Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Beginnings: Amazing Grace

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. 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.

Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol

" The Number 6 train from Manhattan to the South Bronx makes nine stops in the 18-minute ride between East 59th Street and Brook Avenue."

Riding the subway is very interesting how you go into and out of both good neighborhoods and bad in the blink of an eye, and how it is full of a wide cross-section of the populace of NYC, except for the very rich.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Under the Wide and Starry Sky

“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:

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In her masterful new novel, Nancy Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney depicted so memorably in Loving Frank.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.

Publishing January 21, 2014 by Ballantine Books.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Review: Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan

Years ago Ms. Flanagan's book To Hell With All That really opened my eyes. Although I am not a parent (nor intend to be) I did appreciate its message about how important working mothers are, and really made me appreciate anew not just how hard it was for my mother to work a full-time job, cook dinner every night, and keep our house spic and span (she was smart and made all us kids help with the cleaning and other chores.) But I also just appreciated the example she set of a professional woman (a vice-president no less for most of her time at that job) who used her degrees and was valued. In our family, regardless of the fact that none of us have (yet) reproduced except one step-sister, I don't think any of us would consider not working. It was like going to (and finishing!) college--in my family this was not optional. It was so ingrained that it never even occurred to any of us.

In Girl Land, Ms. Flanagan tackles the hardest and most influential years in any woman's life: adolesense. She talks about the beginning of this phase in the early 1900s (yes, before that you simple went from being a girl to a woman with no in-between.) She talks about how it changed through the decades, how the teachings of the day made sense at the time but set up false dichotomies (girls were the "good" ones who were supposed to set the rules and boundaries with boys, but how on earth were they supposed to enforce those boundaries with boys who were vastly physically stronger? Did what we were taught in the 1950s lead to the culture of rape we're now dealing with?), how the media and pop culture affected us, and how things have been changing.

This short book just ripped by in mere moments (I did read it in only two days). Even while I was reading it, I thought to myself, I must force this book onto all of my friends with daughters. You might not agree with all of her arguments (I understand she's rather controversial although I didn't know that before) but she makes a lot of valid points about how tricky society is for girls to navigate and how we can try to ease the transition.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore, Parnassus Books.

Teaser Tuesdays: Girl Land

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!

Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan pp. 26-27

"The birth of car culture escalated the process; with cars and 'parking' came petting, which consisted of any sexual activity short of intercourse and which replaced the much more innocent 'spooning' and 'snuggle pupping.' There was even a body of thought--well documented in a 2007 book called Female Adolescence in American Scientific Thought, 1830-1930 by Crista DeLuzio--that petting was actually good for girls, that it served a purpose relating to something that only a few years earlier would have been among the most shocking statements you could make: that teenage girls had erotic desires of their own and were not merely the potential victims of adolescent male lust."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks

While bullying is a popular topic in young adult novels today (and rightly so as it's such a prevalent and growing problem), Ms. Fredericks takes a unique angle on it. Toni isn't a typical nerdy wimp. She's not in the In crowd, but she has friends and people like her. Until that summer night when Oliver told her he and Chloe had broken up, so he and Toni hooked up. And then Oliver and Chloe got back together. And Chloe told everyone that they had most definitely not been broken up, and Oliver wouldn't defend Toni. Chloe is in the In crowd, in fact she seems to be the Queen Bee of the school. And she and her two cronies take it upon themselves to make her life a living hell.

Meanwhile Toni becomes friendly with Cassandra, the cousin of her best friend Ella. Ella is sweet and caring but not tough or devious. Which Cassandra is. She's the perfect friend to help Toni get through this rough time. Until she takes things up a notch, and shows Toni her book of spells. Cassandra wants Toni to hex Chloe. When her first spell, to mute Oliver in revenge for his silence towards her, works, Toni is terrified of the temptation and the potential.

The twist at the end with Cassandra was well set up and felt natural. And while the middle part with Ella was uncomfortable and upsetting, it was supposed to be and was very effective. It was also nice that Ms. Fredericks didn't do the typical thing with the two best friends who didn't like each other and let Toni be friends with both of them, even though it wasn't smooth-sailing. I also liked how she showed that someone like Ella, a bubbly happy well-liked girl, still had a lot of issues. And how even though she wasn't a steel-spined tough-girl, she had an inner strength that her classmates and friends valued and saw. The ending was satisfying, and even if there was a shocking moment or two in the book, nothing felt unbelievable or forced. The teenagers felt like teenagers. The high school was a little unfamiliar but that's just New York for you.

I could have finished this book in one sitting but I dragged it out for four days because I didn't want it to end. Ms. Fredericks's voice is so authentic and real, it feels warm and familiar. You feel like you know all of these characters like old friends (or old classmates). An important story in this world of bullies, and one that is new and fresh.

I checked this book out of the library. I am friends with the author but I knew her books before I knew her personally, and I strive to tell the truth about her books.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon
Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo

Up next:
Margot by Jillian Cantor
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
The Natural History of a Yard by Leonard Dubkin

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Beginnings: Girl Land

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. 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.

Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan

"Every woman I've known describes her adolescence as the most psychologically intense period of her life."

I wouldn't disagree with that at all. And because of that, I agree with Ms. Flanagan that we ought to think more about that period and its impact on how we turn out as women.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

“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:

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Kate Chase Sprague was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second daughter to the second wife of a devout but ambitious lawyer. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, rose to prominence in the antebellum years and was appointed secretary of the treasury in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, while aspiring to even greater heights.

Beautiful, intelligent, regal, and entrancing, young Kate Chase stepped into the role of establishing her thrice-widowed father in Washington society and as a future presidential candidate. Her efforts were successful enough that The Washington Star declared her "the most brilliant woman of her day. None outshone her."

None, that is, but Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Mrs. Lincoln and her young rival held much in common—political acumen, love of country, and a resolute determination to help the men they loved achieve greatness—they could never be friends, for the success of one could come only at the expense of the other. When Kate Chase married William Sprague, the wealthy young governor of Rhode Island, it was widely regarded as the pinnacle of Washington society weddings. President Lincoln was in attendance. The First Lady was not.

Jennifer Chiaverini excels at chronicling the lives of extraordinary yet little-known women through historical fiction. What she did for Elizabeth Keckley in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and for Elizabeth Van Lew in The Spymistress she does for Kate Chase Sprague in Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival.

Publishing January 14, 2014 by Dutton Adult.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review: The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Emmalee is living a hard life. She's living in an unheated shack with her drunken, abusive father, barely getting enough food to eat. She drops out of high school and gets a job sewing collars at the local dress factory where the difficult older seamstress who sits next to her and trains her, Leona, also eventually befriends her. When Emmalee ends up pregnant, Leona offers that she and her baby can move into Leona's trailer with her and her husband. But the night before Emmalee and the baby are to move, tragedy strikes and everything changes. Can Emmalee find some hope somewhere in the mess of her life, and gain the inspiration and hope she needs to struggle on?

While the book seems like Emmalee's story, every other chapter is Leona's, taking her from a young bride to a bitter middle-aged woman, seeing her own dreams fade and die. Personally, I identified more with Leona's story than with Emmalee's. Perhaps it's because Leona's held so much hope at one point, that her life really could be bigger and better than where she'd come from. Whereas poor Emmalee has so many obstacles and burdens that her only hope is just simple survival. Without a hand up from the outside, her life does not hold hope for improvement.

But that helping hand does come, and then when it is wrenched away, Emmalee clings to that glimpse of hope she'd never dreamed of. I do want her to succeed--to prove Leona right and to fulfill Leona's dreams even is she can't. I loved the language and the details of the era (it mostly takes place in the 1974s with flashbacks to Leona's young life in the 1950s). It's more unusual in Southern literature to see the poorer parts of society portrayed, and yet they were not only prevalent and vital, but I would venture to say in this time, they may have even been dominant. This takes place on a mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and as I now live in North Carolina where the clothing mills were such an overwhelming presence in the economy until just a decade or so ago, I understand better how a one-shop town operates. The language and the details felt so authentic and yet effortless. I couldn't put the book down and found myself thinking about it when I couldn't be reading it. It was a fast and easy read, even though the subject matter isn't terribly easy. The poor parts of the South (I was picturing Dolly Parton's youth or Loretta Lynn's) don't get much literary love, but it was worth the wait!

I should also mention how cool the cover is. You can't see on this image but it has copper foil, and also it has a texture that feels like velvet. I can't stop petting it!

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Funeral Dress

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 Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore p. 29

"Leona rubber her tongue across her blistered spot and glanced at the clock on the wall. She spent too much time this week sewing baby gowns, flannel blankets, and bibs for Kelly Faye."

The anticipation and eagerness Leona has for this baby, when Leona herself was only able to have one baby who died, is palpable.

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
none! Far From the Tree is really long!

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Up next:
Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story by Timothy B. Tyson
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Beginnings: The Funeral Dress

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. 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 Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

"Emmalee Bullard became a Tennewa girl on the last Thursday in May."

Tennewa was a shirt factory, one of very few places in 1974 that a girl with few skills in a rural area could get a job.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Servants

“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:

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

Synopsis from Baker & Taylor:
From the immense staff running a lavish Edwardian estate and the lonely maid-of-all-work cooking in a cramped middle-class house to the poor child doing chores in a slightly less poor household, servants were essential to the British way of life. They were hired not only for their skills but also to demonstrate the social standing of their employers--even as they were required to tread softly and blend into the background. More than simply the laboring class serving the upper crust--as popular culture would have us believe--they were a diverse group that shaped and witnessed major changes in the modern home, family, and social order.
Spanning over a hundred years, Lucy Lethbridge--in this "best type of history" (Literary Review) brings to life through letters and diaries the voices of countless men and women who have been largely ignored by the historical record. She also interviews former and current servants for their recollections of this waning profession.

At the fore are the experiences of young girls who slept in damp corners of basements, kitchen maids who were required to stir eggs until the yolks were perfectly centered, and cleaners who had to scrub floors on their hands and knees despite the wide availability of vacuum cleaners. We also meet a lord who solved his inability to open a window by throwing a brick through it and Winston Churchill's butler who did not think Churchill would know how to dress on his own.

A compassionate and discerning exploration of the complex relationship between the server, the served, and the world they lived in, Servants opens a window onto British society from the Edwardian period to the present.

Publishing on Nov. 18 by W W Norton & Co.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

The book started off as a very fast read and I whipped through the first 80 pages, but then it began to slow down, and to drag even. I was dismayed. But upon reflection, I think this was perfect. See, the book is about a wealthy royal family in Cambodia when the revolution breaks out, and what happens to them, seen through the eyes of the oldest 7-year-old daughter, Raami. And at the beginning it is hectic and discombobulating and no one knows what's going on exactly. They are herded from their home, exiled, separated from friends and family, and have no idea what will happen to them. And then, as their new life begins to settle in (although "settle" is not exactly accurate as the revolution wants to keep people on their toes by constantly changing things up so in the course of four years, Raami and her mother end up in at least three different places), things do slow down. Life becomes more rote, a series of identical horrible little indignities as they are forced to work like laborers and are slowly starving to death. The pacing of the novel echoes the pacing of their lives and as the narrative slows, so do their lives.

Ms. Ratner has written a masterful novel, one filled with poetry and beauty, despite the degrading and horrifying circumstances. Sadly, it is based on her own life story, although obviously she has thrived in the aftermath. Normally I don't gravitate towards books that are particularly foreign and I also am not crazy about war novels, especially as regards wars I am less familiar with, but I am glad I was assigned to read this book by my book club as I really did love it. In fact, it is one of my favorite book club reads all year! There was a ton to discuss and other readers' angles on the story were fascinating. Incredibly sad but ultimately filled with uplifting hope, In the Shadow of the Banyan should be widely read and treasured.

I bought this book at Parnassus Bookstore, an independent.

Teaser Tuesdays: In the Shadow of the Banyan

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!

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner p. 36

"I imagined the Organization to be a living version of one of those carvings, a deity of some sort, or a very powerful king. I propped myself up on one knee, chin resting on the headrest, and looked out the back window."

It was interesting how little the non-revolutionaries understood who the Khmer Rouge were. Raami was not the only one who thought "the Organization" was a god.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Review: Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson

In my quest to read all of Mr. Bryson's books, some are easier than others. But I have to say that, for a grammar nerd who loves words, this was a joy. It did take me a long time as I didn't want to read too much at once for fear it would run out of my ears, but I learned a lot and I will be hanging onto this as a reference book for a long time to come.

Did you know the phrase is to the manner born, not manor? Oops. Me neither. Did you know a koala is not a koala bear? That one I did learn last year while preparing to visit Australia. How about that there is no such thing as one kudo? You give someone kudos or none at all. Luckily for all of us, Mr. Bryson has pulled together here a comprehensive list of the most commonly misused ("As U.S. travel abroad drops, Europe grieves" -New York Times. Really? Grieves?), misunderstood (grisly vs. grizzly), and overused words and phrases (lion's share) in writing.

As Mr. Bryson was a copyeditor at Penguin in the U.K., once or twice I did wonder if his use of a word was British, however he does note differences in American and British usage (if not spelling, and the spelling throughout and punctuation are American) so I think my guesses about those Brit-isms are likely wrong. But it is worth noting that he does elucidate a lot of British place names that an American will never need to know. However that minor inconvenience is not good reason to ignore this book. I love how he comes down on the side of reason and sense over rules and traditions (it is okay to split an infinitive, as well as end a sentence with a preposition!) but he has done his homework and cites multiple sources for any debate, and even tries to find the originator of those rather random grammar "rules," to point out how recent and ill-founded they are.

So if you've ever wondered when to use "on to" instead of "onto" or whether it is better to use "flammable" or "inflammable" when talking about a thing easily lit on fire, Mr. Bryson has you covered. If you find this book cursory and wish it were more comprehensive, he's got you covered with Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors. But if you actually want to read a dictionary straight through and retain any of it, I recommend starting with this thinner volume. And if you just love words and language, you need to check out Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States and The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Up next:
Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter by Frank Deford
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Beginnings: In the Shadow of the Banyan

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. 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.

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

"War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father's footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom towards his."

It was ironic that initially, Raami's father, a prince, was excited about the Cambodian revolution. He thought the ideals sounded great. Too bad the ideals were so fleeting.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Tell

“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 Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Every day we make predictions based on limited information, in business and at home. Will this company’s stock performance continue? Will the job candidate I just interviewed be a good employee? What kind of adult will my child grow up to be? We tend to dismiss our predictive minds as prone to bias and mistakes, but in The Tell, psychologist Matthew Hertenstein reveals that our intuition is surprisingly good at using small clues to make big predictions, and shows how we can make better decisions by homing in on the right details.

Just as expert poker players use their opponents’ tells to see through their bluffs, Hertenstein shows that we can likewise train ourselves to read physical cues to significantly increase our predictive acumen. By looking for certain clues, we can accurately call everything from election results to the likelihood of marital success, IQ scores to sexual orientation—even from flimsy evidence, such as an old yearbook photo or a silent one-minute video. Moreover, by understanding how people read our body language, we can adjust our own behavior so as to ace our next job interview or tip the dating scales in our favor.

Drawing on rigorous research in psychology and brain science, Hertenstein shows us how to hone our powers of observation to increase our predictive capacities. A charming testament to the power of the human mind, The Tell will, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, show us how to notice what we see.

Publishing November 12, 2013 by Basic Books.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: Lookaway, Lookaway

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!

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt p. 94

"Marry a future surgeon, a lawyer, at least. Trade your good looks and good name for an even better life than we have, darling."

UGH. Thank goodness my mother never tried giving me any advice like that (and I wouldn't have taken it.) The lives of the upper class may look nice from afar, but I wouldn't want to change places with them.

Book Review: Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

A big reason I read this novel is because it's set in Charlotte, NC, where I live. And it did add an extra element of fun to the story, figuring out if Charlottetowne Country Club was real and imagining the Johnston's house off Providence Road, not to mention just reading all the names familiar to anyone who's ever driven through the city. I was put off by one minor error: Davidson College does not and has never had a seminary school. It is a College, not a University, and therefore has no schools at all aside from the undergraduate liberal arts college. But I was able to push past that.

This is the story of the Johnston family, who go back to the civil war. Jerene is the matriarch presiding over the family's room of art at the Mint Museum, and trying to straighten out the messes of her three children, husband, and brother-in-law, without anyone finding out how precariously close the family is to bankruptcy and losing their place in high society.

Each of the (long) chapters is told from the point of view of a different character in the book. Initially, I really liked this and it was fun, but I wish the author had returned to some of the characters later on, instead of giving us the POVs of increasingly distant and non-central characters. Particularly because this meant there were plot threads in each chapter that were never resolved. I wanted to know what happened to Jerilyn in the rest of college and what was the point of Joshua's friend that he bailed out of jail and why Duke never went back to practicing law aside from inertia (I felt like there was a big secret implied with the last question which was never satisfied.) Because of the format of the narrative, it is very hard to have one cohesive narrative arc pulling all the stories together, and I'm not sure Mr. Barnhardt succeeded. However, I think that readers not as attuned to piecing together of a novel are unlikely to notice. The high society details seemed right on the mark (to this decidedly middle-class reader) and it was gossipy and fun, with elements of darkness lurking to be sure it didn't flit off into silliness.

I bought this book from Park Road Books, my local independent bookstore.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson (audio)

I got to hear Bill Bryson read from this book last month at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville! I am a huge fan, and knew right away I was going to read this book. I really enjoyed Bryson's Shakespeare biography on audio (with him reading it) so I decided to go that route again. Bryson's slight British accent was perfect for Shakespeare. It's not quite perfect for a book that is so very American, but it still worked for me. I do wish he made more of an effort when reading quotations. I don't need for him to come up with a different voice for each person who speaks, but I was rarely sure when a quotation ended, which sometimes could be discombobulating.

As always, Bryson is chock full of random facts (one could even argue that random facts is the entire point of this book.) He did start off to write a joint biography of Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth, but when he really got into the research he found just so many fascinating things that happened in 1927 that he expanded his topic to cover the summer (well, more like six months.) Calvin Coolidge decided not to run for reelection. Work on Mount Rushmore was begun. Al Capone was at the height of his power (and he was only 25! When he was taken down he was just 27 and had only been in power for a little over two years!) Sacco and Vanzetti were put to death. Television was invented. Along the way Bryson caught us up in what was going on in so many areas of American culture, from books to movies to radio to economics. I found it endlessly interesting. Others who like books to stay more focused and on-topic might not care to know about the "trial of the decade" and Prohibition and Fordlandia, but I of course just love the diversions, almost better than the primary narrative. Not that Bryson is simply looking at the frippery and fun of the era--he does also look at whether or not Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty, the KKK, and eugenics.

But he never loses the fun. These negative events only serve to emphasize how exciting and spine-tingling it must have been to live in such an era of discovery and exploration. I really did appreciate the epilogue which told us how Lindbergh and Ruth in particular (and many, many others) ended up, but by the end I really felt I understood what it must have felt like to live in 1927. What a great concept, and I would love to read more books focused on a single year in history.

I downloaded this book from Audible.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

Up next:
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
Diamond in the Rough: A Memoir by Shawn Colvin

Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Beginnings: Lookaway, Lookaway

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. 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.

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

"There were only two white dresses that ever would matter, her mother said. The first of these was the Debutante Dress that Jerilyn would wear when she would take her father's arm and march across the stage in Raleigh, into the single spotlight, radiant, along with all the other debs in North Carolina."

Honestly, even though I'm from the South (Nashville), I had no idea debutantes still existed until I went to college in the early '90s. I seriously thought those went out of style in the 1970s.