Tuesday, June 30, 2015

LGBT Pride Month Book List

Just at the tail end of June and in honor of the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation, here's a book list of some of my favorite titles focusing on the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Reinaldo Arenas's autobiography Before Night Falls is an amazing testament of life under Castro and required reading as far as I'm concerned. Powerful, vivid and graphic, it depicts repression and rebellion in an unforgettable real-life narrative.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is another memoir, by writer
Jeanette Winterson, about growing up lesbian in a fundamentalist family in England. It's also about the power of literature to save and change lifes. If you don't read any other LGBT book, you should pick either Winterson's or Arenas's memoir.

Scott Pomfret's memoir Since My Last Confession is about being gay in liberal Boston, and the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts. Massachusetts was one of the first states to legalize marriage for gay Americans and his book gives a lot of insight into the early days of the struggle. And it's really funny too.

David Sedaris and Alison Bechdel have both written a lot about their gay lives. My favorite Sedaris title is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which mostly focuses on the time in his life when he met his partner Hugh and moved to France. Bechdel was a prolific comics artist and writer of the multi-volume series Dykes to Watch Out For before she became a star with her book (now a Broadway play) Fun Home.

Alan Holinghurst's The Line of Beauty is a really wonderful novel set in Thatcherite England about a gay man trying to make a life among people who only tolerate him as long as they choose to.

Another memoir I love is John Waters' recent Carsick, a combination of fact
and fiction about his trip hitchhiking across America. Waters is a well-known filmmaker and author who mixes his real-life trip with made-up stories about what could have happened, or maybe should have, depending on your point of view. He's hilarious.

Those are just a few of my favorites. I hope you find something to read!

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Marie Manilla's book The Patron Saint of Ugly, and read The Conspiracy, by Paul Nizan as well. Patron Saint is a sweet book that would work well as a YA crossover, about a girl whose family thinks she's a saint. It was bittersweet and moving and kind of crazy. I'm definitely glad I read it. The Conspiracy I was less crazy about. It's exposition-heavy and moved slowly, and in the end I wasn't sure what the point of it was. That one's going on the "sell" pile.

I'm still (still!) working my way through What Ends, which I don't want to end. It's really wonderful.

And I have to start something new this week. I don't know what that's going to be yet.

What are you reading? See more at Bookjourney.wordpress.com.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Coney Island Fun

The other day my husband and I took a little staycation to New York's famous Coney Island, a beachfront playground way off in Brooklyn. It was a perfect day with blue skies and sea breezes and sand. We had lunch at Nathan's on the boardwalk, dipped our toes in the water and walked along the beach, then rode the Wonder Wheel, played skeeball, saw the sideshow and visited an installation of street art.
This is the view of the beach from the top of the Wonder Wheel. I'm not a big rides person but I have to push myself out of my comfort zone because we're going to Walt Disney World this fall.

This is part of the art wall exhibit, which showcased murals by different artists. The murals will be up all summer and include food trucks and music on Sundays. Artists include knowns and newbies, and this particular mural is a favorite of mine because the artist, Roa, is one whose work we saw in London's East End. I love his big pictures of animals. I remember a swan that covered an entire three or four-storey building, a pig near a butcher's shop and other rodents.

So it was kind of a great day even if the only literary thing about it was all the reading I did on the subway to and from Brooklyn- and in the three hours that the round trip took, there was plenty!

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm still working on What Ends, which I enjoy reading at about a chapter a day. It's not a particularly slow-moving book but it works for me at that pace.

I also started The Patron Saint of Ugly, by Marie Manilla, as my subway book. So I expect to finish that tomorrow since I'll be on the subway a lot. :)

It's about an Italian-American girl growing up in West Virginia who is covered in port-wine stains and is believed by her community to be a healer. She is descended from an unofficial Italian saint on her father's side and though she doesn't believe in her healing powers, others do. It's equal parts coming of age and black comedy. And it's about a redhead, which I have to be down with.

Cesar Aira's collection of short stories The Musical Brain is still on my nightstand and will be for a while. I just finished the title story, which appears around the middle of the book, and I have to re-read it before I continue, because sometimes you have to re-read Aira now and then.

What about you? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com and have a great week.

Monday, June 15, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Billie last week, which I liked OK. It actually had a pretty sweet ending. And then I treated myself to a Cesar Aira book, An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, about an artist traveling in Argentina who has an unfortunate encounter with a lightning storm. It's kind of a Don Quixote story and weird and wonderful the way Aira always is.
This week I'm reading What Ends, by Andrew Ladd, published 2014 by New Issues, Western Michigan University. It's a debut novel set in Scotland about the last child born on a fictional Hebrides island. Trevor is born to a family that owns a pub and small guesthouse; they have two older children and everyone must deal with a vanishing way of life, growing up and growing older.
I don't remember where I heard about it but I asked for it for Christmas last year. I might have seen it at my old bookstore. Anyway it's really good, with beautiful writing and characters I've already come to love, even though I'm only three chapters in. So far the book focuses on the children, especially Barry and Flora, Trevor's siblings.

I have a feeling I'm going to be able to recommend it once I'm done. If you see it around check it out!

See more at Bookjourney.wordpress.com. What are you reading today?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

San Francisco Book Shopping

A few weeks ago my husband and I took a week-and-a-half trip to the Bay Area; he had a conference there and we spent five days in Mountain View and an additional four in San Francisco.

Mountain View, home of Google and other tech companies, is a beautiful suburban town with manicured lawns, pretty public parks and a free public bus service (thanks to Google). Castro Street is one of the commercial centers; not to be confused with the Castro district of San Francisco, Castro Street includes a theater, offices, and bountiful dining and shopping. What I loved about Castro Street was that most if not all of the stores were independent boutiques and local chains; there was a CVS but it was tucked away on a corner like a dirty secret.

And bookstores. Castro Street has three bookstores! I can't remember the last time I visited a suburb that had more than one.

Books Inc. is a local chain billing itself as "The West's Oldest Independent Booksellers," whose selection reflects the neighborhoods in which it resides. The Mountain View outlet includes a current array of fiction and nonfiction, nice cards and a cute café. I bought a pocket travel guide here because I forgot the book I'd picked up in New York to prepare for this trip.

For what it's worth, I don't recommend this particular guide, but I do recommend Lonely Planet generally. Make My Day is a flip-book that offers suggestions for morning, afternoon and evening activities. It helped remind me what was available to do in San Francisco but it didn't help me plan beyond that. I did use the map though.

Next on my Mountain View Bookstore Tour was East West Bookshop, which has an interesting selection of books on Eastern religion, meditation, yoga, etc. It's basically across the street from Books Inc. and was fun to browse in but I didn't find anything to buy.

The real find in Mountain View was Book Buyers, a massive, sprawling, labyrinthine used bookstore that has just about everything. Seriously. I'm talking long shelves filled to overflowing. Fiction, science fiction, tech manuals, cooking, humor, movies, music, kids' stuff, parts of the store I never even got to.  I spent a lot of time in the crafts and hobbies sections, fiction, French literature and more.

They have old magazines and pamphlets, an impressive selection of Dungeons & Dragons materials and more coding and computer books than you can shake a joystick at. And they have couches where you can peruse your selections, and movies and music and signed first editions. Both my husband and myself shopped ourselves silly here. I got sewing books; Jeff got science fiction and a rare D&D manual.
I love this- Book Buyers has a shelf of "Blind Date w/a Book" picks- books wrapped in brown paper with descriptions on the outside. This book turned out to be a guide to the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Not exactly my thing but fun to learn about and I loved this as a sales tool.

I spent two of our Mountain View days exploring San Francisco; I made it to the iconic City Lights bookstore, where I'd been before, and on another day went to the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Public Library. The Friends shop at the library sells galleys for $2 apiece; I scored the galley of Amitav Ghosh's upcoming Flood of Fire, the third in the Ibis trilogy, due out in August. I made two trips to City Lights this trip, and bought several novels including The Good Life Elsewhere, by Vladimir Lorchenkov, The Second Book by Muharem Bazdulj, and The Other City by Michal Ajvaz.
City Lights is filled with chairs where you're invited to take a break and read the books. This one is in the poetry room, upstairs and away from the general book selection. I love City Lights for their international fiction, leftist politics, poetry and their own publishing house. They also have a neat section of San Francisco books, zines and mysteries.

Jean Patrick Manchette's The Gunman is a gritty French noir published by City Lights. And it's great!
My favorite new-to-me bookstore was Alexander Book Company, located off Market Street in the SOMA area. It's a multi-leveled indie store with a wonderful selection of fiction in translation, among other things. I'd be a regular here if I lived in SF!

Display at Alexander Book Company
I also visited Book Passage, a fun indie in the Ferry Building. I was just at the Ferry Building for lunch and wandered in to this delightful store.

There were two museums we visited that deserve mention as places to buy books. The first is the Beat Museum, located a stone's throw from City Lights in the North Beach district.

The Beat Museum itself features several displays of rare Beat books, and their shop also has a selection of rare books for sale, as well as lots of used books, especially fiction, and back issues of old magazines. It would be a fun place to browse in regularly.

Then there is the Cartoon Art Museum in the SOMA neighborhood. The day we visited, the museum featured an exhibit of animation art from the films The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea, as well as Marvel props and other fun stuff. The museum's store features lots of graphic novels and comics as well as artwork to take home.
That's Pangurban from The Secret of Kells. I can't resist a cute cat.

In SF's Japantown neighborhood we stopped into Forest Books, a lovely used bookstore with a very nice owner and some real treasures- including a signed copy of J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Now, I love that book, and if you know anything about Coetzee you know how rare a signed book of his is. I did not buy it, since the price tag reflected the scarcity of the signature, but oh my God I wanted to. I picked up a used copy of Kenzaburo Oe's book A Personal Matter. I've never read him but I'm curious to.

Finally, we visited Pegasus Books in Berkeley, a really nice used-and-new bookstore.
Berkeley is also home to Shakespeare & Co., a legendary used bookstore, and other things, but we were in a hurry and didn't have time to really explore it. I heard Shakespeare & Co. is moving; I look forward to visiting their new location some time in the future.

We also got the chance to have dinner with Matt of A Guy's Moleskine Notebook. It was so fun to meet him after being blogging pals for years. 

And that was my trip to SF in books!

Monday, June 8, 2015

It's Monday- What Are You Reading?

My reading has been all over the place lately. I finished a bunch of things since I last posted and I've stopped and started a bunch of things, too. Books have been coming and going; I bought a bunch on my recent trip to San Francisco, and weeded a bunch too, and will be weeding more.

Should I do a post about San Francisco? I didn't take pictures of the bookstores themselves but I managed to take home enough books to exceed the domestic weight limit on my luggage. Probably just should have loaded them into a box and carted it to the post office.

This week I'm reading Billie, by Anna Gavalda, about a pair of friends who have a hiking accident and share stories while they wait for help.

I'm considering starting something else, too, but we'll see. Even though I haven't been blogging I've been reading pretty steadily over the past few weeks.

What about you? What are you reading? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com and have a great week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review: BLOOD BROTHERS, by Ernst Haffner

Blood Brothers, by Ernst Haffner. Published 2015 by Other Press. Originally published 1932, Verlag Bruno Cassirer. Literary Fiction. Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann.

Blood Brothers is both a historical curiosity and a portrait of desperation. Originally published in 1932 and banned by Hitler for reasons that are not entirely clear, it tells the story of a group of itinerant young men in Weimar Germany- teens and young adults scraping their way on the margins of society, in a society in which the poor, and crime, were not supposed to exist.

Writing about crime, and the poor, was therefore a rebellious act in and of itself. Author Ernst Haffner was a journalist and social worker, but not Jewish although his publisher was. What happened to him during World War 2 is not known. So the reasons for Hitler's ire probably have to do as much with the message as with the messenger. In any case what he left is this book, which reflects the chaos and uncertainty of a country at a crisis point- the last years before Hitler's rise to power- and life on the margins of that country.

The story follows a group of boys and young men who form a loose gang and do what they can to survive. The most harrowing sequence involves one boy's journey on the bottom of a train, and another boy telling him how to hold tight to the gears to avoid being crushed to death. From there the boys battle with the police, the system of incarceration and the loopholes in the law that can both keep them safe and keep them on the run. The individual characters are almost less important than the big picture, the race for survival. These kids want love, want something like a family, but mostly they just want to eat, and to get to tomorrow. Two of them manage to set up a little scheme involving refurbishing used shoes, but they know the wolf is always at their heels.

And it's on that kind of note that the book ends, cautiously optimistic but knowing danger is never far. I'd recommend Blood Brothers to readers interested in the period, in coming of age stories and stories about young men on the edge. It's unforgettable.

Rating: Backlist

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Book Expo 2015

I attended Book Expo America at the Javits Center in New York from May 27-29; I qualified for a press pass, signed up for Blogger Con, and was off to the races.

Blogger Con took place on Wednesday, May 27, and consisted of a series of panels on different topics of blogging. Actually, the three panels I attended (and I'm counting the keynote) mostly just talked about how you should make a podcast and go on YouTube to promote yourself and your blog. As you might be able to tell I was not impressed with the content of the panels I attended. I think they were aimed at the beginning blogger and didn't include information I found especially useful or insightful. I did not think the panel format worked well for the keynote. The speakers spent about 1/3 of the designated time introducing themselves, and from there it was about how they hit the big time with their blogs and launched nice careers for themselves. It was inspiring to a point, but only to a point.

On one panel, a book marketer talked about how she expects the future of book blogging to include more sponsorships à la every other kind of product-based blogging (food, travel, children, sewing, etc.) which depresses me and also makes me wonder.  My favorite sewing blogs have relationships with things like zipper companies and fabric designers and thread makers. Leaving aside how self-serving this prediction is, apart from galleys and paid posts, what else can the publishing industry buy us? And who wants to read a bunch of commercials? A couple of pals who happen to work at one of my favorite presses took me out to lunch on my birthday. So, apple strudel?

I think in the future I would love to see a "where do we go from here" type of panel, or series of panels, for experienced bloggers, or bloggers experiencing burnout (Hi!), or for bloggers who are trying to do something with their blogs besides make money off of Amazon. A panel on niche bloggers that is not about YA blogging would also be of interest to myself, and perhaps others. After all, bloggers blog about science fiction, about literary fiction, about faith-based fiction, about nonfiction, about audiobooks, about cookbooks, etc. etc. It was my impression that YA bloggers were over-represented on panels.

I decided to bag the afternoon sessions of Blogger Con to get a head start on the exhibit floor and from the number of blogger badges I saw I think I was not the only one. Unlike many years, the exhibits opened up mid-day instead of on the first morning. I liked this because I could get all fueled up with a nice lunch before starting The Great Galley Troll. I am kidding, guys. Being very picky this year I took home a record 7 books, but all books I know I will read, so quality trumps quantity as it should.

This year the special guest was the nation of China, which set up large and impressive booths in the key entrance area of the exhibit floor. Here you can see some young women performing a tea ceremony:

And here is a picture of part of the booth, with bamboo trees decorating the aisles.

I attended one author signing, at the Europa Editions booth for Jennifer Tseng and her book Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness, and one panel presentation, on "10 Years of Independent Thinking," a celebration of Europa's tenth anniversary and discussion of small publishing moderated by Europa's editor in chief Michael Reynolds. This was a fascinating talk on the independent publishing industry with an agent, an author (Tseng), a bookseller and a publisher talking about what defines an independent publisher and what helps them to grow. Bookseller support is crucial and the willingness to take risks on books that might be a little out-there for larger houses are among the elements essential to small-pub success.

I wish I could have come back on Friday or stayed later on Thursday (I left around lunchtime Thursday) but one of my uncles passed away the previous weekend and I had to head back up to Boston for his funeral. One of my blogger friends had my back, though, and scored me a galley of Elena Ferrante's upcoming book, The Story of the Lost Child. Thank you Natalie, you're the best!

And other books I picked up?
  • The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud (out now from Other Press)
  • Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, by Sunil Yapa (January 2016 from Lee Boudreaux Books, a new literary imprint from Little, Brown)
  • The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth (September 2015 from Graywolf and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize already)
  • The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan (September 2015 from Red Hook Books)
  • Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise, posthumously by Oscar Hijuelos (November 2015 from Grand Central)
  • The Man Who Spoke Snakish, by Andrus Kvirahk (November 2015 from Black Cat)
Next year BEA will be in Chicago so I won't be attending unless I'm working in the book industry by then. But I had a great time and I'm glad that I took advantage of the opportunity to attend in New York. Now back to my reading!