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Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Beginnings: Big Brother

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.

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

"I have to wonder whether any of the true highlights of my fortysome years have had to do with food."

She makes an interesting point that we spend a huge amount of our lives eating, planning to eat, cooking, shopping, and yet how many truly amazing meals do we remember?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

The list of Robert Moses's accomplishments, even if cut in half, would be impressive compared to anyone, including presidents. He built hundreds of parks in New York City and State, the West Side highway, the Hayden Planetarium, Shea Stadium, Jones Beach, and Flushing Meadows. But he was also possibly the most arrogant man ever, not just dismissing any disagreement or questions, but often going so far as to destroy the reputation and career of those who dared question his ideas. He also was a racist, which had a direct impact on his building projects, as any minority-dominant neighborhoods in NYC were given a seriously short shrift when it came to playgrounds, parks, and recreation areas (the only recreation area he built in the Harlem area of Riverside Park was decorated with monkeys, in case you doubted his opinion.) A tyrant who surrounded himself with ass-kissing yes-men, Moses had an amazing ability to get things done quickly, cut through red tape, and while keeping an eye on the bottom line he didn't forget about aesthetics. To a point. His aesthetic view was from the seat of a car, so drivers on the West Side Highway got the Hudson River view, not the park-goers in Riverside Park, who were completely denied access to the riverfront. I always wondered why Flushing Meadows Park was bordered on all sides by highways, as I had never seen that design before and I found it quite lacking for park-goers. It now makes sense. The park was for the parkway. Pedestrians were an afterthought.

He amassed a great deal of power, the center of which was the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. I used to walk under this bridge in Astoria Park. Moses was the first guy to figure out that you didn't actually have to stop collecting tolls when the construction bonds were paid off. The money collected eventually was the largest amount in the state, and since he could use it to build almost anything, he managed to eventually get himself appointed to twelve different jobs (including keeping his original parks job). But when he started working on Title 1 housing (projects), the cracks started to show. He was overextended. The "friends" who got "favors" on the project not only were out of control, but they never actually got around to building anything. As Moses aged, his friends in the newspaper publishing business no longer protected his reputation as well as they once had, but also he became more tune-deaf to what the public wanted, and stayed stubbornly blind to counter-ideas such as public transportation. Eventually, a combination of bad work on Title 1, good work by newspaper reporters, and the election of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, managed to oust the power-monger Robert Moses.

I wish Mr. Caro had used fewer nicknames for the men involved (such as calling La Guardia "The Little Flower.") It's not only cutesy, but in the intervening 39 years since this book was published, a lot of those nicknames are no longer commonly known, so at times it did make it hard to understand who he was talking about. My biggest complaint was of course the length. But not as much as you would think. This book did win the Pulitzer Prize for a reason. There were occasional minor repetitions--but mostly those were to remind us of people and events that happened hundreds of pages ago. He is a little heavy-handed with descriptions but they greatly help paint the picture of events. And he does go into great detail on a lot of projects. But the detail is necessary, and the primary reason for the massive length of the book, was Moses's long life, indefatigable energy, stunning list of accomplishments, and towering persona. As long as this book was, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But you must be in it for the long haul. As good a reader as I am, I read this book for more than five weeks. But I'm glad I did.

I bought this book at B&N.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: James and Dolley Madison

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

James and Dolley Madison: America's First Power Couple by Bruce Chadwick

Synopsis from Goodreads:
This revealing new portrait of James and Dolley Madison introduces the reader to America’s first power couple. Using recently uncovered troves of letters at the University of Virginia, among other sources, historian Bruce Chadwick has been able to reconstruct the details of the Madisons’ personal and political lives.

Chadwick argues that Madison was not a boring, average president, as other historians have characterized him, but a vibrant, tough leader—and a very successful commander in chief in the War of 1812.

He contends that Madison, the architect of the Constitution, owed much of his success to the political savvy of his charismatic, much younger wife, whose parties and backdoor politicking make for remarkable stories. And Dolley, through her many social skills, created the dynamic role of First Lady that we know today.

Despite their glamorous lifestyle, behind the scenes, the Madisons struggled with family drama: James and Dolley’s constant funding of their charming but sociopathic son’s misadventures ultimately led to their own financial ruin.

Blending the personal and the political, this is a fascinating profile of a couple whose life together contributed so much to the future course of our nation.

Publishing February 4, 2014 by Prometheus Books.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: Aiding and Abetting

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!


Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark p. 58

“People who want to write books do so because they feel it to be the easiest thing they can do. They can read and write, they can afford any of the instruments of book writing such as pens, paper, computers, tape recorders, and generally by the time they have reached this decision, they have had a simple education.”

Sadly, a lot of people think they can write a book, but they cannot and should not. And Ms. Sparks perfectly puts her finger on why they think they can.

Book Review: Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark

This is an odd book. It's short and sharp, which both are great attributes and which both are very Muriel Spark. But it's unusual.

Two men separately start seeing a psychiatrist in Paris, Dr. Wolf. They both claim to be Lord Lucan, who murdered his nanny and nearly murdered his wife in London in the 1970s and escaped. They try to blackmail Dr. Wolf by revealing that she is really Beate Pappenheim, a German fake stigmatic who defrauded hundreds of people and is also on the run. Meanwhile, the daughter of an old friend of Lucan's decides to try to write a book on him and is off on the hunt, to see if she can find him if he is still alive. Dr. Wolf abruptly leaves, with no word to her longtime boyfriend, to figure out the Lucans' story and how she will deal with them.

How everything gets sorted is both odd and finely plotted. It is also rather abrupt and the story of the daughter looking for Lucan is left floating in the wind somewhat. There are a lot of interesting characters but they aren't all fully developed. For instance several of Dr. Wolf's patients come to see her boyfriend, looking for her. They are all strange and intriguing and yet most have just one scene, or two at the most.

This book, while interesting, felt lifeless. It had no soul. It felt like perhaps it was a writing exercise for the author. It still had some great lines and the characters were brilliant, and it was quite a feat to take these two true (really!) odd mysteries and make them intersect. But I didn't connect with anyone in the story, found them all fairly awful in fact, and even though it was short and I should have zipped through it, I found it instead easy to put down. If you are a fan of Ms. Spark, it's a worthy little morsel to chew on, but it's not up to the standards of her great novels.

I got this book at Julia's Coffee, the used bookstore attached to Habitat for Humanity.

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (audio)

Up next:
And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Unexpectedly, Milo by Matthew Dicks
My Lobotomy by Howard Dully

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Beginnings: Aiding and Abetting

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.

Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark

"The receptionist looked tinier than ever as she showed the tall, tall, Englishman into the studio of Dr. Hildegard Wolf, the psychiatrist who had come from Bavaria, then Prague, Dresden, Avila, Marseilles, then London, and now settled in Paris."

This new patient will throw a wrench into Dr. Wolf's life, and he has an interesting story of his own, too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell

I have worked in two bookstores. One was a college store, an independent. The other was an off-brand Barnes and Noble. One reason I went to work at the B+N despite it being a drop in pay for me, was because I wanted, at minimum, to be dealing with people who were literate (or pretended to be) and who appeared to be sober, after working at a box office. I had decided these were my bare minimum standards for dealing with the public. Yet it was still astonishing what questions people asked. I wish it had occurred to me to write them down!

If you want a quick laugh, wonder who would ask who wrote Shakespeare's books, what Jane Austen has published lately, and if a bookstore would consider selling cleaning products, this book is for you. It's a cute little gift book that sadly does give a good idea of what it's like to work in a bookstore. The customers might be mostly literate, but that doesn't mean they don't ask stupid questions. And we can giggle, knowing we are much smarter and would never ask these questions ourselves.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore, Panassus Books, in Nashville, TN.

Book Review: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers

This is a rare example of a book that wasn't at all what I was expecting, and yet I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. I was expecting to find out when Heather and her family figured out she was face-blind, when and how she was diagnosed, and what methods she used to deal with her condition. I was quite shocked that Heather didn't realize she had this condition until more than halfway through the book. We readers were already suspicious (having been made to expect it was coming by the subtitle at the very least, if not the flap copy, which I read years ago if at all) so the hints dropped made more of an impact on us than on Heather who didn't know anything different than what she'd experienced her whole life.

But the book was so engrossing because really, face-blindness was the least of Heather's problems. She grew up in a terrifically disfunctional family. Her mother is most likely schizophrenic. Her father is a not-very-functioning alcoholic with additional issues. She has a brother who did not want to be in the book so he's just mentioned once and never again which is odd but I can understand how someone who grew up in this environment and got out of it, might want to seriously distance himself from it. (Although I still wish he was mentioned at least from time to time, if not named.) Some people have questioned how she was able to become a college professor from this background but she did. Luckily she was smart and luckily, she wanted to get away so she chose a further away college than the local community college. Luckily, she had a good college counselor in high school. People do get away from bad situations with little damage or at least able to put together a good life, all the time.

However, her ability to put together a good life was where she faltered and where she began to finally look at her past with some distance and see that all was not right. She brought her very serious boyfriend and his two sons to Florida to meet her parents. Her father was drunk and unable to carry on much of a conversation. Her mother kicked them out of the house for no particular reason. After a trip to Disney World, the boys went on while Heather went on to a speaking engagement and her high school reunion (the excuse for the trip), only to run into an old boyfriend who asked if her mother was schizophrenic. After seeing her mother through her boyfriend's eyes, suddenly things she'd always written off as just odd, stood out as much worse. More like bizarre. Crazy.

I do not doubt that she didn't understand the awfulness of the situation when she was in it--and even for years afterwards. Denial is powerful. Our brains protect us as best they can. And when that's the only thing you've ever known, who are you to question if it's "normal?"

The book flashes back to her childhood (mostly high school) quite a bit and she visits her parents again in an attempt to find out more and understand better. As her relationship back home starts to fall apart, she sees a therapist and eventually does figure out the face-blindness aspect of her life, too.

The book was riveting. The flashback transitions were occasionally a little shaky, especially when coming back to "now," but never to the point where I didn't understand what was going on. But the horribleness of her childhood kept me glued to the page, as well as the mess her current life was. I truly appreciated that she was finally trying to get everything straightened out, even if it didn't all resolve the way she would have liked. Ms. Sellers is a writing instructor and that helped her tell a very complicated story with minimal effort. I enjoyed it very much.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: My Life in Middlemarch

“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:

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A New Yorker writer revisits the seminal book of her youth--Middlemarch-- and fashions a singular, involving story of how a passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories.

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not.

In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece--the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure--and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.

Publishing January 28, 2014 by Crown.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

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!


You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers p. 47

"She looked right at me. She looked right at me," Jacob said.

This happens to Heather a lot, before she figures out and later gets a diagnosis, that she is face-blind. She doesn't recognize people. At all.




Monday, January 20, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
None! Again! I have too many books going at once, and one of those being a monster chunkster.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (audio)

Up next:
Rush to Glory: Formula 1 Racing's Greatest Rivalry by Tom Rubython
Columbine by Dave Cullen
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Beginnings: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

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.

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers

"We left for the airport before dawn."

Heather had no idea but this trip was going to change her life forever. She was bringing her fiance and his two sons from Michigan to meet her parents in Florida, and she would finally see how messed up her parents really were.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Careless People

“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:

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Tracing the genesis of a masterpiece, a Fitzgerald scholar follows the novelist as he begins work on The Great Gatsby. The autumn of 1922 found F. Scott Fitzgerald at the height of his fame, days from turning twenty-six years old, and returning to New York for the publication of his fourth book, Tales of the Jazz Age. A spokesman for America’s carefree younger generation, Fitzgerald found a home in the glamorous and reckless streets of New York. Here, in the final incredible months of 1922, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald drank and quarreled and partied amid financial scandals, literary milestones, car crashes, and celebrity disgraces.

Yet the Fitzgeralds’ triumphant return to New York coincided with another event: the discovery of a brutal double murder in nearby New Jersey, a crime made all the more horrible by the farce of a police investigation—which failed to accomplish anything beyond generating enormous publicity for the newfound celebrity participants. Proclaimed the "crime of the decade” even as its proceedings dragged on for years, the Mills-Hall murder has been wholly forgotten today. But the enormous impact of this bizarre crime can still be felt in The Great Gatsby, a novel Fitzgerald began planning that autumn of 1922 and whose plot he ultimately set within that fateful year.

Careless People is a unique literary investigation: a gripping double narrative that combines a forensic search for clues to an unsolved crime and a quest for the roots of America’s best loved novel. Overturning much of the received wisdom of the period, Careless People blends biography and history with lost newspaper accounts, letters, and newly discovered archival materials. With great wit and insight, acclaimed scholar of American literature Sarah Churchwell reconstructs the events of that pivotal autumn, revealing in the process new ways of thinking about Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

Interweaving the biographical story of the Fitzgeralds with the unfolding investigation into the murder of Hall and Mills, Careless People is a thrilling combination of literary history and murder mystery, a mesmerizing journey into the dark heart of Jazz Age America.

Publishing January 23, 2014 by The Penguin Press.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore

In this book, Ms. Blakemore takes a dozen famous heroines and their authors (all women) to show different life lessons that are on display, from compassion to ambition. Along the way she also shows how the authors display these traits as well as their subjects, which sometimes is purposeful and sometimes accidental. Luckily, she only had one book/author that I hadn't read, the Claudine novels by Colette.

These short essays are lovely. They help you remember why you loved these books and these heroines, even the less-than-likable ones like Scarlett O'Hara and Mary Lennox. She gives you great biographical information, such as how Jo March's life didn't much resemble Louisa May Alcott's, so instead of thinking of Little Women as a lightly veiled memoir, instead it was more of a wish, for how Ms. Alcott wished her life to be. It's very neat to see how the author's life informed her characters, from Frances Hodgson Burnett's bad marriages and scandals, to Lucy Maud Montgomery's... bad marriage and less than ideal childhood. Hm. There were certainly themes that came up again and again, although of course there were the occasional more happy childhood, like Laura Ingalls Wilder's, but again with her novels we see how what we think of as a true story is far from it (in The Long Winter, a young married couple with a baby lived with the Ingallses). I learned a lot about some of my favorite authors and their creations who leap off the page.

My one quibble is that occasionally the author meanders into memoir territory, telling us how A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was the one book she took when she went overseas. I love memoirs but she doesn't have enough of these little asides to really consider the book a memoir proper, so instead they are just occasional intrusions into what is otherwise a lightly academic look at authors and their heroines and what they teach us. I think knowing what these books taught Ms. Blakemore in particular isn't relevant, at least not unless we learned a heck of a lot more. The balance of personal and literary felt off to me.

But those aside are few and far between, easily ignored if they bug you. The book is very accessible, a nice intro to the greats of literature, and can be picked up and put down as the essays don't follow any overarching plot or even theme. I enjoyed it a great deal. It was the perfect book to read in the bubble bath with a glass of wine on a cold winter's night!

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

Teaser Tuesdays: The Heroine's Bookshelf

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 Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore p. 5

"Jane's choice to end her embarrassing engagement was the first foray into the battle for self-determination she would fight for the rest of her life."

Jane Austen, like many of the authors profiled in this book, fought her personal battles on the page, whether or not she consciously realized it. For who is more self-determined than Elizabeth Bennett?


Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers

Up next:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS by Rebecca Eaton
Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman

Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Heroine's Bookshelf

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 Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore

"In times of struggle, there are as many reasons not to read as there are to breathe."

Sadly, I too know a lot of people with this mentality. But I agree completely with the author who comes back around to pointing out how helping books are during the bad times.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Flyover Lives

“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:

Flyover Lives: A Memoir by Diane Johnson

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Le Divorce, a dazzling meditation on the mysteries of the "wispy but material" family ghosts who shape us

Growing up in the small river town of Moline, Illinois, Diane Johnson always dreamed of floating down the Mississippi and off to see the world. Years later, at home in France, a French friend teases her: "Indifference to history—that’s why you Americans seem so naïve and don’t really know where you’re from."

The j’accuse stayed with Johnson. Were Americans indifferent to history? Her own family seemed always to have been in the Midwest. Surely they had got there from somewhere? In digging around, she discovers letters and memoirs written by generations of stalwart pioneer ancestors that testify to more complex times than the derisive nickname "The Flyover" gives the region credit for.

With the acuity and sympathy that her novels are known for, she captures the magnetic pull of home against our lust for escape and self-invention. This spellbinding memoir will appeal to fans of Bill Bryson, Patricia Hampl, and Annie Dillard.

Publishing January 16, 2014 by Viking Adult.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: The Power Broker

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 Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro p. 220

"Would dreams--dreams of real size and significance and scope--the accomplishment his mother had taught him was so important, ever be realized by the methods of the men in whose ranks he had once marched, the reformers and idealists? He asked the question of himself and he answered it himself. No."

It's always sad when idealists become realists.

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
none! I am still working on this really, really long book.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (audio)

Up next:
On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Flyover Lives: A Memoir by Diane Johnson

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Power Broker

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 Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

"As the captain of the Yale swimming team stood beside the pool, still dripping after his laps, and listened to Bob Moses, the team's second-best freestyler, he didn't know what shocked him more--the suggestion or the fact that it was Moses who was making it."

His efforts to raise money for the Yale swim team taught Moses lessons in power that he honed for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Why I Read


“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:

Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser

Description from Goodreads:
An exhilarating volume that will ratchet up the joy for all reading groups

“Wendy Lesser’s extraordinary alertness, intelligence, and curiosity have made her one of America’s most significant cultural critics,” writes Stephen Greenblatt. In Why I Read, Lesser draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decades of editing one of the most distinguished little magazines in the country, The Threepenny Review, to describe a life lived in and through literature. As Lesser writes in her foreword, “Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it.”

Here the reader will discover a definition of literature that is as broad as it is broad-minded. In addition to novels and stories, Lesser explores plays, poems, and essays along with mysteries, science fiction, and memoirs. As she examines these works from such perspectives as “Character and Plot,” “Novelty,” “Grandeur and Intimacy,” and “Authority,” Why I Read sparks an overwhelming desire to put aside quotidian tasks in favor of reading. A book in the spirit of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Elizabeth Hardwick’s A View of My Own, Why I Read is iconoclastic, conversational, and full of insight. It will delight those who are already avid readers as well as neophytes in search of sheer literary fun.

Publishing January 7, 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

2013: The Year in Review

In 2010 I got this meme, but alas I did not note where I found it. Still, it was a fun way to summarize the year, so I thought I'd do it again.

How many books read in 2013? 76 new and 6 rereads.

How many fiction and non fiction? 34 fiction, 42 nonfiction. Normally this is closer to a 50/50 split, but I think the genre challenge skewed it.

Male/Female author ratio?  25 male, 51 female. This is normally also a 50/50 split. This is the first time I've had a big difference, and it's actually 1/3 to 2/3 which is big. I can't attribute this to the genre challenge, so it's just an anomaly.

Favorite book of 2013?  Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Least favorite? Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why? Sadly, I attempted and failed at rereading The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. I had loved this book in my early twenties, but it really didn't speak to me now. I just couldn't do it.

Oldest book read? The Inimitable Jeeves P.G. Wodehouse, 1923 (This is one of the three books included in the omnibus, Life With Jeeves.)
Newest? Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh, Oct. 29, 2013

Longest and shortest book titles? (not including subtitles)
Longest: Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson (35)
Shortest: Gulp by Mary Roach (4)

Longest and shortest books?
Longest: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon 976 pages
Shortest: Blue Nights by Joan Didion 188 pages

How many books from the library? 12 - a new record! (as an adult)

Any translated books? not this year! Hm, that's sad, and also a first since I've been doing this annual summary.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author? Michael Connelly 2; and Bill Bryson 2. This is unusually low for me but I think it is due to the genre variety Challenge that I did. Instead of reading a lot of the same author, instead I had some themes. The last couple of years I've been reading more books on the Native American experience (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End by Scott W. Berg), the African-American Experience (Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha A. Sandweiss), and women's rights (Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, The Group by Mary McCarthy, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins)

Any re-reads? Yes, Seven. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden; Older Men by Norma Klein; Bizou by Norma Klein; The Queen of the What Ifs by Norma Klein; Now That I Know by Norma Klein; Summer Sisters by Judy Blume; The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (DNF)

Favorite character of the year? Budo in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading? Cambodia, France, Algeria, Scotland, England, Egypt, Israel, Vietnam, Iran, Greece, Korea,

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation? There were two: When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins was raved about by Emily, and The Bride by Julie Garwood was a gift from Jessica

Which author was new to you in 2013 that you now want to read the entire works of? Gail Collins. I already have her book on the earlier history of women in American on my To Read list.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read? Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash; Smonk by Tom Franklin; The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; March by Geraldine Brooks

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read? Life With Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

2013 TOP EIGHT Book Events in Carin’s Book Life - in no particular order:
8. Went to the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville for the first time in probably 13 years.
7. I got married! This is so low on the list because it only had a little bit to do with books (but it did!)
6. I met the very lovely Susan Gregg Gilmore at Bibliofeast and we had a great chat about Nashville.
5. I have two students I'm mentoring who both want to go into book publishing. It's been a lot of fun working with them over the semester. They remind me why I like my job!
4. Went to Laura Ingalls Wilder's house in Mansfield, MO!
3. Went to The Little House on the Prairie! These books have always been super-important to me. My youngest sister is named Laura (no coincidence - we were reading Little House in the Big Woods when she was born). I was blown away by this experience!
2. Met Jill McCorkle, one of my all-time favorite authors! Did tell her what a big fan I am and I think I didn't totally embarrass myself.
1. My editorial business is continuing to go really well, exceeding the sales goal I set for myself for 2013, and I had my first summer intern.