Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review: Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell

This book has traveled with me for 20 years after I originally read it, not because it was a favorite, but because it was by a favorite author. I thought this was one less likely to stand the test of time, but more likely to surprise me. And now I think it is pretty good, but not fantastic. Set in the early days of the Revolutionary War on Long Island (aka Brooklyn), the first 75% of the book mirror Island of the Blue Dolphins in a lot of surprising ways. Our heroine's mother is absent, father dies, her brother then runs off (to join the rebs), she goes after him in a misguided attempt to save him which just gets her into deeper water. Then she has to live off the land with only her wits and a couple of animal friends. Of course unlike Karena, Sarah both has a price on her head, and isn't destined to remain exiled for 20+ years. The ending certainly is different, but in some ways it's unsatisfying. As this was also based on a real-life story, I wish there'd been an epilogue to explain how she ended up later in life. I felt a little distanced from the character, but I don't know if that's because it took me three days to read this instead of powering through it in one, or because it's YA and therefore a much shorter easier read (and a reread to boot). I always have a little trouble really identifying with characters when I only spend a couple of hours with them. But it's very well-written, the era details felt accurate, and I think kids this age can really never read enough books with strong independent female characters. Particularly resourceful, hardworking ones like Sarah.

2009: The Year in Reading

Yesterday I posted a list (see sidebar) of all the books I read in 2009. And here's the breakdown, because surprisingly for a book person, I also like numbers (in small doses.)

53 new reads
21 fiction/32 nonfiction
28 male authors/25 female authors
Oldest book: Exodus, 1958 (runner-up: Levels of the Game, 1970)
Books with more than 500 pages: 7 (longest: The Way The Crow Flies, 848)
Books with original pub date in 2009: 17

29 rereads (not included in above statistics: 29 fiction, 5 male authors/24 female)

About three years ago, my boss accused me of only reading nonfiction, and when I went to Goodreads to refute his assumption, I found he was kind of right as I had read 1/3 fiction to 2/3 fiction that year. Last year I did better, but this year was about the same as last year, even with making an effort. I just really like nonfiction. Now if I added my reread children’s books in, they would tip my stats the other way but that isn’t really fair. If I wasn’t in a book club, my list would be even more skewed towards NF! I do find it interesting though that my ratio of male to female authors is almost even, and I made absolutely no effort on that at all. Every year I try to read a “classic”, which is in quotations because I will put books in that category that were published at least up until 1974 (one year I counted All The President’s Men), not just old dead white men from The Canon.

5-star reviews: 6
4-star reviews: 32
3-star reviews: 12
2-star reviews: 3
Sadly 2 of the 2-stars were back-to-back, so they were basically the only books I read for a month. A bad book will really slow me down. Two of them were for my book club so I didn’t feel like I could quit. The other I kept hoping would improve but never did.
No 1-star reviews! Always a good year. And any year when the 5-stars outnumber the 2-stars is good. In fact, you can add in another 23 5-stars in the rereads, but as those were preselected, that’s not really fair (although makes for an excellent reading year!)

Goals for 2010:
Read more books than last year (54! Rereading doesn’t count.)
Read a Dickens.
Track down books 4-9 of The Forsyte Saga (OP in the US.)
And I have a list of Reading Challenges that I will post tomorrow.

Top of the Want to Read list:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (book club book so this will definitely read)
Street Gang by Michael Davis
A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words by John Marciano
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
See you next year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Carin’s Book of the Year 2009*

Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories by Elizabeth Strout

This book blew me away. I of course had heard all the raving reviews about it for quite a while and I finally got a paperback copy this summer at a Women’s National Book Association meeting (courtesy of the publisher). I probably wouldn’t even have read it except that I was stuck somewhere without reading material just a few days later… except that there’s no such thing as me being really without reading material. I will have a book or two always in my car or in my office or I will read whatever’s available wherever I’m stuck. And I happened to have this book on me although that was unplanned.

I was reluctant. I’ve often been disappointed by books that have gotten raving reviews. I was expecting it to be snooty and pretentious. Plus, it’s a collection of short stories and I HATE short stories. But I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Now, since the stories are linked, this one doesn't have my usual issue (just when you get to know and like the characters, they go away! It all takes place in one town and every story at least has Olive in it, which really does make it feel much more like an episodic novel.) Olive is such a wonderful character! She is so feisty, honest (except where it comes to her son) and pulls no punches. I found the looks at all the different mature relationships fascinating. I really understand why this won the Pulitzer. I couldn't stop thinking about it when I put it down, just loved it (and am still thinking about it 6 months later). I was a tiny bit worried at moments that I am perhaps a bit too much like Olive, who can be overbearing and pushy, but that can’t be all bad as so many people respect and like her. Sometimes it does seem to be almost against their will, but they know she’s good at heart and always has their best interests in mind.

*idea courtesy of Brian W. at The Toadstool Bookshop, Milford, NH

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book Review: With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin

With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin

Ah, another book that I remember always used to make me cry! Even though Liza isn't the oldest, as the oldest daughter she's still in some ways the most responsible, so I really identified with her. The way this book was structured was very nice. We get a good part of the book while Liza's father is still alive, his heart failing. We see the family interact with him and how he's such a great father. Then we get the immediate aftermath of his death, and the later consequences such as moving out of the family home, her mother going back to school, and the kids having to take on even more responsibility themselves. I thought the exploration of Liza's guilt was beautifully handled, and also I know that as a child it showed me that there were deeper emotions one would feel in this situation than just sadness. And of course, the primary reason kids read these kinds of sad books is in preparation for dealing with sad situations themselves (though hopefully not this one exactly.) The book is honest, sympathetic, and feels very real. I'm quite shocked to see it's out of print.

I think I really ought to read One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. I obviously really like these kinds of books (or at least did when I was a teen). In my rereads this month I've read a book where the sister dies, the Dad, a brother, and where a best friend is deathly ill (but survives). Oddly, I guess the only one I haven't read is one where the mother dies, but I'm sure I still have one on my bookcase somewhere. I'll hunt it down to be sure I've covered all the bases.

Requiem for a Great Imprint: Apple Paperbacks

Apple Paperbacks was the first imprint/publisher I ever noticed (at the time I didn’t know there was a difference). I was probably about 10 years old and we used to shop at Davis-Kidd Booksellers. I would go over to the chapter book section and while looking for new books, I noticed how many books I already read/owned that I was going through. And at some point, I noticed that a large percentage of them all had that little logo at the top of the spine. The little red apples. Once it clicked, I could run my finger down a row of books and those red apples would just jump out at me. I’d stop and check them out. I figured if I had already read and enjoyed such a large percentage of Apple Paperbacks, odds were good that the rest of the Apple books were just as good. It started to be a sign to me of a good book. The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts. The Pinballs by Betsy Byars. The Little Gymnast by Sheila Haigh. A, My Name is Ami by Norma Fox Mazer. Arthur for the Very First Time by Patricia MacLachlan. Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements. Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby by Jane O’Connor. With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin. Of course, everyone should recognize Ann M. Martin’s name. In fact, a lot of people don’t realize she wrote anything other than The Baby-Sitters Club books, which were also Apple Paperbacks.

As a former editor, and a former bookseller, I can attest that publishers think imprints are a whole lot more important than any consumers do. But Apple Paperbacks was successful both in being easily recognizable, and also in having their target audience learn to associate their name with quality. They were eventually bought by Scholastic, and the imprint has since been retired.

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog.

What I finished this week:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis
A Wrinkle in Time (Time Series, #1) by Madeleine L'Engle
With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin
Just Friends by Norma Klein
A bookmark is in the middle of:
You Were Always Mom's Favorite by Deborah Tannen
Jason and Marceline by Jerry Spinelli

Joint Review: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I read both of these award-winning classics as a child multiple times. Thought I would reread them as an adult to see if they held up. Like most children’s books I’ve been rereading they went by so fast that I didn’t have much time to really get into them. But they’re both still quite good. For the uninitiated:

In TLTWATW, Lucy and her sister and two brothers are staying out at a large estate with an elderly man (“The Professor”) for the duration of WWII to avoid the bombings in London. While exploring, Lucy finds that through the back of an ordinary wardrobe she can enter the magical world of Narnia. However it is currently unpleasant there as The White Witch has declared herself Queen, and made it always winter but never Christmas. Eventually her siblings join her there, and they struggle to evade the White Witch and search for Aslan who is said to be returning and who will set things to right.

AWIT is the story of Meg, her baby brother Charles Wallace, and a boy from school, Calvin, as they travel through time and space to try to rescue Meg’s missing father, who is on a mission for the government. They are helped by Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit in their task.

Both books feature strong characters, exciting plots, and independent-thinking young women. One thing I particularly noted was unusual with the perspective I have now is how the evil land of Camazotz in AWIT resembled Stepford very much, and it predates Ira Levin’s novel by a good 10 years. I get why I liked them both and why they both won awards. They are terrific, imaginative and inspiring children’s novels that hopefully will stay classics for decades to come.
One thing I really wanted to check out upon my rereading them though, was how religious they were. At the time, any religious elements went right over my head. But as an adult I became aware of both authors’ full oeuvres, which included quite a bit of religious writing. I also was eventually told that TLTWATW was a flat-out Christian allegory which I really had missed entirely. Interestingly, that book is the one that doesn’t mention God at all. In retrospect, the allegory is fairly obvious and plain, but as a child I just took the story at face-value and read nothing more into it. AWIT did however mention God a few times more than I remembered. They are fighting Evil, and of course what fights evil but the forces of Good and Godliness. Hmm. It was a bit more overt than I remembered, although it can be fairly open as it’s a non-specific God and doesn’t ever mention Jesus. I have several Jewish friends with kids getting to be the right age for these books and I was wondering if they’d be appropriate. I think actually both would work. AWIT isn’t Christian per se. And the allegory in TLTWATW is pretty below the radar for most young children, unless it is explicitly spelled out for them. Still, I’m not very comfortable with books proselytizing to impressionable children. However, I managed to escape unharmed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book Review: Just Friends by Norma Klein

Just Friends by Norma Klein

This was Norma Klein's last book, and I vividly remember when I read this book, getting to that last page and seeing on the author bio that she had died upset me very much. I believe it wasn't 100% finished (the writing was obviously done but not the production process) as I caught 2 copyediting inconsistencies that I've never seen in other of her books.
This book I identified with more than all her others. It was the first one where the main female character had girlfriends. Not just one (or sometimes none) like in the other books. Also this book was actually set NOW (1990), when I was in high school, not like previous books from the early 80s or the 70s. It felt very personal to me, very much like Ms. Klein was a friend of mine and knew what me and my friends were thinking. I could totally understand being in a situation like Isabel's, with the best friend you secretly love but can't tell, and then getting involved with another boy who you don't love, but who at first you half-hope you do end up loving as that would eliminate the first problem. And in a way it was a win-win for Isabel because even if she didn't even fall for Gregory, she hopefully could make Stuart jealous, and also distract herself while his affair with Ketti was going on. I completely understood her motivations and her feelings. I loved it.

A funny side note: while I was reading this, I was in AP English and studying for the SATs. In this book I did something I never did before or since: I kept a list of words I didn't know in the back of the book. In my defense, these were words where I got the jist of them in context, I was more worried if I would be able to define them in one of those SAT synonym questions. Here's the list: connubial, profligately, discommode, dalliance, funereal, serendipitous, virulent, troth, unobtrusively, alacrity, erogenous, prurient, pernicious, reductive, deign, petulant, pretentiousness, unemphatic, dyspeptically, voluble, apputenances, sestinas. Funny how many of them are related to sex. Hmmm.... Maybe I should have read more romance novels in high school.

Norma Klein - one of my all-time favorite authors

I am sad that most of Norma Klein's books have gone out of print. When I was a teenager, she was my absolute favorite author. I felt that she understood me better than anyone. Historical books I often loved, but still didn't completely identify with. Sci/fi Fantasty were fun but not relatable. Her teens were whip-smart, going to excellent schools and eventually off to excellent colleges, they often came from non-nuclear families, and they had boyfriends and they had sex. And it didn't mean that they were bad kids or that they were the drinking partiers or sluts, or anything like that. It was so reassuring to me to see teenagers having real relationships, including sexual relationships, and it in no way ruined their lives. This was so much more realistic than all the after-school specials and other messages that were being drilled into us at this age.

The environment was slightly exotic, since I'd only been to New York City once in my life when I was 10, and I found the notion of apartments and subways to be quite fascinating, growing up in the Southern suburbs. In fact, as an adult when I did decide to move to New York, I felt that these books were a bit of a primer for me. I don't know if I would have made that move without all the prep work by Ms. Klein (and to an extent, Judy Blume).

In various reviews she was compared to Philip Roth and Woody Allen. She wrote at least 39 books. I am baffled that she has fallen out of popularity. She understood teenagers on a very basic level. She didn't ignore unpleasantries -- she mentions AIDS in several of her books, the kids use condoms, most of them have divorced parents. She made smart kids who didn't grow up in a nuclear family living a sit-com life, feel like we were normal too, even if it didn't seem "normal" compared to our friends' more conventional lives. I always felt she was my friend.

Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog.

What I finished this week:
It's Okay If You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein
That's My Baby by Norma Klein
My Life as a Body by Norma Klein
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Making Half Whole by Terry Wolfe Phelan
A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary
Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary

A bookmark is in the middle of:
Just Friends by Norma Klein
Life With Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse (this lives on my nightstand as an in-between and cheer-me-up book so it is always "being read" unless it ever shows up listed as "read" but I'm only going to put it in this category once)

New Year's Resolutions

So, my Resolution this year was to read more books than last year. Last year I read 52, so this year when I hit 53 around Thanksgiving, I was elated. But not wanting to set the bar too high for 2010, I thought I'd back off for the rest of the year. Of course, not reading isn't an option. And at Thanksgiving I was at my Mom's who was cleaning out a bookcase (she just inherited an awesome barrister's bookcase with the glass fronts but it was smaller than her old bookcase) which she conveniently decided to clean out into the trunk of my car. There were some awesome childhood flashbacks in that box. Combined with a conversation just a couple of weeks earlier with a friend who was reading Shelf Discovery, I decided to reread some of my childhood favorites that have been lugged from apartment to apartment to condo for 20 years now without having their covers cracked.

Most every summer I reread the last 4 Little House books. This summer I reread the first 4 (yes, I skip Farmer Boy, sorry.) So this month I started with some middle reader books, and this week I've been reading all Young Adult. I am worried after this trip back in time about two things: A) reading books that will take me more than a couple of hours and B) reading books that haven't been pre-screened by the person whose opinion I trust me most: me. But it's been fun! So far they've pretty much all held up. And sometimes I can even remember what I was thinking, how I was feeling at the time I originally read these (although some I read so many times that it's impossible to pinpoint any moment when I read it.) I gave up rereading books probably around college. The main reason being increased opportunity. In one of the later Ramona books, Ramona complained she's read all of her books hundreds of times. That made me grin. I remember saying those exact words.

Currently, I am living with at least 300 books I haven't read. If absolutely nothing new comes into this house, at my current rate of reading, that's 6 years' worth of books. And of course the idea of nothing new coming into the house is laughingly ludicrous! I do wonder if I shouldn't get rid of some of the books I've had for more than 6 years. But I always figure if I get mono, or if I get hit by a bus and end up in traction for many months, I could make a dent in my collection. I think that theory is one thing that's keeping me so darn healthy.

But back to rereading. I think a second reason kids do that so much (aside from having limited finances and collecting ability) is something I first read about in The Tipping Point: kids are learning so much, that it can be reassuring and restful to encounter something familiar that isn't necessarily always teaching them something. (Mr. Gladwell was talking about rerunning Sesame Street segments.) Also I think that you can get more out of books the second or third time around. Of course we all had to do that in college -- rereading a book we'd been assigned in an earlier class or just going over a book or story again and again when writing a paper. These days I sometimes read a book where there's such a twist at the end, I think Wow, this would be a totally different book to read now, knowing what I know. But I never do it.

This has been a fun exercise in nostalgia and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. But I am also looking forward to January.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

First Post!

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to my world! I spend all day at work surrounded by books and I come home to more books and I talk with my friends about books and I started a local chapter of a book trade organization and I am in a book club. A little nutty. I should probably tell you a little bit about myself.

When I was a kid, people used to tell me I was going to be an author or an English teacher and I was annoyed becuase I don't like being told what to do. I resisted as best I could. In college I postponed declaring a major until second semester junior year when they threatened to kick me out if I didn't. I was annoyed to declare English as I felt I was proving everyone's assumptions correct. For a couple of years after college, I thought I didn't know what to do with my life. I took some night classes at a community college thinking I might go to graduate school, and I even met with a career counselor and took a battery of interest and skills tests I could ill afford on my subsistence-level wages working at a B&N. Finally, my mother told me about a woman she met at the Jane Austen Society (yes, it is heriditary) who was in charge of the book buying department at another big wholesaler (not where I currently work) who was looking to hire someone with both a degree (check) and experience (check). My entire interview was which JA movie adaptations we liked best (Clueless). In retrospect looking back at those couple of anxiety-ridden years when I decided that even if I didn't know what I was going to do, it obviously wasn't going to be bartending or working for TicketMaster, it seems plainly obvious what career was inevitable. In college all 4 years I was the student assistant to the business manager at the library. In the summers, I worked at the university bookstore in my hometown. After graduating and the bartending and ticketing, I went to work at Bookstar (which is owned by Barnes & Noble) because even though it was a pay cut, I wanted to at least have customers who were sober and literate. And it was while there that I was struggling to discover what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Obviously, I just needed a good kick in the head because I was already doing it. Heck, during the ticketing stint, I was volunteering to shelve books at my local library.

So off I went to be a junior buyer! That was a fairly interesting job although it did have its tedious parts. I bought all the backlist (all books 1 year old and older) for the 8th largest publisher. And after a short while there, I decided I had to persue my dream from when I was 12, and try going to New York to become an editor. My super-awesome boss asked all the senior buyers to help me out and they set up 15 informational interviews for me. I came home to 3 job offers.

Since I was already 25, I felt I couldn't wait any longer and so I took the job at the publishing house with a reputation for throwing editorial assistants into the deep end, but also promoting more quickly. Not my wisest choice but the best decision I could make at the time with the knowledge I had. I certainly learned a lot. And five years later, after three years of job hunting (while on the job), I finally came to a realization and a decision. All the time I was trying to get out of Editorial Job #1, I was convinced that Editorial was for me and so those were the only jobs I was applying for. I was trying my best to like New York, and I wasn't looking back. But I came to accept that there were parts of Editing that I just didn't like (more on that later). And so I didn't have to stay in Editorial. Which meant I didn't have to stay in New York. And so I could come back South.

Now I really did like working for the wholesaler, but not-so-great things had happened there since I'd left. Luckily for me, the second largest book wholesaler had relocated their headquarters not only South, but in the city closest to where I went to college. Which meant I knew people in town and vaguely knew my way around. So I applied for a bunch of jobs there, moved, and eventually got a job (yes, sadly, in that order.) And I've been here ever since. I was first an Inside Sales Rep, then a Territory Manager (aka Outside Sales Rep), Category Manager, and now a National Account Manager (even if management won't give me the official title yet.)

Due to my love of all things media including TV, magazines, newspapers, radio, movies, etc., I do not read as much as I could. But I read more than most people I know. I read very broadly. That's something I'm pretty proud of actually, and something I strive for. I do certainly have some blind spots, but I do my best. I read about 2/3 nonfiction to 1/3 fiction. Even though I don't have kids, I love children's books. (My friends' children are very lucky.) I will be posting a lot of reviews, but also my thoughts on this wonderful business I am in.

So, welcome to my world! I'm very glad to have you along for the ride.