Sunday, January 31, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: My Life in France



"This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in my life: my husband, Paul Child, la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating. "

-- My Life in France by Julia Child

I want to be Julia Child.

Challenge: Book Awards Reading Challenge


This challenge dovetails nicely with my Battle of the Prizes Challenges -- both the American Version and the British Version -- as well as with several of the lists I am keeping track of.

The challenge involves reading ten books that won ten different prizes by November 1, 2010. My list may change, but I am thinking of reading ten from the following, because they are all on my TBR shelf now:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (National Book Critics Circle winner; finished, but I didn't review it)

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (Pulitzer winner)

Them by Joyce Carol Oates (National winner)

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch (Booker winner)

G by John Berger (James Tait Black winner)

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (Costa winner; reviewed here

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (Edgar winner; reviewed here)

Small Island by Andrea Levy (Orange winner, reviewed here)

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (Nobel winner)

Seaview by Toby Olson (PEN/Faulkner winner)

The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (Discover Award winner; reviewed here);


NOTE
Last updated on August 12, 2010.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Housekeeping Post: 2010 BBAW Resigtration

Best Literary Fiction Reviews

1) Review of Clown Girl by Monica Drake

2) Review of Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates;

3) Review of The Marmot Drive by John Hersey;

4) Review of Cold Comfort Farm by Sheila Gibbons; and

5) Review of Portland Noir, edited by Kevin Sampsell.

Best Written Book Blog

1) Review of Leaving Brooklyn by Lynn Sharon Schwartz;

2) Review of The Grail by Brian Doyle;

3) Review of A Year in the World by Frances Mayes;

4) Review of Eden Springs by Laura Kasischke; and

5) Review of City Limits by David Oates.

Review of the Day: Play It As It Lays




Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays is brilliant and heartbreaking. It packs more raw tragedy into its 214 pages than entire bookshelves can hold.

Maria Wyeth was a promising actress who starred in two feature films (one distributed) directed by her husband. But now Maria’s career has fizzled, her marriage is on the rocks, and her four-year-old daughter is institutionalized because she has “an aberrant chemical in her brain.”

Maria is heading for a big crack up. But before she gets there, she has to face an abortion, various adulteries, some rough sex, prescription drug issues, and jaded Hollywood ennui.

Didion’s novel is bleak, spare, and cold. The characters – even Maria – are not given to introspection. The scenes in the book feel like movie shots, with the emotion coming from what is seen and heard, not what is going on inside anyone’s head.

The abortion theme is particularly brutal – this book does for abortion rights what Looking for Mr. Goodbar does for sexual independence – but the whole book is difficult. It will leave a stain on the psyche.


NOTES
This book appears on the All-TIME Top 100 list and Erica Jong's list of Top 100 books by women.

OTHER REVIEWS
(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Eden Springs



"You dig a hole in the sandy dirt, and you lower the casket into it."

--Eden Springs by Laura Kasischke.

Ooooohhhh . . . A suitably creepy begining to this little novella about a religious colony on the shores of Lake Michigan in the early 1900s. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Challenge: The Battle of the Prizes, American Version


This challenge pits winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction against the winners of the National Book Award in the American Version of the Battle of the Prizes.  (Click here for the British Version.)

Does one prize have higher standards than the other? Pick better winners? Provide more reading entertainment or educational value? Maybe challenge participants will be able to answer these and more questions – maybe they will simply read three great books!

DETAILS

Chose three books that you have not read before:

1) One that won both the Pulitzer and the National (here is a list of double dippers);
2) One that won the Pulitzer but not the National (Pulitzer winners are here); and
3) One that won the National but not the Pulitzer (National winners are here).

OPTION: For those who have already read all six of the double-dippers, or otherwise do not want to read one of those six, pick two Pulitzer winners and two National winners for a total of four books.

OFFICIAL RULES 
  • Read all books between February 1, 2010 and January 31, 2011. 
  • Overlap with other challenges is allowed -- and encouraged! The Pulitzer Project and The National Book Award Project are logical crossovers. The great thing is, for those working on both these lists, completing the challenge means reading three books, but crossing four items off the lists.
  • You do not have to commit to your choices now; you can change your mind about books at any time.
  • Sign up here by leaving a link to your post in a comment, or the list of your three choices in the comment. I will add the links to the participant list in this post. 
  • As you progress, please let us know by leaving comments with links to progress reports and reviews. Reviews are not necessary, but encouraged. If you do not have a blog, put your reviews or reports in a comment on this post.
  • You can copy and paste the button. Or, if you want me to send you the code, please leave a comment with an email and I will. I cannot figure out the fancy ways of giving directions. 
    IDEAS

    You can find a list of last year's participants and links to their reviews here

    My original three choices were:

    1) The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter for my double dipper choice;

    2) Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler for my Pulitzer winner; and

    3) Them by Joyce Carol Oates for my National winner.

    I picked these three because they are all on my TBR shelf now and they give me a "prize winners by women" theme to work with.

    But, I switched when I read a Olive Kitteridge and Let the Great World Spin and decided to use those instead (reviews are listed below).  My plan is to read the Porter stories and go with a short story theme instead of a books by women theme. 

    PARTICIPANTS

    Rose City Reader
    chaotic compendiums (read her wrap-up post here)
    Musings 
    Oh, So Many Manias . . . 
    Joy's Blog
    Book In Hand
    ExUrbanis 
    100 Books. 100 Journeys
    J.G. at Hotch Pot Cafe (read her wrap-up post here)
    Remember to Breathe  (read her wrap-up post here)
    Book Psmith
    Man of La Book

    REVIEWS

    Morte d'Urban by J. F. Powers on Musings 

    World's Fair by E. L. Doctorow on chaotic compendiums

    Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner on 100 Books. 100 Journeys 

    The Adventures of Augie March on 100 Books. 100 Journeys 

    Lonesome Dove on chaotic compendiums 

    Breathing Lessons on Book Psmith

    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson on Musings

    The Color Purple by Alice Walker on chaotic compendiums

    Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann on Musings

    The Color Purple by Alice Walker on 100 Books. 100 Journeys

    Tinkers by Paul Harding on Musings

    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Muchael Chabon on Man of La Book

    The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter on Hotchpot Cafe

    The Optimist's Daughter on Hotchpot Cafe

    Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann on Man of La Book

    Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann here on Rose City Reader

    Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout here on Rose City Reader

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Opening Sentence of the Day: Play it as it Lays



    "What makes Iago evil? some people ask."

    -- Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

    Heroine Maria (pronounced Ma-eye-ah) follows this opener with the soul-deadened, "I never ask."

    This short, bleak novel about Hollywood shows up on several "must read" lists, including the All-TIME Top 100 and Erica Jong's Top 100 books by women.  I'm tearing through it because it is mesmerizing. But what a train wreck!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Teaser Tuesday


    He felt that there was something ridiculous in her proposal, and she did seem to him somewhat ridiculous. There was trouble enough in the world, he reflected, as he threw himself upon his bed, without people who were forty years old imagining they wanted to get married.
    -- O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

    Cather may have written O Pioneers! almost 100 years ago -- and it's been that long since Nebraskans were fighting to tame the prairie -- but there is nothing stale about her characters or this story. The love affairs and family dynamics still strike home.

    Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.




    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Mailbox Monday



    Thanks to Reading Local, I had a little book money in my jeans this weekend, so stopped by Broadway Books in time to pick up a little something for Mailbox Monday.

    I got the two Nick Hornby books I want to read for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge.  I got a big kick out of The Polysyllabic Spree (reviewed here) and am really looking forward to reading the other two.




    Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby



    I also found a used copy of It All Adds Up, a collection of non-fiction pieces by Saul Bellow.





    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Review of the Day: A Single Man



    George is A Single Man trying to get his life back on track following the death of his lover Jim. Christopher Isherwood’s short novel follows George through one day as he navigates the social, academic, and sexual channels of 1960s Los Angeles.

    George is feeling his age. His beloved canyon neighborhood has lost its pre-WWII Bohemian air – families with stay-at-home moms and salesman fathers have displaced the free-thinkers. The students in his English literature classes seem young and silly (although physically attractive). Jim’s former girlfriend is in the hospital, and George’s sodden best friend Charlotte wants to cry on his shoulder – or in his bed – every night.

    This book was hailed as a break-out gay novel. But George’s grief and emotional upheaval are universal. The book is warm-hearted, optimistic, and funny. At least, it is optimistic up through the conclusion of the story. The surprise twist at the very end feels tacked-on and unnecessarily morose. And it is only funny if read on paper – the audio version leached the humor out of the words and turned it into a self-conscious melodrama.

    NOTE
    This was a Library Thing Early Reviewer book for me, so finishing it means I can scratch it off my ER list and avoid one nagging message from LT.


    OTHER REVIEWS
    (If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    Challenge: Bibliophilic Books



    This is my organizational post for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge.

    I am excited about this one, because I thought I had imagined it, but it turns out it really exists. The point is to read books about books. They can be fiction or non-fiction, so there are plenty to chose from. There are many qualifying books on my TBR shelves right now, and I have really been in the mood for them.

    I signed up for the "Bibliomaniac" level, which means I have 12 to read by the end of the year. I do not have a final list yet, but I have several in mind.  There are enough choices on my TBR shelf that I chose all 12 from what I have now.

    There are a lot of author biographies on my list. I think they fall within the guidelines for the challenge, because they discuss the authors' books. But if they do not count, there are plenty of other choices on my list.

    FINISHED AND REVIEWED

    The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (reviewed here)

    The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White (reviewed here)

    Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (reviewed here)

    A Year in the World by Frances Mayes (reviewed here)

    Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby (not reviewed yet).

    GRABBING MY ATTENTION

    Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby


    Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, edited by Anne Fadiman

    99 Novels by Anthony Burgess

    The Well-Educated Mind by Wise S. Bauer

    How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom

    Studies in Classic American Literature by D. H. Lawrence

    The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

    Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

    At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries by Estelle Ellis

    The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World by Guillaume de Laubier

    Literary Essays by Mark Twain

    Speak Memory by Vladimir Nobokov

    Saul Bellow: A Biography of the Imagination by Ruth Miller

    Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius by Barbara Belford

    Capote by Gerald Clarke

    Greene on Capri: A Memoir by Shirley Hazzard

    Walks in Hemingway's Paris: A Guide To Paris For The Literary Traveler by Noel Fitch


    NOTES
    This post was last updated on September 22, 2010.

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    Review of the Day: The Polysyllabic Spree




    The Polysyllabic Spree is a collection of 14 essays that Nick Hornby wrote for the Believer magazine. Described on the cover as, “A hilarious and true account of one man’s struggle with the monthly tide is the books he’s bought and the books he’s been meaning to read,” it is the famous person’s version of a book blog.

    Hornby is a funny guy, so he brings some levity to a topic that can bring out the pomposity in the best of us. He admits that his lofty intentions often outpace his attention span and his whims divert him from his goals. He admits he forgets most of what he reads. He lauds literature over all other forms of entertainment in one essay, only to recant in the next because he watched a terrific football match. He makes literary criticism jolly.

    His consumption includes fiction, biography, science books, and poetry. He incorporates several reviews of the books he read into his essays and writes at length about some of his favorite authors. He salts this hotchpot with commentary about the reader’s life, such as this treat: “I’m not entirely sure why I chose those two in particular, beyond the usual attempts at reinvention that periodically seize one in a bookstore.”

    There are two more volumes in this series. With luck, they will be as inspiring and entertaining as this one.


    OTHER REVIEWS

    Vapour Trails

    (If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it)

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Favorite Unknown

    btt button

    This week, Booking Through Thursday asks:


    Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

    Since I tend to enjoy books by Mid-Century authors no one reads anymore (besides J.G. and C.S. at Hotch Pot Cafe, Joy, and a couple of other blogger buddies), I have several I could choose from.  Kingsley Amis springs immediately to mind, or even Helen McInnes. Or how about Frances Parkinson Keyes?

    But my first choice is -- and probably always will be unless there is a massive seachange in popular taste -- Anthony Powell.

    His Dance to the Music of Time is incredible and provides everything I want in a novel -- evolving characters, complex story, and England between the wars. Although published as 12 separate novels, Dance is usually listed as one "book" on "Must Read" lists like the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, so I fidge a little and always make it my "desert island" book

    Powell wrote several other novels, literary criticism, and four volumes of memoirs. I hope to read all his books. And I definitely plan to re-read Dance, likely more than once.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Opening Sentence of the Day: O Pioneers!



    "One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away."

    -- O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

    That is a terrific opening sentence. And it took me immediately back to my childhood in Waterloo, a little town anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, where I spent every January trying not to be blown away.

    This novel is on the Radcliffe list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century -- the rival to the Modern Library's list.  Finishing the Modern Library list inspired me to start this blog. Now I am inspired to get the Radcliffe list finished once and for all.

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Teaser Tuesday Trifecta

    My teasers have been stacking up, so I have three of them today.



    So this last month was, as I believe you people say, a bust.  I had high hopes for it too; it was Christmastime in England, and I was intending to do a little holiday comfort reading -- David Copperfield and a couple of John Bunyan novels, say, while sipping an eggnog and heroically plowing my way through some enormous animal carcass or another.


    -- The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby





    During the two weeks before the event he would cannibalize an appropriate police uniform and the accompanying accouterments.  He had already, weeks before, got hold of a police badge and the papers of a defunct colleague -- nothing that could withstand intensive scrutiny, but good enough to pass routine inspection while approaching the cordons leading to the Bolshoi Theatre.

    -- A Very Private Plot by William F. Buckley, Jr.



    Since Balzac's day, of course, Paris has changed. No one is too ambitious, since its populace is now cosseted in the meagre but constant comforts of the socialist state, and the city's glory days are long in the past.

    -- The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White



    Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.



    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Mailbox Monday




    Thanks to power-publicist Mary Bisbee-Beek, two books arrived at my house in time for Mailbox Monday.  Even though these are going straight onto my Guilt List, I am still excited about them.  Mary usually* sends me excellent books.

    Eden Springs by Laura Kasischke (a historical mystery kind of thing involving the true story of a creepy religious colony on the shores of Lake Michigan in the early 1900s -- it's all I can do to not read it right this minute)



    An American Map: Essays by Anne-Marie Oomen (essays inspired by travels -- so perfect for my mid-winter armchair traveler urges)



    I also finally had a minute to run into Second Glance Books to briefly chat with Rachelle, my favorite Portland bookseller and use my Reading Local contest money.  I only had time to browse few the first shelves, but found three books before I even got to the "D" authors:

    Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (on the Erica Jong list)



    Talking it Over by Julian Barnes (I've never read his books, but Nick Hornby mentioned him favorably in The Polysyllabic Spree)



    Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (I loved the movie and think Chabon is a genius, so predict that this will percolate to the top of my TBR shelf fairly quickly)




    *  I say "usually" because, although Mary has sent me several books that I have really, really enjoyed, such as Basil's Dream by Christine Hale (reviewed here) and Good for the Jews by Debra Spark (reviewed here), she is also responsible for The Letter from Death by Lillian Moats (reviewed here), my least favorite book of 2009.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    List of the Day: Man Booker Prize/James Tait Black Memorial Prize Crossovers

    Only three books have won both the Man Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize:

    Last Orders by Graham Swift in 1996;

    Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie in 1981; and

    G by John Berger in 1972.

    This may seem like no more than the answer to a random literary trivia question, but it is very important to those Anglophile readers participating in the Battle of the Prizes, British Version.

    State of the Blog, Part Three: The Authors


    This is the third part of my winter assessment of my 2009 reading progress and 2010 goals. Part One addressed my various lists. Part Two looked at my challenges.

    This post looks at progress on my author lists.

    THE AUTHORS



    Kingsley Amis
    Books read so far: 5/48
    Books read in 2009: one (The Alteration)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: at least one (One Fat Englishman, which I finished already)
    Books on my TBR shelf: 6

    Cara Black
    Books read so far: 2/9
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: one, if the one on my TBR shelf is the next in order
    Books on my TBR shelf: one

    James Lee Burke
    Books read so far: 13/17 (Dave Robicheaux series only)
    Books read in 2009: 3
    1. Black Cherry Blues
    2. Pegasus Descending
    3. The Tin Roof Blowdown (reviewed here)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: 2 or 3 -- I'm almost done with them
    Books on my TBR shelf: 3

    Lee Child

    Books read so far: 11/11 (unless he has a new one)
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: one if he gets a new one out
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    M. F. K. Fisher
    Books read so far: 4/27
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: 2, but I have not decided which ones
    Books on my TBR shelf: 4

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Books read so far: 8/13
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: probably zero, this is a future goal
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    Penelope Fitzgerald
    Books read so far: 2/9
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: one (The Bookshop)
    Books on my TBR shelf: 2

    Richard Ford
    Books read so far: 5/10
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: undecided
    Books on my TBR shelf: 3

    Jim Harrison

    Books read so far: 19/19 (prose only)
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: zero, unless he has a new prose book this year
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    Nick Hornby
    Books read so far: 2/11
    Books read in 2009: one (High Fidelity, reviewed here)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: 3
    1. The Polysyllabic Spree (which I already finished)
    2. Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
    3. Shakespeare Wrote for Money
    Books on my TBR shelf: one

    John Lescroart
    Books read so far: 16/17 (Dismus Hardy series and spin offs)
    Books read in 2009: one (Betrayal)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: one (A Plague of Secrets)
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    Elinor Lipman
    Books read so far: 4/10
    Books read in 2009: 3
    1. My Latest Grievance, reviewed here
    2. The Family Man  
    3. The Inn at Lake Divine
    Books I hope to read in 2010: one (Then She Found Me)
    Books on my TBR shelf: 2

    David Lodge

    Books read so far: 2/15 (fiction only)
    Books read in 2009: one (Changing Places, reviewed here)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: at least 2, but I don't know which ones
    Books on my TBR shelf: 8

    Ian McEwan

    Books read so far: 5/13
    Books read in 2009: 2
    1. The Innocent(reviewed here)
    2. Saturday
    Books I hope to read in 2010: at least one, but I do not have any on my TBR shelf
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    Jack Ohman
    Books read so far: 5/10
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: one (Angler Management)

    Books on my TBR shelf: one

    Anthony Powell
    Books read so far: 13/32
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: one (Venusberg)
    Books on my TBR shelf: one

    Philip Roth

    Books read so far: 8/30
    Books read in 2009: one (Goodbye, Columbus: And Five Other Short Stories, reviewed here)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: at least one, but I haven't decided which one
    Books on my TBR shelf: 5

    Martin Cruz Smith
    Books read so far: 6/6 (Arkady Renko series only)
    Books read in 2009: 2
    1. Red Square, reviewed here
    2. Stalin's Ghost
    Books I hope to read in 2010: zero, unless he comes out with another one
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    Julia Spencer-Fleming
    Books read so far: 5/7
    Books read in 2009: 3
    1. Out of the Deep I Cry
    2. To Darkness and to Death (reviewed here)
    3. All Mortal Flesh (reviewed here)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: 2
    1. I Shall Not Want
    2. One Was a Soldier 
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    William Styron
    Books read so far: 2/10
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: probably zero
    Books on my TBR shelf: 3

    Anne Tyler
    Books read so far: 4/18
    Books read in 2009: one (The Amateur Marriage)
    Books I hope to read in 2010: probably one, but I do not know which one
    Books on my TBR shelf: 5

    John Updike
    Books read so far: 8/26
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: at least one, but I do not know which one
    Books on my TBR shelf: 9

    Andrea U'ren
    Books read so far: zero/2
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: hopefully both of them
    Books on my TBR shelf: zero

    Simon Winchester
    Books read so far: 5/16
    Books read in 2009: zero
    Books I hope to read in 2010: two
    1. The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology
    2. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded
    Books on my TBR shelf: one

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Review: Massacred for Gold




    The Snake River divides the northeast corner of Oregon from Idaho and carved Hell’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America. In 1887, Chinese immigrants followed a trail of gold dust into the canyon to Dead Line Creek, a stream flowing over a large gravel bar to the Snake River. There, while mining for gold, as many as 34 of them were shot, axed, and beaten to death by a gang of horse-thieving outlaws from nearby Wallowa County.

    This mass slaughter – undetected until bodies started floating into Lewiston, Idaho – went virtually uninvestigated and unavenged for over a century, until newspaperman Gregory Nokes covered a story about trial documents “discovered” in an unused safe in the county courthouse in Enterprise, Oregon. Nokes turned amateur historian, spending over ten years wringing every clue and theory out of the scant evidence he could dig up. The result is Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon.

    The book covers the history of this long-forgotten incident, describing the varied contemporaneous accounts, the lackluster investigation, the escape of the three main culprits, and the halfhearted trial and foreseeable acquittal of three others. But he goes beyond the dry facts to question why no one at the time showed great concern for the victims – never bothering to learn or record more than eleven names of the people killed – and why even now the story tends to be hushed up and the victims forgotten without any lasting monument.

    Nokes’s personal involvement and first person narration may be a little off-putting for those looking for a straight-forward historical account. But his approach is an effective way of presenting his opinions and highlighting questions raised by the skimpy facts without muddying the story. The reader knows what the evidence is, and what Nokes argues the evidence shows, and can make his own conclusions.

    While Massacred for Gold has regional ties, Nokes puts the tragedy in national context. Any reader interested in the experience of 19th Century Chinese immigrants or the development of the American West will find this story fascinating.


    NOTE
    A slightly shorter version of this review was first published in the Internet Review of Books in December.

    OTHER REVIEWS
    (If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Opening Sentence of the Day: The Flaneur



    "Paris is a big city in the sense that London and New York are big cities and that Rome is a village, Los Angles a collection of villages and Zurich a backwater."

    -- The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White

    January is the month for armchair travel and this book is just the ticket.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    State of the Blog, Part Two: The Challenges



    I am not a big challenge person, although I appreciate the effort and hard work that bloggers go to to host so many enticing projects. I am too compulsive to sign up for a challenge and not complete it, so I do not sign up for many.

    In 2009, I joined and completed four challenges. There are more I want to sign up for in 2010, but I am sticking with challenges focusing on the types of books I like to read.

    2009 WRAP UP

    The Sunshine Smackdown: Battle of the Prizes



    I had to participate in this one -- I hosted it. The idea was to read one book that won the National Book Award, one that won the Pilutzer Prize, and one that won both. I am going to host it again in 2010, but it will start earlier, so not be a summer challenge.

    My wrap-up post is here. I read and reviewed three books:
    1. The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (winner of both the National and the Pulitzer; reviewed here)
    2. Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth (National winner; reviewed here)
    3. Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (Pulitzer winner; reviewed here)


    The 100+ Challenge



    My book total for 2009 was 111, so I completed the challenge. But I was pretty lame about posting my reviews. I did for a month or so, then stopped, went back in the summer and added several, then tapered off completely. Here is my completed list of books read in 2009, with links to reviews. I am signing up again for 2010, but I probably won't be any better about active participation.


    The Colorful Reading Challenge



    This was fun in that it got me to read several books I probably would not have gotten around to if I hadn't been looking for colors in titles. I completed the challenge on December 31 and didn't do a final wrap-up post -- this post is the closest I got. I read and reviewed nine books:
    1. RED: Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith (review) 
    2. BLACK: Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke (mini-review) 
    3. GOLD: Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California by Dinkelspiel, Frances (review) 
    4. GREEN: Blue Planet in Green Shackles: What Is Endangered: Climate or Freedom? by Vaclav Klaus (review) 
    5. YELLOW: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris (review)
    6. SILVER: The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso (review) 
    7. RUST: American Rust by Philipp Meyer (review)
    8. BLUE: Blue River by Ethan Canin (review)
    9. WHITE: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (review)


    The Spice of Life Challenge

    This one was super fun because I love books about food, and I liked that there were several different categories of books. I hope Rebecca hosts it again, because I want to sign up for a higher level. In 2009, I signed up for the "Sampler" level and read and reviewed four books
    1. Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger (my non-fiction choice; reviewed here)
    2. The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (my fiction choice; reviewed here)
    3. The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso (my cookbook choice; reviewed here)
    4. Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (my memoir/essay choice; reviewed here)

    2010 CHALLENGES

    Battle of the Prizes: American Version




    I am going to host this challenge again this year, but instead of just taking place in the summer, it is going to start February 1 and run to the end of the year. Otherwise, the same rules as last year will apply. I'll get the sign up page posted soon.



    Battle of the Prizes: British Version

    I am going to add a new challenge this year -- a British version of the Battle of the Prizes. This one will pit Man Booker Prize winners against the James Tait Black Memorial Prize winners.  I hope too get it up by February 1, but I have to make a challenge button first and I am having trouble finding a good picture.




    I am kicking myself for not signing up for this last year because I read enough books to meet the requirements. So I am going to sign up in 2010 for the "Mor-book-ly Obese" level. I am not sure which six 450+-page books (or three 750+-pagers) I will read, but there are several biggies on my TBR shelf that are vying for my attention.


    Bibliophilic Books Challenge



    I am excited about this one, because I thought I had imagined it, but it turns out it really exists. The point is to read books about books. They can be fiction or non-fiction, so there are plenty to chose from. There are many qualifying books on my TBR shelves right now, and I have really been in the mood for them.

    I am signing up for the "Bibliomaniac" level, which means I have 12 to read by the end of the year. I do not have a final list yet, but I have several in mind, starting with Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree.


    100+ Challenge



    Even with my anticipated mediocre participation (see above), I am signing up because I am pretty sure I'll read more than 100 books this year.





      Wednesday, January 13, 2010

      Opening Sentence of the Day: A Very Private Plot



      "Senator Hugh Blanton addressed the problem as an Old Testament prophet might have done."

      -- A Very Private Plot by William F. Buckley, Jr.

      It is 1995 and Senator Blanton is trying to pass a bill outlawing covert government action. His most popular argument is that a botched covert CIA operation in the mid-1980s almost triggered a Soviet first strike. Only two people in America know the truth -- CIA master-spy Blackford Oakes and former President Ronald Reagan -- and neither are talking.

      This is the tenth (of 11) Blackford Oakes novels Buckley wrote. I read the first eight books years ago, skipped the ninth book by mistake, and picked this up on a whim. They are all intelligent, elegant spy novels that span the Cold War. I will definitely finish the two I have left, but I have half a mind to go back and read all of them again.

      Tuesday, January 12, 2010

      Teaser Tuesday: One Fat Englishman




      "He congratulated himself on his foresight in constructing that dipsomaniacal son for the friend who was putting himself up in New York. Letting them enter one's base of operations was to be avoided whenever possible."

      -- One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

      In this passage, protagonist Roger Micheldene is pleased with himself for inventing a zany excuse for why he and his casual paramour cannot meet at his place. The whole book is Roger seducing various women, Roger drinking, Roger eating, and Roger arguing literature or religion with academic types. Typical Amis. And as hilarious as always.



      Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.



      Monday, January 11, 2010

      Dear Rose City Reader . . .

      A reader in distress! 

      My friend is in a quandary over a book her uncle gave her to read. It's not just any book -- it's a 900+ page tome he told her is his favorite book. She has now slogged her way through 200 pages, but it has been a battle, as she describes so eloquently below. 


      I'm still pondering what advice to offer. Any suggestions? We've all been in her predicament -- what would you tell her?

      Dear Rose City Reader:

      As a follower of your blog, I trust that you'll appreciate my angry book rant and related dilemma:

      My uncle and I, who really only see each other once a year at our family reunion, have a great tradition of exchanging book titles. He loves to read and discuss books - if we had an opening for a sincere and enthusiastic 60 year old Canadian guy in our all-girl book club, he might consider moving to Portland. He is so jealous of me.

      I confess I haven't read all of his picks yet, but I do keep track of them on a running list. This last August, he not only gave me titles but two actual hard copies of "favorites" of his - one in particular that he positively raved about. I am reading it now... it's a 900+ page behemoth called "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts. I didn't balk at the length starting in, in fact I was kind of excited about a long, rich novel because he had raved about it so. But I am only a little over 200 pages in, and feeling like I have the equivalent of 7,000 pages to go rather than a measly 700. Basically I am using it to put myself to sleep at night. All my efforts to make friends with this book have failed.

      The author is an Aussie who went off the deep end at some point in his young adulthood and committed a series of armed robberies, landed in prison, escaped from prison, lived as a fugitive for many years and ended up in Bombay where he started a medical clinic in the slums, bought and sold on the black market and got mixed up in the Indian mafia... and that just so happens to be exactly the life story of the "fictional" main character of the book. So for one thing... REALLY? But even if I could get past that, there is still the question of how, with subject matter like that, has the author managed to create a book so boring???

      The story has the potential to be an intriguing page turner ripe with opportunity to explore the events and impact of a completely different kind of life than I will ever live... but somehow I find myself more excited about folding my kids' laundry than reading this book. It contains a mix of laborious travel journal, predictable philosophical musings, unsatisfying character sketches, and in the 200 pages I've read so far, tragically minimal plot or movement. There are entire paragraphs and passages that I just want to cross out in frustration, asking "why in the world did I need to know ANY of that?"

      Case in point: "Abdullah rejoined us, bringing a cut-glass bowl filled with slices of mango, papaya, and watermelon. The scents of the fruits surrounded us as their tastes dissolved in our mouths. The singers began their next performance, singing just one song that continued for almost half and hour. It was a lush, tripartite harmony built upon a simple melody and improvised cadenzas." You've got to be kidding me. The protagonist has been whisked away in a car with two well-known mafia/assassin big-guys in Bombay, and he is unsure of the reason for their interest in him, and yet the author-who-is-actually-the-main-character dilly-dallies over the damn fruit bowl and the background music for an entire paragraph. Let me go back and read that again - was that CUT glass, you say? Did the tastes of the fruit dissolve in your mouth, or was it more of a melting sensation? Was there any pineapple? You didn't mention pineapple, but there could have been pineapple in the cut-glass bowl as well... Was it the song that lasted half an hour, or was it this plodding miscellany? It's beyond ridiculous. He chronically over-describes everything enough to make you think he was getting a kickback from his high school English teacher for each metaphor used.

      The one saving grace is that the main-character-who-is-really-the-author meets and befriends a charming Bombay tour guide named Prabaker, and the dialogue between the two is hilarious. The accent and grammar are captured so well - I would guess a lot of it is taken directly from actual conversations with the real-life Prabaker. Prabaker's efforts to understand the crazy Aussie and to help the crazy Aussie understand Indian culture are priceless, and the affectionately nicknamed "Prabu" is described with respect and genuine care. I find myself especially fond of dear "Prabu," and sadly he has not been prominently featured in the last 50 pages or so. I miss him terribly.

      So, Rose City Reader, I would very much appreciate your opinion or at least your commiseration. Here's my dilemma... I am 200+ of 900 pages in, with no sense that this book is actually going to go anywhere. Aside from Prabaker, I am completely over it. I could easily just put it down and move on to a Sylvia Plath for a little pick-me-up. Except for... my sweet uncle. He loved it! And he knows I'm reading it. And because books are a key element of our relationship, I would love to be able to talk with him about it. Even if I don't ever like the book, it would still be nice to know the full story arc and talk with him about the parts I did like. If I don't finish it, I won't be able to fully appreciate his insights and why he liked it so much vs. why I didn't. I know he would not be devastated if I didn't read it, but I do think it would make him kind of sad. I just don't know if I can make myself slog through it! My recreational reading time is so rare and precious, I feel like I am throwing it away on this book. But I'm also a big "finish what you start" type... Oh, the contradictions plague me like the relentless monsoons which fall from a slate-colored sky to form rivulets meandering like restless wanderers through the poorly planned avenues of the illegal slums of Bombay which sprung up during the construction of the city's tallest skyscrapers like bamboo shoots reaching thirstily toward the very source of the aforementioned monsoon rains... help!

      -- Nervous Niece

      Mailbox Monday



      This book actually arrived a couple of weeks ago, but got lost in the post-Christmas mess in my house, so only made it to my Mailbox Monday list this week.

      A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood



      I got this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.  Even though I have vowed to lay off the Early Reviewer books, I asked for this one because it has been on my radar for a while (it is on the Anthony Burgess list of best 99 novels) and I want to read it. I didn't realize that this is the audio version, but that is fine by me.

      Also, I cannot believe that I forgot to list this one last week -- I have wanted a copy for a long time and Hubby gave me a beautiful hardback edition for Christmas:

       99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 by Anthony Burgess. I have been keeping track of this list for a while now and while I haven't read many of the books on it, those I have read have been some real favorites.



      Sunday, January 10, 2010

      State of the Blog, Part One: The Lists



      It is now winter, a new year, and time to assess what progress I made on my lists in 2009 and what I hope to read this year.

      My List of Lists is over in the right-side column. These are Prize Winners, Must Reads, and other lists of books I have read or intend to read for some reason or another. Also in the right-side column is a list of my favorite authors. I add to both lists from time to time.

      This is a three-part assessment. This first part addresses the book lists. Part Two, coming soon, will deal with the challenges I participated in last year and plan to join this year. Part Three will run through the author lists.

      THE LISTS

      1899 Top 100
      Books read so far: 7/100
      Books read in 2009: zero
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 2
      1. The Moonstone by Willkie Collins
      2. Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz
      Books on my TBR shelf: 13

      All-TIME Top 100
      Books read so far: 73/100
      Books read in 2009: one-third (I read The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: two-thirds (I really hope to finish The Lord of the Rings.)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 15

      Anthony Burgess
      Books read so far: 26/99
      Books read in 2009: one (How to Save Your Own Life by Erica Jong; reviewed here)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 2
      1. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
      2. Strangers and Brothers by C.P. Snow
      Books on my TBR shelf: 20

      BBC's Big Read
      Books read so far: 52/100
      Books read in 2009: 5+
      1. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham(reviewed here)
      2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens(reviewed here)
      3. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
      4. Crime and Punishment
      5. I Capture the Castle
      6. plus another one-third for The Fellowship of the Ring
      Books I hope to read in 2010: maybe none
      Books on my TBR shelf: 11

      Book Club
      Books read so far: 15/16
      Books read in 2009: 6
      1. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Keysey
      2. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
      3. Davita's Harp by Chiam Potok
      4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
      5. Plainsong by Kent Haruf
      6. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 6 (but I don't know what they are yet)
      Books on my TBR shelf: one (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz)

      College Board
      Books read so far: 75/101
      Books read in 2009: one (Treasure Island)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: one (The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 14

      Costa Book of the Year
      Books read so far: 3/24
      Books read in 2009: two
      1. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, reviewed here 
      2. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, reviewed here
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 2
      1. The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
      2. Small Island by Andrea Levy
      Books on my TBR shelf: 2

      Easton Press
      Books read so far: 55/100
      Books read in 2009: 3
      1. Great Expectations (reviewed here)
      2. Treasure Island
      3. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
      Books I hope to read in 2010: one (Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 25

      Edgar Award
      Books read so far: 4/55
      Books read in 2009: zero
      Books I hope to read in 2010: one (New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 5

      Erica Jong
      Books read so far: 29/100
      Books read in 2009: one (The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: several, including
      1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      2. Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier
      3. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
      Books on my TBR shelf: 19

      French Connection
      Books read so far: 42/107 (and counting -- there are more books to add to the list)
      Books read in 2009: one (Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger; reviewed here)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: at least 2
      1. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
      2. The Flaneur by Edmund White
      Books on my TBR shelf: 20

      Books read so far: I don't keep track, because I delete them after I read them
      Books read in 2009: same
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 5
      1. The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
      2. The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda
      3. The Evolution of Shadows by Jason Quinn Malott
      4. Portland Noir, edited by Kevin Sampsell
      5. The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt by Rulka Langer
      Books on my TBR shelf: 5

      James Tait Black Memorial Prize
      Books read so far: 8/96
      Books read in 2009: one (Saturday by Ian McEwan)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: one (The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 7

      LT Early Reviewers

      Books read so far: 21/25
      Books read in 2009: 10
      1. The Amish Cook at Home by Lovina Eicher (reviewed here)
      2. Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer (reviewed here)
      3. American Rust by Philipp Meyer (reviewed here)
      4. Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger (reviewed here)
      5. Forbidden Bread by Erica Johnson Debeljak (reviewed here)
      6. The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley (reviewed here)
      7. The Stettheimer Dollhouse by Sheila W. Clark (reviewed here)
      8. Joker One by Donovan Campbell (reviewed here)
      9. The Fire by Katherine Neville (reviewed here)
      10. American Lion by Jon Meacham (reviewed here)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 4
      1.  Maimonides: and the Biblical Prophets by Israel Drazin
      2. Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow
      3. The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, published by Words Without Borders Anthologies
      4. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (audiobook)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 4

      Man Booker Prize

      Books read so far: 21/43
      Books read in 2009: zero
      Books I hope to read in 2010: at least one, but I don't know which
      Books on my TBR shelf: 14

      MLA's 30
      Books read so far: 21/30
      Books read in 2009: one and 1/3
      1. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
      2. one-third for The Fellowship of the Ring
      Books I hope to read in 2010: one (The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 4

      Modern Library
      Books read so far: all of them!
      Books read in 2009: zero ( finished this list a couple of years ago)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: none
      Books on my TBR shelf: zero

      National Book Award

      Books read so far: 24/63
      Books read in 2009: 4
      1. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
      2. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
      3. The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (reviewed here)
      4. Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth (reviewed here)
      Books I hope to Read in 2010: 2 (for the Battle of the Prizes Challenge, but I haven't picked yet)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 13

      NBCC Award
      Books read so far: 15/33
      Books read in 2009: zero
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 2
      1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
      2. Counterlife by Philip Roth
      Books on my TBR shelf: 9

      Nobel Laureates
      Authors read so far: 19/105
      Books read in 2009: 3
      1. The Complete Short Stories by Earnest Hemingway (reviewed here)
      2. The Beggar by Naguib Mahfouz (reviewed here)
      3. The Plague by Albert Camus
      Books I hope to read in 2010: one (Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 30 (but most by authors already read)

      Observer's Top 100
      Books read so far: 55/100
      Books read in 2009: 3+
      1. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (reviewed here)
      2. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
      3. The Plague by Albert Camus
      4. plus another one-third for The Fellowship of the Ring
      Books I hope to read in 2010: 2+
      1. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
      2. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
      3. the last two book in The Lord of the Rings
      Books on my TBR shelf: 19

      Orange Prize
      Books read so far: 1/13
      Books read in 2009: zero
      Books I hope to read in 2010: one (Small Island by Andrea Levy
      Books on my TBR shelf: 4

      Oregon Books
      Books read so far: 3/20
      Books read in 2009: two
      1. The River Why by David Duncan
      2. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey 
      Books I hope to read in 2010: maybe none
      Books on my TBR shelf: 2

      Pulitzer Prize
      Books read so far: 38
      Books read in 2009: 3
      1. Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (reviewed here)
      2. The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (reviewed here)
      3. March by Geraldine Brooks (reviewed here)
      Books I hope to read in 2010: at least 2, maybe 3:
      1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
      2.  something for the Battle of the Prizes Challenge, but I haven't picked yet
      Books on my TBR shelf: 19

      Radcliffe's Top 100
      Books read so far: 86/100
      Books read in 2009: one-third for The Fellowship of the Ring
      Books I hope to read in 2010:6+
      1. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
      2. the rest of The Lord of the Rings
      3. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
      5. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
      6. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
      7. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
      Books on my TBR shelf: 11

      RCR Top 10
      Books read so far: 10/10 (it's my list)
      Books read in 2009: zero (the list did not change -- so far)
      Books I hope to Read in 2010: maybe a new book will make it to the list
      Books on my TBR shelf: zero

      Well-Stocked Bookcase
      Books read so far: 35/60
      Books read in 2009: zero
      Books I hope to Read in 2010: one (The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath)
      Books on my TBR shelf: 14

      I am thinking of concentrating on the Radcliffe list in 2010 because I have a shot at finishing that one once and for all. The books remaining also overlap with several other lists, so I could really make hay.

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