Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 Reading challenges February Update

Not doing as badly as I'd thought I might be at this point! These Challenges are helping keep me on task! These first two Challenges have the earliest ending dates which is why they're at the top. On the plus side, I have one Challenge that is completely done! On the down side, I have not made any progress in February with Memoirs, Art History, YA and Aussie. But Feb is a short month. YA and Memoir I still haven't cracked yet, but those are always some of my very favorites, so I'm not worried.

Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick Challenge
November 1, 2009 - April 30, 2010
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
4 of 6 done

Rainbow Connection Reading Challenge
Single Rainbow (reading 7 books) by either Author (first or last name) or Title starting with R, O, Y, G, B, I and V (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet) books. This challenge is from January 1- June 30, 2010.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon DONE O
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin DONE R
Completed: ROYG, 4 of 7

Raved Reads
Create – and read! – a list of books that you’ve always heard others rave about, and thought you should read yourself… but always put off reading “until later”. Your list has to have at least 3 books on it. There are no limitations on genre. And no time limit.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
3 of 3 DONE!

TBR *Lite* 2010
TBR= books that have been on your “To Be Read” list for 6 months or longer, but you haven’t gotten around to.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
2 of 6

Chunkster Reading Challenge
A chunkster is 450 pages or more of ADULT literature.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
2 of 4

Review each book you read in 2010.
Been keeping up this year! So I stay on track with this Challenge.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Book Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

When I was about 12, I found this book on my sister’s shelves, thought the back of it sounded quite intriguing and so I read it. I remember when I asked her if I could borrow it, she was dumbfounded. “But I have to read that for school,” she said, “for a book report.” From her tone, you could tell it was as if I’d asked if I could eat all her Brussels’ sprouts or clean her bathtub. Like Why on earth would anyone want to do that?

But the jacket copy had caught my attention. And while the book hadn’t ever shown up on my own reading lists (or if so, had been pushed aside by more intriguing titles) I am thrilled I read it. Rereading it now, I am struck by how ahead of its times it is. There is one bit that’s dated – a 20-year-old woman who’s getting married – which no one seems to think is too young – and her mother says she doesn’t need to learn to drive because she’ll always have someone to drive her around. But the majority of the book feels fairly timeless, and actually some of the comments about race (the judge) and sexism (Turtle) still seem quite pertinent. Particularly because they are subtle and by no means the focus of the story, but when they come up they’re neither ignored, nor pushed to the forefront, which struck me as unusual for the last 1970s.

Anyway, this is a fun, almost silly mystery surrounding an apartment building on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. The town is more or less owned by Mr. Westing, who built a factory there that employs most of the townspeople. The tenants of this new building are all hand-picked, unbeknownst to them, and when Mr. Westing dies and names them all as heirs shortly after they move in, things become very interesting. Particularly when in the reading of his will he declares he has been murdered – by one of the heirs! And the heirs who solve that crime will be the ones who inherit the millions. Everyone is paired off and given clues. The characters are a motley bunch, from a 12-year-old brat to a Chinese restaurateur, to a high school track star, to a medical intern. It is quick and full of action.

Personally I was impressed, given my very lousy memory, with how much of the book had stuck with me. I recognized a couple of the important clues right away, and I remembered what the clues translated to (though I didn’t recall how that pointed to the killer). I also remembered that not everyone was who they seemed (though again the particulars hadn’t stayed with me). So I was able to keep going “a-ha!” while not losing any of the suspense. It obviously had really struck a chord to stay with me all these years. In fact, I recently recommended it to a teacher who works with 4th and 5th graders who are reluctant readers as I think it’s a perfect book to perhaps bring some kids back to the reading fold. It was a delight to reread.

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Exception Proves the Rule or Why I Read Just About Anything

Some things I hate:

  • A book where the main characters don’t have names
  • A book that doesn’t use quotation marks

Some things I am not crazy about:

  • Little to no punctuation
  • Huge block paragraphs that go on forever
  • Apocalyptic/Dystopian books
  • Books that hit you over the head with allegories

But no rules are absolute. Immediately before September 11th, a (now ex-) boyfriend gave me a copy of Blindness by Jose Saramego, which remains one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years. And it hits every one of the above black marks. And not only did I tolerate these “shortcomings”, but in the end I thought that they all made perfect sense and in fact the book wouldn’t have been as phenomenal without them. Overly stylistic books usually hold their readers’ at arm’s length which I don’t like, not to mention they seem to be saying “look at me! I am so much smarter than you!” Normally, I am of the opinion that not only does making something more difficult not show how smart you are, but sometimes it can be harder (and take a smarter person) to write something simple.

In Blindness, the characters, one by one, are struck blind suddenly in an epidemic that sweeps the city then the country and so on. One woman seems immune but pretends to be blind to stay with her husband and help him through the quarantine and ensuing disaster as chaos reigns and society implodes. As obvious an allegory as Camus’s The Plague, it manages to not be derivative of that novel at all. Like Metamorphosis, there is no explanation, no set-up; instead it just happens and the repercussions are the main storyline.

This book is a great example of why I read so broadly and why I constantly try to expand my literary horizons. If you say “I only read mysteries” or “I always hate horror novels,” you will miss out on some wonderful books you would have loved, if you’d just given them a shot. So when people look at my list of books and they’re shocked that I read a book about worms (The Earth Moved) or a memoir about being undercover in The Hell’s Angels (No Angel), or a book about a scientist and her parrot (Alex & Me), I always nod and say, I read widely. It was convenient when I repped independent stores, as they weren’t always bookstores. I could talk to a gardening store about Flower Confidential or an aquarium about Cod. One science museum that was having trouble coming up with a list of adult books to go with their Grossology exhibit was initially thrilled but eventually disturbed when I recommended Stiff, Driving Mr. Albert, and Maggots, Murder and Men, all of which I had read. One thing I love about books is that there’s a book for anyone. If I run across a person who “just doesn’t read,” I start rubbing my hands together (usually on the inside so as to not freak them out) and think, “you just haven’t had the right books. I will find them.” I got an ex-boyfriend back reading again when I got him 10 books on sailing. Another guy who as far as he could remember had never read a book for fun I brought back to the fold with High Fidelity. One date was truly shocked that I had read both Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer and The Blind Side (years before the movie, I read it still in hardcover.) I can always come up with a point of commonality. My one big area of weakness currently is genre fiction (romances, mysteries, horror, thrillers, sci fi, fantasy.) I have read books in all these categories at one point or another, but they just didn’t grab me enough to think I needed to read more, even if I enjoyed the ones I read. And I do currently have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to comics, although I did read 2 graphic memoirs in 2009. Rarely has stepping out of my comfort zone disappointed me, and I encourage everyone to give it a try.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Favorite Reads: Nickel and Dimed

Each week I am featuring one of my favorite reads from the past, thanks to At Home With Books. In February I am focussing on books related to the economy, as well as books published by MacMillan.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Summary (from the publisher):
The New York Times bestseller, and one of the most talked about books of the year, Nickel and Dimed has already become a classic of undercover reportage.

Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategies for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.

Why I chose this book:
This book was really well-written. And I think does a great job opening the eyes of a lot of middle-class Americans to the realities of the lives of the working poor. However, having lived on $6.15/hr myself, in low income housing, I don't think Ms. Ehrenreich went far enough in her experiment - she had a decent car and a computer and health insurance, which most people in this income bracket (including myself at the time) don't, and therefore I felt it was close, but no cigar.

I actually didn't earn enough at $6.15/hour to qualify for low-income housing (which is not no-income housing). I had to get a previous job to lie and say I still worked there part-time as otherwise my rent was exactly 50% of my take-home pay. Small part-time gigs here and there pushed me into new tax brackets and caused me to owe over $500 in taxes two years in a row. Which was also well over half my take-home income. It's a messed up world when getting paid more than minimum wage is still well under the minimum for low income housing. In 1997, my monthly grocery budget was $80. And I lived in a state with a nearly 10% sales tax on food! The one saving grace was that in 1997 gas was around $1/gallon. My car was 14 years old, and just when I thought I could actually make it through a month and not have to ponder if I could pay either my phone bill or my electric bill, my muffler would fall off my car. Without fail, every time I thought I could actually make my budget work, the car would break. I made $14,000 that year. It was really, really hard. And although I applaud Ms. Ehrenreich's efforts, she cut corners and fell short. Perhaps that was inevitable since this was just an experiment for her, and she had a book deal and a journalism career and a nice house to go back to. But for people who don't want to experience the fun of it for themselves, this book is a welcome addition to the economic discussion. A lot of these people - who ring you up at the pharmacy, who fill up your vending machines at work, who do your drycleaning - we encounter them every single day and we somehow don't see them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wondrous Words Wednesday

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

These are from Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson

crofters, p. 192
"Even today, Britain has titled absentee landlords who have crofters working their land like latter-day peasants."
a person who rents and works a small farm, esp. in Scotland or northern England.

seigneurial, p. 193
"New France was established around a seigneurial system of landowners."
(in French Canada) a holder of a seigneury.
seigneury: (in French Canada) land originally held by grant from the king of France.

muskeg, p. 250
"We have vast reaches of tundra, trees and muskeg."
a bog of northern North America, commonly having sphagnum mosses, sedge, and sometimes stunted black spruce and tamarack trees.

“Waiting On” Wednesday:The Season of Second Chances

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

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

from the publisher:
A world of possibilities opens up for Joy Harkness when she sets out on a journey that’s going to show her the importance of friendship, love, and what makes a house a home

Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy’s interest to encourage his personal and professional growth. Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus’s single, middle-aged men, known as “the Coyotes,”and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays

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 Secret Life of Words by Henry Hitchings, p. 104-105
"In Britain and America the fruit's [tomato] popularity was slow to rise, because of its less than inviting kinship with deadly nightshade. Another word acquired via Spanish is avocado, which, thanks to its shape, takes its name from the Nahuatl for a testicle."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays is hosted by Just One More Page and today's theme is about what you do with all those books you collect over the years.

Do you keep all the books you buy over the years? Do you just keep the ones you really enjoy or the ones you have a particular fondness? Do you keep certain series or do you keep them? What do you do with them if you don't keep them?

Like a lot of people in our business, I live in constant fear of dying in an avalanche of my own creation. I get rid of very nearly all the books I read.

These are what I keep:
  • a shelf of all the books I edited
  • my Lit books from high school and college
  • my cartoon books that I love for particularly blue days
  • lovely antique classics
  • My Book House Books
  • a couple of shelves of my favorite authors
  • a couple of shelves of childhood favorites
In the past year I have added a grand total of 2 books to the Keep shelves. I generally try to find my books good homes, but I will also donate them. Habitat for Humanity runs a used bookshop in my town so my donations support them and I think they're a great cause. It's also a very cute store.
On the plus side, when the avalanche does happen, as I lie bleeding to death with a compound fractured leg, I will at least not die bored.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Sarah MacLachlan

Books I Gave Up On: none

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English by Henry Hitchings
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Up next (more MacMillan):
The Writing Class by Jincy Willet
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
Dreaming Water by Gail Tsukiyama
and (not a MacMillan) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (I have a long flight this week and I promised a friend I would finally get around to this, which she has been pressing on me for many years.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson

Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson

So this was recommended by a close friend as being hysterical, along the lines of Bill Bryson. However that wasn’t my experience.

Large parts of this book went right over my head. I am not only American, but I am from the South, so there’s very little I know about Canada. I did kind of know that already but this book really pointed out how very little I know about Canada. My friend who read it, his wife’s family is Canadian and they spend part of each summer there, so I think that’s a big reason why he liked it so much more than I did. I think he already knew more, and he had people around that he could ask about confusing parts.

Now I will say that Mr. Ferguson is a very good writer. He’s authoritative but casual in a way that speaks to everyone (or at least to every Canadian). But as he pointed out in the introduction (to the new 10th anniversary edition) he considered this book in a lot of ways to be his journalistic resume, so he filled it with a wide variety of topics to show his breadth and skill, not necessarily to be the best grouping of essays for readers. And it’s true at times it did seem a bit wide-ranging, though still entertaining. As an ignorant America, the parts about Quebec wanting to secede and issues with First Nations were not fully explained. This was obviously written for a Canadian audience. (I was reading a Canadian edition, though it was also published in the U.S. The American edition is not out of print, and I don’t know if perhaps it had a different foreword that explained more. But I do think it’s appropriate that this is the edition that lapsed quickly.) Some parts were just too serious and political for my taste. I wanted it to be more humorous, like the essay about how the 3 goals of Canadians are 1) keeping Americans out 2) keeping French in and 3)making the natives disappear. I think his conclusion that instead of being subsumed by American pop culture instead it helps to define Canada as not-American, and really they are more voyeurs than wannabes, is very perceptive. The last section, titled “Sex in a Canoe” is the funniest. The diatribe against the poor beaver, as the official symbolic animal representing Canada was certainly amusing. “It’s sad, really, that a nation would try to emulate a fat, flat-tailed rodent. Sadder still that we don’t measure up.”

Naturally, a book with a large focus on politics doesn’t hold up well more than 10 years on (1997). The fall of the Berlin wall was just a few years ago in this book, and September 11 certainly hasn’t happened yet. While it can be interesting to look back at these spots of history frozen in time – at what we thought the big problems were and see how they worked out, it’s also of course turned out to be a bit dated.

Overall, I think this is a good book to read as an introduction to Canada, if you will have a Canadian available to explain Katimavik, Rick Salutin, and Micmac. Otherwise it’s a bit esoteric for your typical American. I found it at times frustrating.

Book Review: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Unfortunately I had already seen the movie and although it was at least a year ago, the actors were still stuck in my head.

Regardless of that, the book was great. It is short but Ms. MacLachlan doesn’t use any extra words. The spare language perfectly reflected the simple life on the prairie. I had to wonder to myself about the courage and audacity of a woman like Sarah who was willing to move across the country during what I assume is the late 1800s by herself just on the possibility of this marriage working out. It’s not precisely an arranged marriage but in some ways it’s even more risky – no one has said that these two people might actually like each other. What struck me as the overriding commonality between Sarah and Jacob is their straightforward and practical personalities.

Of course the heart of the story is Caleb and Anna. The story is told from Anna’s point of view, and while, as an adult, I know that Jacob’s relationship with Sarah will also be of vital importance to the happiness of this family, her relationship with the kids will of course be primary.

I loved Sarah’s descriptions of Maine, the details about her cat Seal, and how she tries to tell Caleb and Anna about the sea. I have been to Maine, and it’s amazing in the simplicity how she captures it so perfectly.

Sarah, Plain and Tall is a beautiful, poetic story. I did not read this book as a child, so I don’t know how differently I would have reacted to it. As much as I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, I’m sure I would have loved it. This is a touching, thoughtful, quiet novel.

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

Friday, February 19, 2010


What is your honey’s favorite book? Would you date a guy who didn’t read? What does a favorite book say about a person? How much do you judge based on reading preferences? These thoughts occurred to me after a conversation about unfortunate reading experiences.

I was recounting one very unfortunate summer in college when I was dating a certain young man. He was pre-law, and he suggested I read The Firm. That experience should have convinced me to become an editor, right then and there. I was hard-pressed to not go get a red pen to correct his stilted dialect. I was unhappy. He assured me that a gazillion people can’t be wrong and I should really give another book a chance. I tried The Client. While the writing and dialogue had improved, the premise was even more ludicrous. A ten-year-old kid outsmarts the mob? My ten-year-old brother couldn’t manage ordering a pizza. I threw it across the room and have banned Mr. Grisham from my reading list forevermore.

The following summer, we got back together. One day he stopped by the bookstore to see me and told me he had a book I should read. 9 months of break-up had made me forget the prior summer’s experience. To my misfortune. He said it was the only book that had ever made him cry. I was intrigued. Reader, have you guessed my pending torture? He presented me with The Bridges of Madison County. Ugh. I have never felt so used and dirty after reading a book. I know it’s widely panned, and it’s cheap to pile on, but my biggest problem with the book was its obvious and blatant pandering to the lowest common denominator of the book buying audience. I strongly feel that Mr. Waller did an analysis of the largest potential market, what their fantasy would be, and how to maximize his profits in this endeavor. The only thing I can really say to that is, thank God I didn’t pay for a copy.

Shortly afterward, we broke up again. We did not get back together again. It should have been a sign. Since then I have been more careful. My current biggest dating literary worry is if his favorite book is Catcher in the Rye. I think it shows a bit of arrested development to have that book still ring true and speak to your soul in your 30s. (To be honest, I actually also thought that in my teens when I first attempted – and yes, failed – to read the book and was totally irritated by that spoiled, entitled brat. But every year that goes by, the worry grows.) A guy who doesn’t read I can handle. They always read, even if just a little, when I’m done with them. Thank you Nick Hornby for being the wedge to open the door to reading fun for men.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Favorite Reads: See You in a Hundred Years by Logan Ward

Each week I am featuring one of my favorite reads from the past, thanks to this event hosted by At Home With Books. In February I am focussing on books related to the economy.

See You in a Hundred Years: Discover One Young Family's Search for a Simpler Life... Four Seasons of Living in the Year 1900 by Logan Ward

from the publisher:
Logan Ward and his wife, Heather, were prototypical New Yorkers circa 2000: their lives steeped in ambition, work, and stress. Feeling their souls grow numb, wanting their toddler son to see the stars at night, the Wards made a plan. They would return to their native South, find a farm, and for one year live exactly as people did in 1900 Virginia: without a car or electricity - and with only the food they could grow themselves. It was a project that would push their relationship to the brink - and illuminate stunning hardships and equally remarkable surprises.

From Logan's emotionally charged battles with Belle, the family workhorse, to Heather's daily trials with a wood-fired cooking stove and a constant siege of garden pests and cantankerous animals, the Wards were soon overwhelmed by their new life. At the same time as Logan and Heather struggled with their increasingly fragile relationship, as their son relished simple joys, the couple discovered something else: within their self-imposed time warp, they had found a community, a sense of belonging, and an appreciation both for what we've lost - and what we've gained - across a century of change.

My Thoughts:
I loved all the PBS series that inspired this book (Such as "The 1900 House") so I was eager to read it, and to my joy it turned out great. Logan and Heather have the right amount of realism and sarcasm to cut the otherwise earnest effort to go back to a "simpler" time of wood-burning stoves, a lack of refrigeration, and lots of livestock. The story zips along quickly with quirky neighbors, insane goats, and bad drivers visiting the next-door Boy Scout camp. It never feels preachy or holier-than-thou. Logan has a friendly, colloquial writing style that makes it feel like you're sitting around the fire chatting over cider.

Wondrous Words

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we've encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.
The words are from Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson.
"True, they didn't mix well with the more than 150,000 French Canadians and returning Acadians" (p. 102)
A native or inhabitant of Acadia. Acadia is a former French colony in Canada, chiefly in Nova Scotia, ceded to the British in 1713.

"You can kick a Canadian when he is down, you can piss on his tuque and shoot his favorite malamute." (p. 112)

A knitten woolen cap in the form of a cylindrical bag often with tapered ends that is worn with one end tucked into the other.

Hm, this still doesn't explain to me what a tuque looks like. So I found this picture.

"Waiting On" Wednesday

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

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

From the publisher: Draws on biographical information to imagine the future author of Little Women experiencing an unexpected romance duringthe summer of 1855 in a small New Hampshire town where she is forced to make a fateful choice between love and her dream of independence as a writer.
Coming in April from Putnam.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Walking and Reading

So I am training for my third half marathon. I am a walker, not a runner, and I don't want to hear any guff from runners. I finished 1/3 from the end in my first marathon, ahead of a ton of "joggers," and I can out-walk most people. I am preparing to do Nashville for the second time. Training for spring marathons sucks. On Sunday I was slipping and sliding, 2 days after we got just 3 inches of snow, as there were large swaths of sidewalk in the shade that were still not melted (and in fact were more ice than snow at that point.) One great thing about my city is how they do have a ton of sidewalks, but they're often just on one side of the street, so I really had to struggle through the ice/snow patches. I am going to be doing a fall half marathon with BookNAround, and she hates prepping for fall marathons. I not only prefer heat to cold, but at least then I don't have to worry about twisting my ankle, and my clothes don't get trashed like they do with the mud and slush. In the winter when it rains, it rains. In the summer, it only rains for an hour or so. Plus I love rain when it's hot - it makes you more comfortable. But in the winter, it makes unpleasant weather so much, much worse.

I started walking in college. And kept it up. In Nashville, New York, now NC. And after so many years, I was just bored to tears. Then I discovered the iPod.

I bought mine in the spring of 2005. An aqua mini. I love it. And when I discovered podcasts, I loved it even more. I can walk all day as long as I'm fully loaded with Car Talks, A Way With Words, and Authors on Tours. But the memory is fairly low. And it's not holding much of a charge these days. It's okay now but when I have to do my 12-mile walk, I really worry that just as I hit exhausted the iPod will die. I may end up lying on the side of the road if that happens. Plus, my IT guy keeps making fun of my cute old Mini whenever he sees it charging on my desk. So I am getting a new one. A Nano. I think I'm going to get green but I'm not 100% sure on that. The thing I'm most excited about is that I'll be able to put audiobooks on it. Right now if I want to add an audiobook, I have to take what seems like half my music off. Luckily files from Audible are pretty compressed, so they're not as hard to wedge on, but I also have some books I've ripped from CDs and those files are huge. And I want to be able to listen to more books while I walk. I am trying to up my reading levels this year (after all I have my work's reading contest to think about.)

But it's winter and I just can't listen to audiobooks on the treadmill. I can't just stare at the readouts of how far I've gone, or I'll go nuts and frustrated and get off the treadmill. I have to read print there. I have figured out a trick for regular books on the treadmill: I use a binder clip to hold the thinner side of the book open so it's not always trying to snap shut on me. It doesn't always work though. ARCs are particularly persistent about wanting to be closed. I could break the binding but I stopped doing that about 10 years ago and really don't want to go back there. Hardcovers are best. I've heard that large print books are great for the treadmill but personally haven't tried that yet.

So the new Nano is coming home with me tomorrow. And I hope my 8 mile walk this weekend will be eventless. I am very happy spring is around the corner.

Book Review: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

Last night after finishing this book I lay in bed well past my bedtime (and I got to bed late the night before too), and I thought to myself, well this is why I ought to be reading about Canadian politics or etymology before bedtime as those don't keep me awake, keyed up and excited. My brain was spinning round and round and it was forever before I finally fell asleep. So what was this fascinating book that kept me up? A thriller? A weepy? Nope, a book proposing the use of checklists in surgeries.

Now you're probably thinking, huh? Seriously? How could that possibly be interesting? I assure you it really was.

Mostly it's due to Dr. Gawande's writing style which is accessible, simple but not stupid, and how he always finds spot-on comparisons to other fields that are perhaps a bit more widely understood than medicine. For this book he talked about checklists used in flying, construction, and even finance. I had heard about the airplane comparison before I read it, but the construction one in some ways made more sense. I particularly was fascinated by the fact that there's a computer program that after all the subcontractor's specs are entered (electrical, plumbing, HVAC, carpentry), will note all conflicts (such as an outlet planned to be in the middle of a doorway).

Naturally with the flying comparisons everyone will think of "The Miracle on the Hudson" and rest assured, it is discussed. But a couple of earlier incidents were also detailed and were quite terrifying. A flight from Honolulu to New Zealand had a baggage compartment latch fail, and in less than 2 seconds a huge hole was blown in the side of the plane, sucking a lot of passengers out. One flight attendant's life was saved when a passenger grabbed her ankle. (People seriously, always wear your seat belt when you're sitting.) And the explosion had also ripped out the connections to the oxygen system. So the pilots were oxygen deprived, afraid, and yet were saved by their checklists, and saved the lives of over 150 people on the plane. When something horrible happens, do you want the people in charge to know exactly what to do, even if it's a situation they've never experienced before? Do you want them to be able to hit the most crucial points in their solution, and for those tasks to have been previously practiced, and worked out by experts to find the simplest solution? Or do you want them flying by the seat of their pants, trying to remember something they might have learned 20 years ago, without anyone else's help? Because that's what happens when a catastrophe happens in most surgical rooms today. The surgeon is the boss, the rest of the surgical team is supposed to just do what he/she says, and even if they've seen this particular emergency before it may have been decades earlier. The result isn't always good. But understandable considering how infrequently these complications can arise.

But did you know that the majority of bad outcomes from surgery are a result of simple errors? Doctors not washing their hands before they see you. Not using a sterile dressing on you. Not wanting to change their gloves after having touched something not sterile. Forgetting to give you antibiotics before surgery. These are the issues that the current checklists are designed for and are proven to help rectify. Through a worldwide study these simple tasks were shows to improve mortality and complication rates after surgeries by a third. Not only in India, but also in Seattle and Detroit. I would understand if a complication arose in my surgery but if I were to go in for a simple scope procedure (having a tiny camera threaded down your throat or a vein to look at something inside you) and came out with a 2-foot long incision down my chest because of a typo on my chart that no one pointed out, I'd be livid. (This is an example of a potential error that was caught in one of Dr. Gawande's own procedures thanks to a checklist.)

Such a simple solution. And you know what else is saved besides lives? Money. With the current raging debates on health care and its attendant costs, the savings realized if all hospitals adopted this system could go a long way towards covering all the uninsured. I find it baffling that they don't all adopt this right away, although I can see how if my boss suddenly told me I'd need to go through a checklist daily of the most simple, mundane tasks that I would find it a bit insulting. But with results like these, it seems to prove itself quickly. I think the most interesting detail was that while the majority of doctors definitely thought they themselves didn't need to use the checklists, 91% said if they were to undergo a surgery, they'd want the checklist used. Hmm. I'll definitely be asking my doctor if his hospital uses the Safe Surgery Checklist the next time I need a procedure. In fact, I'm thinking of just giving him this book on my next visit.

This fascinating book has massive potential positive ramifications if only the medical establishment would embrace it. And it was an interesting, fast read to boot.

Teaser Tuesdays

Grad your current read. Open to a random page. Share 2 "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS. Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers! This is hosted by Should Be Reading.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

"The timing is key. Once the incision is made, it is too late for the antibiotic." p. 98

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week: bummer, none

Books I gave up on: none

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Confessions of s Shopaholic by Sophia Kinsella
Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson
The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English by Henry Hitchings

I (almost) never do this - read so many books at the same time. So I first started The Secret Life of Words. I often have a book on etymology as my perpetual bedside book as I do love etymology but it's really, really dry and certainly won't keep me awake. It has occasionally taken me a year to read some of these books but I do always get through them. The very next day at work I noticed Why I Hate Canadians in my boss's boss's office. A friend had recommended it last year but it's out of print in the U.S. Luckily, my boss's boss is Canadian. Since this is a borrow, and from a boss, I thought I should start it immediately so I can return it quickly. Then, I was driving to visit my aunt this weekend (we saw Wicked last night which was fantastic) and I had downloaded Shopaholic from Audible a few weeks ago so that seemed like a good distraction for the drive. I feel guilty about this current state and it will improve next week, I promise.

Books I Still Need to Write Reviews on: N/A

Up Next (still all MacMillan books):
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
Oranges by John McPhee
The Wild Smile of Girls by Jennifer Mankse Fenske

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Book Review: C D B! by William Steig

This is a really cute book. It's one of my Mom's favorite from when we were kids. Boy, Steig was ahead of his time. I look at these cartoons, and I keep thinking about text messaging. They say things like:

D C-L S N D C.
translation: The seal is in the sea.

D L-F-N 8 D A
translation: The elephant ate the hay.

Even though it's a tiny book, it takes a little while to read because on every page you have to figure it out. It's pretty interesting for when kids are learning to read, for them to understand that the sounds of letters can have different meaning than the sounds of words, introduces wordplay which can help children be advanced readers. When they figure out the riddles, they feel like they're in on the joke and hopefully it's so much fun for them that don't even notice all the thinking.

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

Friday, February 12, 2010

What’s In A Name

Page Turners wrote about this meme and said, “actually saw this on someone’s blog (sorry, can't remember which one!) and thought that it was a really interesting question and I would love to hear how other people named their blog.” How did you decide what name to give your blog? Did you give it a lot of thought or did it just come to you?

Caroline is my given name, although I go by Carin. It’s a little off-topic but people often ask me how I got Carin from Caroline, and I actually got it from the book Tough-Luck Karen by Johanna Hurwitz. I am not and never have been a bookbinder.

Nearly ten years ago I was on vacation with my family, and my mother noticed I was reading Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk. This inspired her to tell me a story from when she was a teenager, when Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar was a bestseller. Her older brothers were big Mad Magazine fans, and there was a cartoon that struck home with the whole family. A cartoon boy asked his mother if he could do something and he said everyone was doing it. The mother said, “Oh yeah? Name one.” He says, “Would you believe, Caroline Bookbinder?” (a play on the name Marjorie Morningstar.) For years when any kid in her family tried this argument on my grandparents, Caroline Bookbinder was brought out. My mother, being a bit of a bookworm, as well as an aficionado of the name Caroline, remembered this and brought it up 40 years later. I never heard it again and when I was looking for a blog name that was unique and somehow was related to me and to books, it took a while, but I did eventually remember this funny name. I googled it, looking for the original cartoon but alas, google let me down. But it did let me know that the name “Caroline Bookbinder” was pretty unique in the interwebs so it was a safe bet to use for my blog.

Anti-Valentine’s Day Books or Books for a Break-Up

So I was pulling together a care package for a friend getting over a bad break-up, and I wanted to add some books to it. I put in The Bounce-Back Book, and God Never Blinks. Then I wanted to add some fiction. Nothing sad. Nothing romantic. Female empowering. There’s not a lot out there. I thought of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafĂ©, but I think she’s read both already.

When I was an editor, Valentine’s Day was my holiday. Except I published Anti-Valentine’s Day books, like How To Spot a Bastard by His Star Sign, and We Need To Talk… But First, Do You Like My Shoes? A lot less competition than Christmas books, but have as much potential sales really. Love, Loss, and What I Wore has been a perennial seller for over a decade now. I don’t want self-help. This is too early, too raw. I just want funny, revenge, you-go-girl kinds of lit to lift her spirits (not a “don’t worry, you’ll meet someone else” book either as she’s too exhausted with 3 kids to even think about that right now.) And I’m quite surprised at how little of this kind of book there is. I wonder why? Aren’t women 60% of the book buyers out there? Aren’t many of us getting over a relationship? I would have thought after the success of He’s Just Not That Into You that more of these would have been published but it seems Publishing decided that was a one-off.

Now, these books aren’t for just anyone, but Sloane Tannen’s books of bizarre chick dioramas are hilarious for a twisted girl with a good sense of humor. My favorite is Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same. That’s what I’m tempted to send her but I think it possibly could freak her out. I sent her a spa gift certificate. But I really wish there were more literary options.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Work is trying to get me to read more

I know that sounds kinda crazy but unlike a lot of you guys, books aren’t just a hobby for me, but also my day job. And since we’re in the business of selling books, it’s sometimes useful for some of us to have read books.

A couple of weeks ago my company announced a reading contest. It’s a lot like those ones from when you were a kid in the summer at the library. Simply keep a list of your books read, and the longest list wins. Picture books don’t count but pretty much everything else does (Middle Reader and Young Adult, audio, rereads). My boss immediately emailed to say he expected me to win. But alas, I have a co-worker, who I give the whole case of Harlequin books to every month, who I believe will run circles around my number. She reads probably 10 books a week. I’ve not even managed that when rereading MR and YA novels. This is a nice incentive for me to ratchet my YA reading into a higher gear. But sadly, I think I won’t have a real shot against the romance readers. Which is a bummer because the prize is $100 of books, though I'd also do it just for bragging rights. I am a little competitive, particularly when it comes to the very small list of areas of my expertise, of which reading is #1. (I did talk to my romance reading friend and she said I shouldn’t worry about her so much because she has to admit to all the books, so she definitely WON’T be listing all her books, as so many are embarrassing.)

It’s nice to have a bit of a fire lit. You might think these shouldn’t work on me so differently than the Challenges do, but it does. Challenges seem to me like homework which means I’ll drag my feet until the last minute. Whereas a contest with no real parameters is just fun. I never even came close on those library summer reading contests (my mother wouldn’t take me to the library often enough, nor buy me enough books at the bookstore) so this is my chance for vindication!

I wish my favorite TV shows would all get cancelled. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s my biggest obstacle for more reading. I know that I will start reading on my lunch hour more though! I used to do that 10 years ago, but got out of the habit (and got more work to do.) I also am getting more audio books.

This week they finally posted the leaderboard. I am tied for #9!

On your mark, get set, let’s go!

My Favorite Reads: The Urban Hermit

My Favorite Reads is a meme hosted by At Home With Books, where each week I am featuring one of my favorite reads from the past. In February I am featuring books related to the current economy.

The Urban Hermit: A Memoir by Sam Macdonald

Summary (from the publisher):
Faced with the truth that his debts and his waistline had both ballooned out of control, Sam MacDonald devised a plan to change his life.

When Sam graduated from Yale in 1995, he watched a classmate make inroads as a head-office guy in professional baseball, another become a day-trading millionaire, and another develop connections at the Playboy Mansion. Struggling to make ends meet, he shrugged his shoulders at their success and raised a tall one to them. It wasn't until April 2000 that Sam got his wake-up call. He weighed 340 lbs. He was flat broke. And the IRS had caught up with him.

In a desperate attempt to save himself, Sam decided to limit himself to a budget of $8 a week and 800 calories a day. He called it "The Urban Hermit Plan." He thought he would do it for a month. Instead, he embarked on a bizarre year-long journey. He lost 160 pounds in the process, befriended rent-dodging trailer-park denizens, flew to Bosnia on assignment, traveled to a peace festival in a hippie van, had a run-in with Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard, and met the woman who would later become his wife.
The Urban Hermit is a wildly hilarious story about backwoods living, as told by a man who should have known better.

Why I chose this book:
Okay, Sam MacDonald is probably a little bit crazy. But I get where he was (fat, broke, desperate) and while I've not exactly been there myself, I've been able to see there. I'm not sure I could've done what he did to get out of debt and to lose weight, but it was inspiring. Sticking to my budget is a lot easier when I'm thinking, I could just be living on tuna fish and lentils. Thankfully it's nonfiction, or else the part where Sam's life starts to fall into place just as he finally starts to take responsibility and work towards some resolutions, would be cheesy. But as that wasn't contrived, it's also inspiring. But in a sarcastic, funny way. On my worst day, I'm still not working in a fish warehouse. But I do pray every day for my transmission not to go out, as a lot of us are just one dead transmission away from our budgets going to hell. It's fun, funny, debt and life advice from a regular dude who drinks and is lazy and has crazy cats occasionally. It's nice to not be preached at. Great for the post-college crowd.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: China Dolls by Michelle Yu and Blossom Kan

I wanted to like this book. Really, truly I did. But there were problems. For me, the biggest problem is that the book made me mentally pull out my editor’s pen and never put it away. While that’s a big problem, it’s not the worst – at least this book I think is fixable.

This is a chick lit novel of 3 Chinese-American women in their late 20s in Manhattan. The biggest issue for me, that would have fixed 70% of the problems, is the structure. First M.J.’s story is told, then Alex’s, then Lin’s. The whole story takes place over a year (bookended by visits to a fortune teller on Chinese New Year’s) and each woman’s story is told sequentially and consecutively. So they don’t overlap at all. M.J. and Alex each get about 2 months for her story, Lin’s takes 8 because she goes to London for 6 months, although it’s really the 2 months before London that are her story. As such, everything is highly compressed. You have the whole traditional chick lit story arc – introduce our protagonist, introduce a couple of men, have her pick the wrong one, go through a whole mini relationship, break up, get over him, and then pick up with the new guy – in only 60 days, and 80 pages. Sure, I buy that this happens from time to time, but not to three best friends all in such a short time frame. And it’s repetitive. While each woman’s story is going on, the other 2 are simply shunted aside to an occasional chorus/conscience role and are indistinguishable. Nothing goes on in their stories whatsoever while they’re on hold. Meanwhile, because of the 60 day deadline, the protagonist at hand seems overly emotional, erratic, short-tempered, and impulsive (otherwise there wouldn’t be enough forward movement of plot, as there isn’t enough time for it to progress at a normal pace.) This does our girls no favors. Also they are all too similar. They all work in male-dominated industries, they all are treated misogynistically at some point and react with anger (can’t just one of them react with humor? Or work in a 21-st century workplace where alpha males are at least forced to keep their sexual-harassment comments to themselves?) They all want to get married and have kids. But they all have only had bad relationships with other Chinese men who apparently are all sexist assholes (not my opinion – this stereotype is consistent and loud throughout the novel.) They all have a boyfriend from the past resurface during their story, although with varying results. If the structure was changed so that perhaps each chapter alternated narration and all three women had 12 months for their story to unfold, many of the above issue would either go away, or the repetitions would have been so much more obvious when they were side-by-side rather than separated by 100 pages.

The stereotyping and yelling and crying all needed to be toned down drastically. There was also some sloppiness that should have been caught in editing. For instance on p. 18 M.J. bumps into a long-ago acquaintance, Kevin, while in the press room at Madison Square Garden. She says “What are you doing here?” and when she introduces Kevin to Ming, he says “So, you and M. J. are old high school pals, huh?” On the very next page she runs into Jagger and says “what are you doing here?” (gee, a producer for RealSports, what would he be doing at Madison Square Garden at a Knicks practice?) She introduces him to Kevin, and he says “So, you knew M.J. back in high school huh?” Also Brady takes out a cigarette in his office! On p. 154 which made me wonder if it was 1986. M.J. has a DVD of favorite Michael Jordan highlights, but sends out her audition clips for sportscaster jobs on VHS. Oh, and both she and Alex drive cars! In New York City! Alex and Lin make 6-figure salaries but M.J. doesn’t, so where does she park her car and why on earth does she have one? It only appears once in one scene, and there’s no reasons he couldn’t have been in a cab or even on the subway.

All this being said, I liked the breezy tone. I liked that this was a slightly different take on the usual chick lit genre. I loved that the women all had real jobs and were successful and had their own apartments. I hate the chick lit novels where a confused woman just sits around waiting for life to happen to her so she doesn’t have to make any decisions. While I was very frustrated by this book, I do look forward to their next one to see if hopefully they learned a lot after this one which should make for an improvement.

Oh, and publishers, please stop publishing first-time-novelists of chick lit in hardcover. Just stop it. That’s what original trade paperbacks are for. This was a perfect book for that format, not hardcover.

It's certainly true that once an editor, always an editor. But when reading for fun, I want to be able to keep that part of my brain shelved.

"Waiting On" Wednesday

"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:

Innocent by Scott Turow. I'm not much of a genre reader, but I think Turow is a terrific legal thriller author, and Presumed Innocent was a brilliant book. From the publisher:

The sequel to the genre-defining, landmark bestseller Presumed Innocent, Innocent continues the story of Rusty Sabich and Tommy Molto who are, once again, twenty years later, pitted against each other in a riveting psychological match after the mysterious death of Rusty's wife.

Not much description yet unfortunately, but enough to whet my interest!

Wondrous Words Wednesday

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

My new words this week:
From The Help by Kathryn Stockett
peau de soie
p. 262 "She is almost my height in her peau de soie heels."
A weighty fabric that likes to drape

From The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English by Henry Hitchings
p. 4 "Sayings, for instance, and cliches, shibboleths and slang."

1. a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons.
2. a slogan; catchword.
3. a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.

I'm betting this one is definition 2 but since it's a book about language, all 3 could come into play at some point.