Showing posts from January, 2012

A People's Read-a-long: Week 3

Welcome to Week 3 of A People's Read-a-long! We're reading a chapter a week, and the pace is perfect. (Missed the first two weeks? Check out my posts for weeks one and two.) I'm still thoroughly enjoying this read-a-long. This week I even took Jill's advice and snagged a copy of Voices of a People's History of the United States, which is collection of primary source documents organized around the chapters of A People's History of the United States. I'm not reading all of them, but I'm dipping into the ones that most interest me. It's adding another fascinating layer to this book.

My thoughts: Chapter 3, entitled "Persons of Mean and Vile Condition," deals with the class system in the colonies. More specifically, Zinn addresses how class was impacted by the existing class system of Britain and how it shifted to include Indians, slaves, (white) servants, and former servants. I'm deeply concerned at what I see as our current class system …

Sunday Salon: January book club recap

My book club met this week to discuss One for the Money (my review) and Cleopatra, which I managed to read all of 6 pages of (I do want to read it, but I'm thinking of doing a chapter a week read-a-long after A People's Read-a-long is over because it is a dense book.) We had some nice discussions at a local coffee house. I most enjoyed the Cleopatra discussion, even though I had not read most of it. One interesting tidbit: we all agreed we'd never thought of Cleopatra as a mother before, but we were surprised it hadn't occurred to us that she had children.

As is often the case, we spend as much time talking about what else we're reading and what we want to read for next time as we do the books selected. We had so much fun this time, in fact, that we picked three books for March!
Room by Emma Donoghue (my review): Room was my favorite read of 2010, so I'm thrilled someone else suggested it. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda(my review): I suggested Secret Da…

book review: What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage

The backstory: I first read Pearl Cleage's debut novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, in 1997. I remember the day I picked it up at the library, filled with excitement that my favorite playwright had written a novel. I had ridiculously high expectations, and Pearl exceeded them all. She's my favorite author, yet I haven't read any of her work in the past three years. This year, I'm going back to the beginning to re-read (and then read) her novels in the order they were published.

The basics: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day is the story of Ava, an HIV-positive black woman who sold her hair salon in Atlanta to get a somewhat fresh start in San Francisco, away from the string of men she's slept with. She decides to spend the summer with her sister Joyce in Idlewild, Michigan.

My thoughts: Although I read What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day almost fifteen years ago, I still remember the last line of the novel. It's my favorite last line of a…

book review: One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

The backstory: One for the Money was one of my book club's selections for January.

The basics: The first in Janet Evanovich's wildly popular Stephanie Plum series, One for the Money introduces Stephanie, who was recently laid off by the lingerie company she worked for as an orderer. With bills piling up, Stephanie decides to try working for her cousin, a bounty hunter, to locate an old fling, Joe Morelli, an ex-cop and current fugitive wanted for murder, so she can collect the $10,000.

My thoughts: Originally written in 1994, One for the Money is starting to show its age somewhat. Stephanie's clothes are horribly dated. At one point she bemoans being down to her last pair of bicycle shorts. Fashion quibbles aside, I'm always fascinated to read mysteries set in earlier technological times. Car phones abound in this novel. For me, a technophile, the thought of chasing bad guys without a cell phone or car phone is truly terrifying, and in this novel the lack of access to te…

book review: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Translated from the Spanish by Carol and Thomas Christensen.

The backstory: 
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel's first novel, is one of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

The basics: Told in monthly installments interspersed with recipes, Like Water for Chocolate, is the story of the De la Garza family in the Mexican revolution and filled with magical realism of love and cooking. The narrator is the great-niece of Tita, and the novel's focus is the life of Tita, the family's youngest daughter.

My thoughts: I first read Like Water for Chocolate in high school and utterly adored it. Re-reading it fifteen years later, I still enjoyed it, but the magical realism of love's positive and negative effects lacked the dramatic resonance it held for me as a teenager. It is the tradition of Tita's family that the youngest daughter may not marry and must spend her life serving her mother. Tita is enraged, angry and in utter agony when she learns her fate will be to care…

A People's Read-a-long: Week 2

Welcome to Week 2 of A People's Read-a-long! I'm still thoroughly enjoying this read-a-long. It's incredibly easy to keep track of reading one chapter a week. I even managed to keep up while being away at ALA Midwinter most of this week (I'm coming home tonight...hooray for  plane reading time!)

My thoughts: Chapter 2, entitled "Drawing the Color Line," focuses on slavery and its origins in the United States. I found this topic illuminating, depressing and simultaneously fascinating and difficult to read. Having read and enjoyed Property, Valerie Martin's Orange Prize-winning novel of slavery earlier this month (my review), I found myself connecting the dots between Zinn's history and the story of Manon in 1828 Louisiana.

What I found most interesting in this chapter was the role of racism. When I think of slavery, I think of racism, but Zinn outlined this distinction: "In the early years of slavery, especially, before racism as a way of thinking…

Sunday Salon: First thoughts on the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

The National Book Critics Circle, of which I am a member, has announced the finalists for its 2011 awards. None of the five titles I voted for made the cut, but it certainly is an exciting list!

Open City by Teju Cole The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (my review) The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman (my review) Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
I've read two of the five finalists already. I'm glad to see Jeffrey Eugenides make the cut, as I think The Marriage Plot is a wise, delightful novel. It's certainly one that appeals to book critics, given all of its overt literature references! It had plenty of hype, but the critical acclaim has been somewhat lacking on prize lists. While I thought Edith Pearlman's story collection Binocular Vision peaked too early (it's first story was it's best), I'm not surprised to see this National Book Award finalist here. As readers of this blog know, I greatly prefer novels to short sto…

book review: Property by Valerie Martin

The backstory: Property won the Orange Prize in 2003.

The basics: Set in 1828 Louisiana, Property focuses on Manon Gaudet,the bored, unhappy wife of a slave owner who has fathered the oldest child of Sarah, a slave, and continues to sleep with her. The two women hate one another, and they both hate Mr. Gaudet.

My thoughts: Manon is a fascinating character. It would be too easy to say she's not likable, as truly, her life was wretched. Martin sums up Manon's temperament brilliantly: "feeling thoroughly bored and aggravated by the whole business." It applies to so many situations. Still, as wretched as Manon's life is, she is a slave owner of some privilege. She is married to a man she despises and now lives in the country, which she is not too fond of either. Her relationship with Sarah is tenuous and fascinating, and it brings out Manon's cruelness. Despite her lack of love for her husband, Manon harbors jealousy of Sarah in some way. Sarah's relationship w…

I'm Dallas bound for ALA Midwinter!

Tomorrow after teaching my first class of the semester I'll be off to the airport to catch my flight to Dallas for this year's American Library Association Midwinter Conference. I was blessed to be chosen as one of ALA's 2012 Emerging Leaders this year, and I'll meet my fellow ELs and begin work on our projects, which will culminate with a poster presentation at ALA's Annual Conference in Anaheim in June.

As you might imagine, my schedule is already pretty full with meetings, but I do want to take some time to see Dallas. I'd love to hear your suggestions of things (preferably near the conference center or easily accessed by public transportation) to do while I'm there and places to eat. So far on my list are the Public ArtWalk Dallas and the Sixth Floor Museum. And I'm always looking for suggestions of good food. Give me your best Dallas recommendations!

If any of you are going to be there, send me an email. I'd love to meet up!

book review: The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O'Nan

The basics: Art and Marion's marriage is failing. They're giving it one last-ditch effort by spending a romantic weekend in Niagara Falls, where they also plan to gamble their way back to financial solvency.

My thoughts: The Odds: A Love Story is not the kind of love story fans of Nicholas Sparks would enjoy. It's a real love story, filled with miscommunication, disappointment, blame and exhaustion. O'Nan balances the whimsy of beginning each chapter with a set of odds related to its content with the increasingly depressing vision of Art and Marion's marriage. O'Nan gradually reveals the details of both how dire their marriage and financial situation are, as well as how it got there. More importantly, however, O'Nan seamlessly uses both Art and Marion as narrators. The reader comes to understand the marriage, and it becomes clear neither Art, Marion, nor the reader truly understand it from all perspectives.

Favorite passage: "You couldn’t relive your li…

A People's Read-a-long: Week 1

Welcome to Week 1 of A People's Read-a-long! So far I'm thoroughly enjoying this read-a-long. It's incredibly easy to keep track of reading one chapter a week. I may not post every week, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts and a couple of my favorite passages from Chapter 1 this week.

My thoughts: It's rare to find a non-fiction book without an introduction, and consequently, chapter 1 read like a combination of an introduction and a first chapter. Zinn provided context for his view of understanding history as he told the story of the first chapter: Columbus, the Indians and Human Progress. I appreciate Zinn's view of reading and understanding history as a modern person: "My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality."

I'm fascinated by how different societies, past and present, viewed gender. In chapter 1, I learned Iro…

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy winner

Last week I announced a fabulous contest to win a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy giveaway. To enter, I asked people to name their favorite spy book or film. Here's the list, in order of number of responses:

Jason Bourne
James Bond (with one vote for Casino Royale in particular)
Hunt for Red October
The 39 Steps

Jason Bourne and James Bond dominated the preferences of contest entrants!

And the two winners of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy giftpacks are...Melissa from An Avid Reader's Musings and Lisa! Congratulations!

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

book review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The backstory: Bel Canto won the Orange Prize in 2002. Ann Patchett's latest novel, State of Wonder, was my favorite read of 2011. In 2012, I'm reading all of her backlist, beginning with Bel Canto.

The basics: In a South American country, the vice president hosts a birthday party for a Japanese businessman to entice him into building a factory in their country. Mr. Hosokawa has no intention of building a factory there, but attends because Roxane Coss, his favorite opera soprano will perform for his birthday. When terrorists arrive to kidnap the president, who did not attend, they are instead left with many other hostages.

My thoughts: Ann Patchett and I clearly share a fascination for how people react in extraordinary situations and the depth of humanity. In Bel Canto, the terrorists are as human as the hostages, and I found myself illogically rooting for them at times. In many ways, this novel is the story of Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, but Gen, Mr. Hosokawa's translator…

Announcing the 2011 Indie Lit Award shortlists

The 2011 Indie Lit Award fiction shortlist:

Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney Cross Currents by John Shorts The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene
The 2011 Indie Lit Award shortlists were announced this weekend, and I can't wait to start reading the titles that made the  fiction shortlist (for which I am a judge this year). It has everything I look for in a shortlist: a book I've read (The Night Circus), a couple of titles I've been meaning to get to (Cross Currents and Silver Sparrow), and two titles that are new to me (Dance Lessons and The Last Time I Saw Paris.) There's an impressive variety of settings in these novels: Scotland, Thailand, just about everywhere, Atlanta and Paris. I'll be reading these titles over the next two months and discussing their merits with my fellow judges. I won't be posting reviews on these titles until the winner and runner-up are announced in mid-March.

Now tell me: w…

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy giveaway!

Since I first saw a trailer forTinker Tailor Soldier Spy last month, I've been eager to see it, so I was thrilled to be asked to host a giveaway in conjunction with its national release today. The film, based on John le Carre's novel, is set in 1973. It's a Cold War spy caper involving the MI6. The cast includes Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Dencik.

Here's the trailer:
Two winners (U.S. only) will receive:

a copy of the book with movie tie-in cover (below)a t-shirta Post-It note cubea voice recorder penFor more information about the film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy official websiteFacebook pageYouTubeFocus Features on TwitterYou can tweet about the film and see what others are saying with its official hashtag #TTSSSee where it's playing near you

Note: I received the featured gift pack in exchange for hosting this giveaway. The gift pack is valued at $43.

As an affiliate, I receive …

A People's Read-a-long

Jill at Fizzy Thoughts and Jenners at Life...with Books are hosting A People's Read-a-long for Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I've been meaning to read this book since 1997, when I saw Good Will Hunting. Instead of reading the book, however, I proceeded to see the film six times in the theater and many, many more times once it came out on video (and then dvd.) It's one of my all-time favorite films. Mr. Nomadreader and I own both a print copy and a Kindle copy, and we're both going to participate!

The read-a-long is my kind of sensible one: it starts Monday, January 16th, the federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapter 1 is due that Monday. Each Monday thereafter, a chapter is due. The read-a-long will finish Monday, July 9th with the 25th chapter.

I swore off read-a-longs last year when I failed at Anna Karenina, but I think non-fiction will work better for me. I like to read at my own pace with fiction, but I'm much happie…

graphic novel review: Watchmen by Alan Moore

The backstory:Watchmen is on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

My thoughts: When I sat down to finally read Watchmen, I knew very little about the actual plot. In the first few pages, I had little idea what was going, but soon I began to understand how the characters and scenes fit together. I read a fair number of graphic novels, but Watchmen made me slow down my reading in a way no other graphic novel has. There is so much detail in each box, and the shifting of perspective is cinematic and intricately detailed.

I was also impressed with the character development. Between each chapter, there was a multimedia section to offer context. There were excerpts from an autobiography of one of the characters, news articles and other 'found objects.' I was fascinated by this unexpected mix of materials, and it brought a richness to the characters that continued into the graphic novel sections. As someone married to a comic book fan, I caught numerous funny and smart refere…

book review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

The basics: The World We Found is Thrity Umrigar's fifth novel. It's the story of four best friends, Nishta, Laleh, Kavita and Armaiti, who went to college together in Bombay in the late 1970's. Armaiti left for graduate school in the U.S., but when she is diagnosed with a brain tumor, her one wish is for her three friends to make the journey to visit her in the U.S.

My thoughts: The characters in this novel grabbed my attention immediately. Despite introducing so many characters in the first few pages, I never struggled to differentiate among them. The four women and their friendship are the crux of this novel, and I appreciated that Umrigar told the story in the present day while offering glimpses of the past. This novel also offers an impressive breadth of Indian history, from the demonstrations of liberal college students in the late 1970's to the Hindu/Muslim riots of the early 1990's to the state of religious attitudes today. While these issues play a strong r…

2012 Reading Goals & Plans for January

2012 Goals

As I look back at my Best of 2011 and Best of 2010 lists I'm struck again and again by the number of new-to-me authors I've discovered in the past two years and how much I love their work. I've been doing a nice job reading new releases by these authors, but this year I want to focus more on reading the backlists of authors I've enjoyed in the past. I'm not swearing off new releases, debut novelists or new-to-me authors by any means, but I want to make time for the authors I already love too. I'm aiming to read at least two books a month by authors whose work I've enjoyed in the past. My first priorities are the backlists of Ann Patchett, whose latest novel State of Wonder was my favorite read of 2011, and Pearl Cleage, who has been my favorite author for fifteen years, yet I haven't read any of her books in the last three years. I'll be reading or re-reading all of Pearl Cleage's novels, as well as several of her plays, this…

The Best of 2011

The Top 14
As I sat down to make my list of favorite reads of 2011, I ended up with a top 14. Last year I lucked into a top 10, but I also read about twenty more books this year, so that makes sense. I don't like to set an arbitrary number of titles for my Best of the Year list, so here are my favorite reads of 2011 (all are books I read in 2011, but not all were originally published in 2011.)

14. The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan (my review)
A love story told through dictionary definitions sounded so interesting I had to try it, even as I doubted how it would work as a novel. It worked beautifully and brilliantly, and it was a surprisingly emotional read.

13. Untold Story by Monica Ali (my review)
Untold Story was one of the titles I was most excited to read in 2011, as I adore literary fiction about real people. Monica Ali's imagination of what life would like today if Princess Diana had faked her own death was a suspenseful, character-driven novel I could not put do…