Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Collecting: A New Edition of JANE EYRE

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about collecting books, and mentioned that I have a small collection of different editions of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. At the time my collection was only four copies and I'd just acquired the fourth, an inexpensive illustrated edition I found at a local used book store (second from the bottom in the picture below):

Well, a week and a half ago or so I read this post, about five British publishers designing and producing beautiful editions of classic books, and I discovered another lovely edition of Jane Eyre, published by White's Books.

It's really a pretty thing, cloth bound with lovely endpapers,
and printed on thick, nice-quality acid-free paper. The line from White's also includes Jane Austen's Emma and Pride and Prejudice, as well as a handful other titles. You can see the full list here. Their website will link to Waterstone's online store but you can buy them through many online booksellers.

While we're on the subject of hardcover special editions, and hardcovers generally, I encourage you to read and comment at this great post, which the great Ann Kingman tweeted about on Friday: it's right here, at the Northshire Bookstore's blog.

I love this copy of Jane Eyre and for $30 it's a great addition to my collection; I think any of these books would be wonderful to include in your home library or to give to the book lover in your life. I wish I knew more people who loved the classics because then I'd have an excuse to buy more of these beautiful books!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Author Appreciation: The Books of Ian McEwan

Today marks the release of the latest novel by British writer Ian McEwan, someone I think is one of the top living writers in the English language. His new novel, Solar, is out today in the U.S. I haven't read it yet, though the first thing I do today will be to buy a copy hot off the presses, and I hope to have my review done next week. In the mean time, I wanted to talk a little about the books of his that I've read, for those of you who might not be familiar with this amazing, brilliant writer.

I first started reading McEwan in college; I don't remember what exactly attracted me to his books, but I remember spending almost the entirety of winter break one year curled up in my dorm's living room with Black Dogs and The Cement Garden, two of the most chilling books I'd read, or have ever read. I don't remember much more about them except that they were creepy, creepy, creepy- and dazzling at the same time. McEwan is what I like to call a master prose stylist- someone who really knows how to put words together on the page to dizzying effect.

The next book I read was his novel Enduring Love, about a couple, Joe and Clarissa, whose relationship is strained when a man named Jed becomes obsessed with Joe. I'm not big into stalkers but again, I just couldn't help but admire McEwan's writing.

I read The Child in Time, about the effect of a missing child on a marriage, on a plane flight a couple of years ago; I liked it a lot, though it's probably the most low-key of those of McEwan's books that I've read, the closest to a sweet love story. I was on my way to Hawai'i for my honeymooon and if I were going to choose a McEwan book to bring on my honeymoon, that was probably the best one!

Just about all of McEwan's books (at least those I've read) spin out a plot from some kind of trauma in the characters' lives, be it physical or psychological; the trauma sits at the center, even if the blow doesn't come until the very end. Sometimes, as in his 1998 Booker Prize-winning Amsterdam, the threat of violence lies poised like the sword of Damocles, hanging just out of view. Other times, like in the incredible Atonement, the violence is multi layered. In Atonement, a young girl is traumatized by sexual behavior she doesn't understand, and this trauma leads her to implicate a servant in a rape, which she also witnesses. One trauma leads to another until several lives are irreparably torn asunder. On Chesil Beach is another story of sexual trauma, this time about the worst wedding night in the history of wedding nights. In both books, credibility hinges on the reader believing that these people could be as naive as they are; if the reader doesn't believe that, the stories would fall apart.

Then there's the book I hated- Amsterdam, the book for which McEwan won the Booker Prize in 1998. This book centers on a deteriorating friendship between two men, which unwinds gradually to a stunning denouement. The ending of this slim, elegantly written volume, which I loved up until that ending, made me want to throw it out the window. I've since learned I'm not alone!

Finally, there's the book I'll never read- The Comfort of Strangers. I saw the movie, starring Natasha Richardson, Rupert Everett, Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren, at some point in my late teens and it traumatized me! I was not surprised, several years later, to learn that McEwan wrote the novel, presumably in his creepy-stalker phase. If the movie bothered me as much as it did- it gave me nightmares- I can only imagine what McEwan set down on the page.

When I think about why I love McEwan's work, I'm reminded of Howard Zinn's saying "You can't be neutral on a moving train." One way or the other, McEwan is going to stir you up- you may be moved to tears or may have nightmares, or you might just be stunned into silence by the sheer skill with which he wields the English language, but he's going to make an impression. You may not like every book of his you read, but you'll never forget it. How many authors can you really say that about? I'm sure that whatever I think of Solar, I'll have strong feelings!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday- Special Feature: Interview with Steve Sheinkin

Today I have a special treat- an interview with comics artist and author Steve Sheinkin, author of three terrific graphic novels featuring his character Rabbi Harvey: 2006's The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, the 2008 follow-up Rabbi Harvey Rides Again and Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, just out this month. All three are available in paperback from Jewish Lights Publishing.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and Rabbi Harvey. How did he come into your life?

That question really takes me way back to my Hebrew school days. I was bored to death by all the memorization, and my dad, seeing this, got me a book of Jewish folktales. I loved the stories, and started imagining how I would change them – mostly by adding jokes. Rabbi Harvey evolved years later, when I came up with the idea of setting Jewish folktales in the Wild West. I wanted a main character who was part rabbi, part sheriff, someone who could defeat villains without using a gun, and that led me to Harvey. His look has changed a bit since those first sketches, but he always had the unibrow.

2. Who or what influenced your particular style of art? What comics artists do you like to read?

I wasn’t a big superhero comics reader as a kid. It wasn’t till I was in my 20s that I realized you could do any kind of stores you want in comic format. Reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus was a big part of that realization. I started little drawing comics of crummy jobs I had, and it was a lot of fun. These days I love a wide variety of artists: Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Joann Sfar, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and many more. What I love about the format is that everyone has a unique visual style. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a great artist, as long as stick to my own style.

3. Why did you choose to do a book-length story after your previous two volumes of shorts?

Partly for the challenge – to see if I could string a few dozen Jewish folktales and bits of Talmudic wisdom into a cohesive plot. Also, I thought it would be fun to read. Comics are so close to movies, and I’m a huge fan of old Hollywood westerns. So it seemed natural to try to do a Harvey “movie” in comics form.

4. You draw heavily from the rich tradition of Jewish folktales for all of your Rabbi Harvey stories; one of the pleasures of reading about the rabbi's adventures is recognizing familiar tales retold and learning new ones. Which ones are particularly meaningful for you? What are some that you like that haven't made into the rabbi's stories so far?

I read hundreds of stories, maybe thousands, looking for just the right ones for these books. I always wanted to use the beautiful story of the two brothers – each gets the idea of helping the other by secretly bringing wheat to the other’s barn. I finally figured out a way to work that one into the new book. I’ve also been trying to think of a way to get some of the Wise Men of Chelm stories into a Harvey book. With this new book, I realized I needed to create a whole new town, Helms Falls, Colorado, where these stories could take place. I look forward to revisiting in future volumes…

5. Rabbi Harvey, a question for you. How do you feel about the way Steve Sheinkin portrays you? Does he portray you fairly? And- what's really going on between you and Abigail?

Yes, I would say that the books are a fairly accurate portrayal of life in Elk Spring. One minor point: Steve had taken to drawing me with pants that are a little too short, and I don’t feel that’s 100 percent accurate. Overall, what I enjoy is the ability to share wisdom from thousands of years of Jewish thought. The danger, of course, is that people think I’m the one who thought up all this stuff. They think I can answer any question they throw at me. Like Steve says in the books, it’s not always easy to be the rabbi.

As for Abigail, well, I lobbied Steve to give her a larger role in this new book, and my motives were not wholly unselfish. I’m hoping her part in these stories continues to grow. But I suppose it’s not entirely up to me…

Steve, thank you so much for a great interview and I'll be watching for the Rabbi's latest adventures!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Salon - Lots To Do

Today looks to be pretty busy, but I'm starting slow by icing my foot; I have tendinitis and I'm supposed to ice it two or three times a day, so I'm interpreting that as breakfast, lunch and dinnertime. I have a fairly busy day ahead; brunch with friends in a while, and then my husband and I are attending the 2010 Hemingway & Winship Award Ceremony sponsored by PEN New England; it's being held this afternoon at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. I'm very excited!

And reading? Yeah, I'll be doing some of that, too. I'm still working my way through Frank Delaney's Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show and I'd like to start Jonathan Keats' The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six, a re-imagined Jewish folktale about extraordinary or special people.

I also have a lot of work to do on the blog today, because I have some good things coming up this week, including an interview with comics artist and author Steve Sheinkin tomorrow, a virtual Valentine to author Ian McEwan for Tuesday, to celebrate the release of his latest novel, Solar, and a post for Wednesday about book collecting, a sort of follow up to one I did a couple of weeks ago. So I hope you have a great Sunday and I hope to see you back later in the week!

Chag Sameach to my Jewish readers- have a lovely Passover!

Here's a photo of my office assistant, doing what he does best:More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Finds - A Pile of New Reads

A great week in book acquisitions for me, including Bookmooch finds (I have a bunch of points burning a hole in my pocket) and a little shopping spree in the used-book department of the Harvard Book Store- always a good time.

The Dolly Dialogues came from I heard about the publisher, Myna Books, at the wonderful blog NonSuchBook.

All Rivers Flow to the Sea, by Alison McGhee, was a recommendation from Karen of the blog Scobberlotch.

The next three- Offshore, The Accompanist and Mornings in Jenin came from the Harvard Book Store. Offshore is a Booker Prize winner; The Accompanist is by Russian author Nina Berberova, who I'm interested in, and Mornings in Jenin was reviewed beautifully at two blogs I love, BookLust and Jew Wishes.

I decided to read something by writer Rick Bragg after reading about him in this post at the great blog Reader's Corner; All Over But the Shoutin' was what was available on Bookmooch so I'm going to give it a shot.

I wanted a new copy of Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman because I was remembering that I loaned mine out to a friend in high school and never got it back. I looked around for one on Bookmooch and was able to find one right away.

The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny is a really highly-regarded book about the Balkan Wars and I want to read it before I review Saša Stanišić's novel How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone because I think after a few years of not reading much about the Balkans, I need a refresher.

I'm interested in reading Armistead Maupin and so picked up Significant Others from Bookmooch.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle is another Booker Prize winner scooped from Bookmooch. This is even a signed first edition!

I Thought You Were Dead came unsolicited from Algonquin Books.

2017 by Olga Slavnikova, winner of the Russian Booker Prize, came courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Thank you LT!

What did you add to your TBR pile this week?
More Friday Finds at

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Booking Through Thursday- Taking Breaks

Do you take breaks while reading a book? Or read it straight through? (And, by breaks, I don’t mean sleeping, eating and going to work; I mean putting it aside for a time while you read something else.)

I sometimes have more than one book going at a time but I almost never take extended breaks from a book. I read just about everything straight through. Now that I think about though, in the case of War and Peace, I guess you could say I've taken a 18-month break since it's been at least that long since I picked it up!

More Booking Through Thursday here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Off the Top of My Head: Settings- What Works for You?

I was chatting online with Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books last night, and she mentioned a book she's reading right now, a recent mainstream novel set on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, not far from where we both live. The setting in this book, a realistic, contemporary novel, is a fictional town modeled after the area and Dawn talked about how the fact that the setting was generic and made-up rather than specific and real was distracting her.

This conversation got me thinking about settings and how they contribute to the overall feel of a book. Dawn said, and I think I agree, that if the setting is a place I know, she would rather have it be specific- a specific real town, for example, and not a made-up composite. If a story is set in Massachusetts or New England or another place I know, it's easier for me to get into the story if it's a real place, because then I feel it's familiar and I can add my own knowledge of the place and my own feelings or memories or impressions to what the author gives me. I get immersed the story much faster. Writing about a real place sets a higher standard for verisimilitude; there's not as much wiggle room for the author to fudge details or adjust reality to suit the story. For example, I grew up around Salem, Massachusetts; part of the experience of reading Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader was enjoying the detail and the texture of her descriptions of Salem. And I would have been able to tell if she'd gotten something wrong.

If I didn't know Salem well, or if I were reading about a place I didn't know about at all, I wouldn't have access to this information and I wouldn't be able to bring my own emotional history with the place to the experience of reading it. I think that this emotional connection may be one reason I seldom connect with wholly made up worlds, like in science fiction or fantasy novels but I think a really good writer should be able to create a vivid enough world to forge that connection no matter whether the world is familiar, unknown or made up.

So if I don't know the setting at all- if a book is set in a place I've never been or isn't even real- then I have to rely on the author to make that connection for me. And I read a lot of books set all over the world. I just finished Eddie Signwriter, by South African novelist Adam Schwartzman, set mainly in Africa (although part of it is set in Paris, which I know a little). A while ago I read Rooftops of Tehran, by Mahbod Seraji, another place I've never been. And in both cases the authors evoked their settings beautifully so that even if I didn't know if they had all the details right (although I trust that they do) I was able to connect enough through the characters and their experiences, even if I didn't quite have that rich, I've-been-there experience with the place.

What do you think? Do you tend to read books set in familiar places? How do you feel about generic versus specific settings? Does the setting make any difference to you at all, or do you not read so much for setting?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

REVIEW: Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin. Published 2009 by Delacorte Press. Fiction.

Alice in Wonderland is everywhere these days- at the movies, in stores (the other day I saw Alice pillowcases online at Urban Outfitters), in restaurants (Manhattan's delightful Alice's Tea Cup restaurant)- and on the bookshelves. There's a new illustrated version of the book and it's even shown up on TV- a recent episode of ABC's hit show LOST prominently featured The Annotated Alice, a beautiful version published by W.W. Norton.

No surprise then that there should be interest in Melanie Benjamin's intriguing novel Alice I Have Been, a fictionalized account of the life story of Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves, the woman on whom the famous Alice was based. Hargreaves was the daughter of a Dean of Oxford and was brought up in a privileged, intellectual atmosphere among scholars, students and the upper crust of British society. She had a love affair with a prince, married well and slid into obscurity, until a time in her later years when she became famous for her association with the by-then very famous book written by Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll, a mathematics professor and friend of her family.

The book is divided roughly into thirds, representing three phases of her life and the three men who did the most to shape it- Dodgson, her friend Prince Leopold and her husband. Of the three it's pretty plain who had the most influence. Hargreaves' association with Dodgson and his book is portrayed as coloring almost every aspect of her relationships, especially with men. Her mother, a woman deeply invested in propriety, feels that her daughter's reputation has been sullied and tries to dissuade her relationship with Prince Leopold, who eventually comes to feel that he cannot marry her. She settles for Reginald Hargreaves and tries to make herself a happy life with him and their sons but their family life founders and it is not until later in her life that she can make peace with all that's gone before.

Of the three sections, the first, about her relationship with Dodgson, is the most compelling. His interest in her, including the time spent photographing her, struck me as plain creepy- not at all like a romance but as the daydreams of a child and the unhealthy fixation of an adult, which combine to create a friendship deeply delusional on both sides. Benjamin beautifully evokes the pastoral, idealized childhood enjoyed by the children of this wealthy and revered family, with just this hint of menace around the edges. Eventually, something, no one really knows what, happened between young Alice and Dodgson that caused him to leave the family's circle; the echo of this event haunts the rest of the book. The explanation that Benjamin provides late in the book left me unsatisfied but at least it was something.

Alice I Have Been is not an easy book to classify. It would appeal to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the nineteenth century and England but in terms of the style it's somewhere in between literary and lighter fiction. The first section still seems to me to be the best; the second, about her relationship with Leopold, was rather more melodramatic and the third fell a little flat for me as I found I didn't like her very much as she got older, and the storytelling didn't have the same verve as it did at the beginning. Obviously anyone interested in Hargreaves' story or the story behind Alice in Wonderland has to read it, along with historical fiction fans, and I think it would appeal to a lot of other general fiction readers as well. It's well written and will keep you turning the pages, and in the end it was a satisfying fictionalized exploration of the woman and the friendship behind one of the best-loved children's books of all time.


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

Monday, March 22, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday: The War at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks

The War at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks. Published 2008 by SLG. Fiction. Graphica.

The War at Ellsmere is a fun coming-of-age tale set at an exclusive girls' boarding school, where scholarship student Juniper has just started a new year. Snarky and uncomfortable, she has a little trouble fitting in, first with her new roommate, perky Cassie, and then with mean-girl Emily and her friends. Emily is determined to ruin Juniper's time at Ellsmere and will stop short of nothing to push her buttons; will Juniper (or "Jun" as she likes to be called) survive the year? Or will Emily succeed in making her life miserable?

It's a pretty light book; Jun is an appealing character, her misfit friend Cassie is funny and cute and Emily makes for a very convincing bully. The story itself is a little formulaic and the added fantasy element involving unicorns is a little strange, but I still got into it and found myself worrying about what would happen to the engaging, imperfect heroine. The best part about it for me was the sweet friendship between Cassie and Jun, a pair of misfits who build a sweet private world. I also liked that the girls can be both competitive and supportive of each other academically, and that competition over looks or clothes doesn't figure at all. The characters look cute and sort of manga-like but overall the art didn't make much of an impression on me.

The War at Ellsmere is a quick read and it's pretty clean, so I think younger teen and tween girls would enjoy it. I managed to pass a nice couple of hours with this and a cup of tea; I look forward to reading more from author/illustrator Hicks and I would encourage you to check out her website,, for more examples of her art and writing.

Rating: BEACH

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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Salon - A Taste of Spring

Since the Sunday Salon police caught up with me last week and reminded me that the purpose of Sunday Salon is to talk about reading and not what's going on in my personal life, I will spare you the recap of my week and get straight to the books.

Friday night I finished Adam Schwartzman's new book, Eddie Signwriter, which is coming out on Tuesday. I'll talk about it more later this week but I highly recommend it to readers of literary fiction, especially those interested in books about Africa. It's set there and in France, and it's terrific.

Yesterday I started to read Frank Delaney's wonderful Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show. I'm only a few chapters in but I love the narrative voice. I feel like I'm sitting in a pub in Dublin listening to a great raconteur spinning yarns. My seasonal allergies have been bothering me lately- we've been having some unseasonably warm temperatures after a period of heavy rain, which always equals allergies- and so I get very sleepy very quickly when I sit down to read. Good thing those chapters are short!

Today? Today I plan to continue with Venetia Kelly and start reading a short book. Which one I haven't decided yet; I actually have a tag in my LibraryThing catalog for short books so I'll scoot on over there in a while and pick one out.

I also decided to join a read along of Lonesome Dove which I think is taking place in the fall. It's
being run by Amy at My Friend Amy and sounds like fun. I'm not typically a joiner but I think maybe I need to branch out a little in that respect.

That's a picture of my cat doing what I'd like to do as soon as possible- curl up with a good book.

What are you up to today?

More TSS can be found here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Finds- Electronic Edition

This week was all about the e-book for me. I had a gift certificate to the Sony eReader Store hanging around from my birthday, so I decided to go ahead and spend it on some things.

A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova, a memoir about growing up in 1960s Soviet Russia, which appeals to my Russophile side. A while back I read a really great memoir on the same subject, called Out of Line: Growing up Soviet, by Tina Grimberg, and I'm really looking forward to Gorokhova's book.

Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer is one that's been on my must-read list for a while.

Frederica, by Georgette Heyer, is an experiment in a new genre, which came to my attention thanks to one of the awesome blogs I read. I really need to start keeping track of exactly where these ideas come from, so I can give proper credit- and links!

Finally Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply is a novel I was interested in a while back and then sort of forgot about. Maybe I'll get to it soon!

What did you find this week?

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Booking Through Thursday - Plain or Pretty?

btt button

Which do you prefer? Lurid, fruity prose, awash in imagery and sensuous textures and colors? Or straight-forward, clean, simple prose?

(You thought I was going to ask something else, didn’t you? Admit it!)

I prefer simple, clear language to flowery and overblown prose. I think good writing can transmit more information more effectively without all the pyrotechnics.

More Booking Through Thursday here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

REVIEW: Any Human Heart, by William Boyd

Any Human Heart, by William Boyd. Published 2004 by Vintage. Literary Fiction.

I first heard about Any Human Heart from podcaster and book guru Michael Kindness in an episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast; he raved about it so much, and in a way that convinced me to read it, so I made it my first ebook purchase after I got my shiny Sony eReader. It was a good choice.

Any Human Heart is the diary of Logan Mountstuart, an Englishman born in South America who spends his life shuffling between England, America and Europe; he grows up, goes to school, gets married, has a child and gets married again. He works as a writer and has his share of success and failure, and his life takes a number of unexpected turns. In other words, he's an average man who nonetheless manages, Forrest Gump-like, to cross paths with many of the extraordinary men and women of the twentieth century and lives through almost all its ups and downs as well as his own.

Not the most exciting book out there in terms of plot, Any Human Heart is nonetheless very moving and compelling reading. It took me a little while to get into it; it picked up for me around the time of Mountstuart's first marriage but from there to the bittersweet ending Mountstuart's adventures kept me turning the pages. It was a little amazing watching the progress of his life and the turns it takes. He starts out as a relatively wealthy child in a somewhat conventional family but undergoes numerous shifts over the years along with his career, friendships and love affairs. His descent into poverty and illness in later years is scary and harrowing at times:
This is the first time in my life that I have been badly injured and seriously unwell; the first time I have had an operation and a general anaesthetic; the first time I have been in hospital. Those of use who have the luck to enjoy good health forget about this vast parallel universe of the unwell---their daily miseries, their banal ordeals. Only when you cross that fronteir into the world of ill health do you recognize its quiet, massive presence, its brooding permanence.

For awhile he's even eating dog food and rooming with a faded coquette with ills of her own; his life then takes a truly bizarre turn before ending very peacefully. I'm really glad I read Any Human Heart, a beautifully written character study I'd recommend most to readers of literary fiction. The writing is somewhat mannered but it's what this character would sound like and reflects Mountstuart's personality throughout all his travails. The supporting characters are vivid and well realized, particularly his friend Peter who serves as both a mirror and an alternative vision of his own life. It's a terrific book for the right reader.


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

Monday, March 15, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday: Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, by Steve Sheinkin

Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid: A Graphic Novel of Dueling Jewish Folktales in the Wild West, by Steve Sheinkin. Published 2010 by Jewish Lights. Graphica. Fiction.

Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid is the third installment in artist/author Steve Sheinkin's series about an intrepid unibrowed rabbi dispensing Talmudic wisdom and justice in the Wild West. The only rabbi in the fictional small town of Elk Spring, Colorado, Rabbi Harvey gives out advice and battles bad guys like Big Milt Wasserman and Bad Bubbe Bloom. The first two volumes, The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey and Rabbi Harvey Rides Again, are structured as series of short stories; this volume represents Sheinkin's and Harvey's first foray into a book-length tale.

This time, trouble comes to town in the person of Rabbi Ruben, who calls himself "The Wisdom Kid." Astute readers will know that he's not all he's cracked up to be by the fact that he's also Bad Bubbe's son and the apple never falls far from the tree in Elk Spring. He's also slick and sneaky and is soon found taking advantage of the trusting townsfolk, who have come to revere the rather more reserved Rabbi Harvey but are nonetheless intrigued by the newcomer. Soon the two men realize that Elk Spring is too small for two rabbis, and when Rabbi Ruben conspires with bad guy Big Milt to put Harvey on ice, it'll take all of Rabbi Harvey's own cleverness and wisdom- and some help from fetching schoolteacher Abigail- to set things right.

I'm a big fan of Rabbi Harvey and of Sheinkin's previous two volumes, reviewed here and here. I love Sheinkin's unusual, woodcut-inspired art and his use of traditional Jewish folktales as narrative devices and storytelling sources. One of the things I really enjoy about Sheinkin's book is seeing familiar folktales retold and reshaped in the Old West idiom. I think one mark of good storytelling is being able to draw on the past and incorporate traditional forms into something wholly original and charming- exactly how I'd describe the Rabbi Harvey series.

The third volume is likewise very successful and I like the way Sheinkin weaves lots of folktales into a coherent story that's still fun to read. Those with an interest in Jewish folktales will appreciate the "Story Sources," listing sources chapter by chapter, and "Suggestions for Further Reading" listing some excellent collections of Jewish folktales as well as some great graphic novels. The series is also relentlessly family-friendly and suitable for sharing with children. Harvey might always win in the end, but there's really no way to lose with this fantastic series.

You can go here to see my interview with Steve Sheinkin as well

Rating: BUY

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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Salon - My New Desk!

Well, as I'm sure you could tell by the fabulous quality of my blog posts last week- no reviews, a couple of days skipped, memes aplenty- I was sort of lacking in focus. My husband has had the flu since Tuesday so I've been pretty preoccupied. He's feeling better but it's been a long week. Luckily the house was stocked with food so when I had to go to the store 2-3 times every day it was only for little things. In the meantime not a lot else got done, except work and TV.

But today is a new day so let's see. As I mentioned on Friday, I've dropped my no-new-books-till-Lent thing. And really, given my personality how realistic was that? Not very. Couple that with the upcoming release of a new novel by one of my favorite authors and let's face it- it wasn't going to happen. Midweek last week I needed some time to kick back a little and what did I do? I went to a bookstore. Two, actually. And I shopped. Two books for me, one for my husband to read while he was sick, and a couple of DVDs while I was at it. So much for Lent.

In between fetching water, soup, crackers and more soup and more crackers, I worked and I continued to tidy up the new office. See? That's my desk above. It's Leksvik desk from IKEA- simple and traditional. The pencil cup, ruler and mug are all things I painted during my decorative-painting phase; I was never any good at it but I enjoyed it for a while. The coasters were a gift from a friend who made them.

Here's my bookshelf, beginning to get filled up with signed books. I could write a whole blog post about the books; each one has a story behind it.

Sometimes the story is, "I went to the bookstore and bought a signed copy off a pile," or "I ordered it online from the author who personalized it," but sometimes the story is better.

My cat is also enjoying the new shelf, as you can see below. It's important that he enjoy the furnishings.

What are you enjoying this Sunday? I hope you all are having a great day.

You can read more Sunday Salon here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What I Do and Do Not Like

I wasn't tagged to do this, but I stole it from one of my favorite bloggers, Karen over at Scobberlotch.

The rules are easy. All I have to do is fill in the blanks after each bold word and tag 3 of my friends. But I'm not going to tag anyone so if you want to do this meme, feel free. I'd love to know with a comment though, so I can visit & read your responses!

I like black tea with milk and sugar.
I like my Slanket. Actually, I love it.
I like working from home.
I like doing crafts.
I like getting up early. Sometimes.
I like baking.
I like to tidy up my books.
I like my iPod.
I like reading in coffeeshops.
I like finishing a great book.
I like watching my favorite movies over and over.
I like that second cup of tea around 4pm.

I love going to bookstores with my husband or friends.
Today was kind of a long day.

I hate oversleeping.
I hate going to the doctor.
I hate peaches.
I hate vaccuuming.
I hate it when people don't return my calls.
I hate running out of ideas.

I (secretly) like to eat lunch by myself.

I love my life!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Finds - And the Official End to My Book-Buying Ban

Three finds this week.

First of all, I need to tell you I've officially scrapped the whole no-new-books-for-Lent thing. What was I thinking? I can't go 40 whole days without buying a book. As if!

I bought Wish Her Safe at Home, by Stephen Benatar, newly reissued by NYRB Classics and originally published in 1982. I read about this book on a blog- I'm sorry, I can't remember whose- and it sounded like something I'd love. So I bought it. It's even signed.

Cities of Salt, by Abdelrahman Munif, is about the oil trade in the Middle East and the cultural disruption which ensues when oil is discovered. I found it in a great used bookstore in Harvard Square, Raven Used Books, and something about it piqued my interest.

The latest installment in the wonderful Rabbi Harvey graphic novel series, Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, arrived thanks to author Steve Sheinkin. I'm a huge fan of Rabbi Harvey in all his unibrowed splendor, so, thank you Steve- I'm already reading it.

More Friday Finds for your perusal at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Waiting on... Wednesday

What more can I say? It's Ian McEwan, only one of the top living writers in the English language. Love his stuff. Can't wait for his new one. Out March 30, no? Anyway. Want!

More Waiting on Wednesday at Breaking the Spine with Jill.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Do You Collect Books?

I read a lot of books, and I buy a lot of books, but I never really thought seriously about collecting books per se. I mean, I've collected the occasional series, manga especially, but I've never really collected just to collect.

Awhile ago, I saw the movie "Definitely, Maybe," which featured a character who collected various editions of Jane Eyre, because she loved the book and because she was looking for a particular lost volume of her own, given to her by her late father. I loved this nerdy, bookish touch in an otherwise by-the-numbers romantic comedy and it reminded me that for a while when I was a teenager I had my own collection of old copies of Jane Eyre. It was my favorite novel (still is) and although my collection reached a grand total of three copies I still treasure those books.

(The week after I saw the movie, I saw a pretty illustrated edition of Jane Eyre on sale for cheap at a local used bookstore and now I have four!)

As I was setting up my new home office over the past few days, I noticed that I've developed a little collection of signed books- about 50 so far- that would be nice to gather together on the bookcase I have in the room. I organized them alphabetically and they look nice! I'm sure I'll continue to add to that little collection as time goes on.

When I attended ReaderCon this past summer, I went to a session on collecting, starring a man who's collected hardcover first editions of every Hugo Award winner. He talked about the thrill of the chase, dealing with ex-library copies and other pitfalls and pleasures of collecting. I thought it was funny but then he sort of inspired me, and I thought about starting a collection of first editions of Booker Prize winners, since I love the Booker Prize. Some quick searches on online showed that, apart from a few early winners that cost in the hundreds, it's actually a relatively accessible collection to start, with many winners available for under $50 in good-quality condition. I have a few- I have Wolf Hall, The Blind Assassin and Possession, and I actually bought another the other day, Life of Pi, in anticipation of an upcoming local event with Yann Martel.

What do you think? Do you collect books? Do you want to?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sunday Salon- Coming Soon- My New Home Office!

After a somewhat bruising week between this and that, I've been having a very nice weekend napping, baking and reading.Yesterday I baked a batch of hamentaschen, the traditional triangular Purim cookie, though I fill mine with Nutella instead of the traditional poppy seeds or apricot. Yum.

And today I'm putting together a little home office for myself- a new desk and a recycled bookshelf, in my sewing room. I'm saying goodbye to my old futon and setting up the first desk I've had since college. I'm so excited. I really need a more formal workspace at home; working from my sofa has not been going well! My husband and I got a simple desk at IKEA last week, just perfect for my laptop; right now it's still in the boxes. Unfortunately, since the futon's new owners won't take possession until later on today I can't set it up and take pictures to show you right now.

So for the afternoon I'll be cleaning and periodically reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, a very nice new novel by Helen Simonson. Jeff and I think we need to have another yard sale this spring or early summer so I'm putting aside things and throwing things out and just generally clearing out some clutter. And wondering if I'll ever get back to my quilting!

Oh- if you're into blogs about movies, a couple of friends of mine have started a blog, A and A's Movie A Day, to document their project of watching a movie a day until they've worked their way through their substantial collection of DVDs. They're smart and cool and great writers and I'm going to follow them- you should, too.

What are you up to today?

You can read more Sunday Salon here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Out in Paperback, Reviewed by Me

I wanted to give you a heads-up on a few titles out in paperback and in bookstores now, that I reviewed when they were released in hardcover.

Some are brand-new releases and some have been out for a while.

Links are to my reviews.

Most recent is Miriam Gershow's very nice The Local News, about a teen girl whose brother has disappeared. I liked this one a lot. It's moving in a quiet way.

Late January saw the paperback release of Abraham Verghese's wonderful Cutting for Stone, one of my top favorite reads last year. It's amazing. If you like literary fiction please read this!

The paperback of Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife has been out for several months, but it's still worth checking out. It's a fictionalized version of the life of Laura Bush. I enjoyed Sittenfeld's writing in this character-driven, darkly comic novel.

Kira Salak's page-turner The White Mary was controversial in the blogosphere when it was released in the summer of 2008. I loved it. I just noticed the paperback in my local bookstore a few weeks ago.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Booking Through Thursday- Grammar Police

In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books?

More importantly, have you read them?

How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?

I have Strunk & Whites The Elements of Style, and yes, I have read it, though I'll say that I don't think that the style the authors promote is the end-all of good writing. I think grammar is very important and it bothers me so much to read writing with poor grammar that I will put a book down if it's sloppy enough. (I've also been known to stop reading poorly-written blogs.) Of course, most professionally published books aren't that sloppy and the most I really ever notice will be some misused pronouns- "She was taller than me" is a typical example. It's I, folks- "She was taller than I". It's a big reason why I dislike reading books written in dialect. Sometimes that technique can really help a reader get inside a character's head, but sometimes if it's not done well it just strips the character of his or her (notice how I didn't say their) dignity and makes the character sound stupid. So yeah, I'm not crazy about bad grammar!

Read more Booking Through Thursday answers here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Special Feature: Interview with author Mahbod Seraji

As promised, today I'm featuring a short interview I did with Iranian writer Mahbod Seraji, who graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us. Yesterday you may have read my review of his novel, Rooftops of Tehran; long story short- I loved it, and I was thrilled to be able to ask Mahbod a few questions.

1. What inspired you to write this story?

My own childhood, the memories of the alley, great friendships I had as I was growing up – As I mention in the interview at the end of the book ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN is loosely based on my own personal experiences. I have to also admit that reading ANGELA’S ASHES deeply affected me. One of my greatest regrets in life is that I never got to know or talk to Frank McCourt before he passed away. His story was quite an inspiration to me.

2. What would you like an American reader to learn about Iran from your book?

I wanted my readers to know that Iran is full of people just like them. People who fall in love, value friendship, have strong morals. One person at a book club meeting told me that before reading Rooftops she thought all Iranians were animals. We are talking about a nation of seventy seven million people, 70% of which is under the age of 30 with a literacy rate of over 98%. How 77 million people can be all animals, is beyond me. But it’s the reality of the situation we’re facing; the consequence of 30 years of demonization and dehumanization of Iran and Iranians for political reasons. And unfortunately sometimes people only remember sound bytes from political speeches, or Fox News, and form an unfavorable perception of a nation. Now that would be like someone outside the US watching the first 15 minutes of any of the local news channel and forming a perception of life in the US based on those segments, which hardly represent life in America in its entirety. Right? My book was an attempt and a hope for people to understand life in Iran at a deeper level, and understand that people of Iran are very different than its government.

3. What is That, that quality that others say Pasha has, that he learns to value in himself and others?

THAT, is an indefinable quality, perhaps charisma, charm, presence, and a sort of magical appeal that attracts one’s attention. It’s not one thing, someone’s look, education, the way they speak, the way they make you feel, but a combination of all those things.

4. The character of Doctor appears only briefly in the novel but his presence is felt throughout the characters' lives; was he inspired by someone or something in particular?

Doctor was based on two people, a friend of my father who was arrested by the SAVAK and executed, and the son of my Persian literature teacher in high school, suffering the same fate. His father was devastated with what happened to his son, and I wrote an emotional blog called THIRTY YEARS LATER for truth about the whole incident and its similarity to the death of Neda the young woman whose death was captured by a cell phone camera during the last June’s disputed election rallies in Iran:

5. Are there any other books you'd suggest- fiction or nonfiction- to someone who want to learn more about Iran? Will we get to see any more fiction from you in the future?

I have a list at the end of the book: Nonfiction: Ervand Abrahamian has a number of great books on Iran, I also like MODERN IRAN by Nikki Keddie, ALL THE SHAH’S MEN by Stephen Kinzer and THE IRAN AGENDA by Reese Erlich. On fiction side, MY UNCLE NAPOLEON by Pezeshkzad, FUNNY IN FARSI by Dumas, and all of Nahid Rachlin’s books are excellent. I am writing another book and am almost finished. Hope to get it out in 2011. For now, I’m calling it, CHILDREN OF THE VILLAGE.

Mahbod, thank you so much for participating! I can't wait to read your next book!