Saturday, December 31, 2011

Crafturday: A Christmas Ornament

I haven't made a lot of ornaments in the past couple of years; I used to do a batch a year at least but my tree has filled up and there isn't really room for a lot of new ones. This year I made one ornament, a wool felt Dalek, as a present for Jeff.

I drafted my own pattern; the dalek is about six inches tall. The hardest part was cutting out all those little circles and securing them on with a cross stitch. It took me a few days to make it; the only time I had was about a half hour in the evening before Jeff got home from work. I gave it to him a day early; he liked it!

Friday, December 30, 2011

What I'll be Reading in 2012- And What You Should Read, Too!

The first half of 2012 is going to be filled with amazing new books. Here are some of my picks for what to look out for.

The first new book I'm going to start in 2012 is Simonetta Angello Hornby's The Nun, out now from Europa Editions. From the publisher:
August 15, 1839. Messina, Italy. In the home of Marshall don Peppino Padellani di Opiri, preparations for the feast of the Ascension are underway. This may be the last happy day in the life of Agata, the Marshall's daughter. She and the wealthy Giacomo Lepre have fallen in love. Agata however must forsake her beloved Giacomo for the good of her family. Unfortunately the extended families of these illicit lovers cannot come to an agreement in their efforts to put the tawdry matter of their offspring's affair to rest and when Marshall don Peppino dies, Agata's mother decides to ferry her daughter far from Messina, to Naples, where she hopes to garner a stipend from the King. The only boat leaving Messina that day is captained by the young Englishman, James Garson.
Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son is a dense, long and engrossing thriller set in North Korea. It's Random House's big winter book and it's one with which to curl up next to the fireplace. I've been reading it slowly for a while now and I think it's a great book for some serious winter hibernation! Out in January.

Also in January:
  • The Little Russian, by Susan Sherman (Counterpoint),
  • The Last Nude, by Ellis Avery (Riverhead),
  • What They Do in the Dark, by Amanda Coe (W.W. Norton).
The Flight of Gemma Hardy is out February, and it's Margot Livesey's retelling of Jane Eyre set in Scotland of the 1960s. I read this already and I liked it- I think Eyre fans will want to read it and I think it will make a splash among womens' fiction readers. HarperCollins.

Also out in February from Grove Press is Me and You, by Niccolo Ammaniti. From the publisher:
From internationally best-selling author Niccolò Ammaniti, comes a funny, tragic, gut-punch of a novel, charting how an unlikely alliance between two outsiders blows open one family’s secrets.
Lorenzo Cumi is a fourteen-year-old misfit. To quell the anxiety of his concerned, socially conscious parents, he tells them he’s been invited on an exclusive ski vacation with the popular kids. On the morning of the trip, Lorenzo demands that his mother drop him off before they arrive at the train station, insisting that his status will be compromised if he shows up accompanied by his mother. Reluctantly, she agrees, and as soon as she is safely out of the vicinity, he turns around and makes his way back to his neighborhood, to put his real plan in motion: for one blessed week, Lorenzo will retreat to a forgotten cellar in his family’s apartment building, where he will live in perfect isolation, keeping the adult world at bay. But when his estranged half-sister, Olivia, shows up in the cellar unexpectedly, his idyll is shattered, and the two become locked in a battle of wills—forced to confront the very demons they are each struggling to escape.
Also in February:
  • Three Weeks in December, by Audrey Schulman (Europa Editions), and
  • All That I Am, by Anna Funder (HarperCollins).
Literary fiction readers take note- April brings a new one from William Boyd, Waiting for Sunrise, coming from HarperCollins. 

But May is going to be month when I blow my hardcover allowance! Coming up in May we have
  • The Twelve, by Justin Cronin, his long-awaited sequel to The Passage,
  • The Chemistry of Tears, the latest by Booker Prize winner Peter Carey,  and
  • Bringing Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel's sequel to her Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall.
What are you looking forward to in 2012? Do you have some galleys in your pile right now? What have you already dipped into? I'm always looking for more ideas!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boston Bibliophile's Top Reads of 2011

My Top Reads of 2011, Plus A Dozen from the Backlist

I decided to do a top 6 of 2011 because I read 33 2011 releases and I don't think that's a big enough sample from which to pick 10 favorites- 10 would be nearly a third of what I read. I picked 6 because I decided to halve my selection to 5 but then had that one last book I simply had to mention.

In no particular order,

The Year We Left Home, by Jean Thompson. I found a new favorite writer when I read this moving, beautifully-plotted book about the tides and troubles of a Midwestern family from the 1960s to the present. I love how vividly drawn each character is, and how each one has its own, unexpected plot arc. And that ending, with a surprise love story that brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful! (Simon & Schuster)

The Talk-Funny Girl, by Roland Merullo. You really can't go wrong with Merullo, one of the best and most under-appreciated writers around. Not the kind of writer to pen "buzz books" but rather a quiet artist of the everyday, his books have an understated dignity and respect for character that make them stand out from the crowd. His latest, about a girl horribly abused by parents who belong to a frightening rural cult, is a beautiful testament to human resiliency. (Random House)

The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am, by Kjerski A. Skomsvold, is one of my favorite small-press books from 2011. It's the story of Mathea Martinsen, a lonely widow who wants desperately to forge connections with the world outside her solitary apartment, but doesn't know how to begin.  The book consists her naive, sad, heartbreaking interior monologue. It's just the kind of off-kilter voice I look for in a small press book, and it's a gem. (Dalkey Archive Press)

River of Smoke, by Amitav Ghosh, was without a doubt the 2011 title I anticipated the most, and it certainly delivered on the promise of its prequel, Sea of Poppies. Ghosh picks up the story of the Ibis and its crew shortly after the heart-stopping ending of Poppies and brings in a host of new characters too. The best is the opium kingpin Seth Bahramji Naurozji Modi, a terrificly well-drawn character whose fate is tied to the changing fortunes of the opium trade in China just before the first Opium War. Do read Sea of Poppies first, but read this book! (FSG)

The Upright Piano Player, by David Abbott, was perhaps this year's biggest literary-fiction surprise. First-time author Abbott has written a tight, nuanced novel about an older man pushed out of his job, then stalked by a stranger all the while negotiating difficult relationships with his grown children and former wife. The book starts with a shocking act of violence and works its way back around to how it happened. It's a very accomplished first novel from a writer from whom I hope to see more. (Random House)

The Last Brother, by Nathacha Appanah, is another small press winner, set on Mauritius and telling the story of Raj, a boy who forges a friendship with a young Jewish boy imprisoned in an internment facility on the island. Told from Raj's adult point of view, the book is poignant, suspenseful and tender as well as tragic. I love this book because it tells a seldom-told story of the Holocaust from an unusual and under-written-about setting with wonderful characters and pitch-perfect writing. (Graywolf Press)
Top 12 from the Backlist

Just goes to show, don't stop at the new releases shelf at your local bookstore. Those books that have been there forever have been there for a reason!

I'll keep it brief and link to full reviews where applicable.  I can't say enough about any of these!
  1. The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. Heartstopping suspense with a science fiction twist.
  2. The Outside Boy, by Jeanine Cummins. Beautiful coming of age set among the Irish Travellers.
  3. Troubles, by J.G. Farrell. Literary historical fiction about Irish independence.
  4. The Dork of Cork, by Chet Raymo. A story of life and love that defies description.
  5. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. Essential American history about Native Americans and the American West.
  6. The Illusion of Return, by Samir El-Youssef. A bittersweet novella about Palestinian refugees.
  7. Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, by Danielle Evans  The best short story collection  I've read in a long time.
  8. Nightmare Alley, William Lindsay Gresham. Awesome noir and suspense set amongst the carnies and frauds of the Depression.
  9. The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton . Womens' fiction for the literary reader.
  10. My Friend Sancho, by Amit Varma. Adorable love story set in modern day India.
  11. Days of Fear, by Daniele Mastrogiacomo. Unbelievable true story of a reporter kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the best nonfiction I read this year.
  12. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Just read it already, please?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

REVIEW: The Lost Daughter, by Elena Ferrante

The Lost Daughter, by Elena Ferrante. Published 2008 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Italian.

A divorced Italian woman, an academic, goes on vacation to a beach resort; she rents a small house and stays by herself. She spends her days between the beach and small bars and cafes. She reminisces to herself about her life as a mother and her relationship with her daughters. She meets a loud, obnoxious family on the beach, a mother with a small child surrounded by relatives. The little girl loses her doll, and the narrator commits a senseless act of cruelty.

As one reviewer put it, The Lost Daughter reads like a psychological thriller. The narrator struggles with highly ambivalent feelings towards her children as the encounter with the family she meets on the beach stimulates feelings and memories and causes her to reflect on her own life. The prose is tough and uncompromising; this is no sentimental Mother's Day card of a book. The narrator has a lot of anger towards her daughters and towards herself. Though she loves her daughters, she has no illusions either that motherhood was a garden of roses, or that her daughters' childhood was.

The Lost Daughter is the kind of edgy, hard book that Europa specializes in. It takes a subject about which much has been written and casts a new light on it, or at least a light seldom shone. Not being a mother myself I can't say how well mothers will relate to it, but I have a feeling that somewhere this book will resonate with anyone who's loved anyone, not just mothers and children. It's about the dark side of love, the underside of it if you will, and it will challenge the reader to confront dark feelings of his or her own. It's also a very quick read, suspenseful and gripping, that will keep you turning the pages, and keep you thinking once you've put the book down.

This is my last book in the Europa Challenge 2011 and I've completed Amante Level!

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

REVIEW: Total Chaos, by Jean-Claude Izzo

Total Chaos, by Jean-Claude Izzo. Published 2005 by Europa Editions. Translated from the French.

Total Chaos is a noir as well as a love letter to author Jean-Claude Izzo's hometown of Marseilles. It's also the first in his famous Marseilles trilogy, three novels starring police officer Fabio Montale, a down-and-outer investigating the links between the deaths of his childhood friends Manu and Ugo and the rape and murder of Leila, a young woman whose father came to France from Algeria looking for a better life. Leila was the family's hope, a success story getting her degree in Paris with a bright future ahead of her. She was also dear to Montale, and her death send him into a tailspin.

Izzo treats the reader to loving descriptions of Marseilles along with its people, a mix of European immigrants and their descendants, speaking their own French patois and mixing uneasily with new immigrants from North Africa. Racial tensions make up the baseline pressures of the investigation and of day to day life; Montale must navigate a difficult path between Marseilles underworld, his colleagues in the police and the disaffected youth all around him.

I really enjoyed Total Chaos, more so than most of the crime fiction I've read in the past couple of years. It's gritty and violent and dark, but it also has a lot of heart. Montale loves three women, and each woman has her own sad trajectory, her own story of the way her life has been changed by Marseilles. Montale doesn't so much choose between them as accept what life is going to let him have, and in the end though their lives are colored by tragedy; most of all, he loves Marseilles. His musings are beautiful and  a little poetic, just like the book.

Rating: BUY

This book counts towards the Europa Challenge! Tomorrow I'll have my final review.
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales. 

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 in Books- Just the Facts, or, The Annual Reading Meme

The statistics are valid as of December 26.

How many books read in 2011?
108! 108 books is a record for me! 

How many fiction and non fiction?
93 fiction versus 15 nonfiction. I read more nonfiction this year than in past years, mostly due to the number of audiobooks I read, all of which were nonfiction.

Male/Female author ratio? 
41 female authors to 63 male authors. The numbers don't quite add up; I had two books by two different authors plus a pseudonymous author whose gender I don't know (Tim Davys). And I don't want to spend all day going over it with a fine-tooth comb honestly!

Favorite book of 2011?
My favorite 2011 release was The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson.

Least favorite?
Season of Water and Ice. Boring. You know, just because it's from a small press doesn't mean it's awesome.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
Ugh, In A Free State by V.S. Naipaul because it was just God-awful and boring. I didn't finish Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra because I found the audiobook narration dull. I plan to finish with the print version.

Oldest book read?
Heinrich von Kleist's The Duel, originally published in 1810.

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, out in June 2012

Longest and shortest book titles? 
Longest: A Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, by Amara Lakhous 
Shortest: Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid

Longest and shortest books?
The longest book was probably Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. The shortest, probably The Duel, by Heinrich von Kleist.

How many books from the library?
Six, mostly audiobooks: Bossypants, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I Was Told There Would Be Cake, My Fair Lazy, Minotaur and In Cold Blood.

Any translated books?
I read books translated from the following languages: French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Norwegian, German, Hebrew, Yiddish and Dari.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
I read two books by the unbelievably awesome Christopher Priest, The Prestige and Inverted World, and two by the great Amélie Nothomb, Hygiene and the Assassin and Tokyo Fiancée.

Any re-reads?
Jane Eyre
, by Charlotte Bronte, and The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, and In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, all favorites.

I'd really like to re-read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood in 2012. Anyone up for a readalong?

Favorite character of the year?
Probably Abir Ganguly from My Friend Sancho. Loved that book and Abir is its heart and soul.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
Through books, I traveled to France, Austria, Japan, Tibet, Afghanistan, Argentina, Cuba, Ukraine, Scotland, Iceland, Colombia, India, Norway, China, Kenya, South Africa, El Salvador, Germany, Russia, Israel, Jordan, Ireland, Palestine, Poland, England, New Zealand, Brazil, Bolivia, Pakistan, Mauritius and Egypt.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, recommended by Phil of Read Irresponsibly. And am I ever glad I did. What a fantastic story collection. I would not have read Inverted World without my husband Jeff's recommendation, another great choice!

Which author was new to you in 2011 that you now want to read the entire works of?

Daphne du Maurier. I was just blown away by Rebecca. And Christopher Priest. I'm such a Priest fan now that I'll read any book he even blurbs, never mind writes.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?
I still haven't gotten to The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, or Catherine the Great by Robert Massie.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson, The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken,  and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

2011 TOP TEN Book Events in Marie's Book Life - in no particular order:
Author Roland Merullo at Porter Square Books
10. Finally getting to work at a bookstore. Let's try that again in 2012, please!

9. Getting blurbed in the paperback of The City and The City and hearing China Miéville say he remembered meeting me two years ago! And the Miéville elf.

8. ReaderCon. Love ReaderCon.

7. Visiting the office of Europa Editions in New York City and starting the Europa Challenge. Along the same lines, meeting the publishers and publicists of Melville House Books.

6. Any time I've gotten to meet up with blogging pals, like when Sandy Smith Nawrot of You've Gotta Read This! came up and hung out with Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books and me.

5. Having the honor of doing a bookstore event with the wonderful Carmela Ciuraru at one of my favorite indies, Porter Square Books, for her awesome book Nom de Plume.

4. Meeting lots of authors at readings and events, particularly longtime literary icon Roland Merullo.

3. Appearing on blogger panels at two literary festivals, Newburyport and Salem, and meeting news reporter and award-winning mystery writer Hank Phillippi Ryan at the Salem festival. Getting to know Jen Entwhistle and Sarah Ditkoff, the organizers of the Newburyport and Salem festivals, respectively.

2. Interviewing Salman Rushdie, even if it was via email.

1. Reading all of your blogs and comments!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday Salon- Merry Christmas!

Lorem Ipsum, a used bookstore in the Inman Square neighborhood of Cambridge, has this adorable book tree in its window:
Captures the season well, I think!

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas if you're celebrating today and/or a happy Chanukah. I'll be getting my Christmas on with my family, including copious eating and exchanging of gifts. Yesterday I added chocolate Rice Krispie treats and coconut macaroons to my bursting refrigerator and my mother in law is making prime rib for Christmas dinner.  Reading? Um, I don't know if I'll be reading. Maybe. I'm still (still!) reading Little, Big, by John Crowley, which I'm enjoying but it is a slow book.

Coming up this week on the blog I'll have my top reads of 2011, my yearly reading survey and probably a review or two. I'll also have a post on any books Santa brings me. In the mean time have a great day, whatever you're doing!

More Sunday Salon here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Persephone Secret Santa Revealed!

I got my Persephone Secret Santa package yesterday- a beautiful copy of Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski. Persephone publishes several of Laski's book and this is the one I want to read first.

My Santa was Rose from Rose's Year. I love this swap because we get to support a wonderful small press, meet fantastic, interesting bloggers and give and get great books. I'm so excited to read this book; I love Persephone and thanks to Rose for the gift!

And thanks to Verity and Claire for hosting! Did you participate in Persephone Secret Santa 2011 or another book blogging gift swap? What did you get?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Finds- Of Course I Got *Something*

My Traitor's Heart, by Rian Malan. This book is a memoir and reportage by a descendant of one of the South African politicians responsible for creating apartheid. It's about the cost of hatred and violence through an examination of several murder cases. It caught my eye at Lorem Ipsum, my favorite used bookstore.

I bought a copy of Michael Holley's book War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team at Holley's signing event at the New England Mobile Book Fair. It's the first event I helped run and I might even read it someday!

That's it! Sunday's the big day, so we'll see if Santa brings me any books. Stay tuned! (Spoiler alert- I think there's a good chance!)

More Friday Finds at

Thursday, December 22, 2011

REVIEW: The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography, by Tetsu Saiwai

The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography, by Tetsu Saiwai. Published 2011 by Penguin. Graphica. Nonfiction. Biography.

Of the three books in Penguin's manga biography series, The 14th Dalai Lama is definitely my favorite and the one that ignited the most interest in its subject in me. Tenzin Gyatso was recognized at the age of 2 as the reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion; he was whisked away from his village and brought up to be the spiritual leader of a religion and the political leader of the nation of Tibet. Then the Chinese invaded, and everything changed.

This little book does a very nice job of providing a rough outline of the Dalai Lama's early years and the events leading up to his departure from Tibet to India. I can't say the book offers a lot of detail but the reader will get a taste of the whats and the whys surrounding the takeover of Tibet, His Holiness's relationship with Mao and the roles of other Tibetan leaders, particularly the Panchen Lama. For me it was absolutely fascinating to learn more about the events that formed the basis of problems that exist in the world today. I mean, in my neighborhood you can see a Free Tibet protest almost any weekend night. I've always wanted to know more but never knew where to start.

And this book is a fine start, but it's just a start. It's definitely whet my appetite for more, though, and I've already put one book aside, the Dalai Lama's autobiography Freedom in Exile. This book is also my favorite visually; Saiwai does a really nice job bringing the story alive through the varied, expressive artwork. I'd recommend The 14th Dalai Lama for teens or anyone wishing to learn the ABCs of this important figure on the world stage, one whose story isn't over yet.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: REBECCA, by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. This edition published 1971 by Avon Mass Market. Fiction.

How can you review a book like Rebecca? First of all, it's an essential of modern literature; there are so many allusions made to it in other books, not to mention television and movies, that reading it is now a basic component of cultural literacy. Secondly, it's just a stunner of a book.

Think of it as the anti-Jane Eyre. A poor girl, obscure and friendless (and nameless throughout the book), falls passionately in love with an older, wealthy man, who dotes on her and whisks her away to wed. He takes her to his home, the lavish estate of Manderley, where little by little the charmed life he has offered her shows itself to be cursed. Maxim de Winter, the owner of Manderley, was married before, to the gorgeous and charismatic Rebecca, now dead. Everyone worshipped Rebecca, or so it seems, especially the preternaturally creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who goes to outrageously sadistic lengths to undermine the new Mrs. de Winter. Maxim has a secret about his dead wife, one that will come to light, whatever the cost.

This novel absolutely blew me away. The writing is lush and dense, deeply descriptive and highly charged. No Jane, Mrs. de Winter is so insecure and timid that she allows the house and the staff to treat her like another piece of furniture, and an unwanted one at that.  The house is like a living creature; the gardens and ocean and beach and trees and lawns close us, and the narrator, in like a box. The result is claustrophobia; we have nowhere to hide, just like Mrs. de Winter has nowhere to hide from the memory of Rebecca.

I found the book to be riveting, as well as deeply disturbing. Max de Winter is not a reliable historian of his marriage and it was shocking to me that the narrator was willing to accommodate him as she does. But the book wouldn't be as powerful, in a way, if she were not so weak, and her character is an essential component of the narrative. So there. So anyway, if you haven't read Rebecca, you really, really need to. It won't take long, because you won't be able to put it down.

I reviewed the 1940 Hitchcock adaptation here on my film blog. Spoiler alert- it's awesome!

Rating: BUY, OMG BUY!

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

REVIEW: Good Offices, by Evelio Rosero

Good Offices, by Evelio Rosero. Published 2011 by New Directions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean with Anna Milsom.

Good Offices is a small book for a quiet night. At 120 pages a mere slip of a novella, it tells the story of a small parish church in Bogotà, Colombia, one night when Father Almida, the regular priest, and his sacristan are gone and the flamboyantly drunk, flamboyantly wonderful singer Father Matamoros, takes over.

The church runs a soup kitchen for the poor, and the workers- the hunchbank Tancredo, the sacristan's goddaughter Sabina and three older woman known collectively, and simply, as the Lilias- are so abused and overworked that they've lost hope and the ability to feel compassion towards their charges. Tancredo and Sabina are lovers but their passion has a kind of desperation about it, a kind of hopelessness. All five have secrets from each other and from the world, and something about the chaotic Father Matamoros catalyzes them and forces them to confront what they're hiding from themselves and each other.

This is a book to be read slowly, over a glass of wine or a cup of tea- a book to linger with, but one that you can easily digest in a single quiet evening. I loved watching these characters unfold and getting to know their disappointments, their joys and their sorrows. Tancredo is a fascinating, surprising man, the antithesis of the churchyard hunchback stereotype; Sabina has a vivacity about her and the Lilias turn out to be not so interchangeable after all. There is violence beneath their daily duties, and something about Matamoros unhinges this mismatched congregation, maybe for the better. Good Offices is a unique, memorable little novel about doing good for others and what it does to onesself.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Musing Mondays- My Favorite Book to Recommend

This week’s musing asks…
What’s one book you always recommend to just about anyone?

When I'm asked for recommendations for adult reading, the one book I come back to again and again is Ariel Sabar's masterful, moving and wonderful My Father's Paradise. It's not always easy to sell this memoir and biography of an Iraqi Jewish father and son to a non-Jewish audience, but even if you think you're not interested in the subjects of this book, you will love it. You will. Sabar is an accomplished journalist and his writing is fluid, accessible and beautiful. The story is universal, despite the apparent niche audience- it's about immigration, about a family, about parents and children, fathers and sons. It's about a man who turned a disadvantage- being from a backwoods rural area with a language no one else spoke- into the thing that built his life. And it's about another man who grows to appreciate a father whose nerdiness and nonconformity embarrassed him. It's just the most wonderful book.

I've known almost no one who didn't like this book. One woman, a patron at one of the libraries I've worked in, wrote me a letter to express how much she loved it. It's a winner. Read it!

More Musing Monday at

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Salon- OMG It's Christmas

So this is my first experience working retail during the holidays; I think yesterday was the busiest day we've had so far and it was absolutely non-stop. I was thrilled to see so many people come out to support a local independent bookstore, and buying so much stuff. Lots of customers are new to the store, which is also wonderful, and everyone is very excited about the changes coming up. The store is a 30,000 square foot space with incalculable shelf inches of thousands upon thousands of books, double-stacked and overstacked and piled up in the back. And we've been busy.

But today? Today is a day off. My husband is cooking breakfast as I type this and then we're going out to the movies this afternoon to see It's a Wonderful Life for the 21st year in a row at a small theater in my neighborhood. I can't wait.

I've been stuck on the same three books for several weeks now, though I did finish one this week, The Hare With Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. I'll have a full review soon but the short version is, it's solid and engaging and most people will enjoy it. It's positively flying off the shelves at the store; it seems like almost as soon as we open a box they're gone.

Next I'm not sure what I'm going to read. I'd like to find a quiet evening to dip into The Sense of an Ending, and I'd like to pick one of my quirky books out of my piles, maybe The Inquisitory. Since I ran the series on Dalkey Archive last week I've received a number of offers to do similar series with other small presses so stay tuned for more Publishers Spotlights in the coming months.

In the mean time I'll be doing my 2011 summary soon (probably after Christmas) and my top 10 list as well. It's been another great year for books and reading, for sure!

What are you up to today? Holiday shopping? Don't forget my holiday gift guide if you need some last-minute ideas. Just relaxing? Whatever it is, have a great one. More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Last Friday Finds Before Christmas

Because now it's going to be all about buying for others and I'm not getting any books for myself until after the big day.
I picked up Vera, by Stacy Schiff, because an autographed copy of her acclaimed, Pulitzer winning biography of Mrs. Nabokov showed up in my pile of books to shelve. And because I really wanted it anyway. I read part of Cleopatra but put it down because I don't have time for audio books; I still would like to finish the print version and read this book, too.

And I finally picked up The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes' Booker Prize winner from this year. Who knows why it took me so long.

And you? Have a great weekend and see more Friday Finds here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The 2012 Europa Challenge- It's Almost Here!

Seeing as it's kind of small press week here, I wanted to remind you all about the 2012 Europa Challenge, which starts in just a couple of weeks!!

We had great participation in the first six months of the Europa Challenge blog, with over 20 participants from all over the world. Our latest participant signed up last week, and we were even mentioned in a story in Italy's largest-circulation newspaper!

Do you like Europa Editions books? Have you thought about joining? The levels have been revised so the minimum entry point is only 2 books!

The challenge runs from January 1 until December 31, 2012.
  • Ristretto Level (2 Europas-just try a little) 
  • Espresso Level (4 Europas-a little more)
  • Cappuccino Level (6 Europas)
  • Caffe Luongo Level (12 Europas)
You can see more details about special challenges and guidelines at the Europa Challenge blog. We also offer giveaways from time to time and exclusive content like interviews with Europa staff and authors.

In 2012 we've got member-designed challenges coming up, as well as a holiday gift swap towards the end of the year. How can you pass up all this bookish fun? Send an email to the challenge moderator (that's me, BTW) to join today!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Publisher Spotlight Dalkey Archive Press: Review of The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am, by Kjersti A. Skomsvold

The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti A. Skomsvold. Published 2011 by Dalkey Archive Press. Literary Fiction. Translated from Norwegian by Kerri A. Pierce.

The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am is a unique, quirky little book narrated by an elderly widow who is trying to find her place in the world as she enters her golden years alone and poor. She and her husband were very close and had created a tight little nest over the years, just the two of them. Mathea Martinsen is an introvert to put it mildly but she wants desperately to reach out to those around her- she just doesn't know how to go about it. She wears a watch because she hopes someone will ask her the time, but they never do. She bakes pastry to bring to a tenants' association meeting but can't resist eating them. She reminisces about her married life. She watches what's left of her life pass by.

It sounds pretty bleak, and this book does take on some dark, serious themes about aging, loneliness and how society fails to provide resources for people in her situation. The narrative is made up of her observations and private thoughts; she's blunt and naive at the same time, with little idea of how she comes across to her audience. Of course in her mind there is no audience, just herself and her keepsakes. Some of Mathea's observations will make you laugh; some will make you sad, but none will leave you unaffected.

The right reader for The Faster I Walk is someone who will like an intensely character-driven, nearly plot-free narrative, an eccentric point of view and a bittersweet ending. Books like this one are the reason I love small presses. You just don't find this kind of voice from more mainstream sources. It's a really lovely little book, one of the most unusual and delightful novels I've come across in a while.

Rating: BUY

See other posts in this Publishers Spotlight series:
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Dalkey Archive Press.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Publisher Spotlight Dalkey Archive Press: Review of The Truth About Marie, by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

The Truth About Marie, by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Published 2010 by Dalkey Archive Press. Translated from the French by Matthew B. Smith.

The Truth About Marie is a short, dense little novel narrated by the former lover of the eponymous Marie, a beautiful woman whose lover dies in her apartment. The narrative follows Marie over several locations and times; the second part takes place before the first, and details the narrator's observations of Marie's relationship with her lover.
Later on, thinking back on the last few hours of that sweltering night, I realized we had made love at the same time Marie and I, but not with each other. At a certain moment in the night-during a sudden heat wave in Paris, for three straight days in the temperature reached thirty-eight centigrade and fell no lower than thirty- Marie and I were making love in Paris in two apartments a mere half mile apart, as the crow files. We couldn't have imagined at the night's start, or later, or at any time for that matter, it was simply inconceivable, that we'd see each other that night....
There is almost no plot; the story, as it is, is entirely about the narrator's fascination with and observations of Marie. There is virtually no dialogue; the book is like an extended interior monologue, with all of the repetitions and personal motifs you'd find in someone's inner thoughts. In the first part, the narrator fascinates over the fact that he and Marie were with their lovers at the same time, in the same building; he lingers over the details of her apartment, her actions but can't get the dead man's name right. The next part takes us to an art exhibition in Japan where Marie met her dead lover.

The last part is the most intense and moving, recounting a fire on the island of Elba, replete with detailed imagery and rhythmic, poetical language. Horses figure prominently in the story; Marie's lover is a racing aficionado and the fire at Elba consumes a stable. Light, real and metaphorical, dominates the story; Toussaint's repetition of certain phrases gives the narrative a musical quality. The Truth About Marie is an unusual but wonderful little gem of a book, highly recommended for readers of literary fiction. Love stories, stories of obsession and erotic fascination may not be unusual but this little book isn't like anything you've read before.

See my interview with Dalkey's John O'Brien here and come back tomorrow for part 3 in this Publisher Spotlight series.

Rating: BUY
The Truth about Marie (French Literature)
by Jean Philippe Toussaint
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales. 

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Publisher Spotlight Dalkey Archive Press: Interview with Director John O'Brien

This week I'm excited to present a three-part series focusing on the Dalkey Archive Press, a small nonprofit publisher specializing in wonderful literary fiction, drama, poetry and nonfiction. Today I have an interview with its director, John O'Brien; tomorrow and Wednesday I'll have reviews of two recent Dalkey titles, The Truth About Marie and The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am. I hope you'll stay with me for this great series and get to know a fascinating publisher!

What is Dalkey Archive all about? What's its mission and background? 

I will try to make this as simple as I can, but will probably fail. I wanted the Press from the start to be international in its scope and to publisher writers who otherwise would probably never see light of day. So, these were writers from around the world, including the United States. It was clear, starting i the 1970s, that publishing in the United States was changing, and one of the changes was a gradual decrease in the number of translations being done. This trend, of course, has continued. But the Press also has a certain aesthetic taste, one that I have an enormous difficulty describing. My easy answer is that we publish what I like, but what I like is of a certain kind. But we do not look for a certain kind of book, or what's called a "Dalkey book." We read and react to manuscripts the way that readers react to a book: they find it interesting, or they don't.

What kinds of books does Dalkey publish? When a reader sees the Dalkey logo on a spine, what can he or she expect? Who are your authors?

This is tricky. There obviously is something that characterizes our books, but it's hard for me to stand back and say what it is because the choices are so personal. My own interest is, I believe, in character--which sounds very old-fashioned. But I think that character becomes far more interesting to the degree that a novel isn't burdened by plot, which confines character. There is also certain styles and structures that I relate to, and these tend to be rather distinctive ones. I don't find our books "challenging," though many reviewers do. If one is well read and knows literary history, I think our books are almost "mainstream." (I think something must have been cut off in your last question: "Who are your authors?" There are about 300 of them!)

What distinguishes Dalkey from other small presses?

There are other presses that do books similar to ours, and sometimes we even overlap. The difference may be our insistence on a certain kind of book. I have never been interested in having the Press present a wide range of tastes. There is a certain kind of writing that I like and relate to, and I am doomed to publishing only that kind of book. We also have a critical dimension to what we do, which perhaps makes us distinct. We publish, not only the Review of Contemporary Fiction and CONTEXT, but also a number of critical and scholarly books. I don't know of any other press that has this kind of profile. Finally, we have an educational dimension to what we do, which is perhaps best represented in the translation work we do with young translators; this reflects my background as a university professor.

What's your favorite Dalkey book or books?

This is nearly impossible to answer, and I'll try to limit myself to between 5 and 10, but on another day the books could be quite different. So, to try: 1) Nicholas Mosley's "Impossible Object"; 2) Gilbert Sorrentino's "Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things"; 3) Jacques Roubaud's "Some Thing Black"; 4) Dimutru Tsepeneag's "Vain Art of the Fugue"; 5) Svetislav Basara's "Chinese Letter"; 6) Patrik Ourednick's "Europeana"; 7) Vedrana Rudan's "Night"; 8) Flaubert's "Bouvard et Pecuchet"; 9) Fernado del Paso's "Palinuro of Mexico"; 10) Aidan Higgins's "Scenes from a Receding Past"; 11) of course, Flann O'Brien's "At Swim-Two-Birds." There's 11. It could easily be 100.

What are some upcoming Dalkey books we should be watching out for? 

Jean-Philippe Toussaint's "The Truth about Marie"; William Gaddis's "JR"; Gerhard Meier's "Isle of the Dead"; and Kjersti Skomsvold's "The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am."

Mr. O'Brien, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

Please come back starting tomorrow for the reviews!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Salon- Better Late Than Never!

Here's where I've been this weekend- the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass., for my husband's family's annual getaway weekend. We had so much fun- we even visited two new-to-us bookstores, The Bookstore in Lenox and Main Street Books in Lee. Both were really great, fun indies. The Bookstore has its own bar attached with a used and rare section and Main Street is a newish used and new bookstore. Main Street also partners with a local animal shelter to showcase cats available for adoption, getting that whole books-and-cats vibe. There used to be a wonderful indie right in downtown Stockbridge but sadly that closed several years ago.

Of course I brought some books to read- I'm still deep into Little, Big, by John Crowley, which I'm enjoying and coincidentally reading a section about Christmas in Edgewood. This book is wonderful and strange. I can't wait to see where it goes.

Coming up this week on the blog, I have three-part Publisher Spotlight series on the Dalkey Archive Press, a small publisher of translated literary fiction. Their books are really idiosyncratic and unusual, and I hope you enjoy the interview I have with John O'Brien, their director. I will also have reviews of two of their recent books, The Truth About Marie and The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am.

Finally, I have a little Christmas gift for you. Somehow I got the idea to do this, then sent an email to Mr. Mieville to get his permission to post it, which he kindly gave me. Enjoy!
More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Finds! More Books On the Book Pile(s)

 The Artificial Silk Girl, by Irmgard Keun, is a rediscovered classic from the reliable Other Press. I've heard it described as the Bridget Jones of Weimar Germany- if that's not enough to whet one's curiosity, I don't know what is!

I kept seeing copies of Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes around the bookstore and I finally broke down and bought this fascinating-looking nonfiction account of a Jewish family and their faded fortunes over the course of the 20th century. 
I finally got a copy of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith's famous novel. After reading Nom de Plume this spring, I decided it was finally time to pick up this book! Thank you, Carmela, for the inspiration!

Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, crime fiction set in Laos by Colin Cotterill, caught my eye after my friend Sarah recommended it. I'm thinking of starting a crime fiction book club and I'm looking for stuff set outside of Europe. This looks great. Of course I'll keep you posted!

Have you read any of these? What's new on your shelf this week? More Friday Finds at