Showing posts from October, 2011

book review: The Tyranny of E-mail by John Freeman

The backstory:The Tyranny of Email is one of the readings this semester in a course I'm teaching on how technology impacts our lives and the world.

The basics: Aptly subtitled "The Four Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox," The Tyranny of Email is one part history of email (and written communication) and one part fix for email over-dependency.

My thoughts: I didn't pick this book for my course, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I began reading it and planning to teach it. I'm fascinated by technology and its power to connect us, and I did not consider myself to think email is tyrannical (at least for me.)

In many ways, The Tyranny of Email is the tale of two books for me. I was fascinated by Freeman's history of written communication. The first chapter focuses on the evolution of the postal service from the pony express. As someone who finds such joy in receiving mail, it was fascinating to see its beginnings. I knew bits and pieces, but Freeman f…

graphic novel review: Habibi by Craig Thompson

The basics: Habibi is the story of Dodola and Zam, two orphans who find companionship in one another. It's also the story of Islam and Christianity's roots.

My thoughts: I had Habibi in my read-a-thon pile, but I didn't get to it. I did, however, make time for it last week and found it so compelling I read it in a single sitting. It's an epic graphic novel in scope, ambition, art, story, and of course, length. I'm sure I would find new parallels and meanings with future readings of it.

What makes it feel most epic, however, is how brilliantly Thompson uses the format to achieve meaning. The story is powerful, and often quite dreary, but it's a story I don't think any other format, including film, could replicate with equal power. As I read it I found myself concentrating more fully than I typically do while reading. I was fully immersed in the time and place. Still, I found time to marvel at the utter idea of this graphic novel. How did Thompson think of it?…

Loving the Des Moines Life: Book Club, take one

After a failed attempt to start a book club in Albany (we managed to meet twice before admitting defeat), I hoped to find a book club rather than start my own. I was thrilled to hear one of chapters of P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) I was invited to visit also has a book club. The book club meets every other month and reads two books.

What we read
The September picks were Sister by Rosamund Lupton (my review) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (my review). While I liked one much more than the other, they both made great books for discussion. As many so often say, discussions of books you don't like are sometimes more enjoyable.

What we ate
I admit, I didn't quite know what to expect when it came to food and drink. I was delighted to see a smorgasbord of mini-wrap sandwiches, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, nuts, and brownies. Plus, there were four bottles of wine. I was in heaven: snack, drink wine and …

book review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The backstory: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of the two selections for my new book club last month. I reviewedSister, the other selection, yesterday. Tomorrow I'll opine about our joint discussion of the books, dish on my new book club, and tell you what we're reading for next month.

The basics: "As London is emerging from the shadow of World War II, writer Juliet Ahston discovers her next subject in a book club on Guernsey--a club born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi after its members are discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island." (I liked this description from my library's catalog.)

My thoughts: It's true, I never would have read this book if not for book club. I'm not quite sure why I have such a bias against it, but I did sit down expecting to enjoy it, as I adore epistolary novels. I quite enjoyed the beginning of this novel. Julia is a delightful narrator, and the history of Guernsey was intriguing. De…

book review: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

The backstory:Sister was one of the two selections for my new book club last month. I'll review the other selection, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, tomorrow. Thursday I'll opine about our joint discussion of the books, dish on my new book club, and tell you what we're reading for next month.

The basics: As Sister begins, Bee learns her pregnant younger sister Tess is missing. Bee immediately flees her fiance, job and life in New York to return to London to find her sister.

My thoughts: Thriller isn't a genre term I often use, as mystery typically seems more appropriate for the things I read. When I think of thrillers, I think of pop fiction and admit to dismissing the genre too quickly as 'person in peril.' Sister, however, is a bona fide, character-driven, literary thriller. And it's creepy. The novel is written as Bee's letter to Tess, and it is as much about Bee as it is about Tess.

Soon after Bee returns to London, Tess is found de…

Sunday Salon: I didn't read *all* day, but I did...

Happy morning after read-a-thon, everyone! I had a wonderful time reading and tweeting yesterday. Of my giant pile of 26 books, I managed to read three of them. I started with Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel Lost at Sea. I tend to begin a read-a-thon with a graphic novel because it brings such joy and accomplishment early on. When I finished it, I also noticed #readathon was trending on Twitter, which is awesome. Before the second hour, I was onto book number two: I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn. I spent about three hours reading it, and it was fascinating. Plus, it brought me my favorite moment of the read-a-thon:
The mini-challenge was to take a photograph of something that represents a character in the book you're reading. Yes, in only hour two, I was loopy enough to make flying goggles out of an index card (why an index card? I'm still not sure) for a Cheer Bear and stand on my dining room table to get maximum clouds. Also, it gave Mr. Nomadreader a hea…

Time to Read (All.Day.Long)

Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned I was already stocking up on books for the read-a-thon? Well last night when I sat down to collect them all in one place, I realized I had gone overboard. Way, way overboard. Counting only the print books I've amassed from the libraries and my shelves, I discovered I had 26 books. More books than hours? Seriously, Carrie.

Still, as I looked at the shelf, I really liked the variety. I have a couple of non-fiction options (one a graphic novel and one a teen photo-heavy option), a few other graphic novels, a Newbery medal book, a couple of short story collections, a plethora of novellas, a couple of mysteries, and a veritable grip of short novels. The novels are mostly literary fiction, but there's a nice mix of authors, locations and time periods. Two check in over 300 pages, but only barely (316 and 322 respectively.) And I haven't even gotten to the choices on my Kindle (Zone One, I'm staring most longingly at you...)

In perfe…

book review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The basics:The Marriage Plot is the story of a love triangle of sorts. Madeleine Hanna is an English major at Brown in 1982. She falls hard for Leonard Bankhead, while Mitchell Grammaticus falls hard for her. Madeleine's senior thesis addresses the marriage plot in classic literature and ponders if it's still relevant today: "in the days when success in life had depended on marriage, and marriage had depended on money, novelists had had a subject to write about. The great epics sang of war, the novel of marriage. Sexual equality, good for women, had been bad for the novel. And divorce had undone it completely."

My thoughts: This novel has three of my favorite attributes: an academic setting, travel, and it's character driven. I have a soft spot for novels set in academia, and The Marriage Plot utterly immerses itself in it:
"College wasn't like the real world. In the real world people dropped names based on their renown. In college, people dropped names b…

Saturday Salon: Long Reading Weekends

Saturday Salon: because sometimes I feel like salon-ing on Saturday.
I really love my job. I find it challenging, yet satisfying. It's intellectually stimulating but rarely stressful. I look forward to going to work every day, but I also look forward to time away from work. I'm incredibly lucky to work at a university that values work-life balance. I get four weeks of paid vacation each year, and I have to use it or lose it each year. In addition, the university closes for almost two weeks for Christmas and New Year's. As someone who started this job in June, I didn't use very much of my vacation in the summer. I didn't want or need much of a break yet. So here I am, with most of my vacation time unused. I needed a plan to use these days before the end of May, and genius struck: long reading weekends.
Sure, they're called vacation days, but I'm planning to use one day a month to make a long reading weekend staycation. After a month of hectic but exciting tra…

Fridays with Anna: Week One

Remember last week, when I swooned about how reasonable the reading schedule for Anna Karenina is? Well, I suppose I still think it is reasonable, but I didn't quite manage to make it to Chapter XX though.

I am, however, greatly enjoying my dates with Anna. Here are the things that stick out to me thus far in my adventure:

1. The sentences are really long, but it works.I don't get lost in the sentences. In fact, I find them to be lovely. They're ridiculously descriptive, and thus far I think these long, comma-filled, descriptive sentences provide fascinating insight into the characters, both past and present.

2. It's not a good book to read in public. I read on the go a lot, but it doesn't work for me with Anna. I need the quiet focus of my apartment. This week has been ridiculously busy, and I just haven't had as much time to read as I like. It's especially annoying when I'm loving The Marriage Plot, enjoying Anna Karenina, and eager to start reading th…

Thursday TV: First Thoughts on Homeland

The basics: Homeland, a new program airing on Showtime, features Claire Danes as Carrie, a CIA analyst who is also bipolar.  In a CIA briefing, Carrie hears that a U.S. POW, long presumed dead, had been discovered and rescued in Iraq. She immediately leaves the room and goes to consult Saul (Mandy Patinkin). When an Iraqi prisoner told her an American POW had been turned, she initially dismissed the claims because there were no known POWs. Now she fears Sergeant Brody (Damian Lewis), who is welcomed as an American hero will pull off a terrorist attack on American soil.

My thoughts: The first episode of Homeland is brilliant. It's intelligent, thrilling, and wacky in the best ways. At the crux of the show is the tension between paranoia and reality. Carrie wants round-the-clock surveillance, which is a clear violation of Brody's privacy. He hasn't yet done anything. Does the word of an Iraqi prisoner trump an American hero? When the CIA won't bug Brody's house, Carri…

2011 National Book Award Finalists: First Thoughts

The five finalists for this year's National Book Award in Fiction are:

The Sojourn  by Andrew Krivak
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht (my reveiew)
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (my review)
Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

My thoughts I've read two of the books. I thoroughly enjoyed Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic, and I'm thrilled to see it honored here. Although I think Tea Obreht is brilliant, The Tiger's Wife fell flat for me as a novel.
I've heard wonderful things about Salvage the Bones from both Wendy at Caribou's Mom and Audra at Unabridged Chick. I was in the library holds line for it, but I opted to buy it for my Kindle instead.
The other two titles are new to me. The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak comes from the revered Bellevue Literary Press. Somehow it wasn't on my radar, but it looks outstanding. I ordered it for my Kindle and will likely pick it up after I finish The Marr…

book review: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

The backstory:A Lesson in Secrets is the eighth Maisie Dobbs mystery novel. Here are links to my reviews of the first seven books: Maisie DobbsBirds of a FeatherPardonable LiesMessenger of TruthAn Incomplete Revenge,Among the Mad, and The Mapping of Love and Death. (There may be some minor spoilers from earlier novels in this review.)

The basics: The British Secret Service recruits Maisie to work semi-undercover as a professor of philosophy at a small college in Cambridge. Maisie is qualified, but she must apply and actually get the job. Her goal: see if anything is amiss at this college, whose founder and president wrote a pacifist children's book during the war that was suppressed. When he soon ends up murdered, Maisie has trouble distinguishing between her duties as a mole and her driving need to solve the crime.

My thoughts: After The Mapping of Love and Death, which was my favorite of the Maisie Dobbs novels, I was eager to see where Winspear took the story. There were …

book review: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The backstory: Tom Perrotta is my favorite author. I eagerly awaited the release of his newest novel, The Leftovers, for months.

The basics: One day in Mapleton, a typical suburban community, a hundred people suddenly disappear. Is it the Rapture? If so, many who are left behind wonder, why was I not taken when so-and-so was? The novel focuses on the impact of the Sudden Departure on one family. Kevin becomes mayor (at the request of many locals) and aims to foster community and healing. Meanwhile his wife, Laurie, joins the Guilty Remnant, a local cult that forbids speaking and contact with loved ones. Their son Tom drops out of college and begins following the sketchy prophet Holy Wayne. Their daughter Jill was with her best friend, who disappeared during the Sudden Departure, and struggles.

My thoughts: In short: I loved it. Tom Perrotta has often written about suburbia, and this novel maintains many of those hallmarks. This novel also incorporates religion and belief in beautiful, h…

Sunday Salon: literary excitement

Happy Sunday! Despite the unseasonably hot weather (I am not a fan of having the air conditioning on in October!), I am starting to feel the anticipation of fall I adore so much. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming in a few months, and I adore both holidays. But first, the next two weeks are filled with literary excitement. 
1. The Marriage Plot comes out Tuesday, October 11. Since I read The Virgin Suicides in high school, I've been a fan of Jeffrey Eugenides. Somehow I've never gotten around to reading Middlesex (I know, I know), but I'm eagerly awaiting The Marriage Plot. I've pre-ordered it for my Kindle, and I'm planning to wake up early Tuesday and get a head start on it before work. I'm fascinated with stories of academia and marriage, so the plot of this book coupled with its author makes it one of the fall releases I'm most excited to read. I'm carefully planning my reading to coincide with its release, so I'll be spending this afternoon …

Announcing my first date...with Anna Karenina

Let me tell you about the hot date I had last night. With Mr. Nomadreader out of town this week (he's home in a few hours--hooray!), I opted for a Friday night date night of epic proportions (literally, she's an epic.) It may have only been our first date, but I think we'll be together until the new year. We won't be monogamous, of course, as many other readers are courting Anna too and I have so many other books to read, but I promise to take her out weekly and spend Friday mornings telling you about our dates. Who is this bewitching lady I'm courting?
Have you met the lovely Anna Karenina? She's lovely. I'll save my thoughts on her for next Friday, but here are some things you might find interesting about her. Although we think of her as one of the most famous Russian novels, she was originally published in serial installments (from 1873-1877), so our weekly dates are almost how Tolstoy intended. She is long. Epically long. Approximately 872 pages. I'…

book review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The backstory: The Night Circus is one of the most buzzed about fall debuts and everyoneseemsto beloving it.

The basics: There's a black and white circus. It comes at night. It's magical. People love it.

My thoughts: I confess the premise of a magical circus didn't grab me, but the opening pages certainly did. Morgenstern creates a fascinating, magical, historical world. I was utterly absorbed for the first one hundred pages. I stayed awake late to read more.

About half-way through the novel, I sensed it plateauing. Descriptions of the circus still abounded, as new tents were added and different people experienced them. I became restless because so little was actually happening. The circus appeared in fascinating cities around the world, yet the setting wasn't incorporated in any way. Knowing it was in Paris or Egypt didn't add anything, which disappointed me.

I'm a huge fan of character-driven novels, and much of what I loved in the first half of the book were t…

Thursday TV: First Thoughts on New Network Dramas

So Many New Shows! I have a habit of sampling almost all new scripted shows on the major networks each fall. It doesn't always work. My DVR can only record two shows at once, and we are a one television family. I do my best. Some I'll watch until they go off the air. Some I'll watch for a few episodes. Some I only make it through a few minutes.

My thoughts Given the range of both premiere dates and my somewhat limited television time, some shows I've seen several times, while some shows I've only seen once.

Shows Still Rocking My World (with links to their official websites so you can catch up on episodes you may missed if you're so inclined!)

RingerI adore Ringer. Yes, it's improbably, ridiculous, over-the-top and cheaply produced, but it's entertaining. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays estranged twins Siobhan and Bridget. Bridget is down on her luck living in Wyoming while Siobhan is married to a man who doesn't know she has a twin and living a financia…