Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder


This is, hands-down, my favorite Little House book. And that's saying something because I really love all of them! (I have mentioned before that my youngest sister is named Laura, and yes it absolutely is after LIW.) I normally reread these in the summer, as that's the best time to read about blizzards, not December! I felt like a bit of a wuss, huddling under my fleece throw in my silk long underwear, wondering when the heater would click back on, while the poor Ingalls are probably in a house that didn't hit 40 degrees for 7 months, not to mention starving to death.

I think one reason I like this book so much is because it has the added element of survivalism, which doesn't appear in any of the other books. And yet, the Ingallses have such patience, faith, and determinism that they never even seem to worry much, despite very great chance that they weren't going to make it. Also it's the book where Laura really starts to change from being a girl, to a young woman. She's really taking responsibility from the very first chapter, and she's working like an adult for the family. As Mary is blind, Carrie is weak, and Grace is a toddler, she's really the only able-bodied child in the house, and it's admirable how she really steps up to help. It's also the book where we're introduced to Almanzo. Yes, I know, we're really introduced to him in Farmer Boy. However, that books is a one-off. Within the narrative of Laura and her family, this is the first time they encounter him. And while Laura doesn't interact with him, he does make an impressive debut by boldly risking his life to save the townspeople from starvation.
This is also the longest book in the series, which is appropriate for the most serious episode in Laura's life. I love the length as we too, as readers, start to feel like the winter will never end. The cold, the desperation, and the tedium all are perfectly conveyed. I am sad I still have 2 more months of winter, but thanks to Laura's story, I am immensely grateful that I don't have 6 more months!

Book Beginnings on Friday: Clan of the Cave Bear


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 Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

"The naked child ran out of the hide-covered lean-to toward the rocky beach at the bend in the small river."
I actually remember the little naked child from when I first read this book, 8 years ago. The beginning is pretty memorable.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


I first read this book in 1993 when the movie came out. I absolutely loved it and ran out and bought the book immediately, reading it in a day or two. I was thrilled when a few months later, the book appeared on the syllabus for my 20th Century American Lit class. I loved it, and read Ms. Tan's next several books (although with decreasing enthusiasm, and haven't read the last couple.) As usual, I was worried about rereading, but I thought it was worthwhile. I'd seen the movie several times since then, including last week, but I remembered the book had nearly twice as many stories as the movie, and I no longer remembered those and wanted to give it another go.

Luckily, it was fantastic. And I strongly recommend a reread with this book. When I first read it, I was 19. With this reread, I am 36. The daughters in the book are also 36. I still identify with them more so than with the mothers (perhaps because I remain not a mother myself) but now I understood them differently. At 19, I aspired to be them. At 36, I AM them. However, I dealt with my own mother-daughter issues a while back, in my late 20s. In that regard, they seemed a little juvenile, even though most of them were married with kids, a divorce, and maybe more. On the other hand, since I know it is a completely different culture, I think it probably makes sense that they've had a bit more trouble cutting the apron strings. Not to mention, all of them staying in their hometown and living near their parents exacerbated the mother-daughter issues.

The different voices (7 in all, 8 if you count Suyuan) were distinct and the stories were illuminating. You really did see, as An-Mei said, the stair steps of the mothers and daughters going up and down, and them learning to use their own voices and tell their stories is the central theme. But it's a resonant story today. I have a friend who needs to learn what she's worth, and to ask for it, who I'm thinking of giving a copy of this book. An odd fact: This book was originally published in 1987. Which means that the daughters aren't really my age, they're just 4 years younger than my mother. Which makes it all the more interesting for me to identify with the daughters, who are baby boomers, and who grew up in a drastically different America than I did, regardless of their culture. It's interesting how siblings almost never came into the story, except for Jing-Mei's found half-sisters, and they mostly are just a story.

I'm thrilled I reread this, and I finished it in just 2 days. It was powerful, evocative, heart-breaking, and in the end hope-giving.

Carin's Book of the Year 2010



The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, Marlaine Delargy (Translator)

I read 13 5-star books this year, but this is a no-brainer for me. The only book that's ever made me cry in book club, The Unit was powerful, stunning, eye-opening, and just ripped out my insides. Although one ironic thing is that when I read this, one reason I was affected so powerfully is that as a single, childless woman, I would be doomed to The Unit myself. However, this summer I met a great guy and am no longer single. So now, in theory, I would be exempted from The Unit. Here is my original review.
I read it back in March. It's a bleak and cold time of year to be reading dystopian literature, but I'm also glad it was a book I read early in the year. It leaped to mind immediately 9 months later when I wondered what was my favorite book this year, and for recent reads, it's hard to know if that's just because it was recent, and not because of its excellence. I read the book quickly, in just a couple of days. I don't particularly like dystopian lit. We read this for my book club and it's one of very few books that was liked universally (except that 1 person, a noted romantic, hated the ending. But she liked everything up until then.) Everyone I know who's read it has loved it. Dystopian literature is very much in right now, so if you're reading more of it yourself, please consider adding The Unit to your list. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors


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 Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer
"Before leaving Norfolk, Bob Copeland decided to add one last recruit to the ship's complement. How the dog first came aboard had less to do with the captain's preferences than with the drunken enterprise of some Roberts sailors on shore leave."

You hear about this today, too: troops illegally adopting a dog. I think it's the ordinariness of a pet dog in the midst of the insanity that is war, that makes them so important. Also, a commanding officer that will eventually agree to let them have a dog proves his humanity, and his care for his troops.

Monday, December 27, 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 Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (reread)

Books I gave up on:
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer
I was going to read this book before giving it to my Dad, and I did read the first 70 pages, but I only had 3 days to read over 400 pages, and it was a pretty dry read. While Operation Mincemeat read like a thriller, this one didn't as much and I think is more liekly to appeal to a WWII-super-fan. Which my Dad is, but I am not.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Up Next:
The Long Winter (Little House #6) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Town on the Prairie (Little House #7) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
These Happy Golden Years (Little House #8) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The First Four Years (Little House #9) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I usually reread these 4 Little House every year. Last year I reread the first 4 instead.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Review: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

Not only is this one of my favorite books from my own childhood, but I adore this new edition as it has the text of Mr. Steig's Caldecott Award acceptance speech.

Sylvester collects rocks (as I did as a kid and lots of kids do). One day he finds a very cool red pebble to add to his collection. He accidentally figures out that the pebble grants wishes, which is neat. But while he is out he encountered a lion! And while this is a world where donkeys and pigs walk on two legs and wear clothes, lions do not and they still like to eat donkeys. And so Sylvester, scared for his life, wishes he were a rock so the lion will go away and not eat him. And because he is holding the magic pebble, it works! The lion is confused but eventually leaves. Unfortunately Sylvester, who is now a large rock in the field, can't hold the stone as he doesn't have hands (or hooves). His parents worry and worry when he doesn't come home. They look for him everywhere, ask the neighbors, involve the police (pigs, haha!) But eventually they have to admit defeat and come to terms with the fact that they may never see their beloved Sylvester again. The book has a happy ending but I won't give it away here.
Kids will be captured by the idea of a magic pebble, but this book mostly teaches unusual lessons that aren't given much attention in most picture books: empathy, and long-term thinking. A large part of the book is devoted to Sylvester's sad and despairing parents. One thing little kids rarely think of if they decide to run away or do other things of that ilk, is how their parents will be upset. Empathy is a vital lesson for children, and yet one that is sadly neglected.
Now, in the panic of seeing a hungry lion, few of us might be able to really think about the long-term consequences of wishing we were a big rock. But children do need to be taught that actions have consequences, and maybe there might have been a different wish Sylvester could have wishes, that would have both saved him from the lion and not had him turn into a rock. He's not happy with the outcome, but has to live with it.
Steig's illustrations are brilliant. They are sophisticated and funny and appeal to adults as well as to children. He doesn't talk down to children, although the language is certainly simple enough for them to understand. I hope my niece who is getting this for Christmas loves it as much as I do! Happy Holidays!

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers

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 Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer


"October 25, 1944
San Bernardino Strait, the Philippines

A giant stalked through the darkness. In the moonless calm after midnight, the great fleet seemed not so much to navigate the narrow strait as to fill it with armor and steel."

Ooh, this is a great creepy, anticipatory first line for a book about a great battle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Review: Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre


Often people say that a nonfiction book reads like a novel, but seriously this one does! It reads like a spy thriller! In fact, more than one novel was based on this true story. I had frequently said how it's sad that history classes never tell students about the really fascinating, cool, interesting history. But this is is a really neat history story that I actually did hear about in 12th grade history class. British intelligence planted false information on a dead body which they then floated into enemy territory. The Nazis got ahold of it (as planned) and believed it, and it changed the course of WWII.

The planners included not only Ian Fleming (who later wrote the James Bond novels) but two other novelists, writers of minor mysteries. They were a creative bunch of chaps who worked not only on the basic plan, but who really enjoyed creating a past and a personality for "William Martin." They invented a fiancee, financial troubles, a worried father, and a loyal patriot. They also drafted multiple versions of the letters "Martin" would be carrying that would give away the false attack plans. Often we think of war planning as very straightforward and even boring, but when there are spies, double-agents, fake spies, and disinformation, it's very interesting!

Will the body wash up where we want it to? Will it fall into the right hands? Will they find the planted papers? Will the information be passed along to the Nazis? Will Hitler believe the false plans? Will he change his defenses of Italy as a result? Well, you do know who won the war, but the machinations involved to get to that point were impressive to say the least. This book kept me on the edge of my seat, and I am thrilled to finally know all the details of this fascinating and bizarre part of WWII that I first learned about in AP European History.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: Operation Mincemeat


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!

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre p. 30

"In addition to Ian Fleming, his personal assistant, Godfrey employed 'two stockbrokers, a schoolmaster, a journalist, a collector of books on original thought, an Oxford classical don, a barrister's clerk, an insurance agent, two regular naval officers and several women assistants and typists.' This heterogeneous crew was crammed into Room 39, the Admiralty, which was permanently wreathed in tobacco smoke and frequently echoed with the sounds of Admiral Godfrey shouting and swearing."
Yes, THAT Ian Fleming. He helped come up with the crazy idea that became Operation Mincemeat. This paragraph also spoke to me in that I was happy to see an office that saw the value in a diverse group with different backgrounds. As I continue to job hunt, I wish people today thought more like the British Naval Intelligence.

Monday, December 20, 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:
Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer

Up Next:
What to take on my Christmas trip?
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley - I have this audio loaded on my iPod and I think will be a good one for the drive with my sister. It's funny, and it's essays so if I listen to one or two before I get to my sister's, she won't have missed anything.
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel - this is my January book club book. It's also enormous. Which is a good thing to bring on a trip as it won't take up much room (mass market) but will keep me entertained for a while. Luckily, I have read it before, but it was about 8 years ago so I should reread.
And I'm sure I'll bring another couple of books but it'll probably be a last-minute decision. I imagine they'll be novels, hopefully fun ones. The holidays are a good time for fun, funny books.

Happy Birthday Caroline Bookbinder!


My blog is officially 1 years old today, yay! I am so enjoying this process, the people I have met through blogging, and how it is making me think more critically about books and reading. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read my thoughts, and I hope to be with you for years to come!

cake is by Jenni Cakes in Nashville, TN

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Review: How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills

You may already know Tad Hills from Duck & Goose, and now he's branching out to more characters. Rocket the dog isn't interested in learning to read but one day, in his napping spot, a little yellow bird appears and wants to teach him to read. He tries to leave, but the bird starts to read a story... and doesn't finish. Rocket comes back the next day and asks the bird to read the end of the story. The bird agrees that's a good way to start class.

After classes start, Rocket learns A and B and C and so on. He learns to string letters together and sound them out. But at the end of fall, the little yellow bird goes away. All winter Rocket makes words on his own. Words like SNOW and COLD. Once he spells MUD, he starts looking for the little bird. And he's thrilled when she reappears! And they start to read books.

The book is incredibly cute. It's a natural for book people, but luckily it also has a good story as well as a good lesson. It's a little unusual for a book to show that people need to be taught to read. Some kids think they should just know and feel self-conscious that they don't. This also can make them reluctant to learn. Other children might just be nervous about school, and think teachers might be mean.
There are just so many great things about this book. Even the words Rocket spells tell part of the story. The attention to detail that Mr. Hills pays is so respectful both of children's ability to notice tiny things, and also adults' tedium when they have to read a book repeatedly. I loved Rocket's tail hanging out of the bush while he's listening to the bird tell the story, and the bird teaching with a worm in her mouth, and most especially the subtle change of the seasons in the background. This book isn't just for reluctant readers, but for all kids (and parents) who love books as well.

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday: Operation Mincemeat

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.

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre
"José Antonio Rey María had no intention of making history when he rowed out into the Atlantic from the coast of Andalusia in southwest Spain on April 30, 1943."
I imagine pretty often complete bystanders get caught up in things when spies are about. As they often are during wars.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reading Challenges 2011

My 2010 Challenges either were no challenge at all to me - I needed to read 4 and I read over 20 for some of them - or else they stressed me out. I had never done any reading challenges before, so this was an experiment for me to see how they affected me. I don't like being told what to do so I worried I would have trouble with all of them but that didn't happen. The ones that have been problematic were not the ones I would have predicted at all. That was interesting. I thought I'd have trouble with Art History, but I was done before the year was half over. I thought I'd have no trouble with Australian and YA but I am still worrying over them down to the wire.

So I had decided not to do any Challenges next year. Except that I want to finally get around to rereading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (I wish the Shelf Discovery Challenge would come back in 2011.) And I did like the Chunkster challenge - I like getting credit for huge books since they do slow me down after all. And next year I want to read not just 100 books - but 100 books without counting the rereads.

And then I saw the Southern Literature Challenge from The Introverted Reader. I really, really wanted to do a Southern Lit Challenge last year but there wasn't one. So I only read 2 Southern books when I certainly could have read more. I'm from Tennessee. And I love Southern Lit! I'm going to sign up for the top level, Level 4--Y'all come back now, y'hear! Read 4 books. The challenge will run from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. I've saved some good ones. Here are a few at the top of my list:
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Bloodroot by Amy Greene
Smonk: A Novel by Tom Franklin
The Wide Smiles of Girls by Jennifer Manske Fenske
Serena by Ron Rash
Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel by Monique Truong
The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips
I'll have fun choosing amongst these (and many more)!

So I'm also officially doing the Chunkster. In 2010 I signed up for 4 but I actually read 9 Chunksters (with another one as my January book club selection.) , so for 2011 I'm signing up for Mor-book-ly Obese - This is for the truly out of control chunkster. For this level of challenge you must commit to 6 or more chunksters OR three tomes of 750 pages or more. I recently got both Shogun and Lonesome Dove so those are on the short list for 2011, along with Guns, Germs, and Steel which my boyfriend has been bugging me to read forever. This challenge doesn't start until Feb. 1.

And in 2011 I want to finaly really read 100 books, not including rereads. I just hope this doesn't burn me out! So that's the 100+ Reading Challenge.

And since I'm unemployed AND trying to get these piles of books off the floor in my living room,I am also signing up for 2011 Reading from My Shelves Project. It's Jan 1-Dec. 12, you set your goal but the minimum is 12, and the main part of the challenge is: Read books from your own shelves, and then pass the books on to someone else: a friend, relative, the library, used book store, swap them, just as long as the book leaves your house once it has been read. I already get rid of books once I read them. But only 7 books that I read this last year are books that I owned at least 6 months or more before. All the rest were new acquisitions last year (or late 2009). So I think 12 might be a stretch already as it'll be a doubling of 2010. But I think I should aim higher, so I'm going to set my goal as 20. Which sadly, will only get rid of one of the piles, not both. Sigh. But I think 40 would be overly ambitious.

That's it! I'm not going to sign up for the easy for me ones that I bested by many times over. It was a lot to keep track of, and I don't feel like it really improved my reading selections much. My natural resentment at being told what to do sometimes worked against me. For people who love lists, who are encouraged by checking things off, or who have a tendancy to get off track or read books they think are too lightweight, challenges might be a great thing. But that's just not me. We'll see how I feel 12 months from now, but I'm pretty happy with these decisions!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: Books

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!
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry p. 20
"While on our senior trip to Colorado City the teachers crept into my room and took the books back. Nothing was ever said about this, but I felt a little better about myself when Susan Sontag told me that she had sometimes taken a bus from North Hollywood to steal Modern Library books from the great Pickwick Bookshop, on Hollywood Boulevard."
In case you didn't pick up on it, the books the teachers took back while Mr. McMurtry was out of town were books he stole from his high school's library. The town didn't have a library. But Larry was in desperate need of reading material, at any cost.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


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:
Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann
This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger

Books I gave up on:
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
I just couldn't do it. I hated the first 67 pages and book club didn't convince me that it was worth continuing with.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

Up Next:
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer
Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre

So, I own both of these books but am thinking they'd make terrific Christmas presents for Dad (who luckily isn't even sure what a blog is, let alone read mine) so I want to read them lickety-split so I can conserve a little money. And before you think I'm cheap, I'm unemployed, and my father is an economist so he appreciates cheap.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger


This is not a great classic, and I doubt many people remember it from the '80s despite the fact that it's written by Paula Danziger. But I loved this book when it first came out, and so when I found it again at the Friends of the Library sale, it was a no-brainer!

It is 2057 and Aurora, a popular, pretty high school student is shocked when her parents announce the family is joining the colony on the moon. One nice thing is although she's popular, she's not particularly mean (at least no meaner than any 13-year-old, popular or not.) She has friends, a new boyfriend, a fashionable wardrobe, a solid B average, and no desire to leave all of that. However, the family goes together. Once Aurora gets to the moon, she finds it's not so bad as she thought. For one thing the school is way too small to even have cliques, so for the first time she hangs out with kids who would have been unpopular back home, and finds out they're not so bad as she thinks. This book also introduced me to the play "Our Town." Eventually Aurora learns to expand her horizons, care about more than the next mood dress or Rita Retrograde music video, and that she can actually be more than just a cute, fun girl.

In 1986 this book was all conjecture about the future. 25 years later, there are a few glaring gaps, such as no ability to communicate electronically (they have to wait for vid-disks to be physically mailed.) But of course, Ms. Danziger did the best she could with the information she had! Also a lot of the guesses about pop music and fashion have a decidedly 80s-twinge to them. One futuristic thing I really appreciated was her attention to names. The grandparents, who were born around 2000, were named Josh and Jennifer. The teens in 2057 were named Aurora, Starr, Juna, Joandrew, Brandonetta, Cosmosa, and Tandy. There are also kids with ordinary names like Matthew and April and Julie, but I really appreciate that Ms. Danziger is aware of the changing nature of popular names, and made an effort to keep up with that.
While the book is obviously dated and not at all the kind of book that is popular now, it has a good message, is pretty unique, and is a quick, easy read. On the young side of YA (just a couple of light kissing scenes), it's perfect for a junior high girl with a light interest in sci fi. I'm showing my original cover (girl sitting cross-legged), along with the cover of the newer one I read this week, which was redesigned in 1999.

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

Friday, December 10, 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.

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry
"I don't remember either of my parents ever reading me a story - perhaps that's why I've made up so many."
A combo of memoir and books - two of my favorite things!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann


Fun fun fun! One day shepherd George Glenn is murdered, and his sheep decide to figure out who did it. Luckily, among his unusual sheep he has the smartest sheep, Miss Maple, and the sheep with excellent memory, Mopple the Whale, along with other assorted talents. As you can probably imagine, sheep generally aren't very bright, so it does take the whole flock to figure things out. Also they mostly must rely on partial conversations they overhear, and a limited knowledge of humans. And an overwhelming obsession with grass and eating, which is distracting for them at times. Sometimes the snippets they overhear make no sense to them, but make a lot of sense to us.

A couple of my favorite parts: a lamb is scared because he saw George's ghost. The sheep reassure him by reminding him that people can't have ghosts because they don't have souls. After all, everyone knows that one's soul is in one's sense of smell. So if humans do turn out to have souls (and therefore ghosts), they'd be tiny. Nothing to worry about.

Two of the villagers are talking about who would have reason to kill someone, and they each rattle off a half-dozen names, including each other, which they both cop to. You never, ever hear that in a mystery or a cop show, where people not only admit that the deceased had a lot of enemies, but those enemies included all present. I laughed out loud.

This book is charming and clever from beginning to end. From the list of characters (sheep) along with dominate features of each one, to the cover illustration with matching numbers so you can see what they look like, great care has been taken with every aspect of this book. Although translated from German, the translation is smooth as butter and completely transparent.

I was sorry George was dead as he sounded like a good man and an excellent, if unusual, shepherd. I'm glad his sheep made sure justice was done, even if they don't understand what the word "justice" means exactly. This book would be a lovely palate cleanser for anyone who likes humorous novels, even if they're not big mystery readers. I loved it.

Lawyers Reading Books?! What Happens in the Legal Department?

A few years ago I volunteered at ThinkCollege and Career Center, and one Saturday a smart young girl at the Center was asking me about publishing. She sheepishly admitted that she wasn't sure if she wanted to go into publishing, or be a lawyer instead. "Instead?" I asked, "Why not both? You know, publishing has lawyers, too!" She was so happy! Nothing a teenager likes more than not having to make a decision.

I took a class at NYU on Publishing Law, and it was fascinating. Here is the current class description:
Every publishing professional needs to understand the basics of publishing law in this litigious era. Editors must know when to flag content as potentially libelous and all employees in media industries must have a knowledge of copyright, privacy, intellectual property and other important legal issues. In this course, our faculty of experienced lawyers in the publishing industry presents the key concepts through real-world examples, case studies and presentations from guest speakers. Students will explore legal issues in print and on the Web as blogging and sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube create a wide range of new legal and ethical issues. The course will also provide an introduction to contracts and contract negotiation.

When I took the class, nearly 10 years ago, naturally there was no mention of blogging or Facebook or Twitter, not obviously those are all issues now. But they still primarily fall under one of the two largest areas publishing lawyers deal with: copyright infringement. For instance, when a large excerpt from Sarah Palin's new book was posted online by Gawker, the posters claimed it was legally fine due to "fair use." Well they lost and HarperCollins won, so you can deduce their theory wasn't too accurate. Fair use means you can use a SMALL part of a written work - with credit - without permission. And it's for critical use. So a reviewer can quote a few lines from a book. But it doesn't mean you can quote a large part, or quote it just to quote it, and not for critical reason. It can get tricky if, for instance, you're working on a book about a singer/songwriter and need to quote lyrics. They can't comprise "a significant portion" so the shorter the song, the shorter the allowable quote.

The other most common type of law practiced at publishing houses is contract law. The really fascinating part of the class involved the professor telling us about various celebrities who were unable to produce either any manuscript, or an "acceptable" manuscript in a reasonable time frame (yes all contracts have a delivery date but publishers aren't hard-nose about it - unless they want to get out of the deal. I've seen them extended for several years fairly frequently.) Even celebrities with ghost writers are sometimes unable to produce a book that anyone will buy. Also some committed pretty blatant copyright infringement by lifting large sections wholesale from other books. Naturally, the professor couldn't give us details about who these celebs were, but through a series of hints, we did suss out a couple that were amusing. When an author can't produce an acceptable manuscript, not only will the publisher not publish the book, the but author will need to repay any advances paid out so far.

Other potential legal issues that arise include libel, fraud (a la James Frey), copyright and permission (quoting and using photos), and also if a book is published about the FBI, CIA, or any other governmental organization, they often have their employees sign contracts allowing them to vet the book and redact any parts they deem unsuitable for publication.

As an editorial assistant, we would do legal reads on our travel books every fall before the new editions came out. We had to flag anything iffy for the lawyers to look at. Such as, you can't say a neighborhood is safe, because if a traveler is attacked there they can sure. You also can't say an establishment is "skanky" or "gross" for libel reasons, although you can say things that are provable and specific, such as that it is unclean and the rooms are small and unheated. You can't say it's okay to jump over a fence onto private property to go see a cool view. You can't advise people how to sneak illegals drugs into or out of a country. Basically, you need to be sure you're following local laws, and also not opening the publishing house to lawsuits. This was a pretty interesting task (plus it paid overtime! Woo hoo!)
So all you aspiring authors out there who also love books, don't despair! You can do everything you want to do. The legal department of publishing houses are pretty decently paid, fairly quiet, small (about 6 people even for the biggest houses. If they have a major lawsuit, they call in the law firm they have on retainer.) And while it's a very under-the-radar area of the book business, it's safe to say it's crucial.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Clara and Mr. Tiffany

“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:

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
from Baker & Taylor:
Hoping to honor his father and the family business with innovative glass designs, Louis Comfort Tiffany launches the iconic Tiffany lamp as designed by women's division head Clara Driscoll, who struggles with the mass production of her creations and grieves the losses of two husbands. By the author of The Girl in Hyacinth Blue.
This publishes on 1/11/2011 by Random House

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: Three Bags Full

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!

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann p. 18
"Then they gathered in front of the steps of the caravan, and George read to them. Sometimes from a fairy tale which told them how dew falls on the meadows; sometimes from a book about the diseases of sheep, which scared them; once from a detective story, which they didn't understand. George probably didn't understand it either, because he threw the book away when he was halfway through it, and they never did find out who the murderer was."
What a wonderfully eccentric shepherd George was, reading to his sheep! He mostly read romances starring woman invariably named Pamela. It's good he read them the mystery though, even though he didn't finish it, because after he is murdered, the sheep know what clues are and what murder is, and so they decide to suss out who his murderer is on their own. This book is hilarious and I've read bits out loud to three people now as I just can't keep it to myself!

Monday, December 6, 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:
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann - loving it!
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
When will I move this to the Books I Have Given Up On list? Next week probably. Last Thursday was our book club meeting and I didn't even attempt to finish it. I am on page 67. And while the people who finished it loved it, I'd say this book had the highest unfinishing rate of any book I remember at book club! Nothing that was said there made me want to plow through another 440 pages. I feel like nothing has happened so far, I'm not sure who the main character is or who is talking, it's just a bunch of poetic foofy gobbeldy-gook, and I DO NOT WANT TO FINISH. I am not one of those finish-at-all-costs people, but I am the kind of girl who nearly always finishes her assignments. And this was an assignment. But the test is past. There's no point in finishing it now. Much like David Copperfield or Sister Carrie, it's moot. But not like White Noise - I'd still like to finish that one day. I only didn't finish it because I ran out of time.

Up Next:
A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People by Steven E. Ozment
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Review: Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary

I know I read this book as a teen, but I didn't remember much about it. I love that it was written from the point of view of the younger sister, not the bride. It is both a unique perspective, but also spoke to a group of young girls who often feel left out and ignored, one of Ms. Cleary's specialties. Is it dated? Most certainly. Originally published in 1963, that was 4 years before my parents got married. But I like that even then, Rosemary's young age is commented upon several times. And many of the women in the book work, although it is also unusual enough to be commented on.

As an oldest child, I not only didn't identify with Barbara's desire to be like her sister, I also thought it was perhaps a little forced. Most younger sisters don't want to be like their older sister at all in my experience - to the extreme of often becoming as opposite their sister as is practicable. But of course that is a minor quibble and perhaps wasn't as pervasive in this era, when sisters weren't quite as compared as today. Certainly sisters do measure their progress in life against their sisters, both older and younger.

Barbara felt really real. A bit naive, easily embarrassed, and impatient, but all those are traits common to teenagers and made her feel realistic. I liked that she both idealized her sister and was eager for the wedding, and was a bit chagrined by the changes in Rosemary. It was a sweet book, perfect of course for any younger sister growing up in the shadow of a Rosemary, and the dated aspects to it weren't too many. I wasn't thrilled that Barbara kept baking cookies for the guy she liked, but she did make them from refrigerator packages, not scratch, and she did eventually see the error of that method. The women's clubs like The Amys felt dated until I thought of how similar they are to our book clubs and bunko nights. Making the bridesmaid dresses from patterns was the most old-fashioned part in my opinion.

This book was sweet and endearing and a nice trip down memory lane. Somehow I ended up with two copies - one from when I was a kid, and a newer one. This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Review: At Home by Bill Bryson



I am a huge fan of Mr. Bryson. However, after going through his entire oeuvre on a tear in the late '90s, I then had quite a gap. Last year I finally got around to reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, and so I lusted after At Home: A Short History of Private Life as soon as I heard about it (luckily, RH sent a box of ARCs to my work without me having to ask.)

And I am thrilled to report that Mr. Bryson delivers in this book! While he has had to stop travelling, having pretty much covered most of the Western world in his previous books, I was worried that he'd have trouble coming up with topics through which to fill me with random fascinating facts. No worries. He takes as his jumping off point his home: a rectory in rural England built in 1851 by a Mr. Marsham. And we go room by room through the building, learning about the development of living indoors, when and why furniture and other features of the home developed, along the way learning about the spice trade, the Eiffel tower, and Alexander Graham Bell. I'm sure for some, Mr. Bryson might venture a bit off-topic, but for me that's the fun. Here are some cool things I learned:
  • Females are more likely than men to fall down stairs, for the simple reason that we use them much more. The most dangerous is a single step in an unexpected place, closely followed by four stairs or less which inspires overconfidence (this is where my sister badly broke her foot 3 months ago.)
  • Early paints and wallpaper were very toxic. Sure, lead paint which I know you already thought of, but most of the colorings were poisonous, using arsenic, antimony, and other lovely things. While on the plus side rooms with these paints and wallpapers were often free of bedbugs, they also were slowly killing their occupants. So in 19th century novels when it is suggested that a sick person might need s change of air, that was usually correct and helped immensely.
  • King Louis XIII of France did not bathe until he was nearly 7 years old.
  • At least 14,000 Americans are attacked by rats every year. poisons are effective against rats because they cannot regurgitate.

One interesting note is that the book is obviously a joint US-UK production. It uses American punctuation and British spellings, which was the same agreement we used when I was an editor and we co-published with the Brits. I think Mr. Bryson was the perfect person to write this book because he is an American living in Britain. He can speak to both audiences with nearly equal ease, uses both currencies seamlessly, and can talk smoothly about both an English rectory and Monticello. At Home is a brilliant mix of humor and fun facts, covering the entire history of living indoors in the Western world.

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.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

"Some time after we moved into a former Church of England rectory in a village of tranquil anonymity in Norfolk, in the easternmost part of England, I had occasion to go up into the attic to look for the source of a slow but mysterious drip."

And, Mr. Bryson found something in the attic he didn't suspect, which made him wonder about the house altogether.