Friday, July 31, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Forbidden Bread

. "'Let's go to the top.'" -- Forbidden Bread by Erica Johnson Debeljak. I just finished reading Malamud's The Fixer this morning, so if there was ever a day to take my own advice and read something funny, today would be the day to start. But I am still nagged by guilt over my stack of LibraryThing Early Reviewer books, so I am going with "a touching and intelligent memoir" about a New York woman who marries a Slovenian poet and follows him back to his homeland. Something tells me that this is not going to be the Balkan version of A Year in Provence, so I am not expecting much humor. But it definitely looks interesting. And if post-communist Yugoslav wars of succession get to be too much, I can always take a break and slip in a P.G. Wodehouse or a Nick Hornby book. .

Thursday, July 30, 2009

BTT: Recent Funny

The Booking Through Thursday theme this week is "Recent Funny," which asks the question, "What’s the funniest book you’ve read recently?" This is a no-brainer for me, since I just laughed my way through High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. For an idea of why I found the book so funny, please read my review. But it is a good question because I realize that I usually turn to "serious" books. I should remember to seek out funny books more often.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

List: National Book Award

The National Book Foundation awards annual prizes to American authors in the following categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature.

I am working on the Fiction winners. Those I have finished are in red; those sitting on my TBR shelf are in blue. I will get to them all eventually.

2017 Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

2016 The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

2015 Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

2014 Redeployment by Phil Klay

2013 The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

2012 The Round House by Louise Erdrich

2011 Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

2010 Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (reviewed here)

2009 Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (reviewed here)

2008 Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

2007 Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

2006 The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

2005 Europe Central by William T. Vollmann

2004 The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck

2003 The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

2002 Three Junes by Julia Glass

2001 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

2000 In America by Susan Sontag

1999 Waiting by Ha Jin

1998 Charming Billy by Alice McDermott

1997 Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (reviewed here)

1996 Ship Fever and Other Stories by Andrea Barrett

1995 Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth

1994 A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis

1993 The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

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

1991 Mating by Norman Rush

1990 Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (reviewed here)

1989 Spartina by John Casey

1988 Paris Trout by Pete Dexter

1987 Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann

1986 World's Fair by E.L. Doctorow

1985 White Noise by Don Delillo

1984 Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist

1983 The Color Purple by Alice Walker

1982 Rabbit is Rich by John Updike

1981 Plains Song by Wright Morris

1980 Sophie's Choice by William Styron (reviewed here)

1979 Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien

1978 Blood Tie by Mary Lee Settle

1977 The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (reviewed here)

1976 JR by William Gaddis

1975 The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams (reviewed here)

1975 Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

1974 Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

1974 A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer

1973 Augustus by John Williams

1973 Chimera by John Barth

1972 The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor

1971 Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow (reviewed here)

1970 Them by Joyce Carol Oates

1969 Steps by Jerzy Kosinski

1968 The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

1967 The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (reviewed here)

1966 The Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter

1965 Herzog by Saul Bellow

1964 The Centaur by John Updike (reviewed here)

1963 Morte d'Urban by J.F. Powers

1962 The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

1961 The Waters of Kronos by Conrad Richter

1960 Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth (reviewed here)

1959 The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud

1958 Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever

1957 The Field of Vision by Wright Morris

1956 Ten North Frederick by John O'Hara

1955 A Fable by William Faulkner

1954 The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (reviewed here)

1953 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

1952 From Here to Eternity by James Jones

1951 The Collected Stories by William Faulkner

1950 The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren (reviewed here)


Last updated on January 21, 2018.


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

Review: Judgment Calls

Judgment Calls is a pretty good first effort from the daughter of legendary mystery writer James Lee Burke. Like her heroine, Samantha Kincaid, Alafair Burke was a Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon. Her book is packed with colorful details of life in a DA's office, although their inclusion sometimes interrupts the flow of the story. The book has a decent plot with enough complications to keep it moving along at a good pace. The conclusion is a little far fetched, but Burke builds up to it reasonably well so it did not come completely out of the blue.

Proving that someone can be smart, well educated, and loaded with material but still not produce great mystery novel, Burke's writing is second rate. The narrative is clunky, the dialog is stilted, and the jokes are flat. The writing seemed better in the second half, but that impression may be the result of reader tolerance rather than actual improvement.

As a lawyer who would like nothing better than to write mystery books, I admire any fellow member of the bar who has achieved such an accomplishment. As a Portlander, I like to find a series set in my city. So I will probably give Burke a second chance. She now has two other books in the series: Missing Justice and Close Case. But now that Burke has moved to New York and started a new series, I will probably call it quits with those two.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

List of the Day: The BBC's Big Read

In April 2003, the BBC's Big Read began the search for Britain’s best-loved novel. Viewers voted for their favorite book until December 13, 2003, when the final list was complete.

The Top 100 list is below. The contest tallied the top 200 vote-getters, with the books ranked 101 to 200 sometimes referred to as the Bigger Read. This is definitely a people’s choice list that, while it includes many very good books, reflects popular tastes as much as literary merits.

I have read 51 of the 100. I may never get through all of these because the list includes four Harry Potter books, too many kids books, and a lot of sci-fi. There are at least 29 that I do not plan to read. Those I have read are in red. Those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue.

If anyone else is tracking this list, please feel free to leave comment with a link to your progress report and I will add it to this post.

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien

2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (reviewed here)

5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling

6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne

8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks

14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (reviewed here)

15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (reviewed here)

17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (reviewed here)

18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

22. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling

23. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling

24. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling

25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

26. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

27. Middlemarch, George Eliot

28. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

29. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

30. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

31. The Story of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson

32. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

33. The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute

38. Persuasion, Jane Austen

39. Dune, Frank Herbert

40. Emma, Jane Austen

41. Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery

42. Watership Down, Richard Adams

43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

44. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

46. Animal Farm, George Orwell

47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

48. Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian

50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher (reviewed here)

51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

52. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

53. The Stand, Stephen King

54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

56. The BFG, Roald Dahl

57. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer

60. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

61. Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman

62. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

63. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough

65. Mort, Terry Pratchett

66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton

67. The Magus, John Fowles (notes here)

68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett

70. Lord of the Flies, William Golding

71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind

72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell

73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

74. Matilda, Roald Dahl

75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding

76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

77. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins

78. Ulysses, James Joyce

79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens

80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson

81. The Twits, Roald Dahl

82. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

83. Holes, Louis Sachar

84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake (reviewed here)

85. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson

87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons (reviewed here)

89. Magician, Raymond E Feist

90. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

92. The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M Auel

93. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

95. Katherine, Anya Seton

96. Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer

97. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

98. Girls in Love, Jacqueline Wilson

99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot

100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie (reviewed here)


List updated on December 20, 2011.


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

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Only two books came into my house last week, which is probably a good thing because, at the rate I had been going, I would have to live to 214 or so to read them all. Here is my very short Mailbox Monday list: Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse (an impulse purchase), and Not a Muse: The Inner Lives of Women, a "world poetry anthology" edited by Kate Rogers and Viki Holmes. I am excited about this one because my friend Kirsten Rian gave it to me. She is one of the women poets whose work is included in the anthology, along with the likes of Margaret Atwood, Erica Jong, and other women poets who are probably famous but I wouldn't know because I am horrible about reading poetry. In fact, if it weren't for Kirsten sending a poem (only occasionally her own) to her email list every Monday, I would have to confess that I never read poetry. Now that will change. I will work my way through this anthology, including the three poems of Kirsten's that are included, and then feel very smug indeed. Here is the description from the publisher:
A bold, richly panoramic anthology of poetry from all over the world, exploring the inner lives of women in a post-feminist era. 516 pages of poetic delight by voices both celebrated and newly uncovered. Poetry to Seduce the Senses: Not A Muse was launched on the opening night of the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival, on International Women's Day, 8 March 2009.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review of the Day: The Brothers K

Four brothers, twin sisters, a father with minor league baseball in his blood, and a Bible thumping mother form the story skeleton of The Brothers K. David James Duncan packs a lot of meat on these bones in his very long, very elaborate, quasi-biographical novel of the Chance family of Camas, Washington.

The first half of the book centers on the baseball career of Hugh “Smoke” Chance, latter known as “Papa Toe” for reasons almost too outlandish to believe. Hugh’s life as a triple-A lefty pitcher stumbles along through interruptions great and small, as his family steadily adds children and his wife rides herd. This part of the book is an engaging account of growing up in small town America in the 1950s and early ‘60s. It has the same steady, powerful flow of the Columbia flowing past Camas.

Then, BAM! The second half of the book takes off. The contentious, argumentative oldest brother, Everett, becomes a campus radical and draft dodger. The scholarly and mystical Peter head off to India where he has a life-changing escapade. Lovable Irwin suffers a tragedy in Vietnam that becomes the focus of the book. One of the twins seems headed for a mental breakdown. Girlfriends and wives come and go. Conflicts between the mom and other family members escalate, but are then explained away in a final revelation so horrifying it almost derails the story. Kincade, the sturdiest brother, narrates the tale, but it is a roller coaster of an adventure.

The disparate pacing of the two halves of the book is its main weakness. It feels like two books. And even though many of the moving parts in the second half relate back to information provided in the first half, the second half is so chock-o-block full of action and ideas and characters that those little connections get lost in the flurry or lose their significance. Duncan may have been trying to demonstrate that the Vietnam war had just that kind of explosive effect on American families, but he could have done the same thing more effectively with about 200 fewer pages.

Duncan’s writing style has matured since his popular first novel, The River Why, but is still evocative, playful, witty, and erudite. The trouble is that there is just too much style involved. For example, he uses puns, limericks, and other word play (the title is a baseball reference – “K” meaning to strike out – as well as a nod to Dostoevsky); he incorporates fictional “primary source” materials such as letters, newspaper articles, and the children’s school essays; and he sets the story aside while characters – all remarkably eloquent and demonstrating eye popping levels of self-awareness – go off on state-of-the-universe soliloquies. A little of such tricks goes a long way. By the end of 650 or so pages, enough is enough.

Despite these flaws, The Brothers K is a beautiful story of family love; well told and worth the read. It just could have been shorter.  


J.G. on Hotch Pot Cafe

(If you would like me to post a link to your review, please leave a comment with the link address and I will add it.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

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

We are right about in the middle of the Sunshine Smackdown -- Battle of the Prizes Challenge. As a reminder, this challenge pits Pulitzer Prize winners against National Book Award winners. Participants read one Pulitzer winner, one National winner, and one book that won both prizes. Details and sign up info are here. There is still plenty of time to read three books before Labor Day, when the Challenge ends. Sign up now if you want in on the summer fun! So far, the following reviews are in: Sophie's Choice on Chaotic Compendiums The Optimist's Daughter on Joy's Blog Middle Passage on Living Life and Reading Books Advise and Consent here on Rose City Reader Empire Falls on Chaotic Compendiums Gilead on Tip of the Iceberg

Friday, July 24, 2009


The Booking Through Thursday theme this week is "Preferences," with these instructions: "Which do you prefer? (Quick answers–we’ll do more detail at some later date)." * Reading something frivolous? Or something serious? Usually serious. I definitely appreciate humor, even in a "serious" book, but don't usually pick up anything I would describe as frivolous. * Paperbacks? Or hardcovers? I'm the opposite of many readers -- I read paperbacks at home, where I can protect the covers from bends and creases, and cart around a hardback (without the dust jacket) to read at the gym or whenever needed. * Fiction? Or Nonfiction? About two parts fiction to one part non. * Poetry? Or Prose? Definitely prose, although I recognize this is a deficiency in my reading. * Biographies? Or Autobiographies? Usually biographies. * History? Or Historical Fiction? History. * Series? Or Stand-alones? Both. * Classics? Or best-sellers? Classics. * Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose? The latter. * Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? PLOTS. * Long books? Or Short? Both -- variety, spice of life, etc. * Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated? Books have pictures? * Borrowed? Or Owned? Owned. I can't handle the responsibility. * New? Or Used? Usually used.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shout Out: Wall Street

How exciting! Bookforum today mentioned and linked my Internet Review of Books review of Wall Street by Steve Fraser.

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Fixer

"From the small crossed window of his room above the stable in the brickyard, Yakov Bok saw people in their long overcoats running somewhere early that morning, everybody in the same direction." -- The Fixer by Bernard Malamud. Based on a true story, The Fixer is the story of a Russian Jew in Tsarist Russia who was unjustly accused of murdering a Christian boy. It won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award and I am trying to read the books on both of these lists. I keep putting off The Fixer because I have been unable to work up enthusiasm for a book this grim. To spur me into reading it, I made it the "double dipper" choice for my Battle of the Prizes Challenge. Now that I have started it, I am sucked in. Even though this will end in tears, Malamud is such a masterful storyteller, I am completely absorbed by Yakov's tragic tale.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Author of the Day: Elinor Lipman

Reading one of Elinor Lipman's novels is pure pleasure that makes you think. They are witty, intelligent stories of modern manners that prove that contemporary fiction by women can be substantive without being dreary.

Her books, starting with the most recent, follow. Those I have read are in red. Those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue.

The Family Man

My Latest Grievance (reviewed here)

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

The Dearly Departed

The Ladies' Man

The Inn at Lake Devine

Isabel's Bed

The Way Men Act

Then She Found Me

Into Love and Out Again (short stories)

(If you have reviewed any of Lipman's books and want to share, please leave a comment with a link to your review and I will add it here)

Last updated on April 19, 2012.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday was looking like it was going to be a very short post, since Julie & Julia was the only book that came into my house for most of last week. But, it is garage sale season. While out for a pre-work walk Friday, I was the early bird at a yard sale and found a box of very nice over-sized paperbacks for only 50 cents each. I was a goner.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (I have been waiting for this one and am very excited to read it. This counts as one of the books for my Spice of Life Challenge)

About a Boy by Nick Hornby (because I am on a Hornby kick and loved the movie)

Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl (This is the second of her memoirs, after Tender at the Bone -- I may get the first one and read them in order)

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (I have a copy already, so got this one for my mom)

Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion (I have a copy of this too, so got this one for my sister)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Pegasus Descending

"In the early 1980s, when I was still going steady with Jim Beam straight-up and a beer back, I became part of an exchange program between NOPD and a training academy for police cadets in Dade County, Florida." -- Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke Burke knows how to capture the reader's attention from the get go. This is the 15th book in Burke's Dave Robicheau series. I go on and off the series, but I am on it now. This one is very good so far -- exciting and, as always, marvelously written, but not too creepy and not so full of self-righteous sermonizing as some of them.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review: After Dinner Speaking

Fawcett Boom's After Dinner Speaking is a short, practical book published in 1991. I picked it up in the mid-90s, when I was putting in my time with various Bar organizations and had to do my share of speaker introductions and opening remarks. Too bad I never read the book back then. I usually ended up winging it and my attempts at public speaking were always too glib, too rushed, and generally botched.

This book could have helped, mostly by its calm assurance that, if well-prepared and audience-appropriate, any speech will be a success. Boom gives general guidelines for preparing to give a speech, specific tips for particular events, samples of great speeches with an explanation of why they worked so well, and then useful quotes to work into a speech.

The book is outdated in some ways. For one thing, Boom’s suggestions for how to research seem quaint – and time consuming – when Google will give us the type of background information he talks about in a matter of minutes. Also, although Boon warns readers away from earlier books about public speaking on the grounds that they are overly formal and old-fashioned, some of his tips sound pretty hoary themselves. For example, the he suggests that rules of etiquette should be flexibly applied at modern weddings to accommodate such radical changes as “where the bride makes a speech on behalf of herself and her husband. It happens!”

This book was published in Australia, so many of the references are unfamiliar to American readers. For instance, he uses the term “hens’ night” instead of bachelorette party. And I take it that a “Parents and Citizens” group is akin to an American PTA. These cultural differences are more interesting than annoying. Nothing in the book is groundbreaking or even eye catching. But it would provide some emotional hand-holding for anyone nervous about public speaking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Silver Palate

"The Silver Palate was born of two women's personal desperation." -- The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins Nothing conjures up old cooking memories like this cookbook. I had The Joy of Cooking with me when I got my first apartment, but The Silver Palate Cookbook was my first "grown up" cookbook. I just love the 1980s yummyness of it. My original copy went the way of the original husband. I was very happy when my friend Tracey gave me a new copy several years ago -- as a gift when I got married for the second time (here's to both lasting longer than the first ones). Because this cookbook has so many connections and memories for me, I decided to actually read it like a book. This will count for both the Colorful Reading Challenge and the Spice of Life Challenge.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Internet Review of Books

The July issue of the always-rewarding Internet Review of Books is up and as lively as ever. My review of Wall Street is one of 13 non-fiction and five fiction reviews, a "Lasting Impressions" review of The Education of Harriet Hatfield, and the Brief Reviews section. The IRB just keeps getting better and better. They are always looking for new volunteers -- for reviews or essays -- so please contact them if you are interested in participating.

Challenge of the Day: The Spice of Life

Rebecca of Rebecca Reads is hosting a Spice of Life Challenge that hits me at just the right time because the focus is on books about food and I have been in the mood for books about food ever since my sister started culinary school in January. Find the detail of the challenge here. I have opted to participate at the "sampler" level. My choices for each of the four categories (or, should I say, "courses") are: Cookbook: The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (which overlaps with my "silver" choice for the Colorful Reading Challenge) Nonfiction: Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger Memoirs/Essays: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell Fiction: The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (because I really, really liked her Lost in Translation book)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Review: Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways

Whether you live in a little house and need more practical space, or a big house and want some psychological space, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways will inspire your dreams with its “Big Ideas for Small Backyard Destinations.”

Author Debra Prinzing and photographer William Wright spent a year investigating and photographing some of America’s most wonderful sheds, follies, tea houses, pavilions, and other grown up play houses and packaged their work in a book as beautiful as it is informative.  The book is loosely organized by the purpose to which the featured structures are put: backyard escapes, artist havens, garden sheds, entertainment spaces, and playhouses.  Within these chapters, the discussion of each structure follows the same format, with an article on the background, building, and use of the structure, plus informative sidebars and plenty of pictures.

The only question is, when will Stylish Sheds II be published?  This book is enjoyable even for those who never build their own backyard hidey-hole, sequels should follow.  How about an international version?  Or a whole series: Stylish Sheds of Northern Europe, Stylish Sheds of the Mediterranean, Stylish Sheds of Asia, Stylish Sheds of South America -- think of the possibilities!  We can hope.


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

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Only one book came in the mail last week, so Mailbox Monday is pushing it. But many came into my house last week because I stopped at a church rummage sale Friday morning and snagged a couple of books that caught my eye, and I used my Reading Local contest winnings at Title Wave, the Multnomah County Library book store. Most of the Title Wave books are ex-library, with plenty of stickers, stamps, and tape, but they are in very good condition and make good reading copies. I was lucky though, and got a nice edition of 2666 -- the three volume, boxed, paperback set -- from a stash of uncirculated copies Title Wave is selling for $12.50 (the cover price is $30). I have mixed feelings about this book, so getting a good buy on a cool edition makes me more inclined to read it -- as if that makes any sense. The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos (which I won in a give away and now cannot for the life of me find my way back to the hosting blog -- sorry!) London Fields by Martin Amis (From the rummage sale; I am interested to read more of Martin Amis's books because I have only read Money.) Cuisine Novella by Antoine Laurent (The first sentence on the cover caught my attention -- restaurant in Paris -- but now that I read the rest -- fantasy, time travel -- I have buyer's remorse. Good thing it was from the rummage sale!) Nuns and Soldiers by Iris Murdoch (I'll read them all eventually.) 2666 by Roberto Bolano (see above) Shaken and Stirred: Through the Martini Glass and Other Drinking Adventures by William L. Hamilton (Ex-library, but looks like a lot of fun.) The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier by Colin Woodard (I love lobster and I love Maine -- can't wait.) Iris Murdoch: A Life by Peter J. Conradi (for when I finish the novels) Christmas Comfort & Joy by Better Homes and Gardens Books (All the Christmas books are ex-library, but they make great reference books for when I go Christmas crazy.) Christmas With Southern Living 2004 by Rebecca Brennan Christmas With Victoria 2000 by Kim Waller

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Au Revoir to All That

"On an uncomfortably warm September evening in 1999, I swapped my wife for a goose liver." -- Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France by Michael Steinberger That may be my favorite opening sentence of the year.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shame of the Village

LibraryThing outed me as the slacker I am. Long a member of LibraryThing's terrific Early Reviewer program, I have been lucky enough to nab several review copies of interesting books. For a while there, I was the model Early Reviewer. I would have earned an Early Reviewer gold star if they handed them out. Whenever I got a book, I read it immediately and I always wrote a review. But last fall, I started slacking off. Books would come, and I put them in their own priority TBR stack, and then ignored them. At first, I blamed my new job and house moving, but then, like a kid playing hooky, I just enjoyed seeing how long I could get away with not reading the books. More came in (although not as many as when I was the model participant), and I did not even bother reading the back covers -- I just bunged them into the no-longer-a-priority stack. Not any more. I got caught! LibraryThing has a new system where Early Reviewers can access a page listing their personal Early Reviewer books and information on the status of the book -- as in, whether you received the book yet and when you posted your review, with a gentle reminder to review the book if you have not done so. It is not an overtly threatening system, but the Power of the List is enough to shame me into fulfilling my duties. So, coming soon will be a new Rose City Reader List of the Day -- all my Early Reviewer books. And maybe a personal challenge is in the works. Anything to get back that gold star.

Opening Sentence of the Day: After Dinner Speaking

"Some of the sweetest sounds that a speaker can hear are the surprised ripple of laughter from the audience, the murmurs of approval at praise well deserved, and the firm hand of applause at the end of a speech, a sound of clapping that goes beyond the polite." -- After Dinner Speaking by Fawcett Boom This little book was published in 1991. I think I picked it up some time in the 1990s, when I was putting in my time with various Bar organizations and had to do my share of speaker introductions and opening remarks. Too bad I never read the book back then. I usually ended up winging it and my attempts at public speaking were always too glib, too rushed, and generally botched. Never too late to learn, though, so I am finally going to read this book. For one thing, that will get it off my nightstand where it has lived for the last 15 years.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review of the Day: Changing Places

In Changing Places, David Lodge’s 1975 novel, American and British college professors exchange teaching positions for part if the 1969 academic year. Mousy Philip Swallow finds himself basking in California sunshine in Berkeley, but embroiled in campus shenanigans, student protests, and an exciting new world of counterculture experimentation. On the other side of the Atlantic, Morris Zapp, a flamboyant and famous Austen scholar takes his new “red brick” college by storm, wowing the English Department as well as the wife of his colleague.

Lodge guides the reader along the crisscrossed paths of the two scholars, from one comical escapade to the next, but never shies away from the difficulties that arise. This is the type of story at which Lodge excels – examining how people react when outside events force them to reexamine what they believe in and hold dear.

He makes it funny, but the underlying dilemmas are as serious as they come. For example, the scene where Zapp realizes that his flight to England was so cheap because it was a charter flight of pregnant women taking advantage of Britain’s newly relaxed abortion laws, includes this passage:
For Morris Zapp is a twentieth-century counterpart of Swift’s Nominal Christian – the Nominal Atheist. Underneath that tough exterior of the free-thinking Jew. . . there is a core of old-fashioned Judaeo-Christian fear-of-the-Lord. If the Apollo astronauts had reported finding a message carved in gigantic letters on the backside of the moon, “Reports of My death are greatly exaggerated,” it would not have surprised Morris Zapp unduly, merely confirmed his deepest misgivings.
Religion? References to Jonathon Swift and Mark Twain (and, in the omitted section, T.S. Elliot)? Not typical fodder for a lighthearted novel, scenes like this makes readers laugh, but leave them with plenty to think about.

Lodge eventually followed Changing Places with a sequel called Small World (1984). He wrapped up his academia trilogy with Nice Work (1988).


(leave a link in a comment and I will post it here)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: My Latest Grievance

There is a reason Elinor Lipman gets compared to Jane Austen – like Austen, she can dissect a closed community down to its bones, but is so charming and witty about it that the process looks easy and her thoroughness is only admired in later musings.

In My Latest Grievance, Lipman turns her keen eye on academia with the story of Frederica Hatch’s unconventional upbringing at Dewing College in the late 1970s. Born to a duo of bleeding heart professors-turned-dorm-parents and union activists, Frederica is raised in the dorm of their minor all-girls college in Brookline, Massachusetts. When her father’s ex-wife finagles her way into a Dorm Mother job and the bed of the college President, Dewing will never be the same.

With Frederica’s as the beguiling narrator and Lipman’s wit flowing, My Latest Grievance is a novel of contemporary manners not to be missed.


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

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review: Wall Street

With the stock market still in the doldrums and the dust from the housing bubble explosion still settling, the timing of Steve Fraser’s Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace seems perfect.  A concise history of this symbol of American market ingenuity looks like just what we need to understand the mess we are in now. Unfortunately, while entertaining, the book falls short of providing much substantive history, let alone any insight into the current situation.

Fraser’s book is the latest installment in the “Icons of America” series published by the Yale University Press.  The series features “short works by leading scholars, critics, and writers on American history, or more properly the image of America in American history, through the lens of a single iconic individual, event, object, or cultural phenomenon.”

Fraser eschewed a chronological approach to his history of Wall Street.  Instead of discussing the origins, development, and major events of the American stock market, he chose to organize his narrative around the idea of four archetypes he believes exemplify the spirit of Wall Street.  He labels these types the Aristocrat, the Confidence Man, the Hero, and the Immoralist.

According to Fraser, the Aristocrat was an early threat to America’s fledgling democracy in the form of an aristocracy based on speculation – a moneyed class bent on creating a debt-funded plutocracy to replace the republican form of government fought for in the Revolution.  The Aristocrat gained wealth and power through “the inequalities and exploitation that trailed in the wake of capitalistic development” and reached his pinnacle of power during the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century.

The Con Man, on the other hand, is not relegated to a particular stage in Wall Street’s development, but is “endemic to market society.”  “[C]harming, glib, seductive, even charismatic, often sexy[,]” the Con Man is a trickster who takes advantage of the cupidity of hopeful investors.

The Hero thrives on risk with “Faustian panache” and can be “likened to Napoleon.”  In Fraser’s view, the Hero of Wall Street is not someone who accomplishes good or noble feats, but a character living in a “formless infinity of pure money, a universe with no fixed values.”  Such a hero achieves fame by being the biggest gambler on Wall Street.

Finally, the Immoralist embodies all the corrupt and corrupting characteristics of Wall Street, including laziness (making money from others’ labor), greed, hedonism, and general depravity.

Fraser’s caricatures are imaginative and appealing because they put faces on what could be a dry treatise with an unbearably heavy emphasis on economic policy.  It is a lot easier to read about a speculator like Jesse Livermore who drove a yellow Rolls Royce, wore a sapphire pinkie ring, and shot himself in a hotel cloakroom, than an essay on the development and use of corporate debentures.  The problem is that Fraser’s archetypes present a one-sided view of Wall Street.  In Fraser’s world, Wall Street has always been populated solely by bad guys – no one wears a white hat.  By concentrating on the catastrophes and scandals of Wall Street – the events that shaped Fraser’s archetypes – Fraser limits the scope of the book to what is wrong with the stock market system.  Missing is any discussion, necessarily less entertaining, of the national economic growth and personal financial gain enjoyed by millions of Americans because of a centralized stock exchange.

There are other limitations to Fraser’s approach and flaws in his execution.  First, for a short book, it jumps around a lot.  In each section devoted to a separate archetype, Fraser sets out the information chronologically.  This means each chapter starts by going back in time from where the previous chapter left off.  Because the Aristocrat dominated an earlier era and the Immoralist developed only later, the time periods discussed in each section do not overlap entirely; there is a general chronological progression through the book.  But, there is still a lot of going back and forth in time that gets confusing and impedes the flow of the story.

Second, in addition to overlapping in time, Fraser has trouble sorting the characters into his four pre-assigned cubbyholes.  Many of the people he writes about play multiple parts, appearing in one chapter as an example one archetype and in another as a different type.  For example, Cornelius Vanderbilt, shows up as an example of all four types – the Aristocrat, the Con Man, the Hero, and the Immoralist.  There is something about the same people popping up in different roles like amateur actors in a community playhouse production that diminishes the lofty concepts of archetypes and icons.

The biggest problem with Fraser’s book is a lack of substance.  True, it is not meant to be a comprehensive, definitive history of the American stock market, but a short, introductory overview.  Fraser is a gifted writer and the words rush by in a sparkling torrent.  But it would be nice it there were a little more shoe under all that shine.  He includes major historical events almost in passing, without adequately explaining their significance.

Overall, the book reads like an outline for a longer book, stretched out and fluffed up with a lot of exuberant filler words.  As for the timing of the book, it is not as perfect as it seems.  Fraser finished it when the market was still going strong.  From his perspective, the market had recovered from the bursting of the bubble and 9-11 and things looked good.  Now, sitting in the trough of “the worst recession since the Great Depression,” things look so much different.  In the current light, his closing has an ominous irony:
Whether Americans will continue nonetheless to find in Wall Street a welcoming place to indulge their romance with risk and dreams of universal abundance remains to be seen.


Internet Review of Books (cross-posting of my review)

If you would like your review to be linked here, please leave a comment with your link and I will add it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...