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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


I found this book fascinating from the moment I heard about it. I knew it was perfect for me. Nonfiction, science-lite, about an obscure fact, sure to be filled with other obscure facts. When it started getting rave reviews, I was hooked. It still took me nearly a year to read it, but I think that was partly worry that it wouldn't be as good as I hoped, and anticipation.

As a troubled teen, Rebecca Skloot heard about Henrietta Lacks in a community college science class and found her life's calling. When she became a journalist as an adult, she started to research the strange story of a young black mother in the 1950s Baltimore whose cells were taken and grown into the first cultured cells for medical research. Along the way, the HeLa cells have contributed to treatments for AIDS, cancer, cures for tuberculosis and polio, and have been exploded by atomic bombs and gone up in space. Her children and husband had no idea any of this was going on for 25 years, and to this day struggle financially, including being unable to afford health care.

While it is a naturally captivating story, Ms. Skloot did have a lot of science to convey for lay people, and a lot of obstacles to overcome in her research, not the least of which was Henrietta's gun-shy and eccentric family. They feel they have been taken advantage of, lied to, and used (all of which is pretty much true) so they are long to trust and were at times very difficult to work with. Ms. Skloot eventually won them over, particularly Henrietta's daughter Deborah who accompanied Ms. Skloot on a lot of her research trips. Luckily Rebecca Skloot is a remarkable writer, and an able researcher who was able to gain the cooperation of those who had both the most to gain and the most to lose in her completing her book.

The book is mostly history, not mostly science, which is perfect for someone like me who nearly failed high school biology, but if science is your bailiwick, keep that in mind when picking up this book. It jumps back and forth from the story of Henrietta's life, and her children's lives, to Ms. Skloot's research. Normally I woudn't be keen on a journalist inserting herself into the storyline, but it makes perfect sense in this instance. It would be very difficult to otherwise tell the story of the Lacks children without Rebecca as our guide into their lives today. Sadly, many of them have had difficult lives, partly due to the early loss of their mother, but also due to the syphilis that may be one factor in why the HeLa cells are so robust and resilient.

One disturbing fact is that even today doctors do not need to ask permission to use your cells in research. Particularly if your medical procedure is to have something removed. It is then considered to be discarded waste, and you no longer have any right to it. So it's perfectly plausible that my fibroid tumors and the mole that was removed from my temple last year could be being used for medical research right now without my knowledge or consent. They do need to get consent to remove tissue after death, but not before. And in 50+ years, that has not changed. Scary.

A wonderful book. Captivating, accessible, telling an important story that is still ongoing today, I thank Ms. Skloot for writing such a great book.

Teaser Tuesdays: At Home

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson p. 70
"If we were to step into the kitchen of the rectory in 1851, a number of differences would strike us immediately. For one thing, there would have been no sink."

So far, Mr. Bryson is up to his old, wonderful tricks: tons of random facts, mixed in with humor. Yay!

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
It's for book club, so even though I put it down several days ago to read Henrietta, I'll give it another go. But I'm not optimistic.

Up Next:
Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream by Jason Fagone
Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook by Sarah Schmelling
Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft by Thor Heyerdahl

Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
"In the beginning were the howlers."

I hate to say it because so many people love this book, but this book is losing me. I really don't like books that are all flowery and poetic. I feel like the first 80 pages could have been 5. There's no story yet, and I'm not convinced there ever will be. I hate not finishing a book club book, but it's a distinct possibility.

Christmas Presents You Should Be Buying (and Requesting)

This website, Out Of Print Clothing sells T-Shirts based on classic books, and for every shirt sold, they donate a book to Books For Africa. How cool is that? So not only could your loved ones sport a super-cool Moby Dick or Brave New World shirt, but your gift could also be a charitable donation encouraging literacy! I think we have achieved perfection! Now, I know it's totally predictable but how pretty is this Pride & Prejudice shirt?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: As Always, Julia


“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto by Joan Reardon (editor)
Description (from the publisher):
With her outsize personality, Julia Child is known around the world by her first name alone. But despite that familiarity, how much do we really know of the inner Julia?

Now more than 200 letters exchanged between Julia and Avis DeVoto, her friend and unofficial literary agent memorably introduced in the hit movie Julie & Julia, open the window on Julia’s deepest thoughts and feelings. This riveting correspondence, in print for the first time, chronicles the blossoming of a unique and lifelong friendship between the two women and the turbulent process of Julia’s creation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one of the most influential cookbooks ever written.

Frank, bawdy, funny, exuberant, and occasionally agonized, these letters show Julia, first as a new bride in Paris, then becoming increasingly worldly and adventuresome as she follows her diplomat husband in his postings to Nice, Germany, and Norway.

With commentary by the noted food historian Joan Reardon, and covering topics as diverse as the lack of good wine in the United States, McCarthyism, and sexual mores, these astonishing letters show America on the verge of political, social, and gastronomic transformation.
This book is publishing 12/1/2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays


Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver p. 66
"La Perla said she saw him once at the Plaza Caballito, down there with the troublemakers when the workers had their strike. He was fat as a giant and horribly ugly, with the face of a frog and the teeth of a Communist. They say he eats the flesh of young girls, wrapped in a tortilla."
A lovely description of the painter Diego Rivera. I understand he was quite an ass, although I think he stopped short of cannibalism.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health by Gina Kolata
Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
haven't picked one up yet but will this afternoon. Was catching up on Newsweeks.

Up Next:
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (Book club, must read!)
Head Games by Mariah Fredericks
Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

I am behind on my YA and my Australian challenges, so books 2-3 are both YA and book 3 is Aussie.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review: Reading Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf

I am so elated that this series of books by Munro Leaf has been reissued! Most people only know him for the fantastic Story of Ferdinand. And it's understandable since you'd never look at those illustrations and these illustrations and guess they were drawn by the same man. But my sisters and I loved Manners Can Be Fun and How to Behave And Why when we were kids. This book we didn't have - it was preaching to the choir anyway - but I was thrilled to run across it recently!


Did you know that while there are only 26 letters, there are 44 different sounds we make while speaking? The book is filled with facts. It doesn't talk down to kids, but it is written simply so even those struggling to read can understand. It is very wordy, and appropriate for older (1st grade) picture book readers. For reluctant readers it talks about Why we learn to read.


I love the illustrations. Yes, they're wildly different than the intricate, detailed Ferdinand illustrations. These are cute child-like stick-figures. They have a cartoonish feel to them. I think kids identify with the illustrations, and find them accessible, and funny.

And I love that there are blank pages at the back of the book. These are for writing down a list of books that you have read! Getting kids ready for book blogging one day...

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health by Gina Kolata


I walk a lot. I've walked 2 half-marathons each of the last two years. I plan to walk my first full in April 2011. And I work out occasionally, at home. But that's it. Luckily I have good genes and was taught to just eat within reason, and I don't need to really kill myself to stay pretty thin. J. however is in training to be a Personal Trainer, and when I saw it at the library sale I knew this book would be right up his alley. It was and he devoured it pretty quickly. But I picked it up too. One reason I got it for him in the first place is because I figured even if he didn't want to read it, I did.
Ms. Kolata is a medical reporter for the New York Times, and she gets a press release about a revolutionary new study showing amazing results for a ridiculous exercise program (work out for 1 minute; rest for 7). Usually she just tosses those, but something about this one got under her skin and she decided to delve into it. Turns out it was a study of just 10 women, with no controls, and the two statisticians she consults say there are serious problems with the numbers, and the study is basically unrepeatable from the information given. Hm. She looks into it again and finds out naturally that the "inventor" of this new type of exercise is of course trying to sell it (license gyms to be official places to practice it) and while 2 of the three researchers are at Columbia and Harvard, the third (the inventor guy) has had his license to practice medicine pulled in NJ and NY and his sanity was questioned at one of the hearings. The message: when you read about a new study that purports to have amazing new news about fitness and working out, be skeptical. And then she wondered how much of what she knows about fitness and exercise is backed up by real, legitimate, provable research?
It turns out, very little. I love books that skewer urban myths, which this one does with rapidity. Ms. Kolata investigates is there a runner's high? Is there science behind the "fat burning zone" on exercise equipment? Are the target heart rate charts accurate? Are there really some people who won't become fit no matter how much they exercise? Do nutritional supplements help build muscle? Are trainers actually trained to do anything useful? Does building muscles really help you burn more calories even while sitting and doing nothing? Can people really get addicted to exercise? As you can probably guess by my use of the word "skewer" earlier, the answer to most of these questions turns out to be negative (except the last). Most universal truths you hear around the gym have never been proven, can't be proven, or are simply guesses that have taken on the varnish of facts.
She intersperses the research and science with her own personal stories of discovering weight lifting, Spinning, and her own experiences with working out. I really liked these parts, being a big fan of memoirs. J. preferred the slightly wonky fact-heavy specifics about fast-twitch versus slow-twitch muscles, the information about weight-lifting (as a sport), and the details of which of the personal training programs are legit. So nicely, we both enjoyed the book thoroughly for very different reasons. It was very well written, a fast, breezy read despite being research-heavy, and I am by no means a jock or a gym-head. I haven't even had a gym membership in about 8 years. But if you are truly adverse to working out, this likely isn't the book for you, although Ms. Kolata would hope to inspire you to give it a try, I'm sure!
I particularly loved the odd historical tidbits such as: in early marathons (through the 1960s), drinking water was considered cheating. Marathoners in the Olympics weren't allowed to drink water until after mile 6, and even then they had to either carry it themselves, or set up their own water stations in advance, as there were no water stations offered by the Olympics. Man, do we have it cushy!
Okay, I'm off now to watch "The Biggest Loser" and do leg lifts and crunches!

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health by Gina Kolata

"My friend Cynthia, just back from a week in Italy, calls me, wanting to know if I can go for a walk."

The author gets interested in investigating exercise and fitness due to her own personal interest in it, so this is a very appropriate beginning.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell


Isn't this new cover gorgeous? I can't find an image of mine. My copy was printed in 1965. It's a red cover, with a sketchy painting of Rhett carrying Scarlett in a blue dress with two rebel soldiers in the background. I thought about getting this new edition. But I just can't give up my beloved old copy from high school (no, I'm not that old. My mother was in college when this copy was printed.) I think I got it at a used bookstore, or possibly swiped it from our summer lake house. It is absolutely falling to pieces. In the late 80s. I tried to repair it with Scotch tape. Twenty years later, the tape is failing too, and I can't really fix it again since taping over bad tape doesn't do much good. I call it my Velveteen Rabbit book, as it's long loved and absolutely in tatters.

Rereading this book 15 years after my last read made me nervous. What if it didn't hold up? Yes, I know it won the Pulitzer (yes, it really did! Any of you who'd been thinking it was just a romance novel should be rethinking and heading out to buy it.) That was reassuring but I was still worried. And I shouldn't have been. It was just as wonderful, if not better than I remembered. The one disappointment was that unlike back in high school and college the last 80 pages didn't make me cry. There are spoilers in this review, so if you haven't read the book before go read it right now, and come back to this review in about 20 hours. I'll wait.

I find it surprising that some people think Scarlett a huge bitch. She is in the very beginning, before the war, but after the war she does anything and everything she can - including murder and essentially prostitution - to save her land, and therefore her family and their livelihood. It isn't fun or easy for her - she has to swallow her morals, she thinks she's going to hell, she knows her mother would have lost all respect for her, but she does it anyway. I think if she absolutely had no other options, she would have knocked on Belle Watling's door and asked for a job. I love her resilience, her strength, her determination, and her fierce, abiding love for her family and her home. Sure, she doesn't like her sisters very much (would you? Especially Suellen?) but that doesn't mean she doesn't love them. I admire her, and I think in the same position I'd have done everything she does. A classic oldest child, she does what has to be done, with little to no recognition and a lot of consequences to live with.

K. and I were talking about some of the differences between the book and the movie. The movie was pretty darn close to the book, with both Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Haviliand carrying the book around and referring to it constantly while arguing with the director and producers. Naturally, a few things had to be cut for length. The most obvious being Scarlett's two older children. So we were discussing what purpose those children served in the book that was missing from the movie. I think the most important thing is that Wade Hampton made it obvious that Scarlett and Charles's marriage was consummated even though it was so short. Otherwise, she might have tried to have it annulled, or at least could have implied to prospective second husbands that she was in fact unsullied, regardless of the truth of that. K. thought that it also had an up side - it showed she was fertile, and in fact gave birth to sons which could be considered an advantage by prospective in-laws.

Another thing that was cut were two important male characters from the last third of the book - Will Benteen who took care of Tara and eventually married Suellen. And Archie, the former convict who drove Scarlett and the ladies of Atlanta around town on their errands. It's interesting that the one line from each man that just couldn't be cut were both given to Mammy. (Will to Scarlett about Ashley: "He's her husband, ain't he?" and Archie to the women at Melanie's: "Hush up, someone's coming.") In the movie, it was easy to gloss over the fact that there were just a couple of women and former slaves at Tara after Scarlett left, but you just couldn't in the book. Also in the movie it was easy enough to skip the part where at first she had a semi-respectable driver before she started driving herself to the mill alone. In the book, the scandalousness of the situation would have been just too much. Otherwise, it's amazing how accurate the movie was.

I was also surprised upon rereading to discover the first day - when she's flirting with the Tartleton twins, then talking to her father, takes 65 pages. By the end of the ball the following day, we're on p. 111. I know this is a long book (862 pages) but I was wondering how we were going to get through 12 years at that pace! It's interesting how Ms. Mitchell was able to speed up and slow down the pacing of the book, without making the action seem at all jumpy or disjointed. A lot of people also don't realize over what a long time the book takes place. We know Scarlett is 16 at the beginning and toward the end Rhett asks her how old she is, and she's 28.

I never understood her fascination with Ashley and will admit there were times I wanted to shake/slap her out of that. In fact, personally I don't understand how anyone but a quiet, contemplative, bookish woman like Melanie could ever like Ashley, but my mother always had a crush on him, so I guess he isn't just the wussy, effete crybaby I think of him as. (By the way, according to the book he has a large, distinguished, sweeping moustache which was the only description difference of anyone that I noticed from book to movie.)

Ms. Mitchell is a masterful writer. Her characters are true, three-dimensional, honest, and real. She's obviously done her research on the Civil War (although it was only 80 years gone when she wrote this - about the same distance as now and WWII - so it wouldn't have been as much research as we probably imagine as there would have been people still around who remembered that time.) And I found it interesting that she didn't actually feel the need to give us a lot of details about the war. Many writers would have (in fact, I think I learned more about the Civil War from reading the North and South trilogy by John Jakes than I ever did in school.) But Scarlett isn't interested, that doesn't change as the years go on, and Ms. Mitchell remains true to her point of view. She's great at building to an amazing climax that takes place over 200 pages - that's a shocking amount of space to maintain tension and anticipation over. And like a true soap opera, a massive amount of tragedy soaks the last of the book, to our exquisite torture.

Do I believe she'll get Rhett back? I do. I don't think someone who has loved her as long as he has (and mostly without being able to do anything about it) can stay away forever. He had tried to forget about her for years, and hadn't been able to do so. But, DO NOT read the horrible sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. I read the first half twice but both times just had to throw the book across the room when Scarlett decided she didn't need to wear corsets anymore! Puh-Lease! Scarlett will be the most vain person until the day she dies, and throwing off her corset for comfort would likely kill her from the shock. I've heard Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig is much, much better but I just can't risk it after the horror that was Scarlett.

Gone With the Wind is, and will always be one of my very favorite books. It is the best distraction in the world. I was going through a bit of a rough patch when I picked it up, and I was having trouble sleeping because I couldn't turn off my brain when I went to bed. Well Scarlett took care of that! A dose of Miss O'Hara was all it took to completely distract me. I slept like a log after picking it up. I have foisted this book upon plenty of Yankees who ended up loving it, so don't use that as an excuse. And it's a perfect book to read right now. I wrote one of my English AP essays on this book, and how one reason it was so popular when it came out in the 1930s was because it so perfectly mirrored what was going on at the time - A lighthearted, easy era, then a war, and a depression. By reading Gone With the Wind, people during The Depression could see a light at the end of the tunnel. We Americans had been through bad times before - in fact bad times very, very similar to the current bad times - and gotten through it just fine. And gee, a lighthearted, easy era followed by war and an economic depression - does that sound familiar to anyone today? Hmmm.

Everyone should read this book. I think it's one of the essential American literary classics. It perfectly captures an era (or two, as it more subtly also captures the era in which is was written) in our history, it gives us an indelible heroine who epitomizes many truly American traits - stubbornness, covetousness, resilience - and shows the American spirit won't be knocked down. Scarlett's absolutely a symbol of America, and I don't doubt for a minute that she'll never admit defeat in her quest for life, love, and the pursuit of happiness until the day she dies.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Titanic Thompson

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything by Kevin Cook

from the publisher:
Born in a log cabin in the Ozarks, Alvin "Titanic" Thompson (1892-1974) traveled with his golf clubs, a .45 revolver, and a suitcase full of cash. He won and lost millions playing cards, dice, golf, pool, and dangerous games of his own invention. He killed five men and married five women, each one a teenager on her wedding day. He ruled New York's underground craps games in the 1920s and was Damon Runyon's model for slick-talking Sky Masterson. Dominating the links in the pre-PGA Tour years, Thompson may have been the greatest golfer of his time, teeing up with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, and Ray Floyd. He also traded card tricks with Houdini, conned Al Capone, lost a million to Minnesota Fats and then teamed up with Fats and won it all back. A terrific read for anyone who has ever laid a bet, Titanic Thompson recaptures the colorful times of a singular figure: America's original road gambler.

Publishes 11/22/10 by W. W. Norton & Co.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health by Gina Kolata p. 142

"He wanted to let us actually feel some of the emotions and rewards that drive people like him, and to feel the extraordinary changes in the body's physiology that can occur when you push yourself hard - if, that is, you are genetically able to train. For just a brief time, he thought, we might be able to see his world."

This is about Josh Taylor, the Spinning instructor who came up with the Mount Everest event, which sounds pretty dreadful. Gina is training for it with her husband. But then, I think everything about Spinning sounds pretty dreadful. I just walk. But I'm learning some cool things about exercise.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler



I heard an interesting interview with the author on a podcast from Penguin Classics last week, so I figured I'd pick up this book since I knew it was sitting on my bookshelf at home. The Brontës aren't my favorite classic British authors, but I like them well enough and I reread Jane Eyre last year for my book club. I thought it would be interesting to find out more about them without having to read a long, dry biography.

But this book wasn't my cup of tea. It was written in a style imitative of the Brontës' style - romantic, poetic, atmospheric - which I don't particularly like. I am more a fan of straightforward, practical, concrete. But it was short, and it was a very fast read, so I stuck with it. I liked the last section, where Charlotte was with her publisher in London, quite well. But the majority of the book was with her family, and it was confusing and nothing much happened at all. We know that there were 6 children pretty early on, but we don't find out what happened to the other 2 girls until halfway through the book, and even then it's not until 3/4 through that we learn the second one's name. I am personally really turned off by purposeful obfuscations, and this book could have used a lot less of that. I think it would have been just as powerful, if not more so, had the author not tried to imitate the writing style of the 1800s. I was intrigued by what I learned, but I didn't learn nearly enough about them, and I'll now be reading Wikipedia to find out the details that were left out.

If you are a huge Brontë fan, I think you'll like this book very much. But if you're more of an Austen fan, it might not be for you. (An aside: I dispute her contention in the interview that you don't need to be either an Austen or a Brontë fan and you can be both. I contend that they are so very, very different in their styles, in how they see the world, in their goals with writing, that if you love one, you naturally will not love the other, but I'd love to hear from you if you are a huge fan and very much love both. How do you reconcile the romantic and the practical? It's probably obvious, but I love Austen and like the Brontës.)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health by Gina Kolata

Up Next:
There was a big sale at Borders this week. Thousands of books for $4 apiece. Here are a few of my finds:
Who the Hell Is Pansy O'Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books by Jenny Bond, Chris Sheedy
Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do by Alan S. Miller, Satoshi Kanazawa
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban

As I mentioned last week, my little friend A will soon be becoming a big sister, and as a big sister myself, I am trying to show her the ropes. Plus, I have started her Frances collection and this one had been a glaring hole.
One of the best things about the Frances books is her songs. My mother used to make up little tunes to sing them which were excellent. I know a lot of parents don't feel comfortable doing that but you should. You kid isn't going to judge, and a song should be sung! Even Frances's parents comment on how much they miss her songs, after she runs away to under the dining room table, to protest being ignored in favor of Gloria, her new baby sister. And her marching song (which sounds like it would be excellent although we only get 1 line of it) precipitates the conflict. The Hobans are so brilliant at capturing how little kids think and act which I think is a large reason why these books are still so beloved 50 years later. I was struck by the scene when Frances goes to her room "and took some gravel out of the drawer where she had been saving it." That's so perfect for a little child, and yet something most adults have forgotten they do! I also like how Frances sits under the kitchen sink because it's cozy. Grown-ups have forgotten how sometimes it's nice to sit under the sink or in the coat closet or squeeze under the bed. That authentic child's voice is enchanting to children who immediately recognize a kindred spirit.

Of course the reason Frances's parents' reverse psychology to convince her to "come home" (from the dining room) really works is because they use it to show Frances how much she is appreciated, and how valuable her position as big sister is. And at the end, also they point out to her there are advantages to being a big girl (eating chocolate cake).

I think A will love this book as much as the others, and now I'll be on the lookout for A Bargain for Frances, Birthday for Frances, and Egg Thoughts and Other Frances Songs for her. Meanwhile, she is lobbying for her little sister to be names Frances. So far she's not making much headway, but I suggested Gloria might be a nicer name, and a good name for a Baby Sister.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
"He wakes to the scratching of a pencil against a page: a noise out of the darkness."
Rev. Bronte has just had eye surgery and is recovering while Charlotte waits, writing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Famous First Lines


American Book Review recently posted a list of the best 100 first lines from novels. I'm not sure why there are so many non-American books given the publication's name but I'll cut them slack on that one. But did the list need to have so many dead white men? It's practically a list of the English Literary canon - circa 1990. Really, THREE Joyces? Only 21 women and no Brontes? Here's my favorite first line ever. What's yours?

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband, nor my last."

Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Sleights of Mind

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions by Stephen Macknick and Susana Martinez-Conde with Sandra Blakeslee

from the publisher:
Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, the founders of the exciting new discipline of neuromagic, have convinced some of the world's greatest magicians to allow scientists to study their techniques for tricking the brain. This book is the result of the authors' yearlong, world-wide exploration of magic and how its principles apply to our behavior. Magic tricks fool us because humans have hardwired processes of attention and awareness that are hackable—a good magician uses your mind's own intrinsic properties against you in a form of mental jujitsu.

Now magic can reveal how our brains work in everyday situations. For instance, if you've ever bought an expensive item you'd sworn you'd never buy, the salesperson was probably a master at creating the "illusion of choice," a core technique of magic. The implications of neuromagic go beyond illuminating our behavior; early research points to new approaches for everything from the diagnosis of autism to marketing techniques and education. Sleights of Mind makes neuroscience fun and accessible by unveiling the key connections between magic and the mind.

Publishing 11/9/10 by MacMillan Palgrave.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Jane Austen!

Last week I heard a fascinating story on NPR that said Jane Austen had a brilliant editor. Her original manuscripts have been found and analyzed against her published books, and there were a great many changes, many grammatical or stylistic that are certainly in the purview of an editor. As a former editor, I was proud when I heard about this story, because occasionally older famous authors like Austen and Dickens and Shakespeare are used to prove that sometimes what an author writes is utterly perfect and doesn't need editing, therefore editors are useless and my book should be published exactly as is. Nevermind that Shakespeare's plays were workshopped, revised, and that he edited them constantly over decades (not to mention of course the debate about whether or not he even wrote them at all.) And that Dickens in fact did have editors - some people choose to just believe that in old-timey days there weren't editors (and frankly, after suffering through Bleak House, don't some of us wish that instead of being paid by the word, he was instead edited with a heavy hand?)
So I was surprised at the end of the story to hear that the researcher has gotten a lot of angry feedback. Apparently some Jane Austen fans think that her writing was completely perfect, and the fact that she wasn't perfect and she did need editing has tarnished their opinions of her. I think that's a bunch of bollocks. To think that a writer needing editing somehow makes them lesser is just obtuse. Writing and editing are different skills. For that matter, all the readers, agents, and editors that a manuscript encounters will have different areas of expertise that they might improve upon. I am very good at dialogue and character, not as good at pacing and at physical details. Other editors are better at those aspects. And then of course copyeditors and proofreaders are looking for different errors altogether. The fact that her novels didn't come out of her pen in final-draft perfection should in no way make anyone think of Jane Austen's reputation as marred. Was Michael Jordan a lesser basketball player because he had a coach? Certainly not, and Ms. Austen is still brilliant, perhaps even more so for knowing she could use some assistance in certain areas, and also in taking that editorial advice.

On another Austen note, I finally got around to listening to a podcast which I'd had in my iTunes forever, from Penguin Classics. Mostly it was just nice talking about Jane and why she's endured and what aspects of her books kids today relate to, but in discussing how her books have been adapted and her plots have been appropriated, I learned a new, shocking fact. Apparently Atonement by Ian McEwan was based on Northanger Abbey! Now, I haven't read NA since 1994 so my memory was sketchy, so I had to call my Mom (another JASNA-member). She hadn't read Atonement (yet, this might move it up on her list!) but she saw part of the movie, and she began talking about how in the book, Catherine thinks that Henry's father murdered his wife, and how really it's all about her overactive imagination, and how she's misinterpreted some things she's seen and how her imagination gets her into a lot of trouble. Immediately I could see the parallels with Briony's active imagination, and her misinterpretation of what happened between Cecelia and Robbie Turner, and how that gets everyone in trouble. My aunt piped up in the background and started to dispute that it was a retelling of Northanger, as the consequences in NA were negligible and in Atonement they were momentous, but my mother and I agree that while NA provided the framework, McEwan had never intended to make a strict parallel, and instead used it as a jumping-off point. Later, I discussed with K, another Austen fan, and we agreed that this fact wasn't widely known in the literary world. We'd read Atonement for our book club, and this never came up despite many of the members being the type to read Reader's Guides, and I am in the book business and read reviews widely, as does K, and neither of us ever heard this before.

I was planning in a few months to reread Pride & Prejudice, but now I'm thinking I'd also like to reread Northanger Abbey. Maybe in 2011 I'll reread all 6 novels throughout the year. Plus, I never read the juvenilia, correspondence, and Lady Susan. I have the book with all that material, but in my Austen seminar, my professor was unexpectedly bedridden with twins so we missed a couple of classes and got a little behind. But she pointed out this could be an advantage. When people clue in that we'd read all of Jane Austen and might therefore be a little nutty, we could honestly say "No, I haven't read all of Austen's works." But really I don't have any trouble with people thinking I'm nutty for that reason, so why not?

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
"The name of her character and of her book comes to her casually, as she is busy with other things. She thinks of it as she adjusts her father's blanket and lifts a cup to his lips, as he stirs, mutters something, stretches out a hand." p. 26

Charlotte Bronte is taking care of her elderly father. Her novel The Professor has been rejected for publication. And she is starting a new novel.
I heard about this book on a Penguin Classics podcast this afternoon, and as I knew I'd be casting about for a new read this afternoon, it was good timing and I figured why not?

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Firehouse by David Halberstam

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - I only have 120 pages left so I'll definitely finish this week. I am so looking forward to this and I have a nearly-full box of kleenex all ready for the last 80 page.

Up Next:
Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol
Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Review: Firehouse by David Halberstam


I picked this book up at the Friends of the Library sale. I'd seen it a few months ago on Audible and thought a nonfiction work by a famous author about a firehouse would be cool. Didn't realize until I started reading it that it's about September 11th. (Here's my Sept. 11th post.) Hm. Still wanted to read it, but knew it would be hard. Wanted to read it during the day, not at night. Some days really felt like I was in too good of a mood to read it, so even though it's very short, it took me a little while.
It's about Firehouse 40/35 (Engine 40, Ladder 35) in midtown Manhattan. On Sept. 11, 2001, the engine and the ladder both went down to the World Trade Center at 9:30 AM, with 13 men aboard the two trucks. One man survived. Mr. Halberstam had lovingly portrayed detailed portraits of every man on those rigs. Several were within a year of retirement. Two were probies. One was engaged to be married in November. One firefighter was filling in from another firehouse and this was his first day at 40/35. Several of the men weren't supposed to be on the rigs that day but changed shifts with other guys for one reason or another. Some wanted more overtime, some guys needed the day off. All were hardworking, caring, honest men who put others' lives before their own. It turns out they only entered WTC2 10 minutes before it collapsed. The one survivor had a broken neck (3 vertebra), a concussion, lost most of his testicles, and had been thrown half a block by the force of the collapse. Later he talked to a reporter about how difficult it was to be the sole survivor, the guilt and doubt he was feeling, only to be branded a coward in the newspaper, for his honesty and feelings.
There isn't much detail about the run itself. After all, very little is known. The survivor, Shea, doesn't remember much thanks to the concussion, and there aren't any records. The FDNY's communication system was so bad as to be practically worthless. This isn't a book about Sept. 11th, but a book about 13 men who gave their lives, the families who loved them, and by extension it's written in honor of all the New York City firefighters who lost their lives that day.
May we never forget them:
Engine 40
Lt. John Ginley
Bruce Gary
Michael Lynch
Mike D'Auria
Vincent Morello
Steve Mercado
Ladder 35
Capt. Frank Callahan
Jimmy Giberson
Michael Otten
Michael Roberts
Dan Marshall
Kevin Bracken
Kevin Shea*
It is a touching, loving, thoughtful, compelling, heartbreaking, and necessary book. I wish a book could be written that would go into such detail about all the NYFD lost that day, but that would be impractical. Instead, we have this brief, beautiful homage. Thank you.
*survived

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole

My friend K is pregnant and her daughter A will soon be a big sister. And K recently confessed to me that she's yet to get any "big sister" books for A yet. Luckily for her, I am a book addict extraordinaire, and at last week's Friends of the Library Book Sale, I picked up a couple for her, starting with this pretty basic one: I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole. It's a hardcover but a small one - about 5" x 7" so perfect for a 2-year-old to hold by herself.

The storyline is simple. We have a new baby! I am a big sister! The new baby is too small to do anything. Babies are cute. Sometimes they scream. Big sisters can help. I was a baby once, but now I'm big and can do a lot of things. I'm special, and one special thing is that I'm a big sister.

The illustrations are sweet and fairly realistic - no talking dogs or anything. (I like the baby's fish mobile.) The family is loving. They take time to spend with the big sister, showing her that she's special and still loved. In fact at the end there's a page for parents (different font, lots of words) explaining how they can make the transition better for big sisters, what behavior to encourage or discourage, and so on. As older siblings can sometimes act out when they feel ignored or supplanted, this is excellent advice.

Hopefully A will enjoy this book, because she's getting it for Christmas!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Firehouse by David Halberstam
"The Upper West Side of Manhattan, just above Columbus Circle, was until recently a relatively poor neighborhood, and some of the veteran firemen at Engine 40, Ladder 35, located at Sixty-sixth Street and Amsterdam Avenue, like to recall how Amsterdam was once the dividing line between an Irish neighborhood to the east and a black neighborhood, just to the west."

For those of us who have lived in NYC recently, this is a fairly amusing thought - that anywhere on the Upper West Side could be a poor neighborhood. It's so gentrified. I have friends who lived 20 blocks north of here who made six figures and still had roommates.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: I Still Dream About You


“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

from the publisher:
A major new novel--the first in four years!--by the irresistible bestselling author of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Though her friends think Maggie has the perfect life, she's actually perfectly miserable. The former Miss Alabama is worried about how her life has turned out--she's given up on her dream of living in a beautiful home like Crestview, and instead is a real estate agent in Birmingham. But just when Maggie begins to wonder if there's much point in going on, her life takes a wild turn, and she finds herself catapulted into one surprising discovery after the next. As Maggie learns valuable lessons about the nature of friendship, the challenges of modern life, and the dangers of impossible dreams, she starts to see how much more there is to life than what can be listed in a Miss Alabama bio. Bestselling author Fannie Flagg's trademark comic flair is out in full force in this fabulous new novel about the unpredictability of life.

Random House publishes 11/9/10.