Sunday, August 29, 2010

event recap: Suzanne Collins at Oblong Books

Thursday night, Mr. Nomadreader and I took a little road trip down to Millerton, New York to see Suzanne Collins at Oblong Books. We drove down a little early and had a wonderful lunch at Harney and Sons, a gourmet tea shop. We got to Oblong a little over an hour before the signing, and we were rewarded with a number oh so very close to the front of the line. We all sat on the floor to listen to Suzanne read, and I was thrilled she first read from Catching Fire, which I adored. Next she read the opening pages of Mockingjay, and I was amazed how many in the audience hadn't read it yet (I mean, it had been out for two days already--kidding!) After the reading, the line started moving quite quickly. We had our book stamped and were back outside to enjoy a beautiful day before 5:30 p.m. We stayed in Millerton for a phenomenal dinner at Manna Dew and toasted the last night of my 20's. All in all, it was a wonderful night, even though (I confess) I didn't like Mockingjay. I do still love Catching Fire, and it was a treat to attend a fun literary event.

And there are goodies. The prize pack from Oblong includes a Hunger Games bag clip, two Mockingjay tattoos, a Hunger Games button, a Mockingjay bookmark and an Oblong Books bookmark.

Because I didn't especially enjoy Mockingjay (review coming this week), I don't feel the need to keep this awesome prize pack/party favor from Oblong Books, but I'm sure one of you would love to win, right? Fill out this form by Friday, September 3, 2010 to enter. Comments left on this post will not enter you. Good luck!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Booker Dozen 2010: Trespass by Rose Tremain

Trespass: A Novel
The backstory: I was coveting Trespass even before the Booker longlist was announced, but I was thrilled to hear it made the list because I'm reading it sooner than I probably would have otherwise.

The basics: I really like the introductory blurb in the book: "Set among the hills and gorges of the Cevennes, the dark and beautiful heartland of southern France, Trespass is a thrilling novel about disputed territory, sibling love and devastating revenge."

My thoughts: I feel foolish because Trespass is the first Rose Tremain novel I've read, and I absolutely adored her prose:
"Disdain--born out of a specialist knowledge, or what he thought of as a secret knowledge--was a habit perfected over forty years, and was now one of the few pleasures left to him." (p. 11)
I didn't know too much about this novel going into it, and the initial chapters all introduced different characters. I tend to really enjoy novels with seemingly unconnected characters whose paths cross. As a reader, you expect it, but I cherish that feeling of knowing more than the characters do. Tremain skillfully let the reader in on things the characters were oblivious to, but she also let the characters keep a few secrets from the reader.

I adored this novel. I was fascinated by the characters (and Tremain's descriptions of them), I loved the cadence of the prose, and I was amazed at the depth of theme. It's rare for me to picture myself writing an English paper about a novel, but I found myself scribbling notes on theme from the novel's early pages. The trespass in the title is one of land, emotion and personal boundaries. Tremain examines the notion of trespass from so many different perspectives:
'Anything that has existence can be stolen or destroyed. So you must be vigilant.' (p. 15)
The novel is set in southern France, and its first chapter comes from the perspective of a young girl who is new to the town. The reader first sees the landscape through the eyes of an outsider, but as the novel continues, the landscape becomes a character itself. The imagery of both the land and the people were incredibly gothic and mysterious. The land holds as many secrets as the characters.
 "Even here, where life went along more slowly than in England, she could sense the restless agitation people felt to make real and tangible to them the fugitive wonders that flickered into their minds." (p. 72)
The verdict: I loved both the story and its deeper thematic ideas. Trespass is an accessible literary novel with immense death. It's rare I want to reread a book as soon as I finish it, but I'm certain there are more subtleties and clues I've overlooked.

Booker thoughts: I truly hope Trespass makes the shortlist. I think it will benefit from and stand up to multiple readings.

Rating: 5 stars
Length: a powerful 253 pages
Publication date: It's out now in the UK, and it will be published in the U.S. on October 18, 2010
Source: I bought it

Now that I'm enamored with Rose Tremain, which of her backlist novels should I read first?

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Week of Awesome.

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)1. Happy Sunday! Are you ready for Tuesday? It's finally Mockingjay release day! I've really been enjoying the fake Mockingjay spoilers trend on Twitter, but I'm ready for the real thing. According to my friends at Scholastic, it will be available for download at midnight on my Kindle. As much as I wish there were a local midnight release party, I'm excited to be able to start reading at midnight in the comfort of my own home. In the interest of making it through work Tuesday morning, my plan is to actually go to bed early Monday night, then wake up at 5 a.m. to get four hours of reading in before work. It's a short day at work, and I hope I'm able to finish it in the afternoon before meeting friends for dinner. If not, I'll have time to finish it Wednesday.

2. As excited as I am for Tuesday, I'm even more excited for Thursday because Suzanne Collins will be at Oblong Books in Millerton, and I'm going. I'm thrilled to meet her and support a fantastic independent bookstore too! Yes, I'll probably tweet from the event, and I'll take pictures and bring back a full report for you. If the unthinkable happens, and Gale doesn't make it, I may have a few words for Ms. Collins.

3. The week keeps getting better: my birthday is Friday. It was so considerate of Scholastic to schedule the release of Mockingjay the week of my visit, and I'm thrilled to meet Suzanne Collins too. Happy birthday to me! I get to spend all day Friday with Mr. Nomadreader, and I'm thrilled. I can't think of a better way to turn thirty.

After a two weeks working about twice as many hours as I normally do, I am welcoming a week of birthday celebrations, Suzanne Collins and more Booker longlist reading.

Are you a Hunger Games fan? What are your plans for reading Mockingjay?

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Friday, August 20, 2010

book review: The Siege by Helen Dunmore

The backstory: The Siege was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002, and it's sequel, The Betrayal, is on this year's Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: This novel is set in Leningrad in 1941, when it is under German siege and winter is coming. Everyone is fighting for survival. Anna, the 22-year-old heroine, is taking care of her younger brother; their mother died in childbirth. Their father is a writer, but his stories are no longer published because of his political views.

My thoughts: I debated reading The Siege, but I am so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am not a scholar of Russian history, and seeing the War from the standpoint of Leningrad was absolutely fascinating to me. I learned so much by reading this book, but I think those familiar with the setting and history would still enjoy this novel. Several times I was so wrapped up in the story I forgot it was real; it read like a dystopian novel:
"Words are regaining their meanings, after years of masquerade. Hunger means hunger, terror means terror, enemy means enemy...Everything gets closer day by day, as siege and winter eat into their lives." (page 181, hardcover)
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this novel was Dumore's ability to tell both the story of Leningrad and its people as a whole as well as the story of Anna and her family without shortchanging either. It is both a novel of war and life. The reader needs the hope of Anna to survive the vivid descriptions of life during the siege. I confess, simply knowing there was a sequel to this book allowed me to have hope, and I'm eagerly awaiting The Betrayal soon.

The verdict: The Siege is a stark, poetic, haunting novel of war and survival. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction, international fiction, historical fiction, military fiction and dystopian fiction.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: 293 pages
Publication date: January 2, 2002
Source: my local public library

Have you read other Helen Dunmore novels? 

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

book review: Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Every Last One: A Novel
The backstory: I really enjoyed Anna Quindlen's last novel Rise and Shine, so I was eager to read her newest one.

The basics: Every Last One is the story of Mary Beth Latham, a wife and mother of three: Ruby, a high school senior, and fraternal twins Max and Alex, who are ninth grade.

My thoughts: I do enjoy Quindlen's use of language, and these characters were certainly dynamic. It seemed obvious to me that something was looming over these characters from early on in the book. I felt like a very paranoid reader as warning signs piled up and didn't explode. Then, when I didn't actually suspect it, Quindlen drops this novel into a completely different place. I won't spoil it for you, but I will tell you I was reading it in a coffee shop and my jaw dropped open and I audibly gasped. Yes, it's dark, but I think it's authentic. What I'm unsure about it is if it's necessary. I am not opposed to depressing novels, but I do want the emotions authors make me feel to be worthwhile, and I don't think Quindlen met that challenge here. Ultimately, I don't believe this story needed to be told. I'm sure there will be readers who disagree with me, but I didn't especially enjoy the novel, even though I enjoyed the characters and the writing. It started with promise, as Mary Beth recalled the night she met her husband:
"Sometimes I remind myself that I almost skipped the party, that I almost went to a different college, that the whim of a minute could have changed everything and everyone. Our lives, so settled, so specific, are built on happenstance." (page 72, ARC)
I cried through the last hundred pages, so it's hard to say I wasn't emotionally engaged, but I was unsatisfied.  After thoroughly enjoying Rise and Shine, I was disappointed.

The verdict: Despite strong writing and characters, this novel didn't work for me. If you like weepy women's fiction with depth, you may like this novel. If you like more nuanced substance, read Rise and Shine instead.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: 300 pages
Publication date: April 13, 2010
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher via Crazy Book Tours.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Salon: Reading moods

Good morning! I'm up early (for me) on a Sunday, and I'm looking forward to a day of reading on the porch before I have to go to work. I hope to finish both Helen Dunmore's divine novel The Siege and Alan Warner's delightful novel The Sopranos today. Both are precursors to Booker longlist novels, and then I'm jumping back in with both feet to meet my goal of finishing the longlist (9 more novels to go!) by September 7 (only 23 days away!).

1802 Beekman

Lyle Lovett
The highlight of my week was venturing to Cooperstown to see Lyle Lovett and His Large Band at the Ommegang Brewery. Lyle is one of my favorite singers, and I've never seen him live. Mr. Nomadreader and I stopped in Sharon Springs to have a delicious lunch at the Black Cat (I had the BLAST: Bacon, lettuce, avocado, swiss and tomato). Then, I couldn't resist stopping at 1802 Beekman, home of The Fabulous Beekman Boys. Brent was there, and we purchased a sampling of their goat milk soap. If you're ever near Sharon Springs, it's worth a stop. It also reminded me how much I'm looking forward to reading The Bucolic Plague once my Booker reading is over.

me in the rain 
It started pouring rain while we were in Sharon Springs, so when we got to Cooperstown, we decided to relax at Stagecoach, my favorite coffee shop there, and read. It was a wonderful relaxing afternoon, and we were eager to get to the brewery and see the concert. The concert itself was out in the field, and we came prepared with chairs with roofs. The rain caused some technical difficulties, and the concert was late to start, but there was so much wonderful beer to drink, no one seemed to mind. The rain mostly stopped by the time the concert got under way, and everyone had so much fun. The concert was wonderful, of course, but what really made it fantastic was the audience. It was relaxed, and people danced, made friends, sang along and enjoyed themselves. As you may know, Cooperstown is a little off the beaten path, and the concert was on a weeknight, so only the true fans who didn't mind a late night and a long drive home were there. It was absolutely one of the best concerts I've ever seen.
Lyle Lovett!

Reading moods
I didn't get quite as much reading done this week as I had hoped. Perhaps as a result of reading deliberately and reading better books, I find I most enjoy my reading in large doses. I used to be a reader who grabbed five minutes of reading when I could, but lately I've found short periods of reading unsatisfying. This week, I've been testing out my theory and only sitting down to read when I have at least thirty minutes to devote to it. I've certainly enjoyed my reading time more, even though it led to reading fewer pages this week. I've also been reading more than one book at a time. I'm not sure if I'll always do this, but having two (or three) different type of books going at the same time has ensured I always have something I'm in the mood for to read. Do you like to read any chance you get or only when you have a block of time to devote to it?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

my all-time favorite reads

Last week, I reviewed Emma Donoghue's mind-blowing novel Room and named it my new favorite book ever. Since then, I've been pondering and trying to articulate what makes a book a favorite. I've been remembering my personal favorite books over the years, and what stands out most to me is how tethered to a particular time and place most of them are. When I think of the book, I think of when and where I read it. I've been blogging for three and a half years, and only two books have become my favorites in that time. You all know how much I love both American Wife and Room. Today I'm sharing my pre-blogging favorite books with you too. (Book covers go to Amazon and links go to websites of interest, including reviews on this blog.)

In  chronological order:
High school:
The Awakening: And Other Stories (World's Classics)The Awakening by Kate Chopin
As a teenage reader, I stuck to contemporary, realistic fiction. In those days, reading provided me with immense comfort knowing someone, even fictional someones, understood me. I was not a fan of historical fiction or classics. In tenth grade (American literature), we had to read The Awakening, and I was shocked when I fell in love with Edna. Despite the distance in time, place and lifestyle, I understood Edna in a way I could not articulate at that age. I recall being in the minority in my class as I championed Edna and her decisions. I absolutely understood her actions and thought they were wise. In words I didn't embrace yet, Kate Chopin made me realize I was a feminist before I was comfortable with the term. The Awakening wasn't a book I loved from the beginning. I enjoyed it more than any other required reading, but it wasn't a book I loved and rallied for until its final pages. For years, I finished every book I started in case it had an ending as powerful as The Awakening.

Johnny Got His GunJohnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
 Johnny Got His Gun was the first book I remember reading for school and reading ahead. I could not put it down. I've never been a fan of war books (or movies, really, except The Messenger, which I think is the best war movie ever). Johnny Got His Gun read like a mystery. If you haven't read it, you really should. It's told in flashbacks of Johnny's life before the war and in present tense, as he comes to in a hospital and tries to figure out what happened to him while at war. It's still one of the most powerful books I've ever read, and it puts a necessary human face on war. It absolutely shaped my ideas about war, humanity and life.

Medea (Dover Thrift Editions) Medea by Euripides
I had to read Medea my senior year of high school, and I read it in a single sitting. I could not believe the words of a man so many years ago could affect me so profoundly. Much like The Awakening, many people don't understand the actions of Medea. I find her inspiring and intriguing. Shortly after we read the play in class, the Alliance Theater put on a production of Medea starring Phylicia Rashad. Her strong, nuanced, mesmerizing performance convinced a few Medea holdouts of its worth, and it reminded me how much I adore theater for providing varying interpretations of plays.
Hedda Gabler and Other Plays (Penguin Classics)

Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
Shortly after I read Medea, I read Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. Although I enjoyed the play throughout, it's definitely one that hooked me in the end. I was amazed by Ibsen's planning, restraint and mind. The story is fantastic enough, but when the ending was revealed, I was blown away at its perfect structure.  By this point, I think it's clear the effect my 12th grade English teacher had on me. She introduced me to three of my favorite books and she convinced me to start watching Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which is still one of my favorite television shows. She challenged me to be a better reader, writer, and thinker, and I still vividly recall some of the other books I loved in her class that didn't make this list (The Inferno and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight most notably.)

Invisible Man
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
I read Invisible Man in college, and it truly changed my life. It's a book I'm glad I read with a small group, as I would have missed so many of it's most powerful moments because I didn't get them. Invisible Man is one of five books I keep on my shelf that I've read. I still have papers stuffed in it with my scribbled notes and favorite quotes that wouldn't quite fit in the margins. I wrote what I still consider the best essay I've ever written comparing Invisible Man to Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (the film didn't come off well against the Ellison comparison.) On this list of favorites, Invisible Man may be the best book I've ever read. It's a challenging read, but Ellison's brilliance continues to astound me. It had a profound impact on my life, as it truly changed the way I look at the world, humanity, and made me a socialist (in case you're one of those who considers Ayn Rand the cure for such thinking, reading Fountainhead in college did not change my mind, it only made me roll my eyes a lot.)

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name - A Biomythography (Crossing Press Feminist Series)
Zami: A Biomythography by Audre Lorde
Zami is the first non-fiction book on this list. I read it in my first women's studies class (and I promptly became a women's studies major.)  I still have a hard time explaining Zami to those who haven't read it. It is the most unique book I've ever read. Audre Lorde is one of the writers and human beings I most admire, and I'm saddened I discovered her work after her death. I would have loved to meet her and hear her speak, or at least dream of the possibility. Zami is the book I can articulate what I love about it least well, and I regret it.

Women, Race, & Class
Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis
Any favorite book list would be incomplete without an Angela Y. Davis title, as she is my favorite thinker. Women, Race and Class had the most profound effect on me because it was the first of her books I read. This book made me an unqualified believer in interdisciplinary studies. One can not study women, race or class without the others. The world is complex, and Davis is one of the few who can articulate its complexities so beautifully and engage readers of all levels in complicated theory. At several points in my life, I've considered applying to the History of Consciousness Ph.D. program at UC Santa Cruz to study with Ms. Davis. It will probably never happen, but she is perhaps the living person I most admire.

A Room of One's Own: And, Three Guineas (Oxford World's Classics)A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Indigo Girls have been my favorite band since I was twelve years old. On my favorite album of theirs, Rites of Passage, there is a song titled "Virginia Woolf." Naturally, I became obsessed with Virginia Woolf shortly after this album came out and attempted to read her diaries. I was too young to understand or appreciate any of it. A few years later, when the live cd set "1200 Curfews" came out, Emily admits in her introduction to the song that she wrote papers about her in college but had no idea what she was talking about. When I finally was able to appreciate Virginia Woolf was in college, when I read A Room of One's Own in a history of feminist thought course. I had to stop underlining because there were more passages underlined than not. I so wish I would have read A Room of One's Own at fourteen instead of her diaries. I've always felt Virginia was a kindred spirit (yes, largely because of the Indigo Girls song), but A Room of One's Own solidified that feeling. Despite being a product of the time it was written, I still find it's message incredibly relevant and important.

After college:
A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity: A Novel
A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity by Whitney Otto
I don't recall exactly why I picked this book up off the new book shelf at the public library. In those days, my first out of college days when I could once again read with abandon and checked out more books than I could possibly read in a week, I picked up so many books for so many reasons. I then carefully arranged them by due date and mysteriously read them in any order that pleased me at the time. This novel continues to haunt me. To date myself a little bit, I used quotations from this novel as away messages in AOL instant messenger for years. There was a quote scribbled in my reading journal at the time that pertained to anything I might be feeling. This novel has stayed with me in a different way than other favorites from my early post-college days. I really enjoyed all of Whitney Otto's novels, but this one stands out above the rest for me.
Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach
Perhaps no book is as tied to a time and place for me than this one. In the summer of 2004, I traveled alone through France and Italy for three weeks before meeting up with friends in Greece for the Olympics. I always like to read books set in the places I'm visiting, and when I stumbled across this memoir, I knew I had to take it with me. Alice Steinbach and I are kindred spirits. Her writing is certainly more elegant than mine, and I'm grateful at her ability to put emotions and thoughts into words. In this memoir, Steinbach traveled to Paris, London, Oxford, and Italy. I spread out my reading so I could read the Paris part in Paris and the Italy parts while in Italy. I visited London and Oxford (among other places) in 2002, and I enjoyed reconnecting with those places too. In many ways, Steinbach helped frame my story of that trip with her memoir.

Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield
Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time
Meeting Rob Sheffield at BEA was one of the highlights of the week for me. In general, I consider myself mostly a novel-reader. I enjoy non-fiction, certainly, but I don't often find myself carried away by it. Love is a Mix Tape is a notable exception. I picked this memoir up from the library after reading a review in Entertainment Weekly and sat on the porch to start reading it. I didn't move until I finished it. I had tears running down my cheeks. I made notes of songs to listen to and pages of quotes to remember. I promptly bought a copy to make Mr. Nomadreader (then nomadreaderboy) read it. He loved it too, but wished I would have warned him it would make him cry. Love is a Mix Tape has stuck with me because it's a beautiful story, it's uniquely and wonderfully written, and it manages to be about life, love, loss and music without shortchanging any of them.

The favorite authors:

No list of my favorite novels would be complete without the inclusion of my two favorite authors: Tom Perrotta and Pearl Cleage. It's impossible for me to pick just one book (or play, in the course of Ms. Cleage), so instead, I'll tell you a favorite story about each.
Joe College

Tom Perrotta
When Joe College came out, I was in college working at an independent bookstore in Atlanta. One of my co-workers, Beth, introduced me to Tom Perrotta, and I immediately devoured Bad Haircut: Stories from the Seventies, The Wishbones, and Election. When Joe College came out, we were ecstatic. Usually, new books came in the week before, and we could read them early. In this case, the books arrived that morning. I was faced with working eight hours and not being able to read Joe College yet. Despite the film of Election being quite successful, Tom Perrotta was not especially well known yet (arguably, he's still not, but Little Children made more waves), so when someone came in asking for the new Tom Perrotta novel that night, our co-worker alerted Beth and me, and we started talking to the customer. He was thrilled anyone knew about the book because he was Tom's brother. I confess, I was starstruck by the brother of one of my favorite authors. He kindly offered to mail our books to Tom to sign. I like to think Tom got a kick out of hearing about his two squealing fans in an Atlanta bookstore that night. Regardless, despite my inability to name a favorite Tom Perrotta book, Joe College will always hold a special place in my heart because of that night and the personalized inscription that followed.

What Looks Like Crazy On an Ordinary DayPearl Cleage
Earlier, I mentioned my trip to the Alliance Theater to see Medea starring Phylicia Rashad. I first saw Phylicia Rashad at the Alliance in Blues for an Alabama Sky, a play written by Pearl Cleage. I loved that play, which we saw on the theater's smaller stage. Pearl Cleage instantly became a playwright I followed, but when her first novel came out, I was ecstatic. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day blew my mind. As much as I love live theater, nothing replaces the personal connection with a novel for me. For me, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day was the perfect combination. It went on to be an Oprah Book Club pick, which made it popular, and Ms. Cleage wrote a sequel (I Wish I Had a Red Dress, which I thankfully snagged an ARC of while working at the bookstore). It may not be my favorite novel of hers (If I had to choose, I would probably pick Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do), but it was her first, and I never knew she would write a novel, so it has a special place in my heart. While working at Murphy's Restaurant (where I met Mr. Nomadreader) in Atlanta, Pearl would come in semi-regularly. I never waited on her, but I could also never find the words to tell her what her writing means to me.

I feel as though I've bared my soul to you in this post. These books (and authors) are so incredibly personal to me I feel their summation almost defines who I am. Writing about them has made me nostalgic to revisit these favorites too. I'm not much of a re-reader, but these novels deserve for me to read them again, when I'm at a different time and place in my life to see if they still resonate so strongly with me. I hope to start re-reading these favorites soon, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on them again.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Friday, August 13, 2010

literary road trip: The Mount

Last Monday I ventured to Lenox, Massachusetts with four of my P.E.O. sisters. (P.E.O. is a philanthropic education organization I belong to.) We went to visit Edith Wharton's estate, The Mount. I didn't know very much about this estate before visiting, but she built it as her summer home in the early 1900's. Ms. Wharton only lived at the estate for about ten years, but the Edith Wharton Restoration took it over in 1980 (after several owners in between) and have been renovating it ever since. Unlike most historical homes I've visited, there is very little that is original in this home. There are several photographs blown up that allow the visitor to see the Mount as it was in Ms. Wharton's day.

The house itself was mostly furnished by designers for a designer's showcase several years ago. I'm really glad we decided to pay the extra $2 to go on a guided tour because I learned so much about the space and Edith Wharton's life.

Naturally, my favorite part was the library, which the Edith Wharton Restoration bought for over $2 million (they're dedicated, folks!) I longed to jump over the barrier and look through her books to see what notes she had made. There were a few on display under glass, but it's just not the same. It's an amazing collection, and it's the one room that actually resembles the way Edith lived in it. It was most interesting to hear that Edith used her library for reading or writing letters. She wrote her novels (The House of Mirth most notably) and short stories in her bedroom. The library is located in a very public area of the house, between Mr. Wharton's wine room and the drawing room where they entertained visitors.

My second favorite part of the Mount were the gorgeous gardens. My picture doesn't quite do it justice, as you would really need a wide-angle lens to appreciate its scope and symmetry (an obsession of Ms. Wharton as she designed both the house and the garden.) We had lunch in the terrace cafe while overlooking the gardens, the Berkshire mountains (in the distance) and wished we could see Laurel Lake through the trees.

I confess, when I read Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence in high school, I didn't like it. I think it's fair to say my literary palate has diversified, expanded and grown since then, and I'm now eager to read The House of Mirth, which she wrote at the Mount, and Ethan Frome, which is set (allegedly) at the Mount.

One parting thought: I couldn't resist snapping a picture of Edith's copy of The Brothers Karamazov, which I am failing miserably at reading. I so wonder if she read it, and I would love to see her notes in the margin!

If you ever find yourself near Lenox, Massachusetts (only an hour from Albany), the Mount is worth a visit. I would love to go again on a cooler day and stroll the gardens. Visiting in spring or fall would be ideal. The Mount also offers special events, lectures and Friday night ghost tours (inspired by its appearance on Ghost Hunters.)

Now tell me: what is your favorite Edith Wharton work? What should I start with to satisfy my new fascination with her?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Booker Dozen 2010: The Long Song by Andrea Levy

The Long Song: A Novel
The backstory: The Long Song was on both the Orange and Booker Prize longlists this year (it has since been shortlisted for the Booker Prize). I was surprised when it didn't make the Orange Prize shortlist this year because Andrea Levy is such a literary superstar. I put my Orange Prize longlist reading (13 novels remaining) on hold to tackle the Booker Prize longlist, but this one counts for both!

The basics: The novel opens with a forward from the narrator's son. The Long Song is the story of July, who was born to a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the early 1800's. As a child, she's taken into the main house to become a house servant.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. July is a delightful narrator. She interjects to address the reader directly at times, but instead of detracting from the narrative, these direct interactions enhance it. July brings a lightness and humor to her story that cheered me on as a reader. Despite living through the horror of slavery and the Jamaican slave rebellion of 1832, the reader always knows July gets to a place and time to write the story we're reading. Despite the somewhat depressing setting, Levy does a wonderful job infusing life and likability into even the unlikable characters. There is nothing simple about her characterizations of people, even the slaveholders whose thoughts and actions seem unconscionable to my modern sensibilities. In fact, my favorite character was Catherine, who plucked July from her mother and brought her to live in the house and serve her.

The verdict: Recommended for almost everyone, but especially fans of multicultural fiction, historical fiction and literary fiction. It's both incredibly literary and incredibly accessible as a story, which is an all too rare combination. I'm eager to read Levy's other novels too.

Booker thoughts: The Long Song is the fourth (of thirteen) Booker longlist novels I've read. While it's my second favorite (after Room, of course), I'm not sure if it will make the shortlist. I think it's certainly shortlist-worthy, but I have an odd feeling it will be left off this shortlist as it was the Orange shortlist.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: April 27, 2010
Source: my local public library
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Other reviews:
Bibliophile by the Sea called it "a bittersweet novel with characters I eventually came to care about."
Farm Lane Books thought it was "a light entertaining read."
Savidge Reads says it's "a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors."

Have you read other Andrea Levy novels? Which one(s) should I read next?