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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book review: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

I was intrigued by the book from the moment I first heard about it. We often hear the adage "behind every great man, is a woman," but rarely do we hear that woman's story. This is the story of many, many of those women.

It starts with the Mercury Seven. These woman navigated never-before dreamed of roles as model housewives, media-savvy spokeswomen, and ideals to be emulated as almost no women ever has before (yes, I know First Ladies have those roles too, but they aren't foisted upon them quite so unexpectedly.) Some of them were shy, one (Annie Glenn) had a speech impediment, and some were thrilled to be in the limelight (see the one woman on the front cover who did not wear a solid pastel shirtdress as requested, but instead a lipstick-red rose-covered tight sheath). Some had strong marriages, others were falling apart but had to be toughed out due to NASA's opinion that a solid homelife was a crucial component for a successful astronaut (it was an unofficial but enforced policy). Then there were the Gemini Nine. Then the Gemini and Apollo Fourteen. At this point, the women had stopped feeling like a tight-knit group who supported each other but instead an unwieldy sorority of interlopers and competitors. Those later groups had some cohesiveness among themselves, but not much with the larger group of astronaut wives.

Still, they pulled together when tragedy struck (but only initially as NASA wanted those widows and their families gone ASAP so as not to serve as a reminder to the other families about the very real dangers of this job.) The stood by each other during each woman's own personal hell of enduring their husband's flight (some, like the wives of the Apollo 13 astronauts, obviously had a much tougher time than others.)

There were a lot of names to keep track of and I found I only could really retain the first group and then any of the ones whose husbands had become famous. But it wasn't an issue. (There is a listing in the front of the book of all of them if you want to keep track.) I was happy to hear all the different life stories and found it just wasn't necessary to keep track of who was who. It was surprising to me that only one of them developed a drinking problem given the pressures they were under, and not at all surprising that int he long term, the track record for the astronaut marriages was abysmal. The majority of these women were inspiring in their own ways, even if their biggest goals in life were to keep their home nice, their kids on track, and their husbands happy. But I did especially like the women who aspired to more (one was an airplane pilot herself!)

The book is told in a straightforward manner and does a good job of conveying the era and the stringent expectations of these wives (including how they weren't really allowed to acknowledge or experience the 1960s until they were nearly over.) I didn't get to know much about NASA, but neither did the wives and it was appropriate to be somewhat in the dark in that area. It wasn't earth shattering nor did I learn a lot, but I enjoyed my time with Rene, Jo, Marge, Marilyn, and the rest.

I bought this book at a used bookstore.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Astronaut Wives Club

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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel p. 40

"In the middle of the night, John Glenn was woken up by a phone call from John "Shorty" Powers, the NASA press officer known as the "voice of the astronauts and Mercury Control," who had been a cheerleader in high school. Shorty had gotten a call from a paper that was ready to run a story, complete with incriminating photos."

The story and photos weren't of John Glenn, but rather of Alan Shepard, and John and Alan had an argument about astronauts at least needing to keep up appearances.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reading Books by Women

Two years ago I read an article that infuriated me about how books by women are demeaned, discounted, and of course less reviewed (see VIDA). I've always read books by men and women equally, without even trying. But I heard about people who were planning to spend a year reading only books by women. I found that notion intriguing and toyed with it. Eventually I was convinced that was just as reductive and biased as the reverse, but I did make an effort to read a lot more books by women than I normally did in 2014. Last year, more than 2/3 of the books I read were by women (57 women to 28 men). This year in March (Women's History Month), I only read books by women. As March draws to a close, I thought I should reflect if either of these had made any real difference to me, and the honest answer is no.

That answer might be dismaying to some, but I think it should be the opposite. Books by men and women aren't so different. I read widely, I read critically, I read discerningly. One interesting thing is that I usually also read 50/50 fiction/nonfiction, and last year I read a lot more nonfiction (45 compared to 37) which flips the stereotype of women writing novels and men writing history and other nonfiction.

Back when I worked at a bookstore after college, I noticed that men who asked for recommendations often wouldn't read books written by women (at least if they knew it was. Ever wonder why authors like J.K. Rowling go by initials? So males won't put her book down like they would if they saw "Joanne" on the cover. I love the scene in the movie of The Jane Austen Book Club where Grigg, the one male book club member, explains that most of his favorite "male" authors when he was growing up turned out to be women writing under male pseudonyms.) Women don't have this same problem. Partly it's because throughout school, 90% of what we read were books by men so we're well used to them. But men, you need to get over your fear of books by women. What's the worst that can happen? You won't enjoy it? Well then stop reading it and pick up another. I'm sure there have been some books by men you also haven't enjoyed, so that's no reason to write off half the population as writers. Best case scenario: you like the book, and actually get an inch closer to understanding women. Wouldn't that be a great thing?

One issue I do have now is that my personal stock of unread books is heavily skewed male since I've read so many books by women in the last year and the last month. But I'm sure I'll manage somehow.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel

Up next:
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani
Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Beginnings: The Astronaut Wives Club

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 Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

"They had endured years of waking up alone, making their kids breakfast, taking them to school and picking them up, fixing dinner and kissing them good night, promising that Daddy was thinking of them all the time."

This is talking about before the astronauts were astronauts, when they were test pilots, and even just in the military. It was not an easy life, especially for the wives who had to navigate much of it pretty alone.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: If We Lived Here

“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:

If We Lived Here by Lindsey Palmer

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Razor-sharp and thought-provoking, Lindsey J. Palmer's incisive new novel both celebrates and skewers modern relationships and their milestones, offering a witty and wise look at what it takes to commit--to love, to a home, and to the life that's right for you.

After three years of dating and trading nights at their respective New York City apartments, Emma Feit and Nick O'Hare are moving in together. Or they will be, as soon as they find the right place. For two happily-in-love professionals--Nick's a teacher, Emma tutors college-bound teens--with good credit and stellar references, how hard can it be? As it turns out, very--in ways that are completely unexpected.

Suddenly Emma is filled with questions about cohabiting, about giving up her freedom--not to mention about who's going to clean the toilet. And while her best friend plans a dream wedding to her wealthy fiancé, and her older brother settles into suburban bliss, Emma must figure out what home means to her--and how on earth to get there.

Publishing March 31, 2015 by Kensington.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book review: Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith

I never meant to read this book. I bought this book at a used bookstore, as a favor at my wedding. My sister (who lived in Wyoming part of last year) took it, and then she gave it to my mother, who gave it back to me. I had no interest in it, but my sister and my mother's strong recommendations did make me give it a second look.

It is 1898 and Alexandra has been studying botany at Columbia University. She hears about an expedition to Yellowstone and applies to be the field botanist, obscuring her gender. When she arrives, Professor Merriam, the man in charge, is horrified, but there's not much she can do. A wealthy woman explorer at the park gives Alexandra her own tent and the Merriam is really out of complaints.

Over the course of the "summer," which I'm putting in quotation marks because other then July, it seems very cold and winter-like (snowing at the end of May), the research team collects and classifies plants, insects, a raven, and takes weather measurements. They encounter a poet, a family of Native Americans, a crazy Count poacher, and there are a few emergencies and even a death. But they continue with their scientific pursuits as best they can, in rather primitive circumstances, gaining my admiration, if not my desire to follow in their footsteps.

The book is an epistolary, written in letters. It's not a convention these days, but it was at the time this story takes place, and I liked that the author used not only language and morays of the time, but also used their novel-writing style. There isn't really a plot per se, although from scene to scene there is anticipation and worry about how certain situations will be resolved that keep the action moving forward. It was a brief, sweet, thoughtful look at the state of nature in another century, when scientists and naturalists killed animals in the name of progress and study, and when the knowledge of Native Americans of the flora and fauna was universally dismissed as myth. It was refreshing to be so immersed in another time, as Ms. Smith did a fantastic job of recreating the era. A great read for anyone interested in sciences or the American West.

Teaser Tuesdays: Letters from Yellowstone

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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith

"In the morning, before departing, I re-kindled the fire and, leaving the remaining bread and water with the Professor, I crawled out from under the tree. The sky was grey, but no snow was falling, and the air felt noticeably warmer and fresh."

The Professor had gone looking for Alexandra and he was turned around and tried to go the wrong way to get them back to the camp, and he fell and broke his arm. Then he and Alexandra were forced to spend the night in the woods, before she could go looking for help. And just to show how crazy the weather is, this is May 31. With snow on the ground.



Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

Up next:
Swan Song by John Galsworthy
Maid In Waiting by John Galsworthy
Flowering Wilderness by John Galsworthy

Paring Down the Books?

Last month I was listening to a podcast of The Readers, and Simon asked if you have a fire that destroyed all your books (but everything else was fine), what would be the first books you'd replace. And as I heard this question and I momentarily imagined my own personal mini house fire (and yet oddly in every room of the house), I felt the weirdest feeling--relief. What? I thought I'd be horrified, depressed, angry, etc. But nope, I felt immediate, palpable relief.

I could start over. I could not buy quite so many books that I was unlikely to ever get around to. I wouldn't feel so burdened by the promise of so many books that I once thought I'd enjoy. I wouldn't feel like I really shouldn't buy any more or check out another book since I have so many already (over 500 books in my house that I haven't read.)

Yeah, sure, I'd replace a few: My Book House Books set, the Little House on the Prairie books, but that might be the only ones. I've never been big on hanging onto books I've read (and this would finally get rid of my Norton Anthologies from college that I feel too guilty to get rid of, and that the used bookstore doesn't want anyhow.)

There's a very popular book out right now called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō. I'm very tempted by it, but/especially as she calls for massive purges. None of this little "get rid of five things every week" bull. If my feeling would be relief, then why can't I get rid of the books? Why can't I at least get rid of the unread books I've had for longer than 10 years? Why do they have such hold on me? Maybe I can break away. I'm thinking about it, which is the first step....

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Beginnings: Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith

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.

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith

"Dear Professor,
Dr. Philip Aber of the Smithsonian made a presentation on campus last week in which he discussed your planned field study in Yellowstone National Park."

The writer of this letter, is about to apply to the Professor to be a botanist on the Yellowstone expedition, but without revealing her gender, which would have resulted in a swift No.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Work

“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:

The Work by Wes Moore

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The acclaimed author of The Other Wes Moore continues his inspirational quest for a meaningful life and shares the powerful lessons—about self-discovery, service, and risk-taking—that led him to a new definition of success for our times.

The Work is the story of how one young man traced a path through the world to find his life’s purpose. Wes Moore graduated from a difficult childhood in the Bronx and Baltimore to an adult life that would find him at some of the most critical moments in our recent history: as a combat officer in Afghanistan; a White House fellow in a time of wars abroad and disasters at home; and a Wall Street banker during the financial crisis. In this insightful book, Moore shares the lessons he learned from people he met along the way—from the brave Afghan translator who taught him to find his fight, to the resilient young students in Katrina-ravaged Mississippi who showed him the true meaning of grit, to his late grandfather, who taught him to find grace in service.

Moore also tells the stories of other twenty-first-century change-makers who’ve inspired him in his search, from Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of KIND, to Esther Benjamin, a Sri Lankan immigrant who rose to help lead the Peace Corps. What their lives—and his own misadventures and moments of illumination—reveal is that our truest work happens when we serve others, at the intersection between our gifts and our broken world. That’s where we find the work that lasts.

An intimate narrative about finding meaning in a volatile age, The Work will inspire readers to see how we can each find our own path to purpose and help create a better world.

Publishing April 1, 2014 by Spiegel and Grau.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Hate Being Told What to Read

I hate being told what to read. So much so that I have to force myself even to read books for my book club. Even books I really wanted to read before they were picked for book club. Even books that I myself suggested for book club. (To thwart this, these days I mostly suggest books I've already read, which has the added bonus that they won't turn out unexpectedly to suck, as has happened with some unread books I'd suggested in the past.)

In the fall, due to a project I was working on, for a few months I was only reading books from two imprints of a publisher. They could be any books from the last year, so long as they were from those imprints, which did help somewhat with me feeling "forced" to read them. It was an interesting exercise as I'd never done that before, not even when I worked at Thomas Dunne Books did I only read books from one imprint. I've always read very widely and I've enjoyed that very much, so this was a different and somewhat eye-opening experience. One of the imprints, which in the past I'd held in very high regard, I've since decided I really don't like all that much. I found a lot of their books to be ponderous, overly academic, and snobbish. The other imprint, which I hadn't thought much about one way or the other previously, I came to like very much and found its books were entertaining, well-written, and fun. I think it would be a very interesting exercise indeed to do that for a year--each month only read books from one imprint. I think I'd learn a lot about those imprints and what differentiates them from all the rest. However, I could never do it. I am having trouble enough with my decision to only read books written by women this month (and the majority of the books I own are written by women, but I am still struggling with it.)

I don't remember having this much trouble in school with assigned reading. But I guess back then, there was no questioning it. You just did it and it wasn't optional. Whereas I can skip book club (or I can go and just not have read the book which I did a few times in the fall.) I don't know why my brain reacts in such a knee-jerk way to being told a book is now required, that it automatically thinks "no!" even though I'd been looking forward to the book a moment ago. So I should finish my current book on Thursday night and then start my book club book, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, as we meet a week from Thursday. This is a book I already had on my To Read list, and I'd already bought, and I was really looking forward to, until now. Now that it's assigned, I think it'll be like eating my cauliflower. Sigh. Will I ever get over this?
book,

Book Review: March by Geraldine Brooks

The story of Little Women is about Jo and her mother and three sisters. Their father is away for most of the book (although his homecoming is the climax). Ms. Brooks has written a novel about what happened to Mr. March during that year, when he was away in the Civil War.

As a chaplain, Mr. March isn't necessarily in the thick of fighting, but he also isn't able to avoid it in Virginia. He witnesses harrowing events and deaths, and he manages nevertheless to stand by his principles and ideals. That's not necessarily a good thing. A radical, a vegetarian, he's alienated most of the soldiers and officers for whom he's supposed to provide comfort. Eventually it is recommended that he apply for a transfer. He ends up at a plantation that is being run by a white Yankee, with free blacks, trying to prove paid labor can bring in cotton profits as well as slave labor (if not better). March is tasked with teaching the free blacks, with running a school. As you can imagine, the locals aren't too keen on this experiment and eventually things go horrifically wrong.

Then the book begins to match up to Little Women as Mr. March is in a hospital in D.C. and Marmee comes with Mr. Brooke to take care of him. Throughout, we've gotten flashbacks to Mr. March's young adulthood as a peddler, him meeting Marmee and their courtship, and his financial setbacks. We know he's going to make it back to Orchard House, although at times Mr. March does not think he will survive. That's always a trick--creating suspense and anticipation when the outcome is known--and Ms. Brooks does it well.

I've long been a fan of Ms. Brooks and now only have two books of hers left that I've not yet read. I find it interesting that this is the book that won the Pulitzer, as I do not think it is her strongest or most ambitious novel. But it was an impressive idea and done very well. It is deceptively simple, and as a reader you don't notice the transitions to the flashbacks and the build-up to the terror and horror of the events leading to Mr. March's injury. it's subtle and well-constructed. That said, I found Mr. March a hard character to relate to. He is strident, inflexible, and righteous. I know that's very accurate to his portrayal in Louisa May Alcott's book, and also to Bronson Alcott (whose life Ms. Brooks used as material, as it is well-known that Little Women is a lightly fictionalized version of Ms. Alcott's own family.) Accurate doesn't always give you empathetic. It felt very suited to the time and the research was obviously well done (and I found her note of apology at the end to her husband, the well-known historian Tony Horwitz who has written books about the Civil War, very funny.) The book is brief, well-written, and if you (like me) like seeing a story form a different point of view, it's an important book to read. But not my favorite.

I bought this book at a used bookstore.

Teaser Tuesdays: March

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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

March by Geraldine Brooks p. 37

"When Clement spoke, I felt as if he were emptying a glass of cold well water down my collar. 'Since you have betrayed my hospitality and flagrantly disregarded my express wishes, perhaps you will not think it unreasonable if I inquire which of my property you have contaminated with your instruction.'"

The "contamination" here is teaching reading. The "property" is a slave. March was in Virginia as a peddler twenty years before the civil war when this incident happened.



Monday, March 16, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan

Up next:
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Honey by Sarah Weeks
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This is another book I'm kicking myself for not having read sooner! I heard amazing things about it when it first came out a few years ago but I only now got around to it, and it truly is amazing.

August was born with multiple malformations in his face and head that, while they don't affect his mind at all, do make him look, well, scary to other little kids, and disturbing to some adults too. He's always been homeschooled because he'd had so many surgeries in the past. But now, with fifth grade, his medical issues have stabilized to the point where he could go to school, and so he does. And it's not at all surprising that it doesn't always go well, particularly not at first before the other students get used to him. But he does make some friends, and while he learns some hard lessons, he also learns that he is strong and that hiding away from the world isn't always going to be the answer.

Chapters are told from multiple points of view, including Auggie's older sister, and his school friends. It's very interesting to see their sides of things (often the last scene will be retold from the new perspective), especially the sister who is fiercely protective but who feels very guilty about liking that at her new high school, she isn't known as the girl with the deformed brother. (That's the kids' phrasing, not mine.) I like that the resolutions aren't pat and how certain threads (kindness, for example) are hit multiple times throughout the story. I read the copy with the bonus of Julian's story (he's the bully) which does give an interesting background to what can make a bully act that way. It didn't quite ring true for how mean he was (just that he was pampered and had nightmares didn't really account for his behavior in my opinion.) But I liked

But the story is touching, tragic, hopeful, and a must-read for all kids who need to learn the value of being different and for standing up for oneself and one's friends. We all need to be taught how to empathize and put ourselves in someone else's shoes, which this book does masterfully well.

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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Beginnings: March

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.

March by Geraldine Brooks

"This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky."

What do you write friends and family from the battlefield? Do you tell them what you're experiencing? what you've seen? Or do you try to gloss over the horrors? Mr. March is a chaplain in the Union army during the Civil War.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: That's Not English

“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:

That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore

Synopsis from Goodreads:
An expat’s witty, insightful exploration of English and American cultural differences through the lens of language.

A lifelong Anglophile, Erin Moore was born and raised in Florida, where the sun shines and the tea is always iced. But by the time she fulfille

d her dream of moving to London, she had vacationed in the UK, worked as an editor with British authors, and married into an English American family. The last thing she was expecting was a crash course in culture shock, as she figured out (hilariously, painfully) just how different England and America really are. And the first thing she learned was to take nothing for granted, even the language these two countries supposedly share.

In That’s Not English, the seemingly superficial variations between British and American vocabulary open the door to a deeper exploration of historical and cultural differences. Each chapter begins with a single word and takes the reader on a wide-ranging expedition, drawing on diverse and unexpected sources. In Quite, Moore examines the tension between English reserve and American enthusiasm. In Gobsmacked, she reveals the pervasive influence of the English on American media; in Moreish, she compares snacking habits. In Mufti, she considers clothes; in Pull, her theme is dating and sex; Cheers is about drinking; and Knackered addresses parenthood.

Moore shares the lessons she’s had to learn the hard way, and uncovers some surprising and controversial truths: for example, the “stiff upper lip” for which the English are known, was an American invention; while tipping, which Americans have raised to a high art, was not. American readers will find out why bloody is far more vulgar than they think, what the English mean when they say “proper,” and why it is better to be bright than clever. English readers will discover that not all Americans are Yankees, and why Americans give—and take—so many bloody compliments, and never, ever say shall. (Well, hardly ever.)

That’s Not English is a transatlantic survival guide, and a love letter to two countries that owe each other more than they would like to admit.

Publishing March 24, 2015 by Gotham.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

What a delightful book! It's as if someone took my favorite genre (memoir) and made it about my favorite topic (grammar). Could a book be any more tailor made for me? Luckily, it held up to my expectations.

Mary Norris didn't always intend to be an editor. In fact, after college she worked at a costume rental store, as a milkman, and as a cheese packer. Then she decided to move to New York, and through a family friend, she found a job at The New Yorker. Never could there have been a more perfect fit. Where else could Mary have had lengthy and serious discussions about hyphens, attended a party for a particular brand of pencil, and gotten fan mail from Phillip Roth? Interspersed between her personal stories, she includes digressions about apostrophes, who/whom, and curse words, but she's not too pedantic or precious (in fact, she admits to disagreeing with The New Yorker's style rules on a couple of points.) I even think I might now have mastered when to insert (or not) a comma in a series of adjectives (although restrictive clauses still just escape me.)

Ms. Norris's writing is accessible, humorous, and charming. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with her and I actually would have loved if the book had been twice as long!

I got this book for free from ABA's Winter Institute, with no expectation of a review.

Teaser Tuesdays: Between You & Me

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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris pp. 36-37

"I marked it, and gave my proof to the fiction editor, Bill Buford. Later, Bill's assistant came bounding up the stairs and delivered to me a color Xerox of the first page of my proof, on which Buford had written in blue, "Of Mary Norris, Roth said: 'Who is this woman? And will she come live with me?'""

I am not a fan of Philip Roth (in fact, I haven't read him, but I've not been enamored of what I've heard) but this is still a huge compliment. And I might have been inclined to read his books, were he ever to say something so flattering to me. Ms. Norris did edit some amazing writers at The New Yorker.

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
March by Geraldine Brooks
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith

Up next:
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Guild of Saint Cooper by Shya Scanlon
All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Friday, March 6, 2015

Book Beginnings: Between You & Me


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.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

"Let's get one thing straight right from the beginning: I didn't set out to be a comma queen."

I don't think many editors (and copyeditors and proofreaders) do. I think it's something you have a knack for and an interest in and other people in your life steer you in that direction.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: American Ghost

“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:

American Ghost: The True Story of a Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hannah Nordhaus

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The award-winning journalist and author of The Beekeeper's Lament attempts to uncover the truth about her great-great-grandmother, Julia--whose ghost is said to haunt an elegant hotel in Santa Fe--in this spellbinding exploration of myth, family history, and the American West.

The dark-eyed woman in the long black gown was first seen in the 1970s, standing near a fireplace. She was sad and translucent, present and absent at once. Strange things began to happen in the Santa Fe hotel where she was seen. Gas fireplaces turned off and on without anyone touching a switch. Vases of flowers appeared in new locations. Glasses flew off shelves. And in one second-floor suite with a canopy bed and arched windows looking out to the mountains, guests reported alarming events: blankets ripped off while they slept, the room temperature plummeting, disembodied breathing, dancing balls of light.

La Posada--"place of rest"--had been a grand Santa Fe home before it was converted to a hotel. The room with the canopy bed had belonged to Julia Schuster Staab, the wife of the home's original owner. She died in 1896, nearly a century before the hauntings were first reported. In American Ghost, Hannah Nordhaus traces the life, death, and unsettled afterlife of her great-great-grandmother Julia, from her childhood in Germany to her years in the American West with her Jewish merchant husband.

American Ghost is a story of pioneer women and immigrants, ghost hunters and psychics, frontier fortitude and mental illness, imagination and lore. As she traces the strands of Julia's life, Nordhaus uncovers a larger tale of how a true-life story becomes a ghost story--and how difficult it can sometimes be to separate history and myth.

Publishing March 10, 2015 by Harper.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: The Way of All Fish: A Novel by Martha Grimes

When I read that this book was set in the world of NYC publishing, I couldn't wait to read it! And when I also saw one of the book's blurbs describe it as a lampoon, even better!

I had never read Martha Grimes before, and I'd say that this book isn't a mystery precisely, although it is twisty turny. Cindy is a bestselling novelist, whose latest novel is at a dead end, partly due to her preoccupation with a lawsuit. Her previous agent, Bass Hess, is suing her for his 15% on her most recent book, even though she fired him and it was sold by a different agent. A couple of hit men take a shine to Cindy and decide to look into her situation, pro bono. They are the type of hit men who always meet their mark first and decide if he's worth killing. Hess is not, but they still want him out of Cindy's life and really, away from any authors he can harass. So along with the help of a motley crew of misfits, they scheme to convince Hess to leave the business and leave New York.

This book was good fun, particularly if you know anything about the publishing business. Someone asked if I recognized any characters that were specifically being made fun of and I did not. I think it's more fictional than that (I don't think there are any hit men involved in the industry, although I certainly could be wrong about that.) But I did enjoy the talk of contracts and advances and options and other industry-speak. The hit men were fun and the running bit about fish was creative. I particularly liked Lena bint Musah, a woman who can play any role in a situation that you'd like, convincingly. She was a pretty unique character.

But there were a lot of characters. I was frequently having to pause for a minute and think, now who is that again? One of the hit men was named Candy which was a little confusing alongside Cindy. And just generally there were too many characters for me to easily keep track of. That may have been partly my fault as, due to a pressing assignment, I did have to put the book down for a week when I was 100 pages in. If I'd just read it straight through, I might not have had as much trouble placing characters when they entered scenes. But I don't know. Still, overall I enjoyed it. It was a fun and occasionally silly farce of my industry and we all should laugh at ourselves from time to time. And now I kind of want to get a clown fish.

I got this book as a gift. It was bought at Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, Florida, an independent bookstore.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Way of All Fish

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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Way of All Fish: A Novel by Martha Grimes p. 170

"Oddly, given his phenomenal success and all his money, Giverney was not beset by the monstrous ego that Bass found in so many writers, but he was being impossible when it came to negotiating this contract that Bass himself had been slaving over. Giverney and Mackenzie deserved each other, both with their impossible demands and their idiotic terms."

One reason I could never, ever be an agent is that even the idea of negotiating contracts makes me shiver. Of course in this situation, Giverney is trying to be unreasonable and not come to terms, but you'll need to read the book to find out why!

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

March is Women's History Month. Last year I made a concerted effort to read more books by women. This year I'm not doing that, but in March I will attempt to read only books by women.

Books completed last week:
The Way of All Fish: A Novel by Martha Grimes
Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
March by Geraldine Brooks
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Up next:
Wishful Thinking by Kamy Wicoff
The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link