Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Week REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Published 1999 by MTV Books. Fiction.

Remember on Sunday when I said that I love The Smiths as much as anyone but a little teen angst goes a long way? Well, I'm glad I hadn't gotten far in The Perks of Being a Wallflower at the time because the main character Charlie loves The Smiths. He quotes them; he makes mix tapes for his best friend with the Smiths song "Asleep" at the beginning and at the end. He relates to their sensitive lyrics. And he talks about The Smiths, a lot.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary written by a high school freshman, the aforementioned Charlie, to an unnamed recipient. Charlie is experimenting with love, life, drugs and relationships, as many teenagers do. He's successful in school and seems to be popular; lots of friends float in and out of the story, and his parents are well-meaning if relatively ineffectual, as many parents are. Author Stephen Chbosky has Charlie write in a choppy style that I'm sure is supposed to sound adolescent, and it does, but it's a little hard to believe he's the genius his teachers say he is.

Anyway the stories he relates are soap-opera interesting and chock full of drama and dysfunction. Charlie spends most of the book drunk, high, or clueless as he blunders his way through relationships, friendships, school and family life. Along the way he witnesses a rape, helps his sister get an abortion, and goes to a late-night cruising spot with his gay friend Patrick where he runs into a local news reporter and outs him. He makes some social faux pas with his girlfriend Mary Elizabeth and pines after Patrick's sister Sam. He reads a lot.

All I can say about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, it's a quick read and pretty straightforward. It's #3 on ALA's Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009 and shows up often on other lists of challenged books. You can see the Fayetteville, Arkansas' challenge here; they didn't like the portrayal of gay sex, drug references, masturbation, and so forth.

As books go I thought it was pretty mediocre; the story was bland and the characterizations ran together, and the writing was, shall we say, easy to skim. I think it's important to read banned and challenged books not only to promote reading and literacy generally but to be educated about the conversations going on in society at large and I can see reading Perks for that reason. But I think if you're looking for a high-quality novel for and about young adults, there are probably better options out there.

Rating: BORROW

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week REVIEW: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. 10th Anniversary edition published 2009 by Farrar Strauss Giroux. Young Adult. Fiction.

Laurie Halse Anderson's acclaimed young adult novel Speak seems to be the poster child for the 2010 Banned Books Week season. The book has been denounced as "soft porn" by one Missouri man, and has been the subject of other challenges as well (as have other books Anderson has written). Book bloggers across the spectrum have been writing about the book (see the bottom of this post for links) and there is even a Twitter campaign to raise awareness of the book through a "Twibbon" campaign where Twitter users attach a graphic "Speak Loudly" to their avatars.

Then there's the book itself. As regular readers know, I don't read a lot of young adult books; I picked Speak up at a library booksale this past weekend out of curiosity and read it cover to cover the same day. A profoundly moving story of a young rape survivor navigating her first year of high school, it's a tough but important book that anyone with a secret can relate to.

Melinda Sordino starts her first day of high school in Syracuse, New York, ostracized from her group of friends after she called the police during a wild party at the end of the summer. Some of the kids got arrested and lost jobs or received other, unwanted notoriety as a result; others just resent her and want nothing to do with her. Her own friends won't talk to her and she's left trying to befriend the new girl in school, Heather, whose loyalty cannot be counted upon either. Melinda's parents are self-absorbed and fractious and her teachers are largely indifferent. She sinks into a depression, watches as other students speak up for themselves and finds some consolation in her art class. And she can't tell anyone what happened to her at that party.

I think lots of kids have things they can't talk about- maybe something going on at home, or a painful dynamic in their friendships, or a trauma or secret shame that can't be aired but which infects them and weighs them down- and therefore I think the topics and themes addressed in Speak will have a lot to say to both teens and adults. Anderson does a wonderful job showing the pain of secrets, the pain of ostracism and the cruelty that teenagers show to each other. She also shows the indifference and cruelty of adults.

I think the formula for getting a book challenged is usually: teenagers + sex + drugs + a general lack of respect for adult authority = someone's not going to like it. But that's also the reality that a lot of kids live, and that's the world that Speak is set in. I found Speak to be a very compelling, affecting read and I would recommend it certainly to readers of YA but also to readers of adult fiction looking to try an accomplished, important YA novel. It's a quick read and one that I think you'll be glad you picked up.

Here are some other links to blog posts about Speak:

Laurie Halse Anderson's blog post This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography.
Buried in Books Banned Books Week Challenge.
Bart's Bookshelf Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
I am the Lizard Queen! Banned/Challenged Book Profile: Speak.
Things Mean A Lot: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.
She is Too Fond of Books: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson (guest post).
Non-Fiction Five Challenge: Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson.

Got another one? Leave a comment or send me an email and I'll add it to the list.

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

This edition published: May 2007. Click on the cover to buy from I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

I should have read A Wrinkle in Time as a child- it's ostensibly written for children, and it's a classic, and lots of people recommended it to me. But there were two things that kept me from reading it. The first was that it is science fiction and I have always had a strong bias against reading science fiction. Cause, you know, I'm a literary snob. And secondly, it was my mother who recommended it to me, and who reads what their mother tells them to read?

My loss.

It's a great book, a sweet book, a satisfying read and a book that deserves to be the classic that it is. What surprised me the most was that although it's a children's/young adult book, it's not written like it's written for kids- the prose isn't dumbed down or noticeably simplified, the way that, you know, certain wizardy-trendy books are. Actually I can't talk authoritatively on wizardy books because I only read the first few chapters of the first wizardy book before I got bored and threw it down. But I digress.

The story centers on young Meg, her baby brother Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin, searching for Meg's and Charles Wallace's father, a scientist who has disappeared. Their search takes them to faraway planets and puts them in the middle of an interplanetary battle between good and evil. The battle continues through the next three volumes of L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time Quartet series.

I loved A Wrinkle in Time. I thought it was charming, sweet, suspenseful and thoroughly enjoyable. The writing is excellent; maybe a touch on the light side for an adult but really, really well-written. And the point is that it never sounds like it was written to be an easy read. It's also one of the top 100 most-challenged books of the 1990s, due to witchcraft content (always sure to irk certain types of "readers") and because of L'Engle's rather liberal Christianity as expressed in this book by listing Jesus alongside important secular artists and thinkers. A couple of other things caught my attention that might also have made the book vulnerable to challenges- one, the portrayal of a society that mandates conformity in order to make the point that individualism is a positive, and secondly, that Meg, the main character, loses faith in her parent and ceases (at least temporarily) to accept him as an authority figure. We can't have children thinking their parents aren't all-powerful, now can we?

A Wrinkle in Time is a wonderful book. A classic forever.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

This year's Banned Books Week runs from September 25-October 2. During this time, I encourage you to read a banned book and blog about it. I'm going to run reviews of banned and/or challenged books that I've read and share some resources on education and advocacy as well. 

You can find the American Library Association's official Banned Books Week page here as well as links to downloads, lists and other resources.

I'm going to kick off the week with my review of Sherman Alexie's young adult classic, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a book I loved and has been challenged recently in Missouri for language and sexual content. You can see a more detailed news story about it by clicking on the link.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Published 2007 by Little, Brown and Company. Paperback.

I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, was one of my favorite reads of 2009.

Alexie's book is the story of a young boy known as Junior who's growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. He's got some medical problems and he gets bullied a lot; his parents are unhappy; his older sister runs away. But he's got some things going for him, too- he's determined to get a good education and manages to get himself transferred to an all-white school off the reservation, where he excels at basketball and learns to believe in himself.

I loved this book. I loved it. I laughed and cried with his struggles, his victories and his defeats. Junior's dysfunctional family is every dysfunctional family, and his problems are the problems of every kid who ever felt like he didn't fit in or that nobody understood him (or her). He pushes his way through the pain of racism, defeatism and adolescence with a tenacity that was so affecting for being so real. Alexie tackles some tough issues- racism, poverty, addiction, discouragement and the deep pessimism that comes when you feel like the whole world is against you. Things don't always go well for Junior and he doesn't always win but he does his best and he does well.

The Absolutely True Diary is a book I wish I could give to every kid I know and everyone who ever was a kid. It's brilliant and beautiful and wonderful. I loved Alexie's writing, which, although clearly enough for a teen audience, doesn't condescend or talk down and shows craft and skill enough for any adult to appreciate. Ellen Forney's comic-like illustrations, which pepper the story, are cute and sweet and darkly funny. I burned through it in about three days over the summer when I was home sick and can't think of a better way to spend time than reading this lovely gem of a book.

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Salon- Finally Fall

It's finally fall- officially and the weather is finally playing ball, too! Yesterday was in the 80s in the Boston area and today is a rational, comfortable 65. Bring on the cider!

Yesterday my husband and I went to a great library booksale in the nearby town of Arlington; I got a whole stack of great new reads, including two Angela Thirkell novels, James Kelman's Booker Prize winner How Late It Was, How Late and Anthony Bourdain's new book, Medium Raw. Jeff found a first edition of a Nebula and Hugo Award winner, The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman.

I also found Laurie Halse Anderson's book Speak, which I read yesterday in preparation for Banned Book Week. If I read YA exclusively, I could probably read 5 books a week, but because I read adult literary fiction I'm lucky to read that much in a month! It was great but it reminded me why I don't read more YA- too much teen angst. I mean, I love The Smiths as much as anyone but a little goes a long way.

Anyway today I'm up for more teen angst as I'm reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower as my second Banned Books Week read. I'll have reviews of both later this week. I'm also reading and enjoying Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge, about the Holocaust from the Hungarian point of view. It's a marvel of a novel and I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject or not. I'm also putting together some reading lists for some theme reads I'm going to do for the rest of this year.

What are you up to today? Have a great Sunday. More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What Else? Friday Finds

Three great finds this week.

Ann Kingman of the Books on the Nightstand podcast recommended David Grossman's To The End of the Land, his new novel, so heartily that I had to get it right away. That, and I'm a huge Grossman fan from his earlier book Someone to Run With.

Her colleague and BotN partner in crime Michael Kindness was equally enthusiastic about Richard Harvell's new novel The Bells so that found its way into my shopping bag this week as well.

Finally, I finally picked up Kazuo Ishiguro's book of short stories, Nocturnes, out in paperback now. I'm a huge fan of his from his wonderful books The Remains of the Day (which won the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go, about to be released as a feature film.

So many good books!

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, September 23, 2010

REVIEW: Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon. Published 2009 by Ballantine. Literary Fiction.

Await Your Reply was one of those books that kind of crept up on me. I was aware of it when it first came out and I found the premise intriguing- three interconnected stories about identity theft. I have a personal connection to the theme as my husband had his identity stolen by a man living under his name in New York City (later apprehended and now serving federal time) and I heard raves from readers for months after its release. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to read it but I never quite forgot about it either, and after a long while I picked it up for my ereader.

When I started though, I couldn't put it down and sped through it in about two days.

As I said the plot is based around a trio of linked narratives. It opens with a man rushing a younger man to the hospital after his wrist has been severed in a home invasion; gory and frightening with bullet-train momentum, the opening scene left me breathless. Of course I wanted to know who this young man is, why did this happen, and so on. The younger man, Ryan, is his uncle Jay's protege in crime; Jay and Ryan live in an isolated house in the woods, running small-time electronic scams to rob unsuspecting people. But they seem to run a lot of them, and Jay seems to be grooming Ryan somehow, teaching him the ropes.

Their story, like the others, moves back and forth through time so that piecing together the timeline is a crucial part of understanding the book as a whole. The next story is that of Lucy Lattimore, an unpopular high school girl who has an affair with her handsome teacher and runs away with him. His behavior becomes more and more bizarre until her smarts overcome her trust in him and she realizes what he's actually up to in that locked office of his. Finally there is Miles Cheshire, desperately searching for his missing twin brother Hayden, a mentally-ill genius who has left a trail of destruction all over the country.

Gradually the stories come together, and there are two major twists to the book, one I saw coming and one that hit me like that bullet train at full speed. Both, in their own way, knocked the wind out of me. Chaon has written an utterly compelling, utterly breathtaking character-driven thriller whose solution resembles a jigsaw puzzle less than those posters you stare at until you see the sailboat or whatever. I read the book almost nonstop over a single weekend and regretted every moment I was forced to put it down for things like meals and sleeping. When it was over I read the first few chapters again, just to see what I saw now that I understood what I was looking at, and it's something that's stayed with me long after I put it down for good. Oh, and the writing is superb.

Rating: BUY

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

In February 2011, HarperCollins will publish Leo Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief:
In Tolstoy’s The Gospel in Brief, the greatest novelist of all time retells “the greatest story ever told”—the life of Jesus Christ—in this integration of the four Gospels into a single, twelve-chapter narrative. Virtually unknown to English readers, this new translation is an event to celebrate.
Tolstoy is one of my favorite writers and I'm really excited to read his interpretation of the Gospels and the life of Jesus, especially considering the book got him excommunicated from the Orthodox Christian church. I sent information about the book to my old interfaith book club and I would be fascinated to know if they end up reading it. What an opportunity to recover a lost treasure from one of the best writers in the history of world literature!

See what other folks are waiting on this Wednesday at Breaking the Spine with Jill.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's All Just A Little Bit of Authors Repeating Themselves

How do you feel about an author who switches styles from book to book? Or an author who always writes in the same style? Do you like a one-of-each writer or someone who's more consistent?

I was thinking about this in response to a panel I went to at ReaderCon this year. The panelists talked about the different feelings readers often have when faced with a writer who changes his or her style versus one who doesn't. In the science fiction world, a good example might be China Mieville. He's gone all over the place, from adult-oriented science fiction and "New Weird" (Perdido Street Station), to a young-adult-friendly novel (Un Lun Dun) to a literary detective novel (The City and The City) and back again (Kraken). In literary fiction, Justin Cronin started out as a strictly literary writer who made a wild foray into genre fiction with his heart-stopping The Passage. Scottish writer Iain Banks seems to have two separate lives as a writer, one where he writes literary fiction and thrillers (Complicity, The Steep Approach to Garbadale) and one where he writes dark, violent scifi. He even uses a different version of his name for the scifi- Iain M. Banks, just so readers get the point that this is a "different" Iain Banks.

Then there are writers who mine the same territory over and over. Jane Austen's masterfully crafted novels about love, marriage and money were also formulaic and highly predictable. There is always a woman who has to get married, and who has to choose between a good guy and bad guy. And the good guy always seems like the bad guy at first, and vice versa, and her job is always to grow up enough to tell the difference. In modern literary fiction, writers like Margaret Atwood and A.S. Byatt tend to write structurally similar novels that mine similar veins and themes- women, sex, power, art, etc. (Of late Atwood has been veering between dystopia and her more traditional (for her) literary novels about womens' lives but even in the dystopias she's talking about many of the same things she does elsewhere.) Gary Shteyngart writes comic novels about the Russian-Jewish-American experience; Ian McEwan writes tight, emotionally-charged interpersonal dramas festooned with violence, and so forth.

What do you think? Should writing be about experimenting or about mastering what you do? Is there a difference? Can a writer who sticks with a similar presentation style and theme evolve the same way as someone who switches it up? Or is the switching up itself just a gimmick and a distraction? Do some writers who change their style continue to work in the same themes and ideas, and if so, how significant is it that the window dressing changes?

What about what you're looking for as a reader? Do you read for predictability? I don't mean predictable plots; even if the plot itself is unpredictable, some authors just always seem to deliver the same product, there's a certain safeness in knowing what to expect- you don't have to get used to something new. When I pick up, say, a Shteyngart novel, I know what I'm going to get- or at least, I think I do, and I read because I like what he does and how he does it. I also know China Mieville likes to try on different literary hats and reading him is fun because his books could be just about anything. The other side of the coin is that I'm more likely to not like his books- reading him is taking a risk, whereas reading Byatt really isn't. Do you like to take risks as a reader or do you like to know what to expect?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday!
It's been a busy bookish week and this coming week is full of events, too.

Last Tuesday some friends and I went to see Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated as well as the recent Eating Animals, at Harvard University. Unfortunately the hall was too small for the crowd and my friends and I didn't get seated. But, we came back later for the signing and got to meet him anyway. Wednesday, I met up with friends again to see Gary Shteyngart, author of one of my favorite books, Absurdistan, and the recent Super Sad True Love Story, at Brookline Booksmith, a great independent bookstore. This time I was first in line and I got a great seat! Shteyngart was funny and interesting and I got my books signed, too.

(I also got photos of both authors but my camera has disappeared again.)

Today I'm relaxing at home finishing up Mitchell James Kaplan's historical novel of the Inquisition, By Fire, By Water. It's pretty good. I'm going to be interviewing Kaplan for work and I'll be sure to let you know when it's posted in case you're interested. I also started reading Ghita Schwarz's book Displaced Persons, which I'm finding a little dull, honestly. But it's only the beginning and I'll hang in there with it. What I really want is to read a book I'll really fall in love with. So much of my "required reading" these days is just plain boring, as much as I try to get enthusiastic about it.

What books have you fallen in love with lately?

Have a great Sunday. More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Few Friday Finds

I'm trying to get a little more control over my book-buying (ha!) so this week saw just a very few new finds.

Paolo Giordano's The Solitude of Prime Numbers showed up on the remainder pile at a local bookstore, so I finally brought it home. A love story about two misfits, I can't wait to read this.

Great House, by Nicole Krauss, was sent courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. I'm now 3 books behind in my Early Reviewer obligations and really need to catch up!

Finally, I finally found The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer's Booker Prize winner, at a local bookstore. I don't know why but I've been having the hardest time tracking this down. Next time I'll just start in Harvard Square instead of leaving their wonderful bookstores for last.

That's it! What have you found this week?

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBAW: Thursday--Forgotten Treasure

Today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week topic: Sure we’ve all read about Freedom and Mockingjay but we likely have a book we wish would get more attention by book bloggers, whether it’s a forgotten classic or under marketed contemporary fiction. This is your chance to tell the community why they should consider reading this book!

My pick has to be Adam Schwartzman's underappreciated gem Eddie Signwriter. I picked up a galley at ALA Midwinter; actually, my husband picked it up for me and I am so glad he did. It seems like just about nobody has read this wonderful book! As of today only 20 people list owning the book on LibraryThing and I am still the only person to have reviewed it there.

I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

I passed up a glitzy book launch party last spring to attend his reading at Harvard Bookstore and I'm glad I did because there were only 8 people at the reading- 2 bookstore employees, 2 friends of his, a guy who left because he decided he wasn't interested, a woman who left after she snapped a photo for the Harvard Crimson, an older woman who fell asleep, and yours truly in the front row. And Schwartzman was a doll, and so gracious. And the book is wonderful, too.

You can read my full review here but in a nutshell, it's an elegant, moving novel written by an accomplished poet with a gift for the sound and feel of language- and storytelling, too. I didn't expect this quiet and unusual novel to top the bestseller lists, but I had really hoped it would get more attention in the way of awards, maybe even a Booker nomination. It's that good. Just this once, pass up the flavor of the month and read this novel. It deserves to be read. Please. Please? Please.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BBAW '10: More Bloggers I Appreciate

I opted to not participate in the awards portion of Book Blogger Appreciation Week this year, but that doesn't mean I don't want to show my appreciation for the great blogs out there and for the book-blogging world in general.

To that end, yesterday I spotlighted the fabulous blog Lizok's Bookshelf- but that's not the only book blog I appreciate.

Here are some more great blogs, and the reasons I love them.

Raging Bibliomania Heather's terrific blog features literary and popular fiction- and she and I have very similar tastes, which makes sharing recommendations a lot of fun. And she is a very prolific commenter! I think she comments on nearly every post I write. Thank you Heather!

Nonsuch Book Frances writes a beautiful, always-interesting blog about literary fiction, especially British and fiction-in-translation. One thing I love about Frances's blog is that she enjoys books as beautiful physical objects. She often posts about special and limited editions of favorite books and reminds us that books are wonderful to experience in three dimensions.

Another great literary fiction blog is Kinna Reads. Kinna is new on my blogroll but has quickly become a favorite. Check her out!

The Complete Booker is my favorite group blog. True to its name, the blog features reviews of books that won or were nominated for the Man Booker Prize, my favorite of the big awards. I've found a lot of great blogs here!

San Francisco's Green Apple Books has one of my favorite bookstore blogs. They did a great series on The Book vs. The Kindle a while back, and they always have fun, relevant and unusual content. And if you're in the Bay Area, it is one fantastic bookstore!

JewWishes remains my favorite Jewish blog. Lorri writes terrific, thoughtful reviews of serious Jewish fiction and nonfiction as well as beautiful photography and personal reflections.

Last but by no means least, Dolce Bellezza is another fabulous literary fiction blog that is as beautiful to look at as it is fascinating to read. I love how blogger Meredith combines words and pictures- and even the occasional recipe- in this wonderful blog.

I could go on and on. There are so many great blogs and so many more to discover! Happy BBAW!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Monday: First Treasure

Monday—First Treasure
We invite you to share with us about a great new book blog you’ve discovered since BBAW last year! If you are new to BBAW or book blogging, share with us the very first book blog you discovered. Tell us why this blog rocks your socks off and why you keep going back for more.

The blog I want to tell you about is Lizok's Bookshelf, written by translator and Russophile extraordinaire Lisa, who I was lucky enough to meet at this year's Book Blogger Con. Lisa reads a huge amount of Russian books, many in the original Russian, and writes wonderful reviews and opinions about them. She also shares news and links; go to her site now and you'll see awards news, reviews of current books, links to her other book blog, Lisa's Other Books, and more. I keep coming back to Lisa's blogs because of the intelligence and thought that go into her posts, and because I'm totally, completely envious of her command of Russian language and literature!

I'll be participating in most of this week's themed posts for BBAW, and doing one of my own at some point this week, too. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Salon- Falling for Fall

It may not be fall officially but let's face it- summer's over here in New England.

Jeff and I tried to go blueberry picking last weekend and ended up with a big bag of apples instead, the coffeeshops and bookstores of Harvard Square are filled with students and it's just a little too cool out for shorts. And, yesterday I had my last ice cream of the summer season.

But you know what? It's okay, because as much as I love summer, fall is my favorite time of year. I love the food of fall- apples in all its forms (cider, cider donuts, apple pie, candied apples) and more. Fairs, falling leaves, those last few warm sunny days before winter and the first day you need a sweater are all reasons to love fall.

And, of course, fall reading! The next few months are so packed with great reads I already know I won't get to them all, but that won't stop me from trying. On my shelf now are books like Russian Winter, A Novel Bookstore, A Curable Romantic, Our Kind of Traitor, Home, and more; and then there are the books I want that aren't on my shelf- yet. Chief among those is The Bells, by Richard Harvell, which I'm planning on buying bright and early Tuesday when it comes out. I take an early strength class at the gym Tuesday mornings and I can hit the bookstore on my way over.

Today I'm reading Misadventure, Millard Kaufman's second and final published novel, a kind of California noir about a real estate agent mixed up in a very messy domestic dispute, and of course, The Tiger, John Vaillant's amazing true story about the hunt for a man-eating Amur tiger in the wilds of eastern Russia. One's light, one's serious; it's a good mix. When I'm done here I think I'm headed straight for Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, then I'll pick a review book out of the pile and knock it off.

I have to say, I was very disappointed with some of the big-name spring and summer books; Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story just left me cold and even China Mieville's Kraken failed to keep me interested. A few people I know who read the Mieville felt the same way but the Shteyngart got so many glowing reviews I feel like it's probably just me, but still. But so far the fall books I've read have been much better- let's hope that continues!

How have you been feeling about your fall reading so far?

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Finds- Great Fall Books and More

This week I added a bunch of great new fall books to my collection, started reading one of them and found an older treasure or two as well.

First up is C, by Tom McCarthy, which was just short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. I've wanted to read this ever since I heard Random House sales reps Michael Kindness and Leslie Vasilio raving about it at a fall-titles presentation they did at the wonderful Harvard Book Store. It's finally been released and I got it first thing Tuesday morning from the equally wonderful Porter Square Books.

Penguin Books sent me My Mother She Killed Me and My Father He Ate Me, an anthology of fairy tales from authors such as Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, and more. Many of the authors are scheduled to appear at the upcoming Boston Book Fest; I can't wait to dip into these great-looking stories.

Next up is The Tiger, by John Vaillant, a nonfiction account of the hunt for a tiger which killed a poacher in extreme eastern Russia. I'll buy and read just about anything about Russia and this book caught me right away. Then I saw the trailer and ordered it immediately!

I've already started reading it and let me tell you, it is absolutely gripping.

Now what I want to know is, when's the movie coming out?

I found two other books at my favorite used bookstore, Cambridge's Lorem Ipsum: Margaret Atwood's short story collection The Tent, and Cruddy, an illustrated novel from the queen of teen angst, Lynda Barry. I grew up on her comics and I can't wait to read this book. When I met her a couple of years ago at a library conference, fans clutched their battered copies of Cruddy like the Holy Grail. All I had was her latest book in hand and an old poster called "Poodle with a Mohawk ("You'll never call him Fifi again!) on my wall at home. I kind of can't wait to read her book!

After this I'm rushing out for only one new fall release- Richard Harvell's The Bells, which releases on the 14th.

What about you? What's new on your shelf this week? What fall books have you rushing to the bookstore?

More Friday Finds at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

BookHounding in the Lowcountry

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a week-long trip to the lowcountry of South Carolina, where we stayed with family in the Beaufort area.

While there, we made a point of visiting the local bookstores- of course!

We didn't get to everything, but we managed to cover a lot of ground in our five days in the area.

My favorite bookstore by far was the delightful Book Lady Bookstore (6 E Liberty St, Savannah, GA) in nearby Savannah.

The Book Lady is a cozy little rabbit's warren of new and used books of every description, as you can see by the description on the door. And they have the best chocolate chip cookies ever.

They also have great comfy chairs amidst the bookish treasures.

I could move in right now!

Also in Savannah was the fun E. Shaver, Bookseller (326 Bull St., Savannah, GA) home to a wide variety of new books.

I particularly liked their fiction section, divided into general fiction, classics and new books.

Further afield on the beautiful Edisto Island is the fun Edisto Island Book Store (547 Highway 174,
Edisto Island, SC)

The Edisto Island Book Store has a small but choice selection of literary and popular fiction, as well as books on local topics like Gullah culture and local authors. They also have a nice section of used books towards the back of the store.

In the Charleston area, specifically the town of Goose Creek, we visited Dreamalot Books (123B S Goose Creek Blvd, Goose Creek, SC) a strip-mall store packed to the gills with romance novels, science fiction and tons of other stuff we didn't have time to look at. If you like paperbacks there probably isn't much that they don't have! They also have a selection of science fiction collectibles from Star Trek and other popular shows.

This little cutie pie, named Purty, was the cat-in-residence at the very nice Blue Bicycle Books (520 King Street, Charleston, SC) in Charleston proper.
When we walked into this long and narrow shop, Purty walked right up to the door and greeted us with a loud meow. I patted her and she proceeded to follow me around for the rest of my visit.

Blue Bicycle has a great selection of local fiction and nonfiction, as well as lots of used books and a smattering of recent new books. They have a fabulous selection of inexpensive used hardcovers, too.

Next up was the ultimate nerd store- or, at least, the best one I saw on my trip.

Here Be Books and Games (4650 Ladson Road, Summerville, SC) is one of those places that just does what it says on the package. First of all, it's packed with science fiction and fantasy and has a pretty impressive selection of games of all kinds. Board games, card games, you name it. They have a weekly game night and even a section of first editions- very inexpensive, I might add.

My husband was delighted to find a game here called Dixit which he's been looking for for a long time.

We both had a great visit to this friendly, beautiful store- one of the best we visited.

Which is not to say that Beaufort itself wasn't home to several terrific shops.

My own favorite was McIntosh Book Shoppe (919 Bay Street, Beaufort, SC) a quiet-looking used and rare bookstore in downtown Beaufort, right near the ocean. McIntosh has all the rare South Carolinia, Civil War and military history you could ever ask for, as well as a plentiful selection of local authors and vintage classics. I scored a neat old copy of Jane Eyre for my collection and my husband eyed some classical-studies books as well; we didn't buy those, though!

Just down the street from McIntosh was the cute Bay Street Trading Co. (808 Bay Street, Beaufort, SC) a smallish new-books bookstore specializing in popular fiction and local books. Bay Street had one of the nicest collections of local books I'd seen, everything from cookbooks and postcards to high quality atlases and slipcased sets of history and local culture. They have particularly nice offerings if you're into Pat Conroy with several autographed books out for sale.

Last but not least was the cute Beaufort Bookstore (2127 Boundary Street, Beaufort, SC), located in a strip mall in a busy section of town.

Beaufort Bookstore specializes in popular fiction and local books aimed more at tourists, or so it seemed to me.

South Carolina authors were, as at most places, front and center.

They also had tables piled high with required reading selections for local schools.

That's it for my tour of Lowcountry bookstores! We didn't get out much past the immediate Charleston/Beaufort/Savannah strip but we had a good time while we were there!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

REVIEW: The Door, by Magda Szabó

The Door, by Magda Szabó. Published 2006 by Vintage UK. Literary Fiction. Translation.

I first heard of Magda Szabó's fascinating novel The Door on the blog Almost Insider; if you read literary fiction, you need to be reading Anni's wonderful reviews of interesting and lesser-known European books. As is often the case, her review caught my eye; eventually I was able to track down a copy of the book and sat down to read it a few weeks ago. Wow.

The Door is the story of a friendship between two very different women in post-war Hungary. The narrator, who is never named, is a young married woman working hard to make it as a writer; she hires Emerence, an older woman from her village, to be her housekeeper. But their relationship becomes a much deeper as Emerence becomes indispensable to the household and exacts a kind of fealty in return for her truly remarkable domestic service, even giving the couple a puppy trained to be dependent on her so as to occupy a central role in their lives.

Frosty at first, over the years the narrator's relationship with Emerence grows closer as Emerence slowly entrusts tidbits about her mysterious past to the narrator. The door of the title is the front door of Emerence's home, inside which no one is ever admitted. As Emerence ages and becomes concerned with what will become of her legacy, it falls to the narrator to take responsibility for the ailing housekeeper. The final barriers fall in a heartbreaking way that ensures no one's life will ever be the same.

The Door is a dense character study of these two women; by telling Emerence's story through the writer's eyes, Szabó shows the reader both women in great detail. We can tell a lot about the narrator by the way she thinks and describes herself and Emerence, and we see the community that forms around Emerence- the other women in the village, the dog, and more- and the narrator's exclusion from it, even as she comes to enjoy a great deal of professional success and celebrity. A moving and tragic narrative with little dialogue, told from the perspective of memory, shot through with regret and sadness and deliberately paced, The Door will appeal to literary readers looking for something slow and thoughtful. It's a little gem with its own special brilliance.


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

Monday, September 6, 2010

Remembering Favorite School Books

I love this article I read this morning in the Guardian about books we remember from school. I was never a reluctant reader; on the contrary, I relished everything I was given to read and indeed many of the books I had to read in school are still among my favorites. If I could have done nothing in school but read I would have been very, very happy!

In high school we had required reading during the summer and we had to keep journals as we went, documenting our thoughts on what we were reading. One year my English teacher told me he had never seen such a thorough journal as mine! Even today, when I'm browsing bookstores, I'll often smile when I see a childhood favorite on the shelf- and especially when I see a favorite of mine in a required-reading display for students in school now.

Some of my favorites:
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I remember thinking I had never read a novel so beautiful or so true. It has some things in common with the flashier, better-known To Kill a Mockingbird but I always thought McCullers' book was just as special if not more so.

Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger. I was never a big fan of The Catcher in the Rye but I loved some of Salinger's other books.

The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this Arthurian epic.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. Of course.

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey. A classic about individualism. I love the new Penguin edition of Cuckoo's Nest with the great cover by cartoonist Joe Sacco. Check it out!

I could write another post with favorite books I read on my own in high school but this will do for now! What was your favorite required reading?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Salon- Back to Real Life

Tomorrow marks the end of vacation; I had a wonderful week in South Carolina followed by another wonderful, if slightly abbreviated, week on Nantucket; we got out on Thursday night ahead of the anticipated Hurricane Earl, which ended up fizzling out after all. But before we escaped on the last boat out Thursday night, my husband and I had a very nice few days in the sun. We went swimming in the ocean, walked around town, had some very nice meals and did a little shopping. No books though! Can you believe it? I can hardly believe it myself.

But it's back to the grindstone after tomorrow.

Over vacation I treated myself to reading a bunch of books I wanted to read, i.e. none that I had accepted for review. In all I read four over the two weeks, finishing up with Avner Mandelman's enjoyable page-turner The Debba. Now I'm going to plow through a few review books and see what I have for fall.

Today I'm reading Joan Leegant's Wherever You Go, which I have to admit I'm not really crazy about so far. But we'll see. I think I'm having a hard time with it because it's set in Israel and the book I just finished, The Debba, was too, and maybe I need a change of scene. I'm also reading John Kennedy Toole's very enjoyable A Confederacy of Dunces, which is not for review but the last of my for-me vacation reads. Alternating between the two is not helping me enjoy Wherever any more.

After Leegant's book I'm going to start Ghita Schwarz's Displaced Persons, which I have to read for LibraryThing. I just won Nicole Krauss's new book from LT and need to knock off one of theirs to accept the latest win with a clean conscience.

Well, back to the books. What are you looking forward to for the rest of the long weekend?

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Finds!

Four finds this Friday.

Iris Murdoch's novel A Fairly Honourable Defeat arrived via Bookmooch. I haven't read her in ages and this is as good an excuse as any.

Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide also came from a Bookmooch swap. What would I do without Bookmooch?

My blogiversary was a couple of weeks ago and I treated myself to two things I really wanted- Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, which has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and until a day or two ago was not going to be published in the U.S., and an Everyman's Library edition of one of my favorite books, D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. That works for me!

What did you find this week?

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Film to Paper

btt button

Even though it’s usually a mistake (grin) … do movies made out of books make you want to read the original?

Yes, all the time! Recently I picked up The World According to Garp, Revolutionary Road and a number of other novels after having seen the movies. One of my favorite reads, Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, is one I read after seeing the movie and I loved it! The Wings of the Dove on the other hand, not so much! Another good one that I read after the movie was Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.

I don't think it's a mistake! On the contrary I enjoy reading books that were the source for movies I liked; usually I like the books more but not always and sometimes it's just neat to experience the different interpretations of the story. Nothing wrong with that!

More Booking Through Thursday here.