Friday, February 27, 2009

House Moving!

We're moving house this weekend, so no internet for a while. Back soon!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Notes: A Summons to Memphis

Set in mid-Twentieth Century Tennessee, Peter Taylor's Pulitzer-winning A Summons to Memphis is a lovely novel of manners that teaches the importance of going beyond forgetting, beyond even forgiving, and trying to actually understand our parents. Wonderful.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Author of the Day: Cara Black

When I was compiling my French Connection list, I included books from a Paris-based mystery series by Cara Black -- part of the fantastic Soho Crime collection of mysteries set in foreign locales.

Black, who lives and writes in San Francisco, has done a masterful job with her Parisian novels. Amiee Leduc is half-American, smart, and feisty as all get out. She runs a computer forensic business, which gives her some investigative skills, but still makes her an amateur sleuth when it comes to solving murder mysteries. The books have solid, out of the ordinary plots with plenty of action and excitement. Black captures the mood as well as the sensory details of semi-contemporary Paris (several of the books, maybe all, are set in the early 1990s, about seven or eight years before the first book was published), but also provides vivid historic context when related to the mystery.

I read the first book in the series, Murder in the Marais, in preparation for meeting Black at a Mystery Writers' Conference I attended in 2005. Although the book had a few rough edges, I was intrigued. I then read the third book (by mistake -- I hate going out of order), found the rough edges smoothed considerably -- it is much a more professional product but kept the charm -- and I was definitely hooked. But I put off reading the others because I wanted to make them last, then unfortunately got distracted by other books, and have just now renewed my interest in catching up with the adventures of Aimee Leduc.

Those I have read are in red. Those on my TBR shelf are in blue.

Murder in the Marais

Murder in Belleville (reviewed here)

Murder in the Sentier

Murder in the Bastille

Murder in Clichy

Murder in Montmartre

Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis

Murder in the Rue de Paradis

Murder in the Latin Quarter

Murder in the Palais Royal

Murder in Passy

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge


Last updated April 19, 2012.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Books Read in 2005

This is the list of books I read in 2005, in the order that I read them. For an explanation of my rating system, see here.

Going over this list makes me remember this particular year of reading with surprising clarity. I was trying very hard to work my way through the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. I was also starting to focus on Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award winners.

Both goals were sidetracked for a while when I turned my attention to mysteries by the authors who spoke at a Mystery Writers' Conference I attended in the summer, during a period when I fantasized about giving up the practice of law to write legal thrillers.

And, finally, there is a clump of books near the end of the year that remind me of my favorite vacation in Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. It is wonderful how just the titles can pull up such crystal clear memories.

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan (4/5)

Gigi by Colette (on my French Connection list) (4/5)

Total Control by David Baldacci (3/5)

Some Do Not by Ford Maddox Ford (Vol. 1 of Parade's End) (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list) (4/5)

No More Parades by Ford Maddox Ford (Vol. 2 of Parade's End) (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list) (4/5)

A Man Could Stand Up by Ford Maddox Ford (Vol. 3 of Parade's End) (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list) (4/5)

Last Post by Ford Maddox Ford (Vol. 4 of Parade's End) (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list) (4/5)

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list) (4/5)

God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell (4/5)

Collected Short Stories by Erskine Caldwell (3.5/5)

The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by A. S. Byatt (3/5)

A Room With a View by E. M. Forster (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the Radcliffe Top 100 list) (4/5)

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the All-TIME 100 list; on the Radcliffe Top 100 list) (4/5)

The Hearing by John Lescroart (3.5/5)

Critical Mass by Steve Martini (3/5)

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (on the All-TIME 100 list) (4.5/5)

The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett (4/5)

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list) (5/5)

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett (4/5)

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (4/5)

The Travels of Jamie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor (out of print; winner of the Pulitzer Prize) (3.5/5)

The Healing Power of Forgiveness by Ray Prichard (3/5)

Suspicion of Madness by Barbara Parker (3.5/5)

In the Moon of Red Ponies by James Lee Burke (3/5)

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the Easton Press list of 100 Greatest Novels; on the Radcliffe Top 100 list) (3.5/5)

The Deepest Water by Kate Wilhelm (2.5/5)

Loving by Henry Green (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the All-TIME 100 list)(3/5)

The Heat Islands by Randy Wayne White (2.5/5)

The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (winner of the Booker Prize) (3/5)

Straight Life by Art Pepper (3/5)

Deja Dead by Kathy Reicht (3/5)

Maisie Dobbs by Jaqueline Winspear (2.5/5)

The Run by Stuart Woods (2.5/5)

Killing Floor by Lee Child (4/5)

San Francisco as You Like It by Bonnie Wach (3.5/5)

Murder in the Marais by Cara Black (3/5)

The Avenger by Frederick Forsyth (3/5)

Shell Games by Kirk Russell (3/5)

A Darker Place by Laurie King (3/5)

Special Circumstances by Sheldon Sielgel (3/5)

Moist by Mark Haskell Smith (3/5)

Caught Dead in Philadelphia by Gillian Roberts (3/5)

Misdemeanor Man by Dylan Schaffer (3/5)

Die Trying by Lee Child (3.5/5)

Folly by Laurie King (3.5/5)

Incriminating Evidence by Sheldon Siegel (3/5)

Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs (3/5)

The Smoke by Tony Broadbent (3/5)

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth (4/5)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (3/5)

A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the All-TIME 100 list) (4/5)

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben (3/5)

In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke (3/5)

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank (3.5/5)

Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard (3/5)

Deliberate Intent by Rod Smolla (3/5)

Fugitives and Refugees by Chuck Pahaluk (3.5/5)

The Case Against Hillary Clinton by Peggy Noonan (3/5)

The Nanny Diaries by Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus (3/5)

A Strong Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list) (3.5/5)

Courting Trouble by Lisa Scottoline (3/5)

Vernon God Little by D. B. C. Pierce (winner of the Booker Prize) (1.5/5)

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (4.5/5)

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the All-TIME 100 list; on the Radcliffe Top 100 list) (4/5)

A Death in the Family by James Agee (winner of the Pulitzer Prize; on the All-TIME 100 list) (4/5)

Three Junes by Julia Glass (National Book Award winner) (3.5/5)

Last Car to Elysian Fields by James Lee Burke (3/5)

Last Orders by Graham Swift (winner of the Booker Prize) (4/5)

Code to Zero by Ken Follett (3/5)

Native Son by Richard Wright (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the All-TIME 100 list; on the Radcliffe Top 100 list) (4/5)

State of Fear by Michael Critchton (4/5)

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the All-TIME 100 list) (3.5/5)

An Obvious Enchantment by Tucker Malarky (3/5)

True North by Jim Harrison (3/5)

The Americans by John Jakes (3/5)

American Pastoral by Philip Roth (on the All-TIME 100 list) (4/5)

An Offer of Proof by Robert Heilbrun (3/5)

Kim by Rudyard Kipling (on the Modern Library's Top 100 list; on the Radcliffe Top 100 list) (4.5/5)

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (winner of the Booker Prize) (4/5)

Running Blind by Lee Child (3/5)

Slander by Ann Coulter (3.5/5)

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (5/5)

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman (3/5)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

List: The French Connections

I occasionally go through armchair traveler spells when I like to read books about France -- never books in French, as I am a definite monoglot, but books with some connection to France. In anticipation of such spells, I keep a TBR list of Frenchy books and at least a couple on my TBR shelf.

What I liked best about Debra Ollivier's Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, besides its perfect cover, were the book recommendations salted throughout. In addition to specific recommendations in sidebars labeled "Le Livre," Ollivier included book suggestions in her mini-biographies of "French Girls We Love."

My list of French-themed books follows. These are books that I have read or want to read. Those I had read are in rouge. Those on my TBR shelf are in bleu. Those recommended in Entre Nous are marked with an asterisk.

This is a long list, but I would still welcome suggestions!

Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle

L’Affaire by Diane Johnson

An Alphabet for Gourmets by M. F. K. Fisher*

Anything Considered by Peter Mayle

Apéritif : Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French Style by Georgeanne Brennan

Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger (reviewed here)

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling*

Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan*

Break of Day by Collette*

The Castle of Pictures and Other Stories: A Grandmother’s Tales by George Sand*

Catherine de Medici by Honoré de Balzac (out of print)

Chanel: Her Style and Her Life by Janet Wallach*

Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle

The Cheese Plate by Max McCalman*

Cheri by Colette*

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

Consider the Oyster by M. F. K. Fisher

Corked by Kathryn Borel (reviewed here)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in Nineteenth-Centur by Joanna Richardson

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Death in the Truffle Wood
by Pierre Magnan

The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin*

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Earthly Paradise: Colette’s Autobiography Drawn from Her Lifetime Writings, edited by Robert Phelps*

Elle Décor: The Grand Book of French Style by Francois Baudot and Jean Demachy

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Encore Provence by Peter Mayle

Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier (reviewed here)

The Feasting Season by Nancy Coons

The Flaneur by Edmund White* (reviewed here)

The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells*

The Food of France by Waverley Root (reviewed here)

The Fragrant Year by Caire Louise Hunt*

French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle

French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair in Burgundy by Jeffry Greene

French Ways and Their Meaning by Edith Wharton*

The Gastronomical Me by M. F. K. Fisher*

Gigi by Colette*

The Glass-Blowers by Daphne Du Maurier

A Good Year by Peter Mayle

At Home in France: Eating and Entertaining with the French by Christopher Petkanas*

At Home in Provence: Recipes Inspired By Her Farmhouse In France by Patricia Wells

Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle

How to Cook a Wolf by M. F. K. Fisher*

Inspirations from France & Italy by Betty Lou Phillips

Joan of Arc by Mark Twain*

Joan of Arc: Her Story by Regine Pernoud*

The Josephine Bonaparte Collection (a three-volume fictionalized biography) by Sandra Gulland*

Josephine: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker*

The Lais of Marie de France*

A Life in Letters: Correspondence 1929-1991 by M. F. K. Fisher

A Literary Passion by Anais Nin and Henry Miller (letters)*

Living in Provence by Dane McDowellf

The Lover by Marguerite Duras*

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert*

Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford*

Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress by Colin Jones*

Mademoiselle Fifi and Other Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser*

Le Marriage by Diane Johnson

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vols. I and II, by Julia Child*

Meet Me in Venice by Elizabeth Adler

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

The Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnan

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

Murder in Belleville by Cara Black (reviewed here);

Murder in the Marais by Cara Black

Murder in the Sentier by Cara Black

My Life in France by Julia Child (reviewed here)

Nana by Emile Zola

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce*

Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (translated by M.F.K. Fisher)*

A Place in the World Called Paris, edited by Steven Barclay

Postmark Paris by Leslie Jonath

The Power of Style by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins*

Practicalities by Marguerite Duras*

Provence A - Z by Peter Mayle

Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France by Ina Caro

Rosa Bonheur: The Artist’s (Auto) Biography by Anna Klumpke*

Saint Joan of Arc by Vita Sackville-West*

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

The Sea Wall by Marguerite Duras*

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir*

Serve it Forth by M. F. K. Fisher*

She Came to Stay [L’Invitee] by Simone de Beauvoir*

Silk Roads: The Asian Adventures of Clara and Andre Malraux by Axel Madsen

Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux*

Son of Holmes by John Lescroat

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Taste of Provence by Francie Jouanin

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fizgerald

Therese Raquin by Émile Zola (reviewed here)

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Two Towns in Provence by M. F. K. Fisher*

The Vagabond by Colette

Vie De France: Sharing Food, Friendship and a Kitchen in the Lorie Valle by James Haller (reviewed here)

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

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

A Well Kept Home: Household Traditions and Simple Secrets from a French Grandmother by Laura Fronly and Yves Duronson*

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNiel*

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

List updated July 18, 2016.

Boston Bibliophile's list of French favorites

If you have a similar list or are reading the books on this list, please leave a comment with links to any progress reports or reviews and I will add them here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review of the Day: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Artscatter – a terrific arts and culture blog that just celebrated its first blogoversary – stirred up some punctuation passion the other day. This reminded me to post my mini-review of Lynne Truss's quirky punctuation guide, Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. It is easy to understand the popularity of this book, because it is far from a typical grammar primer. Truss leans more to anecdote than rote – her guide is sort of a Bridget Jones version of Elements of Style. She uses lots of good examples ("cute" may be more accurate) and is good about pointing out the differences between British and American usage. Although aimed at punctuation sticklers, Eats, Shoot & Leaves would be an entertaining introduction for the punctuation-challenged. It covers all the basic punctuation marks and rules, but not the trickier stuff.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

List of the Day: 20 Greatest Oregon Books

Living in Oregon, it seems like a worthwhile goal to read books by Oregonians or about life in Oregon. According to Portland Monthly magazine, these are the "20 Greatest Oregon Books Ever."

Those I have red are in red; those on my TBR shelf are in blue.

Here is the list, from the October 2006 issue of Portland Monthly, compiled by Brian Doyle, editor of the University of Portland’s PortlandMagazine:

1. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

2. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

3. Winter Count by Barry Lopez

4. The River Why by David Duncan

5. Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks: Stewart Holbrook’s Lowbrow Northwest by Stewart Hall Holbrook

6. The Country Boy by Homer Davenport

7. Ricochet River by Robin Cody

8. Stepping Westward: The Long Search for Home in the Pacific Northwest by Sallie Tisdale

9. Hole in the Sky by William Kittredge

10. True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

11. The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest by Alvin M. Josephy

12. The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis

13. Oregon Geographic Names by Lewis A. McArthur 

14. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

15. Fire at Eden’s Gate: Tom McCall & the Oregon Story by Brent Walth

16. The Jump-Off Creek by Molly Gloss

17. Every War Has Two Losers by William Stafford

18. Nehalem Tillamook Tales

19. To Build a Ship by Don Berry

20. In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History by Ellen Morris Bishop

I think there are a couple of others that could be included in a list of great Oregon-themed books, such as the new anthology of Oregon writings, Citadel of the Spirit; another anthology called Varieties of Hope, as well as the other books in the Oregon Literature Series published by the Oregon State University Press; and Robert Miller's Native America "Discovered" and Conquered, in which he examines how the doctrine of Manifest Destiny led to the creation of Oregon at the expense of Native Americans' property rights.

I welcome other suggestions.

UPDATE: Hat tip to Gabe at Reading Local for providing the link to the Oregon State Library's list of 150 Oregon books.  The library compiled this list to commemorate Oregon’s sesquicentennial, which Oregonians celebrated on February 14, 2009: "The list consists of 150 books for children, teens and adults that describe the Oregon experience, including fiction, non-fiction, history, and poetry."

OTHERS READING THE BOOKS ON THIS LIST (If you would like to be listed here, please leave a comment with links to your progress reports or reviews ans I will add them here.)

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire

"Once upon a time there was a little girl name Alice Green who lived on what people who don’t know any better would call a farm, but which her family called their country estate." The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C. M. Mayo Kind of interesting -- going with the old tried-and-true "once upon a time" line. You really do not see that in adult books. Either this is going to be a great yarn, or too cute by half. I look forward to finding out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review of the Day: Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut may be justifiably famous and a classic of all times, but it was not a book for me. I had avoided reading Vonnegut's best-known novel because I thought it would be unbearably dreary. How could a book about the firebombing of Dresden during WWII not be dreary? But it is on the Modern Library's Top 100 list, so I finally got around to it, and I found my answer. If you write a book about the firebombing of Dresden and fill it with time travel, space ships, and extraterrestrials, it is not dreary, it is goofy. But I do not care for goofy books about extraterrestrials, especially when they are really serious books about the morality of firebombing your enemy during war. Personally, I would rather have a dreary, realistic book than a goofy book. I know others disagree and think this book is the be-all/end-all and that Vonnegut walks on water. In fact, I acquired my first literary stalker when I posted my review of Slaughterhouse-Five on LibraryThing. A fellow reader disagreed with my opinion and wanted to argue me into the ground on every idea and nuance in the book. I had to send him a "lose my number" message and block him from my profile -- pretty harsh measures among bibliophiles. So it is with a little trepidation that I add the note that I just finished Cat's Cradle and I was not particularly wowed by that one either. I enjoyed it more than Slaughterhouse-Five, but I am simply not a fan. So it goes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More on Julia Spencer-Fleming

After my recent post about author Julia Spencer-Fleming and her Clare Fergusson mystery series, I received a nice email from Ms. Spencer-Fleming:
Thank you so much for featuring me on your blog -- and for letting me know! I'm delighted you're enjoying the series. There is another on the way; I'm working on One Was A Soldier right now, and it should be out in fall '09 or winter '10. In it, a group of Iraqi War vets try to pick up their lives and relationships in Millers Kill. When Russ Van Alstyne rules the death of one of the group a suicide, Clare goes against him and the MKPD to prove the soldier was murdered. (I always feel I should add, "Or was he..?" after that breathless description. I'm terrible at boiling down my own work into a single sentence.) I hope you find the later books as satisfying as the first three! Yours, Julia
The new book sounds great. I will get to work reading the next three on my list so I am caught up with the series when the new one comes out.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Top Ten Myths of American Health Care

"Few issues in American politics capture more attention – and passion – than health care." The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen's Guide by Sally C. Pipes True. And timely. Let's see what Ms. Pipes has to say. Her first book on the subject, Miracle Cure, was packed with interesting and intriguing information. I am sure I will learn a great deal from this one as well.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Books for My Birthday

My birthday was this week, and I am happy (but not surprised) that I got books for presents. My sister gave me Kristin Lavransdatter by Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset, a book that has been on my TBR list ever since I gave it to Sis for Christmas a few years back and she really liked it. Hubby gave me two books: Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945 by Carlo D'este and The Reagan I Knew, the book William F. Buckley Jr. was writing when he passed away. I look forward to both, but I suspect that Hubby may get around to the Churchill book before I do. But by far my favorite reading-related gift was from my sister -- a "mudflap girl for the smart set" decal:

Review of the Day: Entre Nous


There is plenty to love about Debra Ollivier's Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, but you have to take it with a grain of sel.

French women are justifiably famous for their poise, style, and general savoir-faire, so there is appeal in a book that sets out to teach American women how to emulate their Gallic sisters. But the sisterhood Ollivier holds up as a model is laughably elite. The "French girl" she describes lives in Paris, works at some chi chi job like "restor[ing] the muted shades of an eighteenth century fresco," and has a family chateau in a medieval village in Dordogne. That would be like saying a typical "American girl" is a San Francisco magazine editor with a family vineyard in Napa, or a handbag designer in Manhattan who escapes to the 25-room family "cottage" Down East for the summer.

But if you can accept Ollivier's idealized vision of the emblematic French female – which spills over to a generally romanticized view of all things French, especially its socialized economy – you can appreciate her suggestions on how to attain the je ne sais quoi French women do seem to enjoy.

For instance, Ollivier discusses how to develop a sense of self-possession French women demonstrate, how to appreciate life more sensually, how to value quality over quantity, and how to cultivate a deep discretion about your personal and family life. Ollivier discusses these qualities as they relate to several areas, including personal satisfaction, friends and entertaining, and careers.

Most enjoyable were the sidebars throughout the book that provide mini-biographies on French women, film and book recommendations, suggestions on how to follow the example of French women, and information about French life and customs.

There is an inherent irony a self-help book purporting to teach American women to be more like French women who, Ollivier tells us, are so bien dans sa peau – comfortable in their own skin – that they would never read a self-help book. C'est la vie.  


I enjoyed this book so much it inspired me to create a French Connections book list.


(Please leave a comment with a link if you would like your review posted here.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Notes: Finnegans Wake

Two years ago, I set out determined to finish the Modern Library’s list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century – a list I had been lackadaisically working on since it was published in 1999. At that point, I only had about 30 or so to go of the 121 books on the list. The largest boulder in my path at that point (or at any point on my journey to reaching this goal) was Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.

Before I started FW, I knew nothing about how it was written and had no idea that it was so crazy. I knew that it is Joyce’s magnum opus, that it took him 17 years or so to write, and that he had staff helping him research. I also knew from reading about FW that it all takes place in one night, but is a history of all time, and that the main dream character feels guilt about something he did in a park with two "temptresses" and for vaguely incestuous feelings he has towards his daughter.

I "knew" these ideas only in the sense that I read about their existence. But by 100 pages or so into the book itself, I still had no actual comprehension of them. Or anything, for that matter. The closest I could get would be a vague suggestion of some of these themes from sentences like this:
And so they went on, the fourbottle men, the analists, unguam and nunguam and lunguam again, their anschluss about her whosebefore and his whereafters and how she was lost away away in the fern and how he was founded deap on deep in anear, and the rustlings and the twitterings and the raspings and the snappings and the sighings and the paintings and the ukukuings and the (hist!) the springapartings and the (hast!) the bybyscuttlings and all the scandalmunkers and the pure craigs that used to be (up) that time living and lying and rating and riding round Nunsbelly Square.
Yep. That's what the entire book is like. All 620 pages. Made up words, foreign words, amalgamated words – crazy stuff.

I never understood an entire paragraph; only occasionally comprehended an entire sentence, and definitely only short ones; and was delighted at every word I caught. I read it for the experience of reading it, but gave up trying to understand it after the first page. Yes, I tried reading it out loud, and that helped – but only to a point. I decided to just let it flow over me and enjoy the sounds like poetry or music.

And I was so pleased with myself for finishing it. I was free to "shun the Punman" after months of effort. I was also a little concerned, because I seemed to understand it better after about page 500. I hoped this meant it just hits an easier patch as it gets to the end. I hoped it did not mean that I had learned enough FW language to comprehend more, because then I would have been tempted to start over at the beginning!

Of course, that is what Joyce intended. He wanted to publish FW in a spiral binding without covers, so there would be no official beginning or end and people would read it non-stop. As it is, it starts in the middle of a sentence. The final sentence in the book is the beginning of the sentence that starts the book.

Finnegans Wake was definitely the most difficult book I have ever read. It is not that I hated it. It was incredibly frustrating, but it has poetic beauty. I do not think anyone should read it unless they are compulsive about finishing their book lists (like me), or are really into James Joyce. But I like the idea that there is a structure to it (even if I couldn't follow the structure).

For me, it was like that famous Hieronymus Bosch triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. I do not like it. I think it is weird. It takes too long to look at and there are so many things in it that I do not understand. But, I admire the mind and talent that created it.

That said, I was thrilled to be done with FW! When I finished it, I keep thinking of that joke about the 85-year-old, widowed rabbi who goes into the confessional at St. Mary's and says to the priest, "Father, I just had sexual relations with a 24-year-old aerobics instructor." The priest says, "But Rabbi, why are you confessing? You aren't Catholic." The rabbi says, "Confessing? Are you kidding? I'm telling EVERYBODY." That was me – I told EVERYBODY.

And now you can "suck it yourself, Sugarstick"!


The Clerk Manifesto: Seven Pleasures of Finnigans Wake

(Please leave a comment with a link if you would like your post to be listed here.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review of the Day: Gilead

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer-winning novel, is surprisingly entertaining for an epistolary novel consisting of only one, long letter from a 77-year-old minister to his seven-year-old son. Certainly letters from dead, Midwestern pastors are not the typical stuff of contemporary novels. But Robinson makes it work.

In his letter, the father writes about his own youth and his relationship with his father, his scallywag of a grandfather, his best friend and that man's ne'er-do-well son, the history of his Iowa town as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, and his two marriages. Throughout, he ties in the themes of grace, forgiveness, and man's fallibility.

Particularly striking were the narrator's discussions on how much he enjoyed his life. He writes the letter to his young son knowing that he will not be around when his son is an adult. But, although he is approaching death and anticipating his heavenly afterlife, he makes it clear that he appreciated the temporal pleasures of his life -- the beauty of the prairie, his books and education, falling in love, baseball, and his town. His reminiscences and the lessons he imparts to his son are elegant and timeless. Gilead is a beautiful story.



(Please leave a comment with a link if you would like your review posted here.)


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Book Tour: Citadel of the Spirit

Oregon's 150th birthday is this Saturday, February 14th -- Valentine's Day. And what better way is there to say "I love you" to your Oregonian sweetheart than with a copy of Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon’s Sesquicentennial Anthology? The book is a collection of essays by Oregon writers about Oregon, as well as excerpts from primary documents related to Oregon history. Perfect for lovers in Oregon and lovers of Oregon, wherever they may be. The full list of the book's contents is here. Editor Matt Love has kicked off an ambitious six week book tour to promote his monumental literary tribute to Oregon. The full schedule is here on the Nestucca Spit Press website. Matt will be at Powell's Books on Burnside this Friday, February 13, at 7:30, along with authors Gina Ochsner, Brian Doyle, Bart King, Kaia Sand, David Horowitz, Katrine Barber, and others. Like the other tour events, this "Oregon birthday party" will feature readings, a slide show, a trivia contest, and more.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Entre Nous

"How to sum up in one book the particularities and essential qualities of the French girl?" Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier. Mon Dieu! Show me the way.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Contest of the Day: School Choice

Wordle: School Choice Contest The Cascade Policy Institute is sponsoring a contest to promote school choice in Oregon. Here is the description from the contest web site:

School Choice is simply the ability to choose a school other than the local public school near where you live. It might be a religious school, a private school, a virtual (online) school, a charter school, or even another public school in the same or different district than the one you’re assigned to. It might also mean home schooling. Most Oregon families send their children to the local public school, yet a recent poll found that only 13 percent would make that choice if they had other options. The Oregon School Choice Video Contest lets Oregon students and families tell your stories, and possibly win $10,000 to help make your school choice dreams come true. We picked $10,000 for the top prize because Oregon’s public schools already spend more than that each year, on average, for each student. Yet, when asked in our recent poll, 92 percent of Oregon voters thought the public schools spent less than $10,000 per student. So, now it’s your turn: Tell us your story in a short video. Entries will be judged on authenticity, sincerity, passion and creativity; not on the production value of your video. So don’t worry about making a professional-looking film. Just be yourself, tell us why you need school choice or what school choice has already meant to you if you or your family already have it. Be creative, be sincere, and use your video to make the case for school choice.

The deadline is March 25, 2009.

Details and rules are available on the Oregon School Choice Contest website.

Cookbook Library: The Amish Cook at Home, redux

Apparently my review of The Amish Cook at Home had the book's co-author, Kevin Williams, rolling his eyes. I was amazed at the spike in my blog hits after my review went up, and was astounded to find that almost all of my new visitors were coming from The Amish Cook website. Yes, The Amish Cook has a website. And it is great! Full of information and recipes and all kinds of stuff worth reading. I am returning Kevin's favor by providing a link to the website here. But I am afraid my review offended several people when that was not my intent. Let's be clear, I think The Amish Cook at Home is a beautiful book. My only quibble is that some of the recipes are not quite as elegant as the book itself. That does not make them bad. Rest assured, I did not turn to an Amish cookbook looking for frou frou recipes. I grew up in the Midwest -- I long for casserole down to my genes. And I understand that Amish cooks shop at grocery stores and use pre-made ingredients just like everyone else. I simply meant to point out that the book may appeal to a wider audience if the recipes matched the beauty of the photographs and narrative. Many of them did. But there is a segment of the fancy-cookbook-buying population -- call them foodies; or the health-conscious; or West Coasters; or, more simply, snobs -- who would be put off by the recipes calling for Miracle Whip, or canned cream of mushroom soup, or margarine, or the like. Again, that does not mean that the recipes are not good or that they do not appeal to a broad spectrum of home cooks. But I think that there is a divide between those foodies willing to shell out $29.99 for a glossy cookbook, and home cooks looking for yummy recipes to feed their families. The Amish Cook at Home tries to straddle that line.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Native America, Discovered and Conquered

"The New World was colonized under an international legal principle that is known today as the Doctrine of Discovery." Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny by Robert J. Miller. Well, OK. And I have eight days and about 186 pages (not counting notes and the index) to learn all about this Doctrine of Discovery before I attend a seminar with Professor Miller to discuss his book.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book Give-a-Way: The Italian Lover

With all the dozens of book give-a-ways hosted by generous book bloggers, I don't usually keep track or get involved. But I want a copy of The Italian Lover by Robert Hellenga and Luanne at A Bookworm's World is giving away five copies of it. I get an extra entry if I post something on my blog. Shameless. Leave a comment here on A Bookworm's World if you want to enter the contest. Not that I want the competition . . . The Italian Lover is Hellenga's sequel to The Sixteen Pleasures, a marvelous book about a young American book restorer who, while in Florence rescuing books after a flood, finds a long lost volume of 16th Century erotica. I can't wait.

Cookbook Library: The Amish Cook at Home

So I admit, my initial reaction to seeing The Amish Cook at Home was the culturally insensitive question, “Where else would they cook?” It’s not like there is an Amish restaurant on every corner. The introduction clarified that this is not a book about the Amish people cooking, it is a book featuring the recipes of one particular Amish cook, Lovina Eicher, who writes a newspaper column called The Amish Cook. Ahhhh . . . now I get it.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, which I read cover to cover. I liked the whole idea of the seasonal cooking (sort of like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but without the lecturing), the stories about the family and their traditions are interesting, and the pictures are absolutely beautiful.

But the recipes themselves were a little disappointing. They may be authentic, but they are pretty pedestrian – the standard Midwest recipes you find in every church auxiliary cookbook. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing. I also have The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook – as well as a dozen church auxiliary cookbooks – that I turn to often for recipes I remember from my Nebraska childhood. But the Beverly Lewis book does not oversell itself. The Amish Cook, on the other hand, is over-sized and all fancy like a coffee table book, with glossy pages and evocative, soft-filter pictures.

The clash between the slick packaging and everyday recipes like pea and ham salad with Miracle Whip was too jarring for me – like seeing a beautiful bride wearing Nikes with her wedding dress.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Out of the Deep I Cry

"Russ Van Alstyne had just gotten a tug on his line when he saw the old lady get up from between the headstones she had been trimming, lay down her gardening tools, and walk into the reservoir." Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming. This is a terrific first sentence, but for one irritating glitch -- the old lady was not "trimming" headstones. She may have been trimming weeds from around headstones, but she was not trimming the headstones themselves. That kind of verbal slip is unusual in Spencer Fleming's books. This is the third in her Clare Fergusson series, which is notable as much for the seamless flow of the writing as having a female Episcopalian priest as the hero. She writes really well and in the style I prefer, particularly in mysteries -- no verbal gymnastics, no fancy stuff, just a clean, well-balanced narrative that gets in lots of story without distracting the reader.

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