. Crafts.

Alchemy Arts: Recycling is Chic is a pretty, nice looking craft book by Scottish artists Kate MacKay and Di Jennings, which takes advantage of the trend towards reusing and recycling old clothes and household items to make one-of-a-kind outfits, costumes and accessories.

The designs are fanciful and creative- a deck of cards becomes a hat; a pile of old clothes and ties becomes a gorgeous kimono; more old clothes and an umbrella become a skirt. And the book itself is beautifully photographed and fun to page through. There are interesting anecdotes and information on the projects and the inspiration behind them. A chapter on working with felted wool, for example, opens with a page on German artist Joseph Beuys, who survived a crash landing during World War II only to be rescued by a nomadic tribe which taught him to look at woollens in a whole new way.

I had fun looking through Alchemy Arts, but I doubt it's a craft book I will ever actually use. I know how to use a sewing machine and could theoretically do some of these projects (especially those on jewellery making and wool felt) but most of the projects are much too advanced for me. The authors have taken a minimalist approach to writing instructions; a moderate to high level of skill is assumed and rather than provide patterns or detailed how-to's, the authors have put together lists of "tips" that leave out a lot. One chapter, called "Carnival Time," covers creating a ball gown from pictures torn out of a magazine. The reader is instructed to "glue or staple the fliers together and arrange them onto your base garment." Okay. It seems like there's something missing here! A chapter on creating beads with rolled paper offers the suggestion to "Experiment with the effects different triangles have on the end bead shape...the chunky, rounder beads in this example were achieved by using several triangular strips of descending size." How many? How long? How wide? All but advanced crafters will be left out in the cold by these vague suggestions.

If you're one of these advanced crafters, you'll get a lot of inspiration and ideas from Alchemy Arts; I have a friend who runs a business selling handmade clothes and jewelry and I think she would love this book. This is someone who will spend whole days learning how to use that clay that fires to silver and use it to mold one-of-a-kind jewels out of sculpted molds she also makes herself- she's totally fearless and she has the time and space to do those kinds of experiments. I, however, don't! So think about what kind of crafter you are and if you're bold and highly skilled, you'll enjoy Alchemy Arts. If not, well, it's fun to look at and who knows, you might find something that strikes your fancy.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Meryl Zegarek Public Relations.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday- Interview with Julia Wertz

Today I have a special treat for you; rather than do a review, I have for you an interview with comics artist and author Julia Wertz, whose Fart Party graphic novels I've reviewed in the past- including her second collection, The Fart Party volume 2, which I reviewed last week.

Julia contacted me last week and was kind enough to answer the following questions for us. If you want to read my reviews of her books, you can click on the book covers below.

1. Lots of my readers are folks new to graphic novels; what would you want them to know about the medium as they start exploring?

For readers first getting into graphic novels and comics, I’d recommend approaching them the way you’d approach the styles of traditional literature. With regular books there are very clearly defined genres- fiction, non fiction, biography, science fiction, romance, mystery, etc- but with comics, it all gets lumped into one category, which is very misleading.

The only time comics get categorized properly is in comic book stores, and even that is a little iffy. It helps to figure out what genre of comics you’re interested in- superhero, autobio, alternative, etc- and educate yourself about the creators in that area.

I think it’s a mistake to assume that all readers/makers of comics should be interested in all comics. The genre has been expanding rapidly and much like with traditional literature, there’s no shame in disliking parts of it. You’d never assume that a sci-fi reader should also be interested non-fiction and while they certainly can be, it’s a mistake to assume that they HAVE to be. This faux pas doesn’t really occur in literature since it’s such a large genre, but since comics are still relatively new in comparison, they struggle with this lack of distinction. Nothing drives this point home more than having to endure 5 days of comic-con while you’re sitting there trying to sell autobio stories from your childhood and then an old dude like Hell Boy walks by and you’re like “why is this my liiiiife?”

2. When did you start drawing? Who influenced your style?

I was a late bloomer in the sense that I started drawing comics in college, but I’d always liked reading, writing and drawing, I just didn’t know I could combine the two even though, like most people, I grew up reading the funnies and comics like Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield and The Far Side. I think it’s the simplicity of those kinds of art styles that ended up influencing me even though the comics that got me drawing comics were more artistically intricate. As a kid I loved the way that cartoon characters had buggy eyes and exaggerated reactions to things, so I employ those traditional techniques in my current work. I was always so taken with the fact that Calvin and Hobbes could look so cute and funny but also be heartbreaking at times.

I was also really influenced by Bill Pete’s work, although I didn’t realize it until much later. Some of my favorite Disney movies as a kid were Pinocchio, Sword in the Stone, Peter Pan, the Jungle Book…the Disney movies with a slightly darker tone and artistic aesthetic, all of which Bill Pete worked on. I also had many of his books as a kid and I always loved his easy, loose style, but I didn’t realize until a few years ago that all of that work was Bill Pete’s until my friend Aaron told me to read his autobiography and I recognized the larger catalogue of his work and how it’d been a big part of my life since I was a little kid.

3. Can you name some of your favorite comic artists or recent graphic novels?

Besides those mentioned above, there are many more current cartoonists whose stuff I greatly admire, such as Phoebe Gloekner, Ivan Brunetti, Julie Doucet, Vanessa Davis, Emily Flake, Lisa Hanawalt, Gabrielle Bell, Joey Sayers, Nicholas Gurewitch, Laura Park, Lynda Barry, etc…the list is too long to keep going and I always leave people out on accident. A few of the graphic novels I read last year that I really enjoyed were Jillian Tamaki’s Skim, Ken Dahl’s Monsters, and Carol Tyler’s Late Bloomer.

4. City life is so embedded in your work; has your move to New York changed anything about what or the way you draw? How is New York treating you and your comics?

It’ll probably seem like it changed a lot of my work since my next book is all about moving to New York, but as soon as I finished that book, I started on another one that is a lot like the old Fart Party stuff. I just had to get that period of my life out of the way and settled back into a more comfortable routine. I don’t think big, epic adventures like moving to New York are captured all that well in my style of focusing on the more mundane parts of every day life, so I feel in that sense my work may have suffered for awhile but now that I’m more settled, I’m falling back into my old ways of cartooning. I have a feeling I could be doing that anywhere though, not necessarily in New York, but I definitely think that if I’m going to make pointless comics about, say, going to the grocery store, there is no better city to do it in that NY because something bananas always happens even when you’re just running to the bodega to get a soda or something.

5. Apart from comics, what else do you like to read? Favorite author? Favorite book read last year? Anything you're looking forward to in 2010?

Actually, I read more books that I do comics. I read mostly fiction, non fiction and memoir. My favorite book I read last year was The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. I absolutely love her style of straightforward story telling without wallowing in self pity. There’s nothing worse than an insufferable whiner and she steers clear of that pitfall so effortlessly. Other ones I really enjoyed were Jonathan Carroll’s Land of Laughs, Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, although the movie was a real piece of shit. I’m not caught up on what’s coming out this year though, I’m usually pretty far behind on current stuff because I just buy whatever I can find at the dollar rack at the Strand.

Julia, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and best of luck and continued success with your work!

You can visit Julia's website,, for more of her art and comics.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Salon - Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!

The other day I was reading a post at Alayne's great blog, The Crowded Leaf, about her favorite romantic fiction; I don't really read romance novels per se, but some of my favorite romantic literary fiction includes

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, the quintessential Gothic romance,

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, because- does it really get any better than Scarlett and Rhett?

A Very Long Engagement, by Sebastian Japrisot, a sweet and passionate love story set in the post-World War I France about a young woman searching for her missing fiancé, and of course,

Possession, by A.S. Byatt, about two pairs of literary lovers- one in the present and one in the past.

What are your favorite romantic reads?

My husband and I will have a nice dinner at home this evening capped by some homemade crème brulées; I hope you have a great Valentine's Day whatever your plans are!

You can read more Sunday Salon here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Finds

A nice batch of finds this week!
Yesterday was my birthday and my husband gave me some great bookish gifts:

The Girl with Glass Feet, by Ali Shaw, which my friend Michele Filgate reviewed for The Book Studio, a tale of magic realism that sounds right up my alley;

Best European Fiction 2010, edited by the wonderful Aleksandar Hemon, and

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, an entry in the "Myths" series by Dubravka Ugresic. I've been a fan of hers for years.

He also gave me a gift certificate for the Sony eStore, which I'm sure I'll enjoy!
Also new to the pile this week are
Martin Smith's A Season for the Spirit: Readings for the Days of Lent, which I'll be reading for my book club, and

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show
by Frank Delaney, which I'll be reading for LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. I can't wait!

More Friday Finds can be found at

Unfinished Friday

Any unfinished reads this week? Leave a link or comment below and we'll visit each other and share our unfinished books.

I know most of us endeavor to finish everything we read, but we don't have to, and sometimes it's impossible- it just doesn't work for us, for one reason or another. But it's still possible to get some mileage out of that work for your blog- by sharing it with us here on Fridays!

My Unfinished Friday book is Sicilian Tragedee, by Ottavio Cappellani. I read it for LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program and I learned something- I learned I need to stay away from comic novels!

It's about the Italian theater scene and has lots of lively, colorful characters; there was nothing wrong with it strictly speaking. And I only got through the first couple of chapters. But I couldn't focus on it and it wasn't holding my attention. It was silly and fun but I guess I like my novels more on the serious side!

What about you? Anything abandoned to the island of misfit books?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Booking Through Thursday - Encouragement

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”

I'm not a parent, but my instinct here would be to lead by example. In other words, I think if I wanted my children to be readers, I would make sure to be a reader myself and surround them with books. I would talk about the books I'm reading and make sure that they saw me reading and enjoying reading. I would also make sure that there wasn't some other problem like a learning disorder that might be interfering with their desire to read, and talk to their teachers about what might be going on. After that, I would take them to the library and help them pick out books on things they're interested in- maybe nonfiction books about a hobby or a sport or a celebrity that they like. I would make an effort to not impose my own tastes but work with them to find out if maybe there's something they'd like to do or learn more about- almost the same approach I use with library patrons. And I'd just talk to them and make sure that they knew that I love them no matter what!

You can find more Booking Through Thursday answers here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

REVIEW: The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf. Published 2006 by Carroll & Graf. Fiction.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is a enjoyable and moving novel about growing up Muslim in Indiana of the 1970s. Khadra Shamy emigrated from Syria as a child with her parents; her family is very close and part of a conservative religious community including Khadra's African-American friends Hakim and Hanifa. The novel follows her life from adolescence to marriage to early midlife, from Indiana to the Middle East and back again as she sorts through questions of identity, religion and belonging.

I read Tangerine Scarf for my interfaith book club and I think that it was a great choice. It's accessible and provides a lot of cultural and religious information as well as some great characters and fodder for discussion. I expect our meeting next week will be lively and I found it more approachable than some of the older historical fiction we've read in the past.

I also found Tangerine Scarf to be bracingly honest- author Mohja Kahf doesn't sweeten Khadra for a non-Muslim audience, for, by example, giving her political opinions other than those she would most likely hold- even at the expense of (for me) robbing her of a little sympathy when it comes to her views on, for example, Israel. At one point Khadra forms a friendship with an Orthodox Jewish young woman and I had to cringe a little at some of her views even though they make sense given who she is. Khadra's discomfort with some aspects of mainstream American life and identity also struck me as honest and appropriate given the context in which she lives. At the same time, it also made sense to me that she and this young woman would find common ground, as she does with the Mormon family next door- all members of highly structured religions whose observance is as much a lifestyle as a matter of faith.

Having said that, I think Tangerine Scarf is also just a very appealing book about a decent, relatable young woman who deals with questions common to many:
But what if she'd been just a regular Muslim girl trying to make her way through the obstacle course-through the impossible, contradictory hopes the Muslim community had for her, and the infuriating, confining, assumptions the Americans put on her? A girl looking for a way to be, just be, outside that tug-of-war?
That tug-of-war is the center of the book, as Khadra moves between cultures, lifestyles and the different people in her life- who also ask tough questions of themselves. Kahf shows that no one's life is simple, however it may seem from the outside. I particularly liked how Kahf portrays the diversity in the Muslim world and while the book has obvious appeal to those interested in Islam it would also appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven coming-of-age stories with a strong point of view and clear focus. I think young adult readers would also enjoy getting to know Khadra and empathize with her questions about herself and her place in the world. In the end Tangerine Scarf grows into a moving portrait of a self-realization and self-actualization as Khadra learns to love life and herself and begins to balance it all out.


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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Literary Awards and Voting- Who Decides? Should You?

In a press release dated February 1, the Man Booker committee announced a new, one-time prize which it will award to a book published in 1970- a year whose fiction sort of fell through the cracks of the Booker Prize when it originated in 1969. You can read the post for a full explanation of how and why that year's books were not eligible for recognition, but this year it's been decided to recognize some of those books through this special award. Twenty-two books published that year have been selected for the long list; a short list will be announced in March and then the final winner will be decided via a popular vote on the Man Booker website, which means you and I can vote to determine the winner.

The Man Booker committee has done a popular-vote award before- 2008's Best of the Booker- but this prize got me thinking about literary awards in general. I commented Frances's post about the prize at her blog, NoneSuch Book, (an awesome literary blog you should be reading) that I wasn't crazy about the idea of literary prize winners being selected by popular vote. I mean, literary prizes should be awarded not on the popularity of a book but on its quality, right? I admit to being an elitist when it comes to awards. I do think that knowledgeable and experienced panels of professional experts are the right people to hand out most of them. I don't always agree with their decisions (Amsterdam? I mean, I love Ian McEwan's work too, but really?) but I don't begrudge them the right to make them.

At least you know the committee has read all the books on offer; who's to say the voting public has? Would you vote in the contest not having read all the books? I've only partially read one of the shortlisted books- Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander- and I would vote for it if I liked it more (or even if I'd finished it) just because, you know, why not. It's fun to vote in these things. It's fun to feel like you're contributing and involved. I'm sure engagement is the reason why the prize is open to public voting. And if I'm willing to admit that I'm capable of casting a vote that I'm totally unqualified to cast, who's to say I'm the only one? I doubt that every person who will vote will have read all of the books, or even very many of them.

On the other hand, why not vote? And who's to say that some eggheads on a committee are the only ones qualified to say what book deserves to win? For that matter, who cares who wins? Some of the authors are dead, and while yes, the winner (or his or her estate) will gain some book sales, since I'm told all the time no one reads literary fiction anyway what does it matter?

I think it matters because there's value to promoting good books, and in recognizing underappreciated books, especially those not currently out in hardcover or featured front and center at your local bookstores. But I'm really of two minds when it comes to pure democracy in these circumstances. What do you think?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday: The Fart Party 2, by Julia Wertz

The Fart Party, volume 2, by Julia Wertz. Published 2009 by Atomic Book Company.

Click here to buy The Fart Party, volume 2, via I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

I'm a fan of Julia Wertz's. I reviewed the first volume of The Fart Party as well as one of the several anthologies she's edited, I Saw You...:Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections. I think she's great.

So it's no surprise that I launched myself onto her latest collection when I saw it at my favorite local comics shop. As a matter of fact, back when I bought her first book I didn't realize I already had a small stack of her zines!

So what is The Fart Party? It's a loosely connected series of slice-of-life vignettes, telling, in this case, the story of her breakup with boyfriend Oliver and decision to move to New York from San Francisco. Wertz, despite her insistence that she's not a very nice person to be around, is likable, funny and real as she shares the ins and outs of her adventures and her inner thoughts and feelings.

It's laugh-out-loud funny but definitely one for grownups; there's cartoonish violence (very cartoonish), swearing, sex and scatology throughout. The black and white, pen and ink artwork is uncomplicated but distinctive and expressive; I enjoyed both her more finished comics as well as the rougher "stick figure" panels, drawn when travelling or at moments of more fevered emotion. In fact, I think I like those comics more for their excess of energy. As one LibraryThing reviewer said, "Wow. That was wildly inappropriate! I wish I could find a girl like Julia all for myself." That pretty much sums it up for me too!

You can visit Wertz's website,, for comics, art and more.

Rating: BUY

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

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Salon - I'm Back, More or Less

So as some of you may know I've been a bit under the weather lately, after getting a fairly unpleasant infection from some cat scratches.

I really appreciate all the well-wishes and comments and emails I've received over the past week- bloggers really are the nicest people! All your nice notes really cheered me up, so- thank you!

But I'm back now, I think, having almost finished my course of antibiotics and hoping to get back to my normal blogging and working schedule soon. Last week I went to either the doctor's office and/or the ER every day (both on Monday) and only left the house one other time, to go to a bookstore (of course) to pick up my next book-club book.

I actually didn't read much while I was home; I did finish one book, Saša Stanišić's wonderful How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, a novel about growing up in Bosnia during the Balkan war. I went through a phase about 8 or so years ago when I was inhaling books on the Balkans, fiction and nonfiction alike, and the subject remains a particular interest. I'll do a more thorough review soon but for now I'll just say that it was an unusual and lively novel that I really enjoyed. I almost finished my current book club book, Mohja Kahf's interesting The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, but I still have a few chapters to go. Mostly though, this past week I spent sleeping and watching television. Not very literary, I'm afraid!

Today's schedule includes a visit with my father, who's departing soon for his second trip to China. We're having brunch at a dim sum place near the house; I'm still not on normal food so my meal will probably be along the lines of white rice and soup. But it will be nice to see him and to see him off on his latest adventures. Thursday is my birthday, and Valentine's Day is next Sunday. So I have to decide on a cake to bake for myself and maybe arrange a little party or something.

What plans do you have for the week? Have a great Sunday!

You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

THE PASSAGE- We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Michelle, of the awesome blog Galleysmith, who won my recent giveaway of Justin Cronin's The Passage. I'll be mailing it out soon- I hope you enjoy it!

In the meantime if you're not already reading her fantastic blog, you really need to, right now!

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Calling in Sick

Hi all.
I'm taking the rest of the week off from blogging as I'm sick and need to rest up for a few days. Remember what I said about the cat scratches yesterday? Yeah. Between the light-headedness and the side effects of the antibiotics, I'm not in much condition for book reviewing or commenting. Or even coherent thinking!

So take it easy and I'll see you all again in a little while!