Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review of the Day: Death by the Glass

Death by the Glass is the second of Nadia Gordon's Sonny McCoskey mysteries. Sonny is the chef owner of a fancy lunch restaurant in Napa Valley, and an avid amateur sleuth with a grab bag of colorful friends.

Sharpshooter, the first book in what hopefully will be a longer series, involves grape growers and wine makers. This one involves Napa Valley restaurateurs. Both are like a cross between Sex and the City and Nancy Drew, with a big dollop of Kitchen Confidential mixed in. They are a little thin on plot, but thoroughly enjoyable, and the offbeat setting makes them definitely worth reading.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Only the first book on the list came in the mail, so "Mailbox Monday" is really a stretch. Dodsworth and Changing Places came from Daedalus Books, a new favorite that I stumbled across when I was out exploring NW Portland last week. The rest came from Second Hand Prose, my favorite library bookstore. I don't get to Oregon City very often, but I was there for a court appearance Friday, so took the opportunity to load up. Hardbacks are almost all $2, and in very good condition, so it was easy to do. The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda (a first novel about real magic -- I'm keeping an open mind) Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis (a Modern Library edition with a dust jacket in very good condition -- cool!) Changing Places by David Lodge (I dove right into this one and love it already) Rocky Mountains by David Muench (I'm a sucker for these coffee table photo books. I snag any I find one in really good condition at a library sale, like this one. The picture cuts off the words -- it isn't like that in real life.) New England by Clyde H. Smith (another in the same series) International Country by Judith Miller (I love flipping through decorating books now that I am in my new house) Making Pillows: Over 30 Projects for Making & Decorating Cushions by Linda Barker (if I ever have time, talent, and a sewing machine, this will be just the book I need) The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (my copy has gone missing; this is the replacement) Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk (a food-related memoir I got for my culinary school sister and then realized I already gave her a copy -- mine now) That's Amore!: The Language of Love for Lovers of Language by Erin McKean (cute, British, wordy) The Tuscan Year: Life and Food in an Italian Valley by Elizabeth Romer (sounds wonderful) The Tenth Man by Graham Greene (he is a favorite, just not on the list yet) Venetian Holiday by David Campbell (an impulse purchase that looks perfect for summer) Deception by Philip Roth (another favorite author not yet on the list) In the Beginning by Chaim Potok (a new favorite, ever since I read Davita's Harp for book club) If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of Black Bart, King of the Caribbean Pirates by Richard Sanders (I got if for the cover alone, but it sounds pretty good) Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley (an old book about a lady who buys a mobile bookstore) Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham (a Maugham mystery? Who knew?) Rocks and Minerals: a Golden Nature Guide (I have a stack of these little books that belonged to my artist father-in-law -- he used them for reference for his illustrations) First Love by Joyce Carol Oates (the odd little size appealed to me as much as the gothic theme)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

List: The Costa Book of the Year Award

The Costa Book Awards seek to recognize "some of the most enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland." The awards were formerly known as the the Whitbread Literary Awards from their start in 1971 until 1985 when the name changed to the Whitbread Book Awards. Costa Coffee took over over in 2006, changing the name, but not the purpose, of the awards.

Costa Awards are given in five categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry, and Children's Book. The Book of the Year Award debuted in 1985 and is chosen from any of the five categories.

I am not good about poetry and I do not care for sci-fi, so I do know know if I will ever get through all the books on this list. On the other hand, if they really won because they were "most enjoyable," then maybe reading these prize winners would be the easiest way for me to expand my reading horizons.

If anyone else is working through the books on this list, please leave a link in a comment and I will add it to this post.

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

Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore (2017)

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016)

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (2015)

H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2014)

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013)

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (2012)

Pure by Andrew Miller (2011)

Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott (2010)

A Scattering by Christopher Reid (2009)

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (2008) (reviewed here)

Day by A.L. Kennedy (2007)

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (2006) (reviewed here)

Matisse the Master by Hilary Spurling (2005)

Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004) (reviewed here)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin (2002)

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2001)

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (2000)

Beowulf by Seamus Heaney (1999)

Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (1998)

Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes (1997)

The Spirit Level by Seamus Heaney (1996)

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (1995) (reviewed here)

Felicia's Journey by William Trevor (1994)

Theory of War by Joan Brady (1993)

Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington (1992)

A Life of Picasso by John Richardson (1991)

Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Mosley (1990)

Coleridge: Early Visions by Richard Holmes (1989)

The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer (1988)

Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan (1987)

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)

Elegies by Douglas Dunn (1985)


Last updated on April 4, 2018.


(Please leave a comment with links to your progress reports or reviews of these books and I will add them here.)

J.G.'s review of Birthday Letters on Hotch Pot Cafe

Sandra's comprehensive post on Fresh Ink Books

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Review of the Day: Black Boy (American Hunger)

Richard Wright is famous for his novel, Native Son, which is a classic of American realism, made it to the Modern Library’s list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and was the first Book of the Month Club title by an African-American author. His autobiography – at least part of it – is an acclaimed account of life in the Jim Crow South.

Only the first part of Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, was published contemporaneously with his finishing it in 1945. The second part, American Hunger, was not published until 1977.

Understandably. The Black Boy section of his autobiography tells the story of Wright's childhood in the Deep South in the early part of the 1900s. Born on a plantation, abandoned by his father, and raised by a passel of relatives, his was as racist, poverty-stricken, and generally grim a childhood as could be imagined. But American Hunger, the second part of his autobiography is all about Wright’s life as a Communist. Not a sympathetic, leftist intellectual of the 1930s, but a full-fledged, card-carrying Party member and true believer. No wonder he could not get this part of his story published in the 1950s. It would have been scandalous.

Now, after the horrors of Stalin are known and the Soviet Union has disappeared, his story is historically notable, but borderline ludicrous. What is worse is that Wright does not delve into the ideas that made him a Communist, which might have been interesting. He provides only one glowing summary of his fervent belief that Communism was the only solution for mankind, that the world would be in awe of the success of this system based on self-sacrifice, and that Europe would be unable to stand up to the military might of the Soviet Union. He offered this as an introduction to his description of the “glory” of the Soviet-style show trial of one of his Comrades. The rest focuses on the in-fighting among Party members.

Wright's whole point seems to prove that he was the better Communist than the hacks running the Party.  He recounts the maneuverings among factions that led to his election as the Party Secretary of his division, detailed conversations with Party sub-officials questioning his loyalty, and his ultimate break with the Party – not over ideology, he insists, but tactics. All this is as tedious as listening to the office receptionist relate the details of her long-standing feud with the HR department.

The Black Boy section of Wright’s autobiography is a must-read. The American Hunger section belongs, like the bankrupt ideology that inspired it, in the dustbin of literary history.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summery Books

Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most “Summery” book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you? (I’m not asking for you to list your ideal “beach reading,” you understand, but the book that you can read at any time of year but that evokes “summer.”)
This is harder than it seems. There are several books that make me think of hot weather, such as Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry or the whole Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, but those are books set in hot climates, not books related to summer in particular. There are also a few books that remind me of summer because I happened to read them in the summer, like Jim Harrison's pre-The Road Home novels, which I tore through in the summer of 1994. But I guess if I had to pick one novel that captures the idea of summer, I would go with Huckleberry Finn. The adventures, the river, the kid out of school -- it all feels like summer. In fact, this one is going back on my TBR shelf to re-read this summer.

Author of the Day: Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby is a favorite author of mine because I enjoyed High Fidelity so much.

I did not realize he had so many non-fiction books in addition to his novels. Fever Pitch is a memoir about being an avid football fan. Songbook is a collection of essays inspired by certain pop songs. The last three on the list intrigue me the most because they are collections of Hornby's book reviews from The Believer magazine.

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

(1995) High Fidelity (reviewed here)
(1998) About a Boy
(2001) How to Be Good
(2005) A Long Way Down
(2007) Slam
(2009) Juliet, Naked (reviewed here)

(1992) Fever Pitch
(2003) Songbook (called 31 Songs in England)
(2004) The Polysyllabic Spree (reviewed here)
(2006) Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
(2008) Shakespeare Wrote for Money

Last updated on March 19, 2012.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Opening Sentences of the Day: The Beggar and Changing Places

"White clouds floated in the blue expanse overlooking a vast green land where cows grazed serenely. " -- The Beggar by Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature. I am trying to read at least one book by every Nobel Laureate. The Beggar was the first Malfouz book to make it on to my TBR shelf. Not famous like his Cairo Trilogy, this is a 1965 novella about contemporary (1965) Egypt. So far, The Beggar is a little sparse and a little vague, which is why I was lured into starting Changing Places by David Lodge. Opening sentence: "High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour." That's a good one. Lodge caught my attention with How Far Can You Go?, which made it on to Anthony Burgess's list of his favorite 99 novels and my list of favorites for 2008. This 1975 novel tracks an American and a British professor as they swap university spots for a semester.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review of the Day: High Fidelity

Nick Hornby's High Fidelity is the guy version of Bridget Jones’s Diary, only even funnier.

Rob, the slacker hero, mopes around his used record store, obsessing on the girlfriend who just dumped him and on all his prior failed relationships. Fanatically opinionated, phobic about commitment, and neurotic to the core, Rob is the Everyman of the post-sexual revolution era. There is a little something of Rob in all bad boyfriends and good husbands, which is what makes him so appealing.

In keeping with the theme of the book, my Top Five Favorite Lines from High Fidelity, in the order of appearance:

Discussing his first real girlfriend: “Sometimes I got so bored of trying to touch her breasts that I would try to touch between her legs, a gesture that had a sort of self-parodying wit about it: it was like trying to borrow a fiver, getting turned down, and asking to borrow fifty quid instead.”

Discussing teenage romance in general: “Attack and defense, invasion and repulsion . . . it was as if breasts were little pieces of property that had been unlawfully annexed by the opposite sex – they were rightfully ours and we wanted them back.”

“They’re as close to being mad as makes no difference.”

Discussing obscure bands: “[S]omeone with a cult following which could arrive together in the same car.”

“[M]y friends don’t seem to be friends at all but people whose phone numbers I haven’t lost.”

Why, why, why did I wait so long to read this book? If I had read it when it came out in 1995, I could have already re-read it a couple of times. Now I have to wait at least a few years to enjoy it fresh and I don’t want to wait.

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

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Last week was a slow one. But all three of these showed up in the mail, so at least there is some integrity to the Mailbox Monday theme: Portland Noir, edited by Kevin Sampsell Part of the "Noir" series published by Akashic Books, this one caught my eye on Reading Local and I had to get it. I can't wait to read about the "dark, rainy underbelly" of the Rose City. The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from Dutch by David Colmer This was my second shipment from the Powell's Books "Indiespensable" program. The Indiespensable version is a limited edition with a different cover signed and numbered by the author. Pretty cool. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein Stein is a Pacific Northwest author. This book is narrated by a dog. Approximately three zillion people have given it five-star reviews on amazon. Who am I to resist?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Miserable Mill

"Sometime during your life -- in fact, very soon -- you may find yourself reading a book, and you may notice that a book's first sentence can often tell you what sort of story your book contains." -- The Miserable Mill, by Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth. The very reason I keep track of opening sentences here on RCR. After more discussion of the purpose of first sentences, Mr. Snicket explains that the first sentence of this story is "The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy windows of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better" and warns that "if you wish to avoid an unpleasant story you had best put this book down." The back cover goes further, explaining the the unpleasantries inside include "a giant pincher machine" and "a bad casserole." Oh, no! It is this arch tone and intentional inversion of the fairy tale happily-ever-after idea that makes these books so fun. Over the last few years, I have nibbled through the first three Lemony Snicket books. I don't usually read children's books, but my sister turned me on to these. They make me giggle. I just wish they had existed when I was a kid.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Extra Opening Sentence of the Day: My Uncle Oswald

"I am beginning, once again, to have an urge to salute my Uncle Oswald." -- My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl. OK, this isn't the opening sentence of this day. It was the opening sentence of a week ago last Tuesday. But I forgot to post it then. The book is long since finished and reviewed.

Opening Sentence of the Day: High Fidelity

"My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order: 1. Alison Ashworth 2. Penny Hardwick 3. Jackie Allen 4. Charlie Nicholson 5. Sarah Kendrew." -- High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. This is going to be pure fun. I watched the movie when it came out and loved it. But I did not realize it was a book. Normally, my rule is to read the book first, then wait a while and watch the movie. Since I saw the movie of this first, I waited for several years to read the book. Maybe a little weird, but I wanted to wait until I forgot the details.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Author of the Day: M. F. K. Fisher

M. F. K. Fisher -- born Mary Frances Kennedy -- created a literary genre by writing about "the art of eating" and her life with food. I love, love, love her books.

Some of them are hard to find, so I may never get to finish this list, but I hope so. Those I have read are in red. Those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue.

Serve it Forth (1937)

Consider the Oyster (1941)

How to Cook a Wolf (1942)

The Gastronomical Me (1943)

Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)

Not Now But NOW (1947) (a novel)

An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)

The Physiology of Taste [translator] (1949)

A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man or Beast (1961)

The Story of Wine in California (1962)

Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence (1964)

Two Kitchens in Provence (1966) (an almost impossible to find novel)

The Cooking of Provincial France (1969)

With Bold Knife and Fork (1969)

Among Friends (1971)

A Considerable Town (1978)

Not a Station but a Place (1979)

As They Were (1982)

Sister Age (1983)

Spirits of the Valley (1985) (another extremely rare volume)

Dubious Honors (1988)

The Boss Dog: A Story of Provence (1990) (a novel)

Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (1991)

To Begin Again: Stories and Memoirs 1908 - 1929 (1992)

Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories 1933-1941 (1993)

Last House: Reflections, Dreams and Observations 1943-1991 (1995)

A Life in Letters(1997)

From the Journals of M.F.K. Fisher (1999)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

In his first novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris tells the entwined stories of three generations of American Indian women. The first section is told by 15 year old Rayona, the second by Rayona’s mother Christine, and the third by Christine’s mother Ida.

The theme is the braiding together of the lives of these three headstrong women and their extended families. Parts of each story show up in the others, with the same scenes told from a different perspective at the same time new material is brought in by each narrator. While not a unique approach, Dorris handles it well.

The problem is that the characters are not likable. Rayona is a good person and trying hard, but she is so well-armored that she is not approachable. Given her upbringing, her hard shell in understandable, but it is only at the end of her story, when she breaks out and we see her potential, does she become interesting. Christine is too angry and self-destructive to like, although as she bounces from one bad decision to another, it is possible to feel sorry for her. Ida is the toughest nut of all and it is heartbreaking to watch her intentional choices set the wheels in motion.

Yellow Raft brings to life the Native American concept of “historical trauma” – that “history has caused trauma and unresolved intergenerational grief and how this trauma and grief is passed from one generation to the next.” But that is a difficult concept to contemplate and Dorris does not make it easy.


Please leave a link to your review in a comment and I will list it here.


This was my "yellow" book choice for the Colorful Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

List of the Day: National Book Critics Circle Award

First awarded in 1976, the National Book Critics Circle Award is an annual award given by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) to promote the finest books and reviews published in English.

The main awards fall into six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Memoir/Autobiography, Biography, and Criticism. Awards are not given to titles that have been previously published in English, such as re-issues and paperback editions.

This is the list of fiction winners. Those I have read are in red. Those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue.

2010 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

2009 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (reviewed here)

2008 2666 by Robert Bolano

2007 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

2006 The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

2005 The March by E.L. Doctorow

2004 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (reviewed here)

2003 The Known World by Edward P. Jones

2002 Atonement by Ian McEwan

2001 Austerlitz by Winfried Georg Sebald

2000 Being Dead by Jim Crace

1999 Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

1998 The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

1997 The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

1996 Women in Their Beds by Gina Berriault

1995 Mrs. Ted Bliss by Stanley Elkin

1994 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

1993 A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

1992 All the Pretty Horses by Cormac Mccarthy (reviewed here)

1991 A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

1990 Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

1989 Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow

1988 The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee

1987 The Counterlife by Philip Roth

1986 Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price

1985 The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

1984 Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

1983 Ironweed by William Kennedy

1982 George Mills by Stanley Elkin

1981 Rabbit is Rich by John Updike

1980 The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

1979 The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan

1978 The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever (reviewed here)

1977 Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

1976 October Light by John C Gardner

Last updated on September 22, 2011.

(If you would like to be listed here, please leave a comment with links to your progress reports or reviews and I will add them here.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Challenge Progress: The Sunshine Smackdown -- Battle of the Prizes

We have a couple of reviews to add to the Battle of the Prizes Challenge list. First, Caitlin at Chaotic Compendiums posted her review of Pulitzer winner Empire Falls by Richard Russo. Caitlin has now finished her National winner (Sophie's Choice, which she reviewed here) and her Pulitzer winner. She only has her "double dipper" to go and she will be the first to complete the challenge. Second, I finished my Pulitzer choice, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury. My review is posted here. Finally, as a little extra, I also reviewed March, the 2006 Pulitzer winner by Geraldine Brooks. That review is here.

Internet Review of Books

The June issue of the Internet Review of Books is up now. It is chock-o-block full of great reviews -- non-fiction and fiction -- plus a lively essay on how to get kids to read during their summer vacation. I am very pleased that IRB included my review of Basil's Dream by Christine Hale. The IRB version is longer than the version I posted here on Rose City Reader. Please browse the June issue. It really is good. And, for those interested, the IRB is looking for new reviewers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Only two books actually arrived in my mailbox last week, but I scored at the Rose City Used Book Fair. Since Mailbox Monday asks, "What books came to your house last week?" I will include them all. Here's the list: The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt by Rulka Langer (an upcoming reissue of this "war through a woman's eyes" WWII memoir) The Evolution of Shadows by Jason Quinn Malott (a novel about the Bosnian war) The Mansion by William Faulkner (a first edition not in particularly good shape) Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner (a first edition in very good shape) Selected Short Stories by John O'Hara (a Modern Library edition with a pristine dust jacket -- cool!) Ricochet River by Robin Cody (a first edition of an Oregon classic) Chantecler by Edmond Rostand (a 1910 play about a rooster, from what I can tell -- I bought it for the terrific rooster on the cover and wish I could find a picture)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Niche Reading

Another late post for Booking Through Thursday -- maybe someday I will get the hang of this. This week's theme was "niche" reading:

There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.) But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that. What niche books do YOU read?

This one is a double dipper for me. There are two types of books that I love to collect and read that are off the beaten track compared to my usual literary fiction. The first type is vintage cocktail books. I also like modern books about vintage cocktails, but my favorites are the old books: The Mixer's Manual by Patrick Gavin Duffy (this has a great cover, although it is hard to see in this picture) Trader Vic's Bartender Guide (1948 edition) (mine is missing its cover, so not interesting to look at) Esquire's Handbook for Hosts (1949 edition) Esquire Party Book (1965 edition) These books inspire me. The second type of niche book I enjoy is needlepoint books -- the fancy kind with glossy pictures. I have only made one pillow out of these books in 20 years, but I love looking at them and have a fantasy that I will make all the projects I bookmark. At one pillow every 20 years, I'll have to live to be 680 to finish them all. My favorites are: Beth Russell's Traditional Needlepoint Beth Russell's William Morris Needlepoint And for sheer entertainment value: Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review: My Uncle Oswald

It is disquieting to think that the man who wrote James and the Giant Peach could also come up with My Uncle Oswald. True, Roald Dahl’s short stories are intended for adults and range from the diabolically clever to the downright salacious to the disturbingly macabre. But Uncle Oswald falls on the far end of the salacious range, bordering on raunchy.

In this novella, Oswald – who was first introduced to Dahl fans in “The Visitor,” one of the stories in Switch Bitch – tells the tale of how he made his fortune. This adventure involved selling “potency pills” to diplomats and starting a sperm bank with contributions from unwitting, very prominent, donors. Both ventures turn on the remarkable efficacy of the Sudanese blister beetle.

The book is funny. Dahl is a master at drawing the reader into unbelievable scenarios involving unlikable characters. Here, Oswald and his vixen sidekick Yasmin tour Europe seducing royalty, artists, authors, and geniuses – delivering their ill-gotten gains to the Semen’s Home and making readers giggle at their antics. It is easy to finish, but leaves a tinge of embarrassment. As Oswald himself points out:
The act of copulation is like that of picking the nose, It’s all right to be doing it yourself but it is a singularly unattractive spectacle for the onlooker.

PS: Dahl was married to American movie star Patricia Neal for 30 years. Will the wonders of Wikipedia never cease?


Please leave a link in a comment and I will add your review here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Miscellany

First, a big THANK YOU to Gwendolyn B at A Sea of Books for sharing the Lemonade Award with me. This is an award for blogs "with great attitude or gratitude." Well, super! And, as my kitchen magnet says, "When life gives you lemons, just add vodka." Cheers, Gwendolyn! Thanks. Second, and something not directly book-related: My first cousin Jeff Geihs was named the Nevada Principal of the Year. This is a big deal. And it is related to books in a way, because many of his innovations are aimed at making better readers out of all the students at Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas. As this newspaper story explains:

As principal of Cheyenne High School, Geihs implemented single-sex instruction for ninth- and 10th-graders, eliminated remedial classes, expanded honors and Advanced Placement courses, and implemented the Academic Decathlon and a required reading program for students below grade reading level.

Jeff's ideas are getting results. We are all very proud of his accomplishments and the recognition he deserves. Way to go, Cuz!

Finally, I am off to the Rose City Used Books Fair this afternoon. I can't wait!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows is as daffy and charming as it must have seemed when it was first published in 1908. Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel follows the anthropomorphic adventures of several woodland creatures, primarily Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad. They enjoy many pastimes, including “messing about in boats,” Christmas caroling, and driving motor cars. This last becomes Mr. Toad’s passion, landing him in all sorts of trouble and, eventually, a dungeon. The animals have many adventures along the river and in the Wild Wood, but they all love home best, where they like to cozy up in front of a fireplace and enjoy simple meals with friends.

What makes the book so funny is how the animals live alongside people, doing people things, but without exciting comment. And they do it all regardless of the comparative size of things. Mole and Rat harness a horse to a gypsy caravan, field mice slice a ham and fry it for breakfast, Toad drives people cars and wears a washerwoman’s clothes to escape from prison.

 It is easy to see why this book remains popular. Among other claims to fame, Teddy Roosevelt said he read it several times, P.G. Wodehouse was clearly influenced by the lighthearted humor (one of his novels, Joy in the Morning, shares the same title as the carol sung by the field mice), and it shows up as one of Radcliffe's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.


If you would like your review listed here, please leave a link in a comment and I will add it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Wall Street

"Wall Street." -- from the Introduction to Wall Street: America's Dream Palace by Steve Fraser. That won't do. How about this, from the first chapter, "The Aristocrats": "William Duer was running for his life." That's better. Off to a good start. Although, at first glance, I do not know what to make of this little book. I am reviewing it for the July edition of the Internet Review of Books. It sounded good and has received favorable press. But flipping through it, I don't know. It is short, the print is really big, and there are even illustrations. I'm not looking for a text book, but hopefully this isn't too fluffy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: Advise and Consent

Advise and Consent, Allen Drury’s 1959 Pulitzer winner, thoroughly covers the machinations of the Senate confirmation process as that august body deliberates the nomination of a controversial figure for the post of Secretary of State.

Although long and sometimes exhausting, Drury’s landmark novel is a rewarding book for the patient reader. At over 600 dense pages, this is not a quick read. The first 100 pages seem especially slow as the characters are introduced and the stage set. This behind-the-scenes look at the Senate may have been more interesting before 50 years of televised politics in general and C-SPAN in particular leached any tantalizing mystery out of Senate subcommittee hearings. Once the story builds up steam, however, it powers right along.

The candidate under consideration, peacenik Bob Leffingwell, has his avid supporters, including the somewhat Machiavellian President who nominated him. But he faces stiff opposition from those who think he will be unable to protect America on the brink of a nuclearized Cold War with an increasingly belligerent Soviet Union determined to send men to the moon to claim it as Soviet territory. While the details of the controversy seem anachronistic now, the underlying issue of diplomacy versus military might is as pertinent today as it was 50 years ago.

What is most interesting is that Drury keeps party politics out of it. He does not name either party, and the battle over Leffingwell’s nomination is all within the President’s own liberal party that holds the majority in the Senate. The minority, presumably conservative, party is relegated to the sidelines.

In the end, Leffingwell’s confirmation comes down to character issues as much as his political opinions. The heart of Drury’s story is that, when an unsavory part of Leffingwell’s past arises, instead of having the Senate’s decision turn on the underlying facts, the controversy centers on how Leffingwell and his supporters, including the President, deal with the facts, and what their conduct reveals about their essential worthiness as national leaders. Again, the details of the scandals involved seem quaint now, but the principal debate over what weight to give to politicians’ personal lives still rages.

Stylistically, Drury follows formal conventions, with third-party narration, traditional dialog format, discretion in all things sexual, and one particularly distracting gimmick in that many characters share the same first names. For instance, the nominee and the Senate Majority leader are both names Robert and both go by Bob. Context usually makes clear which one is under discussion, but it seems odd that no one ever mentions that they have the same name. There are also two Hals, two Toms, and two Johns (but no Mikes, Marks, or Daves). Maybe it is more like real life to duplicate names, but some literary customs are there for a reason.

The writing is a little stuffy, but the tone suits the subject matter and helps raise it above a run-of-the-mill political thriller. A sample passage demonstrates Drury’s intricate style as well as his purpose of thoroughly presenting the Congressional system:
The system had its problems, and it wasn’t exactly perfect, and there was at times much to be desired, and yet – on balance, admitting all its bad points and assessing all the good, there was a vigor and a vitality and a strength that nothing, he suspected, could ever quite overcome, however evil and crafty it might be. There was in this system the enormous vitality of free men, running their own government in their own way. If they were weak at times, it was because they had the freedom to be weak; if they were strong, upon occasion, it was because they had the freedom to be strong; if they were indomitable, when the chips were down, it was because freedom made them so.
Although it takes some endurance to get through such a thicket of prose, the effort is worthwhile, which is why Advise and Consent remains the most popular, perceptive study of Congressional American politics on the shelves.


This book was my Pulitzer choice for the Sunshine Smackdown -- Battle of the Prizes Challenge.


Policy Review

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Subscription Disaster! Subscription Drive!

Oh no! While trying to update my subscription links to allow subscribing by email, I think I just deleted my original subscription link and blitzed all my subscriptions. For all those kind enough to subscribe to Rose City Reader, a sincere thank you and a request for a BIG FAVOR -- please sign up for a new subscription! I do not want to lose you and I really did not mean to delete you! For those who do not currently subscribe, please do! Now you can sign up with a reader or by email. You can also follow the blog through google -- use the "Follow Blog" button in the navigation bar above or go to the followers widget in the right-hand column. THANK YOU!

Mailbox Monday

I've been inclined lately to post my weekly book acquisitions because so many seem to be flowing in these days. This past week, most really did arrive in the mail, so this is officially part of The Printed Page's Mailbox Monday feature. Wall Street by Steve Fraser (I am reviewing this for the July edition of the Internet Review of Books) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (a late, but much appreciated, birthday present) Women in Their Beds by Gina Berricault (winner of the National Book Critics Circle and PEN/Faulkner prizes) A Bromfield Galaxy by Louis Bromfield (including three novels: the Pulitzer-winning Early Autumn, The Green Bay Tree, and A Good Woman) Au Revoir to All That (from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program) The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan (another National Book Critics Circle prize winner) Birds by Jeffrey Fisher (my favorite cover of all of them) When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro Atget's Paris, part of the Icons series published by Taschen Panoramas of Promise: Pacific Northwest Cities and Towns on Nineteenth-Century Lithographs by John W. Reps The last four did not come in the mail. I got them at Ampersand when I went in to spend the $25 gift certificate I won in the April contest on Reading Local. The monthly prize is now up to $100 in gift certificates.

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