Thursday, April 29, 2010

A New Commandment

btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday question asks:
God comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book–one genre or period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?
Assuming for the sake of BTT argument that "literary fiction" far too broad to meet God's new requirement, I find myself in the position of all sinners -- trying to bargain with God: "If you'll just let me include a few books from other categories -- how about a couple of thrillers here and there? some classics? -- I'll never buy from a chain bookstore again; it's independent booksellers from here on out, I promise."

Assuming God isn't in a bargaining mood, at the risk of eternal damnation I would pick Mid-Century (20th) British Fiction -- novels from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. That would cover my favorite authors like Anthony Powell, Kingsley Amis, and Graham Greene, as well as a large chunk of the P. G. Wodehouse bibliography.

And I could spend time getting to know authors whose works I am not so familiar with, like Dorothy Sayers (later books), Muriel Spark, and C. P. Snow. I could start with the James Tait Black Memorial Prize winners from those three decades to find new authors, and take it from there.

I know I'd be missing out on great British fiction from earlier in the 20th Century, not to mention my American favorites, international authors, and the thousands of books from genres that I never knew existed until I started blogging (time-traveling teen-age shape shifters in love with code-solving werewolves, etc.). But it's not every day God gives a new commandment, so who am I to argue?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review of the Day: The Wall in My Head


The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, published by Words Without Borders Anthologies, is a powerful collection of fiction, essays, poetry, and historic documents about life behind the Iron Curtain after there was no more Iron Curtain. Most of the pieces are short stories, some by world-famous authors like Milan Kundera, some by authors known only in Eastern Europe.

This is a dense book and, because the pieces are written by behind-the-Iron-Curtain authors, there are insider references and imagery that take a while to figure out. But the overall picture built up through little details and different perspectives is fascinating. For example, this snippet from
"The Road to Bornholm" by Durs Grunbein really beings home what it must have been like to live through suh historic events as the fall of the Berlin Wall:
"He was surprised to read 'Bornholmer Strasse' on a sign on the Western side.  He had never considered that, on a city map, the connecting routes might continue uninterrupted, that the names might simply go on as before the Wall was built."
 This is a book that will stick with the reader long after the final page.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: L'Affaire



"Thinking of D. H. Lawrence gave her courage, for people were always having impulsive sexual encounters in Lawrence.  It was easier to think of doing so outside London, though she had done some fairly crazy things there, too, though never with an absolute stranger and mostly when she was a teenager and sort of miserable."

-- L'Affaire by Diane Johnson

That is such a perfect Diane Johnson passage -- a mix of titillation and erudition, with a little wry commentary ("sort of miserable") on the imagined turmoils of well-to-do women thrown in.


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




Monday, April 26, 2010

Mailbox Monday


I have a long list for Mailbox Monday, even though only one came in the mail. This week, I am also participating in Story Siren's version, In My Mailbox, although I should have posted it on Sunday.

Read, Remember, Recommend: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers by Rachelle Rogers Knight



Rachelle, aka Bibliobabe, got me a review copy of her fantastic book journal. It is just the thing for a list-obsessed reader like me. Thanks Rachelle!

After our big trial win on Friday, I was ready to celebrate, which I did with a little book shopping spree at my favorite used bookstore, Second Glance Books.

Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda (I don't have kids and I have no real interest in dinasaurs, but I love creative books and this one is amazing)



Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe by Sandra Gulland (on my French Connection list, but the second in the trilogy, which means I have to find the other two)



Larry's Party by Carol Shields (Orange Prize winner)



The World of Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse (an omnibus edition of all the Jeeves short stories -- thank goodness, because I am always losing track of which ones I've read)



If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (because it is one one of my lists, but I can't remember which one)



Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (on the Erica Jong list)



The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble (also on the Erica Jong list)



Journey to Portugal: In Pursuit of Portugal's History and Culture by Jose Saramago (in a nice hardback edition; I'm trying to read a book by all the Nobel Laureates)



The Message to the Planet by Iris Murdoch



Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review of the Day: A Small Fortune



Celia Donnelly comes from a long line of strong women with bad luck in husbands. Unfortunately for Celia, she has to learn of these family traits while fleeing kidnappers through the jungles of Mexico, roping her ex-lover into protecting her teenage son, and unraveling a complicated financial mystery.

Although A Small Fortune is her first published book, Audrey Braun writes like a pro, with none of the plot glitches or clunky dialog that plagues many a debut novel. Her literary style flows gracefully without weighing down the action or distracting from the story.

The only off note is the opening scene, which seems a little benign for the darker escapade to follow – more Anne Taylor than Mary Higgins Clark. But by page 30 or so, Braun has caught her stride and the story hurtles forward, never stopping until the exciting, satisfying finale. The plot becomes more complicated and layered as it progresses until the book is absolutely unputdownable.

This may fall in the category of "beach book," but don't wait for sun and sand to read this page-turner!


NOTE
I got this book from the author, who is a friend and former neighbor of mine. I warned her that I wouldn't post a review if I didn't like the book, but I am pleased to not have to rely on this back-up plan. This book was completely enjoyable. It kept me up past my bedtime several nights in a row, because I didn't want to stop.

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

Saturday, April 24, 2010

We Won!



The jury came back yesterday with a big win for my firm. I'm still giddy. And still reeling.

The story is on CNN,The New York Times, ABC, NPR, The Oregonian, and even foreign newspapers.  It's been on the tv news too and lots of blogs. The entire post-verdict press conference is on YouTube. Our client is still wide-eyed in it, but he did a good job.

This is all very exciting.

This is the first day I have had off in the last three months. I am celebrating my free time along with the trial victory by going book shopping.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hopping Around




I am still waiting for the jury to come back in the second phase of our trial. Once they are back, this six-week trial that has consumed the last four months of my life will be over. Whew!

While I wait, I've been hopping around, visiting blogs.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Last Day of Trial!

This is our last day of trial, so things are a little hectic and I don't think I'll get a regular post up -- at least not in a timely fashion.

Legal argument are this morning and closing arguments to the jury are this afternoon. Then we are done. We have no way to guess how long the jury will deliberate, but waiting is not working. We'll be antsy but unproductive after closing arguments. I may come back to blog then.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: L'Affaire



"All of Europe had been fascinated for the past few days by televised images of avalanches descending in the wake of storms on certain ski resorts and pretty villages in the Alps."

-- L'Affaire by Diane Johnson

I really enjoyed two of Johnson's earlier books about Americans in France -- Le Divorce and Le Mariage. I think this one is going to be just as good.

All three are on my French Connections list.

NOTE
Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners.   

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday Two-fer



"I rewrapped the wound, using the last of the gauze . . . . and that was when I looked up to see the iguana hissing in my face.
"I knocked the safety off the gun, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger."
-- A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun. Yes, she killed the giant, poisonous iguana. I just hope I would have the wherewithall to do the same if I were escaping through the jungle with a bullet wound. 

This is a great book. It is a lot of fun and exciting enough to keep me thinking of it until I can get back to it.



"He was surprised to read 'Bornholmer Strasse' on a sign on the Western side.  He had never considered that, on a city map, the connecting routes might continue uninterrupted, that the names might simply go on as before the Wall was built."
-- "The Road to Bornholm" by Durs Grunbein in The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, published by Words Without Borders Anthologies.
This book is full of powerful stories and essays about post-communist life in the former Soviet Bloc. But the most powerful are those, like this one, describing the actual fall of the Berlin Wall. 
When this book gets too dense, I take a break with A Small Fortune.

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





Monday, April 19, 2010

Mailbox Monday


Several books came into my house last week, three even came in the mailbox in time for Mailbox Monday. This week, I am also participating in Story Siren's version, In My Mailbox.

A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun (see here for my description, because I've already started this one)



The New York Stories by Elizabeth Hardwick (from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program)



The Garden Book, published by Phaidon (a treat for myself from Ampersand, my favorite artsy bookstore, after we won the first phase of our big trial)



A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (another from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program -- I double dipped last month)



Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review of the Day: The Marmot Drive


Published in 1953, The Marmot Drive was the first of John Hersey’s novels not set during WWII. It takes place over a weekend in a New England village, when the town decides to drive out a plague of “marmots” or woodchucks. This happens to be the weekend when Eben Avered brings his fiancĂ©e Hester out from New York City to meet his charismatic father, the town’s Selectman, and his faded mother.

The book is a mishmash of conflicts and contradictions. Eben and his father are in a continual battle over ideas, values, and Hester – the kind of battle all too recognizable between powerful men and their newly adult sons. Hester battles with Eben and herself. The villagers battle with each other, rearrange allegiances, and battle some more. And everyone battles the woodchucks.

The book has all the markings of allegory, but it hard to tell what the allegory is. Do the woodchucks stand for something else? Cityfolk? Black people? Commies? All might have been possible contenders back in the 1950s, depending on whether the village is to be condemned for the drive or praised. But the book does not tie things together so easily.

The novel ends up a big stewpot of paradox, where the characters are more bad than good, the country people more open minded than the city people, all of life more complicated than simple. It is thought-provoking and interesting, but peters out in a messy, paltry ending, just like the marmot drive itself.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review of the Day: Leaving Brooklyn


At my law office, we have a word for 15-year-old girls who have a sexual relationship with their 37-year-old doctors – we call them “clients.” I spend my days suing child molesters and the institutions that allowed the abuse. So the fact that I could set aside my professional and personal outlook and be swept up in this novel is a testament to Lynn Sharon Schwartz’s literary gifts.

In Leaving Brooklyn, Schwartz spins a post-war coming-of-age story out of the heroine’s damaged eye. Audrey is legally blind in her right eye, a lazy eye prone to wander on its own. The eye gives Audrey a creative, imaginary way of seeing “behind” things, including ideas. Her eye is the center point for the story; it is also a metaphor for the inward gaze that perfectly captures the mind of a 15-year-old girl.

Audrey feels stifled by what she considers the narrow-mindedness of her Brooklyn neighborhood. She escapes Brooklyn, and ultimately her childhood, through a series of weekly sexual encounters with her Manhattan eye doctor.

Schwartz tells the story as a memoir that entwines the adult Audrey’s perceptions with the child’s. In moving between the two – and in recognizing the ambiguity inherent in memory and perception – she paints an accurately ephemeral portrait of Audrey as “Everywoman.”


NOTES
Leaving Brooklyn by Lynn Sharon Schwartz was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. This super cool Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts edition has a new introduction by Ursula Hegi.

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

Friday, April 16, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: A Small Fortune



"It was partly my fault for staying up so late copyediting the latest volume in Dee Dee Dawson's Legends of Lust series."

-- A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun

So begins what is described on the back as "a fast-paced, sexy thrill-ride." I am very excited to read this for a couple of reasons.

First, my friend wrote it. She wrote it while waiting for her two (I think it's two) literary novels to finally percolate up to the top of some publisher's Must Print list.  In the meantime, she had fun writing this thriller -- using a thriller-ish pen name -- and I am going to have fun reading it. There is even a character in it with my first name.

(You can expect to hear nothing by praise from me for this one and I encourage everyone to buy a copy. When my friend becomes famous, you'll be happy you did.)

The second reason I am excited to read this is because I am alternating back and forth between this and The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, published by Words Without Borders Anthologies. When that one gets too dense, I switch over to Mexico beaches and adventure for a while.

NOTE
Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Challenge Update: Battle of the Prizes



Although I have not made any progress, so far, on my own challenge, others have. I want to thank everyone who has been participating. We have six reviews in so far. Click the links to get to the reviews.

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 by Saul Bellow on 100 Books. 100 Journeys 

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry on chaotic compendiums 

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler on Book Psmith 

There is still time to sign up and participate. The challenge requires reading only three book by the end of next January (1/31/11). Details are on the main challenge post or you can click on the logo button above.

There is also time to join the British Version if that is more your cup of tea. Details are here or you can click on the logo button.



Opening Sentence of the Day: The Wall in My Head



"In the mid-to-late 1990s, while living mostly in Moscow, I managed to travel through a good part of the former Soviet Bloc."

-- Introduction by Keith Gessen to The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain, published by Words Without Borders Anthologies.

This is one of my LibraryThing Early Reviewer books. I asked for it specifically because I think it sounds fascinating.

But now that I am getting into it, I realize that it is going to take me a while -- it is dense and, because the pieces are written by behind-the-Iron-Curtain authors, there are insider references and imagery that take me a while to figure out. Also, I can't tell which pieces are fiction and which are not, because it doesn't label the pieces.

I think it may be a book I am glad I read, even if I am not glad to be reading it. Do you read those kind of books?

NOTE
Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Marmot Drive



"One fog-lidded dawn in summertime a city girl, whose name was Hester, stood near the whipping post on the Tunxis village green with half a hundred strangers waiting to round up woodchucks."

The Marmot Drive by John Hersey

That may be my favorite opening sentence of the year. Woodchucks! You don't get to read a novel about woodchucks just every day.

I am on a mid-Century fiction jag, and this one definitely counts. It was published in 1953 and is about the conflicts that arise in a Connecticut village when the townsfolk gather to drive the "marmots" out of Thighbone Hollow.

I used some of my Reading Local contest money to buy this book from Hawthorne Boulevard Books, a little gem of a used book store in southeast Portland (and not to be confused with Hawthorne Books, our local literary publishing company).Thanks Reading Local!


NOTE
Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Leaving Brooklyn


"Had these women, hair carved by beauticians, bodies encased in God knows what steely underclothes, ever felt what I felt? . . . If they had, how could they be sitting here calmly playing mah jongg"

Leaving Brooklyn by Lynn Sharon Schwartz (nominated for the PEN/Faulkner; new introduction by Ursula Hegi; super cool Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts edition).

I love that carved hair image!


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




Monday, April 12, 2010

Mailbox Monday



While waiting for a jury last Friday (we are still waiting today), I went for a walk to stave off the jitters and, not surprisingly, ended up doing a little book shopping. I found several for my Mailbox Monday list.

Encore Provence by Peter Mayle (which it turns out I already have and have already read, but this Penguin edition is so pretty that it makes me want to read it again)



A Friend From England by Anita Brookner (because I am in a Brookner mood ever since learning the term "Aga saga" from Frances Mayes's A Year in the World)



The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald



Time's Arrow by Martin Amis



All would count for the Typically British challenge.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Review of the Day: Second Wind




Second Wind starts off like a typical Dick Francis novel: A random assortment of characters shows up at a Stately Home of England for a swanky weekend lunch and a prized racehorse ends up poisoned. But before you can button up your tweeds and pet the corgi, it switches to a meteorological adventure when two BBC weathermen decide to spend their vacation flying through a Caribbean hurricane.

In the course of bringing these two storylines together, Francis drags the reader on a rambunctious trip from Newmarket to Florida mansions to the Grand Caymans to a mysterious island of dubious ownership. It is not as tight a plot as Francis usually provides, and there is a lot of ink spent on weather science, but the loose ends get tied up for a satisfactory ending.


NOTES
This is one of the books I read for the Typically British challenge. Dick Francis certainly qualifies.

OTHER REVIEWS
Review of Even Money on Book Dilettante 

(If you would like your review of this book or any other Dick Francis book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review of the Day: Ex Libris



Ex Libris is Anne Fadiman’s “Confessions of a Common Reader,” a collection of essays on books, reading, and related foibles. She writes about particular books, but most of the essays are more generally book related, on topics such as marginalia, home libraries, inscriptions, compulsive proofreading, plagiarism, and fountain pens.

Fadiman on books is not laugh out loud funny like Nick Hornby in his book column for the Believer. But she is smart and warm-hearted and many a passage will make bibliophiles smile. For instance, her “Marrying Libraries” essay will touch a cord with anyone who has tried to merge their book collections with a live-in love. And most readers will recognize something in themselves when Fadiman describes her collection of books on Arctic exploration as her “Odd Shelf,” explaining:

It has long been my belief that everyone's library contains an Odd Shelf. On this shelf rests a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection, reveals a good deal about its owner.

These kinds of observations will keep book lovers flipping the pages and wishing Fadiman had included more essays in this short book.


NOTES
This is one of the books I read for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge.

I was bowled over by Fadiman's first book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, an anthropological classic about the clash between an Hmong family whose little girl has epilepsy and the Western doctors who tried to treat her. I never reviewed it because it was so overwhelming to me, but I recommend it highly.

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

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hopping Around

I am trying to be productive today while waiting for a jury to come back with a "Phase I" verdict in the trial I've been working on. But it is hard to concentrate, so real work is going to be all but impossible and hopping around looking at book blogs seems like the only kind of blogging I may be able to accomplish today.

Crazy-for-Books hosts a weekly Book Blog Hop "to give us all bookies a chance to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on!" Click the link or the button for details.


UPDATE: Woo hoo! Thanks to the Book Blogger Hop, I now have 100 followers! Thanks everyone! Of course, my list of blogs I follow is also growing -- hope I can keep up!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Plot Thickens . . .

This week's Booking Through Thursday question asks for a preference between plots or stream-of-conscious writing.

That's an easy one. Not since I tackled Ulysses in college have I been too enamored of the stream-of-conscious style. I admire books like The Sound and the Fury (see here) for the masterpieces they are, but I generally prefer a good story, well told.

I don't mean I need a lot of action and adventure (although they have their place), but I like things to happen in the book I read. This is clear from my Top 10 list of favorites -- all are plot-driven novels.

I am interested to read answers of people who prefer stream-of-conscious or am I? maybe they could convince me, if my foot didn't itch or I could go get coffee first, just what is conscious, anyway? if a book could really convince . . .

Opening Sentence of the Day: Leaving Brooklyn


"This is the story of an eye, and how it came into its own."

Leaving Brooklyn by Lynn Sharon Schwartz (nominated for the PEN/Faulkner; new introduction by Ursula Hegi; super cool Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts edition).

This novel has mesmerized me. I am generally not a fan of coming-of-age novels, not having much interest in teenagers since I stopped being one myself. But Audrey appeals to me. She has a "lazy eye" that is legally blind, but gives her a creative, imaginary way of seeing "behind" things, including ideas. Her eye is the center point for the story; it is also a metaphor, I think, for the inward gaze that perfectly captures the mind of a 15-year old girl.

NOTE

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review of the Day: Eden Springs



Laura Kasischke’s moody novella, Eden Springs, is a historical mystery of sorts, based the true story of a spooky religious colony on the shores of Lake Michigan in the early 1900s. The House of David in Benton Harbor, Michigan, was founded by Benjamin Purcell as a lakeside Eden where he and his avowedly celibate followers could await the Second Coming.

The colony thrived for many years, becoming rich first on fruit crops, later on proceeds from the Eden Springs amusement park. Followers of “King Ben” ran the park, staged musical performances, and fielded a baseball team famous for the players’ long hair and untrimmed beards.

From this factual background, Kasischke pulls at a loose thread of scandal, focusing on King Ben’s predilection for sleeping with his young female converts. Kasischke creates a narrative collage from third-person and first person fictional accounts, excerpts from contemporary news articles, court documents, Purcell’s own writings, and vintage postcards of the colony and park.

From this mix comes a story of religious fervor, egomania, lust, jealousy, and murder. Eden Springs is a captivating little book that linger long after the last page is turned.


NOTES

Eden Springs is part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series published by the Wayne State University Press.

This review first ran in the February 2010 edition of the Internet Review of Books

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Ex Libris


"It has long been my belief that everyone's library contains an Odd Shelf.  On this shelf rests a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection, reveals a good deal about its owner."

-- Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman.
What's on your Odd Shelf?
Here is a sampling from mine:

Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera by Nick Bantock



Creative Correspondence
by Judy Jacobs



Collage Lost and Found: Creating Unique Projects With Vintage Ephemera
by Giuseppina Cirincione




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





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