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Monday, January 31, 2011

Purchase Confession: January 2011


So I'm not off to a good start. I bought my boyfriend a copy of How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew by Erin Bried. It's not something added to my TBR list, but it still counts as a book purchase.

Then I had to replace the gaskets on my flour and sugar canisters. I could only find them on Amazon, and the shipping was going to cost more than the gaskets. That's ridiculous. So I needed to get my purchase up to $25 for the free freight, right? I added The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. As much as it bugs me to hear people use discounts as an excuse for shopping at Amazon, I wasn't about to pay full price from them for anything (and I had to look up a lot of books to find any with discounts. Those of you who think everything on Amazon is discounted aren't paying attention!) It's my first Amazon book purchase in so long I can't remember when the last one was.

I started the month (and this record of purchases) by buying Drinking by Caroline Knapp and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann at The Tattered Cover in Denver. I thought Let the Great World Spin was my February book club book was it wasn't. I hope it's March, and that it wasn't bumped off the list entirely! I hate to have bought it for no reason. Yes, I've heard very good things about it but it's not something I'd normally have sought out on my own.

Total book purchases for January 2011: 5
Total books bought as gifts: 1
Total of those books read: 2
Total books added to TBR list: 2

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Emperor of All Maladies


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 Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

"On the morning of May 19, 2004, Carla Reed, a thirty-year-old kindergarten teacher from Ipswich, Massachusetts, a mother of three young children, woke up in bed with a headache."

As you can imagine from the book's subtitle, this headache does not bode well for Ms. Reed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Librarians rock!


I volunteer at my local library, and in college I worked in my campus library (assistant to the business manager) but honestly, I really don't know nearly enough about being a librarian to write a post about being a librarian as a career. Luckily for me, Abby (the) Librarian has an excellent post up with tips for starting out your library career. The post is here. I can't begin to write something better, so if your interest in a book career lies in this direction, please go read it now. Read through the comments too - many other librarians have posted additional tips and advice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: A Widow's Story

“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:

A Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates

synopsis from the publisher:
In a work unlike anything she's written before, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates unveils a poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of her husband of forty-six years and its wrenching, surprising aftermath.

"My husband died, my life collapsed."

On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray died from a virulent hospital-acquired infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced—totally unprepared—with the stunning reality of widowhood.

A Widow's Story illuminates one woman's struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. As never before, Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of "death-duties," and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief—the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous "pools" of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow's desperation—only gradually yielding to the recognition that "this is my life now."

Enlivened by the piercing vision, acute perception, and mordant humor that are the hallmarks of the work of Joyce Carol Oates, this moving tale of life and death, love and grief, offers a candid, never-before-glimpsed view of the acclaimed author and fiercely private woman.

Publishing February 1st 2011 by Ecco

Memoir Trends: Prison, Death, and Alcohol

I read a huge number of memoirs. It is easily my largest subcategory. Last year I noticed that I read several books about prison (In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, and Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman.) I never had read any memoirs involving prison before, so reading 3 in a year felt like more than a coincidence. I also read a lot of memoirs about great loss (What We Have by Amy Boesky, What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.) In the past I've also had trends of travel memoirs, and food memoirs.

This year, I can already see the trend. Addiction. I just read Drinking by Caroline Knapp, and I really want to read a few other books that I already own: Lit by Mary Karr, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and Smashed by Koren Zailckas. I also have heard great things about Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. And maybe this is the year I finally read Angela's Ashes. And I want to read the history book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.

So I figured I'd see what else is out there in this genre. Other options: A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill, and Dry by Augusten Burroughs. What other books should I consider in this genre?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Peyton Place



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!

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious p. 90
"No," sighed Caroline. "And that's the pity of it all. Better if he were a bastard than what he is."

Okay, we're starting to get to some of the scandals at last! I don't know if the scandals and secrets will get out. Some are certainly widely known, but the really risky ones we're exposed to only as the narration shifts from family to family and from house to house.

Monday, January 24, 2011

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 Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
Oranges by John McPhee
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

This last book is an audio, and I really was not feeling it and am on the verge of giving up. I heard great things, and I was very hopeful that these quirky essays would be funny and distracting, but I'm finding them to be neither. Not even all that quirky.
Up Next:
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent
Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

I never read this modern children's classic, but a friend recently pushed it on me, and I'm glad she did. I definitely think it would have been a much better read if I were a kid, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Omri (what a weird name, and it isn't explained!) got a plastic Indian for his birthday from his friend Patrick, and his brother got him an old cabinet he picked up from an alley. They found a key in his mother's key collection that actually fit and worked! Omri put the Indian in the cabinet and locked it. In the morning, he heard noises coming from the cabinet, and the Indian was alive! Little Bear is an interesting character himself, brave, demanding, and quick to anger. The responsibility Omri feels makes him grow up quite quickly. He has to protect Little Bear, keep him warm and fed and away from his brother's white rat. The situation gets complicated.

This book would be just perfect for young boys. Not only is the Indian (and later a cowboy) appealing and all the protagonists are boys, but there's a little bit of fighting and it's all about the practicalities. There are 4 more books in the series. The book is exciting and fast-paced. The secrecy increases the tension and the outcome. Omri is a pretty typical boy, occasionally getting in trouble in school, teasing his brothers, and being messy. Any young readers should identify with him readily.

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

Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: Peyton Place

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.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

"Indian summer is like a woman."

Hmm, this is intriguing but not exactly setting up an accurate tone for this scandalous soap opera.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review: Oranges by John McPhee

John McPhee's books are so reliable. I was looking for something short, engrossing, but not emotional. His nonfiction musings are always filled with facts and fascinating, but are very removed. Is that partly because he wrote it 40 years ago? Perhaps. It is odd that his new introduction (from 2000) doesn't update anything - just talks about how he came to wrote this article/book. That wasn't a big question I had though - if you know anything about John McPhee, you know he can explore in depth ANYTHING.

I always remember the scene in Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder when she goes to her first grown-up birthday party, and there are oranges served! That was the best part of the night! Laura obviously knew what it was on sight, but she didn't know how to eat it, as she had never had one before even though she was a teen. As McPhee points out, serving oranges at a fancy meal was long a symbol of how important your guests were. Although it's a little funny how hard they were to middle-class and certainly lower-class people to get, and yet they were not just a staple but a mandatory part of sailor's diets (which is why Brits are called "limeys" - from eating limes.) In fact, the reason there are citrus trees on islands throughout the Pacific and Atlantic oceans is that they were planted by sailors to replenish their stocks, to ward off scurvy.

There are fascinating accounts of people eating broiled grapefruits, and how for centuries oranges weren't eaten at all - they were simply smelled and looked at. When they were used in cooking, it was just as a seasoning. The concept of eating an orange is pretty recent.

This book was written not too long after the perfection and dominance of concentrating orange juice. That is explained in detail, as is the art of picking a tree, the precise soil and weather conditions that make Florida so perfect, and how grafts are made. Citrus trees are unique in that you can graft any citrus onto any citrus. And you can do multiples! You can have a tree growing oranges, grapefruit, limes, and kumquats all at once! In fact, if you were to plant a seed from your orange - you have no way of knowing what will grown. You could get a tangerine or lemon or lime. In fact, at one point scientists were trying to seed trees of a particular type, so they planted 250 seeds, and got 2 of the trees that they wanted. The surprise was that they got so many out of such a small sample of seeds!

Valencias bloom 14 months before their orange are ripe, so they are the most beautiful as they both have all their blooms and their ripe oranges at the same time. Green oranges aren't bad at all. In fact, they can be perfect and perfectly ripe, but we just don't understand that so green oranges don't sell. Oranges can be made to orange chemically or by dyeing.

Naturally, I read this book while eating a grapefruit (sorry, I didn't have an orange in the house.) When I was a little kid, I used to eat lemons like how people eat oranges. My parents thought I was a weird kid.

Coincidentally, there was an article yesterday on NPR about problems in Florida citrus groves.
I received this book from the publisher. It was before I started my blog, and was given to me with no expectation of review on my part.

Life List? Egads!


I wholeheartedly come from the Decide-in-the-Moment school of what to read next. I really hate being told what to read, I have trouble with book club selections, and I just read a book I bought in 1996 (OMG that's 15 years ago!) While I adore lists of books, it's always been in order to see what I can check off right now, not at all as a list for what to read next. Years ago when the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die book came out, I poured over the lists and checked off and argued and yelled (mostly by myself, sadly). And then, in a snit, I made up my own list of books that ought to be on the list. And then promptly ignored it. I kind of figure that if they're that important to me, I'll get around to them.

Last week I was listening to an episode of Books on the Nightstand, and Ann talked about adding a book to her life list. And that phrase - "life list" shocked me. A life list sounds more like a To Do list. Not just a list that I occasionally check things off of if I happen to pick them up in the regular course of deciding what to read next. It may seem funny, but this is a concept I never actually considered. And while I really, really like my current method of choosing, maybe I really should consider this. I did manage to read 3 books from the 1001 list last year without it, but maybe I should come up with a short list of books that I plan to read this year. After all, I could easily get to the end of my life and not have conquered large parts of my list if I don't make an effort.

So this year, I am putting 6 books (one every other month) on my to read list. And I plan to read them all in 2011. Here they are:

  • Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This one is technically a reread, but I haven't read it since I was a little kid (unlike the other Little House books). I have been avoiding it, and I think I shouldn't.
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. He is my best friend's favorite author and until just now reading Books, I had never read him before. I understand this is his best.
  • A Dickens. My mother has started getting me a set of antique leatherbound Dickens novels, who I haven't read since college. I think when I'm not forced to read them, they might be much improved. The choices are: Little Dorrit, Dombey and Sons, Martin Chuzzlewit, Barnaby Rudge, or Sketches by Boz.
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was a gift from my advisor when I graduated from college. In 1995. I loaned it to my best friend many months ago after her book club read Never Let Me Go. I may have to recall that loan.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. My boyfriend's favorite book that he's been bugging me to read since our first date.
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I watched this movie a few months ago, and it was riveting. I think this is a pretty cool classic and it's on my 1001 list.

Wish me luck. Anyone have any suggestions for which Dickens I should read?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday: The Clan of the Cave Bear


Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

mouflon (14)
a wild sheep, Ovis musimon, inhabiting the mountainous regions of Sardinia and Corsica, the male of which has large curving horns.
"To absorb moisture and soft milky stools any of several materials were packed around them: fleece from wild sheep gathered from thorny shrubs when the mouflon were shedding, down from birds' breasts, or fuzz from fibrous plants."

loess (69)
a loamy deposit formed by wind, usually yellowish and calcareous, common in the Mississippi Valley and in Europe and Asia.
"Toward the northeast, a vast cloud of soft loess dust shrouded an undulating mass of shaggy brown movement accented by curving black spikes..."

sapient (80)
having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment.
"Both sapient, for a time both dominant, the gulf that separated them was not great."

inimical (83)
adverse in tendency or effect; unfavorable; harmful
"It would take away with it any unseen forces that might be inimical to them, purge the cave, and permeate it with their essence, the essence of human."

palmate (96, 373)
shaped like an open palm or like a hand with the fingers extended, as a leaf or an antler.
"Giant deer ranged the grassy plains, their huge palmate antlers spreading as much as eleven feet in the larger animals, along with oversized bison with horn spreads of similar dimensions."

discoidal (226)
having the form of a discus or disk; flat and circular.
"Droog held the discoidal nucleus firmly on the anvil, and gauging the distance and point of impact with precision, he struck the small dent he had made, with the bone hammer."

illimitable (373)
not limitable; limitless; boundless.
"Thick, matted, old-season growth cushioned their steps as the clan wove their way across the illimitable prairie, leaving a temporary ripple behind showing the way they had come."

orogeny (377)
the process of mountain making or upheaval.
"The southern mountain range, like the one at the lower tip of the peninsula which was folded during the same orogeny, was a refuge for the flora and fauna of a continent during the Ice Age."

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Weird Sisters


“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:

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

synopsis from the publisher:
A major new talent tackles the complicated terrain of sisters, the power of books, and the places we decide to call home.

There is no problem that a library card can't solve.

The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they've been running from-one another, their small hometown, and themselves-might offer more than they ever expected.

Publishing January 20th 2011 by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: Books by Larry McMurtry


This memoir isn't a typical memoir at all. It's a memoir exclusively about Mr. McMurtry's relationship with books. He's not only a bestselling novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter, but he's also a bookstore owner and book scout. This book is one that's easy to pick up and put down (and I mean that in a good way). It was perfect to carry in my purse to pick up when I only had a few minutes. Not only is there no plot to keep track of, and almost no recurring characters, but all the chapters are exceedingly short (most 1-2 pages, I think the longest is 4).

Mr. McMurtry is obviously a lover of books, of all kinds. He shouldn't have been - he grew up on a ranch in Texas where everyone worked with their hands, but he was drawn to books from a young age. And books were actually very difficult for him to get his hands on at first - which is probably why he can't stop buying books once he gets an income. His personal library is pretty shocking (I believe 35,000 books) and eventually he decides to turn his hometown of Archer City, TX into a book town.

For a book lover like me, this was a nice little respite. It's a loving meditation on books, and is perfect for bibliophiles of any stripe. I hope to read one of Mr. McMurtry's novels later this year, and this was a great introduction to his writing style.
I bought this out of a remainder bin at a chain bookstore.

Teaser Tuesdays: Oranges


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!

Oranges by John McPhee
"Before 1500, European orange growers mainly grew Bitter Oranges, because they were more aromatic, better as seasoning, and hence more valuable. Dinner guests could measure their importance in the regard of their hosts by the number of oranges that came to the table."
At this time, oranges were mostly just considered pretty and sweet smelling. If they were consumed, it was only as a seasoning, not something to be eaten by itself.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel


I first read this nearly ten years ago, and now reread it for my book club (this was our "classic" - isn't that a hoot?) It's the story of Ayla, who is either a homo sapient or homo erectus, who is orphaned at the age of four after an earthquake. She is found and adopted by Iza, the medicine woman for the Clan of the Cave Bear, a group of either Cro-Magnons or Neanderthals. The book takes place about 30,000 years ago in the vicinity near the current country of Georgia.

An interesting aspect of the Clan people is that while they cannot really reason or analyze things, they actually inherit memories. That part of their brain is extremely developed, while other parts are underdeveloped. Ayla, on the other hand, has a different brain structure, and so she behaves differently. She can't help it, even though it's often scandalous, but she can reason and make decisions and weigh options. She is accepted into the Clan, as a Clan woman, but nothing they or she can do will make her become another species. Inevitably, her differences become too glaring to ignore, and her actions too dangerous to the Clan.

Of course the most interesting thing about this book is simply the setting and the characters. I don't know of any other books that take place in the pre-modern era, before homo sapiens. I didn't know that these two different types of pre-humans existed simultaneously which leads to fascinating situations. Ms. Auel obviously did a great deal of research, from how flint-knapping works to how brain development would have impacted the different species. While yes, it is very, very long, it is a very fast read and you never feel too bogged down. I know that many people read this in high school for the sex scenes (aka rape scenes) but they neither titillated nor embarrassed at this point. Yes it's an important plot point, but it's one that is only exciting to teenagers.

I'm not really sure what we're going to discuss in book club. When I read it originally, I read the first three books in the series. One thing I was going to discuss was how Ayla "invented" a whole bunch of things (an unreasonable amount in fact) but she must do that more in books two and three - not in this first one (my theory is that she isn't inventing them, but that her original community had invented them long ago and so she saw things like bridles being used but just doesn't consciously remember since she was only 4 when she left them.) The sixth book comes out in March.
I purchased this book at a Borders going out of business sale.

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:
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

Up Next:
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
Exley by Brock Clarke
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson


Wow, I can't believe this book is 50 years old! Just goes to show how excellent books really stand the test of time.

Harold's purple crayon can draw pretty much anything and it's suddenly real. An ocean he gets immersed in, a ship in which to sail across it, pies to eat, and a hungry moose and deserving porcupine to polish off the pies, all spring from Harold's active imagination and endless purple crayon. In an era when creativity is not encouraged at all, this book is incredibly important for children.

And it's an ideal bedtime book. Not only does it suggest many fun dreams, but it ends with a tired Harold (who spends the whole book in his footy pajamas) looking for his bedroom so he can go to sleep. The illustrations are very simple, especially Harold's part. Harold himself is drawn more detailed, although he is the only thing in the whole book that appears in that style. His expressions don't change much but are impactful when they do. He doesn't talk. It's a simple and quiet book, but at the same time it's amazingly creative and expressive. A beloved book from when I was a child, this book has certainly held up. I hope it's around for another 50 years!

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

I bought this book at a Borders going out of business sale.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Bookaholic Confession


I just filled out a survey for Reading Group Choices (it was fun, you should do it too!) and one question was how many books did I buy last year (including books given away). I thought well, this should be pretty easy as I bought almost nothing. So I thought and I added. And I looked on Goodreads and I added. And I went back and back through the months and added and added and added. And came up with almost 50. Holy crap! That's not cool! I am unemployed I have over 350 unread books in my house. Plus I volunteer at the library. So I guess one of my resolutions this year is to buy fewer books than last year.

So, last week I was in Denver and what did I do? Of course I went to The Tattered Cover! It's an awesome bookstore I've heard about for years and years, and I bought two books. One was a used book so it didn't break the budget, and I read it the next day (Drinking by Caroline Knapp) and have already passed it along to someone else. The other is my book club selection for February (Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann). I like to support independent bookstores, and I'd have to buy that one anyway. So I justified it and went my merry way.

But seriously, I could have gotten both of those books at the library. It's literally been years since I've checked a book out of the library. Even though I'm there every week volunteering. Ridiculous. But I hate to be confined and forced to read something right away. Last week I read a book I bought in 1996! If that was a library book my fine would be in the thousands!

So in 2011, I am going to be periodically reporting my book purchases. I need accountability. I am an addict and I need help stopping. So far, 2 books.

Book Review: Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp


I've been hearing a lot about Caroline Knapp's acclaimed memoir ever since Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell came out last year. Then I ran across a used copy last week and I read the entire book the next day.

Ms. Knapp tells a harrowing story of 20 years of constant drunkenness, broken up only by a brief stint of bulimia. What's perhaps most frightening about this story is how ordinary it is. Ms. Knapp grew up in Cambridge, a privileged daughter of an esteemed psychiatrist, she went to a good college, was never abused or injured, and started drinking at 14.

Ms. Knapp tells a good story. She's honest and self-deprecating. She doesn't spill all the beans up front - she teases and she doles out insights and events one at a time. It's a riveting read. She doesn't make excuses for her actions. She takes responsibility, and there's very little AA-speak until the very end of the book, when she does finally stop drinking. It truly is her own personal story, but there are resources and information on alcoholism.

I do wish the book had been written when she was further along in her sobriety. She was only 2 years sober when the book was published. However because of the Gail Caldwell book (which I haven't read yet) I have reason to believe she did stay sober. But I think it would have given the book additional insight. I couldn't put the book down, and found myself holding my breath more than once. It's a beautiful confession of addiction and a nearly ruined life.

I bought this book used at an independent bookstore.

Book Beginnings on Friday: Drinking

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.

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

"A love story. Yes: this is a love story."
The subtitle is of course what she is explaining, and the subtitle definitely caught my eye from the first time I ever heard of this book 15 years ago. Read the book and you'll find out just how true it is.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton


Aside from Ethan Frome, which I don't count as the setting and storyline as so very different from her NYC-society books, I expect Age is the Edith Wharton book most people read. Yet, I read Custom of the Country and House of Mirth first, go figure. Partly, it was due to me not liking the movie, and after reading the book (with Winona Ryder and Michelle Pfeiffer popping into my head unwanted, repeatedly), I like it even less.

This book is like a gem. Some could say that nothing much happens, while it's also easy to argue that everything happens. Immediately after his engagement to May, Archer is reintroduced to May's cousin Ellen, who has returned to New York after a disastrous European marriage. Archer immediately falls for Ellen, marries May anyway, and then proceeds to attempt an affair with Ellen. A glance across a room, a touch of a hand - tiny, seemingly insignificant things mean the world in this society.

Throughout my reading, I puzzled over the title. Who was or were the Innocents? I think Archer thought May was the Innocent for most of the book, up until nearly the end when she reveals just how much she truly did know. And at that point, Archer looked like the Innocent, for thinking he was being so sly and they May would never figure out what was going on between him and Ellen. Ellen would never be accused of being an innocent. Thanks to her European sojourn, she now knows much more about the world than she ever wanted. The only thing she's Innocent of is New York Society. Although she likely know more about them as well. They thinks he's ignorant because of her behavior, but I suspect she knows quite well what her behavior will result in and makes her choices with open eyes (although Archer thinks her an innocent of a kind as well - certainly of Society).

It's interesting that Wharton wrote this book in the 1920s, and it takes place in the 1870s. I wish my introduction had talked about that gap. I suppose that the whole era, the obsession with dresses and dinners and opera and gossip, seem innocent to Americans of the 1920s who had just been through The Great War. Fifty years in a long time to look back. Also interesting to think that when this book was taking place, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a very young girl. Their stories don't just seem to be half a continent and 10 years apart - they seem worlds apart. New York Society was very insular and unaware of the outside world.

Wharton's language is very precise, very sharp, but lovingly crafted. None of the characters really connected for me personally. In the middle of the book I was able to put it down for a week and not once wonder what was going to happen to them. It wasn't a book I found at all difficult to read, but it wasn't one I got personally invested in either. I felt Wharton held me at arm's length for this book (which was definitely NOT true of House of Mirth or Custom of the Country.) So, an excellent book, but not my favorite Wharton.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore where I used to work, with my employee discount.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday: The Age of Innocence

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

pen-wipers (6)
A cloth, or other material, for wiping off or cleaning ink from a pen
"Gigantic pansies, considerably larger than the roses, and closely resembling the floral pen-wipers made by female parishioners for fashionable clergymen, sprang from the moss beneath the rose-trees; and here and there a daisy grafted on a rose-branch flowered with a luxuriance prophetic of Mr. Luther Burbank's far-off prodigies."

enfiladed (18)
an axial arrangement of doorways connecting a suite of rooms with a vista down the whole length of the suite
"Then the house had been boldly planned with a ball-room, so that, instead of squeezing through a narrow passage to get to it (as at the Chiveres') one marched solemnly down a vista of enfiladed drawing-rooms (the sea-green, the crimson and the bouton d'or), seeing from afar the many-candled lustres reflected in the polished parquetry, and beyond that the depths of a conservatory where camellias and tree-ferns arched their costly foliage over seats of black and gold bamboo."

aigrettes (19)
a plume or tuft of feathers, esp. the back plume of any of various herons, arranged as a head ornament
"Couples were already gliding over the floor beyond: the light of the wax candles fell on revolving tulle skirts, on girlish heads wreathed with modest blossoms, on the dashing aigrettes and ornaments of the young married women's coiffures, and on the glitter of highly glazed shirt-fronts and fresh glacé gloves."

propinquities (25)
nearness in place; proximity
"That was how women with lovers lived in the wicked old societies, in apartments with all the rooms on one floor, and all the indecent propinquities that their novels described."

sacerdotal (47)
of priests; priestly
"...the habit of a life-time, and the attitude of her friends and relations, had led her to consider Mr. van der Luyden's least gesture as having an almost sacerdotal importance."

adipose (135)
fatty; consisting of, resembling, or relating to fat
"...and when he told her that he had deserted the office without leave, and rushed down to St. Petersburg simply because he wanted to see May, she gave an adipose chuckle and patted his knee with her puff-ball hand."

tippets (145)
a scarf, usually of fur or wool, for covering the neck, or the neck and shoulders, and usually having ends hanging down in front
"She followed the Marchioness into the hall, saw her fitted into a miscellaneous heap of overshoes, shawls and tippets..."

curvetting (165)
Dressage. A leap of a horse from a rearing position, in which it springs up with the hind legs outstretched as the forelegs descend
"...and Mrs. Welland's chestnuts, with big white favours on their frontlets, curvetting and showing off at the far end of the canvas tunnel."

gentian-bed (173)
any of several plants of the genera Gentiana, Gentianella, and Gentianopsis, having usually blue, or sometimes yellow, white, or red, flowers, as the fringed gentian of North America, or Gentiana lutea, of Europe
"... and May, her feet in a gentian-bed, had smiled cheerfully..."

tutelary (174)
having the position of guardian or protector of a person, place, or thing
"...but since the lines of her character, though so few, were on the same fine mould as her face, she became the tutelary divinity of all his old traditions and reverences."

fol-de-rol (189)
mere nonsense; foolish talk or ideas
"Such fol-de-rol, her not coming for the summer; but I gave up arguing with young people about fifty years ago."

chamfered (192)
a cut that is made in wood or some other material, usually at a 45° angle to the adjacent principal faces
"They drove down Bellevue Avenue and turned in between the chamfered wooden gate-posts surmounted by cast-iron lamps which marked the approach to the Welland villa."

herdic (208)
a low-hung carriage with two or four wheels, having the entrance at the back and the seats at the sides
"He waited, pacing up and down before the herdic."

sunder (210)
to become separated; part
"...but now that she was beside him, and they were drifting forth into this unknown world, they seemed to have reached the kind of deeper nearness that a touch may sunder."

vaticinations (228)
a prophesy
"Archer had been wont to smile at these annual vaticinations of his mother's..."

carcel (232)
A light standard much used in France, being the light from a Carcel lamp of stated size and construction consuming 42 grams of colza oil per hour with a flame 40 millimeters in height. Its illuminating power is variously stated at from 8.9 to 9.6 British standard candles
"... and the ladies, on this conclusion, gathered up their train to seek the carcel globes of the drawing-room, while Archer and Ms. Sillerton Jackson withdrew to the Gothic library."

valetudinarian (248)
a person who is excessively concerned about his or her poor health or ailments
"But his eminence as a valetudinarian now made him an object of engrossing interest, and Mrs. Mingott issued an imperial summons to him to come and compare diets as soon as his temperature permitted."

efflorescent (295)
efflorescing; blossoming
"...the sofas and armchairs of pale brocade were cleverly grouped about little plush tables densely covered with silver toys, porcelain animals and efflorescent photograph frames; and tall rosy-shaded lamps shot up like tropical flowers among the palms."

philippic (299)
any speech or discourse of bitter denunciation
"The talk, as usual, had veered around to the Beauforts, and even Mr. van der Luyden and Mr. Selfridge Merry, installed in the honorary armchairs tacitly reserved for them, paused to listen to the younger man's philippic."

factitious (302)
not spontaneous or natural; artificial; contrived
"But there she stood, pale and drawn, yet radiating the factitious energy of one who has passed beyond fatigue."

effulgent (317)
shining forth brilliantly; radiant.
"Suddenly, before an effulgent Titian, he found himself saying: 'But I'm only fifty-seven-' and then he turned away."

“Waiting On” Wednesday: I Think I Love 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 Think I Love You by Allison Pearson
From the author of the best seller I Don’t Know How She Does It, a follow-up that promises to be one of the most widely read and talked-about novels of the season.

1974, Wales. Thirteen-year-old Petra and her best friend, Sharon, are in love with David Cassidy and obsessed with The Ultimate David Cassidy Quiz, a contest whose winners will be flown to America to meet their teen idol. 1998, London. Petra is pushing forty and on the brink of divorce. While cleaning out her mother’s closet, she finds a dusty letter—a letter her mother had intercepted—declaring her the winner of the contest she and Sharon had labored over with such agony and bliss. Twenty-four years later, twenty pounds heavier, the girls reunite for an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to meet their teen idol at last, middle age—theirs and his—be damned.

Poignant, hilarious, joyful, profoundly moving and uplifting, I Think I Love You captures what girls learn about love through the universal experience of worshipping a teen dream. It will resonate with readers everywhere.
Knopf publishes this book on 2/8/2011.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Clan of the Cave Bear

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 Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel p. 28

"They all knew what came next, the ceremony never changed; it was the same night after night, but still they anticipated. They were waiting for Mog-ur to call upon the Spirit of Ursus, the Great Cave Bear, his own personal totem and most revered of all the spirits."

I think this gives a good taste of the book. The spirit world is very important to them and the Mog-ur (medicine man or magician) is one of the most important characters. When a people don't understand how the world works, and aren't able to really rationally analyze, their beliefs are of vital importance.

Monday, January 10, 2011

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:
Pretty in Plaid: A Life, a Witch, and a Wardrobe, or, the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomanical, Self-Centered Smart-Ass Phase by Jen Lancaster
The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton


Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Up Next:

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: A Novel by Tom Franklin
Louisa May Alcott by Susan Cheever

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review: The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This book is written a little differently than Ms. Wilder's previous books, as she never finished writing and editing it. It's 4 chapters, so naturally those are long, although the book itself is very short.

Even though Laura doesn't want to be married to a farmer she agrees to give Almanzo three years (which stretches into 4 and then into 70) to prove that he can be just as successful as a farmer, and she can be as happy as a farmer's life, as Laura wants her life to be. It was surprising for me to read that she never saw herself as a farmer's daughter, as I frequently thought of Pa as a farmer, but she thinks of herself as a pioneer's daughter. And when she describes cooking for all the threshers, it's true, that's something Ma never did.

As usual, not everything goes as well as planned. There are blizzards, hailstorms, tornadoes, babies, a fire, and many other obstacles to overcome, but with love and faith and inner strength, they do so. Manly and Laura seem perfectly suited to each other, and were an excellent model relationship for me to see when I was a kid. As an adult, it's still a great bar to aspire to. I'm sad I'm done with the last book, but that just means I have another year of rereads to look forward to.

I love Laura Ingalls Wilder. Anyone who hasn't read the Little House books should do so right now. They are the ideal gift for any kids 4-years and older. I am impressed with how they've stood the test of time, and I'm sure they'll still be around a hundred years from now.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend. I purchased the whole set of Little House books from my previous work, with my employee discount.